Movie review: Wind River

Movie reviews

Hello!

Let’s take a break from all the summer blockbusters of varying quality and give a chance to the dying genre of the regular movie. This is the review of Wind River.

IMDb summary: An FBI agent teams with a town’s veteran game tracker to investigate a murder that occurred on a Native American reservation.

Taylor Sheridan

Wind River is a thriller, written and directed by Taylor Sheridan. Sheridan’s name might be unfamiliar to a lot of people, but cinephiles should know him for writing two recent marvelous pictures that both had some awards potential – 2015’s Sicario and 2016’s Hell or High Water. While Sheridan didn’t direct any of his previous scripts (Sicario was done by Villeneuve, and Hell or High Water by Mckenzie), he does have some directing experience, having helmed 2011’s horror film, Vile. Wind River is being distributed by the awards whisperers The Weinstein Company. Their involvement combined with Sheridan’s previous track record might actually give Wind River a chance to make some ways during the proper awards season. More importantly, the film highly deserves that.

Writing

Sheridan, similarly to his previous movies, has written a story that’s both thrilling and entertaining but is also thematically clever. Wind River, a film inspired by true events, is set on a Native American reservoir and the first victim of a crime is a young Native American woman. The local police are not equipped to solve the mystery, while FBI is also not willing to pay a lot of attention. This fictionalized account goes very much in line with the real life events (so, ‘inspired by true events’ sentence is accurate). As an anthropology student, I have studied a few cases of Native American women going missing in the north of North America and the local authorities doing nothing to find them (in class, we mostly focused on cases in Canada but the film’s Wyoming’s case was very similar). Wind River’s story at least had a somewhat happy ending and some closure, however, that’s usually not the case in real life. So, it was really nice for a film to end with a sentence about the statistics of missing Native women –  a call to action, even if it will probably go unheard.

The depictions of the reservoir life seemed quite accurate. The problems within a Native American community – the drugs and substance abuse, poverty, the loss of identity and the marginalization – were all mentioned. The relationship between the white Americans and the Native Americans was represented in a variety of ways. The viewers saw both a friendly relationship of a white man being, more or less, a member of a community and an outsider white American being seen as a hostile stranger (at least in the beginning). Lastly, even though some of the ideas and relationships in the film could be seen as very specific and having a limited crossover, the overarching themes of the picture were survival and family – two extremely universal concepts that are understood across all cultures.

I have mentioned the historical facts as well as topics of the movie, let’s now turn our attention to the actual detective story. To begin with, I found it refreshing to see an FBI agent and a local hunter working together and listening to one another, rather than competing to reach the same goal. It was also nice to see a completely professional relationship without any pushed romance being depicted. The reveal of who the criminals were – 5 white, less than bright, drunk men from a working class background – was maybe a bit disappointing at first but, on a second viewing, very much grounded and realistic. Plus, the scene that followed the reveal – the rapid shoot-out – was unexpected in the best way possible and also oddly satisfying.

Directing

While Sheridan’s directing style wasn’t groundbreaking, it was still good in its subtlety. His direction for the picture was mostly elevated by his own amazing writing. Visually, the film looked nice – the sweeping shots of the mountains and snow were naturally gorgeous, while the sequence of the snowmobile action added an element of effortless coolness. The pacing was very good too – the film was constantly building to a crescendo and also delivered on it. Wind River was definitely a great effort from a sort of new director.

Acting

At the center of Wind River, two Marvel stars were reunited – Jeremy Renner and Elizabeth Olsen. They both did a magnificent job. It was nice to see Renner continuing his indie/awards career alongside his blockbuster-focused one (he was just recently in Arrival in addition to Civil War, MI5, and Age of Ultron). Elizabeth Olsen (Godzilla) has really come into her own as an actress and is probably now more famous (acting-wise) than her older sisters.

The supporting cast, thankfully, provided an opportunity for some Native American/First Nations talent to shine, like Gil Birmingham (he was also in Hell or High Water), Julia JonesGraham Greene, and Martin Sensmeier. Jon Bernthal (Baby Driver, The Accountant, We Are Your Friends) also appeared in the film, reuniting with Sheridan, after having worked on Sicario with him. 

In short, Wind River is an emotional, smart, and entertaining thriller that deserves more recognition that it will probably get.

Rate: 4.4/5

Trailer: Wind River trailer

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5 ideas about a movie: The Beguiled

Movie reviews

Hello!

A festival favorite and one of the strongest summer contenders for the awards season – The Beguiled – has premiered, so, let’s review it!

IMDb summary: The unexpected arrival of a wounded Union soldier at a girls’ school in Virginia during the American Civil War leads to jealousy and betrayal.

  1. The Beguiled was both written and directed by Sofia Coppola, latter of which was awarded at the Cannes Film Festival – she became the second woman ever to the Best Director Award. I’ve seen some of her films (The Bling Ring and Lost in Translation), but I’ve always had her other pictures on my ‘To watch’ list. I really need to do a movie marathon consisting of not just hers but of The Coppola’s family tree films.
  2. The movie’s script was based on a book A Painted Devil by Thomas P. Cullinan and the main topic being explored was the taboo issue of female sexuality and, especially, the repressed female sexuality and its dangers. Thus, all the character development mostly revolved around this issue, with not much attention being paid to anything else. The actions of the women did not make them into likable characters, while their choices at the end of the film were really quite shocking, which, I guess, was the intention. I did like the jab at the ‘Southern Comfort’, though – it’s the food that kills you. Literally.
  3. The writing for the lone male character was the best and he was the most well-rounded individual. His slay manipulations could really be seen in Colin Farrel’s (The Lobster, Fantastic Beasts) performance: he knew what each of the ladies wanted him to be and fulfilled that role. He was the older brother and an adult of the world to talk to, he was someone to impress and a potential suitor. Mostly, though, he was the personification of the budding sexual fantasies. These type of manipulations in his demeanor and the bursts of anger made me kinda see his demise as weirdly justified.
  4. Coppola’s directing was full of classical elements, like the steady camera, the old school ratio, and the long shots. These long shots really dictated the pacing of the film. The Beguiled was slow but carefully crafted, however, I did feel that, on a few occasions, some shots were lingering for too long without any intensity in them to make up for the lack of literal action. Nevertheless, I did enjoy the way Coppola realized the setting of the Civil War, with the noises of the battle going off in the background, but never allowed it to overpower the romantic drama happening within the house. The Beguiled wasn’t a Civil War film but a romantic thriller set during it. For the first hour, it was quite innocent (flirty and cute), while the last half hour was full of unforeseen cruelty and insane choices (all those repressed feelings were just bubbling over).
  5. I’ve already briefly touched upon Farrel’s smooth performance, so, now let’s look at the female cast. Nicole Kidman (Genius, Lion), Coppola’s usual partner Kirsten Dunst (Hidden Figures, Midnight Special), Elle Fanning (Trumbo, The Neon Demon), Angourie Rice (The Nice Guys, Spider-Man), and Oona Laurence (Southpaw, Bad Moms, Pete’s Dragon) all starred in the picture. The sexual tensions and frustrations were palpable in all of their performances with the exception of the youngest cast member Laurence.

In short, The Beguiled is a beautiful and slow art-house cinema offering that focuses on a theme that is still not as widely discussed as it should be, in the year 2017.

Rate: 4/5

Trailer: The Beguiled trailer

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The awards season ROUND-UP

Movie previews, Movie reviews

Hello!

With the Oscars happening tomorrow and the 2017 awards season coming to a close, I decided to do my own annual awards round-up type of a post.

Like I did last year (2016 round-up), I have combined the nominees from the various awards shows. Although the Oscar nominees make up the basis for all the categories, I have also added nominees from the Golden Globes, the Critics Choice Awards, the BAFTAs and the various guild awards (SAG, DGA, PGA, WGA) that the Academy overlooked. I allowed myself up to 10 nominees in every category except the best picture one – it was expanded to 12. I have not only noted my personal winners in each category but I also ranked all the runner-ups. Below, I have also written down my guesses of who will actually win an Academy Award in each category, because my subjective preferences not necessarily fit my more objective picks. Lastly, all the full reviews of the movies have also been linked.

Best Picture:

  1. Hidden Figures
  2. Arrival
  3. Hacksaw Ridge
  4. La La Land
  5. Hell or High Water
  6. Manchester by the Sea
  7. Moonlight
  8. The Lobster
  9. Nocturnal Animals
  10. Fences
  11. Lion
  12. Sully

The objective pick: While I’d be very happy if any of my top 3 films win the big award of the night, neither of them will. Best Picture will probably go to La La Land. Moonlight is my other guess.

Best Lead Actor:

  1. Andrew Garfield – Hacksaw Ridge
  2. Denzel Washington – Fences
  3. Casey Affleck – Manchester by the Sea
  4. Collin Farrel – The Lobster
  5. Ryan Gosling – La La Land
  6. Chris Pine – Hell or High Water
  7. Viggo Mortensen – Captain Fantastic
  8. Joel Edgerton – Loving
  9. Tom Hanks – Sully

The objective pick: the top three frontrunners for the award are Affleck, Gosling, and Washington. Gosling would be my choice because of the wide variety of skills required for his particular role (playing piano, dancing, and singing on top of acting).

Best Lead Actress:

  1. Isabelle Huppert – Elle
  2. Taraji P. Henson – Hidden Figures
  3. Ruth Negga – Loving
  4. Natalie Portman – Jackie
  5. Emma Stone – La La Land
  6. Amy Adamas – Arrival/Nocturnal Animals
  7. Meryl Streep – Florence Foster Jenkins
  8. Emily Blunt – The Girl on the Train

The objective pick: My personal winners – Huppert, Portman, and Stone – are the frontrunners for the Oscar. Stone will most likely take it even though Huppert does have a chance of stealing it. Portman deserves the win as well but she already has an Oscar.

Best Supporting Actor:

  1. Mahershala Ali – Moonlight
  2. Jeff Bridges – Hell or High Water
  3. Aaron Taylor-Johnson – Nocturnal Animals
  4. Lucas Hedges – Manchester by the Sea
  5. Dev Patel – Lion
  6. Michael Shannon – Nocturnal Animals
  7. Simon Helberg – Florence Foster Jenkins
  8. Hugh Grant – Florence Foster Jenkins

The objective pick: Ali should win this one. Patel, coming off of BAFTA win, might prove to be a legit competitor. Bridges or Hedges could also possibly steal the win.

Best Supporting Actress:

  1. Viola Davis – Fences
  2. Janelle Monae – Hidden Figures
  3. Naomie Harris – Moonlight
  4. Octavia Spencer – Hidden Figures
  5. Michelle Williams – Manchester by the Sea
  6. Nicole Kidman – Lion

The objective pick: this is one of the two categories, where my subjective and objective choices are one and the same. Davis has won all the important awards up until now and it is obviously her time to finally get an Oscar.

Best Director:

  1. Damien Chazelle – La La Land
  2. Denis Villeneuve – Arrival
  3. Mel Gibson – Hacksaw Ridge
  4. Barry Jenkins – Moonlight
  5. Tom Ford – Nocturnal Animals
  6. Kenneth Lonergan – Manchester by the Sea
  7. David Mackenzie – Hell or High Water
  8. Denzel Washington – Fences
  9. Garth Davis – Lion

The objective pick: the other category, where the objective and subjective winners coincide. Chazelle did a great job directing La La Land and, even if the film wasn’t my favorite of the year, his excellent work should be rewarded.

Best Original Screenplay:

  1. Yorgos Lanthimos and Efthimis Filippou – The Lobster
  2. Taylor Sheridan – Hell or High Water
  3. Kenneth Lonergan – Manchester by the Sea
  4. Damien Chazelle – La La Land
  5. John Carney – Sing Street

The objective pick: La La Land has won a few screenwriting awards but, if it wins the Academy Award, I will be furious. The story was the weakest part of the film and I’ll, genuinely, be happy if any other picture wins.

Best Adapted Screenplay:

  1. Eric Heisserer – Arrival
  2. Allison Schroeder and Theodore Melfi – Hidden Figures
  3. August Wilson – Fences
  4. Tom Ford – Nocturnal Animals
  5. Jeff Nichols – Loving
  6. Luke Davies – Lion
  7. Barry Jenkins and Tarell Alvin McCraney – Moonlight
  8. Todd Komarnicki – Sully

The objective pick: This category has the most equal race. Honestly, any nominated film deserves it. The Academy might give this win to Hidden Figures as they probably not gonna give it any other awards.

Best Animated Feature: 

  1. Zootopia
  2. Kubo and the Two Strings
  3. Moana
  4. Sing
  5. Finding Dory
  6. Trolls

The objective pick: I haven’t seen the 2 indie picture that were nominated but, that doesn’t really matter because Zootopia will take the win, as it should.

I hope you enjoyed flicking through my list of winners. Are you planning on watching the big show tomorrow or are you just gonna check who wins online, like I’m planning to do?

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Movie review: The Great Wall

Movie reviews

Hello!

Welcome to a review of the movie that is either groundbreaking or just a continuation of the oldest Holywood tradition. It’s The Great Wall!

IMDb summary: European mercenaries searching for black powder become embroiled in the defense of the Great Wall of China against a horde of monstrous creatures.

My introductory point about this film possibly being groundbreaking has to do with the circumstances of its creation. The Great Wall is the first major co-production between US and China (Kung Fu Panda 3 was also a co-production and came before this movie, but it was an animated project rather than a live-action one). And yet, this movie has also been accused of whitewashing – the old trend for Hollywood, which only recently started receiving some backlash. So, can this film be a start of something new or is just the same old thing?

Writing

The picture’s script was written by Carlo Bernard and Doug Miro (writers of the Prince of Persia movie), and Tony Gilroy (writer of the first 4 Bourne films and Rogue One). The combined previous filmography of these screenwriters is of mixed quality and the writing for The Great Wall is also kinda mixed, mostly leaning towards mediocre.

To begin with, the whole decision to have a white lead was not explained that well during the runtime of the picture. It made sense to have a white lead and a supporting cast, full of Chinese actors, from the business standpoint, but it didn’t make much sense story-wise. The film, at least, stated that Matt Damon was not supposed to be playing a Chinese character but a European explorer, who is looking for gunpowder, so Damon’s casting cannot necessarily be called whitewashing. However, the decision to focus on a European hero, who saves China, brought up the whole ‘white savior’ debate. The fact the character’s arc begun with him wanting to steal the gunpowder didn’t paint the best picture either. Is the film, then, only reaffirming colonial thinking or is trying to tell a historical story accurately?  In short, I, personally, didn’t think that the picture gave a good enough explanation for having a European lead (played by an American) in a foreign setting. Even the film The Last Samurai came up with a better reason.

Speaking about the other aspects of the writing – I did enjoy quite a few of them. I liked the world-building and the mythology that the film was inspired by. I loved the idea to have a variety of specialized parts of the army. I liked that the lead character was written as an archer, because of my personal fondness of archery. I appreciated the fact that two languages were used in the film – it made the movie seem more as a co-production in contrast to it appearing as if Hollywood just hijacked another foreign story. I also loved that so many female warrior characters were written into the story. I don’t actually know if that is historically accurate, but I didn’t care much, in the moment of watching the movie. The picture’s attempt to have an underlying important theme – the opposition between paid participation and the true loyalty – was also commendable. While this debate wasn’t really treated as fully as it should have been, I like the fact that the film at least tried to be something more than it ended up to as.

And that final something is the fact that the film’s story was just kinda meh. The narrative was simple and straightforward – nothing one hasn’t seen before. It had two obvious plotlines – the first about fighting the monster and the other about stealing the gunpowder – which converged in the end. The main character’s change of heart during the finale was predictable and cliche. Basically, for a movie that did something very different with its financing and production, The Great Wall should have also done something new and interesting with its story.

Directing

The Great Wall was directed by Zhang Yimou. The majority of his films act as Chinese submissions for the Academy Awards in the Best Foreign Language category, so he is an accomplished director. His direction for this movie was quite nice too and I do think he did the best he could with the given material.  The action scenes looked cool and I liked the massive scope of them. The film had some impressive long takes too. The historical setting, as well as the different sections of the army, were also realized well enough. Plus, the design of the monsters was varied and quite interestng (they kinda reminded me of the zombies from World War Z because of their movement and the sounds they emitted). However, the CGI definitely could have been more photorealistic, especially in this day and age.

My favorite action sequence was the first battle, mostly because it was reminiscent of the final battle from The Lord Of The Rings: The Two Towers, although not as good. I also really liked the smaller corrida-type (Spanish bull-fighting) fight scene, in which Pedro Pascal’s character was luring the monster and Matt Damon’s character was trying to shoot it with an arrow. I also loved that the battle scenes had a diegetic beat – the drumming within a story provided a rhythm for both the characters, who were fighting, and the viewers, who were just enjoying the soundtrack. Lastly, the scene with the Chinese lanterns also looked lovely but, as weird as this sounds, it didn’t felt unique. These lanterns are now used all over the world for various celebrations (or in movies, like Tangled), so their usage in an actual Chinese setting didn’t seem as unique as it should have.

Acting

Matt Damon played the lead and did as good a job as he could have. Honestly, he has never been my first choice for a historical movie but he did make the role work. Even with all the whitewashing backlash, Damon will be fine, as his career has been going great. While his return to the role of Jason Bourne wasn’t as positive as it could have been, his work on The Martian is still on everyone’s minds. Besides, in addition to acting, Damon’s producing work has been going great, as the film he recently produced – Manchester by the Sea – is a big awards nominee this season.

Pedro Pascal played a supporting role and brought a tiny bit of a different kind of diversity into the picture. Pascal impressed everyone on a single season of Game of Thrones and I am kinda surprised that his work on GOT didn’t lead to more roles for him. Nevertheless, I really liked his The Great Wall’s character’s sass – it pleasantly reminded me of Oberyn.

Willem Dafoe also appeared in the movie and didn’t have much to do, while the Chinese part of the cast delivered great performances. Jing Tian was amazing as the female lead, while Andy Lau and Zhang Hanyu did a good enough job with what they were given as well. I really wish that I knew more about these actors and their previous filmography.

In brief, The Great Wall was a film, whose behind the scenes story was more interesting than its on-screen plot. While it might have broken grounds from the business standpoint, it was nothing more than average from the creative one.

Rate: 3/5

Trailer: The Great Wall 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. Lastly, the film provides interesting commentary on the LGBTQ+ position within the black community.
  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: 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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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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