#52FilmsbyWomen

REVIEW: The Prince of Nothingwood (2017)

A documentary following Salim Shaheen, Afghanistan’s most popular actor, director and producer, with 110 films under his belt as he travels the country to shoot his latest film.

The Prince of Nothingwood is a brilliant documentary that’s both funny and fascinating. You get to see what life in Afghanistan is like for these men who are a part of Salim Shaheen’s films. Shaheen was in the military and even then, he was making films with the soldiers. They tell a story of how a missile went through a window, injuring and killing many of them and they used the footage of the aftermath in a film.

The film is directed by French journalist Sonia Kronlund and the interactions between her and Shaheen are one of the highlights of the film. Their conversations are funny because he’s such a big personality in comparison to her. Kronlund is well aware of the dangers of being a foreigner in Afghanistan but travelling with Shaheen, the rules don’t really apply to him. Everyone loves him and wants to shake his hand or have a selfie with him, including security personnel, the police and even the army.

Throughout The Prince of Nothingwood you get to see extracts of Shaheen’s films. They are over the top and for Western audiences probably considered pretty bad but they are quite inventive when you consider, as Shaheen says, there “is no money” to make films. Hence why he calls Afghan cinema Nothingwood. Shaheen’s films capture Afghan audiences though and they appear to get a lot of joy from them.

Kronlund not only talks to Shaheen but to the actors who have been a part of many of his films as well as his family. Admittedly it’s only his sons, she’s not able to talk to his two wives nor his daughters. It’s interesting to hear what other people think of Shaheen and his love of films.

The Prince of Nothingwood is a documentary about a man who loves films, both watching them and making them, and that love along with his larger than life personality shines through. The situations he and his film team get into often seem a bit farcical but there’s almost an air of innocence about it all. They all know what it’s like to live with the fear of death over them, there’s often mentions of what life was like under the Taliban, so they all embrace life and filmmaking and appear to have a great time while doing it. 4/5.

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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.

REVIEW: The Fits (2015)

While training in the boxing gym with her brother Jermaine (Da’Sean Minor), tomboy Toni (Royalty Hightower) becomes interested in the dance troupe that practices in the room next door. When Toni decides to join the troupe, she not only struggles to fit in with the other girls but finds herself in danger as the each of the group starts to suffer from violent fits and fainting spells.

The Fits is an atmospheric and intriguing film about a young girl growing up and the balance between trying to fit in and being yourself. Toni is athletic and strong, but it’s in such a different way to the girls in the troupe that she finds it hard to be a part of it to begin with. The film does a good job of showing how isolated Toni feels with the way the camera frames her and the music, or lack thereof. As Toni comes into herself and starts to get the dance routines you can see the joy shine through on her face.

The fits that the girls in the dance troupe almost begin to seem like a right of passage, as those who have had them discuss what it felt like, and those who haven’t wish to have them so they know what it’s like and can fit in. Toni’s budding friendship with Beezy (Alexis Neblett) is charming and the way they play together in the gym after dark feels incredibly real. that’s one of the good things about this film, all the characters and performances feel so organic you want these young girls to succeed.

The Fits is a slow film with a good lead performance but it’s a good job it has such a short runtime as I found myself getting more bored than interested as the film progressed. It’s a strange film that’s hard to describe, something it shares with many other small-budget indie films. 2/5.

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 Edge of Seventeen (2016)

Nadine’s (Hailee Steinfeld) life gets a lot more complicated and frustrating when her best friend Krista (Haley Lu Richardson) starts dating her older brother Darian (Blake Jenner).

The Edge of Seventeen is a sweet and funny coming of age drama. Nadine is such a flawed and frustrating yet sympathetic character. She is quite self-centred, thinking that she is the only one who has any problems in their life, yet she’s still a teenager who fears she’s losing her one and only friend to her cooler brother. You get where she’s coming from even if the way she deals with it sometimes is incredibly cringe-worthy – I definitely got some second-hand embarrassment from this film but this made Nadine feel more real and relatable.

Nadine’s relationship with her teacher Mr Bruner (Woody Harrelson) is wonderful, and it’s also where a lot of the comedy comes from. Her mother (Kyra Sedgwick) has her own problems and is never available for Nadine to talk to or ask for advice so Mr Bruner becomes almost a surrogate parent in her eyes.

The Edge of Seventeen is a great film. With its clever script, it both embraces and subverts the typical high school clichés. It’s funny and heartfelt and Hailee Steinfeld is brilliant – it’s her performance that gets you to like Nadine even when she’s doing crazy things and pushing people away. 4/5.

REVIEW: Detroit (2017)

Amidst the chaos of the Detroit Rebellion in the summer of 1967, gunshots are heard from the direction of the Algiers Motel. When the police and the National Guard arrive, tensions rise and three young African American men are murdered.

Detroit is based on true events and, as the film states at the end, has been put together from first-hand accounts and what limited official documents there are from the time meaning that some of the events depicted are dramatized. Detroit uses archive news footage and photos to help show what the violence and chaos on the city streets was really like and makes it all feel more real.

The whole cast gives phenomenal performances. Will Poulter as racist police officer Krauss is equal parts terrifying and mesmerising. You end up feeling you can’t take your eyes off him for a second as you don’t know what he’ll do next. John Boyega as security guard Dismukes feels underused at times but that’s mainly because he’s almost like a spectator to these events. That being said, when there’s moments for him to show more than restrained horror and the fear begins to register, Boyega nails it.

The violence the police officers inflict on this group of young people is tough to watch. The psychological torture tactics they use is sickening and the camera never really wavers from it either so you as the viewer, like men like Larry (Algee Smith) and Fred (Jacob Latimore) are forced to watch what others are going through.

At almost two and half hours Detroit is a long film and you can start to feel that towards the end of it. the last third is really quite drawn out as you don’t just get the usually text on screen, telling you what happened to these people next, instead you get to see it. This makes their grief and anger hard to take but in a way, it makes it feel like the film is prolonging the people’s pain and the viewers.

Detroit is a tense and powerful film that often makes for uncomfortable viewing. It’s shocking that not only did these events take place 50 years ago, but that no one with any real power to change things has learnt from them as events of police brutality is still prevalent today. 4/5.

REVIEW: The Greatest (2009)

Struggling to cope with their son Bennett’s (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) death, Allen (Pierce Brosnan) and Grace’s (Susan Sarandon) world is shaken again when Rose (Carey Mulligan) shows up on their doorstep three months pregnant with their son’s child.

The Greatest is all about grief and how people deal with it in different ways. Allen refuses to speak about Bennett while Grace is single-minded in her mission to find out everything there is to know about her son’s death, rewatching the CCTV footage and talking to nurses and doctors about the night Bennett died. Both parents are so caught up in their grief, or in Allen’s case trying to ignore it, that they almost forget sbout their younger son Ryan (Johnny Simmons) who’s also struggling. Rose is also grieving for a love that has been brutally cut short but she has their child to think of. Sometimes Rose appears more level-headed than Grace and Allen put together.

The Greatest might be a bit predictable but the story is told with such sincerity that you can’t hold the usual genre tropes against it. This story of grief and hope is sometimes like a punch to your emotions and that’s down to the very talented cast. You feel all their pain and Carey Mulligan shows in one of her early film roles what a skilled young actress she is. The Greatest is well worth a watch. 4/5.