Review: Wonder Woman

5 stars

DC doesn’t often compete when it comes to superhero movies but with the latest release Wonder Woman it has truly outdone Marvel.

Wonder Woman is the superhero movie we have been waiting far too long for. However, the first female-led superhero movie, directed by a woman, has landed in cinemas with a bang. It has been a critical and commercial success and if you haven’t already you absolutely need to go see it now.

Wonder Woman stars the truly amazing Gal Godot in the lead role as Diana, an Amazon, one of a tribe of female warriors, put on Earth to defend mankind from the influence of the God of War. The visuals on Themyscira are stunning, and it seems to be a feminist utopia, full of strong women – where being a warrior is normal. Unbeknown to them however, the world is already waging war, which they only discover when Steve Trevor’s plane crashes into the sea by their island. Diana and Steve connect, and a number of jokes about Diana meeting a man for the first time ensue in the most brilliant fashion.

However, Steve’s disaster brings war to Themyscira’s doorstep. This realisation inspires Diana to take up arms and hunt down, Ares, the God of War himself, in the midst of the First World War.

The film is a classic superhero origin story, with plenty of action, but also a great plot and well defined characters. Diana is not only a badass warrior demi-goddess, but she is true superhero material, making it her mission to see the good in humanity and stop us from being corrupted by the hate Ares spreads; it is truly the movie we need for 2017. Diana is constantly underestimated and even treated like she is crazy, a feeling 50% of us can definitely sympathise with, but this doesn’t stop her. She is determined and resilient, pushing forward and making strides for women everywhere – whether it is in her stunning modernist suit in Edwardian London, battling army bureaucracy, or striding across No Man’s Land to save local villagers from the ravages of war. The movie is not only funny and heartwarming, but full of action, Diana’s fight scenes are no easy feat – she goes up against a Greek God for goodness sake.

The film doesn’t fall into the misogynistic traps that other superhero films do, with cheap sexist one liners or an overt sexualisation of its women. Every joke in the film is appropriate, and it is actually funny – proving that you don’t need to be needlessly provocative to have fun. The film also nods its head in a few intersectional directions, with a diverse cast and acknowledgments of racial issues – from how difficult it is to be cast as an actor if you aren’t white to the seizure of Native American land by Europeans. It isn’t perfect – we could certainly have seen more black women with bigger speaking parts, but it goes further than many other superhero films – or films in general for that matter.

But all in all this film is empowering, it is pushing boundaries and it is forging paths for the future of women in film. And it is also simply just a great film.

Anne with an E: First Look

Anne of Green Gables is a beloved childhood memory for many people, so when Netflix announced that they would be doing an original series there was obviously a huge reaction. Many people felt that it needed to be done, others were outraged – no adaptation could match the book. However if it was going to be done, then who could do it better than Netflix with their huge successes in original series and adaptations in recent months?

Series 1 is now available on Netflix, so after seeing Episode 1, what first impressions can we take from this highly anticipated series?

It’s a lot darker than the books

Looking back, we should have guessed that there was more to Anne’s past than meets the eye. She turns up to the Cuthberts’ in a fair state and in the book it is just passed off that she’s a bit of an oddball and her desire to stay with the Cuthberts’ because asylums aren’t very nice. However in this adaptation Anne has a number of flashbacks which show her to be a victim of abuse at the hands of the previous family she ‘worked’ for. While this may be a bit serious and gothic for some, it definitely made it feel more real – suddenly her emotions make sense rather than seeming histrionic.

Anne is not quite so precocious 

The book Anne is frustratingly precocious to the point it becomes comedic. By bringing Anne down to earth a bit, her wild imaginings and ridiculous speeches becomes a lot more meaningful. She is just as heartwarming as ever, but she is also relatable and earnest. I wish I could have been like this version of Anne at 13. She also gets a much appreciated feminist update when she declares ‘girls can do anything boys can and more.’

Its pacy

Some of our favourite moments from Anne’s early days at Green Gables feel as though they are raced through immediately – however this might have something to do with the fact that Netflix has made the first episode a double one – lasting a full hour and thirty mins. I don’t really understand why since Netflix has proved that we like our viewing in short and many installments. My attention was wavering through this first one, and I can’t help but think I would have appreciated it split into two, to have Anne’s best slip-ups a little more spaced out.

It is aesthetically perfect

I was going to say aesthetically ‘stunning’ then I realised this wasn’t the right description. Green Gables is beautiful, scenes of Matthew riding through water are breathtaking and the contrast between the lovely present of Avonlea and Anne’s horrific past is on point. However there are some visual aspects which are less ‘stunning’ but which makes it all the more perfect. Anne is wonderfully presented as the thin, freckly, red-headed vain girl we all know and love and I am so glad because TV adaptations have a tendency to give appearances the Hollywood Treatment. Equally our first view of Diana shows a fairly real girl in her early teens. Neither have been altered, airbrushed or beautified and that’s ok because they are perfect just the way they are.


Overall, a pretty positive first look at a classic childhood story, I just hope that future episodes can relate the journey Anne goes through growing up and do the classic justice.

The Handmaid’s Tale: First Look

2017 has seen a resurgence in Atwood’s classic, partially as a staple in the feminist canon, and partly as a reaction to fears of such a dystopian future under the Trump administration. Hulu’s adaptation couldn’t have come at a better time.

Now that the first episodes have dropped, what can we tell about this long awaited series?

Colour is everything

If you have read the novel you will know how important colour is – the handmaiden’s red gowns for example. However, the series takes this a whole step further. Offred’s past is shown in fairly bland, real colours, while the present is almost Tim Burton-esque in it’s contrast. The symbolic reds of the handmaiden’s, blue of the wives and greens of the Marthas aren’t the only colours here, the brightness of the oranges, the greenery of the surrounding suburbs and the stark whites of the buildings are all used to create a vivid and too-perfect-to-be-real setting.

Young and beautiful

The commander and his wife, Serena Joy, are written as older in the book, with the commander even having silver hair. Joseph Fiennes certainly doesn’t fit the bill and the same can be said of his counterpart Yvonne Strahovski. There is definitely some Hollywood glamourising going on here but hopefully the change to the characters serves a better purpose than simply aesthetics.

Amped up violence

From the very first episode we see far more violence than in the book, with the ‘salvaging’ coming much earlier than expected – evidently for the shock factor. We also see a gruesome addition at the ‘Red Centre’ so this seemingly sets the pace for more violence as the show progresses.

An update for 2017 

There are subtle hints indicating a contemporary time period – from technology to passing remarks. Moreover, the series departs from the books which dealt with racism in a very specific way, instead employing a diverse cast.

What’s in a name?

The short answer: everything. We get confirmation of character names to a much greater extent than in the book and most importantly we find out Offred’s name – no spoilers here you have to watch! If you are looking for literary significance or hidden meanings, this revelation is HUGE. 

So basically everything is bigger, brighter and more dramatic, as is only to be expected from such a high profile TV adaptation. Only time will tell whether the series will do it’s book justice but it is looking pretty positive so far!

Review: Beauty and the Beast

4.5 stars

The much anticipated Beauty and the Beast remake hit cinemas on Friday and for a 90s child who grew up wishing she was Belle, it was wonderful.

The film does a fantastic job of recreating the best moments from the original, while embellishing the story with elements from the original tale and introducing some new moments to make it original.

The cast was stellar; Emma Watson channelled the book-worm we all know and love perfectly, bringing the feminism she is so well known for into some wonderful moments which make Belle an even more feisty heroine. Gaston and Le Fou make a hilarious pair, with the blantant misogynism tempered by well-placed humour.

This version’s Beast is more cantankerous than terrifying, despite the CGI revamp with horns – but then it is easier to see why Belle can fall in love with him, as he becomes less her captor than a victim also.

The CGI was incredible, with the servant characters looking more ornate than ever and the castle truly magical. Stylistically, references to the period through costume, wigs and make-up helped to root the tale in a setting. The songs did justice to their predecessors, so much so that a stalwart fan might find themselves mouthing along. As a bookworm, I appreciated the small nods to the original tale, which help to unite and embellish symbols from the cartoon. Equally newer elements helped to bring out more backstory, particularly around Belle’s mother, giving the whole story more substance, which it really needs to carry as a more three-dimensional live action piece.

There were a few moments where I was frustrated at moments from the original that were omitted, or missed opportunities to be just a little more feminist. However, it is an adaptation, not a complete transposition of the cartoon, and equally it can’t please everyone. All in all it was a wonderfully nostalgic trip down memory road and a fantastic new experience all at the same time.

 

Review: The Jungle Book



Disney’s series of remakes have been controversial among fans, with some stalwartly refusing to let go of their favourite animations and others desperate to see the stories updated for adults.

There is absolutely no denying these live action remakes are for adults who are still kids at heart, but so far that has not hampered the quality in the slightest, if anything improving it. The Jungle Book is no exception. The CGI is incredibly impressive, resulting in a visually stunning production which captures the landscape and changing seasons of the jungle with acute and precise emotion. 

The storyline is almost as perfect, closely referencing Kipling’s original story while also paying homage to the beloved animation by including versions of the songs ‘Bare Necessities’ and ‘I Wanna Be Like You’, which fit the modernised style well and obviously brought a wave of nostalgia to many viewers.

Incredibly impressive… visually stunning… with acute and precise emotion

The impeccable casting was the cherry on top. Elba was fantastically evil without running the risk of becoming a pantomime villain. Murray brought lighthearted humour to the table as Baloo, while Walken’s King Louie became an almost mafia-like gangster villain which was an interesting characterisation.

Neel Sethi as Mowgli however, was the one who stole the show. It could not be imagined how difficult it must have been to be the only actor appearing on screen, particularly at such a young age. His performance was sweet, moving and utterly believable, despite the fact that he was talking to wolves, panthers and bears. 

Overall this adaptation was beautiful, heartwarming, full of nostalgia and genuinely brilliant. If this is the standard which Disney are setting then I cannot wait for their next project. 

Review: High Rise

  

I haven’t read any JG Ballard so I’m unable to pronounce as to whether Ben Wheatley got High Rise ‘right’. So from the perspective of an almost unknowing cinema goer this to me felt like a very clever, very well done dystopian fantasy.  

It nailed the seventies with the colours, the costumes, and the hair not to mention the prolific sex. An atmospheric score included ‘SOS’ by Abba in a variety of styles to suit the moment. And obviously the subject was of great significance.

The high rise becomes a microcosm of society with the rich at the top sucking up the electricity, leaving the poor of the lower floors without power. The rich have dogs and the poor have children. The rich have parties in period costume, in a way that, perhaps heavy handedly, recalls pre-Revolution France. The lower floors have parties I imagine to be typical of the 70s, filed with sex and drugs.

  Image from Wikipedia

The main plot device is obvious, and apparent from the beginning: the lower floors are becoming dissatisfied and anarchy ensues. The question is more how does it happen and what will happen next?

It is strange, intriguing and perfectly captured typical postmodern fears of social collapse. For this it is highly entertaining and incredibly clever. However at some moments you do start to feel that the point has been made and it is dragging it out just a little. Equally if you are an animal lover to the point where you struggle to hold back the tears if something soft and furry gets hurt then this film will not be pleasurable for you.

While I didn’t particularly enjoy that element I can at least say that the adaptation was fun, engrossing and very cleverly executed. While some have commented that it was overdone so much that the message was lost, I think it got the balance just right, involving you in the action enough so that you almost feel complicit while keeping you at enough of a distance to understand the warning. And what is that you ask? Go watch it and find out. 

Review: Hail, Caesar!

5 stars
Lights, camera, action! The Coen brothers’ latest effort takes us back to the 1950s – the golden age of Hollywood. Shot using film, the colour carries a nostalgic golden glow, lending a real atmosphere to the film however it is far from sickly sweet. 
 Image fromempireonline.com
 
We follow ‘fixer’ Eddie Mannix through the trials and tribulations of life looking after movie stars and film directors, namely, when lead actor, Baird Whitlock, lead in the studio’s most crucial film, is kidnapped.

On top of this Mannix has to deal with a pregnancy scandal, how to make a film depicting Christ accurate and a demanding boss, with actors and directors who are even worse.
  Image from Bustle

The plot is very simple, something which could easily have gone very wrong and made for a weak and boring narrative. However, pair this with sharp humour, mix in plenty of satire, a dash of flashy dance numbers and serve with some of the biggest names in Hollywood and you are on to a winner. 

Hail, Caesar! celebrates Hollywood’s golden era while simultaneously parodying it. It is rare that a satire can also be such a ‘feel-good’ film but this truly is. The appearances from the likes of George Clooney, Scarlett Johansson and Channing Tatum felt almost like cameos, with each character comprising of a seperate issue in Mannix’s day, and all based on their different sets.

However, it is this quality that balances on the fine line of satire; you can’t help but feel that with such big names these actors are playfully mocking their own industry and role in it. 

  Image from theverge.com

Deceptively simple, yet incredibly clever and entertaining, Hail, Caesar! is quite simply a lot of fun. 

Review: The Night Manager

  

The BBC’s flagship six part drama, co-produced with AMC, has been described as many things, with most recent views being that Hiddleston’s role was an extended audition for the next 007.

     Photo from USA Today

 
But as cynical as many of the descriptions offered were the BBC developed the perfect formula for The Night Manager. A classic spy thriller brings in readers and older generations, while updating the story keeps it current, relevant and original. Pair all of this with a stellar cast and you’ve really hit the money. The six part formula is short enough to hold interest and the Sunday night slot is prime time for drama.   
 Photo from The Telegraph

Hiddleston was suave, sophisticated and wily. Is he Bond material? I’m not so sure but he is certainly well suited to Le Carré’s style and despite the public school accent managed to channel an element of the bad boy, occasionally making us question which side he was working for.
 Photo from the Radio Times

Despite Hiddleston being the main character it was Hugh Laurie who stole the show as Roper, one of the most charasmatic villains I’ve seen on TV in a while. He may not have been the scariest but when his humour catches you off guard and you start to sympathise with him, he bowls you over backwards with what he is capable of. Roper is always in control and he never gets his hands dirty.  
  Photo from the Radio Times

But he certainly has a match, albeit unconventional, in the figure of Angela Burr, diversifying Le Carré’s original characters. Played by Oliva Colman who’s pregnancy was written into the script, her character tops the others by a long way. She is a fierce, determined woman who isn’t taken seriously in her profession and is constantly demeaned by men and younger women in power suits, who exemplify the corrupt echelons of the security services. 

With one of the country’s best funny-men and a pregnant spy you would think the show risked becoming a farce, yet it was far from it. The drama was serious and tense, the humour was perfectly poised and utterly engaging. If it is the input of a successful American channel which has helped this then it is a partnership which I would like to see continue in the future. If anything is going to give channels a fighting chance against streaming services, then it will be series like The Night Manager

Review: The Hateful Eight

From the moment I saw the trailer and the cast line-up for The Hateful Eight I knew I had to see it. Described as a cross between Agatha Christie and a Western, this film definitely fits the bill and is another example of the brilliance of Tarantino.

The film opens with an old western style credits scene, with garish yellow typography evoking the heritage which Tarantino is drawing from. The first scenes take place across a blindingly white snowy landscape, made all the more beautiful by the cinematography with choice to use 70mm film a brilliant one. While I didn’t see any of the special screenings for this, even the standard viewing was gorgeous with light leaks and sun glare making the practically arctic setting even more atmospheric; I could practically feel the cold.

Tarantino’s storytelling was taken to a whole new level with the use of numbered and titled chapters to break up the story line. This technique is later accompanied by a voice-over and flashback to change the narrative perspective, which is a sharp shock to the audience who have become utterly immersed in the story so far. It does however show Tarantino’s skill in developing a narrative that can engross, shock, distance and then captivate his audience.
The cast for the film is just important as the director himself, with Samuel L. Jackson playing a freed-slave and ex-Union solider now turned bounty hunter in the years after the civil war. This sets up some incredibly interesting racial politics, as many of Tarantino’s works do, which come to drive the action of the film. Jennifer Jason Leigh is brilliant as the seemingly mad and terrifying Daisy Domergue, who is the murderess being taken to Red Rock for hanging. She is hilariously funny, immensely engaging and slightly grotesque all at the same time.

An oncoming blizzard forces a collection of colourful characters, and strangers, to stay at Minnie’s Haberdashery with racial and political tensions soon rising. Walter Goggins as the supposed new sheriff of Red Rock, is excellent, with a commanding presence and huge personality, reminiscent of Boyd Crowder in Justified, but not a straight imitation, illustrating that while Goggins has a particular style, he is more than a one trick pony.

The pace is slow at first but builds up to an incredibly scene where Samuel L Jackson’s character confronts the former confederate general staying there also. This scene is testimony to the power of both Tarantino and Jackson, being violent, chilling and hugely uncomfortable, without spilling a drop of blood, but also being immensely comical at the same time. From here the story really takes force, with the twist and the ending unraveling before you can even guess what will happen

Overall this was a fantastic film, and I would rate it very highly all round, being visually arresting, with some brilliant performances, and with incredible direction, a combination which make for truly engaging and entertaining storytelling.

Image by www.joblo.com

Review: Jane the Virgin

  From its original advertisements Jane the Virgin first seemed like it was going to be a bit of a farcical comedy. I seemed unconvinced for a while. However, one night when I was heading off to work, the programme started and my housemate was hooked in disbelief. After spending the next few weeks being told how great it was, I tuned in and caught up from the beginning. Watching up to three or four episodes at a time, I had clearly caught the bug.

Jane Villanueva is a Latina twenty something who, it is made clear from the beginning, has remained a virgin and intends to until she marries. Living a happy life; about to graduate as a teacher and engaged to her boyfriend Micheal Cordero, her life is turned upside down when she is accidentally artificially inseminated with the only sperm sample from her boss and the man she kissed five years ago, Rafael Solano. 

As the show is both based on and a parody of the traditional Spanish ‘telenovela’ we delve into a world of breakups, romances, long lost relatives, scandal, drug dealing and murder. The telenovela is known for its over dramatic plot twists, far more sensational than any English soap, and the show uses this tradition and also satirises it through the figure of Jane’s long lost father, telenovela star Rogelio de la Vega. 

The addition of the highly comedic narrator and on screen subtitles which include texting and hashtagging cements the show firmly in an age of modern technology and modern issues, making it humorous and identifiable for a relatively young audience. This is furthered in the very identifiable character of Jane, who we follow through the struggles of what many in the audience would term a ‘disaster’, as well as simply trying to navigate American life as a young woman from a Latino family. 

The dilemmas that Jane faces pose interesting ethical questions and sheds and interesting light on reconciling what may seem like old fashioned religious ideas and 21st Century modern life. Through frequent flashbacks and a strong insight into her home life we become heavily emotionally invested in Jane’s character and her story.

Special commendations go to the creators for offering a show with so many strong female characters, with their own agency and also for breaking these women out of, and questioning, traditonal stereotypes such as virgin, mother, temptress etc. The show is funny, clever and self-satirising but at the same time it has a simple, lighthearted and genuine feel. It is also thought provoking, dramatic, tense and so full of plot twists you will constantly be screaming at the screen for the next episode. 

Photo by themarysue.com