5 stars

REVIEW: The Rider (2017)

After suffering from a near fatal head injury from the rodeo, young cowboy Brady (Brady Jandreau) tries to find a new identity for himself when he is not able to do what he’s always known and loved.

The Rider is interesting as it blurs the line between documentary and drama. Jandreau plays a version of himself, it’s his real-life head injury you see at the start of the film, staples in his head and all. This realisation that this story is so close to home for all the cast involved makes it even more touching and brilliant.

The Rider is about the American heartland and what it means to be a modern cowboy. The dangers these young men face and the difficulty of finding another purpose in life when the rodeo is all they’ve known. Brady is an amazing rider and horse trainer, seeing him with the animals, their connection is clear, so watching him struggle when he can’t do that anymore is tough to watch. Jandreau gives a subtle yet brilliant performance, he’s often quiet and controlled so when the tears or frustration appear it’s even more powerful.

The Rider is just a beautiful film in every way. A beautiful story, stunning cinematography of a gorgeous landscape and haunting music. You don’t need to love horses to fall in love with this film – I certainly don’t. The performances and characters and the subtleties of this film stick with you. It’s a brilliant film about a group of people and a career that seems to be dying out, a very different kind of Western. 5/5.

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READ THE WORLD – French Polynesia: Frangipani by Célestine Hitiura Vaite

Materena Mahi, a professional cleaner and the best listener in all of Tahiti, has a problem. That problem is her daughter Leilani. No matter what she does, Materena can’t seem to get through to her and now there’s rumours there’s a boy who has a motorbike in Leilani’s life. Everything is changing and Materena is beginning to realise that the traditional Tahitian ways no longer apply and she’ll have to adapt to deal with the next generation of women in her family.

Frangipani is lovely. It’s a delightful, and it might sound weird but it’s almost like comforting hug of a read. It is such an easy, chilled out read. Yes there’s arguments between characters and family scandals but they all seem so tame and you just have a feeling these characters will work through it and be OK.

Frangipani is about Materena and her family, and more specifically, about her relationship with her daughter. The story spans about twenty years and over that time you really get to know Materena and understand her. The great thing about Materena is that she adapts. She learns with the changing times; her daughter may confuse her to begin with but she never stops loving her nor wanting the best for her. Seeing Materena and Leilani’s relationship is wonderful. They feel real like a real mother and daughter and so many times I could see echoes of interactions with my own mother in them.

You meet a lot of Materena’s extended family, there’s so many aunties and nieces and boyfriends, that it’s hard to keep up with who’s who at times but that never really bothered me. They are all larger than life characters who often end up in funny situations but there’s still sadness and drama, just like in any family over the years.

Frangipani is well written with a smattering of French words in the dialogue which makes them feel more real and the story grounded. I’ve never been to Tahiti but the way the island and its people are described is now so incredibly vivid in my mind. The setting was just as much a character in this book as Materena and Leilani.

The thing with Frangipani, is that in the grand scheme of things not a lot happened. There were no big twists or huge family secrets revealed, it’s just a woman’s life with her family. It showcases what a strong woman Materena is and it also features so many more interesting and vibrant female characters. Frangipani is about the strength of women and the strength of their relationships. How they support and love one another, are always there to listen or offer words of advice. It’s an uplifting story with a mother and daughter relationship at its heart.

I adored Frangipani. It’s well written, has so many interesting characters that you can’t help but be pulled into their lives. It’s just a wonderful read. 5/5.

REVIEW: The Mask You Live In (2015)

Documentary exploring how culture’s narrow definition of masculinity is harming boys, men and society as a whole and what we can do to try and solve this dangerous problem.

The Mask You Live In is an important and accessible documentary. It has educators, psychologists, sociologists, paediatricians as well as political scientists and sports coaches, talking about their experiences as well as what they have learnt about young men and our culture of telling them in very strict terms, what it is to be a man.

This film looks at boys in pre-school, and how from a very early age they find themselves having set rules to follow that are laid out by their classmates. These rules can be “be mean”, “don’t talk to the girls” and if they don’t follow these rules they’ll be pushed out and ignored by their peers. It shows how from a very young age boys are aware of what it is to be a boy and how one of those big “rules” is to not cry or show any emotion besides anger. It becomes clear that not allowing boys and young men to show emotion and telling them to “man up” can be very dangerous – to the boys and their mental health, as well as it leading to substance abuse and violence.

The Mask You Live In examines cultural influences like violent video games as well as films. More often than not the male hero of a film is the strong, silent type who’s always in control, may have a lot of money and he is probably also a character that commits some acts of violence. This is the standard that boys look up to and it’s near-unachievable without the boys losing a part of themselves, or burring they’re emotions. Then there’s the fact that there’s so many depictions of thugs and gangs that are predominantly men of colour, leading these young men to have few positive role models in media.

There are so many great speakers in this film. My favourites were Joe Herman, a Coach and Former NLF Player, who talks about what an important and defining role a coach can have in young men’s lives, especially when they may not have a great male role model at home, and Ashanti Branch, an educator and Youth Advocate who works with boys to try and get them to express themselves and give them a safe space to do so.

Not only are there the professional speakers but there’s interviews with men of all ages from under ten to adulthood, relaying their experiences, who they found to look up to and how they decided what “being a man” means to them – even if it doesn’t fit into the expectations of society or even their family and peers.

The Mask You Live In can be upsetting, shocking and uncomfortable viewing at times, especially as it highlights so much of our everyday language that can have a negative affect on boys and young men. It looks at how young men can feel entitled to success, wealth and women as that’s what is shown in popular culture to be the positive qualities of “being a man”, and how that entitlement can lead to violence and perpetuating rape culture.

The Mask You Live In is more American focused, and that’s especially clear with its statistics to do with gun violence, but what it has to say about society and the media and rape culture and how it all affects boys from a young age is universal. The Mask You Live In is an important documentary that doesn’t necessarily offer a complete set of concrete solutions to society’s narrow definition of masculinity, but it does offer guidance and advice and by pointing out society’s failings when it comes to boys. It allows us to be more educated going forward and helping young men become more comfortable in their own skin. 5/5.

REVIEW: The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue by Mackenzi Lee

Henry “Monty” Montague was born and bred to be a gentleman, but he has too much fun for that. Neither being kicked out of the finest boarding schools in England nor his father’s disapproval can stop him drinking, gambling or waking up in the arms of women or men. As Monty embarks on his Grand Tour of Europe, along with his best friend Percy (who he may be in love with) and his younger sister Felicity, he has one final year of fun until he must return home and to be a part of his father’s business. But things go awry when Monty’s usual recklessness turns their trip abroad into a manhunt across Europe, putting himself and those he cares about in danger.

The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue is so much fun. It’s set in the 1700’s which allows for a different kind of travelling adventure. They can’t get money easily, there’s now quick communication to back home if things go wrong so when you encounter highway men or pirates you’re on your own with just your wits.

Monty, Percy and Felicity are a great trio of characters with interesting dynamics. Felicity was the one I loved straight away. She’s a young lady due to go to finishing school when all she really wants to do is go to the school’s her brother has been kicked out of. But due to her gender and the times that’s not possible, no matter how smart and eager she is. Percy is the nephew of a nobleman but he has never really fitted in to high society due to his Barbadian mother. Even though his childhood must’ve been difficult he is warm and kind and cares about Monty a lot. Monty took longer to grow on me as the problems he ends up facing really help him grow and learn more about himself. He’s selfish and only thinks about how other people’s issues affects him, he’s a charmer and doesn’t think before he acts – all qualities that are often simultaneously infuriating and endearing.

Monty’s voice shines through in the writing, making this 500-page novel fly by. Also, the fact that Monty ends up in almost non-stop escapades definitely helps make it a book that’s difficult to put down. From England, to France and beyond their adventures and the mystery they uncover often verges into the absurd but it’s all told with such charm and wit that it ends up being quite brilliant. Along with all the excitement and threat of danger, there’s still quieter moments between the characters that show they aren’t necessarily cut out for this kind of thing but being together makes them stronger and better.

The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue is a great historical adventure story with a bisexual main character, an engaging romance and a colourful cast of characters. 5/5.

REVIEW: The Unexpected Everything by Morgan Matson

When Andie’s dad is caught up in a political scandal, all her summer plans are thrown into chaos. No more summer internship, instead she finds herself with a summer job as a dog walker. She’s not used to not having everything planned out but having everything be unexpected for once could mean a chance for love and new experiences.

The Unexpected Everything is a delightful book. At over 500 pages I was worried it would take me a while to read but in the end, I read it in just one day. I got pulled in by Andie’s story and all her friends, and by the fact there was so many dogs. Honestly if you like dogs, this book is for you as its not only the characters that are interesting and a lot of fun but the many dogs Andie ends up walking are too.

Andie is the kind of character that normally would rub me up the wrong way as she’s often quite selfish and likes everyone and everything to fit in her own plans, but much of the story is about her growing as a person and seeing how she is seen by other people. Andie doesn’t like letting people get close to her or even tell people she’s in a relationship with anything of real substance about herself – this all comes to ahead when she meets Clark. The romance between Andie and dog owner Clark is sweet and has your usual lack of communication confusion but the story has a lot of charm and Andie and Clark both have their flaws and still compliment each other that I was rooting for them.

I really liked Andie’s friendship group, their summer adventures and how The Unexpected Everything showed that some relationships can be quite overwhelming and we all need are space from those we care about. I also really liked how Andie’s relationship with her dad was so believable, they’d not had anything to do with each other for so long so suddenly being around each other led to an interesting dynamic.

The Unexpected Everything is the perfect summer read. It’s fun, has moments of humour and lots of characters you want to be happy. 5/5.

READ THE WORLD – Canada: Even this Page is White by Vivek Shraya

A collection of poetry about race, politics, gender, sex and the crossover between all these things and more.

The collection is split into five parts titled “white dreams”, “whitespeak”, “how to talk to a white person”, “the origins of skin” and “brown dreams” and seeing the headings they definitely caught my attention.

These poems are brutally honest and I think it’s something white people should read. Even from the above section titles you start to get an idea of what to expect and as a white person you learn to listen and take it in. The poetry made me think and while I’ve personally been aware of my privilege for a while, they made me want to be more active in trying to use that privilege “for good”.

Shraya’s poems talk about white privilege, anti-blackness and the different ways racism presents itself towards people of different races. I liked how there was a section that was a conversation between Shraya and her white friends Sara Quin, Amber Dawn, Rae Spoon and Danielle Owens-Reid, though I did second guess myself because as Shraya writes, “white people listen to white people.” It’s is a great couple of pages of dialogue.

Flicking through the book, finding my favourite poems I realised that my favourites generally came from the “how to talk to a white person” section. I think that was because in a way they were targeting me. A lot of them are about how people of colour may change how they act or what they say or how they say it in front of a white person.

I really enjoyed this poetry collection. It was a very quick read as the poems are all short and concise and they were all written in interesting ways – interesting to me anyway, as I don’t read a lot of poetry. The poems are hard-hitting and don’t shy away from potentially controversial topics and opinions. I can imagine seeing Vivek Shraya perform her poetry would be an amazing experience as often the poems feel like they should be spoken aloud by someone. Still, it is a thought-provoking and lyrical collection of poems. Definitely recommend Even this Page is White. 5/5.

REVIEW: Dunkirk (2017)

When 400,000 Allied soldiers are trapped on the beach of Dunkirk by the German army, civilian boats are commandeered to evacuate them.

Dunkirk is an incredibly tense and stressful film. From the first gunshot, the film pulls you in and doesn’t let you go. The sounds are so loud it feels like you’re right there on the beach and the RAF and Luftwaffe planes really sound like they are flying over and around your head. Dunkirk is an incredibly loud film, and it can be disorientating but that helps put you in the shoes of the stranded soldiers.

There’s three groups of characters you follow; RAF pilots Farrier (Tom Hardy) and Collins (Jack Lowden), civilian Mr Dawson (Mark Rylance), his son (Tom Glynn-Carney) and their friend George (Barry Keoghan) who are making their way to Dunkirk to help rescue the troops, and a trio of soldiers who are desperate to get off the beach. It’s a bit confusing at times as these events aren’t always running simultaneously but it’s not too hard to follow and each groups story is compelling.

A lot of the characters aren’t named, or are maybe are called by their name just once so it’s easy to miss, so while they aren’t really fully-fleshed characters that didn’t really matter. The situation they’re in is so dire that you are willing and hoping they survive, and it doesn’t matter what or who they’re trying to get home to, they just need to be off that beach. This is especially true to the trio of soldiers played by Fionn Whitehead, Aneurin Barnard and Harry Styles. You know next to nothing about them but the actor’s performances of desperate and scared young men is all you need to root for them to survive.

Another thing that’s quite interesting and clever is that you never see a German soldier. There’s the Luftwaffe that have dogfights with the RAF over the sea, and the Allied forces do get shot at but you never actually see a German solider. This helps to not vilify the Germans and also adds to the suspense as you are never sure where the enemy is hiding or how close they really are.

The score by Hans Zimmer is definitely worth mentioning. I don’t always talk about the score or music in films in my reviews, often because I don’t really notice it, but in Dunkirk the score helps crank the tension up a notch. The ticking clock sounds reinforce the fact that time is running out for all these men and adds to the stress you feel.

Dunkirk is a brilliant film. It’s well-shot, all the actors give great performances and it is an incredibly tense film about people desperate to survive. It is one of those films that’s worth seeing at the cinema, if not for the action (which is spectacular) but for the sound that immerses you into the film. 5/5.