drama

REVIEW: The Hate U Give (2018)

Starr (Amanda Stenberg) has two lives, one in her poor black neighbourhood and one in her affluent, predominately white private school. Those two lives come crashing down when she witnesses the fatal shooting of her childhood best friend Khalil (Algee Smith) by a police officer, and Starr must find her voice and stand up for what’s right.

The Hate U Give is a fantastic film. It’s about so many real-world problems affecting black people. It talks about race, discrimination, poverty, drugs and violence. Starr lives in a neighbourhood where there’s so many open and warm people, but there’s also the gang led by King (Anthony Mackie) that is a constant threatening presence in everyone’s lives. Starr describes herself as two people, Starr Version One is who she is at home, when she’s with her family and her people, Starr Version Two is who she is at school, where she doesn’t use any slang and doesn’t cause a fuss.

Amandla Stenberg is fantastic at showing the different sides of Starr, how they conflict and how over the cause of the investigation into Khalil’s death she learns to find her voice and be her true self. Starr is more of a watcher to begin with, standing in the corner at parties and just watching how events unfold. More things, often horrible things, happen to her than her being proactive, but as the fear and pressure mounts, she starts to choose to react to what she’s seen and it’s all the more powerful when she does.

Stenberg carries the film brilliantly, but she’s also surrounded by a great cast, the majority of which give nuanced performances. Russell Hornsby and Regina Hall play Starr’s parents Maverick and Lisa, who each want the best for Starr and their family as a whole but that translates into different things. Lisa wants to protect her family, ideally moving them out of the neighbourhood to somewhere safer, while Maverick says this is their home and encourages Starr to speak out and do what she thinks is right. They are both incredibly loving parents and any scenes with Starr and her family can go from being sweet and funny one moment, to them all suddenly being under threat.

Besides from being a film with an important message, The Hate U Give also shows the life of a modern teenage girl to great effect. Starr and her friends have Tumblr’s, they have different tastes in music, and when friendships become strained Starr must weigh up the positives and the negatives to see if this relationship she wants to fight for. It’s the little things, Starr’s love of The Fresh Prince and how she and her friends used to play at being Harry Potter makes her a relatable modern teenager.

The Hate U Give is a heart-breaking and powerful film, but at its heart there is a strength to it and so much heart. It will make you cry but it will also make you laugh. It balances so many different elements but with an assured direction from George Tillman Jr. and Amandla Stenberg’s phenomenal lead performance, The Hate U Give is an incredible film that will stand the test of time. 5/5.

I read, loved and reviewed The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas last year, you can find that review here.

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REVIEW: Lizzie (2018)

A psychological thriller about the murders on the Borden family in 1892.

I had never heard of Lizzie Borden or the murder of her stepmother and father until earlier this year. To be honest, I’m not sure if it was something I was just oblivious to, or if it’s a story that never really became well known here in the UK.

Chloë Sevigny is captivating as Lizzie Borden. There’s a simmering rage beneath almost everything she does that you cannot look away from. This rage is because of her father (played by an icy Jamey Sheridan) who controls everything she does and belittles her interests.

Lizzie forms a friendship with the family’s new Irish maid Bridget (Kristen Stewart), with her Lizzie finds comfort in an otherwise cold home. The romance and tension between Lizzie and Bridget is electric to begin with but it’s unfortunately lost as the film progresses. More could’ve been made of their relationship but both Sevigny and Stewart give powerful performances.

Costuming and set design are both beautiful and haunting in equal measure, making this relatively small budgeted film look lavish. Lizzie is a film which seems to fall into a lot of the negative stereotypes of period-dramas, there’s lots of scenes of characters walking slowly down hallways or staring at each other across tables. In some scenes this builds the tension, but in others it seems to be dragging everything out when you’re waiting for the violent act to finally arrive.

Lizzie is an interesting film with a lot to say though it never finds the balance of what it wants to be. It’s a family drama, a crime thriller, and a lesbian romance, but it never gives any of these elements the time to be fully fleshed-out. The performances of its leads are better than the script their given, making Lizzie a straightforward and unremarkable retelling of this classic case. 3/5.

REVIEW: Train to Busan (2016)

When a zombie virus breaks out in South Korea, businessman Seok-woo (Gong Yoo), his young daughter Soo-an (Kim Su-an) and fellow passengers struggle to survive on the train from Seoul to Busan.

I’d heard a lot of positive things about the Train to Busan over the past year or so, and I had meant to watch it sooner, but you know how these things work. Last week it was announced that there was going to be an American remake and my Twitter feed went slightly mad for Train to Busan, so it gave me the push to finally watch it.

And I loved it.

The zombie element was brilliant. It looked like it was mostly tonnes of extras used rather than computer generated zombies when there was. The actors who played the infected characters must be either contortionists or dancers (or both) because the way they moved their bodies was unnatural and with the added makeup made it very unsettling.

It’s not only the infected people that the passengers of the train have to deal with, but each other. Mistrust, greed and self-interest are a big part of some of these characters motivations. Some put themselves before others, while others learn to work together in order to keep their humanity as they try and survive.

The action sequences are utilised well, and the film knows how to build tension and have a decent payoff. While Seok-woo and his daughter are the characters you’re first introduced to, and are probably considered the main characters, there’s so many other characters introduced that due to performances and the script are instantly likeable and sympathetic. There’s a lot of people you want to survive but due to the nature of the film, you know that’s not going to be the case.

Train to Busan is a zombie-horror film but it is a film that has a lot of heart and there are a lot of moments that pull on your heartstrings due to the tension and the performances. It’s a film with a lot of surprises and it puts your emotions through the ringer.

Train to Busan is exciting, emotional, thrilling and all in all is a fantastic film. 5/5.

READ THE WORLD – Belgium: Thirty Days by Annelies Verbeke

Translated by Liz Waters.

Alphonse is a friendly and observant former musician, who has left Brussels with his girlfriend Cat to live closer to her parents in the rural district of Westhoek. It’s a place that has open fields and more World War I graves than almost anywhere else in Europe. Alphonse starts a new life as a painter and decorator, and he becomes entwined in so many peoples lives. But when he, Cat and one of his clients help a group of Afghans and Syrians at a makeshift refugee camp, he learns that not all of the locals appreciate what they’re doing.

Somewhat surprisingly the first chapter in Thirty Days is chapter 30, and each chapter number decreases. While it’s a slow book to get going, this adds to the fact that the story appears to be building to something – and it certainly does build to something unexpected. Plus, like the title suggests, it each chapter is a day, something I didn’t register to begin with.

I really liked Alphonse, but I could see why his partner Cat would get frustrated with him. He’s a painter and decorator so he goes to various people’s homes to do a job but there’s something about him that causes his clients to offload a lot of their thoughts or secrets on him. He becomes involved in so many people’s lives and Cat doesn’t always like that as it takes his time and thoughts away from her and their life together. He’s a guy that’s almost too nice for his own good but his niceness is never off-putting or eyeroll-inducing.

Alphonse is victim to a lot of racism ranging from micro aggressions, being asked where he’s really from after first saying Brussels, to full on hostility, such as when a client’s neighbour accuses him of trying to break into their house. As Thirty Days is from Alphonse’s point of view, it never stops and describes how he or Cat look like, so you get to know him without any preconceptions meaning when he does experience racism it’s more of a shock and an interesting way of presenting what he faces.

Surprisingly, Alphonse doesn’t encounter the refugee camp until the last third of the book. Instead, the clients he has and his relationships with them, and his girlfriend and their friends and family, is the main focus of a lot of this story.

Thirty Days is beautifully written and it’s a moving story. The themes of being a good person, helping others but still making sure you don’t give up all of yourself are all handled well. As is both the underlying and overt racism Alphonse experiences, in every day life, and when he tries to help refugees who are just looking for somewhere to call home. It deals with so many opposites, good and evil, beauty and ugliness but it never feels preachy. Thirty Days is a compelling story and I devoured the last few chapters as I just had to know where things were going for Alphonse. 5/5.

REVIEW: About Time (2013)

When Tim (Domhnall Gleeson) turns 21, his father (Bill Nighy) tells him the family secret – all men in their family can travel back in time. Tim learns that changing events in his life isn’t as easy as you might think, especially when he uses it to find love.

About Time is a charming and funny romantic drama. It blends together the science-fiction of time travel with all the best stuff about love and family. While it is funny, About Time is also incredibly sincere – it’s definitely the kind of film you should embrace wholeheartedly and leave any cynicism you may have behind.

When Tim meets Mary (Rachel McAdams) things go awry when he uses his time travel skills. Slowly he begins to realise that changes to his past have consequences and it can be tough keeping track of it all. The way the relationship between Tim and Mary develops is really sweet. There is the potential for it to be a bit creepy, what with Tim learning more about Mary each time he might time travel but to her it’s a first encounter, but the chemistry between Gleeson and McAdams and a heartfelt script makes it Tim’s awkwardness more endearing than sinister.

While the main focus of Tim’s story is about his romance with Mary, About Time is also about family. Tim adores his sister Kit Kat (Lydia Wilson), their relationship is just the best and he always tries to help her, with and without time travel, though it doesn’t always work out. And then there’s Tim and his dad – these two have one of the most touching, and realistic, father-son relationship I’ve seen in a while.

There are some issues with About Time. It’s perhaps a little long with the middle dragging slightly and some may find it too sentimental, but all in all it’s a beautiful film. About Time is funny and romantic and shows off all the highs and lows of what life truly is. Yes, Tim may have time travel to help him out now and again, but it’s much better to take the time to experience life in that moment. 4/5.

REVIEW: Bleak House by Charles Dickens

Bleak House is a saga with the legal case of Jarndyce and Jarndyce, which is about an inheritance dispute, at its centre. There are many characters and subplots in Bleak House, but the heroine of the story is Esther Summerson, a young woman who is taken under guardianship of John Jarndyce, and who’s connections become a focal point of the story.

Bleak House has two narrators, Esther Summerson and an unnamed omniscient narrator. To begin with, their stories seem to run parallel to each other and there’s not much that connects the two of them but as the story progresses the narratives merge and characters from both perspectives interact with one another.

I think listening to the audiobook is what got me through Bleak House, if I’d been reading the physical book I would’ve given up on it. The audiobook of Bleak House I listened to was narrated by Hugh Dickson and I think he did a fantastic job at making each of the many many characters sound different and, more often than not, memorable. This made the story and its many sub-plots and characters easier to follow. Also, I think the more humorous moments or dialogue were easier to understand when listening to it, compared to reading it, because the language was easier to comprehend

Bleak House is a dense story with is subplots and characters, but it also has an interesting mystery and is sometimes funny too. There’s so much going on in Bleak House it’s hard to give a summary of it or go into all the characters – I will talk a bit about Esther Summerson though. Esther grew up unloved, so she is very self-deprecating and grateful for every little thing. Even though she grew up in an unloving home, she’s someone with a big heart and a lot of love to give. Her relationship with Ada, another of John Jarndyce’s wards, is lovely as they support one another and quickly form a solid connection.

I’m happy I’ve finally read Bleak House, it’s been sitting on my shelf for nearly five years, and I enjoyed it more than I thought I would. It’s a story with a legal battle, with romance, with family drama and it’s a detective story too. It’s so many things and it’s a commentary on the poor in London and the tough and potentially hopeless situations they are in. 3/5.

REVIEW: The Tale (2018)

After her mother (Ellen Burstyn) discovers a story she wrote when she was thirteen, Jennifer (Laura Dern) tries to re-examine her first sexual relationship, the people involved and what truly happened that summer.

The Tale is based on writer and director Jennifer Fox’s own experiences and based on the story she wrote as the teenager. This makes this story all the more compelling and heartbreaking as it’s a sexual abuse survivor, telling her story in her own words as she tries to come to terms with what happened to her.

This is not just a story about abuse, but a story about memory. Jennifer can remember her riding teacher Mrs. G (Elizabeth Debicki) and her coach Bill (Jason Ritter) so vividly but has difficulty picturing herself in those memories and remembering how she felt and what she knew. As she reconnects with people who spent the summer with her at the riding school, Jennifer begins to realise that some of her memories don’t match up with other people’s recollections.

The Tale is told with two narratives running parallel to one another; Jennifer as an adult, suddenly having to confront her past, and Jenny as a child (Isabelle Nélisse) living the experiences Jennifer is now recalling. Both Nélisse and Dern give powerful performances. Nélisse is brilliant as she slowly becomes less naïve about the world but still believing that what she’s experiencing is a relationship and that Mrs. G and Bill really love her. Dern is phenomenal as she perfectly captures the anguish as she revisits her past and now she’s older she can start to put into context what she experienced. The scenes where young and present-day Jennifer are in the same space helps show the haziness of memory as between the two of these points of view they try to find the truth of what happened.

The Tale handles the sensitive subject matter with grace and care. It’s a tough film to watch as it doesn’t shy away from the uncomfortable and sexual content. However, it’s powerful to see an independent and strong-willed woman reassess the trauma she experienced and decide what to do with that information. 5/5.