drama

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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REVIEW: Columbus (2017)

When Jin’s (John Cho) father becomes seriously ill, he travels from Seoul, Korea to Columbus, Indiana to wait to se if he recovers. There he befriends Casey (Haley Lu Richardson), a young woman who loves the city and its architecture.

I will start this reviewing by being honest and telling you that I did miss a bit of this film due to nodding off in the cinema. I’m not sure how much I missed, maybe about 15 minutes in the middle, as I felt my eyes drooping and waking myself up by my head suddenly falling forward. While I the fact I had a snooze might not make Columbus a bad film, I think it was a sign it’s a film that wasn’t for me. Now onto the review proper.

Columbus is a very slow film, focused on two different people who find someone to talk to. Jin doesn’t want to be stuck in this town as he waits for his father to either get better or die, he mostly stays because Eleanor (Parker Posey), his father’s friend, says he should. Casey loves her town, her job in a library with her friend Gabe (Rory Culkin) and while she’s smart and everyone says she should go away to college, she’s reluctant to leave her mother (Michelle Forbes). Cho and Richardson both give great performances and they do feel like an unlikely friendship.

Columbus does some really interesting things with how it frames its characters and the landscape, with buildings and sculptures often getting more space on the screen than the people. There’s one scene where you are seeing the characters through their reflection in mirrors rather than face on. This makes a layer of distance between the viewer and the characters. This along with the fact that important conversations or character moments are often unfinished or seem to happen off screen makes it difficult to connect with the characters and what they are going through.

Columbus is a beautiful looking film with a calm, soothing soundtrack, but not a lot really happens. While everyone gives good performances, there’s not enough to pull you in and become attached to any of them. If you like interesting architecture, with characters walking and talking about architecture, Columbus might be for you. 2/5.

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 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: Patti Cake$ (2017)

Patricia Dombrowski, a.k.a. Patti Cake$, aka Killa P (Danielle Macdonald) dreams of being a rapper and escaping her life in New Jersey. With the help of her best friend Jheri (Siddharth Dhananjay) and some determination she fights to achieve her dream.

Patti Cake$ is your usual underdog story but its got so much heart to it that you can forgive it for pretty much any genre tropes it follows. That being said, it does have some unconventional story telling methods as Patti’s daydreams of meeting who she sees as rapping royalty O-Z (Sahr Ngaujah) are interwoven with her everyday life.

It’s the characters and performances in Patti Cake$ that really makes it. Patti’s relationship with her mother (Bridget Everett) is difficult and she has to work two jobs to support her and her Nana (Cathy Moriarty). Nana is the one who believes in Patti whereas her mother feels rapping isn’t a talent nor something her daughter should be doing. When Patti, Jheri, Nana and Basterd the Antichrist (Mamoudou Athie) are together making music you can feel the chemistry between them sizzle, like what you’re hearing could be something incredible.

Patti Cake$ is a realistic drama with a lead character you can’t help but root for. There are some funny moments in Patti Cake$, most of them come from Nana who brightens every scene she’s in with her blunt commentary, but it’s really a honest portrayal of a family struggling to survive when there’s bills to pay and little work to find.

Danielle Macdonald gives a, hopefully, star making performance in Patti Cake$. Her grit and determination pulls you into this story and you can’t help but to root for her. Patti Cake$ won’t be for everyone but it’s a small film with a lot of heart and some killer music. 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: 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.