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Movie review: The Magnificent Seven

Movie reviews

Hello!

After reviewing a contemporary Western last week (Hell or High Water), today, I turn my attention to the one set in the past – 19th century’s Wild West, to be specific. Let’s discuss The Magnificent Seven.

IMDb summary: Seven gunmen in the old west gradually come together to help a poor  village against savage thieves.

Antoine Fuqua’s The Magnificent Seven, in terms of both the name and the plot, reminds me of a different recent Western from another accomplished director – of course, I’m talking about Tarantino’s The Hateful EightSadly, that awful Adam Sandler movie The Ridiculous Six also sneaks into my mind. What is up with these names, Hollywood?

2016’s The Magnificient Seven is a remake of the 1960s movie with the same (which, in turn, was a remake of a 1954 Japanese picture Seven Samurai – haven’t seen either of them but plan on watching both). Weirdly, it is not getting almost any hate in comparison to the recent Ben-Hur movie, which was also a remake of the 60s classic. Maybe who is involved in front and behind the camera has something to do with it – Seven has a lot more big name talent attached to it than Ben-Hur.

SPOILER WARNING

Writing: story and character development

The Magnificent Seven’s screenplay was written by an interesting duo: Nic Pizzolatto – the creator of True Detective – and Richard Wenk – writer of such mediocre-ish films like The Expendables 2 and The Mechanic and some better flicks, like his previous collaboration with FuquaThe Equalizer (he is writing that film’s sequel as well). Wenk has also penned Jack Reacher: Never Go Back script – that picture is coming out next month.

I quite enjoyed the story they created for this movie. The narrative was a bit by-the-numbers and predictable – Westerns all tend to have a similar plot – but it was executed quite well. The set-up was clear and efficient and the unfolding resolution worked as well. The movie was a bit uneven in that it had some filler material in between the action pieces. Some of that material was interesting, other – less so, but it was worth to sit through because the action sequences were amazing. I also liked the fact that the story had real consequences and not everyone lived happily ever after when it was all said and done.

The character development was also sufficient. I feared that due to a big number of characters, The Magnificent Seven would suffer from the same thing that undercut Suicide Squad’s success, however, I felt that Pizzolatto and Wenk provided all the characters with a lot more moments of personal development than Ayer did for DC anti-heroes. Some characters could have been developed more – there is always room for improvement – but I felt that the things we did get worked better than I expected them too. In general, all the main heroes of the film were not good people but the screenwriters did make them likable and did made believe that these 7 people could bond in a fairly short amount of time.

Denzel Washington’s and Chris Pratt’s characters received the most scenes. Denzel’s character was nicely set-up as the leader and his personal agenda was quite a neat surprise at the end. Pratt’s character’s role as the prankster of the group was cool – his jokes and comic relief helped to ease the tension. The two characters that were the most compelling to me were played by Ethan Hawke and Byung-hun Lee – I liked their comradeship and backstory and I also felt that they had the best dialogues. Hawke’s character’s paranoia and war guilt was really fascinating part of the film, although, his actions at the end (leaving and coming back) were quite predictable, but I guess this type of character arc (fighting one’s inner guilt) has to end in that particular way.  Vincent D’Onofrio’sManuel Garcia-Rulfo’s and Martin Sensmeier’s characters were a bit one-dimensional (the weird outcast, the Mexican, and the Native American) but they did serve their purpose and nicely rounded up the group.

The writing for the main villain of the film was good too – I liked the fact that he was a corrupt businessman, who took the ideas of capitalism a bit too close to heart. The main (and only, really) female character also had a nice story of revenge/righteousness and I especially liked the detail that she was an active member of the fight, not just a damsel in distress.

Directing: visuals and action

Antoine Fuqua is an accomplished director in Hollywood, though he hasn’t made than many films. The Magnificent Seven is his 11th feature film (though other prominent Hollywood directors have made even less – Tarantino have only released 8, while Nolan – 9 pictures, so I guess quality and talent are way more important than quantity when it comes to directing). My favorite Fuqua’s films are King Arthur and Southpaw, while The Magnificent Seven is taking the 3rd spot. I really liked all the action – both the shoot-outs on the ground and on the horses (really want to ride a horse after watching the picture). I admire all the beautiful locations, the wild nature, and the empty valleys. The camera work (cinematography by Mauro Fiore) was excellent too: the close-ups really helped with the suspense, while the long tracking shots of people riding through frames (in color or in the shadow) were neatly used for transition. In addition, I enjoyed how the final stand-off of the film happened in the same place where everything had started – the church and its yard. The religious symbolism was also fitting, especially for the setting of 19th century US. Lastly, the instrumental score (music by James Horner and Simon Franglen) was excellent, while the credits rounded up the film beautifully.

Acting

  • Denzel Washington as Sam Chisolm was quite good. This wasn’t his best performance, but he worked well in the role. I liked how his character was introduced – we saw his guns before we saw his face. After working with Fuqua on 3 films already, Washington will re-team with the director for The Equalizer’s sequel – filming is supposed to start next year.
  • Chris Pratt as Josh Farraday was also great – he was really charismatic and pulled off the jokes and the teases nicely. This was his follow-up to the uber successful Jurassic World and he did not disappoint me. I cannot wait for his upcoming films as well – Passengers just debuted its trailer and will be released during Christmas, while Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 will roll into theaters next summer.
  • Ethan Hawke as Goodnight Robicheaux was amazing too. I liked seeing Hawke, together with Denzel, in a Fuqua movie – reminded me of the Training Day days. Goodnight was kinda the voice of reason/rationality in the group – and Hawke just really knows how to nail this type of role. I’ve seen a lot of his films but my favorite still remains the Before trilogy. He will star in Luc Besson’s Valerian next year.
  • Vincent D’Onofrio as Jack Horne was interesting and weird. The harsh outside look of his character really came into contrast with his inner softness and that squeaky-ish voice. I needed some time to get used to the voice, actually. I enjoyed seeing D’Onofrio in big Hollywood picture and I also think that he deserves to get a lot more prominent roles in mainstream films because he is a very good actor – if you need proof, watch Daredevil.
  • Byung-hun Lee as Billy Rocks and Manuel Garcia-Rulfo as Vasquez were also great. I liked how one was very calm and collected and the other kinda a hot-head. I am not really familiar with their previous work but would love to see more of them. 
  • Martin Sensmeier as Red Harvest was my favorite supporting character/actor. I loved his look and the fact that he had a traditional bow in a gunfight. I would really like to see some more films about/involving Native Americans, any suggestions?
  • Peter Sarsgaard played Bartholomew Bogue – the villain of the film. I liked how both menacing and cowardly he was. The actor also did a very good job of showing his character’s fear with his eyes. Recently, Sarsgaard had roles in films like Blue Jasmine, Pawn Sacrifice, and Black Mass. He will also be in the awards’ contender Jackie later this year.
  • Haley Bennett as Emma Cullen was also really good. I have only seen her in Hardcore Henry, where she didn’t have much to do, so I was pleasantly surprised by her performance in this film. She pulled off her action scenes and the emotional sequences really well and will also star in The Girl on The Train in a few weeks.
  • Matt Bomer (Magic Mike, The Nice Guys) and Luke Grimes (American Sniper, Fifty Shades) also had small roles and did a fine job. In was nice to see Bomer in another flick – don’t know why he doesn’t get more role as he is really good at what he does. Grimes has two Fifty Shades movies coming up but I don’t think that hs character will get much to do in them.

In short, The Magnificent Seven was a well-made and nicely-acted typical Western. It was entertaining and intense and had an amazing and diverse cast. However, the narrative did lack originality.

Rate: 3.75/5

Trailer: The Magnificent Seven trailer

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Movie review: Hell or High Water

Movie reviews

Hello!

Today, we are talking about one of the most critically acclaimed indie films of 2016. It’s the review of Hell or High Water.

IMDb summary: A divorced dad and his ex-con brother resort to a desperate scheme in order to save their family’s ranch in West Texas.

Writing

Actor-turned-screenwriter Taylor Sheridan wrote Hell or High Water’s script and did an amazing job. This screenplay was actually the winner of 2012’s Black List and I’m really happy that it was turned into a movie, even if 4 years later than it should have been. Sheridan also penned the script for last year’s Sicario – a standout movie of 2015. Both Sicario and Hell or High Water share some similarities: the two stories are both set in the southern states of the US and the particular setting has a role in the narrative. Also, both movies are quite slow – the plots are allowed to unravel by themselves, the films are never rushed and the important moments aren’t just montaged through.

Hell or High Water’s story is also really successful in its emotional appeal. It deals with the universal topic of family and explores the relationship between two brothers superbly. It also does a good job of making the viewers sympathize with all the characters. I, personally, wanted the brother to succeed, even though they were criminals, and I also wanted the two rangers to succeed in their quest.

These sympathies arose from the subtle character development, which was dispersed throughout the whole film. By listening to the dialogue and seemingly random banter we find out a lot about the characters: we discovered the reason for the heists and why the brothers seemed to have an estranged relationship. The friendly teasing between the rangers helped us to get a few hints into the history of the two law-enforcers – we uncovered the ancestry of one of them and the approaching retirement of the other.

Lastly, I really loved the way the ending of the film was written. I always enjoy this type of open-ending when it is done right. Sometimes, when the movie just ends abruptly, without answering any questions, the whole story falls flat but, when the film leaves you with just one or few unresolved issues, like Hell or High Water did, the narrative both finishes and is permitted to live on in the minds of those who witnessed it. Both the characters and the viewers will be haunted by this story.

Directing

A Scottish director David Mackenzie did a magnificent job directing Hell or High Water. He utilized the setting of Texas splendidly and showed the rural areas, the open spaces and the little beat-up towns in long and extremely long tracking shots. He also gave the story a lot of breathing room – although every scene was carefully and beautifully crafted, the movie seemed to flow very organically and naturally. The feature’s color plate was also really nice – warm tons filled the screen and made every shot look like an old vintage photograph.

I also loved all the shots were the modernity and the traditional old-school ways of life were juxtaposed. The setting of Texas, where people still live in old ranches and work with cattle and horses but also have modern gas pumps, was an appropriate location for this juxtaposition. To me, the scene in the gas station was amazing – not only did it have us that unexpected fight but we also got a frame with both a horse and a cowboy and a new sports car with two fake gangster youngsters. Lastly, the fact that everybody seemed to have a gun in the film was not only a funny aspect of the movie but also a very realistic one.

Music

Hell or High Water’s soundtrack by Nick Cave and Warren Ellis really added to the atmosphere of the film. Fitting to the setting of Texas, the film’s visuals were accompanied by cool country music. The picture also had this really nice instrumental theme to supplement the long tracking shots of the characters driving or moving through a frame in any other way.

Acting

  • Jeff Bridges as Marcus Hamilton, a Texas Ranger was amazing. The way he delivered the jokes and teased other characters was truly enjoyable to watch. It’s probably one of Bridges best performances out of the recent years because he did have a few flops lately, like The Giver or Seventh Son. I hope this role is the signal that he is back on track and I do hope that his contribution to Kingsman 2, coming out next year, will be worth the wait.
  • Chris Pine as Toby Howard was also really good. I’m starting to like Pine more and more in these rugged, less clean-cut and more challenging roles. Yes, he is also good in Hollywood blockbusters, like Star Trek and Into the Woods, but is more fun to see him try something different. A few recent smaller films of his that I suggest you watch are Z for Zachariah and The Finest Hours. Of course, let’s not forget to check out his blockbuster work too – Wonder Woman is only 10 months away.
  • Ben Foster as Tanner Howard was also really good. I’ve only recently started noticing him in films, the last one being The Program, in which he played the lead role of Lance Amstrong. In a few weeks, Foster will also play the main antagonist in Inferno, which I’m also looking forward too.
  • Gil Birmingham as Alberto Parker, Hamilton’s partner was also really good. I hope that the teases that his character received weren’t too offensive to both Mexicans and Native Americans. I really loved his speech about how the white colonialists took everything from his character’s people, only to lose the winnings of the pillage to the banks.

In short, Hell or High Water is one of the best films of the year so far. It’s masterfully crafted and slow, but immensely engaging. The acting is amazing, the writing is spectacular and the directing – excellent. A must watch for any fans of Westerns and heist movies.

Rate: 5/5

Trailer: Hell or High Water trailer

P.S. Weirdly, my next movie review will also be that of a Western – The Magnificient Seven.

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Dan Brown’s Books and Ron Howard’s Movies (Inferno Preview)

Movie previews

Hello!

In the middle of October, the latest Ron Howard and Tom Hanks collaboration – Inferno – will hit theaters. So, I decided to educate myself on the source material – the amazing bestsellers by Dan Brown as well as the 2 previous films of the franchise – and want to tell you all about my educational and entertaining journey into the world of Robert Langdon.

Dan Brown’s Books

While all of the books in the Robert Langdon series are stand-alone novels, I decided to read them in the order that they were published. My dad used to a big fan of this author’s work, so I had all the novels in my home library. I truly enjoyed reading this series that blends history and modernity beautifully; unravels the whole narrative in such a limited time frame (the stories span maximum of 2 days) and finds real facts to prove conspiracy theories (sort of). A few ideas about the 4 different accounts of the exciting adventures:

  • Angels & Demons – the first and my favorite book of the series. It was the freshest and the most original (because it came first) and it also had the biggest amount of action, mystery, and suspense. I loved the religion v science debate. I also liked the realism of the novel but had a few problems with the ending – it just seemed a bit over-the-top and unbelievable for such a grounded story.  The setting of Rome and Vatican was brilliant, though.
  • The Da Vinci Code – probably the most famous book of the series that explored the topic of art v religion and had quite an open ending that I still don’t know if I liked it or hated it. Either way, I loved learning about Paris.
  • The Lost Symbol – the most philosophical book of the series that dealt with science and spirituality and even magic. I really liked that Brown moved the action to the new world instead of focusing on Europe once again.
  • Inferno – with this book, the writer moved the plot back to Italy, where everything started (Angels & Demons was also set in Italy). The mixture of themes such as literature, art, medicine, religion, and humanism was really cool. The amnesia aspect was a great story device to kick-start the narrative. The idea of The Consortium as an underground organization with a lot of power was impressive too.

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In general, as I’ve said, I loved all of the works by Dan Brown. This series is like a virtual tour of historical cities that I desire to visit in real life as well. My only gripes with the books were 1. the repetition of story devices and 2. a slight overdramatization. After reading all of the volumes of the series, I started noticing that all of the female characters were kinda similar – they all were either daughters/granddaughters/sisters/lovers of the other important characters of the books. All of the 4 leading ladies were also used as the love interests for the main character but they never resurfaced a second time. Robert Langdon’s position was also always pretty much the same – he would be sucked into the action by accident and would usually become a temporary outlaw. The villains tended to be people from the outskirts of society that don’t fully fit in – they were either the assassins, the crazy monks, the revengeful family members or the misunderstood geniuses. Lastly, the author really seemed to like his ending twists – all novels revealed a lot of stuff during the last 20 pages and these ‘exposures’ totally turned things around and changed the stories almost completely.

The 2nd and 3rd books shared an idea that ‘people are not ready to find out some historical truth’, while the 1st and 4th novels focused on some kind of modern technologies that were used in the attempted destruction of the world for religious reasons. The 1st book was my favorite, while the following 3 all shared the runner’s up position.

Ron Howard’s films

The Da Vinci Code was the first book to be adapted into the film in 2006. 3 years later, the big screen adaptation of Angels & Demons was released. I don’t know why they decided to switch the order of the first two books when adapting them, especially, since I felt that Angels & Demons was the stronger novel and might have been a better starting feature of the franchise. I also have no idea why they skipped the 3rd book and decided to adapt Inferno instead. Also, why wait 7 years to adapt the next movie? I think that the audiences might have already forgotten the character of Robert Langdon, particularly, in the market oversaturated with thrillers, adventure films, crime dramas and superhero movies (Ron Howard’s adaptations have various aspects in common with all of these genres).

I also don’t understand why the two films have been panned by critics this much. The few reasons that I can spot in common between all the reviews is the fact that the movies have a lot of narration and that they critique the church – all the reviewers seem to be personally offended by this commentary. I also can not comprehend how the Catholic Church feels threatened by a piece of fictional entertainment/commercial art. Is the church really this weak to see a slightly diverging idea as a serious menace to its thousand year old history and a thousand year long world domination?

A few ideas about the two movies purely from the cinematic perspective:

The Da Vinci Code: 

  • The movie had a smaller amount of explanations and less backstory than the book, Langdon seemed to break the codes way more easily and without the key, and the family relations were altered too.
  • Small moments, like difficulties with the code at the bank and the second cryptex, were cut, but, in general, the picture was quite true to the book.
  • The narrative was more straightforward and streamlined for the film, so as to make in easy to follow to viewers not familiar with the book.
  • The filmmakers added more action in the literal sense of the word, although, they kept the quite underwhelming ending – I expected the film to finish with some big original action sequence since it was made in Hollywood.
  • The movie also had a lot of dialogue in French which is quite unusual for a Hollywood picture, which is primarily aimed at the English-speaking audiences.
  • The visuals of the past/explanatory flashbacks were really nice and interesting. They also served as a nice visual explanation to accompany the narration.
  • The supporting cast was full of big name talent. Ian McKellen and Paul Bettany both were really good and the lesser know (at least to me) French actors Audrey Tautou and Jean Reno were great as well.

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Angels & Demons:

  • This film was less faithful to the book and it had a variety of changes and things being cut.
  • Changes: Vetra’s father was replaced with a different scientist. Olivetti was not part of the Swiss Guard and the Vatican contacted Langdon, not CERN. The last cardinal was saved in the film, while he died in the book. The assassin was way less sadistic and eccentric and died differently. Lastly, the final suicide was public in the novel, but it happened in private in the picture and Langdon also received a different ‘thank-you’ gift.
  • Cuts: the director of CERN didn’t appear in the film. Vittoria wasn’t kidnapped at all. The biological son plotline was left out and Robert also didn’t go into the helicopter in the film, while he did that in the book.
  • However, the film kept the main thematical idea of the book – the whole tradition vs. modernity discussion. It also retained the little details, like Langdon’s passion for water sports and his Mickey Mouse watch.
  • The feature also had a way faster set-up than the book – it took the novel at least a hundred pages to start on the quest of looking for the Path of Illumination, while the film started to look for it after the first 15-20 minutes.
  • A few cool shots that I particularly enjoyed were: the whole sequence in the particle accelerator and the shot of the cardinals leaving their cell phones behind when entering the conclave.
  • The film had a nice supporting cast, although, the characters could have been fleshed out more. Ewan McGregor’s character seemed shady from the start, while Stellan Skarsgård’s character was unlikeable and hostile without any real explanation. Ayelet Zurer’s character also needed a lot of screen time before she grew on me as a likable protagonist.

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I hope you enjoyed this review of a franchise that spans a few mediums, both the cinematic and the textual one. I would really like to do more post like these. My Inferno review will come out as soon as I get a chance to see the film!

Have a great day!

5 ideas about a movie: Sausage Party

Movie reviews

Hello!

Before I start reviewing films that belong to the fall movie season, allow me to catch up on the only summer flick that I couldn’t see when it was still summer – Sausage Party. My university put on a free screening of it during Freshers’ Week, so, now I can review it!

IMDb summary:  A sausage strives to discover the truth about his existence.

  1. Before going to see Sausage Party, I really didn’t know what to expect. I have never been a fan of really raunchy comedies and I have also had mixed feelings about Seth Rogen’s previous projects. I did enjoy both Neighbors films but wasn’t a fan of The Interview at all. His voice work in Kung Fu Panda has been great, though, so I was sure that he can nail the voice of a sausage. The jokes were my main concern and I’m so happy that Sausage Party completely wiped my worries away. Yes, the jokes were extremely raunchy and offensive but they somehow actually worked in an animated form.
  2. A whole bunch of people worked on the film’s story and script, including Kyle Hunter, Ariel Shaffir, Seth Rogen, Evan Goldberg and Jonah Hill. The whole premise for the movie was both absurd and genius, smart and stupid. In short, Sausage Party was basically a Toy Story with food for adults. A lot of the jokes were based on stereotypes and were used for social commentary Zootopia style, only in way raunchier way. Lastly,  something that I’d never thought I’d said – I actually enjoyed the fact that Sausage Party was unapologetically offensive – it had a tonne of jokes based on race, sex, sexuality, ethnicity and religion and could literally offend everyone and anyone. In a time, when the slightest critique or a darker humour is taken as an attack, Sausage Party went all the way and did not even think about saying sorry and I applaud it for that.
  3. Conrad Vernon and Greg Tiernan directed the film and did a good job. For the most part, the pace of the film was quite good – quick and snappy, although, the movie did slow down in the middle to develop its characters a bit. The 3D animation looked good – a great mix of realism and cartoon. The 2d flashback was also not bad. Lastly, the usage of music in Sausage Party was hilarious: the opening number was a perfect sequence to start the film and the meat loaf’s song was funny too.
  4. Sausage Party had 2 end-scenes that I liked to touch upon. The first one was that long hmm…orgy sequence. It started as funny but turned into gross really fast and then it just kept on going. I don’t know if it was necessary – Sausage Party had already proved that it was a raunchy and offensive comedy so I don’t know if they should have gone all the way into the gross territory too. The second end-scene was that meta-sequence were a few actors got name-dropped and a possible sequel was set up – I found that second ending to be way more funny that that first sequence.
  5. The food was voiced by a plethora of great comedians. Seth Rogen, Kristen Wiig (Ghostbusters), Jonah Hill (War Dogs, 21 Jump Street), Bill Hader, Michael Cera, Nick Kroll, David Krumholtz, Edward Norton and Salma Hayek were all amazing at bringing various items of produce to life. Paul Rudd (Ant-Man) and James Franco had funny cameos as two of the few human characters.

In short, Sausage Party is the raunchiest comedy I’ve seen in a while but it does work because of its unique format for this particular genre – animation. The jokes are hilarious, the voice work – amazing and the 3D animation of food – quite tasty-looking as well.

Rate: 4.5/5

Trailer: Sausage Party review

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Summer Movies RANKED

Movie reviews

Hello!

The summer movie season has come to a close, so, it’s time to rank the films that Hollywood offered us this year. The 2015’s summer movie list is here if you want to check it out.

Now, summer movie season doesn’t technically start until April or even May, but, since this is my blog, I will be including some pictures that came out in March because they were big summer-type blockbusters. Also, I will be diving the features into categories – these categories will mostly focus on the genre. While I haven’t seen all the movies that have been released, I’ve definitely watched and reviewed the majority of them, so my list(s) will be quite extensive. Lastly, the previous rates that I’ve given these films don’t really count – I will take them into consideration and will also try to be as objective as possible, but my subjective feelings and likes/dislikes will also play a role. Either way, I hope you will enjoy this list and check out the reviews that you might have missed or that just simply interest you!

Comic-Book Movies:

  1. Captain America: Civil War
  2. Suicide Squad
  3. Batman: The Killing Joke
  4. X-Men: Apocalypse
  5. Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (theatrical cut)

Live-Action Fairytales:

  1. The Legend of Tarzan
  2. The Jungle Book
  3. The Huntsman: Winter’s War
  4. Pete’s Dragon
  5. Alice Through The Looking Glass
  6. The BFG

Sci-Fi/Action Movies:

  1. Star Trek Beyond
  2. Warcraft
  3. Ben-Hur
  4. Jason Bourne
  5. TMNT: Out of Shadows
  6. Now You See Me 2
  7. Independence Day: Resurgence

Thrillers:

  1. Nerve
  2. Eye in the Sky
  3. The Shallows
  4. Money Monster
  5. Bastille Day
  6. The Neon Demon

Dramas:

  1. Me Before You
  2. Florence Foster Jenkins
  3. Café Society
  4. Genius
  5. A Hologram for The King

Comedies:

  1. The Nice Guys
  2. Eddie The Eagle
  3. Sausage Party
  4. Central Intelligence
  5. Everybody Wants Some!!
  6. Ghostbusters
  7. Bad Moms
  8. War Dogs
  9. Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates

Animation:

  1. Finding Dory
  2. The Secret Life of Pets

Upcoming films

Autumn is usually a slow time for movies before the awards season really kicks in. However, I’m looking forward to a few cinematic adaptations of bestsellers, coming out this fall, including Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, Girl on a Train and Inferno. In addition, Marvel’s Magic Movie – Doctor Strange and Disney’s Moana will also reach theaters, while possible mainstream awards’ contenders like The Magnificient Seven, Sully, Snowden, and Arrival will also premiere. The Harry Potter world will be expanded with Fantastic Beats and Where to Find Them, while Tom Cruise will give as another solid action film – Jack Reacher: Never Go Back. I’m quite excited for all these pictures and you can definitely look forward to their reviews in the near future.

Also, I would like to thank all my followers for taking the time to click the ‘Follow’ button, for reading, liking and commenting on my posts. It means a lot to me and I can’t wait to continue writing and discussing movies with you! I also appreciate the fact that you do tolerate my other post – mainly sport and sightseeing ones! Thank You again!

Movie review: Pete’s Dragon

Movie reviews

Hello!

Welcome to the last movie review of this summer! We close the blockbusters season with another live-action fairy tale from Disney – Pete’s Dragon!

IMDb summary: The adventures of an orphaned boy named Pete and his best friend Elliot, who just so happens to be a dragon.

Pete’s Dragon is quite an unusual film for Disney because it is quite small – both budget wise and story/scope wise. However, small doesn’t mean bad – it just another type of picture. It is actually quite refreshing to see Disney spending time and money on newer and lesser known projects. Of course, I have to mention that Pete’s Dragon is not an original film but a remake of a musical with the same name from the 70s. I haven’t seen the 1977’s picture and I doubt that I’ll watch it because it is not a timeless Disney classic and it doesn’t have that good of a rating. Moreover, the new Pete’s Dragon more than satisfied all my wishes.

Writing

The film was written by the director of the feature David Lowery and the screenwriter/producer Toby Halbrooks. Halbrooks has written a few shorts and is also writing a script for 2018’s Peter Pan for Disney to be directed by Lowery. In addition to having his next directing gig sorted out, Lowery will also be writing the script for a war film The Yellow Birds. 

I really enjoyed the story that the duo penned for Pete’s Dragon. It was simple, yet well-crafted. The ideas about family and finding a place where you belong were classic Disney themes but they did actually work because of their universality and wide appeal.

The character development was also quite pleasant. I loved how Pete and Bryce Dallas Howard’s character Grace felt connected through nature. I also enjoyed the father-daughter relationship between Grace and her father, played by Robert Redford. The friendship between the main character Pete and his pet dragon Elliot was also cute and reminded me of other great films where children befriend various animals/beings – Max and E.T. are just two of many.  The main antagonist of the film was a cliche character but he served his purpose well in this family adventure picture.

Lastly, I kinda thought that Pete’s Dragon was a spiritual succesor to another live-action fairy tale of 2016 – The Jungle Book. If at the end of Mowgli’s story, he would have been found by humans and Baloo would have gone looking for him, we would most likely have gotten a Pete’s Dragon type of a situation.

Directing

David Lowery, who has only recently started to dip his toes into the blockbuster business, did quite a nice job with the film. The action scenes were entertaining, the mise-en-scene (the forest and the mountains) – gorgeous and the movie’s direction good as well.

The character design of Elliot – the dragon – was a bit weird. He didn’t really look like a dragon, more like a furry dog or a soft teddy bear that could also fly. I heard that a lot of people hated that the dragon was fury and didn’t have any scales. Personally, this change didn’t bother me – I think that it actually helped Elliot to stand out as a different kind of dragon. Also, from the business standpoint, a furry dragon is way more marketable and more merchandise friendly – what kid doesn’t want another soft plushie toy to his/her collection?

I saw the film in 3D but, honestly, it didn’t add anything to it. The effect actually made the whole film darker and, since a lot of scenes were already happening during the night, the 3D only made it harder for me to see the human characters and Elliot.

Music

The 1977’s Pete’s Dragon was a musical, but the studio decided to remake it as a drama/adventure film and drop the songs. However, the 2016’s film still had an interesting soundtrack by Daniel Hart. It seemed to me that the flick had more of a country-music inspired soundtrack and vibe. It was quite refreshing to hear some deep voices and guitar sounds after a lot of EDM and pop music in all of the other films this summer.

Acting

The main character of the film – Pete – was played by Oakes Fegley. When did the child actors have gotten this good? He was excellent in the role – sweet, relatable to children but still able to display acting chops that some adult actors lack. He has a bright future ahead.

Jurrasic World’s Bryce Dallas Howard played the adult-lead Grace and did a nice job. Grace was very different from Dallas Howard’s Jurassic World’s persona – more motherly and way more nature-orientated. Going forward, the actress has a drama thriller Gold coming up. Also, funny fact, I only recently realized that she was the one playing Gwen Stacy in Spider-Man 3. I did not recognize her with the red hair.

Karl Urban played the main antagonist of the film and was okay. Since I’ve only seen him in Star Trek as the caring doctor Bones, it was quite strange to view him as this unlikeable douchebag. He will be one of the villains in Thor 3, so, I guess, I’d better get used to this.

The cast also included Wes Bentley (We Are Your Friends, Interstellar), Oona Laurence (Southpaw, Bad Moms) and Robert Redford (Captain America: The Winter Soldier) among others. Bentley didn’t have much to do – he mostly reacted to stuff that was happening around him. Laurence was good too, while Redford was also believable as loving but a bit weird grandpa/father.

All in all, Pete’s Dragon was a good movie from Disney. It was well-written and nicely crafted. The film was not groundbreaking or the most original but it still made for some pretty good time at the cinema.

Rate: 4/5

Trailer: Pete’s Dragon trailer

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Fall Run 2016

Sports

Hello!

Welcome to the last sports update post this summer. Well, it’s technically no longer summer, but, to me, the autumn doesn’t start until I leave for Scotland and that’s only happening on Tuesday.

Anyway, today’s entry is dedicated to another running event I participated in – in my native language, it’s called Azuolyno Begimas which loosely translate to Oak Grove Run (it is held in an Oak Grove park). This is the 4th running competition of this kind and it usually happens twice a year – at the beginning of autumn and at the start of spring.

All of the participants (around a thousand of them) could choose from a variety of distances. The professional runners or more athletic people were able to run 15km, 10km or 5km, while the beginner runners and amateurs could try their hand at a free 3km Fun Run. There were also special distances for pupils, kids, families, and pets with their owners.

This particular run was quite special and interesting because I did something that I’ve never done before – I ran two distances in a single day during the same event. I did the 10 km distance – wasn’t really happy with my time or the state of my legs and feet – and I also accompanied my aunt on her first ever run – we did the 3km together. The second run was much more pleasant – not only shorter and easier but way more enjoyable too – I liked helping my aunt achieve her own personal goal.

The weather for running was quite good – the temperature was around 15 degrees Celsius and it was quite cloudy, so the sun wasn’t shining into one’s eyes or adding any unnecessary heat and warmness. However, by the time I was finishing the 10k, it started to rain which wasn’t that great or comfortable, especially when running with glasses.

All of the runners received their runner’s numbers and commemorative wooden medals. The participant’s package also included a discount card for hummel sneakers, a free entry to a sports center, a month’s subscription to an online exercise platform, an energy drink and a pot of quickly preparable porridge.

Since I’m going back to Aberdeen in a few days, I will miss out on quite a few running events in my native country. In a few weeks, a memorial run organized by a local university will be held, while a week after that there will be a walking/hiking event. The first week of October would have been reserved for a charity run to raise awareness for breast cancer if I was still living in Lithuania. However, I’m excited to get back to the UK and to start a new year at university. I also hope to find some running events in my ‘other’ hometown.

Have a great week!

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Movie review: Ben-Hur

Movie reviews

Hello!

Welcome to one of the last movie reviews of this summer. This time, we are discussing a film that was mostly panned by critics and was almost completely forgotten by the audiences – Ben-Hur.

IMDb summary: Judah Ben-Hur, a prince falsely accused of treason by his adopted brother, an officer in the Roman army, returns to his homeland after years at sea to seek revenge but finds redemption.

2016’s Ben-Hur is the 5th Ben-Hur picture in the last 100 years. This story is quite old, both literately and figuratively. Not only is the plot set in the ancient times, but the original source material – a book by Lew Wallace titled Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ – has been published at the end of 19th century. While I usually enjoy epic and historical movies, their religious aspects tend to be a hit and miss for me. I wasn’t the biggest fan of Noah and, while Exodus seemed like a fun action adventure, its casting had a lot of problems. Don’t even get me started on Gods of Egypt. The mosts successful religious movie to date is probably The Passion of The Christ, but other than that, religious action features are a hard sell for Hollywood. I’ve also personally noticed that I more interested in movies about pagans rather than any monotheistic religions.

Speaking about Ben-Hur – it is not as bad as everyone is telling you. It has problems, like any other film, but it also a fun adventure with some religious ideas that sometimes stick and sometimes don’t. I wish that the audiences wouldn’t have given up on it without even giving it a chance. At this point, I should also probably note that I haven’t seen any other Ben-Hur pictures because I wanted to allow this movie to stand on its own. I haven’t read the book either, but I’m strongly considering doing that, as I did enjoy the film overall.

Writing

Ben-Hur’s screenplay was penned by Keith Clarke and John Ridley. Ridley has an Academy Award for writing 12 Years a Slave, while Clarke is not that accomplished – he has mostly worked on documentaries until now. For the most part, I really liked the writing for this film. I thought they did a good job with the development and likeability of the two leads – you could actually understand both of their arguments. The supporting characters could have received a few more scenes, but the lack of development for them didn’t bother me much. The dialogue, the catchphrases as well as the repeatable lines that the characters would spit out to each other were all cool and worked well in the picture.

My biggest problems with the story were all related to the set- up also known as the first act. Messala’s decision to leave seemed a bit rushed – I would have like to see more of him and Judah as kids or teenagers. The parts of the story leading up to the big betrayal/accusation were also wonky – the film was going all over the place and seemed to be both rushing and dragging at the same time. However, with the beginning of the second act, which I thought was that sequence with Judah on the ship, the movie really found its footing. It had a clear direction and a cohesive, simple but interesting main storyline.

Ben-Hur also had nice topical ideas. It cleverly contrasted the ideology of Rome ‘let’s spread civilization through violence’ with the teachings of Jesus, which were all about the compassion, peace, and solidarity. The whole biblical ending seemed a bit weird and out of place, especially after that big action sequence, however, I do understand why it had to be there – they wanted to end the film with a positive message of forgiveness instead of the celebration of revenge. It was a truly happy ending in a classical Hollywood fashion.

Directing

Timur Bekmambetov, the director of Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter and the producer of Hardcore Henry, directed Ben-Hur and did quite a nice job. Yes, some scenes were a bit overdramatized, but the ship sequence, as well as the final race, were both awesome. The whole setting and vibe of the film reminded me of HBO’s Rome, while the chariot race gave me flashbacks to a similar sequence in a French family film – Asterix at the Olympic Games. Ben-Hur’s CGI was also quite good – I have seen worse effects in the movie that cost even more to make. The credits of the film were also quite cool – those graphics were interesting and fit the movie perfectly.

Acting

The film didn’t have any really big name talent involved, so maybe that’s why the audiences passed it by. The most prominent name actor of the cast was probably Morgan Freeman (Now You See Me)  – he looked ridiculous with those dreads but worked well in the role of the mentor.

The two leads were played by Jack Huston as Judah Ben-Hur and Toby Kebbell as Messala. The two of them were great in the roles, both in the dramatic and action sequences. Their chemistry was also believable. Huston is mostly known for starring in Boardwalk Empire, but he also had roles in American Hustle and Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. Kebbell has started in a few big films but without showing his face – he played Koba in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, starred as Doctor Doom or at least Fox’s version of that character in Fantastic Four and was the actor behind the main Orc character in the Warcraft movie. Coming up, he has Kong: Skull Island.

The supporting cast consisted of Iranian actress Nazanin Boniadi as Esther, Ben-Hur’s love interest; Brazilian actor Rodrigo Santoro as Jesus; and Israeli actress Ayelet Zurer as Naomi, Ben-Hur’s mother. I love the fact that the casting director at least tried to make the movie more international and introduced me and other Western viewers to some new talent, although, Zurer should be quite familiar to us all – she plays Kingpin’s love interest on Daredevil. Two Americans – Sofia Black D’Elia as Tirzah and Moisés Arias (who is still stuck in the Hannah Montana times in my mind) as Gestas – rounded up the cast and also did a good job.

In short, Ben-Hur was a solid picture that exceeded my expectations. It needed some time to get into the right path but when it did – it was great! The story was interesting, the two leads were complex characters, brought to life by two amazing actors and the action didn’t suck either.

Rate: 3.5/5

Trailer: Ben-Hur trailer

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Another Night Run 2016 

Sports

Hello!

About a month ago, I told you about a charity night run that I participated in. Well, yesterday, I did another night run and I would like to share this experience with you.

This particular night run was organized by the same people who arranged last year’s end of summer night run. In 2015, all of the participants ran 8km: the route started in the Nemunas Island and spanned throughout the whole Old Town of Kaunas.

This year, the athletes and running enthusiasts could choose one of two distances – 4km (2 laps) or 8km (4 laps). The location of the event was also changed – it was held in the closed territory of this outdoor shopping centre/hangar market, called Urmas. It is a popular shopping destination in Kaunas, so this whole running event was either a brilliant marketing scheme or a huge and lucky coincidence.

It was weird running during the night because it was actually really dark – we only set off at 10pm. It was quite scary to run in a complete darkness during parts of the race – I was afraid I would hurt my feet or ankles. Other parts of the route had enough lights to run safely. After and before the actual run, the participants could listen to live music or watch the laser show. All of the runners, on top of receiving their runner’s number, got glow-in -the-dark bracelets.

The start signal of the run was really cool and fitting for the night run – it was a firework! Nobody wanted to run as soon as it started – everybody wanted to fully see it before setting off on the run.

I did the 4km distance and was quite happy with my time. This run was more like a rehearsal run for a big competition I’m participating in next weekend.

I enjoyed running my small distance as usual. I’m not the fastest runner but I always love the feeling I get after I finish the distance.

Bellow, I will include some photos from the event and the video of the start signal – the firework.

Movie review: Florence Foster Jenkins 

Movie reviews

Good morning/day/evening!

Although the awards’ season doesn’t fully start until the late fall, some potential awards contenders have already had their premieres. I was lucky enough to attend one of such screenings, so, let’s talk about a movie that could possibly get some high brow nominations just because of who is involved in it, both in front and behind the camera. This is the review of Florence Foster Jenkins.

IMDb summary: The story of Florence Foster Jenkins, a New York heiress who dreamed of becoming an opera singer, despite having a terrible singing voice.

Writing

Florence Foster Jenkins was written by a TV screenwriter Nicholas Martin. This British comedy was based on a quite fascinating true story. The film mainly focused on its titular character, so the writing for the movie was essentially the writing for a specific character.

Florence Foster Jenkins is not a character or an actual person that anyone can like but that anyone can be intrigued by. She was a sweet eccentric. The first act of the film kinda made her into a laughable caricature – a singer that didn’t know that she couldn’t sing. However, the following two acts really added depth to her character and showed that she was actually a caring, friendly and generous individual that had been hurt in the past but didn’t allow these past troubles to define her. Of course, these positive appearances and the optimistic aura were only kept up because she was sheltered from all criticism. Moreover, nobody ever said no to her. Was that because she was sick or because she was rich? The cynic in me is leaning towards the second option but I really do hope that Florence had people in her life, who were taking caring of her out of the goodness of their hearts and not out of the emptiness of their pockets.

I, as a realist/pessimist, don’t think that being exposed to only good things is beneficial to anyone. However, it was advantageous to Florence – she lived her dream and died in it. She might haven’t known how to sing but nobody can’t say that she didn’t sing. I haven’t seen many films who presented music and life in a way that Florence Foster Jenkins did.

Directing

The film was directed by Stephen Frears, who previously directed such pictures as 2006’s awards contender and winner The Queen, 2013’s awards’ contender Philomena and last year’s Lance Armstrong biopic The Program. I wouldn’t be surprised if Florence Foster Jenkins gets a few nominations as well because it is a solid comedy with a very specific atmosphere. This atmosphere will either make you hate or love the movie. Basically, the movie Florence Foster Jenkins was oversaturated with poshness and aristocratic and rich aura. The sense of entitlement and high-class privilege were also abundant. This whole thing was quite laughable in today’s time or in any time for that matter. Since I don’t come from a background like this, that whole affair made me chuckle more than a couple of times. That’s why I think that Florence is a picture for a very specific audience, which is hard to define. If you come from a middle-class background, you will either love the movie and laugh a lot or you will hate it and be offended by it. I wonder how would the viewers from the upper class feel about it – would they see themselves on screen and love it? Or would they see this film as making fun of them?

As I have mentioned, I laughed a lot during this film. Not only did the actual singing scenes and the whole atmosphere were both funny – the reaction shots of the other characters were hilarious as well. Florence Foster Jenkins was both a feel-good and a heartbreaking movie that made me laugh and then put a sad smile on my face. It was nicely tied up with the photos of the real-life Florence during the credits.

Acting

Meryl Streep, of course, is the main awards’ whisperer for this film. She has been nominated for an Oscar 19 times and has won 3 times, the last one being in 2012. I would not be surprised if she gets another nomination because she was is magnificent in the film. It was very interesting to see arguably the best actress of this and the previous generation playing the role  of a terrible actress/singer. My first introduction to Streep as a performer was in the movie musical Mamma Mia – my favorite guilty pleasure film. In the past few years, she has gone back to this genre, with 2014’s Into The Woods, 2015’s Ricki and the Flash and now with Florence Foster Jenkins. Streep has also proved everyone that she can pick any role she likes and just nail it. I also think that if anybody else would have played Florence in this feature, I would have been super annoyed by her as a character. However, Streep added a lot of emotional depth to a seemingly vain caricature and actually made me care about Florence and her first world problems.

Hugh Gran starred as Florence’s last husband St Clair Bayfield. Their relationship was extremely interesting. Throughout the movie, I couldn’t fully figure out if St Clair and their whole friend circle were gold-diggers or did they actually cared about Florence? St Clair did have a girlfriend on a side but he was also always there for Florence – even on her death bed, so there are arguments both for and against the matter. A few of Grant’s films that I have been watching lately were Sense and Sensibility from the 90s as well as the last summer’s The Man from U.N.C.L.E. He also has co-starred in one of my favorite films of all time – Cloud Atlas.

The last main member of the cast – the pianist Cosmé McMoon was played by Simon Helberg. His reaction faces were both super awkward and marvelous. The way he was trying not to laugh was also amazing. I felt that the character of Cosmé was a stand-in for the viewer in the picture. The actor who played this role – Simon Helberg – is a talented TV comedian that has been part of the critically acclaimed The Big Bang Theory since 2007. 

In short, Florence Foster Jenkins was an extremely entertaining film that also made me think. I still have conflicting feelings about it and its narrative. I do wish that somebody would have told Florence the truth but, at the same time, I am happy that nobody did it and that she was allowed to live happily and freely as long as possible.

Rate: 4,5/5

Trailer: Florence Foster Jenkins trailer

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