drama

REVIEW: Far from the Madding Crowd (2015)

In Victorian England, independent and headstrong farm owner Bathsheba Everdene (Carey Mulligan) attracts three very different suitors, sheep farmer Gabriel Oak (Matthias Schoenaerts), successful and mature bachelor Mr Boldwood (Michael Sheen), and Sergeant Troy (Tom Sturridge).

Far from the Madding Crowd is a beautiful film, in every sense of the word. The cinematography really shows of the beauty of the British countryside, as well as how beautiful the cast is. The music is gorgeous, emotive and very fitting to the story. The story itself is captivating and for an adaptation of a nineteenth century novel it’s almost surprisingly modern in how Everdene is presented as an independent young woman.

The film never really does what you expect with these characters – unless you’ve read the book of course. You expect there to be strong antagonism between Boldwood and Oak but you see they respect each other and the role they each play in Everdene’s life. The three suitors all have good and bad points and it’s clear to see why Everdene may want to be with one over another, or not be tied to one man at all.

Carey Mulligan is a fantastic lead, often giving a very subtle performance, and the whole cast is brilliant – the chemistry between Mulligan and Schoenaerts is electric. The scenes between them two were by far my favourite as they navigate the roles they play in each other’s lives.

Far from the Madding Crowd is a gorgeous film with compelling and understandable characters. 4/5.

REVIEW: Electric Souk by Rose McGinty

With nothing left for her in Ireland, Aisling travels to the Gulf to live out the Arabian Dream. There she meets fellow expats living the dream including debonair Brian who has heaps of charm and champagne, though is perhaps not all he seems. She also gets to know locals like Laila, her translator, and activist Hisham and finds herself in between the sleazy world of expats and wanting to learn more about her new home. As the Arab Spring erupts, Aisling is faced with a world of violence and fear and she’s left not knowing who she can really trust.

Set in an unnamed country in the Gulf, though I presume it to be Saudi Arabia based on a throwaway comment that the book Girls of Riyadh by Rajaa Alsanea is banned, Electric Souk doesn’t always paint the city and its people in the best light. The divide between the Western expats and the locals is starkly obvious and the way characters act about the rules of the country they’re currently living in made me uncomfortable. Some of the expats talk in quite a derogatory manner about how the locals live and the rules of their society, and it’s a pet peeve of mine when people don’t accept other people’s way of life so that part of the book really grated on me.

Electric Souk is a bit slow to start but there’s an air of suspense and uncertainty throughout the second half of the book that made it much more compelling. With people disappearing, hints of corporate espionage and civil unrest edging ever closer, it becomes more of a thriller than the story of a woman trying to make a success of her new life. When Aisling starts to hear conflicting accounts of events, some of which she was involved in, she’s unsure of who to trust and starts to doubt everything she knows about the people she’s come to count as friends and the place she’s starting to call home.

I really liked how Aisling and Laila’s friendship grew. Aisling surprised me by being an expat that was actually interested in the culture and people she was now living with, instead of just being into the alcohol and partying like the majority of Western characters seen. She doesn’t want to be a part of the “us vs them” mentality but doesn’t always get a say in the matter which makes an interesting dilemma.

Aisling is often a character who a lot of stuff happens to, and she’s not always proactive in her own story. However, while I found that a bit frustrating at times, I realise that Aisling is a victim of circumstance and there is so much out of her control. Electric Souk ends up being a compelling and fast paced book with a real air of threat and danger. 3/5.

REVIEW: Carrie Pilby (2017)

Nineteen-year-old Carrie (Bel Powley) struggles to make sense of the world and be happy as she tries to deal with an absent father (Gabriel Byrne), her higher than average IQ and the fact she doesn’t really like to leave her apartment.

Carrie is super smart and honest and that means she doesn’t always get along with people who she tends to find have the opposite traits. She’s a nineteen-year-old who thinks she knows everything and is pretty confident in who she is, but that doesn’t mean she’s always right. Carrie is a compelling yet sometimes frustrating character because of that – she likes to give the impression she’s all grown up but then she can have a childish attitude to somethings. I liked that about her. She’s the quirky, adorkable lead we’ve seen before but Powley plays her in a way that makes her feel more real.

Her relationship with her psychiatrist Dr. Petrov (Nathan Lane) is great and their scenes are often funny yet touching. Powley and Lane bounce off each other really well.

There’s humour in Carrie’s escapades as she tries to complete a list of goals set by Petrov, some of it doesn’t always land but it’s sweet and fun and it all helps Carrie to grow and be more aware of how lucky her situation is.

While Carrie Pilby is an indie film that’s typical of the rom-com, coming-of-age genre, director Susan Johnson puts together a tracking shot on the streets of Manhattan as Carrie and her neighbour Cy (William Moseley) take a walk on Christmas Eve. It makes their conversation feel so natural as they get to know each other and, as the viewer, you get to see a different side to Carrie.

Carrie Pilby is a fun, coming-of-age drama with a wonderful lead in Bel Powley. 3/5.

REVIEW: Miss Meadows (2014)

Prim and proper elementary school teacher Miss Meadows (Katie Holmes) moonlights as a vigilante, but her quest for justice gets put in danger when she becomes involved with the local Sheriff (James Badge Dale).

Miss Meadows looks more like a 1950’s housewife than a killer and the two juxtaposed together can be shocking and unsettling. Miss Meadows has old-fashioned values and all the children in her class seem to love her but knowing what she’s really like makes her interactions with the children feel a bit weird. She’s lovely and kind but through her there’s a steely core.

Katie Holmes gives a good performance here. Throughout the film you start to see the different layers of Miss Meadows, why she does what she does with little to no remorse and how she can be so smiley but deadly. The romance between Miss Meadows and the Sheriff works really well, these two people who are technically on opposites sides of the law come together and Holmes and Dale have good chemistry.

Miss Meadows is a bit of an odd film. It’s sweet yet bloody, and Miss Meadows is an interesting character. There’s often a dark sense of humour about it all which doesn’t always work but it does make for a weirdly captivating film. 3/5.

READ THE WORLD – Zimbabwe: The Book of Memory by Petina Gappah

Memory is an albino woman, serving time in prison in Harare, Zimbabwe. When she was nine she was adopted by Lloyd Hendricks, a wealthy white man. It is his murder she is now convicted of and is facing the death penalty. As she waits for her death she tells the story of the events that brought her here – but is everything as she remembers it?

The Book of Memory is an interesting story but one that I sometimes found hard to get through. It wasn’t till I got to the half way point that I began to like the book more and start reading it more quickly. I think that’s because The Book of Memory is split into three parts, Memory’s childhood with her family, her growing up with Lloyd and her time in prison. Though while the book is labelled like that, she does meander with her storytelling meaning it jumps from the present to various points in the past. I personally found the parts more focussed on her adolescence with Lloyd more compelling than her childhood – though I did like how the story brings those two halves of her together.

Memory’s name is apt as so much of her story is recounted from her memory and she doesn’t have anyone to collaborate what she remembers. It’s an interesting to see how something you see and remember when you were a child changes dramatically when you get more information.

Memory is a likeable character, as are many of her fellow inmates, though naturally the prison guards are the main antagonists Memory’s present situation. That being said, there is one guard whose behaviour towards Memory is so nice and almost kind that it makes both the reader and Memory uncomfortable.

I did like the smattering of Shona language used in the book, as well as how it didn’t give you a crash course in Zimbabwean history. Memory often would go between calling her home country Zimbabwe and Rhodesia, and talk about warring political parties and how white people were seen.

For me, there’s not much memorable about The Book of Memory. While I liked Memory well enough, the other characters weren’t particularly notable and there wasn’t many stand out moments in the story. 2/5.

REVIEW: Rudderless (2014)

When his son Josh (Miles Heizer) dies, Sam (Billy Crudup) stumbles across a box of his demo tapes and lyrics and starts to perform them. Soon he finds himself in a band, trying to use his son’s music to find some piece.

Rudderless is directed and co-written by William H. Macy (who also stars in the film as the owner of the bar Sam performs at) and for his directorial debut he puts together a great film. It’s filled with soft lighting, brilliant performances, wit and emotion.

The script has its twists and it deals with a heavy subject matter but all the cast handles it brilliantly. While it is sometimes a film that tugs on your emotions, it also has humour and vibrant characters that all feel like real people with their own problems.

So much of the emotion in the film comes from the music. It’s where Sam finds a connection with his son and where he finds a lovely yet unexpected friendship with fellow musician Quentin (Anton Yelchin). The songs are all fantastic and it’s the first time I’ve bought a films soundtrack in ages. Each song is touching and they are all well performed, Crudup and Yelchin both have great voices and chemistry both hen performing a song together and in just about every scene they share.

Rudderless is one of those films where I don’t really know how to describe it – it’s full of wonderful characters, a touching story and it is something special. It’s a hidden gem and I feel it’s a film that’s best to go in knowing as little as possible. Rudderless really is a delightful film. 4/5.

REVIEW: Z for Zachariah (2015)

Ann (Margot Robbie) lives alone with her dog after a disaster that wipes out most of humanity, that is until two men, John Loomis (Chiwetel Ejiofor) and Caleb (Chris Pine), stumble into her safe world.

Z for Zachariah is an eerie film. You get to see how Ann lives a monotonous yet safe life while the rest of civilisation seems to have disappeared. She’s obviously strong and resourceful but she has an air of naivety around her as she doesn’t know what it’s really like outside of her little bubble of safety. So when she encounters first John and then Caleb, who both appear to have seen terrible things, she’s very trusting and comes across much younger than the two of them.

Z for Zachariah is beautifully shot and has some haunting music. It’s a film that takes its time, letting you get to know these characters and their relationships as it slowly builds small hints of conflict between them. The three actors are all brilliant and they all have good chemistry and the dynamics presented between their characters is interesting.

Z for Zachariah is a gripping drama and is definitely one of those films that its best to go into knowing as little as possible. 4/5.