La Dolce Vita (1960)

Marcello Mastroianni and Anita Ekberg

La Dolce Vita is perhaps Federico Fellini’s most famous film, and it will certainly leave you with much to think about. The film follows tabloid journalist Marcello Rubini (played by Marcello Mastroianni) in a series of episodes of his encounters with the rich and famous of Rome.

Marcello is painted as a conflicted man, who has come to a point where he needs to choose between two very different lives – one of glamour, mingling with the social elite, or a quieter life as a writer. The film also explores the nature of fame and wealth, and the difference between the illusion of it and the reality.

Whilst it is never explicitly said, Marcello unfortunately becomes increasingly involved with the rich but superficial celebrities, and by the end of the film he has been completely taken in by their shallow existence, unable to see past the illusion of glamour. His obsession with the celebrity lifestyle is shown in a number of ways. Most obviously, his job is as a ‘paparazzo’ journalist and therefore by nature he enjoys nosing into the private lives of aristocrats and actors. However, it is his relationships with two women: Maddalena and Sylvia that reveal a more comprehensive insight into Rubini’s mind.

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La Dolce Vita (1960)

Frida (2002): A vivid depiction of a tempestuous marriage

Salma Hayek and Alfred Molina star in this vibrant and creative film (under the direction of Julie Taymor) telling the story of Frida Kahlo’s complicated romantic, artistic and political relationship and with husband and fellow artist Diego Rivera (and their many infidelities). 

Although the film may be titled ‘Frida’, fans of the artist will be disappointed if they expect the focus to be solely on Kahlo’s artistic career. Instead, her painting is presented as more of a ‘hobby’ in which Kahlo’s does not truly believe her own talent until quite late into her life, and the film’s plot is instead overshadowed by towering Molina as Diego Rivera and their relationship. Even physically Hayek appears to be half Molina’s size, which is certainly not helped by the huge amount of weight Molina had to put on for the role. The focus on Kahlo’s marriage is not necessarily a bad thing, however, as it paints Kahlo as incredibly human, and by the end of the film the viewer will feel an attachment and understanding of the emotion and experiences behind Kahlo’s work.

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Frida (2002): A vivid depiction of a tempestuous marriage

Captain America: Civil War (2016) – The Blockbuster Done Right

In recent years, the superhero movie has become so popular that it has created a genre in itself, and it is simply no longer enough to have extensive fights scenes and ultra-realistic special effects. Audiences want something unique on top of that – where are the subplots? The character development? The larger themes? Spider-Man? Captain America: Civil War has all of these, and Marvel reminds us once again that they are the founders and the rulers of the superhero genre. 

As the studio begins Phase 3 of the MCU, with it we also see the characters themselves maturing: no more meaningless mass destruction, no more eating shawarma, and only a few jokes (but still enough to make the whole cinema laugh out loud). What Civil War got right that Batman v Superman didn’t was the perfect median between fun and serious – Civil War appreciates that whilst it is dealing with much more weighty topics than in its previous movies, fans appreciate its distinctive humour and that the film is conscious that there is an extent to which people flying around is bright spangly suits can be take seriously. 

What was so refreshing about Civil War was this self-consciousness. The film forces the superheroes to face the consequences of their actions in previous films: the destruction and loss of life they have caused, and is unique in the fact that it acknowledges this, rather than having the usual ‘all-cleaned up’ ending where peace is restored and buildings have magically been resurrected. This is what the unique feature that audiences have been searching for, and it acts as a perfect foundation to build the even more substantial themes on: betrayal, freedom, autonomy and vigilantism, and at the heart of it, that everyone is human. 

Civil War is also revolutionary in another way – contradictory to the super-formula that skyrocketed Marvel to success in the first place, there is no clear villain. There is a character that many might consider to be the ‘bad guy’ but he acts merely as the catalyst for the ultimate conflict between Iron Man and Captain America. Unfortunately, or fortunately, it certainly isn’t easy to decide whose side you are on – both have their own well-grounded reasons.

We also see development in the other characters featured, as each of them faces their own dilemma in which they have to make difficult decisions: Vision struggles to deal with his new emotions, Wanda comes to realise the dangers of her powers and Natasha struggles with choosing between loyality and morality. They are all surprisingly heavy topics, but Marvel manages to glide through them gracefully. There is also the exciting introduction of new characters Black Panther and Spider-Man, whose presence and new powers make sure that the action scenes do not turn into another version of The Avengers

Captain America: Civil War is packed with the usual action, excitement, and special effects but it’s the new mature and reflective perspective it brings in that makes it one of best superhero movies yet. Marvel’s made it clear that it’s all grown-up now and ready to take on the adult world, and it’s hard not to feel like a proud parent. 

Captain America: Civil War (2016) – The Blockbuster Done Right

Movie of the Month: Batman v Superman (2016)

As one of the most highly anticipated films of the year, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice did not quite achieve the super reception it had been expecting. Unfortunately, although I tried to keep an open mind, it became almost impossible to deny that this wasn’t quite the epic battle that had been promised.

Before its release, the film showed a lot of promise. Though some may not think Ben Affleck was the best choice for the next Batman, he still is a talented actor. Oscar-winning and highly respected Jeremy Irons was also cast as Alfred, as were many other well-known stars: Jesse Eisenberg as the villain, Kevin Costner (a two-time Oscar winner), and Amy Adams, Henry Cavill and Laurence Fishburne continuing in their roles from Man of Steel. On top of this, Hans Zimmer would be composing the soundtrack, and the most exciting promise of all: Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) would be making an appearance.

This is precisely the reason that Batman v Superman was a disappointment. So ambitious were the filmmakers in creating excitement around the film, and trying to fit so many different things into the film, that the actual plot and substance of the film falls flat. Though the title promises the ultimate fight between the two DC super-superheroes, the actual fight scene between the two has barely begun before they are already hugging it out and calling each other friends. The story feels muddled and unclear, with multiple contradictions and things left hanging. Is there any point to the mysterious dreams Batman is having? In fact, is there any point to calling the film ‘Batman v Superman’ when they reconcile halfway through the film and start working together?

Despite the stellar cast, again the performances are a bit of a let-down. Screen legends Irons and Costner are reduced to minor roles, and those who are given the bigger roles – in particular Cavill as Superman, who has to keep up the moral, selfless, do-gooder personality – appear wooden and emotionless, most likely due to the poor script writing (be warned: there are some very cringeworthy scenes between Superman and Lois Lane). Jesse Eisenburg was also underwhelming as the megalomaniac Lex Luthor, with few distinctive characteristics – it seemed as if his character’s behaviour was largely based off the Joker – so no points for originality.

One positive, however, is the introduction of Wonder Woman, who was very well played by Gal Gadot. The discovery of the files on the Justice League members did make me very excited for the future films, and though I have never been a massive comic book fan, Wonder Woman has always been a personal favourite.

So why is this making Movie of the Month? I hear you ask. Despite all its flaws, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is still an unmissable film. Rarely has there been a day this past month where I haven’t seen some mention of it, and it has left critics and fans divided. Some, in fact, argue that this is a brilliant film – the only way to find out is to see it for yourself.

Movie of the Month: Batman v Superman (2016)

Review: Theeb (2015) 

In Arabic, ‘theeb’ means ‘wolf’, an animal which in Bedouin culture represents manhood. Indeed, this name is no accident, as the film follows a young boy on a perilous journey of survival in this intense coming-of-age story by first-time writer and director Naji Abu Nowar.

Set during World War I, where the Bedouins were caught between the Ottomans and British, this film is an eye-opening tale, skilfully portraying the atmosphere at the time, in a way that educates the viewers but does not overwhelm them. I myself know little of that area of history, yet ideas are introduced subtly into the plot without overpowering it.

Theeb is the youngest son of a Bedouin sheik, and upon the arrival of British soldier seeking guidance to a secret location, he sets off on a life-changing journey through the desert with his older brother Hussein. One of the most fascinating things about this film is that the two brothers are in fact not actors, but members of the Awda Abu Tayeh tribe from the location in Jordan. Despite this, Jacir Eid (who plays Theeb) is captivating, and it seems that using non-professionals was a risk worth taking. As they presumably are close in real life, the relationship between Hussein and Theeb feels believably more intimate and familiar, with a real sense of Theeb’s respect for his brother and need for his mentorship. Shooting the film from Theeb’s point of view also allows the viewer to form a strong emotional connection with the character as he struggles to survive, and adds poignancy and substance to every moment in the film.

Filming Location: Wadi Rum, Jordan – featured also in Lawrence of Arabia
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Review: Theeb (2015) 

Review: Allegiant (2016)

Yet another young-adult dystopian fiction adaptation? The third instalment of the Divergent series, adapted from the Veronica Roth trilogy of the same name, is not necessarily bad, but it doesn’t quite make the ‘good’ category either.

The film picks up from Insurgent, with Jeanine dead and Four’s mother Evelyn now trying to establish and consolidate power over the city. After the shocking revelation that there is a world outside of Chicago, Tris sets off on a mission to discover what’s beyond the wall.

If there is one thing that’s glaringly obvious from the beginning, it’s the lack of originality. A huge budget for almost ridiculous special effects? Check. Some form of dystopian world with corrupted leaders? Check. A hunky love interest who does nothing but stand around brooding? Check. The list goes on.

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Review: Allegiant (2016)

Movie of the Month: The Revenant (2015)

I think it’s fair to say that Alejandro G. Iñárritu’s The Revenant has had a very good month, and perhaps will be having an even better one after this weekend’s Oscars award ceremony, with a whopping 12 nominations. Could Iñárritu win Best Film two years in a row?

Whether this epic tale of survival wins big or not, it certainly deserves recognition as not only for its astounding cinematography, but also for the touching and raw story of a father’s love for his son at the very heart of it.

Based on the real-life experiences of Hugh Glass (played by Leonardo DiCaprio), the film is two and half hours of endurance and exhaustion (for both the characters and the audience). Glass is on a fur-hunting expedition when he is attacked by a bear, and eventually abandoned by his fellow team members when it seems that he has little chance of survival. The events that unfold lead Glass to set out alone into the wilderness, determined to get his revenge.

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Movie of the Month: The Revenant (2015)