Movie review: John Wick: Chapter 2

Movie reviews

Hello!

A non-comic book movie sequel, which the audiences were actually looking forward to and which was not panned by the critics, has hit theaters, so, let’s review it. It’s John Wick: Chapter 2! 

2014’s John Wick was the biggest cinematic surprise of that year. Nobody expected it to be any good but the movie blew everyone away. The whole old-school revenge story worked and actually felt fresh (it was neat and simple but still had some interesting world-building involved), the action looked great (no shaky-cam or quick cuts!) and Keanu Reeves’s performance was a true comeback to form. Now, can the second chapter deliver, since the expectations are high? It absolutely can and did!

SPOILER ALERT

Writing

John Wick: Chapter 2 was written by Derek Kolstad, who also scripted Chapter 1. Since both films were written by the same person, their narratives blended seamlessly: the sequel first dealt with the repercussions from the first movie and only then organically set-up the next story, while simultaneously expanding the mythology of the film’s world. I loved the addition of the medallion, which symbolized an oath between the assassins, and I also enjoyed learning more about their code of honor. We got to see a new Continental hotel too, which showcased the global aspect of this community. The usage of the variety of languages, including the sign language, was very cool and went in line with the worldwide theme as well.

The immaculate attention to the detail in the writing was on full display during John Wick’s preparatory sequence. I really liked the fact that we got to see where do assassins get their intel, suits, and gadgets – a lot of the movies just gloss over this. The scene with the open contract was also cool to see – I loved that they actually included secretaries into the story. Plus, the whole homeless network thing was a neat addition to this world – kinda reminded me of Sherlock. I also loved how through that storyline the scriptwriter started stripping John of all his devices – he only got 7 rounds for his gun for the final fight but that is nothing compared to the fact that in the next film, he won’t have anything (because of the choice he made at the hotel, which I did not see coming). I also didn’t expect a variety of other twist and turns that the plot took. I did not think that the Italian lady will commit suicide, I did not suspect that the first fight between John and Cassian would be abruptly cut by them falling into the hotel/the territory of peace and I did not see it coming that the Italian mobster would double-cross Wick.

Directing

The first film was a directorial debut for the stuntman Chad Stahelski and David Leitch (although Leitch wasn’t credited as a director, only as a producer). The sequel was only directed by Stahelski, but Leitch shouldn’t feel too bad, as he is now helming Deadpool 2. I really enjoyed the direction of this picture. I loved how the world building was realized visually: the preparatory sequence (which I already mentioned in the writing portion of this review) was amazing and one of my favorite parts of the movie (kinda reminded me of a similar scene in Kingsman). I also loved the glamorous yet gritty action set pieces: all of them – from the opening car chase (I love old-school American cars like the one Wick has and was kinda sad to see it totally destroyed) to the art exhibition finale – looked stunning and were immensely entertaining. This is partially because of the same sleek camera work and partially because of the great fight choreography in both the hand-to-hand combat scenes and the big shoot-out sequences. All of them felt energetic and explosive and even unexpected – the knife to the aorta and the knife stopped by going through a hand moments were really neat and fresh additions to the choreography. 

I also loved how the picture was edited: it had a good balance of action sequences and of slower character moments. The calmer moments didn’t feel like filler material: all of the scenes were relevant and included for a purpose. For example, the scene in which John discovered that he broke his phone during the fight – this incident appeared mundane yet it meant so much for the character, as that phone had the video of his dead wife on it. 

A few of my favorite scenes from the film were the various meetings between John and Cassian. I enjoyed their exchanges during their first meeting as well as during the bar scene. My favorite action sequence was the shoot-out in the catacombs. I loved how the historical setting – the catacombs – was paired with a modern EDM score (the whole soundtrack by Tyler Bates and Joel J. Richard was actually really great). Other small scenes which I absolutely loved were, one, Cassia and John shooting at each other through a fountain and, two, John using a pencil to kill two assains – it was such a great callback to an earlier scene, where some of the characters were discussing the fact that John had previously killed somebody with a pencil. Lastly, the movie also had short but sweet opening credit sequence, which involved the medallion – it not only looked cool but was actually related to the plot.

Acting

Keanu Reeves’s career track record has been mixed at best. In some films, the viewers loved him but, at times, they have also avoided him (Reeves has had his fair share of box office flops). But now, it looks like he broke the bad streak and is back in the game with this franchise. While he doesn’t have the biggest range as an actor, it can’t be argued that he isn’t a great action star. His stiff delivery of lines actually does work for the character of John Wick. His Russian accent was not the best though definitely not the worst one I heard in a Hollywood movie either. I wonder, what do the native or fluent speakers of Italian think about his Italian language skills?

The supporting cast of the movie had a few nice additions. Common starred as Cassian and Ruby Rose as Ares – two very skilled assassins. I loved their fight scenes with Reeves as well as Common’s and Reeves’s chemistry in those few dialogue scenes. Rose did an incredible job playing a mute character. She was just oozing charisma and she didn’t even have to say a word.

Laurence Fishburne, John Leguizamo, Riccardo Scamarcioas, and Ian McShane were all also great. Plus, they added some diversity to the cast, in terms of ethnicity, nationality, and even age.

In short, John Wick: Chapter 2 was absolutely amazing: it had sleek action, an interesting story, and pretty good acting. What more can you want from an action flick? I really do hope that we will get a third movie, as this one kinda set it up. Maybe we will get to see the Chinese mobsters next time, as we already saw the other members of the high table (Russians in the first film and Italians in the second picture).

Rate: 4.7/5

Trailer: John Wick: Chapter 2 trailer

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5 ideas about a movie: Moonlight 

Movie reviews

Hello!

Welcome to probably the last review of the awards season. Today, we are discussing the frontrunner Moonlight!

IMDb summary: A timeless story of human self-discovery and connection, the film chronicles the life of a young black man from childhood to adulthood as he struggles to find his place in the world while growing up in a rough neighborhood of Miami.

  1. Moonlight was written and directed by Barry Jenkins, based on a play ‘In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue’ by Tarell Alvin McCraney. Jenkins made his directorial debut in 2008, with the critically acclaimed indie romantic drama Medicine for Melancholy. Moonlight is only his second feature film.
  2. At its core, Moonlight is a coming of age story. However, it is a coming of age story like no other because it focuses on an individual that the mainstream media would rather forget – a poor black gay boy/teenager/man. And yet, even if a viewer’s identity falls on the other side of the spectrum, the movie still has universal appeal. The family problems, bullying, finding a life path for oneself, dealing with emotions, learning to forgive and reconnect – these are all topics of widespread appeal. The more personal issues of sexual identity and masculinity are also present. The picture paints a complex picture – it asserts that only an individual can decide who he/she wants to be, but also undermines this statement by showing a stereotypical outcome for the character of this background.
  3. For such a progressive and modern movie, Moonlight has a very striking traditional structure – the film is divided into vignettes, like some movies from the past. Jenkins manages to create a deeply personal almost documentary-like feeling for the film. The long slow takes in the first part of the movie allow this story to unfold at its own pace, while the shaky and fast closeups in the other parts of the picture create a sense of disorientation and intimacy. Some pretty standard techniques, like the over the shoulder shots for the dialogue, are also implemented.
  4. In the first part of the film, the main character of Chiron, played by Alex Hibbert, takes on a passive role in order for Mahershala Ali’s Juan – the drug dealer mentor of Chiron – to shine. Juan is even the first characters that the viewer is introduced to. Ali has been getting a lot of recognition for his work in this film and that’s happening for a reason. Although he only appears in a handful of scenes, both his characters and the actor himself leave a striking mark on the picture. Juan, the drug dealer, seems to be the only positive influence on Chiron and they form a student/mentor type of relationship. The scene in which Juan teaches Chirton to swim is just beautiful. The question arises why would a Juan care for this child? Maybe because he saw a part of himself in the little boy?
  5. The teenager Chiron is portrayed by Ashton Sanders, while the adult Chiron is played by Trevante Rhodes. Rhodes does an absolutely incredible job in the third part of the film and I wish that his performance would have been rewarded much more. Nevertheless, this film really helped him to breakthrough into the business, as he was just cast in a mainstream movie – 2018’s The Predator. Janelle Monáe also appears in the film as the truth mother figure for Chiron. Her career has also kicked off to a good start – she starred in not one but two awards contenders in 2016, other being Hidden Figures. Naomie Harris also plays a small role of the actual birth mother of Chiron. Although the role is a bit stereotypical, Harris does a brilliant job. She has also probably hoped to be in 2 awards contender this year. She also recently acted in Collateral Beauty, which was supposed to be an awards movie, but that film did not materialize at all.

In short, Moonlight is a well-written and nicely directed personal story that takes the framework of a coming of age narrative and tells a unique story about an individual who has been relegated to the fringes of society for too long.

Rate: 4.5/5

Trailer: Moonlight trailer

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Movie review: Fences

Movie reviews

Hello!

The reviews of the awards season continue. Today, we are discussing Fences!

IMDb summary: A working-class African-American father tries to raise his family in the 1950s, while coming to terms with the events of his life.

Writing

The film Fences is a cinematic adaptation of August Wilson’s play by the same name. The play first premiered on Broadway in 1987 and was also revived in 2010, with Denzel Washington and Viola Davis playing the lead characters (as they do in the movie). When watching the picture, it is fairly obvious that it is based on a theatrical play because nothing much happens action-wise. The narrative is mostly dialogue driven and the dialogue itself is extremely dense, full of important backstories as well as plot points for the story. I wouldn’t even call this movie a narrative film – it is definitely more of a personal character study.

Fences touches on quite a few important topics. First of all, it shows the lives of African-Americans in a never before seen period – just before the civil rights movement kicked in (so it kinda follows the trend of a different kind of ‘race’ movie). It also doesn’t really look at the issues of the whole race of people but centers on an individual. The film also looks at the father-son relationship – how the sins of the father weigh down on the son. Fences focuses the most on the character of Troy and discusses a number of themes related to him, like being stuck in the past and not being able to move and raising high standards for others but not keeping to them himself. Troy is a flawed person and that makes him not only relatable but way more interesting.

Fences is certainly not an easy watch – I wouldn’t call this film entertaining in the simple sense of the word – but it is for sure engaging and requires a lot of attention. It looks at a daily life and the serious and the heartbreaking moments of it. Nevertheless, the film also has a few lighter and funnier bits which arise from the same daily life. Its ending is also very beautiful and touching.

Directing

Denzel Washington not only stars in the picture but also directs it (this is his 3rd movie). He has a very clear vision for the film and executes it neatly. However, I don’t think that his direction is that great. I understand his creative choices but I also don’t think that he utilizes the cinematic means of storytelling much or at all. What I mean is that Fences feels very much like a filmed play. It is set in a very limited space – one house – and this type of setting reminds of a theater stage. The long takes look impressive but, once again, they feel more theater-like than motion-picture-like. I really really wish that more visual storytelling techniques would have been used, for example, Troy’s monologs could have been used as the voiceover narrations for the flashback scenes instead of just being told directly to the camera. In short, Fences has a few super engaging dialogue moments but it also drags at times (and this maybe could have been fixed with some more visuals).

Acting

Denzel Washington (The Magnificent Seven, The Equalizer) plays the lead and does an absolutely magnificent job. This role looks like it has been written for him. Viola Davis (Suicide Squad) is also brilliant. She and Denzel play off of each other really well, probably because they have lived with these characters (as I’ve mentioned, they starred in the 2010 Broadway revival of this play). Both Washington and Davis have been nominated for the Academy Awards in the acting categories and they both starred in one mainstream movie this year, so both sides of their career (mainstream and indie) are on the rise or at least doing good.

The supporting characters of the film are played by Stephen McKinley Henderson, Jovan AdepoRussell HornsbyMykelti Williamson, and Saniyya Sidney. They do a good enough job but they also kinda fade into the background when sharing scenes with either Washington or Davis.

In short, Fences is an interesting film that requires constant attention in order to understand it. It has a distinct direction which I don’t particularly like but I cannot praise enough the acting performances of the two leads.

Rate: 4/5

Trailer: Fences trailer

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Movie review: The Lego Batman Movie

Movie reviews

Hi!

With the DCEU films being critical nightmares, which do not earn as much as they should do, Ben Affleck stepping out as director of the Batman solo movie and The Flash film being completely rewritten, the Warner Bros desperately needs a win concerning its DC properties. Might The Lego Batman Movie be the win? Let’s find out!

IMDb summary: Bruce Wayne must not only deal with the criminals of Gotham City but also the responsibility of raising a boy he adopted.

Writing

The Lego Batman Movie was written by Seth Grahame-Smith (who wrote Dark Shadows, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, and the novel version of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies), Chris McKenna (a TV comedy writer), Erik Sommers (Spider-Man: Homecoming writer), Jared Stern (who provided additional story material for Wreck-It Ralph), and John Whittington (a newcomer writer who doesn’t have any significant credits on his IMDb page). The duo of writers/directors behind the uber-successful The Lego Movie – the film that started The Lego franchise – Phil Lord and Christopher Miller – helped to produce this spinoff flick as well. I, personally, absolutely loved the writing for this movie.

Let’s star with the on the nose humor as it was such a huge part of the picture. The Lego Batman was basically Deadpool for kids. Like Deadpool, this film didn’t waste its credits and began mocking the studios and the executives in the first few seconds of its runtime. It then moved on to making fun of the comic book movies cliches, such as ‘the unnecessarily complicated bombs’, ‘the villains who explain their plan aloud’ and other plot conveniences.  Plus, I laughed out loud several times when the characters would start making the shooting noise – ‘pew pew’. I also loved the funny inclusion of the comic book sound effect balloons which showed the origins of Batman. Lastly, the movie also poked fun at merchandise with that merch gun scene (I’m definitely guilty of owning some items myself – I was actually wearing my batman sweatshirt at the screening).

The narrative wise, The Lego Batman Movie didn’t bother with neither the setup nor the basic development and origins of the character and I’m actually really glad that they skipped all of that, cause everybody already knows Batman’s background. Nevertheless, the film still did some cool stuff with its main character, for example, portraying him more as an anti-hero and raising the questions of accountability and legitimacy (basically, Captain America: Civil War storyline). The movie also teased and parodied the Batman’s Rogues Gallery and also mocked his gadgets (while at the same time, showing them on screen just so that they could turn them into toys and merch, which they have also made fun of already).

In addition, this film attempted to do something with the Batman and Batgirl relationship, which was very similar to what The Killing Joke movie did. That development really angered the fans and The Killing Joke really suffered from that addition, so I was worried that this idea might damage The Lego Batman too. However, this film dragged the ship more than pushed it, so everything turned out fine in the end. On the other hand, I really liked the relationship that was created for Batman and The Joker.The were literally like an old married couple. The other little details, like Batman’s password (‘Iron Man sucks), the Hugh Hefner-like dressing gown, and his obsessions with romcoms (shout out to Jerry Maguire) were just amazing. I also loved the fact that they managed to include a Nightwing easter egg and actually used the fact that lego figurines can join together as a plot point in the film.

From the thematical standpoint, the movie explored relationships within a family and between friends as well as narcissism. It looked at the fear of human connection which arose from the possibility of being left alone. The final message of the film – that one has to let people in even if they might hurt you by leaving and disappearing – was a neat one.

Directing

Chris McKay, who worked as an animator and editor on The Lego Movie, directed The Lego Batman and did a spectacular job. I just loved the fact that he took the grimmest property from the dark and sophisticated DC and made it work as a comedy. The Lego Batman Movie was, truly, one of the best action comedies I’ve seen. It had the non-stop jokes and the fast action (the film was unbelievably energetic) but it still found time for quieter, more heartfelt moments (every animated movie needs ‘the feels’).The only few moments in the picture, which annoyed me a bit, were all the singing and rapping scenes. They juts seemed of a lower level of humor than all the wonderful meta-references and jokes.

Additionally, the animation was just striking. Every shot looked so densely animated and complex – you could just see how much work it has taken to bring this story to life in this format. The Lego Batman Movie was definitely a perfect match between the material and the format, cause I doubt that this narrative could have worked in live action. It would have just come across as stupid (mostly because of all the rapping), but now it blended the right amount of stupidity and cleverness and was, overall,  extremely fun and very enjoyable.

Speaking more about the visuals of the film, I loved seeing the recreations of all the previous Batman films in the lego form. I also really appreciated the lego versions of all the other DC and non-DC villains that cameoed in the film – crossover all the way! We got to see Voldemort, Sauron, King-Kong, The Wicked Witch, and Doctor Who’s Daleks – basically all properties that belong to WB.

I have also noticed, that the majority of DC films (both live-action and animated) are now team-ups. It also seems that one cannot have a Batman movie without Superman or the other Justice League members (that short scene was a neat surprise and maybe it was there to set-up a sort of solo Lego movies for other DC characters?).

Music

Lorne Balfe was responsible for the soundtrack and he picked some very appropriate, witty, and catchy songs for the film. While I didn’t really like the actual Batman song, I loved the updated version of ‘Man in the Mirror’ and felt that it was a more clever jab at Batman rather than the on the nose Batman song.

Voice Cast

The film had an amazing voice cast. Will Arnett (a long time voice actor and narrator) just killed it as Bruce Wayne / Batman, while Zach Galifianakis (who has also had some experience with voicing) was an equally amazing JokerMichael Cera (Sausage Party) brought a sense of innocence to Dick Grayson / Robin, while Rosario Dawson’s (who voices Wonder Woman in most of the direct to video JL films) voice really fit Barbara Gordon / Batgirl – she sounded as and actually was an efficient go-getter. Ralph Fiennes (Kubo and the Two Strings) oozed class as Alfred PennyworthJenny Slate (Zootopia, The Secret Life of Pets) was the voice of Harley Quinn. It might be the Margot Robbie effect, but I wanted Harley to sound sassier.  The filmmakers also managed to get the big name talent – Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill –  to record a few lines as Superman and Green Lantern, respectively (they voiced these characters in The Lego Movie), while Adam DeVine joined them as The Flash.

In short, The Lego Batman Movie was both a successful spin-off of The Lego Movie as well as a great parody of all the comic book movies. Extremely funny and highly enjoyable!

Rate: 4.7/5

Trailer: The Lego Batman trailer

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Movie review: Hidden Figures

Movie reviews

Hello!

Welcome to a review of a movie that would have been on my Top 10 films of 2016 if I have seen it before the end of the year (when will the studios realize the benefits of the global day-in-day releases?). This is Hidden Figures!

IMDb summary: Based on a true story. A team of African-American women provide NASA with important mathematical data needed to launch the program’s first successful space missions.

Similarly to Loving and Fences, Hidden Figures is a different kind of movie that spotlights the African-American talent. It’s set during the civil rights movements but doesn’t directly relate to it, even if some of the movement’s ideas are addressed in the film in a really powerful way. This movie also stands out as one of the major female-driven films of the awards season. It has been praised by critics but most importantly it managed to debut at the top of the box office list in the US, meaning that a lot of mainstream moviegoers saw it!

Writing

Hidden Figures was written by Allison Schroeder and the director of the picture Theodore Melfi, based on the book of the same name by Margot Lee Shetterly. I absolutely adored the film’s story. I knew about Katherine Goble Johnson before seeing the film (thank you, SciShow on Youtube) but I loved getting to know more about her as well as other African-American women working at NASA. I immensely enjoyed seeing all the different parts of NASA (the 3 of them worked in different departments – calculations, engineering, and computing) and the space race through their distinct perspective. It was actually really interesting to finally see a Cold War movie that didn’t focus on the local conflicts in Vietnam, Korea or Berlin, but a one which looked at the more passive but no less interesting space race.

In addition, I liked that not only the professional but also the private lives of the 3 main characters were presented. This made them all into more well-rounded and realistic characters. Hidden Figures’ writing also focused a lot on the importance of education, portraying it as a key to a better life. I have always been a strong believer of this statement, so the film automatically appealed to me. It was also quite cool that the picture underlined the importance of mathematics, as it is usually the most hated subjects in school (I actually quite liked it). The film’s story, even though set in 1960s, was also contemporary and very topical, if you think about its possible relation to the Women in STEM program.

Lastly, Hidden Figures tackled all kinds of discrimination, mainly sexism and racism but also general discrimination in the work place. Even though half a century has passed, all of these types of bullying are still happening today and should be stopped. Hidden Figures contributes to this conversation by a lot. And even though the film deals with serious topics, it still ends on a positive note and has a very satisfying ending. Katherine, Dorothy, and Mary are not just heroes to all girls or African-Americans. They should be idols to all underdogs and, let’s be frank, we are all underdogs in one field or another.

Directing

Hidden Figures was directed by Theodore Melfi and he did a superb job with his 2nd feature (St.Vincent was his directorial debut). The movie was balanced and well-paced, both entertaining and intellectually engaging. It was compelling, suspenseful, and intense and these feelings were only strengthened by the fact that it told a real and not a fictional story. The picture had a few very powerful scenes, like Taraji P.Henson’s character’s speech about the bathroom discrimination as well as Janelle Monáe’s courtroom speech. The film also has a few more personal and touching moments to counteract the powerful and serious scenes, like Mahershala Ali’s character’s proposal to Taraji P. Henson character.

Hidden Figures also had a magnificent soundtrack by Hans Zimmer, Pharrell Williams (he also produced the film), and Benjamin Wallfisch. It was upbeat and fun and really helped to lighten up the serious mood of the picture. When watching the film, I didn’t know who composed the movie’s music, but now, seeing who was involved, I’m not at all surprised that I liked the soundtrack. I mean, Hans Zimmer and Pharrell Williams!? Such a great combo of class and pop!

Acting

The three leading ladies of the film were played by Taraji P.Henson (Empire), Octavia Spencer (The Help, Snowpiercer, Zootopia, Divergent) and the newcomer Janelle Monáe. I absolutely loved the individual performances of all the actresses as well as their chemistry in the group scenes. In my mind, the cast is the film’s strongest element so it is not surprising that the movie received a lot of SAG nominations. Octavia Spencer has been getting the majority of the recognition but I would have preferred if they would have spotlighted Taraji P. Henson in the lead actress category instead. Spencer already had her big win with The Help andmore importantly, I thought that Henson’s performance was stronger. If the voters wanted to only reward the film’s in the supporting actress category (like they are doing now),  Janelle Monáe should have received a nomination instead of Octavia Spencer. Monáe is a true breakout star of 2016, as she was also in Moonlight. Don’t get me wrong, Spencer was great too but it would have just been nice to reward the other two actresses as well or instead.

The picture also has a splendid array of secondary characters who were brought to life by great actors. Big Bang Theory’s Jim Parsons played a familiar role (he can’t seem to escape the nerdy scientist part) and did a great job. His character was the one that bullied Katherine the most, but I think that he would have been jealous of anyone. Sadly, Katherine’s gender and skin color made her an easy target. Kirsten Dunst (Midnight Special) also played a part in the film and had an amazing line that just summed up the movie perfectly. I, of course, mean her statement about how the USA are fast to space but slow when it comes to the progress on the ground. Mahershala Ali, who was in Moonlight too, also had a small role and did a nice job. The mainstream audiences know him best from Luke Cage, so his career, both the mainstream and the indie parts of it, are on the rise. Lastly, even Kevin Costner (Draft Day, McFarland, USAdelivered his best and the most interesting performance in years.

In short, Hidden Figures was an excellent film that told an important and fascinating story but did that in an entertaining way. The movie was really well-made behind the scenes and it also had the best on-screen ensemble I’ve seen in a couple of years.

Rate: 4.8/5

Trailer: Hidden Figures trailer

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Movie review: T2: Trainspotting 

Movie reviews

Hi!

What an amazing time to be living in Scotland! This is the review of T2: Trainspotting!

To note: I don’t have a nostalgic connection to this property – I’m coming to it as a complete newcomer (have seen the original, though). So, this could either mean that I can be more objective than the fans or this could suggest that I might not get the movie fully.

IMDb summary: A continuation of the Trainspotting saga reuniting the original characters.

Writing

John Hodge, who wrote the first film, penned the script for its sequel. Both screenplays have been based on the books by Irvine Welsh (Trainspotting and Porno, respectively). I, personally, had mixed feelings on the writing for the film.

I didn’t think that T2 worked as a standalone film, however, maybe it should not have as it was a sequel? It heavily relied on the plot of the first film and created some new material to spring-board off (but not enough to work on its own). It was certainly a continuation of the original narrative – a sequel for the insiders. One could indicate that this movie wasn’t made in Hollywood, as they always try to create sequels which can attract and appeal to the new audiences.  I, personally,  never really believed that Trainspotting needed a sequel but it was definitely nice to catch up with these characters. I just wish the picture was more than the catch-up, because, essentially, just like its characters, the movie was living in the past. And yet, its setting was really contemporary – I loved the moment with the EU loan. It was a super clever and a really modern jab in the post-Brexit world.

To my mind, the best writing moments of the movie were: the writing for Renton – his true backstory (nothing really happened in the film until he told the truth about his past 2 decades) and the ‘Choose life’ speech (I always wanted that t-shirt, but now I definitely need it); the writing for Spud – I loved that he was the one who threw the last punch (with a toilet bowl – neat callback to the toilet scene in T1), thus, subverting the first picture’s notion that he never hurt anybody. I also liked the fact that he was made into a writer, so Spud was kinda a stand-in for Irvine Welsh. It was also interesting that the picture picked a clearer bad guy this time. In the first film, all of them were criminals but they were all sort of likable. This time around, Begbie was clearly supposed to be seen as the antagonist.

Like T1, Trainspotting 2 tackled variety of conceptual topics, like friendship, revenge, addiction, exploitation, betrayal, and opportunities.  It also touched upon the themes of a father-son relationship and the super topical economic migration. Lastly, the main idea of the picture was nostalgia (loved the lines about the characters being ‘tourists in their own youth’ and ‘the world changes even if we don’t’) and the questions whether the characters have wasted their lives and how can they move forward.

Directing 

Danny Boyle came back to direct the sequel to a picture that put him on the map. After the success of 1996’s Trainspotting, he has really made a name for himself with films like 28 Days Later, Slumdog Millionaire (a huge Academy Awards winner), 127 Hours, and Steve Jobs. Although I thought that T2 was slower and more depressing than the original, I still enjoyed it. Plus, this less upbeat tone fit the stage of life that these characters were in. In addition, this time around, Boyle didn’t really go for the shock value – T2 was tamer and less messed up. There weren’t any scenes equal to ‘the baby’ or ‘the worst toilet in Scotland’ sequences from the first one. What stayed the same was the setting of the film – it was realistically gritty – set in the true social reality rather than a cinematic one. And even though the style of directing was less snappy, it was still a visceral experience to watch the film, which was mostly due to Boyle’s impressive and unique camera angles and montages.

I had a variety of favorite moments from the film. I adored the wide shots of Edinburgh, especially during the run sequence. Renton’s and Sick Boy’s lecture in front of the TV was really fun too. I laughed the hardest during Renton’s and Begbie’s first encounter – the divided screen and the toilet cubicles were an amazing setting both from the practical and the narrative stand-point. In general, I loved all the visual references to the T1. The finale was also really well-directed. I really liked the fact that this time around train tracks and trains played more of a role. Also, I though that having all 4 characters come together only in the finale was a cool choice. Lastly, the film’s soundtrack was magnificent. Both familiarly upbeat and a bit more lyrical this time around.

Acting

The original cast came back for the sequel: Ewan McGregor (Angels & DemonsSalmon Fishing in the Yemen, Our Kind of Traitor, soon in Beauty and the Beast) as Renton, Ewen Bremner (soon in Wonder Woman!?) as SpudJonny Lee Miller (Elementary) as Sick Boy, and Robert Carlyle (Once Upon a Time) as Begbie. All of them are still great actors – they have indeed matured in their craft during these past 20 years. My favorite encounters between characters/actors were all the scenes between Renton and Spud and between Renton and Sick Boy.

Kelly Macdonald (Anna Karenina) also appeared briefly as Diane Coulston. Her inclusion was the only thing that seemed like an afterthought. The new female lead – Veronika – was played by a Bulgarian actress Anjela Nedyalkova. She was great in the film – I also really liked the fact that they cast a foreigner in the movie to reflect the actual population of Britain today (and this comes from a foreigner studying at Aberdeen Uni, where one might get 2 Scottish people to every 20 foreigners. Fun fact – the book version of Renton went to Aberdeen Uni too!).

In short, T2: Trainspotting was a great sequel that required the previous knowledge of the material in order to be enjoyed. The direction was still great even if a bit different, while the acting skills of the cast have definitely improved.

Rate: 4/5

Trailer: T2: Trainspotting trailer

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5 ideas about a movie: Loving

Movie reviews

Hi!

Welcome to a review of a film that started the trend of a different kind of ‘race’ movie being nominated for the big awards. No longer are the films about slavery or the civil rights moments the only ones that the African-American talent can get nominated for. This is a review of Loving.

IMDb summary: The story of Richard and Mildred Loving, an interracial couple, whose challenge of their anti-miscegenation arrest for their marriage in Virginia led to a legal battle that would end at the US Supreme Court.

  1. Loving was written and directed by Jeff Nichols, whose films have always received critical praise but never really got any recognition during the awards season. Loving is his 5th feature. The previous 3 of his films (haven’t seen his debut film Shotgun Stories) all really impressed me with their unique and very personal stories. Take Shelter and Mud were both really good but the original sci-fi picture Midnight Special (his other film from 2016) was like a breath of fresh air in the summer of disappointing sequels and reboots.
  2. In my intro, I mentioned that Loving is not a film about the civil rights moment but it actually kinda is. However, its approach and its focus on the civil rights movement are very different. Loving is not about the big events of the movement that one learns in a history class. It is a personal story about two people who just wanted to live their lives and create a family but were forced to first fight for those rights. And even though The Lovings‘ case was argued and won in the supreme court, the film focused more on the family rather than their court case. The movie almost made the court case and the couple separate from each other. While the court case became something extraordinary, Richard and Mildred remained an ordinary couple. This type of portrayal not only strengthen the argument for their case (that they are just two people who love each and have a right to be married) but also made sure that the viewers would understand that The Lovings aren’t just another name on paper but that they are, indeed, real people.
  3. Like I’ve mentioned already, Loving’s narrative is personal and particular. This goes in line with Jeff Nichols’s previous pictures, which are mostly character studies rather than narrative films. And yet, like Midnight Special or Take Shelter, Loving has a feeling of a wider context and of something bigger and greater being located in the offscreen space. From the narrative structure viewpoint, the film is more or less divided into two parts: The Lovings’ life before the case and the court case + its aftermath. Both parts are equally compelling. Visually, the film is also stunning. Seemingly insignificant shots seem to breathe life.
  4. Ruth Negga stars as Mildred Loving. Mildred was actually the one who started all the court proceedings, so it was really nice to see a female character/a real woman portrayed as an active individual. Negga’s performance was really great and I’m happy to see that she got a few nominations for it. Her career has been on the rise lately. From playing a supporting character on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and having a minor role on Warcraft to starring on Preacher and being a Golden Globe and an Oscar nominee.
  5. Joel Edgerton, who previously worked with Jeff Nichols on Midnight Special, played the role of Richard Loving. His performance was of low energy and quite passive but historically accurate, as Richard has been described as a ‘quiet hero’. Edgerton has received some praised for his previous work on Animal Kingdom, Black Mass, and The Gift, but he also had a few flops with Exodus and Jane Got a Gun. Loving is definitely his best movie yet and I hope that it could be a start of a very positive streak. His 2017 films – Bright (David Ayer’s sci-fi co-starring Will Smith), American Express (Egerton’s brother’s Nash Edgerton’s (longtime stuntman) action flick) and Red Sparrow (Francis Lawrence’s spy thriller) – all have the potential to be great.

In short, Loving tells a different kind of story set during the civil rights movements. It’s slow, personal but universally hopeful. The film also has a lovely cameo from Michael Shannon – a long-time Jeff Nichols’s collaborator.

Rate: 4.5/5

Trailer: Loving trailer

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Movie review: Jackie

Movie reviews

Hi!

Welcome to a review of the best 1960s film made in the 21st century. It’s Jackie.

IMDb summary: Following the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy fights through grief and trauma to regain her faith, console her children, and define her husband’s historic legacy.

Writing and Acting: the main character and the lead actress

Like I did in the review of Elle, I’m going to combine the writing and the acting parts of this review because like Isabelle Huppert and Elle, Jackie and Natalie Portman are inseparable. Also, when watching Elle, I was sure that Huppert will take the Oscar for playing the titular character. Now, having seen Portman’s performance, I’m not that sure. Honestly, I’d be happy if either of them wins because they both deserve it. Portman already has an Academy Award for Black Swan, while it would be the first one for Huppert.

Anyways, let’s focus on Jackie. The picture’s screenplay was written by Noah Oppenheim who previously wrote some so-so YA adaptations, like The Maze Runner and Allegiant. I can’t actually comprehend how he could be the one who wrote all of these differents scripts. Not only are these films all very varied but the quality of the writing also differs drastically, with Jackie, obviously, being his best script yet. He did win ‘Best Screenplay Award’ at the 73rd Venice International Film Festival for it, so that should tell you all you need to know.

Speaking of the writing in more detail, the picture’s narrative was located in a limited timeframe and had a deep focus on the specific events. The movie was structured as a real-time interview with incorporated flashbacks. It portrayed Jackie as a complex and multifaceted individual. The differences between her public and private persona and between the pre-incident and post-incident Jackie were just fascinating to watch.

I’ve always imagined Jacqueline Kennedy as being sort of innocent, poised, and feminine figure. However, in truth, she was very much a strong-willed individual whose public appearances were always performative. Especially after the assassination, there seemed to be a certain amount of bitterness in her being that might have risen from the feelings of self-guilt. Her relationship with her husband was certainly not easy, with JFK having multiple affairs, but, in the end, she did love him and witnessed him being murdered in her arms. The film also raised the political questions of legacy (both hers and his) and also commented on the famous Camelot parable, but also showed Jackie’s more personal side through her adoration of arts and history, so kudos to the scriptwriter for showing multiple sides of the character/the real person. However, it was Natalie Portman who carried this movie and absolutely nailed the performance. The way she manipulated the different layers of the character and the way she transformed her look, behavior and speech were just magnificent to watch. Jackie would go from episodes of almost panic to showing imaginable strength in a heartbeat, so Portman was able to display a wide variety of her acting skills. She played Jackie as so much more than merely a President’s wife because she was indeed so much more than just that.

Directing

A Chilean director  Pablo Larraín, with whose previous work I’m sadly not familiar with, directed Jackie and did a spectacular job. I loved the temporarily appropriate aspect ratio and the whole old-school feeling of the film. The documentary-like handheld camera work for the flashbacks and the steady mostly 180° shots for the interview sequences also worked. The fact that the interview was shot from the straight-on perspective made the actors’ performances even more effective. The viewers could feel like Jackie was basically speaking directly to them/at them. The filmmakers’ choices of music were also interesting (soundtrack by Mica Levi). The instrumental theme of the picture was very classic with a slightly modern edge. A few moments of it reminded me of the sounds one would hear in a neo-noir thriller.

The supporting cast

The secondary roles of the film (as famous as the role of Jackie herself) were played by moderately known actors. Peter Sarsgaard starred as Robert F. Kennedy, Greta Gerwig played Nancy Tuckerman, Billy Crudup was Theodore H. White/The Journalist, and John Hurt appeared as Father Richard McSorley. The casting director also did a good job in finding an actor who looked quite similar to JFKCaspar Phillipson. Granted, he appeared in only a handful of scenes, but since everybody knows how JFK looked in real life, it was nice to see the picture trying to be as accurate and as seamlessly realistic as possible.

In short, Jackie was a great personal biopic that showed the complexities of the JFK’s assassination’s aftermath and neatly spotlighted the woman who was in the middle of all of it – Jacqueline Kennedy (Onassis)Portman’s performance as the titular character was just brilliant and spectacular.

Rate: 4.2/5

Trailer: Jackie trailer

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Movie review: Lion

Movie reviews

Good day!

Another potential awards contender – the motion picture Lion – has landed in the UK cinemas, so, let’s review it!

IMDb summary: A five-year-old Indian boy gets lost on the streets of Calcutta, thousands of kilometers from home. He survives many challenges before being adopted by a couple in Australia; 25 years later, he sets out to find his lost family.

Writing

The biographical drama Lion was written by Luke Davies (an Australian film critic, novelist, and poet) based on the memoir ‘A Long Way Home’ by  Saroo Brierley
(co-written by Larry Buttrose). The film’s narrative is divided into two parts. The first hour- long story revolves around the child Saroo. The viewer gets to see Saroo’s relationships with his birth mother, sister, and brother; and witnesses the unfortunate accident of him getting lost and trying to survive alone and away from home. This first-half of the movie is very well written: the audiences are able to form a bond with the main character and become emotionally invested in the boy’s journey.

Lion then flashes 20 years forward: Saroo is now an adult and lives with his adoptive parents in Australia. This part of the film is not as solid when it comes to writing as the first part. To begin with, the audiences don’t get to see a lot of Saroo’s life as an adult, so his change of heart (from not caring about his birth family to desperately trying to find them) seems a bit sudden. A few extra scenes, maybe showing a different stage in his life, like the teenage years, would have helped to solidify the fact that he never really felt at home in Australia and always wanted to find his family. The second part of the narrative also has two other important storylines which don’t get enough of screentime. First one is Saroo’s relationships with his adoptive mother and his adoptive brother (who might have a mental illness?) and the second one is Saroo’s relationship with his on-and-off-again girlfriend. Both of these plotlines had to be included in the film (bio-dramas try to be as accurate as possible) but I wish that they would have been given more screen time because that would have made them more compelling. Maybe the movie could have been 15 minutes longer or maybe the first story could have been shortened by the same amount (if they wanted to keep the film at 2h).

Even though I have found some problems with the technical structure of the narrative, I found the narrative itself to be very interesting and fascinating. The fact that the modern technologies actually brought people together instead of separating them was just amazing. In general, the whole Saroo’s story was both heartbreaking and hopeful. It had more than a few tear-jerker moments, especially at the end. The inclusion of real-life counterparts of the characters was nice too.

From the anthropological perspective (sorry, I can’t turn it off, if you study anthropology you are basically living it), the film was also very valuable. It mostly felt like a documentary with a higher budget and a fancier production design. Nevertheless, the ideas on privilege and poverty and on the adoption across countries/cultures are just two of the concepts that could be considered in an anthropological discussion in relation to this film.

Directing

An Australian TV and commercial director Garth Davis made his very successful feature film directorial debut with Lion. I loved how he realized the shots of the nature of India. That whole opening sequence was just beautiful and very classic. The pacing could have been neater but it didn’t bother me much. Basically, if this was his first motion picture, I can’t wait to see what he will do next.

Also, on a side note, guess whose song was playing during the credits. If you said Sia, you either read my blog a lot or just go to the movies a lot. Sia wrote a song called ‘Never Give Up’ specifically for this film. Her songs have also been used in Sing, Star Trek Beyond, The Shallows, The Neon Demon, and Finding Dory. You will also be able to hear her during Fifty Shades Darker.

Acting

Dev Patel played Saroo in the second half of the film and did an amazing job. After seeing the film, I finally realized why he is being nominated in the supporting actor category, even though he is playing the lead. Well, the answer is simple – he only plays the lead during the second hour of the film, while the viewer spends the first hour with a 5-year-old Saroo played by an adorable child actor Sunny Pawar. So, on the whole, if we add up Patel’s scenes, his screentime probably comes closer to that of a supporting rather than a lead role. Anyways, despite the fact that he is not in the first half of the film, Patel delivers his best performance yet. He has really matured as an actor since the days of Slumdog Millionaire. His best scenes that were most likely included in his awards reels were  1. the montage in which he finally reaches the breakthrough on Google Earth. The way he whispers ‘Mum’ is just breathtaking. And 2. the final meeting sequence – he showed a lot of acting skills in that one too.

Moving forward, I would love to see Patel cast in a racially blind role, meaning that I would like to see him playing a character whose ethnicity is not his main character trait. Up until this point, Patel played characters whose ethnicity was really important character feature, like in Slumdog Millionaire, The Man Who Knew Infinity and even The Exotic Marigold Hotel films. I’d like to see him take on roles similar to the one he had on Chappie, but it looks like that is not on the horizon, as his next film is also India-centric and based on true events – Hotel Mumbai.

The picture’s supporting cast also delivered brilliant performances. Rooney Mara (Carol) starred as Saroo’s girlfriend and was great in the few scenes she had. David Wenham (recognized him faster than another LOTR alumni – Viggo Mortensen in Captain Fantastic) appeared briefly as Saroo’s adoptive dad but it’s Nicole Kidman as Saroo’s adoptive mother who stole all the attention in their scenes together. Lion also spotlighted some lesser known (in the West) Indian talent (as it should): Abhishek Bharate, Divian LadwaPriyanka BoseDeepti NavalTannishtha Chatterjee, and Nawazuddin Siddiqui all co-starred and did a great job with their limited screentime.

In summary, Lion was a lovely picture with an amazing story at its core. Sadly, this story was not represent as cohesively and compellingly as it could have been. However, the flaws in writing were covered up with great directing and amazing acting performances.

Rate: 4/5

Trailer: Lion trailer

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5 ideas about a movie: Captain Fantastic

Movie reviews

Hello!

With the awards season in motion, let’s review one of the earliest contenders for this year’s awards. It’s Captain Fantastic!

IMDb summary: In the forests of the Pacific Northwest, a father devoted to raising his six kids with a rigorous physical and intellectual education is forced to leave his paradise and enter the world, challenging his idea of what it means to be a parent.

  1. To begin with, Captain Fantastic was written and directed by a longtime TV actor Matt Ross. This was only his second feature film and it is the movie that he got the most recognition for so far (mostly in the festival circuits and less so during the main awards season). I did like his directing but I mostly gonna focus on his writing, as the script is the most interesting part of the movie.
  2. I really enjoyed the unique premise and the out of the ordinary narrative of the film. The living in the woods/far from the society idea has become really popular lately with The Lobster and Hunt for the Wilderpeople also exploring it. However, I think that Captain Fantastic is the best film out of the three when it comes to the commentary on the modern world. I like the fact that this film could be used as a kick-starter for conversations on themes such as the cultural clashes (especially the cultural clashes at home) and the legitimacy of the education system (multiple vs singular way(s) of achieving intelligence). I also appreciate the fact that the movie spotlights a different way to deal with loss.
  3. Captain Fantastic also has a lot to say about capitalism. I, personally, don’t really think that capitalism is the ultimate way to structure the lives and the relationships of people but it still the best system out there. Still, it is good to talk about its flaws, so I believe that movies like Captain Fantastic should exist. And yet, knowing that this film was made in Hollywood by a big business (even if not by one the giant studios) as a product to be consumed kinda undercuts its critique on capitalism. How can one be part of the machine and also go against it? Isn’t that a bit hypocritical? I also find it funny that the movies audiences are basically the complete opposites of the film’s characters. What does that say about us or the film?
  4. Where Captain Fantastic felt short for me was in its lack of appreciation for the middle ground. I felt that, at times, it just went too far to the extreme side and, frankly, turned into a really pretentious picture. Some scenes were definitely cringe-y and uncomfortable and not in a good kind of way. In addition, even though I’m not the biggest fan of society’s norms, even I can admit that there are some great things about the human society. And even though the modern world has its problem, giving up and running away from it is not a suitable option.
  5. The one thing about the film that almost everybody can agree on is the quality of Viggo Mortensen’s performance. It took me at least half of the runtime of the film to figure out that he was the same Viggo Mortensen from Lord of the Rings and I can quite the majority of LOTR. His performance was truly transformative and I’m happy to see that he got a least a few nominations from the major awards. The film had quite an extensive supporting cast as well, as the main character had a lot of children. Young and up-and-coming TV actors took on the majority of the kids’ roles and did quite a nice job. George MacKay was definitely a stand-out performer, but all of them (Samantha IslerAnnalise Basso, Nicholas Hamilton, Shree Crooks, and Charlie Shotwell) deserve to be praised.

In brief, Captain Fantastic is a great conversation-starter of a film that has some flaws but overall is very enjoyable, especially because of the amazing performances by the lead actor and the supporting cast.

Rate: 3.9/5

Trailer: Captain Fantastic trailer

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