5 stars

REVIEW: Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018)

After their universes collide, Miles Morales meets Peter Parker and a whole lot of other spider-people. As Miles starts to get to grips with his spider-powers, they all must work together in order to get home to their own universes.

When the first trailer for Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse came out, I found it a bit disconcerting as the animation seemed to be so different to the animation style I’m used to seeing in Disney and Pixar films. I stand corrected though as the animation style is stunning and it works perfectly for the story. The animation is like nothing I’ve ever seen before. All the colours are so vibrant, they pop from the screen and make the films New York setting come alive in a totally different way. The blend of animation styles is wonderful, especially how each character from a different universe looked so unique. The whole film feels like a visual comic book with the way there’s words on the screen to emphasise a sound, and there’s moments where the screen is split up into comic panels.

But don’t think Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is style over substance, its story and characters are just as brilliant as its animation. Miles is a great character. He’s a realistic teenager with parents he sometimes finds annoying, struggling to fit in at a new school, and then he has superpowers to deal with. For a film with so many characters, and a lot of things happening, it never loses the focus on Miles. Miles is the heart and soul of this film, he’s the audience’s stand-in but he’s still a fully fleshed-out character.

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is funny, touching, and exciting. It is action-packed and fast-paced, there’s always something happening whether it’s family drama or a big fight sequence, but it also has so much heart.

I loved Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse. It’s one of my favourite films of the year, and I can’t wait to see it again. It’s a stunning film that made me tear up multiple times and for different reasons. There’s a lot of references to different Spider-Man films which is a lot of fun. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is a film that knows how to poke fun at its comic book roots while still making a believable world full of heroes and villains. Oh, and make sure you stay till the very end of the credits! 5/5.

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READ THE WORLD – Northern Ireland: Multitudes by Lucy Caldwell

A collection of eleven short stories of childhood, adolescence and motherhood.

I’ve read a few short story collections for my Read the World Project (I find them to be a good way to gain an insight into a writer’s country and its people, and they’re also usual a quick read) but I’ve never had as much of a visceral reaction to a short story collection as I did with Lucy Caldwell’s Multitudes.

Each story ranges from 10 – 25 pages, some are in second person but most of them are in first person, and each story is about a female character. Each story is about a young girl, or a teenager, or a mother, and they’re each like a little snapshot in a moment of their lives. I think my favourites were “Thirteen”, “Through the Wardrobe” and “Inextinguishable”. In “Thirteen” a young teenager has to deal with her best friend moving to London, how they first of all write multiple letters to one another each week but slowly the letters stop being written. “Through the Wardrobe” is about a young trans girl figuring out why she feels sick when her older sisters are given Disney princess dresses for Christmas while she’s given a Peter Pan outfit. “Inextinguishable” is about a mother grieving for her daughter and finding some form of release in the music her daughter loved.

There are stories that feel very true to life. One story has a teenage girl being sexually harassed without really knowing what was happening, another story is about a teenager fantasizing about her teacher, or another feeling hollow and helpless.

Each story is powerful and compelling in its own way. They are stories about first loves, sexual desire and romance, but they are also about friendship, growing up and family. Some stories are sad, some are hopeful, while others are almost nostalgic and melancholy.

Caldwell really captured the mindset of young children, the pain of adolescence, and (I presume) the terrifying reality of being a parent. While I might not have been in some of the exact situations as the female characters in these stories, I remember idolising a baby sitter, losing touch with friends, and having a whole lot of feelings inside that I didn’t know what to do with. Each of the female characters felt so honest, true and relatable and that was down to the brilliant writing Multitudes is fantastic short story collection and I can’t recommend it enough. 5/5.

REVIEW: Gattaca (1997)

Set in the near future, parents genetical modifying their unborn children to be the best they can be is the norm. Vincent (Ethan Hawke) is an in-valid, someone who was conceived naturally and because his genetic make-up wasn’t modified is seen as inferior. In order to follow his dreams, Vincent assumes the identity of genetically superior Eugene (Jude Law) but soon the authorities are closing in and Vincent’s secret is under threat of being exposed.

One of the best things about Gattaca is its world-building. In many ways it’s quite a small film, it has only two main locations, three main characters and a very self-contained and character driven plot. But the way this idea that genetically modification has become the norm and anything else is seen as wrong and worthless, is interwoven so well in the characters actions, the story, and little every day life details in the set design, makes this future seem so realistic.

Through the costumes, the buildings, and the way characters interact, the world of Gattaca seems like a very uniform and sterile place. Because of the environment they’re in, when Vincent begins to get close to his co-worker Irene (Uma Thurman) you get a sense on unease. Not only because any relationship between them might expose his secret but because it feels like romance and love doesn’t fit in this world.

Vincent is a character who is almost instantly likeable. Eugene, on the other hand, is biting and cold and it’s as his relationship with Vincent evolves from being one where they both need something from one another, to one where they are almost friends, that makes Eugene more sympathetic and likable. Hawke and Law give great performances, bouncing off each other as their characters find their feet around one another.

Gattaca combines its sci-fi premise with a tense crime thriller, but at its heart Gattaca is an absorbing drama. It has a world that’s rich with ideas and it’s a film that believes the audience is intelligent enough to follow these characters in a world that’s so different yet it’s a world that you can see coming to pass at some point. 5/5.

REVIEW: Widows (2018)

Four women with nothing in common except a debt left behind by their dead criminal husbands, take their lives into their own hands as they conspire to steal the money they need to repay the men who are out to hurt them, and to make a better life for themselves.

Directed by Steve McQueen who cowrote the screenplay with Gillian Flynn, the author of Gone Girl and many other twisty stories, Widows is a tense heist thriller that never lacks in character and world building.

Widows grabs your attention straightaway, with the heist that goes wrong and leads to four career criminals dying. From then it’s an exploration of the people who are left behind and their grief and loss of what to do next. Viola Davis’s steely Veronica is the one who brings the widows together. She has plans left to her by her late husband (Liam Neeson) and needs help in order to get the money to stop those who wish to hurt her.

All four leading ladies are magnificent. Michelle Rodriguez’s Linda is struggling to provide for her young children, Elizabeth Debicki’s Alice has no career prospects, and Cynthia Erivo’s Belle is working multiple jobs to keep herself and her family afloat. They are four very different characters but they come together with one goal in mind. That’s not to say they don’t have their disagreements, but together they find a strength and determination that some of them didn’t know they had.

Set in Chicago with a backdrop of criminal activity, by politicians and more traditional criminals alike, Widows manages to be a compelling story about interesting and layered women while also managing to bring in race, politics and class into the story. These elements flesh out the Chicago setting. Colin Farrell plays Jack Mulligan, a career politician and whose family has been elected to office for generations, while Brian Tyree Henry plays Jamal Manning, a man who has criminal connections but is from the neighboured he’s campaigning to represent. These two men each have underhand dealings but they approach illegal activity, politics and violence in very different ways.

While Widows is building towards a heist, it’s the characters themselves and the stages they have to go through to prepare for the heist that’s the main focus of the film. That doesn’t make it, or the final crime, any less satisfying. You learn about these women, the hardships they’ve faced, and the forces that are out to stop them, and you soon realise that nothing is going to stop them from doing what they set out to do. 5/5.

REVIEW: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 (2011)

Harry (Daniel Radcliffe), Ron (Rupert Grint) and Hermione’s (Emma Waston) search for the remaining Horcruxes brings the back to Hogwarts, where the final battle for the fate of the wizarding world rages on.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 is near enough all action. It’s thrilling and spectacular action too. The battle of Hogwarts is thrilling and brutal. School kids get hurt, teachers fight and there’s so many loved characters in peril. With so many people on either side of the battle field, it has all the scope of an epic war movie, and it feels like one too. Especially as it packs an emotional punch when there’s naturally casualties of war.

In amongst all the explosions and magical firefights, there’s some lovely little character moments too. Neville (Matthew Lewis) gets his time to shine, being a natural hero and leader to those left behind at Hogwarts. Professor McGonagall (Maggie Smith) standing up for her students and protecting her school is wonderful, as is any moment between any members of the Weasley family.

The performances are all brilliant. Supporting actors like Alan Rickman get the chance to show off a more nuanced performance as Snape. Likewise, Ralph Fiennes’ Voldemort is not just the shouty villain we’ve seen previously; here he is scared, angry and powerful, an intimidating presence that seems to be on the edge of either victory.

Radcliffe, Watson and Grint have all matured in their roles, each giving a powerful performance as their characters arcs some to a close. This trio is the heart and soul of this film, and the franchise as a whole, and they all do their characters proud.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 is an incredibly satisfying and exciting conclusion to the Harry Potter series. 5/5.

READ THE WORLD – Poland: Lala by Jacek Dehnel

Lala has lived an exciting life. Born in Poland just after World War One, Lala grew up to be a selfless and honest independent woman who survived some of the most turbulent events in Europe. As she falls prey to the first signs of dementia, she continues to tell the stories of her life to her grandson, who faithfully notes down her adventures.

Lala was translated from Polish to English by Antonia Lloyd-Jones and I listened to the audiobook narrated by Lawrence Dobiesz which I would recommend.

Lala as a book is a little confusing as it’s marked as a work of fiction but the way it’s told, and the fact the grandson who is narrating this story has the same first name as the author, did make me wonder if it was a combination of fact and fiction, memoir and fantasy.

The scenes where it’s clear that Lala is losing her memory were both funny and poignant. My grandmother has Alzheimer’s and when reading about Lala’s antics I had to smile as there were so many things she said or did that was just like my gran. It’s a great depiction of a woman slowly losing her mind but then there’s also those moments of suddenly clarity which were lovely but also so sad as Lala was never going to get better.

Lala is a grand sweeping story as Lala tells stories about her family as far back as her great-grandfather. This is where she would sometimes confuse something her grandfather did for something her father did, then it’s her grandson who corrects her as he’s heard so many of these stories before he could often recite them by heart.

While Lala is the focus of the story, with her life before, during and after the Second World War is a big part of it, her stories of a family means this story spans over 100 years. This led me to learning a lot about Polish history that I’d never even heard of.

I really enjoyed Lala. It’s an interesting insight into Poland’s turbulent history from he eyes of a character who lived through it all, the good and the bad. It’s funny, touching and sometimes verges on the ridiculous because of Lala’s outlandish stories about the situations she’d get into or she’d hear about. I loved the way it’s told with the grandson simultaneously seeming to tell the red the stories and to be hearing them for the first time himself.

Lala is such an interesting book and it’s honest and realistic take of a woman slowly succumbing to dementia was brilliant yet sad. 5/5.

REVIEW: The Hate U Give (2018)

Starr (Amanda Stenberg) has two lives, one in her poor black neighbourhood and one in her affluent, predominately white private school. Those two lives come crashing down when she witnesses the fatal shooting of her childhood best friend Khalil (Algee Smith) by a police officer, and Starr must find her voice and stand up for what’s right.

The Hate U Give is a fantastic film. It’s about so many real-world problems affecting black people. It talks about race, discrimination, poverty, drugs and violence. Starr lives in a neighbourhood where there’s so many open and warm people, but there’s also the gang led by King (Anthony Mackie) that is a constant threatening presence in everyone’s lives. Starr describes herself as two people, Starr Version One is who she is at home, when she’s with her family and her people, Starr Version Two is who she is at school, where she doesn’t use any slang and doesn’t cause a fuss.

Amandla Stenberg is fantastic at showing the different sides of Starr, how they conflict and how over the cause of the investigation into Khalil’s death she learns to find her voice and be her true self. Starr is more of a watcher to begin with, standing in the corner at parties and just watching how events unfold. More things, often horrible things, happen to her than her being proactive, but as the fear and pressure mounts, she starts to choose to react to what she’s seen and it’s all the more powerful when she does.

Stenberg carries the film brilliantly, but she’s also surrounded by a great cast, the majority of which give nuanced performances. Russell Hornsby and Regina Hall play Starr’s parents Maverick and Lisa, who each want the best for Starr and their family as a whole but that translates into different things. Lisa wants to protect her family, ideally moving them out of the neighbourhood to somewhere safer, while Maverick says this is their home and encourages Starr to speak out and do what she thinks is right. They are both incredibly loving parents and any scenes with Starr and her family can go from being sweet and funny one moment, to them all suddenly being under threat.

Besides from being a film with an important message, The Hate U Give also shows the life of a modern teenage girl to great effect. Starr and her friends have Tumblr’s, they have different tastes in music, and when friendships become strained Starr must weigh up the positives and the negatives to see if this relationship she wants to fight for. It’s the little things, Starr’s love of The Fresh Prince and how she and her friends used to play at being Harry Potter makes her a relatable modern teenager.

The Hate U Give is a heart-breaking and powerful film, but at its heart there is a strength to it and so much heart. It will make you cry but it will also make you laugh. It balances so many different elements but with an assured direction from George Tillman Jr. and Amandla Stenberg’s phenomenal lead performance, The Hate U Give is an incredible film that will stand the test of time. 5/5.

I read, loved and reviewed The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas last year, you can find that review here.