5 stars

REVIEW: The Tale (2018)

After her mother (Ellen Burstyn) discovers a story she wrote when she was thirteen, Jennifer (Laura Dern) tries to re-examine her first sexual relationship, the people involved and what truly happened that summer.

The Tale is based on writer and director Jennifer Fox’s own experiences and based on the story she wrote as the teenager. This makes this story all the more compelling and heartbreaking as it’s a sexual abuse survivor, telling her story in her own words as she tries to come to terms with what happened to her.

This is not just a story about abuse, but a story about memory. Jennifer can remember her riding teacher Mrs. G (Elizabeth Debicki) and her coach Bill (Jason Ritter) so vividly but has difficulty picturing herself in those memories and remembering how she felt and what she knew. As she reconnects with people who spent the summer with her at the riding school, Jennifer begins to realise that some of her memories don’t match up with other people’s recollections.

The Tale is told with two narratives running parallel to one another; Jennifer as an adult, suddenly having to confront her past, and Jenny as a child (Isabelle Nélisse) living the experiences Jennifer is now recalling. Both Nélisse and Dern give powerful performances. Nélisse is brilliant as she slowly becomes less naïve about the world but still believing that what she’s experiencing is a relationship and that Mrs. G and Bill really love her. Dern is phenomenal as she perfectly captures the anguish as she revisits her past and now she’s older she can start to put into context what she experienced. The scenes where young and present-day Jennifer are in the same space helps show the haziness of memory as between the two of these points of view they try to find the truth of what happened.

The Tale handles the sensitive subject matter with grace and care. It’s a tough film to watch as it doesn’t shy away from the uncomfortable and sexual content. However, it’s powerful to see an independent and strong-willed woman reassess the trauma she experienced and decide what to do with that information. 5/5.

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REVIEW: Avengers: Infinity War (2018)

When the Avengers and their allies learn of Thanos (Josh Brolin) and his plan to bring balance to the universe by destroying half of it, they must attempt to put a stop to his plan.

Avengers: Infinity War is the culmination of ten years of planning and films and it really does pay off. The way the various characters are introduced feels organic, as do the various team ups that happen during the film. Seeing these characters interact is a joy and there’s a lot of moments on humour as they either clash or find common ground.

Infinity War is Thanos’s is film. He is the biggest and baddest villain featured in the Marvel Cinematic Universe so far. He is a formidable foe and from the very start of the film you can see how powerful and destructive he is, and from then on you know the heroes are in grave danger. Between Josh Brolin’s performance and the computer wizardry that brought Thanos alive, Thanos was an imposing presence, even when he wasn’t on the screen. Also, you understood his motivation as the film spent time showing the reasoning behind his actions and making him more than just the bogeyman we’ve caught glimpses of in previous films.

The Russo brothers do a great job bring all the characters together and balancing the action, drama and humour. Because that’s the thing with Infinity War, it still has a lot of laugh out loud moments, most of which are from the character interactions, but it also has a real sense of threat as none of these characters are safe from Thanos. How they juggled the action has to be commended and there’s a lot going on at once, with different characters in different places, but no plotline felt dull compared to another. The story flowed really well and while there is a lot of action sequences and fights, there’s still small character moments that make this epic team up special.

Avengers: Infinity War is thrilling, shocking and just all out incredible. It’s runtime of over two and a half hours goes by before you realise as there’s so much happening and there’s never a dull moment. There’s surprises throughout the film and the climatic showdown is brilliant. Avengers: Infinity War is an epic and a more than satisfying viewing experience – there’s a good chance it will leave you speechless. 5/5.

I’ve done my best to keep this review as vague as possible as Infinity War is definitely the kind of film you should go into knowing as little as possible – it’s truly an experience. My spoiler-filled review will be up later this week.

REVIEW: The Nowhere Girls by Amy Reed

Grace is the preacher’s daughter and the new girl in school. Rosina is bold and outspoken and dreams of music rather than working at her family’s restaurant. Erin is often misunderstood but her love of science and order doesn’t mean she doesn’t feel. The three of them are brought together by the idea of changing things, of justice for Lucy Moynihan – a girl who was run out of town for accusing the popular guys at school of gang rape. Together, Grace, Rosina and Erin form the Nowhere Girls, an outlet for their rage and a place of strength and decide to avenge the rape of a girl none of them knew.

The Nowhere Girls is a phenomenal book. It’s like Asking For It meets Moxie but it’s its own thing and what a powerful, heartfelt thing it is.

The Nowhere Girls is told in alternating perspectives, so you get to be inside Grace, Rosina and Erin’s heads, as well as see glimpses of what other girls at their high school think and feel. Having these moments from other characters points of view, some of which are unnamed characters, shows the wide scope of feminism as one black girl muses the movement must’ve been started by white girls because if a black girl did it they’d be seen as disruptive, while a trans girl wonders whether or not she’d be included in the group or would be seen as a spy.

All three main protagonists are well-rounded characters with their own problems at home, whether that’s an over-bearing parent or a family member with dementia, but they form a unique bond over their passion to change things. They are also a diverse group of characters. Rosina is Mexican-American and a lesbian, she’s comfortable with her identity but she’s not sure if she’ll ever tell her mum about her sexuality, Grace is fat and has a lot of faith in God but not necessarily in people and Erin has Asperger’s and is reserved but smart and is trying to live her own life.

What Grace, Rosina and Erin do together is start a movement in their school for the girls. It crosses the boundaries of normal high school cliques, as girls come together to talk openly about sex and boys and how both make them feel – the good and the bad. It’s a very open and honest take of girls’ sexuality and it’s refreshing to see girls talk to one another about it and share their experiences. Through this movement, the girls at the high school become empowered and have a sense of unity that crosses social circles like they never had before – it’s wonderful to see.

The ending of The Nowhere Girls made me cry because it was so hopeful, emotional and inspiring. Grace, Erin and Rosina start something amazing but it’s every other girl in the school, and some boys too, who stand up and stop letting the boys who say sexist or racist or homophobic things getting away with it.

The Nowhere Girls is so great I read it in three days. I couldn’t put it down as I longed to give these girls a hug and to tell them how amazing they are, seeing the strength of the solidarity between young girls was just brilliant. It is one of those books that everyone, especially young people, should read. The Nowhere Girls does deal with a tough topic, but it’s handled well and sensitively, and shows there is hope that justice can prevail. 5/5.

REVIEW: Beyond Skyline (2017)

When LA detective Mark Corley (Frank Grillo) and his son Trent (Jonny Weston) get caught up in an alien invasion, they must fight to survive.

Beyond Skyline is a kind of sequel to 2010’s Skyline which featured different characters but the same alien invasion. You don’t need to have seen Skyline as Beyond Skyline it is its own thing (a thing that’s a lot better than the original), but it does tie to some of the events of the previous film surprisingly well.

Where Beyond Skyline really succeeds compared to its predecessor is that it has a core group of characters you actually care about. Mark and his son have a fraught relationship, but Mark will do anything to keep Trent safe – Frank Grillo is as great and as charismatic as always. There’s subway conductor Audrey (Bojana Novakovic), and freedom fighter Sua (Iko Uwais) and his sister Kanya (Pamelyn Chee), all of whom getting the lightest of backstory but due to their chemistry with each other, and the actors talents, make them characters you want to survive.

The action-sequences are top notch, especially the ones featuring Uwais and Yayan Ruhian, both of whom star in martial art, action film The Raid. The fights are interesting, well-shot and thrilling. The fact that it’s often physical beings these characters are fighting rather than CG-creations, makes it a more authentic encounter, and one that feels like it has more consequences to it.

There’s a good mix of digital and practical affects in Beyond Skyline. The CGI is generally quite good, and the practical effects are very creative. Together they bring to life these alien creatures and their ships, making them a menacing adversary to the people on earth.

Beyond Skyline is fun, exciting and pure bonkers sci-fi. Yes, the actual plot might not hold up under close scrutiny, but it’s a fast-paced adventure that’s thrilling and has a surprising number of emotional beats. 5/5.

REVIEW: A Quiet Place (2018)

A family must live in silence to avoid detection from deadly creatures who hunt by sound.

A Quiet Place is incredible. It’s a film that draws you in and your eyes are glued to the screen throughout. It’s tense, scary and thrilling. This family can never let their guard down and as the film progresses, neither can you.

The way sound is used in A Quiet Place is inventive and effective. The daughter (Millicent Simmonds) is deaf and when the camera pans between her and her brother (Noah Jupe) you can hear the difference between the silence she hears, and the ambient noise he can hear. It makes it clear that there’s a difference between silence and quiet and no matter what these people do, if they’re moving around or even breathing heavily, they will be making some noise. And thus, the tension is always there.

The cast is superb – Emily Blunt has a few standout scenes – and it’s noticeable how great they all are because as humans our main form of communication is speech and in this post-apocalyptic world it cannot happen, or these people will die. This cast must show emotion and thought through body language and you can tell exactly how they are all feeling. The family’s main form of communication is sign language, so they do talk to each other, but not in the way the vast majority of us are used to.

That’s the thing about A Quiet Place. It’s a stressful watch but it’s also surprisingly moving. This film is about a family, about parents who will do anything to keep their children safe and the love they have for one another.

A Quiet Place is a fantastic film. It’s terrifying yet emotional and you’ll be on the edge of your seat throughout, but it’s well worth all that. 5/5.

REVIEW: Captain America: Civil War (2016)

My original review of Captain America: Civil War from May 2016 is here, and my spoiler-filled rambling review is here.

After a series of a mission that put the public in danger, the Avengers are told they need to be regulated by the U.N. While Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) believes their actions need guidance, Steven Rogers (Chris Evans) doesn’t trust politician’s involvement. The rift between them causes a divide in the team that’s only furthered when Steve’s friend and former assassin Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan) reappears.

Captain America: Civil War does a great job at showing both sides of this conflict over the Sokovia Accords – the agreement that will put the Avengers in check. You not only get to see both Steve and Tony’s opinions on it, but also why various other characters ultimately end up on a certain side. The film shows how there’s shades of grey in these opposing views and that’s where some characters end up, Natasha (Scarlett Johansson) is the notable example of this.

For a film jam-packed with superheroes Captain America: Civil War never feels overcrowded. This is due to the script and how the story is continuously moving on from one conflict or reveal to another. Each character has their moment to shine, though for some that may last longer than others, and it’s a thrill to see these character’s we’ve seen over the course of multiple films fight together and against one another. You feel for these characters and their strained relationships because you’ve grown attached to them over the years, and because all the actors involved give brilliant performances – Downey Jr. and Stan especially.

There are some characters making their first appearance in Civil War, Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman) and Spider-Man (Tom Holland), and both of them make a big impression and leave you wanting more from their individual films.

The action sequences are exciting and are on the whole well-shot and easy to follow. The humour that runs through the film never detracts from the seriousness of the situations the heroes finds themselves in, instead it gives you a brief moment to breathe before the tension builds once again.

At Civil War’s heart it’s a story of friendship. The friendship between Steve and Bucky that’s spanned decades and the new one between Steve and Tony which has never really found its footing. Captain America: Civil War has it all, great action sequences, humour and drama but it never forgets about what is important – the characters, their motivations and their relationships. There are some minor quibbles like the tonal palette of the film is decidedly grey and it could be argued it’s more Avengers 2.5 than Captain America 3, but all in all it’s a fantastic film. 5/5.

REVIEW: Love, Simon (2018)

Simon Spier (Nick Robinson) has a huge secret, he’s not told his friends, family, or anyone at school: he’s gay. Simon finds someone to talk to through anonymous emails, but when someone discovers his secret and threatens to expose him, Simon must face everyone and come to terms with how he feels.

Nick Robinson is great as Simon, he’s charming and likeable and you feel his heartache. Simon’s friends are all pretty great too and they all feel like a real group of friends. They fall-out and are sometimes selfish, but they also care about one another.

Not only are the teen cast brilliant, so are the adults in supporting roles. Ms Albright (Natasha Rothwell), the drama teacher, is hilarious and steals every scene she’s in, while Vice-Principal Mr Worth (Tony Hale) is equal parts funny and cringey. Jennifer Garner and Josh Duhamel play Simon’s parents and they are some of the best parents in a teen movie in a long time. They feel like normal parents and their relationship with Simon is wonderful.

Love, Simon has all the makings of a classic, teen rom-com. It’s very funny, it’s touching, and it’s has so many great characters. It’s a coming of age story that pulls you in and you can fully empathise with Simon and his friends, no matter how old you or how long it’s been since you were a high school student yourself. Love, Simon manages to be persistently funny, even when it’s handling the more dramatic and sad moments. It balances all these emotions perfectly and the soundtrack’s fantastic too.

Love, Simon is brilliant. I laughed, I cried, and I can’t wait to see it again. 5/5.