5 stars

REVIEW: Chi-Raq (2015)

Fed up with the violence on the streets of her city due to the rivalry between the Spartans led by her boyfriend Demetrius (Nick Cannon) and the Trojans led by Cyclops (Wesley Snipes), Lysistrata (Teyonah Parris) rallies the Spartans’ and the Trojans’ lovers to withhold sex until there is peace.

Directed by Spike Lee, Chi-Raq is a modern-day adaptation of the ancient Greek play Lysistrata by Aristophanes set against the backdrop of gang violence in Chicago. Whether because of its ancient Greek play roots, or because it’s a musical, the dialogue in Chi-raq has a rhythm to it and often rhymes. In terms of dialogue it reminds me of Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo + Juliet in a way, but Chi-Raq is still its own unique thing.

Chi-Raq offers commentary on the Black Lives Matter movement, with names of real people who have been murdered being mentioned throughout, and Americas’ obsession with guns in general. While all the characters are affected by gun violence in some way, it is Jennifer Hudson’s Irene who is at the centre of it all when her young child is killed. She’s in mourning but with the help of Father Mike Corridan (John Cusack) she takes part in their own protest against the killing of innocent bystanders.

Besides the broader social commentary, Chi-Raq also has some brilliant female characters and shows off the power of solidarity between women which was fantastic. The heart and soul of Chi-Raq is Lysistrata. She’s funny, strong and determined. She unifies people in a way that no one could’ve expected and Teyonah Parris is magnificent.

Everything about Chi-Raq is big and bold and very stylish. The music and songs are catchy, and the dance routines are often over the top but everything about it works so well. It’s message is obvious but it also manages to be a film that’s fun and full of characters with depth.

Chi-Raq is striking and as about as subtle as a brick to the face but with some incredible performances, especially by its female leads, it’s a funny yet powerful film. 5/5.

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REVIEW: Mission: Impossible – Fallout (2018)

Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) and his team race against time to find some missing plutonium. As his team travel around the world on the tail of a terrorist organisation, they encounter old enemies and old friends and Ethan begins to doubt who he can trust.

Mission: Impossible – Fallout is the sixth film in a franchise that has been going for 22 years now. This is the first film in the series that has a returning director, Christopher McQuarrie, and it’s the first one that’s more of a direct sequel. Generally, the Mission: Impossible films can stand apart from one another as the only connecting features are Tom Cruise’s Ethan Hunt and Ving Rhames’ Luther Stickell, and while you can certainly follow what’s happening in Fallout without seeing Rogue Nation, having that prior knowledge adds extra depth to characters and their motivations.

This is a franchise known from its stunts and in many ways, Fallout is one thrilling set piece after another. There’s electric fight sequences – the standout being Hunt and CIA Agent Walker (Henry Cavill) against a suspected terrorist in a bathroom – chase sequences that go from a car chase to a motorbike chase seamlessly, and there’s Tom Cruise jumping from buildings, dangling from helicopters and doing a HALO jump from 25,000 feet. These are all edge of your seat stuff. The action sequences and stunts are all shot well, there’s no shaky cam here, and knowing that it’s Tom Cruise who is putting himself in dangerous situations to entertain adds to the drama.

The stunts are spectacular and jaw-dropping, but thanks to the script and performances Fallout isn’t style over substance. There’s a lot of heart in this film, as Ethan is a man who has his regrets and his principles, mainly not wanting to trade the life of one person for the lives of millions. The relationships Ethan has formed over the course of this franchise are a major part of his motivations and the story as a whole.

The plot itself is full of twists and turns, some more obvious than others, with many characters having hidden agendas. Isla Faust (Rebecca Ferguson) returns with her own mission while head of the CIA Erica Sloane (Angela Bassett) doesn’t trust Hunt so puts Walker, a trained assassin, on his team. These combinations of characters, new and old, lead to some brilliant dialogue and chemistry. There is humour to be found from Fallout, and it’s not Simon Pegg’s Benji being comic relief. The humour here is very natural, coming from characters finding themselves in increasingly unpredictable situations, and the laughs never take away from the moments of tension or drama.

Mission: Impossible – Fallout is a tense, relentless action-packed thrill ride. It’s a technically brilliant film, from Lorne Balfe’s score to the beautiful cinematography from Rob Hardy. Fallout is a film where every aspect of it shines. 5/5.

REVIEW: Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again (2018)

As Sophie (Amanda Seyfried) prepares to open the hotel on a Greek island like her mother Donna (Meryl Streep) always dreamed of doing, she learns about how her mother as a young woman (Lily James) discovered the island and found love and heartache along the way.

Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again is the sequel to the hit 2008 film Mamma Mia! and it manages to be a sequel and a prequel at the same time. Nearly the entire cast of the original film are back, and their chemistry is just as good all these years later. There’s some fun editions too with Andy Garcia as the hotel manager and Cher as Sophie’s grandmother. The young cast all do a fantastic job of bringing their own take to the characters we already know. Lily James has big boots to fill with Donna, but she is great as a young Donna who is fun, adventurous and loving. The moment when she starts singing “Mamma Mia!” when she’s broken hearted but then turns it into a moment of strength and joy is infectious.

The songs here are a mixture of the well-known ABBA songs, a lot of which were naturally featured in the first film, and some lesser-known B-sides but they were no less enjoyable. There’s a combination of sad songs and the toe tapping feel-good songs that will have you dancing in your seat. The songs, the drama and the characters all come together to make Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again just as entertaining as the first film.

Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again is a love letter to the relationship between Sophie and Donna. They have such a wonderful mother/daughter relationship and this film manages to make you cry over them. It’s beautiful to have this relationship being the heart of the film, and the story works so well because both characters don’t have to be on screen for you to see how much they mean to one another.

Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again is also very funny. Christine Baranski and Julie Walters are scene-stealers as Donna’s best friends Tanya and Rosie, and their younger counterparts Jessica Keenan Wynn and Alexa Davies are also brilliantly funny.

Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again is a film that plays with all your emotions. It’s surprisingly sad and touching at times but overall it is a funny and joyful film that makes you forget that the real world isn’t all blue skies and dance numbers for the moment. 5/5.

REVIEW: Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol (2011)

When the IMF is implicated in the bombing of the Kremlin, it’s shut down and all agents are disavowed. Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) and his team are on their own as they race against time to clear their organisations name and stop a potential nuclear war.

Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol is a thrill ride from the very beginning and the action never really stops. It does so many things right. The humour, which generally comes from all the fantastic characters and their interactions, lands every time, giving you a short rest bite before the next tense action sequence begins.

With Ethan this time are Agents Benji Dunn (Simon Pegg) and Jane Carter (Paula Patton), and analyst William Brandt (Jeremy Renner) who has his own secrets. These four characters gel together very well, and the chemistry between the four of them makes them feel like a solid team. And they need to be a solid team as just about everything that can go wrong with their mission does. The tech is faulty, they must improvise, and they have no back up.

The iconic stunt in Ghost Protocol is Ethan scaling the side of the Burj Khalifa and it looks incredible. The heights he’s at is enough to make anyone feel queasy. The whole sequence in the Burj Khalifa, both the stunt itself and everything else that happens in that building, manages to be tense, funny and exciting. It’s not just the big stunts that look good, the fight sequences are all well-shot and easy to follow.

While naturally Ethan Hunt is the lead, and Tom Cruise is the star, of this franchise, Ghost Protocol is the first film in the series where the team does indeed feel like a team that solves the problem together. Each character has multiple times to shine and show off their skills which is great. It’s not only the core team that are relevant and interesting, it’s the secondary characters too. Naturally some get more screen time than others, but you’re never bored when Russian agent Sidorov (Vladimir Mashkov) or assassin Moreau (Léa Seydoux) are on screen.

Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol is fantastic. The characters are brilliant, the action sequences are gripping, and it’s a film that never really slows the pace. It’s a non-stop action thrill ride with likeable character who you want to see succeed when all the odds are against them. It’s the best. 5/5.

READ THE WORLD – Pakistan: Kartography by Kamila Shamsie

Karim and Raheen have grown up together, they finish each other’s sentences and speak in anagrams. They are irrevocably bound together and to Karachi, Pakistan, a city that’s violent, vibrant, corrupt and magical but is also their home. Time and distance bring a barrier of silence between them until they are brought together in Karachi during a summer of strikes and ethnic violence. Their relationship stands poised between strained friendship and fated love – one wrong action, or reaction, can tip the scales.

Kartography is a book I picked up over a year ago but didn’t get further than the first few chapters. I am so pleased I gave it another go as this time a sped through it.

This time I was almost instantly submerged into the vivid city Raheem and Karim grew up in. The city, and to a lesser extent the country of Pakistan, is a character in its own right. Karachi is a part of Raheem and Karim and while Karim attempts to distance himself from the place after looking for and finding all of its darkness, Raheem purposely avoids thinking too much of the violence and corruption that’s rife in her city.

Kartography shows that while history doesn’t necessarily repeat itself, present events do tend to parallel the past. There’s definitely an element of “the sins of our fathers” here, though the children are often unaware of what those sins actually are which leads to misunderstandings and more hurt than if people had been honest with them from the start.

Kartography takes place across several years. There’s Karim and Raheem’s early teenage years in the 1980’s and when they are young adults reconnecting in the mid-90s. But events that transpired before they were even born, most notably 1971 and the civil unrest that affected their parents when Bangladesh became independent from Pakistan, had a knock-on effect on to the people they grew up to be. This book is a historical novel and while it references many political events, it doesn’t feel it has to explain everything. Shamsie trusts the reader to either have prior knowledge on this period of history, or to go a research it as they’re reading if they want to. That being said, if like me you have limited knowledge of that time period you can still follow what’s happen really easily.

Kartography is about barriers. Religious, ethnic, gender and class – all these barriers come into play and some are easier for characters to cross or accept than others. The writing in Kartaography is beautiful, the characters are flawed and sometimes frustrating, but they are still people that you enjoy reading about. Kartography is a wonderful story and one I enjoyed far more than I thought I would. 5/5.

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.

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.