true story

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.

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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.

REVIEW: Talvar (2015)

When a teenage girl and her family’s servant are found dead, the police investigation is incompetent from the outset, contaminating evidence and accusing a controversial suspect. When experienced investigator Ashwin Kumar (Irrfan Khan) joins the case, he must make sense of the little evidence available and several conflicting theories about what really happened.

Talvar is a fictionalised and dramatized version of the 2008 Noida double murder case, a case I personally hadn’t heard of before but one that got the media into a frenzy and all people connected to the case were put on trial by the media before the police or courts could do much else.

You see the night of the murders retold multiple times from different perspectives. Each one using various witness testimonies but also disregarding some other piece of evidence that doesn’t fit the prevailing theory. As the scenes are so different each time, it never feels like you’re retracing old ground, and each flashback serves a purpose.

There’s no getting around the fact that the police originally at the crime scene, did a terrible job, not calling in forensic teams and letting family member, neighbours and journalists walk into the crime scenes with no bother. It’s quite incredible how bad these men were at their jobs. From then on, the film does a good job at presenting all the evidence and suspects in a largely unbiased way, leaving you to decide who you believe.

With so many members of the police force being either unlikable on incompetent (or both) Ashwin is a beacon of sanity in this circus that is an investigation. He’s smart and sympathetic and you can feel his exasperation with this almost impossible case and the bureaucracy surrounding it.

Talvar is a gripping mystery albeit it a frustrating one due to the inept police work that could lead to such a heart-breaking and horrible situation for this family who has lost their daughter. 4/5.

READ THE WORLD – Croatia: The Hotel Tito by Ivana Bodrožić

The edition I read was translated by Ellen Elias-Bursać.

She is nine years old when the Croatian War of Independence breaks out in the summer of 1991. She is sent to a seaside town to be aware from the danger. Meanwhile, her father has disappeared fighting with the Croatian forces. By the time she returns, everything has changed – her father is missing and she, her mother, ad her brother are displaced persons, fleeing the violence with nothing to call their own.

The Hotel Tito is written in first person and all the way through the story you never learn the young girls name. It wasn’t till towards the end of the novel that I realised it was based on author Ivana Bodrožić’s experience, that she was the young girl we were following for five years.

It’s interesting to see the fallout of war from a nine-year-old’s point of view. She doesn’t always understand what different politicians stand for, the political jokes adults around her say, and what could’ve possibly happened to her father. Even as she gets older, and being a displaced person is a part of who she is, she doesn’t always understand people’s resentment towards her and she takes on the attitude of us vs them in regard to her classmates.

The girl, her mother and brother have to live together in one room of a hotel for years. The hotel is for displaced people, with whole families to a single room. As she becomes a teenager it’s harder for her because both she and her older brother don’t have any personal space, they are stuck in one room that isn’t a home for years.

I knew nothing about the Croatian War of Independence before reading The Hotel Tito. I really mean nothing as it was a conflict that I had never even heard of. The fact that people had to move from one part of the country to another for their own safety, leaving their homes and belongings, and were often met with hostility from their own countrymen is hard to wrap my head around. These people were refugees in their own country, and their own politicians near enough abandoned them, with no home and little to no financial support.

The Hotel Tito is the story of a family who are stuck in limbo, and a young girl who not only has the usual struggles that comes with becoming a teenager, arguing with siblings, fancying boys and going to parties, but also having a sense of no real security. The Hotel Tito is easily accessible thanks to seeing such harsh realities of war through the eyes of a young person, but that makes this true story even sadder.

REVIEW: Battle of the Sexes (2017)

The true story of the 1973 tennis match between World Number One Billie Jean King (Emma Stone) and ex-champ Bobby Riggs (Steve Carell).

What’s really interesting about Battle of the Sexes is that it’s main focus isn’t just the tennis match between Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs but how society was in the 1970’s in relation to the women’s movement and how King and Gladys Heldman (Sarah Silverman) set up their own women’s tennis tournament. This allows you to really see where King was coming from, what obstacles she and other female tennis players were facing, and how hard she fought for respect from her male peers. This helps you realise how difficult a decision it was for King to take up Riggs on his offer, as the weight of people’s expectations were on her shoulders. This build up to the big match also gives time to Riggs side of the story, showing his more human-side and how he may not believe all the chauvinist stuff he says but rather says it for a reaction.

Everyone gives compelling performances in Battle of the Sexes. Emma Stone does a great job in portraying the inner conflict in King as she finds herself attracted to hairdresser Marilyn Barnett (Andrea Riseborough) while still caring for her husband Larry (Austin Stowell). Carell is hilarious as Riggs, but you also get to see his vulnerabilities that comes with being a gambling addict.

Battle of the Sexes has snappy dialogue, compelling characters and is a lot of fun. It balances the drama with the comedy and when you finally see the match between King and Riggs, it’s a thrilling showdown between two larger than life people.

Battle of the Sexes is a great film with an important message and themes and it’s so unfortunate that those themes of equal rights and opportunities between the sexes is still so prevalent over 40 years later. 4/5.

REVIEW: 6 Days (2017)

In April 1980, a group of gunmen stormed the Iranian Embassy in London, taking hostage all those inside. Over six days there’s a tense standoff between the police and the hostage takers with the threat of the SAS being sent in to take back the embassy hanging overhead.

The action follows three main characters and their experiences. There’s police negotiator Max Vernon (Mark Strong) who must keep the gunmen’s leader Salim (Ben Turner) on the phone and try to keep the hostages alive while the politicians, army and police try to come up with a plan of action, SAS Lance Corporal Rusty Firmin (Jamie Bell) who is one of the team leaders of the squadron preparing for the assault and journalist Kate Adle (Abbie Cornish) who reports from the police cordon outside the Iranian Embassy. You’re introduced to these characters on the first day of the siege and get very little background information about them upfront. This means you are really relying on the actor’s performances to pull you in and they succeed in doing this.

There are many false starts for the SAS team as they get ready to attack before something happens and they’re told to stand down. You can feel the rise and fall of the tension and for a film with little action till the end, it does a good job of building the suspense and keeping you right there with these characters. When you see the SAS finally storm the Embassy it is a set piece that really pays off.

Even though 6 Days does little to change the formula of these real story thrillers, it works with the usual tropes and makes a solid, enjoyable film. It’s snappy 90 minutes runtime certainly helps as there feels to be little filler, instead focussing on the characters, their preparations and the rollercoaster of emotions they experience in such a short space of time. It might be generic, but 6 Days is an immersive and satisfying film. 3/5.

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.