#52FilmsbyWomen

REVIEW: Hot Pursuit (2015)

Uptight and by-the-book cop Cooper (Reese Witherspoon) tries to protect Daniella Riva (Sofia Vergara), the wife of a drug boss, from crooked cops and murderous gunmen as they race across Texas so Riva can testify.

Hot Pursuit is a crime-comedy film which isn’t that funny. Witherspoon plays the uptight and desperate to prove herself cop well, but her character is very one note for the majority of the film, and that one note can become grating after a while. Vergara’s Riva is loud and brash, and watching her and Cooper clash can sometimes be fun, however her shtick does get repetitive rather quickly.

There are the usual tropes of the witness trying to get away, the arguments and then the unlikely duo working together to survive. It’s when Cooper and Riva do reluctantly work together that the film starts to be fun, but there’s too many times where one turns on the other, so they end up at cross-purposes again and it feels like the story and the characters have taken three steps back again.

One thing Hot Pursuit has got going for it is it does get to the main plot and the action pretty quickly but it also has some very cringey and almost wince-inducing moments too as jokes fail to land and everyone just looks very awkward.

Unfortunately, the funniest part of Hot Pursuit is the gag reel that plays during the credits. That gets you laughing out loud, and a few proper belly laughs too, whereas the rest of the film is lucky to get a few chuckles at best.

Hot Pursuit is full of clichés and not very funny, though the sparks of what could be great chemistry between Witherspoon and Vergara manages to make the film a bit more bearable. 2/5.

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REVIEW: The Reluctant Fundamentalist (2012)

In 2011 Changez (Riz Ahmed), a young Pakistani man, tells his story to journalist Bobby Lincoln (Liev Schreiber). How as he chased corporate success on Wall Street, he found himself caught up in the conflict and tension in a post-9/11 world.

The Reluctant Fundamentalist is told through flashbacks. In the present Bobby tries to figure out whether or not Changez had anything to do with the kidnapping of an American academic as tensions rise between Pakistani students and police and the CIA are never far away. And in the flashbacks Changez is living the American Dream, he has a lucrative job on Wall Street and he is dating photography artist Erica (Kate Hudson), until that dream starts to crumble after the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

The harassment that Changez goes through in New York just because of the colour of his skin is tough to watch and is a harsh reminder that little has changed in the world today. It highlights how people are so quick to judge and make assumptions and how dangerous those assumptions can be – not just for the target of those assumptions, but the people around them too.

Riz Ahmed is brilliant as a young man, struggling to consolidate the different sides of him. He has such a strong presence and nearly every single shot of the film has him in it. You find yourself hanging off his every word as he tries to explain himself and find what makes him happy.

The story of The Reluctant Fundamentalist is all about ambiguity, but the execution can be a little heavy-handed especially in the beginning. Still, The Reluctant Fundamentalist is a gripping drama with a great central performance from Ahmed and supporting turns from Schreiber and Kiefer Sutherland who plays Changez’s Wall Street boss. 4/5.

REVIEW: Someone Great (2019)

When Jenny (Gina Rodriguez) and Nate (LaKeith Stanfield) break up after nine years, a week before she’s set to move across the country for work, she’s determine to enjoy one last NYC adventure with her two best friends Erin (DeWanda Wise) and Blair (Brittany Snow).

Someone Great is like a love letter to the friendship between women. Jenny, Erin and Blair have been best friends for years and the way they interact feels like such a real relationship. They’re at different points in their lives both in terms of work, romance, and responsibilities but they all have fears about growing up and how they might not have reached their goals. Erin is a lesbian and scared of commitment and putting labels on her relationship with Leah (Rebecca Naomi Jones), Blair is in a relationship with a guy who annoys her and Jenny has just got her dream job that she’s worked so hard for but getting the job is the catalyst for the end of her relationship. But no matter what is going on in their lives, they are there for one another to listen, to make each other laugh, and to try and make things better.

Besides the wonderful relationship between the women, the honest portrayal of romantic relationships is great too. Sometimes you grow apart and don’t love the other person, but you don’t hate them either. Other times it can hurt as you still love them, but you know you’ve grown up into a different person to the one you were when you got together. Relationships evolve and they don’t always work forever, and it can be heart-breaking but there can also be someone there to help you through it.

The trio of female leads have great chemistry but the chemistry between Rodriguez and Stanfield really stands out. The way their relationship is told through flashbacks, as Jenny hears songs that reminds her of different times, is great as you can see the ups and downs but it’s bittersweet as you also see how young and happy they were.

Someone Great is funny, sweet and touching as it shows the realities of growing up and growing apart. The soundtrack is fab and every element of it is balanced so well; the humour, the drama, the characters, the relationships – it all comes together in a surprisingly heart-breaking yet heart-warming romantic comedy with a twist. 5/5.

Mid-Year Film Update

I don’t usually do mid-year check ins with my film-related goals (mainly because I don’t have many) but after having a look of my stats on Letterboxd, it was something I fancied doing.

My main film-related goal of 2019 is to continue watching 52 films directed and written by women. I’m happy to say I’m well on track with that. This is in part thanks to my Reel Women movie marathon in May as I watched 12 films directed in women in 24 hours so that helped me catch up as I was lagging behind a bit before then. I’ve seen 30 films directed by women so far this year (you can find a list of them all here) and I’ve watched 32 films written by women (a full list of those are here). My favourite films made by women I’ve seen this year have been Unicorn Store, What They Had and Capernaum. They are three very different films but are all powerful in their own way.

I don’t think I’ve made a dent on my unwatched DVD’s/Blu-Rays at all this year as when I have watched a DVD it’s been of a film I’ve already seen. I actually have more than what I started the year with as I bought an Alfred Hitchcock boxset from a friend a few months ago.

My favourite thing about Letterboxd Pro is the actor and director stats. I thought it’d be cool to keep a record of who were my most watched actors of the first six months of 2019 and then see if and how there’s any changes by the time December rolls around.

My most watched actors of 2019 so far are:

I went on a bit of a Brie Larson binge in February, watching six of her films that I’d never seen before that month! I don’t know if another actor will become my most watched by the end of the year, but I think she’ll definitely be in the top five. Keanu Reeves and Ian McShane were a bit of a surprise, but I rewatched/watched all three of the John Wick films a few months ago so it does make sense. I’ve also started to rewatch and review all the Fast and Furious films (including the two short films I never realised existed) so that’s why some of those actors are here and I think a lot more of them will be there once I’ve finished my rewatch. Whether or not it’ll be a majority Fast and Furious-actors list at the end of the year (like it was with Harry Potter last year) remains to be seen.

My most watched directors of 2019 so far are:

This isn’t so exciting, and they can be put down to the John Wick films, MCU films, and then Cretton directed two films starring Brie Larson. I’ll be interested to see what other directors will end up on my most watched of the year list as there’s still plenty of room. Justin Lin will definitely be there as he directed a fair few Fast and Furious movies.

In the first half of 2019 I have seen 117 different films and have been to the cinema 35 times. A full list of what I’ve seen is here. I haven’t been putting pressure on myself to watch a film every single day, instead only watching things I want to watch and when I feel like it, so I was surprised that I’d still managed to watch so many. I’m going to continue to not put pressure on myself when it comes to watching films. I’ll probably see a good chunk more at the cinema before the year is out – I’m a big fan of seeing between two to four films in the cinema on a Saturday – but I won’t go out of my way to see EVERYTHING.

What’s been your favourite film you’ve seen so far this year? It could be a 2019 release, or an older film you’ve seen for the first time. Some of my favourites I’ve seen this year have been Avengers: Endgame, Instant Family and Short Term 12. Each month I share my Top 5 First Views on Twitter if you ever want to see what new-to-me films I liked the most each month.

REVIEW: Havoc (2005)

TW: rape

Wealthy LA teens Alison (Anne Hathaway) and Emily (Bijou Phillips), want to become a part of the “gangsta” lifestyle but they soon get in trouble when they cross paths with a real gang of Latino drug dealers.

The characters, much like the film itself, are shallow and unlikeable. All of the teenage characters are trying so hard to be something they are ill-equipped to be that it comes across incredibly cringey. The acting is not good, with Joseph Gordon-Levitt Sam being embarrassingly bad, and the dialogue is full of clichés.

There is one character in Havoc that is not irritating, though that is probably because he’s a spectator to the teenager’s violence and provocativeness and you learn little about him. Eric (Matt O’Leary) is a teenager with a camera shooting a documentary about Alison and her friends and why they want to be a part of the gang lifestyle. Those scenes do offer hints of something more interesting and layered, but they do not last long and instead go back to the superficial teenagers increasingly risky antics.

In Havoc there is a gang rape scene, though characters frame it that it wasn’t rape because the girl consented to sleeping with the men to start with which is just wrong. She may have wanted to sleep with them, but not all at the same time and she was clearly distressed once she realised what was happening. It is really insensitive and irresponsible to portray something like that, without having characters believe the girl that was raped, and to frame it that she was lying about what happened.

Havoc is full of unlikeable and irritating characters and it doesn’t have much in the way of plot or surprises either. If you’re someone like me and likes to watch things just to complete an actor’s filmography, fans of Hathaway, Channing Tatum, and Joseph Gordon-Levitt should avoid it for as long as possible. 1/5.

REVIEW: The Brink (2019)

A fly-on-the-wall documentary following former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon’s global mission to spread extreme nationalism.

The Brink spans across about a year, from Autumn 2017 to late 2018, and gives unbridled access into the life of Bannon as he meets with politicians and campaigners and discusses the next move in forwarding the nationalism agenda.

The thing that the The Brink did really well is show how Bannon is a hypocrite and almost constantly contradicts himself. The type of documentary it is means the filmmaker doesn’t make their own commentary on what is happening, instead they allow the camera and the actions of the people on screen to tell the story. While Bannon speaks out against the rich and the elite, you also see him going to the dinners at the Upper East Side, flying in private jets, and staying fancy hotels. It is clear he is a hypocrite as he enjoys the lifestyle that being a part of the elite can bring. He also lies and contradicts himself when questioned on past statements, even when journalists have the evidence to back it up.

Bannon’s meetings and dinners with far right and nationalist politicians from across Europe are often uncomfortable to watch. There is Nigel Farage, former leader of UKIP and now the leader of the Brexit Party, who says increasingly inflammatory things as well as members of the National Front in France and other right-wing politicians across Europe. However grimy these dinners might make one feel; they are illuminating as you see how these people think and the propaganda they believe in without any filters.

The Brink is often shocking, with one of the most surprising things being how much access the filmmaker got, sitting in on so many dinners, meetings and private conversations. You get to see exactly the kind of man Bannon is – he can be charming and charismatic, he is smart – though not as smart as he believes he is – but he is also aggressive, rude, and will talk down to anyone who is not acting quick enough to achieve his goals.

The Brink is an engaging documentary though it does help to have a lot of background knowledge on Bannon, his time in the White House and certain events he was involved in. It throws you straight in, following Bannon and his aims without giving a lot of context. There are titles that appear every now and then, giving more information, but really, if you don’t know all what Bannon did as a part of Trump’s campaign staff did as, then the film is more of a character study. 4/5.

As an aside, The Brink would make a good double bill with another political documentary – Knock Down the House. Both of them cover the same amount of time and culminate at the results of the 2018 US midterm elections, however they follow people on complete opposite sides of the political spectrum – showing just how divisive politics has come, not just in America but around the world.

REVIEW: The Riot Club (2014)

Two first-year students, Miles (Max Irons) and Alistair (Sam Claflin) join the infamous Riot Club at Oxford University, where reputations can be made or destroyed over the course of a single evening.

The Riot Club is a fascinating film as the vast majority of the characters are completely awful and unlikeable but it’s still a compelling film to watch. The young men who are a part of the Riot Club are rude, entitled, violent, destructive, and a few are inclined to sexual assault as well.

What works well is that when you are introduced to both Miles and Alistair, you feel sorry for them for different reasons. Alistair has overbearing parents and his older brother’s reputation to live up to, while even though Miles is a posh boy, he’s more down to earth than others and finds it difficult to be a part of the rich boy’s club and with his fellow students who were from state school backgrounds. It’s like he doesn’t totally fit in with either group.

As the film progresses and they both get initiated into The Riot Club you meet the right other young men that complete this club. James (Freddie Fox) is the President but it’s boys like Harry (Douglas Booth) and Dimitri (Ben Schnetzer) that really egg the group on and display a complete disregard for people and money.

There are so many things, both little and big, that make you uneasy about the young men in the Riot Club and their beliefs. All these things build up, as Alistair appears more comfortable in the Club while Miles becomes more torn, and everything comes to ahead at a dinner in a small family-run pub. The actions of The Riot Club are deplorable and there’s so many moments that show how a few of the young men could become half decent people if they were away from the toxic environment of the Club.

The Riot Club is unsettling and maddening. As events build and get worse, it’s like a car crash you cannot look away from as you watch these boys bring out the worst in one another, to the detriment of the innocent bystanders around them. It’s an unflinching display of superiority complexes and an entitlement that money can fix all problems as they men show no respect to people they see as beneath them. It’s rather concerning that there’s a good chance that young people like the characters here exist in the real world. 4/5.