21st century girl

reviews – my way.

The Death of Stalin

‘Stalin’s dead,’ 

Armando Iannuchi directs The Death of Stalin, a satire film that follows Stalin’s final days and the chaos that irrupts the days after his death. It stars Micheal Palin, Paddy Constantine, Rupert Friend, Andrea Risenbourgh and Steve Buscemi, among many other famous faces.

As a huge fan of Rupert Friend, I was reluctant to wait to see this movie in my local Vue cinema. Indeed, Friend played the part of Stalin’s spoilt son Vasily incredibly well in the scenes that he was in (he was in a lot less scenes than I thought but he still took over the screen with his screen presence when he was in the film). I was thoroughly engrossed in the film while I was watching it. It’s one of those films that you have no idea what is going on while watching the film, but it all comes together afterwards. Most of the humour came from the comic timing, and it is more about what you don’t see than what you see (even though the burning body scene was rather unexpected). I don’t know if it’s just me but a lot of Friend’s characters seem to have some form of a drinking problem, the character of Vasily included, and all of his lines were funny. He does, however, play them incredibly well and I hope to see him in more roles in the future. As for the other actors, I thought that Steve Buscemi was rather good, and I did not realize how many noteable films that he was in until I looked on his IMDB page later on. I spent some time after the movie quoting parts of the film to family members.

My only issue with the film that it eventually felt a bit rushed, though that did not seem to matter in my overall film experience. Likewise, it did have rather clever visuals and the costumes were superb. From what I read, the director clearly did his research, and the historical accuracy is good (the quote that Stalin’s daughter- played by Andrea Risenbourgh- says about ‘why couldn’t he shoot himself like mother’ is in fact true to life) but if I wanted accuracy, I would watch a Stalin documentary, not a satire film.

Overall, a thouroughly enjoyable satire film with some great famous faces and a few laughable moments scattered throughout the movie. I would highly recommend it.




Zero Dark Thirty

Kathryn Bigelow’s ‘Zero Dark Thirty’ follows the story of a female CIA operative named Maya (Jessica Chastain) who locates and hopes to hunt and kill Osama Bin Laden following the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

I watched this film, not only because it is apparently my younger brother’s favourite film, but rather as research for a module on auteur directors for my university studies, and Kathryn Bigelow’s being one of the auteurs that we looked at in lectures and seminars (though we looked into the Hurt Locker more specifically). While watching this film, I could not help but think that it draws many similarities to the TV show Homeland (one of my personal favourite TV shows), and at times, it had that Homeland vibe. Had Damien Lewis, Rupert Friend, Clare Danes or Mandy Pantinkin been in Zero Dark Thirty then I would have assumed that it would be Homeland all over again, right from the theme of terrorism and the CIA and some of the familiar filming locations.

Right from the very start, we are pulled into the danger zone, from the audio clips of panicked presumed victims or family members of 9/11 victims right from the beginning. This gives an emotional touch to a seemingly heavy film. It’s as if Bigelow is giving a statement on the post 9/11 America and Pakistan and applying it to these characters finding what some say was the most wanted man alive-Osama Bin Laden. In a scene that we think is relaxing is soon interrupted by the disruption of a suicide bomb or a bomb going off. Even as viewers, we feel as though we are being surveillance.

Overall, a film that gets you thinking right from the very start, and gets straight to the point in the opening scene.


La La Land (2016)

‘I’m a phoinex rising from the ashes’ 

La La Land is a film following an actress named Mia (Emma Stone) and a jazz musician named Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) face the hardships of their aspirations and fall in love. The film also stars John Legend and J.K Simmons.

I heard about this film more from the reputation rather than the film itself, and from the mishap at the Oscars regarding Best Picture. My sisters also like the film quite a bit, even though I’ve generally heard mixed reviews about the film. Indeed, the film is a lot like marmite, you either love it or hate it. Despite the fact that the film was wonderful with the actor choices, visual experience and soundtrack, I couldn’t help but think that the film’s plot has been done many times before. Likewise, the two leads played their part to the T. I like how it references other musicals and had a Grease vibe going on in the beginning of the film, even though La La Land is set in modern times. It is a great homage to jazz, and the accompanying jazz soundtrack was brilliant. I have a huge guilty pleasure for musicals, and this one is probably one of my favourites. Out of the two leads, I’m probably being a bit basic here but I prefer Ryan Gosling’s character. I had previously seen Ryan Gosling in films such as The Notebook and I’m aware of his reputation in films as being the attractive lead male love interest type. Likewise, It shows that if you have a passion for a dream in life then you have to work your way up for it, as shown by Sebastian playing Jingle Bells on a piano in the beginning and achieving his dreams at the end. The same goes for Emma Stone’s character and her character’s scriptwriter/actress aspirations. It was pleasant to see J.K Simmons make an appearance, although I’m still terrified of his characters as a result of watching Whiplash (A film that the La La Land director Damien Chazelle also directed).

Overall, La La Land is a type of film that you think will just be full of recycled old cliches, but the cliches soon fade and you get enthralled in the film. I particularly like the homage to jazz in the soundtrack, especially ‘A lovely night’. Whether the film is good or watchable depends on the person, though.


Arrival (2016)

Arrival is a film about a linguistics professor named Louise Banks (Amy Adams) who interepets the language of alien visitors. It also stars Forest Whitaker.

I watched the film as part of a university cinema society screening, and I approached the film thinking the wrong sort of assumptions. At first, the film was quite hard to get into, though I soon picked up the pattern and the cinematic idea of the hero’s journey that I also learnt about in one of my lectures at university. The frequent flashback sequences of the main character and her daughter Hannah (who, from what I picked up on throughout the film, died from some kind of cancer brought on from the radiation) were also rather sweet, if not poignant at times.

If I were to watch this film again, I would pick up on the things that I missed out on in the last viewing. While this movie wasn’t my favourite movie in the world, the actors did a tremendous job and the the film itself definetly shows the impact of news. I also thought that it was rather clever that the young daughter built one of the aliens out of playdough. I could not help but notice that the flashback scenes are tinted lighter colours, as if to show happier times, while the other scenes are slightly darker, perhaps to show a change of mood and the passing of time. Arrival is one of those movies where you have to watch all of it to understand it otherwise it won’t make sense, and the film takes some time to get into. The montage effect was particularly effective when showing a series of flashbacks throughout the movie. Had I known about the film back when I was in college then a series of ideas that were applicable to the project at hand could be based around some of the aspects of the film.

Overall, a fairly decent film with superb actors, an unpredictable plot and great cinematography. My only criticism would be the fact that it drags at times, but it is still a good enough movie.


Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky

Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment, to put it briefly, follows the story of a former law student named Raskolnikov, who commits an act of murdering two women with an axe. Only a prostitute named Sonya can offer him redemption.

Although I had heard of a few icons in classic Russian literature, such as Leo Tolstoy, Anton Chekhov and of course, Dostoyevsky, I had never read any Russian literature in its intirity until I read Crime and Punishment. In fact, my older sister (who loves books) recommended the book to me, and I ended up reading it before lectures and in my own time. Though it was partly ruined by the fact that the famous Moors murderers read it and was a key motivation towards one of their murders, Crime and Punishment seemed like a good book all the same. I am aware that the book has been made into several film adaptations, though I have tried my best to avoid watching the adaptations for fear of ruining my perception of the novel, though interestingly, I realised that the late, great John Hurt played Porfiry in the 2002 version.

The novel, as a whole, teaches that all actions have consequences, and that there was no way that he could ever get away with murder. To be honest, he got what he deserved. I simply love the author’s flowing, overly detailed descriptions. Although some of the novel dragged just a tiny bit in places (i.e pages and pages of dialogue), my favourite part of the entire book was when he told Sonya (perhaps one of the main female characters in the entire book) that he killed the women, who turned out to be connected to her in some way or another. I also think that the novel is a critical reflection of Russian society at the time of when Dostoyevsky was writing it. You had your peasants, members of the police force, and the prostitutes.This book has definitely launched my recently found small interest in Russian literature.

If you have several days to spare, then go ahead and read Crime and Punishment. People always seem to assume that old books are long and dreary, but depending on the book, it is rather interesting, even though the names of the characters in this book were rather long and at times, I was confused with who was who.

Overall, a great, classic novel that has broadened my horizons while exploring new things to read and enjoy.


Wonder Woman (2017)

I shall destroy you!’ 

Wonder Woman is a movie based on the DC comics, and it is about a powerful woman named Diana (Gal Gadot) who discovers her true identity as she fights wars with other men. It also stars Chris Pine and David Thewlis to name a few big names.

I approached the film thinking that it involved Mary-Sue archetype characters, but I was quickly proved wrong. Although it was a little dramatic at times, I  watched it with a large group of people as part of a cinema society taster session at university, and I think most of the people liked it. I ended up discussing it with a group of friends on the way home. I suppose that this would be a good example of a feminist film. The main character Diana had dreamed about being wonderwoman ever since she was a young girl. It’s as though she has been on a journey from an island full of women to being faced with battle. It makes fun of gender norms, showing, in the simplest way possible, that men and women should be and are in fact equal. There is non stop plot twists and conflict throughout the film, even when they’re not on the battlefield. David Thewlis was brilliant in his role too, and I have seen most of his other work as he seems to be in everything, but he makes a good job of it. Chris Pine was also good in his role, along with, of course, Gal Gadot as the leading lady. If I had the chance, I would watch this film again.

Overall, a decent film adaptation from a well known DC comic that proves that not all female characters have to be hapless maidens, but rather powerful superheroes.


The Confirmation

I don’t want to eat Jesus’ 

The Confirmation follows the story of a carpenter named Walt (Clive Owen) who spends the weekend with his son Anthony (Jaeden Lieberher), and a series of events lead Walt and Anthony to bond, including Walt losing his toolbox. It also stars Maria Bello, who plays Anthony’s mother and Walt’s ex wife.

I knew of this film as Clive Owen is one of my favourite actors, so this review may or may not be a little biased. Indeed, Jaeden Lieberher, who plays the son, shows promise in case he decides to pursue roles in the future. I think that, in a way, the movie is more from the child’s perspective. As for Clive Owen, his character was incredibly unpredictable, and as usual of Clive Owen, he delivers a certain degree of charm to his roles. I have also found that his character’s tend to have a personal demon, such as a drink of drug problem, and the former is no different for the character of Walt.

I have also noticed that some of the shots in the film consist of the child by himself, perhaps showing that he does not have a close parental figure, or the child is somewhat independent. There are also heavy religious undertones, from the boy going to church to the lead up to his first communion/ confirmation (a big event in a catholic person’s life) .

If you are a fan of Clive Owen’s work, watch this film. You won’t be disappointed. It is quite interesting how it takes place over the course of a weekend.




Lullaby for Pi (2010)

‘Your name is 3.14 something?’ 

Lullaby for Pi follows the story of a musician named Sam (Rupert Friend) who is recently getting over the death of his partner Josephine, and lives in the hotel room where they first met. Soon, he strikes up an unlikely romance with an artist named Pi (Clemence Poesy), who hides out in his bathroom.

I didn’t really know what to expect when I watched the movie. The premise of the film sounded a bit quirky, but it was executed well enough to be watchable. Rupert Friend is a surprisingly good singer and pianist, though from past viewings of his other films he just tends to throw himself in the role, making himself believeable to the part. If you want to hear him sing and play the piano, then go ahead and watch the movie. I especially liked the duet between him and Pi. As for Clemence Poesy, I had previously seen her in films like Harry Potter, and she played the part of Pi incredibly well.

However, at times, the film seems a bit all over the place, though I would definitely watch it again to pick up on the bits that I did not notice the first time that I watched it. The characters are not just cardboard cutout stereotypes, and they all had real emotions. You have the lonely pianist who hangs out in his hotel room the whole time, you have the rebellious guy who just wants to play the piano, much to his father’s dismay, and you have the rather insecure artist. Had I known about this film at all when I was in college then I would have done an art piece inspired by this movie and I would have somehow gotten hold of a Polaroid camera. The film definitely teaches you that art and music is a way to express yourself and your feelings and emotions.

This film, however, did not go down very well with the critics, and I can partly see why. So far, I haven’t read a positive review about the film. The movie does not exactly appeal to everyone, and at times, the dialogue is admittedly a little cheesy. The soundtrack, however, is fantastic.

Overall, a decent and rather quirky film that manages to embrace its quirks and come out with a good, watchable movie with remarkable actors in it. It also stars Forrest Whittaker.



The Ghost and Mrs Muir (1947)

‘And memories. I have those, you know. Even if it was a dream’

The Ghost and Mrs Muir is about a newly widowed woman named Lucy Muir (Gene Tierney) who moves with her daughter Anna to a seaside cottage that was previously owned by a sea captain named Captain Daniel Gregg (Rex Harrison), who haunts the house. It also stars Natalie Wood as the young Anna Muir, Robert Coote and George Sanders.

Until recently, I had last watched the film when I was a lot younger so I only remembered bits of it (mostly the Rex Harrison scenes and the ending). Likewise, the film provoked my ongoing interest in old, usually classic movies. I also happened to notice, that Rex Harrison’s character stands in the background to give a ghostly prescence, almost to show a sense of belonging that he lived in the house before her, and it’s on a metaphorical scale of either watching over her or guarding his house even though the character had died. He was also originally introduced by a cackling laugh and his shadow to emphasise his presence. He brought a great deal of charisma and charm to his character. Perhaps the light focused only on his eyes in the painting when she opens the door in an early scene shows a sense that she is being watched.

I think that there is a sense of beauty in old movies, perhaps a lost art. I particularly liked the shots of the tide coming in on a stormy day, and the medium close ups of the main characters faces to show expression. I also like how there is next to no successful romantic plot line as Mrs Muir’s suitor Miles ‘Uncle Neddy’ Fairley only led her on only for his wife to reveal to her that he is in fact married with a few children. What I gathered is that it isn’t the first time that he had an affair. There is a huge contrast between Captain Gregg and Miles Fairley. Captain Gregg is foul mouthed but also rather charming (in a good way) and Miles Fairley is a charming yet rather manipulative (excuse my swearing) bastard as he knew how to charm Mrs Muir but not in a good way, but she eventually learns the error of her ways.

This film gives me a great deal of nostalgia from when I watched it when I was younger. Of course, times have changed since the film was originally released so some of the dialogue hasn’t aged very well but the film is still bittersweet all the same. I also think that Rex Harrison is an incredibly theatrical actor and his voice is very distinguished. At one point, he was one of my favourite actors, and I’ve also seen him in other films such as My Fair Lady. As for Gene Tierney, I had previously seen her in Dragonwyck so I thought she was a brilliant actress for her time. I personally find that this is one of the best ghost movies around. Nearly all of the other ones are too sappy or awful or cheesy.

It’s only now that the ending to the film has moved me to tears on a personal level as my sisters refer to the ending to help me manage with the fact that my widowed grandmother is dying. I think it’s the fact that Rex Harrison’s character says ‘You’ll never be tired again. Come now,’ then Mrs Muir stands up and she’s young again. That’s what hit me emotionally.

Overall, a visually beautiful and classic old film with beautiful music that makes the movie seem timeless, even for modern, impressionable audiences.


The art of racing in the rain by Garth Stein

‘The car goes where the eyes go’ 

It is a well known fact that apparently a dog is a man’s best friend. Gareth’s Stein’s ‘The art of racing in the rain’ proves that. The book follows the story of a family, a man named Denny, his wife Eve and their daughter Zoe, but it is told from the point of view of their loyal dog Enzo.

My sister recommended it to me as there was a period of time where I didn’t have anything interesting to read. As I have a interest in dogs (though I haven’t owned one since I was thirteen), I reluctantly gave this book a read. I rarely ever put the book down, and ended up finishing it in a day. The author links the relationship between a human compassion towards a dog and a dog’s loyalty towards its owner. Never before has a book made me laugh and cry at the same time as much as this book did. In the last twenty pages of the book, I was in floods. You could just imagine the dog getting older, and it only hit me emotionally as we have a different kind of connection with dogs than we do with humans. In some ways, this book is like a more grown up and better version of Marley and Me. I would definitely reread The art of racing in the rain.

I like how the author connects racing and dogs and humans together, as Enzo the dog had an interest in watching the racing. I especially like how it’s from the dog’s perspective, as we often think that dogs don’t understand, when really, they do. They just don’t know how to speak. Luckily, the author gives the loveable dog a voice and a family, and towards the end of the dog’s life, he sees the limitations of being a dog and wishes to be a human. I think that was rather sweet.

I would highly recommend this book if you love dogs and want something different and interesting to read.