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.

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. 

 

The Hard Stop (2015) Review.

Directed by George Amponsah; and opening with the quote “A riot is the language of the unheard”- Martin Luther King Jr, The Hard Stop documents the events leading up to and the aftermath of the killing of Mark Duggan by London police in 2011 which sparked the huge unprecedented riots across the country.

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Filming over 28 months, the film shows an insider look into the  lives of the people in London where young black people feel permanently persecuted by the police. Marcus Knox- Hooke who was blamed for instigating the riots and Kurtis Henville, childhood friends of Mark Duggan are the eyes and voice of this film describing the anger and frustration felt by them and their community at what they feel is an injustice to them. Henville is a big-talker, expressive and a hard worker whereas Knox-Hooke comes across as quieter but bitterly angry about what has happened. They are first shown in The Hard Stop as they drive through Tottenham, near the Broadwater Farm estate where Knox-Hooke, Henville and Duggan grew up. they neighbourhood is most well known for the death of a police officer during earlier London riots in 1985, which were also sparked by anger at police brutality against the black community. There is purposefully no attempt to show the side of the police officers involved in Mark Duggan’s death as this is a film about a very particular perspective, one which we are rarely shown in the media.

The Hard Stop is an important film in the time of the movement Black Lives Matter against Police Brutality. The film closes with a statistic stating that despite approximately 1,500 U.K. deaths following contact with the police since since 1990, not a single officer has been charged in any of these cases.It’s an emotionally charged film but an incredibly current analysis of racial politics in the UK.

Film Review Round Up Vol. 3

Everything Before Us (2016)

Directed by Wesley Chan and Philip Wang, Everything Before Us is a unique analysis of love and relationships. I watched this on Netflix, I believe it was never released in cinemas in the UK which is a shame because this is a beautiful, wistful film. Set in an alternate world/ dystopian society in which The D.E.I. – The Department Of Emotional Integrity judges the public’s romantic lives and assigns each individual a ‘relationship score’. Scores influence everything including finances, relationships, employment, etc Everything Before Us  follows 2 couples who navigate this world. One, a new young couple recently registered with the D.E.I beginning a long distance relationship at college. The other, an older ex-couple. The film is incredibly well written, bittersweet and realistic. Although the story line relatively predictable I found myself tearing up at certain moments because the character development makes you care so much about the protagonists through their moments of joy and pain. Pretty much the entire cast is Asian-American which was a refreshing difference to the american romance genre. Overall, I really enjoyed this film and if you have a Netflix account I highly recommend you give it a watch.

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Catch Me Daddy (2015)

Directed by Daniel Wolfe in his first feature, this British thriller follows Laila, (portrayed by Sameena Jabeen Ahmed in her first role) who is hiding out from her family after running away with her boyfriend. Set amongst the backdrop of the Yorkshire moors Laila must go on the run when she learns that her brother a long with a group of men is on the hunt for her in her town. This film is an absolutely terrifying portrayal of a modern day honour killing in Britain although the phrase is never mentioned. Warning, There are gruesome upsetting scenes that stay long with you after watching. Sameena’s performance as Laila is brilliant supported by Conor McCarron who had great chemistry  together. The cinematography is stunning and adds an artistic and unreal element to this otherwise social realist film. Overall, this is a difficult watch and powerful film.

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Life (2015)

I wanted to see this at Berlinale in 2015 so when I saw it available on Amazon Video I snapped up the chance to watch it. Directed by Anton Corbijn it tells the story of the relationship between LIFE photographer Dennis Stock wonderfully played by Robert Pattinson (Maps to the Stars, Twilight Saga) and the actor James Dean played by Dane Dehaan (Kill Your Darlings, Chronicle). Historically, Stock took some of the most iconic images of James Dean during his rise to stardom and the film lovingly re-creates and imagines these moments throughout the film. The production overall was beautiful including the costumes and sets looking exactly like the photographs which they show before the credits at the end of the film. Unfortunately the film itself is relatively dull, it takes a long time before anything happens and there is little character development nor any resemblance of a realistic relationship dynamic between Stock and James Dean. However, the people who made this film clearly loved the subject and it comes through with every scene so I would recommend simply for that if you are a fan of old hollywood and James Dean.

The Danish Girl (2016) Review.

Directed by Tom Hooper (The King’s Speech, Les Misérables), starring Eddie Redmayne (The Theory of Everything, My Week With Marilyn) and Alicia Vikander (Testament of Youth, Ex Machina). The Danish Girl, is loosely based on the relationship between the danish artists Lili Elbe and Gerda Wegener as well as Lili’s journey in discovering her gender identity and eventually becoming one of the first transgender women to have sex reassignment surgery.

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I’ll be honest, I didn’t really enjoy this film. It felt lazy in many of the ways it depicted Lili’s body dysmorphia, ticking every on-screen transgender cliché in the book. (Shots of Lili examining herself in the mirror, hiding female clothes under male etc) It was incredibly cringe-worthy in places, with cheesy dialogue. “You’re different from most girls” remarks a suitor the first time Lili goes out in public, she replies with a simpering smile “That’s not a very original line”. Lili’s character felt underdeveloped, and her character lacked complexity and depth beyond her gender identity.

Performance wise, Alicia Vikander’s performance carried this film as Lili’s wife. Eddie Redmayne however, is over the top and almost caricature like. Aspects of the film I did enjoy included the beautiful array of costumes designed by Paco Delgado and the chemistry between Vikander and Redmayne in the earlier scenes.

Overall, The Danish Girl lacked subtlety and depth and I was disappointed with it.

Steve Jobs (2015) Review.

Last week, I attended a screening of Steve Jobs that featured a Q&A with director Danny Boyle. The film stars Michael Fassbender (Macbeth, Shame) and Kate Winslet (TitanicRevolutionary Road) and was written by Aaron Sorkin (The Social Network).

I must admit, when I first heard about this film coming out I was not interested in the slightest. Despite owning products by Apple, I’ve always found the strange worshiping of Steve Jobs as a god like figure very disconcerting and assumed that this film would treat him the same. I was most definitely wrong. The best part about this film is that it cuts through the mythology surrounding Steve Jobs to paint this portrait of a flawed man. The plot focuses on the relationship between Jobs and his daughter, who he originally denied paternity of. As she grows, she becomes the catalyst for his character development. I can’t fault the performances of Michael Fassbender as Jobs and Kate Winslet as marketing chief Joanna Hoffman, both played off each other brilliantly. At the Q&A with Danny Boyle, he mentioned that the real the heroines of the film are Winslet’s character and Jobs’ daughter Lisa and I completely agree. Jobs comes across as very unlikeable and is redeemed by the people around him.

Steve Jobs is split into three sections and set in 3 different times each at the launch of a new product, beginning with the original Macintosh and ending with the launch of the iMac. What’s interesting is that each section is filmed with a different camera, the first two acts on film (16mm and 35mm) and the third in digital. The film does feel a lot like a play, it is very dialogue driven without becoming boring and still maintains an interesting visual style without needing elaborate backdrops and settings.

Overall, this film was very entertaining and I really enjoyed it!

The Film London Jarman Award 2014

The Jarman Award shortlist is currently touring the UK before the winner is announced in December. It is named after film artist, Derek Jarman who died in 1994. This is the 7th year of the award which is given to the best contemporary film artist of the year.

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The screening of the nominees was accompanied by a short Q&A with film artist Redmond Entwistle whose film Walk-Through about the California Institute of the Arts was shown.  He explained during the Q&A that the film was about the comodification of education and was semi-autobiographical having attended the university himself in the past. Overall there were 10 films shown, 2 of which were only excerpts including the widely talked about 20,000 Days on Earth the fictitious documentary about Nick Cave by Iain Forsyth and Jane Pollard.

My favourite of the films screened was Peripeteia  by John Akomfrah. The film took two drawings by an artist called Albrecht Durer which are among the earliest western representations of black people. The film imagines these people in a ghostly way explaining how they are now “lost to the winds of history”.

Whilst a few of the films were not to my taste, everything was interesting, original and experimental. It was a great example of contemporary artist filmmaking and I am looking forward to see which film wins.

The Way He Looks 2014 Review.

thewayhelooks2Last night I attended a screening of The Way He Looks (Hoje Eu Quero Voltar Sozinho) The event included a Q&A with Director Daniel Ribeiro. 

The Way He looks is a Brazilian independent film about blind teenager, Leonardo who is craving independence after being looked after his whole life. The film explores his everyday life, sexuality and relationships with best friend Giovanna and new student, Gabriel. The film is based on Ribeiro’s award winning 17 minute short film called I Don’t Want to Go Back Alone (Eu Não Quero Voltar Sozinho) which he made in order to gain funding using the same actors that are in the  feature length version.

I thought the film was incredibly well written and reflected the dynamic of teenage friendship/relationships accurately. Daniel Ribeiro explained during the Q&A that he “wanted to focus on the universal aspects of being a teenager” and that he feels that not all homosexual people should go through a period of questioning their sexuality, that it should be the case that a person meets someone, they fall in love and that’s it. That this film depicts how sexuality should be viewed in society. He went on to say that he didn’t want to create a film that victimised blind/disabled people or LGBTQA+ people. (whilst acknowledging that they can be victimised and that this is an issue in society), he wanted to portray a protagonist who was fiercely independent and just happened to be blind and homosexual. I think this is a really great attitude to have when approaching LGBTQA+ and disabled people’s stories and the problems they can face because it’s important that this is seen as normal, acceptable and something that doesn’t dominate someone’s identity.

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When asked what inspired him, Daniel Ribeiro said that his first idea was to explore sexuality and where it comes from in humans, he decided to make the protagonist blind to combat the idea that being gay is a choice as clearly for character Leonardo, he fell in love with a man having never seen a man or a woman. He said he wanted to empower homosexual kids/ teenagers and I think this is definitely successful in the fact that the film is relatable to everyone who has been/is a teenager. It not only focuses on Leonardo’s relationship with Gabriel but that of his best friend Giovanna. Ribeiro says “everyone’s a little bit mean and a little bit selfish in this film because that’s life”.  I felt that the 3 main characters were incredibly three dimensional, you could empathise with them easily. Ribeiro also stated that the film was “not about being a blind gay teenager, it’s about your first kiss, your first love” things that everyone can relate to.

Overall, this was a great experience. I even got to meet Daniel Ribeiro after the screening. The film is brilliant and I definitely recommend!

The original short film:

Filmed Up – North West Filmmakers Night. (September)

Every 3 months the Cornerhouse in Manchester runs a night of selected short films made by the North West film making community. The films vary, including animation, documentary and fiction. At the end of the night you vote for your favourite film and have a chance to talk to some of the filmmakers. The most recent installment of this was on the 25th of September.

Out of the 12 films shown a few stand outs were:

The First Hit – Joseph Malone 

A Documentary about 3 recovering victims of substance misuse reflect on their addiction and how it’s affected them.

This was incredibly hard hitting and moving, it did a great job in discussing the effects an addiction can have on a life but it also ended on a hopeful note.

Angel in Ancoats – Rebecca Luck

After Mark moves to a new area of Manchester (Ancoats), He is struck by the mixture of decay, demolition and construction and wants to make a positive change. This alongside fears of being stuck in his life he takes a unique approach in trying to set the bricks free.

This was my personal favourite of the evening, I liked Mark’s unconventional attitude to the abandoned and disused buildings in Ancoats and how he strived to make a positive change in the area and in himself.

Coast– Sois De Traca

An animated music video exploring the attachment to the things left behind.

This was just a really beautiful animation with a good attitude towards letting go.

The Pig Child – Lucy Campbell, Scout Stuart and Loran Dunn

A Scientist illegally creates an embryo that is part human and part pig and uses herself as the surrogate to bring it into the world. 

This was really well made and brilliantly shot, it was also incredibly disturbing and shocking. The Pig Child was voted the best film of the night.

This was a really great night and a great opportunity to see some of the work made by the local film community and I definitely hope to attend the next installment of this!

Best Worst Movie (2009) Review.

Best-worst-movieThe “Best Worst Movie” is a documentary about the making of the film “Troll 2” (1990) and how it went from being named the “worst film of all time” to a widely popular cult classic. It was made by Michael Paul Stephenson who was a child actor in the film itself. The documentary mainly follows dentist-by-day George Hardy who became a cult star due to the sudden popularity of “Troll 2” in the past few years, 20 years after the film was originally released with little response.

Whilst I have not seen “Troll 2” the documentary tells basically all you need to know about it to fully enjoy this strange cult classic phenomena. Directed by Italian filmmaker Claudio Fragasso, the film was originally titled “Goblin” But was then changed to “Troll 2” to give it more comercial value despite having no connection to “Troll” (1986) and not even mentioning the word “Troll” throughout the film. From the clips shown in the documentary the film looks hilariously bad. From the acting to the costumes even the plot line and dialogue. None of it connected, and none of it making any sense.

The documentary is a great look into the making of a cult classic. It reiterates many times that “Troll 2” is a bad film, and there’s no reason that it should be this popular. But somehow it is. I think there’s something very interesting about what attracts people to genuinely bad films, there’s obvious aspects such as comedy and making fun but what’s different about a bad film in comparison to say a bad novel is that dozens of people were involved in the making of it. This isn’t just one persons creation, lots of people came together and created something terrible. Which possibly just adds to the hilarity of the concept of bad films.

There are points in the doumentary that do make you feel  bad for all the laughing. Most of the actors in the film have never worked again, there is even one point in which Connie Young who played the daughter in “Troll 2” knows that if  at an audition someone recognises her from “Troll 2” she knows she is not getting the part. That must definitely be  a frustrating thing  for her to be haunted by a role she played 20 years ago when she was a teenager. Not to mention that the director, Claudio Fragasso completely believes that he made a good film. As someone who wants to make films I did sympathise with him, it must be difficult for your project to be laughed at when you truly believed in it.

All in all, I did thoroughly enjoy the documentary. It was funny, thoughtful and interesting. I recommend!