Category Archives: Film Reviews

Ali & Nino – Review

Released – 2016   IMDb Rating – 7.1/10   Genre – Romance, Drama, War 

Portsmouth Film Society Rating – 

This romantic thriller set during WW1 and in the Caspian Sea region will sweep you away!


“This wonderful novel—beautifully constructed, vivid and persuasive, a love story at once exotic and familiar—is living proof that art is indestructible and transcendent.” – Paul Theroux on the novel behind the film Ali and Nino.

Directed by Asif Kapadia, this film is based on the original novel written by Kurban Said in 1937! The film is about two lovers ( played by Adam Bakri and Maria Valverde ) and their fight to be together in the name of love.

Ali is a Muslim in Azerbaijan and Nino is a Christian living in Georgia. However, when religion and world war comes between them, the couple flee in an attempt to be together, despite problems occurring all around them.

Kapadia smartly uses the same tempo and pacing throughout each scene, whether this be about war, love or chase. This may have been done in an attempt to show the difficulties one faces throughout life, and hence keeps the viewers on the edge of their seats at all times!

Spotlight – Review

Released – 2015    IMDb Rating – 8.1/10   Genre – Crime, Drama, History 

Portsmouth Film Society Rating – 

The Oscar-nominated Spotlight is a journalistic thriller!

Spotlight is directed and written by Tom McCarthy and Josh Singer, and features big name actors such as Mark Ruffalo ( seen in such films such as Avengers and the Incredible Hulk ) and Michael Keaton ( also featured in Need for Speed and Robocop ).

The film, a true story, revolves around how the Boston Globe, under their first Jewish editor at the time, took on abusive institutions of a city where Catholicism is the way of life, and priests and the police worked hand in hand…

Liev Schreiber ( portraying Marty Baron ) sets the investigative journalism team, nicknamed ‘Spotlight’ on an old story regarding a priest, and around whom accusations of child abuse continue to multiply.

Initially, the journalists are reluctant to pursue an issue that could essentially implicate the holy hierarchy in a negatively portrayed scandal, but soon enough they find themselves discovering a wide-ranging and systemic cover-up…

Spotlight is a crime thriller which will have the audience glued to their seats for the entirety of the film…

Letters from Baghdad – Review

Released – 2016    IMDb Rating – 6.8/10   Genre – Documentary

Portsmouth Film Society Rating – 

“The Queen of the Desert – The woman history erased”.

British explorer Gertrude Bell (1868 – 1926) is brought back to life in Letters from Baghdad, a documentary which also accompanied by Tilda Swinton’s voice-over.

Known widely as the ‘female TE Lawrence’, Gertrude Bell was seen as one of Britains most powerful women in her time and helped to shape Iraq’s destiny after WW1.

Directed by Zeva Oelbaum and Sabine Krayenbühl, Letters from Baghdad is a carefully researched and detailed documentary which takes a look at Gertrude Bell’s journey through Iraq and how she had a hand in establishing the state of Iraq.

All visuals are in black and white, and this matches the wealth of archive footage that is used to tell the story.

Tilda Swinton features throughout using a voice-over and reads extracts from many elegantly written letters sent to her by Gertrude Bell, including stories of exploring the desert and learning new languages such as Farsi and Arabic.

The documentary adopts an interesting snapshot approach to Bell’s career, switching seamlessly between to her childhood, to her later life whilst working in the government, as well as her direct influence within Iraq.

In Between – Review

Released – 2016     IMDb Rating – 7.4/10   Genre – Drama

Portsmouth Film Society Rating – 

“Some people live in palaces, but God knows what their life is like inside…”

Faith vs Independence… Family vs Fulfilment

In Between is a story of three Palestinian women who each struggle to fit two completely different cultural lifestyles within their daily lives. Freedom and repression, religion and secularism, and the past vs the future.

Mouna Hawa (Laila) features as a chain-smoking, big drinking personality, alongside Sana Jammalieh (Salma) who is a gay aspiring DJ, and Shaden Kanboura (Nour) who is a strait-laced and studious cultural girl.

Despite at first glance, it may look like the three woman all have different lifestyles and unique ambitions, but scratch the surface of their lives, and the problems each face are not so dissasimilar.

Witness this thrilling drama as the three women struggle to fit their free lifestyles with their strict cultural traditions!

The Big Sick – Review

Released – 2017    IMDb Rating – 7.7/10   Genre – Drama, Comedy, Romance

Portsmouth Film Society Rating – 

Kumail Nanjiani and Zoe Kazan star in The Big Sick, a hilariously interesting romantic comedy!

Produced by Judd Apatow, and based on a true story, this film is not only free of irony cynicism, but this date movie will also have you on the edge of your seats…

Stand-up comedian Kumail comes from a standard Asian family background – where arranged marriages are the only choice. However during one of his shows, a heckler (Emily) changes Kumail’s perspective on love and marriage, and what follows next is a secret romance, much to the ignorance of Kumail’s parents who are in the process of finding a girl for him.

However, once their secret is out their relationship reaches breaking point – Which side will Kumail choose? Things only get worse when Emily suddenly falls into a coma with a mysterious infection…

This romcom is a culture-clashing thriller, containing modern edge that will leave audience choosing sides!

Land of Mine – Review

Released – 2015    IMDb Rating – 7.8/10   Genre – Drama, History, War, Action

Portsmouth Film Society Rating – 

Land of Mine is a dramatic, tough and shockingly violent film about an event that occurred around the end of the second world war. Once the Germans had surrendered in 1945, thousands of Nazi soldiers were ordered to clear thousands of mines that were planted throughout the Danish coastline. Not only was this highly dangerous and a potentially suicidal mission but was also something commanded by the Danish authorities as a punishment for their defeat.

Nominated for the Best Foreign Film Oscar, Land of Mine is not only a powerful war movie but is also a thrilling and fascinating watch.

Directed and written by Martin Zandvliet and starring Roland Møller, Louis Hofmann, and Joel Basman, Land of Mine is an oppressively and enthralling tense drama which follows a squad of German soldiers, many of them young and teenage boys, as they clear the beaches.

Director Zandvliet uses sound – and sometimes the lack of it – to expertly portray the tensions going through the soldiers in the challenging situation. Roland Møller features as a brutal and tough Danish sergeant and is terrific throughout, and ultimately becomes the young soldiers’ protector.

Land of mine is a powerful and emotionally moving film and will leave you on the edge of your seats. Follow the journey of the German soldiers as they struggle to return home once their troubles are complete.


Enough Said (review)

Enough Said image 1. Nicole Holofcener, director of 2013’s Enough Said, is one of mainstream cinema’s few veteran female directors. Once taught by Martin Scorsese, she has previously worked with Jennifer Aniston and John Cusack in her biggest hit (Friends with Money, 2006), as well as American actress Catherine Keener –one of her signature collaborators. Indeed Keener appears again in this film, which is a feel good summer movie that rounds off our Spring season well. Julia Louis-Dreyfus (who is unnervingly good-looking for a 53 year old actress) gives a performance balanced between humour and tragedy as easy-going divorcee and single mum Eva, whose sole hobby, outside of her day job as a masseuse, is knitting. At a party she begins two relationships that shape – and eventually disrupt – her routine for the foreseeable future. One of these is with Keener’s character, Marianne, a self-professed poet who rarely appears to have anything more interesting to talk about than her ex-husband’s most annoying habits. This relationship, which ultimately has a negative effect on Eva’s personal life, is contrasted by a sweet, blossoming romance shared with fellow divorcee Albert, whose carefree attitude and refreshing sense of humour helps lighten Eva’s disposition. Albert is notably played by James Gandolfini, a veteran American actor best known for his role as Tony Soprano in HBO’s The Sopranos (1999-2007) as well as notable film roles in True Romance and Get Shorty. Albert represents one of Gandolfini’s last roles before his death in June 2013, and it is fitting that this should be so. His character brings a refreshingly heartfelt and, crucially, honest presence that runs through the films veins. He is rightly one of the faces of this movie alongside Dreyfus, matching her for energy and flair in the role. Eventually these two separate relationships collide rather awkwardly, setting up a final third whereby Eva must deal with various plot threads that have been bubbling over during the course of the story. This being a naturally feel-good summer movie and following a course not unlike those that you’ve seen before, one is always sure that its ending will follow suit, but what the film lacks in overall originality it makes up for in a well-written script and acting that can’t be faulted. A gentle, understated soundtrack from Brazilian pianist Marcelo Zarvos complements the experience well. With a strong female cast that also includes Michaela Watkins and Australian actress Toni Collette, I get the feeling that male viewers won’t quite like it as much as their other halves, although there is something here for everyone to enjoy. Holofcener’s Enough Said is a film that does justice to its director; in an industry where consistent female talent is less abundant than it could be, this is something to be celebrated. 8 / 10 Graeme Stevenson

Kuma (review)

Kuma image 1.

A multi-layered film that transposes traditional Turkish family values onto an Austrian setting, Kuma (2012) is a well-crafted portrait of a culture alien to our own. For this reason, the twists woven into its script only seem to have greater impact than they otherwise would if we were able to follow exactly what was happening.

Umut Dag directs this debut feature; a fitting one considering his own Austrian-Kurdish origins. He manages to draw impressive performances from a predominantly inexperienced cast – Nihal G Koldas, an apparent theatre veteran, being the main exception in her role as family figurehead Fatma. This position soon comes under unexpected threat from Ayse, a young woman who has been drafted in as a second wife (a ‘kuma’, in other words) for Fatma’s husband, due to Fatma’s ill health.

This perhaps would have been a decent set-up for an interesting story in itself, but the script continues to throw further surprises our way at an almost relentless rate throughout the movie. Ayse’s marriage, for example, is passed off as a marriage to the family’s handsome son, Hasan, to cover for the fact that all Fatma really wants is a surrogate mother for her children should she pass away. Ironically Ayse then starts to genuinely fall for Hasan – whose subsequent disinterest reveals another hidden level to this unusual family unit. Another surprising twist around the mid-way point then sets the disjointed group up for an inevitable collision later on, although you may not appreciate it fully if you struggle to keep up with proceedings.

The fact that some characters regularly switch between German and their native Turkish certainly doesn’t help assuage our confusion. This does, however, serve an important plot function as the two older sisters of the family use it to mistreat Ayse, whom they clearly disapprove of but feel unable to direct their resentment towards a domineering mother. On a deeper level this also delves into an undercurrent of cultural tensions at the films core.

Ayse herself is played by Begum Akkaya. In only her second feature role, Akkaya gives a scintillating performance throughout the film, as an innocent young woman who shows both a warming maternal side and a youthful naivety in her approach to romantic relationships – for which one can hardly blame her upon observing the full extent of the situation she has been unwillingly placed in.

Overall, Kuma is a film from which you’re likely to leave questioning whether you really knew what was going on. It has that effect right up until its slightly haunting final scene, and there are one or two hints that this was, in the end, entirely intentional. Naturally it won’t appeal to everyone, and especially not to those traditionalists for whom the film may be hitting too close to home. But I think we all need to see one like that from time to time, if only to remind us how truly flawed humanity can be.

9 / 10

Graeme Stevenson

Inside Llewyn Davis (review)

Llewyn Davis image 1.

Although the film is loosely based on the true story of real-life musician and folk singer Dave Van Ronk, the Coen Brothers’ Inside Llewyn Davis unsurprisingly adds an original twist to the tale, crafting a curious narrative around main character Llewyn Davis. Played by one of Hollywood’s recent emerging stars, Oscar Isaac, Llewyn is a character that, I should admit from the start, I fail to fully appreciate… In a movie whose wonderful soundtrack I also fail to fully appreciate.

This is because I lack any previous knowledge about the New York folk music scene of 1961; the setting for Inside Llewyn Davis. Indeed I admit to a lack of any real former appreciation of folk music in general, but one could hardly pick a better 2013 film for an excellent showcase of musical talent than the Coens’ offering. Produced by T Bone Burnett, the films soundtrack includes not only tracks from Bob Dylan and Van Ronk himself, but also modern original songs. This includes the light-hearted – and extremely catchy – “Please Mr Kennedy”, sung onscreen by Isaac, Justin Timberlake (starring as Llewyn’s close friend Jim in a well-acted role) and Adam Driver in a scene that is easily one of the highlights of the film.

Llewyn himself is the typical portrait of a struggling singer/ songwriter who winds up falling into a set of not-so-typical unfortunate circumstances that begin with him losing a ginger cat that belongs to a friend. From here he embarks on the most eventful week of his life, from finding out that his best friend’s partner is pregnant (having recently slept with her) to a Chicago road trip alongside regular Coen Brothers’ collaborator John Goodman, whose character collapses during a routine toilet stop thanks to a heroin overdose, soon after which their driver gets arrested for needlessly arguing with a police officer.

It’s an exciting story told at a fast pace, with signature ‘Coen’ characters strewn throughout the narrative. Yet in a way this is also the films biggest fault. The Coen Brothers, I think, can only follow this pattern so many times before it begins to feel slightly old, and Inside Llewyn Davis seems to reach that pinnacle before tripping itself up over it. Their plot and the characters that drive it are increasingly pushing the boundaries of realism to the point of parody; it is a fine line that this movie threatens to end up on the wrong side of (as was the case with Burn After Reading), which is somewhat of a shame considering it is built on such strong foundations.

Nonetheless, you’d be hard pressed to find a more entertaining American film than this in 2013. Those who enjoy a light-hearted laugh in the cinema will like it very much; those who love their folk music may appreciate it even more. Both will come away reasonably happy, if not entirely satisfied that they’ve just witnessed something meaningful. Not quite the Coen Brothers’ best then, but unfortunately I suspect those days are long behind them regardless of what they achieved here.

8 / 10

Graeme Stevenson

Planet Ocean (review)

Planet Ocean image 1.

Few films can make you feel as gloriously guilty as Planet Ocean (2012) does. It does this without really suggesting any single action one person can take to affect the core topics on which it preaches. Here is a documentary about the whole world – as its self-descriptive title suggests – and for it to be as much of a resounding success as it wants to be, it needs all of the humans living on it to watch closely and take notice. The fact that it presents its message so well means that individually, at least, we’re more than willing to listen.

Visually, Planet Ocean matches the global scale of its aims with ease. Large portions of the movie are spent underwater with a team of skilled cinematographers, who show beautiful coral reefs, and ocean depths where fascinating creatures of various shapes provide their own colourful light to an otherwise pitch black environment. Meanwhile a somewhat hypnotic voiceover provided by American actor Josh Duhamel guides us through this memorable journey, helping to inform the audience – if we needed any further informing – on the beauty of our planet.

It all feels like it’s building up to something big, and rest assured that it is. Upon presenting us with the best parts of our planet, the film then moves on to its worst component: humanity. Our increasing industrialisation and over-zealous nature in the open water fishing business have led to numerous species of fish becoming extinct, and is harming the ecosystems for existing ones. Should we keep going at this rate, then the very beauty that Planet Ocean spends its first half glorifying will soon be permanently lost. And the films message is clear: this would be a real shame.

Initially this synopsis can sound melodramatic, but it is so well presented that you really buy into the concept – and so you should. It is healthy, after all, that our pride should be hurt from time to time. Planet Ocean sets out to do this, showing our planet from a perspective that makes our technological achievements as a species simply pale in comparison.

Giving with one hand and swiftly taking away with the other, the film isn’t asking to be your friend. I get the feeling that it wouldn’t even aim for a good review. It only wants to spread the word about our dying environment and potentially our own resultant downfall. If this movie was to be found in the aftermath of such catastrophe, then we could hardly ask for a better record of at least some kind of conscience governing our ethical conduct.

9 / 10.

Graeme Stevenson