Review: The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind

Chiwetel Ejiofor‘s directorial debut brings us the inspiring story of The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind.

Written, directed by and starring Chiwetel Ejiofor (12 Years a Slave) and based on the memoir of the same name, The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind tells the true story of a young boy and his fight to save his village from a devastating famine.

Set in the early 2000s in Malawi, we meet William Kamkwamba (Maxwell Simba), a young boy living with his family near the rural village of Wimbe. The Kamkwambas are a family of farmers and it’s clear from the start that times are hard. William’s father, Trywell (Chiwetel Ejiofor) works tirelessly in the fields each day and the family are struggling to pay William’s school fees. However, things take a turn for the worse when the village crops fail due to a horrendous drought. Many are forced to leave to avoid starvation, and the Kamkwambas are left desperate after they are robbed of their remaining grain stores.

Although William gets banned from school because his parents have been unable to pay the sufficient fees, he persuades his science teacher (who is interested in William’s sister) to allow him access to the school library. Towards the beginning of the film, we learn that William runs a small business fixing radios for people in his village and has a keen interest in electronics, but it’s at the library he learns about energy and wind power. After reading in the library and rummaging in the local scrap yard, he soon becomes convinced that he can save his village from hunger by building a windmill to help power a water pump to support the crops.

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Maxwell Simba plays William Kamkwamba in new Netflix release, The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind. (Credit: Netflix)

The film is a fantastic directorial debut from Chiwetel Ejiofor. It is visually stunning and succeeds in immersing the audience into the lives of the struggling Wimbe villagers. Ejiofor’s performance as William’s father is just as impressive. Although he has nasty traits, his facial expressions and the emotion in his eyes helps the audience connect with the character. You grow to care about Trywell and understand he is under a tremendous amount of strain to try to provide for his family.

Chiwetel Ejiofor is fantastic, but the standout performance comes from Maxwell Simba’s portrayal of William. Simba shows just as much raw emotion as veteran actor Ejiofor’s character, and this is Simba’s film debut. Apart from a few short scenes, the movie is essentially told from William’s perspective, giving Simba a tremendous task of guiding the audience through the narrative, but he executes this perfectly. In each and every scene, you can sense William’s drive and passion, even when those around him don’t necessarily believe in his ambition. It’s truly inspiring: you want to see him succeed and prove everyone wrong.

Despite the convincing performances from the cast, the film does have a pacing issue. There are several scenes and plot points that could have been shortened or left out entirely. For example, William’s sister and her ongoing relationship with William’s teacher features quite heavily but there isn’t much of a pay-off. It may have been more interesting to see this plot line replaced with additional scenes with the village chief, Chief Wimbe, played by Joseph Marcell (The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air). However, since the film is based on a true story, it’s difficult to comment on what should and shouldn’t have been included.

The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind is by no means a perfect film and it’s not one I will be rushing back to watch immediately. But the emotional performances from the cast make it memorable and Chiwetel Ejiofor has triumphed with his directorial debut.

You can check out the trailer for The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind below.

Read more of Olivia’s film reviews here:

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Film Review: Bohemian Rhapsody

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Bohemian Rhapsody’s popularity has kept it in cinemas since October.

Actor Rami Malek brings the confident and charismatic Freddie Mercury back to life.

A solitary man moves confidently towards the stage at Wembley Stadium in London, wearing a white tank top and tight dark jeans. The viewer can only see the back of the singer, and once he’s up on the stage it almost feels like you are there with him. It is the 13th of July, 1985, and about 72,000 people have gathered at the Live Aid concert to be a part of Queen’s performance.

Viewers of this film are transported into the most fascinating and defining parts of Mercury’s life,  and get a look at the heart of timeless British rock band Queen. Despite the film having lots of music (well, duh?) and humorous bits, there is a palpable sadness and melancholy all the way through it. The director, Bryan Singer, has managed quite well to demonstrate the low points of Freddy’s life as well as the highs. Mercury often struggled with loneliness, love and identity as he entered the world of fame and it is noticeable.

Malek, the 37-year-old lead, looks very much like the real Freddie Mercury, but it’s his deft imitations of Mercury’s personality traits and characteristic movements that really elevate the performance. The other band members are portrayed impressively as well: Gwilym Lee as Brian May, Ben Hardy as Roger Taylor and Joseph Mazzello as John Deacon.

When I was young, I went to music school for six years and we used to sing Queen songs in the choir. So for me, the movie was strangely personal. I feel like many other viewers will share this feeling.

One of these song was the iconic six minute long anthem that the film was named after, written by Mercury for their album “A Night at the Opera”. As I sang their tunes at an early age, I made an emotional connection to the band – and I must say that the Queen cinema experience was a pleasant nostalgic journey.

Click here to see the trailer.

Film Review: Ralph Breaks The Internet

While not an instant classic, this sequel to Wreck It Ralph defies expectations simply by being “surprisingly not terrible”.

Ralph Breaks The Internet

Ralph Breaks The Internet

It’s a strange thing, being a grown man and going to watch a kid’s movie on your own. Still, I’ve managed to apply a critical eye and not simply lurk around the theatre, looking creepy.

The plot of Ralph Breaks The Internet follows essentially what the title says. Our hero Ralph, a lovable 80s arcade game villain, journeys to the internet with his feisty young accomplice Vanellope to save the latter’s arcade cabinet (which is in need of spare parts). They find what they need on eBay, there’s some shenanigans, they get the thing, there’s yet more shenanigans, and then some minor peril ensues as Ralph’s best intentions go awry. However, everything ends well and leaves you with a nice fuzzy feeling inside. If that’s a spoiler for you, there’s a few Disney classics you’ll need a peek at before you read the rest of this.

The film mostly takes place inside a fictionalised version of the internet, so the humour centres around internet culture, memes and social media. This is an incredibly difficult kind of joke, as it needs to be incredibly up-to-date. More so than any movie that has spent two years in production has any right to be. Yet, they actually manage it. There’s still a few bits of banter that really would’ve been funnier six years ago when the first one came out, but for the most part the in-jokes and references are pretty on the ball. One particularly notable scene from the trailers involving all the various Disney princesses is actually a great laugh.

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Promotional movie poster

I think the way they manage to not entirely miss the punchline with all the internet humour is by not delving too deep into online culture. They do cover a lot of interesting points – the viciousness of comment sections, viral videos, even the highly illegal “Dark Web” – but there’s always more references you can make when you’re talking about the internet. Doing that, however, would just create some horrifying remake of The Emoji Movie. Instead, the writers have shone the light back onto the characters themselves for most of the jokes, and made a lot of self-referential jabs about Disney movies. Looking back is a good theme, I suppose, for what is Walt Disney Studios’ first theatrical sequel since 2011 – the one you’re thinking of when you see that fact and go “Really?” is either a Pixar movie or was straight-to-DVD.

While I seem positive here, I am being very generous with the term “entertaining”. It’s a great movie to watch with gullible, easily distracted children, or to put on for a couple hours while you play with your phone. You can (and should!) tilt your head up every so often to enjoy the odd sequence but the film doesn’t overly grab you. It’s also pretty long: nearly two hours, and this is supposed to be a kids movie. My attention span isn’t even that long, let alone that of the standard pre-pubescent cinema goer. There’s laughs, but it seems like it mostly just appeals to the hard-core Wreck It Ralph fan –  if that’s even a thing.

See movie times for Ralph Breaks The Internet here. 

How ‘I, Tonya’ shines the spotlight on the pressures of international circuit figure skaters

An ex figure skater’s initial reaction to hearing about the release of a film depicting one of figure skating’s biggest scandals is naturally going to be excitement.

A film depicting the life of Tonya Harding, the redneck Olympian pushing the boundaries in every way imaginable, would undoubtedly bring back memories of controversy for even non – enthusiasts.

Film titles for I,Tonya

Revolving around an attack on Nancy Kerrigan orchestrated partly by Harding’s ex-husband, the story shows their battle with the media in preparation for the 1994 Lillehammer Winter Olympic games and leaves questions about how the sport has changed since – if at all.

Within the last year, the competitive figure skating circuit has seen two of its top skaters step down from competing. Gracie Gold and Julia Lipnitskaya both made shock exits from the figure skating scene in 2017, prompting a lot of questions about what skaters are dealing with behind the closed doors of an ice rink.

But the truth of the matter is – they rarely have such a thing as privacy in their new roles as their countries’ ‘sweethearts’. Gracie Gold, aptly named US Figure Skating’s ‘Golden Girl’ withdrew with a multitude of issues including anxiety and an eating disorder and is yet to return.

 

Julia Lipnitskaya shot to fame in the 2014 Olympics after winning the Gold medal for Russia in the team event at only 15 years old. She retired in August last year with anorexia, age 19. Both girls had become overnight sensations; Gracie due to her strong social media following and Julia making headlines in Russia because of her young age and a much reported hug from President Vladimir Putin at the 2014 Olympics. Only a couple of months after her triumphs there she confessed she felt “constant stress” and that she was trapped, unable to live up to the expectations of her following.

Canadian pairs skater and Olympian Kirsten Moore-Towers thinks that the media definitely play a part in a skater’s mindset going into competition;

“I think media coverage is very important for our sport, but I think it depends on the type of skater that you are on how you handle it. Some people really struggle with the mental aspect of competition. For me, it’s a healthy mix of both.”

Elizabeth Ryan, Master Practitioner of Figure Skating Psychology, also thinks it depends on the personality of a person, but believes that privacy is also important;

“It really depends on how they deal with the coverage and if they are comfortable with it or not, but I do think it adds to the pressure. It can have a negative impact on a skater’s performance when a camera is on them and a microphone thrust at them immediately before a skate or just after they’ve skated badly. But the sport is a ‘performance’ one and that necessarily means an audience and wider interest from the media as they start to become better known on the international circuit.”

So then maybe figure skating hasn’t changed; although the media are no longer flattening the tyres of the skaters in question like in the case of Harding to get a new picture of her, the press still continue to hound the stars of the sport – regardless of their personality and ability to deal with fame. Tonya’s world collapsed around her, albeit partly from her own doing – but the media’s headlines of “Few Tears, No Blood as Snow White Beats Poison Dwarf,” (Irish Times), and “Beauty crushes the Beast,” (Norwegian newspaper Dagbladet) left even the opposition with a bad taste in their mouths.

Julia Lipnitskaya performing her Olympic medal winning programme to ‘Schindler’s List’

Now over twenty years later the careers of two girls are lost as the media once again circled and piled on the pressure; but just like Tonya’s life after her figure skating career as she fought in a boxing ring, Lipnitskaya and  Gold both vowed to fight back – the latter planning to return to competitive skating.

With figure skating on the back burner for most organisations once again after the Winter Olympics, the media frenzy has shifted. As the lights in the cinema rise, the spotlight on the troubles facing the golden girls of figure skating once again fades.


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Reviewed: T2 Trainspotting

Following the world premiere of the highly anticipated T2, our resident film critic Douglas Greenwood gives us the low-down.

 

T2 Trainspotting is in cinemas January 27th.

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