Thirteen Reasons Why Review: A thought-provoking show that lets itself down with needless shock-factor.

I remember reading the bestselling book Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher when I was maybe 15/16 years old. Not much younger than the characters depicted, I found the book heart-breakingly honest about people’s natural self-involvement and lack of compassion for others. I heard several years ago that attempts were being made to adapt the book for the screen so when it popped up on my Netflix homepage I clicked to watch the first episode immediately.13-reasons-why-netflix

Note: This does include plot spoilers.

The premise of the story starts a few weeks after the suicide of Hannah Baker (Katherine Langford). The protagonist Clay (Dylan Minnette), an awkward teenage boy who you learn later on has feelings for Hannah receives a  box full of cassette tapes with the numbers 1 to 13 painted in blue nail varnish upon them. When played he is startled to hear Hannah’s voice who then tells the tale of the 13 reasons as to why she ended her life as well as instructions on an elaborate chain-message to pass the tapes along to the people she deems responsible for her death. The exchange of the tapes is being monitored by an initially unknown person (although in the Netflix series it becomes obvious very quickly who this is) and the recipients of the tapes are kept quiet under threat of the information on the tapes becoming public.

The main difference between the book and the adaptation is a huge expansion of characters due to Clay no longer listening to all the tapes in one night and having an emotional journey that built up to the conclusion, the world is expanded having Clay instead listen to them over a series of weeks and confronting the characters involved in Hannah’s story.  In some ways I think this strengthens the stories, giving a voice to these character’s experiences which aren’t Hannah’s point of view. More aspects become connected and thrilleresque subplots develop around the central storyline which adds more suspense to the story and allows the characters and story to become far more complicated and nuanced than in the original text. I particularly liked how Hannah’s parents were handled within the show and how the show explored grief and loss both from Clay’s and Hannah’s parents perspective.

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However, some scenes feel manipulatively distressing particularly the key scene in the final episode in which you watch step by step as Hannah commits suicide graphically in a bath and how her parents find her lifeless body. The scene is clearly supposed to be horrific and upsetting but I don’t think that watching the full suicide brought anything to the show other than being purposefully shocking for shocking’s sake. On the other hand, I will note that there are disclaimers at the start of the episodes in which these scenes are shown. Other aspects of the show feel overly dramatised and stray too far from the main point of the story, especially the pretty weak attempt at setting up a second season.

Despite this, the show is compelling. The two leads are fantastic pulling off great chemistry as well as bringing a sense of longing from both sides of the relationship. I enjoyed some of the new subplots as well as Clay’s (much longer) journey to discovering the reasons and I still think the story has a clear and important message of looking outwards and encouraging you to reach out and connect with those who may be hurting.

If you have Netflix, and especially if you enjoyed the book it is definitely worth checking out this adaptation.

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Cine-Sister’s first screening!

If you’re in Manchester this weekend come and see the launch of my first film programming venture Cine-Sister!

Support female filmmakers and some fantastic charities (MASH, Women’s Aid, & Shelter) and there’s loads of other great stuff happening at the event. The screening starts at 2pm on the 4th of March 2017 in at Texture, 67 Lever St, Manchester.

Cine-Sister will be launching with a short film screening featuring 7 female directed/produced films. The films in this screening deal with themes of gender, race, religion, body and identity. There is a mixture of drama, comedy, animation and documentary short films so there is something for everyone to enjoy and learn from.

You can find out more about the films here: https://cinesisterfilm.com/wonder-women-4th-of-march/

This screening is part of Wonder Women 2017 at an event held by Traffic MCR and you can find out more here:

https://www.facebook.com/events/1333296603410652/

My 7 Most Anticipated Films of 2017 (UK Cinemas)

La La Land (12th January)

lead_960From Whiplash director Damien Chazelle, La La Land is the much talked about award-storming musical starring Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone as a jazz pianist and actress in Hollywood. Will it live up to the hype? I hope so.

Jackie (20th January)

maxresdefaultSet after the assassination of JFK, the film explores the grief, trauma and experience of Jackie Kennedy. The trailer for this film is beautiful and Natalie Portman seems incredible. I look forward to seeing it!

Moonlight (17th February)

moonlightBased on the play In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue by Tarell Alvin McCraney, Moonlight tells the tale of the life of a young black man from childhood to adulthood tackling themes such as sexuality, race and class. Another festival/awards favourite that I look forward to seeing.

Hidden Figures (17th February)

hiddenfigures2Based on a true story, Hidden Figures Set during the months leading up to astronaut John Glenn’s 1962 orbit of Earth, the film tells the story of three key but unsung black female mathematicians that made the flight possible. It’s frustrating to have only heard about these women now that the film is out but I’m glad their finally getting some recognition.

 Free Fire (31st March)

freefireDirected by Ben Wheatley and starring the brilliant Brie Larson Free Fire is set in Boston, 1978 in which a meeting between two gangs turns into a shootout and a game of survival. I am seeing a preview screening of this film later in January with a director Q&A, very excited!

Wonder Woman (2nd June)

721151I have my reservations about this one, I have wanted a great female-fronted superhero film for a really long time (TV Shows such as Jessica Jones, Agent Carter and Supergirl have been fantastic) However, do I trust that this will be the one? No. Sadly I don’t. But I will keep my fingers crossed.

Star Wars Episode VIII (15th December)

a9c4d0741e0a20b84b1773851b94f595fce544eadf5674807c97904da8aa53d8After Carrie Fisher’s tragic death at the end of 2016, I know that this will be a bittersweet watch. I look forward to seeing the saga continue as well as being intrigued by what they will do with her character but I know there will be a sense of sadness to it as well.

Often, my favourite films of the year are often the ones I least expect. Most of the ones of listed are either already out in the USA or are highly publicised. I look forward to seeing a variety of films this year and I can’t wait to be surprised by what I see!

What are you looking forward to seeing in 2017?

Reflecting on 2016.

It’s been one hell of a year! I mean, this seems to be the general consensus among most people I know. It’s probably quite late to be writing this post, we’re well into January but I spent so much of the latter part of 2016 wishing it’d end (thanks to the fantastic political decisions made this year feeling rather overwhelming) that it’s taken me until now to really collect my thoughts.

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For me on a personal level, 2016 has been a bit of a rollercoaster. Full of incredible highs and lows, it has possibly been the most drastically changing year of my life so far.

In the first few months of the year, I went to Edinburgh (January) and Berlin (February). I celebrated my 21st birthday which coincided with the Chinese New Year celebrations in Manchester making it extra special. I went to my first Reclaim The Night March which I loved and hope I can do again at some point.

I graduated from Manchester School of Art with a degree in Filmmaking, after spending the first 5 months of the year working on two short film projects The Witch of Wilmslow Road which I directed and Soul which I produced. I managed my course’s side of the degree show at my university, working with the Edinburgh Shorts Film Festival to programme and carry out the show. Although, it definitely brought me its fair share of challenges and stress (and that’s putting it lightly). I was also a photographer for the Bang Said The Gun: Stand Up Poetry nights in Manchester for my final few months living there.

Over the summer, I was trained by programmers from the BFI Flare Film Festival and was a young film programmer for the Queer Media Festival in Manchester. My film WOWR was also screened in Manchester by Film Vault MCR as part of a night of films directed by women.

After graduating, (and after many, many rejection emails) I got a temp job in an office for 2 months before I moved to Devon to live with my long-distance boyfriend of almost 3 years. Since moving here, I have begun writing for Film Inquiry and I was commissioned by The Time Is Now to write an article for the film Sonita. I have also been a Research and Cataloging Volunteer at the South West Film and Television Archive.

I have seen so many fantastic films, exhibitions and theatre performances this year. Highlights have been attending Berlinale in February, A Streetcar Named Desire in September and Manchester Animation Festival in November.

For the first time in my life, I don’t have a solid plan. I’m not in education and I’m still figuring out what I really want to do with my life. In the meantime, I am doing my best to ensure I get the most out of 2017.

Happy Belated-New Year!

 

 

 

My Top Ten Films of 2016.

It’s that time of year again, here are my favourite films that I have seen which came out in UK cinemas in 2016!

1. Kubo and the Two Strings

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As a huge fan of LAIKA and of stop-motion animation in general, I was so excited when I discovered the poster for Kubo and The Two Strings. Even the screaming baby in the cinema when I finally went to see this amazing film couldn’t ruin it. The animation is incredibly detailed and yet again the studio pushes the boundaries of the medium. You can read my full review here.

 2. Kate Plays Christine

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I was lucky enough to see this at Berlinale in February and it has stuck with me ever since. Directed by Robert Greene, the film is a blend of fact and fiction. Taking on a documentary style the film follows actress Kate Lyn Sheil, who prepares to play Christine Chubbuck in a fake fictional film. Chubbuck is a newscaster who in 1974, became the first person to commit suicide live on air. The film explores the mirky waters of morality in acting and filmmaking but ultimately gives more questions than answers.

3. When Marnie Was Theremarnie

The final Studio Ghibli film  When Marnie Was There arrived in UK cinemas this year, anyone who knows me or has read my blog will know that I adore the films of Studio Ghibli so it is bittersweet to be writing about this at all. Bittersweet however, is the feeling of their final film. Based on a british book of the same name by Joan G. Robinson the film is whimsical and sad with stunning animation. A fitting end to my favourite animation company.

 4. A United Kingdoma-united-kingdom_0

I was able to see this film during my first visit to the BFI London Film Festival. Directed by Amma Asante,  A United Kingdom tells the story of the real-life marriage between Seretse Khama (David Oyelowo), Prince of Bechuanaland and British office clerk Ruth Williams (Roasamund Pike) and the international conflicts their union caused. You can read my full review of it here.

5. Mustang

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Set in a remote Turkish village Mustang depicts the lives and struggles of five young orphaned sisters who are pulled out of school and locked away in their home to be trained to be wives after concerns are raised about their relationships with boys and the growing problem of their blossoming sexuality. Told through the eyes of the youngest sister it is an exploration of girlhood and of a conservative patriarchal society that fears it.

6. Your Name

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This film was a surprise to me, I went in expecting a slightly silly but charming romance and got a beautifully crafted surreal tale of love and friendship that surpasses the odds. The characters are likeable and believable and the plot twist was unexpected. You were rooting for the leads in this film right up until the credits rolled.

7. Sonita

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This empowering and interesting documentary by Rokhsareh Ghaemmaghami explores the life of Afghan refugee and aspiring rapper Sonita who when she is 15, is told that she is being sold as a bride for $9,000 in order for her brother to pay for a bride of his own. It blurs the line of what a documentary filmmaker is and documents a struggle for female identity. You can read an essay I wrote about the film and its links to female empowerment through music here and here.

8. Pink

pink

This is another surprising and late addition to the list. Hindi film Pink is a courtroom drama starring Amitabh Bachchan as a lawyer fighting for 3 women who have been sexually assaulted by a highly connected young man and his friends. The film criticises the Indian criminal justice system as well as teaches a powerful message about consent and the demonisation of female sexuality. It’s an incredibly important film and I think it’s a shame it didn’t have a wider UK release. 

9. The Red Turtlethe-red-turtle

I also saw this during my visit to the BFI London Film Festival, The Red Turtle  is the first Non-Japanese collaboration from Studio Ghibli and it comes in the form of a wordless feature directed by Michael Dubok de Wit. You can read my full review of it here.

10. Victoria

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Finally, we finish with Victoria. As you probably know, (which I actually didn’t going in to the film) the whole film is one shot, one take and the plot pans out over the course of the length of the film. It’s thrilling to watch and takes so many unexpected twists and turns. You can read my full review of it here.

Honourable mentions: Moana, Everything Before Us and Room.

What were your favourite films of 2016?

I Am Not Madame Bovary (2016) Review.

Originally written for and posted on Film Inquiry.

Directed by Feng Xiaogang, I Am Not Madame Bovary tells the story of Li Xuelian (played by Fan Bingbing) who, in order to get the apartment she desires, conspires to get a “fake” divorce from her husband. However, once the divorce is official, she is shocked to discover that her now ex-husband has moved into the apartment with another woman. This begins her quest to have her “fake” divorce annulled so she can remarry her husband and then divorce him “for real”.

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I Am Not Madame Bovary is written by Liu Zhenyun and based on his 2012 novel I am Not Pan Jinlian. The book was translated in order to keep the same connotations, and both Pan Jinlian and Madame Bovary connote promiscuity, adultery, and shame. When Li Xuelian confronts her ex-husband about his betrayal, he publically humiliates her, calling her a “Pan Jinlian” for having pre-marital sex, which only fans the flames of her vengeance and her need to seek justice.

A Political Dark Comedy

The film is highly critical of Chinese bureaucracy, both using the plot to highlight its inability to care about anything other than their job position, as well as poking fun at the workings of officialdom with the conversations between the officials themselves. Li Xuelian is so fed up that at one point she tries to hire someone to kill both her ex-husband and the government officials who have failed her. The moment is funny and well written, but also dark as you watch her become unhinged in frustration.

More than ten years pass in the film, and Xuelian continues to sue the state for failing to recognise her case. She confronts officials in the street, hurls herself in front of their cars. Eventually, they become afraid of her, and afraid of losing their jobs due to being unable to stop her protesting. The film works as a dark comedy to a degree, satirising the Chinese bureaucratic system, but it is very repetitive. The second half’s events set later in the protagonist’s life are very similar to the first half, since she meets the same people and faces the same obstacles. But at times it is funny and twisted, and pokes fun in a clever and subtle way.

A Unique Use of Aspect Ratios

Most of the film is framed with a round aspect ratio that gives the story the feeling of examining one of the examples of Chinese paintings shown during the prologue of the film. Due to the miniature space the filmmakers have given themselves to work with, everything is highly stylised and dramatised, making use of every inch of the space.

I Am Not Madame Bovary
source: Well Go USA Entertainment

I Am Not Madame Bovary occasionally has a Wes Anderson feel with its dry humour, as it is overly choreographed and with not-quite-realistic settings. When Xuelian arrives in Beijing, the aspect ratio changes to a smart-phone-like portrait view, allowing you to see more of the frame – but everything is also blander as she meets identical bureaucrat and bureaucrat, getting nowhere. However, although I enjoyed this unique style, it did make the subtitles difficult to read and sometimes made it hard to see facial expressions clearly, which overshadowed somewhat Fan Bingbing, who otherwise is brilliant with her subtle and emotional performance. She shines amongst the otherwise all-male cast who also perform well, with great comedic timing.

To Conclude

Overall, I Am Not Madame Bovary is a tongue-in-cheek criticism of Chinese politics, as well as their view of women and sexuality. Xuelian is a fantastic character who may not be educated or wealthy, but is driven and passionate about finding justice for herself. I definitely enjoyed the film and its unique stylistic aesthetic, as well as the strong performances throughout.

Would a unique visual style make you more likely to see a film? Is that something filmmakers should be experimenting with more?

I Am Not Madame Bovary is currently playing in the USA and China. For all international release dates, click here.

The Uncondemned (2016) Review.

Originally written for and posted on Film Inquiry.

The Uncondemneddirected by Michele Mitchell and Nick Louveltells the story of a group of young international lawyers and activists who fought to have rape recognised and prosecuted as a war crime. Underfunded, inexperienced and overwhelmed, they faced huge hurdles as they pursued their first case against a small town mayor in Rwanda.

THE UNCONDEMNED: A Heartbreaking Real-Life Courtroom Drama That's Slow To Start

Crimes of war against humanity had not been prosecuted since post-WWII, and surviving witnesses feared to come forward amongst death threats against them and their families. The film documents the brave Rwandan women who came forward to testify and win justice for the crimes committed against them.

A Bit of Context

Despite rape being recognised as an international war crime since 1919, no one had ever been prosecuted for it prior to 1997 during the trial of Jean-Paul Akayesu, which was part of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda. However, even though rape during war has been a recurrent feature of wars throughout history, it has always been looked upon as a by-product of conflict, and not an effective military policy.

THE UNCONDEMNED: A Heartbreaking Real-Life Courtroom Drama That's Slow To Start
source: Abramorama

As explained in the documentary, these systematic sexual assaults are something that destroys not just the individual but the familial fabric, the social fabric and the economic fabric of a society. It is something that is used against a population to make it submit. Due to the tireless efforts of the men and women shown in this film, rape was tried for the first time as a war crime and as an aspect of genocide.

Legal Jargon and a Dull First-Half

The structure is in the style of courtroom dramas, moving between archival footage, sound from the testimony and court proceedings, as well as recent interviews with the integral people that are part of the operation. They describe the push-backs from the tribunal to include rape as a war crime charge for the trial of Jean-Paul Akayesu.

Whilst some of it was very interesting, I found the first half of The Uncondemned difficult to follow. I had little knowledge of the events that occurred in Rwanda in the 1990s other than being aware of some of the terrible events that had occurred against the Tutsi people. The documentary offers little information about the events leading up to the tribunal and subsequent trial. Many different faces and places are mentioned without much contextualisation that would help the viewer understand the twists and turns of this plot coherently. There are no names or titles overlayed during the modern interview sequences that could help you grasp who is who, and I believe that would have helped a lot with getting to grips with the story. A lot of legal jargon is used, which made it difficult for someone with little to no legal knowledge understand what was going on.

Heartbreakingly Human Conclusion

The last half is where The Uncondemned reaches its climax – during the buildup we are introduced to four Rwandan women who have formed a support group for the rape victims of their village spurred by the victim herself, Godelieve Mukasarasi, and some of the lawyers and activists supporting the case. She realised that it was killing the women to be silent about their trauma, due to culturally not talking about their bodies and the shame associated with the violent assaults they had endured. You immediately are rooting for these women to testify against the mayor Jean-Paul Akayesu and to break the cycle of silence and shame for these victims, especially when they are flown to speak in front of the UN. It makes you feel uplifted and inspired by these amazing women.

Overall, this is a subject matter that outshines its documentary. It lacks contextualisation for the interviewees and makes the first half hard to follow. However, it is the brave women and the inspiring conclusion of The Uncondemned that makes it a heartbreaking, human, and empowering watch, and it reveals an important part of forgotten history.

Do you think it’s important for a documentary to give you the context of the subject matter? Or do you think you should do some research before you watch it? 

The Uncondemned was released on October 21 and 28, 2016 in NYC and LA. 

 

Manchester Animation Festival 2016 (Day 3)

The third and final day of Manchester Animation Festival! The stars of the show were, of course, the Ray Harryhausen puppets on display during the day. In the morning, John Walsh and Connor Heaney gave a talk on the lost treasures of Harryhausen and an insight into his world of stop-motion creature effects. Other highlights included the live recording of the Skwigly podcast, which included interviews with some of the filmmakers from the festival.

In between events I was able to watch the short film programme “Student Films 2,” my personal highlights were Ama by Emilie Almaida, Liang Huang, Mansoureh Kamari, Julie Robert, Juliette Peuportier and Tony Unser. Perched directed by Liam Harris and Mr Madila by Rory Waudby-Tolley which although I had seen before at a This Is Not a Cartoon screening a few months ago it’s still a fantastic and funny film.

Overall, this was a fantastic event to photograph and attend. I wish I could’ve stayed for the award ceremony right at the end but unfortunately, I had to set off.

I hope to come back next year and I hope anyone reading this gets the opportunity to attend next year also!

Manchester Animation Festival 2016 (Day 2)

Day 2 of Manchester Animation Festival kicked off with a special virtual reality animated experience called HooDoo by the animation company BlueZoo who gave a masterclass later in the afternoon. There was also the fantastic “Women in Animation” panel discussing the representation of women in animated films (something right up my street as you may know) as well as loads of great screenings although unfortunately, I didn’t get to see any films on this day!

Above are my photos for day 2 of the festival.

You can keep up with the festival itself on Facebook and Twitter.

Manchester Animation Festival 2016 (Day 1)

Last week I was a volunteer photographer for the Manchester Animation Festival 2016, it was a great experience I met so many lovely people and saw some weird and wonderful short films. The itinerary for day one featured highlights such as a masterclass about the film Phantom Boy, a life drawing class and a conversation/award ceremony for Aardman Animation.

Above are some of the photos I took for the festival of day one.

I was also able to see a programme called “Student Films 1”, my personal highlights of this were Fishwitch, a fantastic stop-motion short directed by Adrienne DowlingTough an interesting look at familial cultural differences by Jennifer Zheng.

I will be posting a selection from Day 2 and 3 later this week!

You can keep up with the festival itself on Facebook and Twitter.