true story

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.

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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.

READ THE WORLD – Nepal: Gurkha: Better to Die than Live a Coward by Colour Sergeant Kailash Limbu

A memoir from Colour Sergeant Kailash Limbu on his time in the army, the tough training he went through to become a Gurkha, and what it was like during the thirty one day siege in the town of Now Zad in Helmand, Afghanistan during the summer of 2008.

I hadn’t really heard of the Gurkha’s much, not until when actress and comedian Joanna Lumley became the public face of the campaign to provide all Gurkha veterans who served in the British Army before 1997 the right to settle in Britain, in 2008. This led me to learning more about the Gurkha’s and I was fascinated by how determined and fearless they were.

Colour Sergeant Kailash Limbu’s story definitely puts across what the mentality of the Nepalese soldiers who become Gurkha’s is like. Only a handful who apply each year actually make it through the three stages of the tough selection process to become Gurkha’s and join the British Army. He recounts the things he went through in training and how being a Gurkha, like his grandfather and uncle, was all he ever wanted to be.

The book almost seamlessly goes between Kailash Limbu’s childhood and training to what was happening during the siege in Now Zad at regular intervals. This means that while the parts on the Gurkha selection are no less interesting, they are slower paced compared to the action in Afghanistan. I thought it explained military terminology very well, along with things like Nepal’s caste system. There’s a lot of information to take in really but it’s all pretty easy to understand.

The sections on the siege are tense and compelling. It does a great job of putting you right into the action and how relentless the attacks on the small compound the Gurkha’s were based in. You get to know the men Kailash Limbu fought with and how they do all get scared sometimes but they fight through it and do the job that needs doing.

Gurkha: Better to Die than Live a Coward is a great memoir. It is interesting and exciting and is a great insight into what it means to someone to be a Gurkha and why they are so revered in the military. 4/5.

REVIEW: The Zookeeper’s Wife (2017)

The true story of Antonina (Jessica Chastain) and Jan Zabinski (Johan Heldenbergh), keepers of the Warsaw Zoo, who helped saved hundreds of Jews during the German invasion.

The Zookeeper’s Wife is a beautiful looking film. So bright when the zoo is open and thriving, it’s almost idyllic before the Nazi’s invade, Antonina cuddles lion cubs and her son Ryszard (Timothy Radford and Val Maloku) has a pet skunk. Living and working in a zoo almost seems utopian until it’s suddenly and violently attacked. The juxtaposition of the innocence of animals to the cruelty of people can be a little heavy handed at times but there are certain moments of brilliance, like when tigers and lions walk down the bombed streets of Warsaw.

There’s a throbbing sense of foreboding once Antonina and Jan decide to try and help the Jewish people who had been rounded up into a ghetto. Every person is a potential threat from the cook, to neighbours and of course the German soldiers who are always on patrol. They have a plan and a system in place but there’s always the threat of discovering hanging over their heads like a guillotine.

The Nazi occupation is personified by German zoologist Lutz Heck (Daniel Brühl) who is forever a lurking and watching the Zabinski’s. It begins as a mutual love of animals but his interest soon turns to Antonina causing an extra thread of tension to grow not only between the two of them but also between Antonina and Jan.

The themes of love, friendship and loyalty in the face of hatred, which are so often seen in films set in this time period, are no less affecting. This is down to great writing and brilliant performances from all involved. The Zookeeper’s Wife is sometimes a brutal and upsetting experience but there is still hope in the way Antonina and Jan resist the Nazi occupation and their ideologies. 4/5.

REVIEW: Hidden Figures (2016)

hidden-figures-posterThe true story of a team of African-American women mathematicians including Katherine Johnson (Taraji P. Henson), Dorothy Vaughan (Octavia Spencer) and Mary Jackson (Janelle Monáe) who played a vital part in NASA during the early years of the American space programme.

Each of the three leads are brilliant in their roles. They feel like friends who laugh together and support each other but they are also so incredibly smart. Their chemistry is palpable. Katherine is a human computer and can figure out maths that hasn’t even been invented yet, Dorothy is wise enough to get ahead of the game, learn things like IBM computing and make her and her colleagues invaluable to NASA, and Mary wants to be an engineer and while her boss, a Polish Jew, can see her potential, she fights when every door seems to be shut in her face.

The supporting cast is great too. Jim Parsons’ Paul Stafford is one of the mathematicians who doesn’t like Katherine is smarter than him and just about every other man in the room, Kirsten Dunst’s Vivian Mitchell is Dorothy’s boss and Kevin Costner’s Al Harrison is in charge of the division that works out how to put a man in space and bring him down again.

Hidden Figures isn’t a particularly surprising film as it has the same standard formula just about any true story film has – but that doesn’t diminish how brilliant it is. Hidden Figures knows exactly what it is and it doesn’t need huge twists because the history and these women’s lives are interesting enough.

On a purely aesthetic level Hidden Figures is a beautiful-looking movie. The costumes, hair and makeup are brilliant and the soundtrack is full of catchy songs from Pharrell Williams and Mary J. Blige. The score reunites Pharrell Williams and Hans Zimmer and they produce music that’s exciting and heartfelt and fits the time period and the film itself wonderfully.

Hidden Figures celebrates those who history, and society, tends to overlook and shows the power of perseverance and friendship. It is amazing to see a film with three African-American leads who are masters in their field. It’s an inspiring yet also frustrating when you see what these women had to put up with, yet they still wanted to be a part of something amazing and contributed to NASA’s success. Hidden Figures will leave you with a huge smile on your face but along the way you may shed some tears, both happy and sad, and it’s really a great, crowd-pleasing movie. 5/5.

REVIEW: Spotlight (2015)

spotlight movie posterThe true story of how journalists at the Boston Globe exposed the massive scandal of child molestation and cover-up within the local Catholic Archdiocese.

When the Boston Globe’s new editor Marty Baron (Live Schreiber) takes over, he tasks the papers investigative team Spotlight to look into claims that the Catholic Church knew about child abuse by priests and had covered it up for decades. This starts a somewhat hesitant investigation to begin with – Boston has a large Catholic populace and the Church is a powerful entity – but as they begin meeting victims of abuse and a lawyer (Stanley Tucci) who will keep fighting for the victims, they realise that they have discovered something huge.

Spotlight is truly an ensemble film. There is no real lead as these journalists are a team, fighting for the same cause. You believe that these people have been working with each other for years and understand how each other tick. Walter ‘Robby’ Robinson (Michael Keaton) is the head of the team who knows some of the top dogs that might have been involved with the cover-up while Sacha Pfeiffer (Rachel McAdams) looks out for the victims and wants them to know how important their stories are. Mike Rezendes (Mark Ruffalo) gets increasingly more passionate about justice as the case progresses and Matt Carroll (Brian d’Arcy James) is the guy who looks for minute details to make sure the story is water-tight. They all give great performances as people who are often shocked and dismayed by what they uncover.

The way Spotlight is shot and the lack of showy performances makes it sometimes feel like a documentary, that you are watching these real people struggle with their findings and their desire to expose the truth. The script should be commended as well, there’s no quips and there’s only one real loud argument but that doesn’t stop the film from being captivating.

Spotlight does a great job of not sensationalising this chilling story. It shows that the legwork of investigative journalism often takes months of research and interviews but that doesn’t make it any less tense and thrilling. It also doesn’t talk down to the audience, it expects you to keep track of all these people they’re investigating and talking to and to make the connections yourself.

Spotlight is a gripping and important true story that everyone should see. 5/5.