REVIEW: Gringo (2018)

On a work trip to Mexico, mild-mannered businessman Harold (David Oyelowo) finds himself caught between his shady bosses Richard (Joel Edgerton) and Elaine (Charlize Theron), the Mexican cartel, and an ex-mercenary (Sharlto Copley). After a rash decision, Harold fights to survive as a chain of increasingly dangerous events unfold around him.

Gringo doesn’t exactly reinvent the crime genre, with its shady businessmen and drug dealers it’s mostly a story that’s been seen before, but it’s execution and cast make Gringo a lot of fun.

The cast is brilliant, making each of their somewhat clichéd roles into something more substantial and entertaining. Who knew David Oyelowo had such great comedy chops? With his high-pitched screams as he’s thrust into more and more life-and-death situations, you can’t help but laugh at Oyelowo’s nice guy Harold while still feeling sympathetic towards him because he really doesn’t deserve the bad stuff that keeps happening to him. A lot of the tension in Gringo comes from having a lead like Harold who’s so normal and relatable that you are almost constantly worried about what’s going to happen to him next. Theron’s Elaine is another great character, wrapping men around her finger while spitting out many non-PC but hilarious lines. She’s unlikable but surprisingly admirable.

Some characters are a bit of an afterthought. Sunny (Amanda Seyfried) and Miles (Harry Treadaway) have their own subplot which eventually entwines with what’s happening with Harold, but they never really feel fleshed out, while Bonnie (Thandie Newton), Harold’s wife, is just used as a punchline in the end.

Gringo’s plot is over the top and outrageous and so is its humour. It’s darkly funny with laughs coming from some of the unexpected violence and witty dialogue between characters. The situations these characters get into are bonkers but still stupidly funny, the stunts look great too, making Gringo an exciting action/crime/comedy hybrid. 4/5.


REVIEW: Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (2017)

Seven months after the murder of her daughter, Mildred Hayes (Frances McDormand) challenges the local authorities, who have not caught the culprit, by promoting the injustice on three billboards on the road to her hometown.

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is from writer and director Martin McDonagh. This is the man behind In Bruges and Seven Psychopaths, so if you have seen them, you’ll now at least a little of what to expect from Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri – which is black comedy, drama and violence.

Frances McDormand is brilliant as the vengeful and hurting Mildred. She’s a woman in pain who wants justice and is not afraid to cause pain and distress in order to get it. Chief Willoughby (Woody Harrelson) is trying to be understanding with what Mildred is going through, and does his best to explain that there just isn’t the evidence to catch her daughters killer, while struggling with his own demons and an unruly police force. Dixon (Sam Rockwell) is a racist and violent cop and is no way a good guy and the film doesn’t paint him like one. He’s the main antagonist of this story, hurting anyone close to Mildred in order to get to her.

That’s the thing about Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, none of the characters are particularly likeable and all of them are very angry and mean. While you understand Mildred’s frustration it doesn’t mean she’s doing the right thing, and while Dixon does evolve as a person, he’s never completely changed or “good”, he’s still the disgusting and dangerous person he always was, just changed slightly.

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is funny but it’s also super dark – the script manages to balance these two elements really well. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is tough to watch at times, remembering a scene at a dentist still makes me shudder, but the incredible performances pull you into the story and gives you a memorable film. 5/5.

REVIEW: Artemis by Andy Weir

Jazz Bashara is the best smuggler in Artemis – the first and only city on the moon. Life’s tough if you’re not a rich tourist or a billionaire, so smuggling in the occasional bit of harmless contraband helps cover her debts and pay the rent. Then Jazz gets the chance on commit the perfect crime, with the pay-out being too lucrative to turn down. But pulling off the impossible heist is just the start of her problems, as things go wrong and her life becomes endangered. Soon Jazz discovers a conspiracy in Artemis, and her only chance at survival lies in a scheme even riskier than the first.

I was so excited about Artemis when I first heard about it. It’s about a heist (I love heist stories) on the moon (it’s always cool having stories set in space) by the guy who wrote The Martian (one of my favourite books I read over the past few years). Unfortunately, it didn’t live up to my expectations.

I found it difficult to get into Artemis, mainly because I couldn’t get used to Jazz’s narrative voice. It’s very conversational as if she’s talking to someone else. It is quite similar to Mark Watney in The Martian – but there was a reason his voice was like that, he was recording himself. With Jazz it felt forced, the humour didn’t land a lot of the time and the way she talked about herself and her body was weird and in my experience, not how women generally talk about themselves.

Naturally there’s technical and science jargon but the way it’s explained makes it pretty accessible and easy to understand. However, there is a lot of it and it can bog down the action and I found myself skim-reading it more often than not. The heist itself was pretty good and I didn’t see many of the twists and turns coming as things naturally went wrong for Jazz and her plans.

Artemis is just a bit meh. The whole idea of a city on the moon is really cool and the way the city is described makes it vivid and exciting but the story itself is just OK. Jazz is more grating than a sarcastic hero the book tries to make her out to be and I couldn’t connect to her or any of the characters really. Artemis was an alright book, but it was a disappointing one for me. 3/5.

READ THE WORLD – Norway: One of Us: The Story of a Massacre and its Aftermath by Åsne Seierstad

On 22 July 2011, Anders Behring Breivik killed 77 of his fellow Norwegians in a terrorist attack that shocked the world. Many of his victims were teenagers. Following this atrocity, questions began to appear; how and why could this happen? And who was Anders Breivik? One of Us does it’s best to answer these questions and more with extensive witness testimonies and interviews.

One of Us is a very tough read, but it’s a compelling and emotional one too. The book follows Breivik’s life, from growing up with his single mother and half-sister, to being an adult where his grand plans don’t always work out for him. This way you get an insight into his mind. It is often unsettling as you begin to almost understand why he is the way he is, but it’s still difficult to comprehend how someone can have such a hatred for those with differing political views, religion, and social ideals.

Something that I wasn’t expecting was the book to follow a few of Breivik’s young victims; Bano Rashid, Simon Sæbø, Anders Kristiansen and Viljar Hanssen. By following these teenagers from childhood, Rashid and Sæbø especially, you get to see how their lives and beliefs are the complete opposite to Breivik’s, it makes some uncomfortable and upsetting reading sometimes as all these young people had bright futures in front of them.

One of Us is made from Breivik’s own accounts that he published online, as well as interviews from friends, family and any officials that came into contact with Breivik at any point in his life. This gives you a comprehensive picture of Breivik’s mind when he set out to attack the government quarter of Oslo and the AUF-run summer camp on the island of Utøya.

There’s a sense of foreboding as time passes and the account gets closer to the day of the attack. The way the attack is described is both distressing and gripping. It’s a proper page-turner and you need a breather afterwards because of the tension and how graphic the violence is, though there’s an air of distance that allows you some breathing space, however small. There’s also a feeling of frustration as you learn about how the emergency and security services reacted on the day and the failings they had, you get the sense that there could have been less casualties if there’d been better communication between the various services.

One of Us not only covers the lead up to the attacks and that day, but the subsequent trial and how families of those who died and the survivors are, or aren’t, coping with what happened. It allows for a feeling of closure, even if those grieving may never get it themselves. One of Us is an emotional rollercoaster that offers an insight to an event and all those involved that I knew very little about. It’s a tough read but I feel it’s an important one.

REVIEW: Wind River (2017)

When game tracker Cory Lambert (Jeremy Renner) finds the dead body of a young Native American girl (Kelsey Asbille) frozen in the snow, FBI agent Jane Banner (Elizabeth Olsen) is called in to investigate the murder.

Wind River is an atmospheric and haunting film. It’s beautifully shot and has a wonderfully melancholy score. The setting is a character itself and the beautiful yet often desolate snowy landscapes adds to the isolation the characters feel. All these elements bring an extra level of harshness to the story. This is an environment where only the strong survive and the characters you meet are made from the environment they live in.

Jeremy Renner is fantastic and his performance here is one of his best to date. Gil Birmingham plays Martin, the father of murdered Natalie and he is brilliant. There’s a scene when he opens the door to Renner’s Cory and the emotions that play across his face is like an acting masterclass. Olsen’s Jane Banner is a pleasant surprise as while she’s not used to the environment she’s thrust into, she’s competent and smart and can more than hold her own.

The mystery may not be the most complex, nor the most original, but it is the characters that pull you into this film as they fight to discover the truth. Wind River is gripping and eerie and it’s almost uncomfortably gritty and realistic. The final act is heart-pumping stuff but it never becomes outlandish. Wind River is a chilling film and one that will stick with you for a while. 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: Message from the King (2016)

South African Jacob King (Chadwick Boseman) arrives in Los Angeles to find his missing sister who appears to have gotten involved with the criminal underworld.

Boseman gives a solid performance as a guy who’s more than capable to take on anyone and anything thrown at him on his mission for justice. King is a smart man and has an aura of control that brings him to the attention of pretty much anyone he encounters.

The plot moves slowly in this film as there’s a lot of layers to this criminal underworld King dives into. With a lot of layers comes a lot of characters including major players Wentworth (Luke Evans) and Preston (Alfred Molina). Wentworth is more interesting of the two as he’s the middle man who knows everyone and attempts to deal with any potential problems.

The fight sequences are brutal and on the most part they are well-shot and easy to follow. They are also rather bloody and King is not afraid to be violent to get the information he wants.

Message from the King is an average crime thriller that’s only real notable achievement is having a great lead in Chadwick Boseman. 3/5.