Movie review: Sicario: Day of the Soldado

Movie reviews

Hello!

And welcome to a review of a sequel that I did not think Hollywood would make but I’m so glad they did. This is Sicario 2 or Sicario: Day of the Soldado.

IMDb summary: The drug war on the U.S.-Mexico border has escalated as the cartels have begun trafficking terrorists across the US border. To fight the war, federal agent Matt Graver re-teams with the mercurial Alejandro.

Writing

Sicario 2 was written by Taylor Sheridan – the same screenwriter who wrote the first Sicario as well as such great pictures as Hell or High Water and Wind River. I thought that the writing for the sequel was quite spectacular for the most part. I highly appreciated how topical the movie was, tackling topics that one sees on the news daily. I also loved the ambiguity in the script: the film didn’t have the clear ‘good side’ and it also did not have a conclusion or a clear ‘winning side’. No real happy ending in the film as in life.

The narrative was a bit convoluted and murky at times but I thought that was an accurate representation of the modern warfare. Plans rarely go as planned, layers of authority make decisions impossible to make, and various actors have their own agendas I also really loved how the movie touched upon the ideas of performance within warfare. It was also interesting to see the movie trying to deal with more personal stuff within a context of war.

My only gripe with the film was that I did not think its 3rd act was as strong as the first two. The intensity dropped, the story stopped, and the movie finished a bit of an underwhelming fashion. It tried setting up a sequel which is never an easy way to finish a picture.

Directing

Stefano Sollima, an Italian director, took over the reins of the now-franchise from Denis Villeneuve and crafted an intense and cohesive film, definitely worthy of the first one. The sequel was violent but maybe not as shocking as the first picture. The intensity was still palpable, though. The instrumental score, full of deep and low sounds could be felt in one’s body (if your cinema has a good sound system). The cinematography was great too – static continuous shots of Mexico’s landscape made nature seem both gorgeous and threatening/mysterious.

Acting

Soldado’s cast consisted of Benicio del ToroJosh Brolin, and Jeffrey Donovan reprising their roles, with Isabela MonerManuel Garcia-Rulfo, Elijah Rodriguez and Catherine Keener joining the film. I feel kinda bad for Emily Blunt, as she was sort of the star of the previous film but didn’t/couldn’t return (wasn’t asked to return?) for the sequel. Del Toro killed it in the role again and Brolin (Only the Brave, Hail, Caesar!, Everest) was amazing too (I loved the last shot of him in the hellicopter and just that tiny hint of emotion in his eyes due to the loss of his comrade). I do love the range of the two actors – from The Collector/a smuggler in the Star Wars Universe and Thanos/Cable to the characters in Soldado! Moner was able to showcase her acting abilities so much better in this film than in Transformers 6. It was also nice to see the movie showcasing some Mexican talent – another group of performers that goes underappreciated and underexposed so often in Hollywood.

In short, Sicario 2: Day of the Soldado is a great-looking and smart sequel that will definitely keep you glued to the edge of your seat for at least 2/3 of the film.

Rate: 3.9/5

Trailer: Sicario: Day of the Soldado

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Movie review: Ocean’s 8

Movie reviews

Hello!

And welcome back to the sporadic AF movie reviews. Ocean’s 8 is the topic for today.

IMDb summary: Debbie Ocean gathers an all-female crew to attempt an impossible heist at New York City’s yearly Met Gala.

Writing

Ocean’s 8 – a spin-off of the original trilogy rather than its reboot (this is no Ghostbusters) – was written by the director of the film Gary Ross and Olivia Milch (she is writing a Barbie movie next, don’t know how to react to that). There was a lot to like in the script. To begin with, I liked how this action film was kept feminine with the focus on the MetGala and diamonds. A decision to make women steal diamonds might be seen as playing into stereotypes. However, I’d argue that by keeping a feminine focus, Ocean’s 8 fights the stereotype that strong women, especially female action stars, have to be masculine. Some of them might be masculine, while others might prefer femininity (or a mixture of the two). And Ocean’s 8 showcases that by having a variety of women of different colors/shapes/sizes/styles as the core characters. While the character development isn’t plentiful, there is enough of it to make each character necessary and at least a tiny bit interesting.

Additionally, while Ocean’s 8 stands on the shoulders of the original Ocean’s trilogy, it doesn’t lean on them too hard, meaning that one can go into this movie not knowing anything of the first 3 films and completely get the plot of this one. As I wasn’t a fan of the original films, I also didn’t mind some of the developments/reveals about the original characters in this film (some fans might actually be legitimately annoyed by them). Personally, my main problem with this movie was its structure. I loved the first two acts – the pre-heist set-up and the actual heist. However, I feel like the whole 3rd act, rather than being a big finale, was a boring wrap-up that dragged immensely. The investigation and the reveals felt both rushed and like the movie was overstaying its welcome.

Directing

Gary Ross (of the first Hunger Games film and Free State of Jonesdirected Ocean’s 8, while Steven Soderbergh – the director behind Ocean’s 11,12, and 13 – stayed on as a producer. I thought that Ross handled the material well, the narrative made sense and was intense for the most part. Pacing had some issues, especially the pacing of the aforementioned third act. The glitz and the glamours of the MetGala were realized accurately.

Acting

Undeniably, the best part about Ocean’s 8 was its cast: Sandra BullockCate BlanchettAnne HathawayMindy KalingSarah PaulsonAwkwafinaRihanna, and Helena Bonham Carter. I adored the female solidarity and friendship on display. Cate Blanchett (Thor 3, Cinderella, Carol) was my absolute favorite – I loved her character’s outfits, charisma, and just effortless coolness. I also enjoyed seeing Hathaway (Alice 2) playing the gossip sites’ version of herself. I also loved seeing Bullock, back on screen in a lead role as I feel I haven’t seen her in a big movie in ages (since Gravity). Kaling (A Wrinkle in Time) and Paulson (The Post) were also really fun to see. I loved the uber contemporary vibes that Awkwafina brought to the film and I loved seeing Rihanna actually having a character to play rather than just being there to look pretty (*cough, cough*, Valerian. BTW, I’ve been to her concert some years before and wrote about that). Bonham Carter (Suffragette) was also good in the film, though I feel like she played her typical, slightly awkward and over-the-top type of a personality.

Ocean’s 8 also featured some cool celebrity cameos, some neat cameos by the original cast, and a short appearance by James Corden (Peter Rabbit), who is always a delight to see.

In short, Ocean’s 8 was a great all-female thriller. It might not please everyone, but then again, why does it have too?

Rate: 4/5

Trailer: Ocean’s 8 trailer

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Movie review: Rampage

Movie reviews

Hello!

And welcome to a review of another Dwayne Johnson movie. I swear his filmography is becoming a whole separate genre of cinema. This is Rampage.

IMDb summary: When three different animals become infected with a dangerous pathogen, a primatologist and a geneticist team up to stop them from destroying Chicago.

 

Writing

Rampage was written by Ryan Engle (writer of The Commuter), Carlton Cuse (Lost’s showrunner, writer of San Andreas), Ryan J. Condal (writer of Hercules), and Adam Sztykiel (a comedy writer). Quite a few previous connections to Dwayne Johnson on the part of the writing staff. This makes my introductory point sound even more truthful.

Rampage’s script is a very loose adaptation of a video game of the same name but it feels like any generic monster movie. It has some monster v. monster fights that both Godzilla and Kong: Skull Island had (and Godzilla v. Kong will definitely have) and a lot of bloodless destruction (the same amount as another very recent monster movie Pacific Rim: Uprising had). Rampage also features a brief moment of Johnson having fun in a jungle-like environment, reminding the viewer of Jumanji. His character, undoubtfully, has a family to care for but this time around it’s an animal family cause human families are just so 2015 (and so San Andreas). The film’s story also has a genetic engineering plotline, like Jurassic World. In addition to all these moments and details from other pictures, Rampage also has quite a few laughable and cheesy moments that are either incredibly far-fetched or cringe-y. The dialogue isn’t really great either and some of those one-liners and jokes fall so so flat in the movie.  Well, at least it doesn’t have a plug for a franchise at the end, like the other video game movie of 2018 – Tomb Raider.

While this is quite a harsh critique on my part, I still would not like to say that Rampage is a bad movie. It knows what it is (for the most part) and is entertaining (for the most part). Still, it is also very familiar and forgettable.

Directing

Brad Peyton, the director of San Andreas, directed Rampage and I swear these two movies have to be connected somehow. Same writer, same director, same star?! Anyways, the film’s direction was fine. The story was visualized on screen clearly and cohesively. The pacing was okay too. The action was quite enjoyable as well, though, by the end of the third act, I did sort of check out from the movie. The CGI was also fine for the most part, but some wider shots did look pretty fake.

Acting

Rampage’s cast consisted of Dwayne Johnson (Baywatch, FF8, Moana, Central Intelligence + all other movies of his that I’ve already linked to in this review) and some B-listers. Johnson was fine in the action hero type of a typical role, though, I had a hard time buying the fact that one of the most charismatic people on the planet could play a character who can’t connect/communicate with people.

On the supporting front, the movie features a lot of B-listers and even the most well known of them cannot really be seen as big move stars. They all do a good or serviceable job in the film. Naomie Harris is probably the biggest star out of the supporting cast due to her involvement with Moonlight. However, on the mainstream front, while she does have 007 franchise, she is only like a 3rd female lead in those films (behind M/Judi Dench and a revolving door of Bond girls/love interests). Malin Åkerman also stars the film – I don’t think I saw her in a movie since 2012’s Rock of AgesJeffrey Dean Morgan is big on TV with The Walking Dead but isn’t really a movie star either. Joe Manganiello has a cameo-sized role in this film too and he is Deathstroke but nobody really knows when he will get a chance to play that character, as DCEU’s future is so unclear. Jake Lacy also has a role here and, looking through his IMDb, I can notice quite a few films of his that I’ve seen, like Carol and Their Finest. The problem is that I don’t remember him in them.

In short, Rampage is a perfectly serviceable, forgivable, and forgettable action/video game movie. The video game curse is back in full force if you thought that Tomb Raider lifted it at least a bit.

Rate: 2.8/5

Trailer: Rampage trailer 

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Movie review: Ready Player One

Movie reviews

Hello!

Welcome to the perfect Easter movie all about them Easter Eggs – Ready Player One.

IMDb summary: When the creator of a virtual reality world called the OASIS dies, he releases a video in which he challenges all OASIS users to find his Easter Egg, which will give the finder his fortune.

Writing

Ready Player One was written by Zak Penn (who worked on The Avengers and some early 2000s Marvel movies) and the author of the original novel Ernest Cline. I have read the book last year and very much enjoyed it. While watching the movie, I didn’t remember all the details, so I wasn’t exactly sure what changes to the narrative were made. However, I do think that the film’s plot was a bit more streamlined than the book’s. Also, as a longtime fan of dystopias of all shapes and sizes, I loved an opportunity to immersive myself in a new one.

What certainly didn’t change (going from the book to the movie) was the plethora of Easter Eggs in the story. In the book, the extensive lists of references were easier to get (or google). Having said that, those lists did feel a bit tedious at times in the text, while a motion picture format is way a more organically fitting format for Easter Eggs. And yet, in my mind, references are harder to get and easier to miss in a visual form. Still, I was quite proud of myself for spotting a lot of cool nods in this film. I’m a sure that I missed a tonne as well too, though.

From the structural point of view, the movie’s writing was good. The opening set-up was a bit heavy-handed and had a lot of narration. That information was necessary for the following story, but I wish that it would have been presented in a less typical fashion. The rest of the narrative was fine – the quest story was entertaining and fairly cohesive, while the characters – interesting and well-developed enough too. Some of the dialogue sounded bit cheesy. Nevertheless, the overall theme and message – to focus on reality rather than the virtual world – was a neat one. Another side message that I got from the movie was a warning to the corporations to not mess with the nerds. Honestly, that just sounds like today’s online discourse when fans go mad if a big company attempts to do something different with the beloved properties.

Directing

Ready Player One was directed by the master Steven Spielberg (Bridge of Spies, The BFG), who somehow managed to find time to film this movie and to also make The Post, both to be released just months apart. I think he did a spectacular job. First of all, he made a good video game movie that is not even based on a video game but feels like a video game. And yet, in addition to feeling and looking like a video game, the movie also feels like a movie – it has a story and characters and a message. My one gripe with the film was that it was a bit long and did slow down in the second act.

While Spielberg has always been known for revolutionary computer effects, he has also always been a filmmaker who championed the practical aspect of the visual effects. Thus, it was really interesting to see him make a movie that is definitely about 80% CGI. This begs the question – how much of what we are seeing is Spielberg’s vision and how much is the impeccable work of the animation and the art departments? Whoever was responsible for those visuals, they were great: appropriately artificial looking yet somehow not fake. The throwback soundtrack was amazing too.

Acting

Tye Sheridan (the new Cyclops in X-Men: Apocalypse), Olivia Cooke, and Lena Waithe played the three main ‘players’ in the game and delivered great performances in both the reality and through motion capture as their characters’ avatars. Ben Mendelsohn (Darkest Hour) was a bit of a mustache-twirling villain. I think his villainous performance in Rogue One had more subtlety. T.J. Miller (Deadpool) was good as the comedic relief (not a big surprise). Simon Pegg (MI: Rogue Nation, Star Trek Beyond) also had a small role, while the new Spielberg favorite Mark Rylance (Dunkirk) was amazing and played such a relatable character (an antisocial nerd afraid of taking a leap. That’s literally what’s going to be written on my tombstone). Every time I see Rylance in a new film, I amazed by his versatility. No surprise that Spielberg is putting him in everything now.

In short, Ready Player One is an entertaining extended homage to pop culture and a lovely celebration of all things nerd.

Rate: 3.8/5

Trailer: Ready Player One trailer

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5 ideas about a movie: Gringo

Movie reviews

Hello!

Welcome to a review of a film that looked fun but disposable from the trailers and turned out to be exactly that. In fact, it was so disposable that I forgot to write its review for two weeks. This is Gringo!

IMDb summary: GRINGO, a dark comedy mixed with white-knuckle action and dramatic intrigue, explores the battle of survival for businessman Harold Soyinka when he finds himself crossing the line from a law-abiding citizen to a wanted criminal.

  1. Gringo was written by Anthony Tambakis (the writer of Warrior and Jane Got a Gun and the future Suicide Squad 2) and Matthew Stone (a writer of some fairly small and unknown comedies). The writing for the movie was really disappointing because the film was both convoluted (an actual clusterfu*k) and not that interesting (which is an ever worse quality that being messy). The movie also tried having some profound message but it just ended up having way too many metaphorical monologues about animals (gorillas and bears) that made absolutely no sense.
  2. It also tried preaching the idea of remaining a good person but didn’t deliver on that message at all. I mean, at least practice what you preach. Speaking of fun – this movie, being part comedy, had no real humor or any jokes that were actually funny. It was just so bland and stale.
  3. Gringo was directed by stuntman-turned-director Nash Edgerton (yes, he is the brother of Joel Edgerton, the actor). I was fairly disappointed with his second solo directorial outing. For an action comedy movie, the movie really lacked action. It only really turned up the excitement in the last 20 minutes and then quickly lost it. Also, the film tried going for craziness but the problem is that that craziness lacked any entertainment value.
  4. The end of the movie was also super bizarre. Gringo tried going for a cheeky 4th wall break and ended up falling flat on its face as that nod to the audience made no sense in the context of the movie. Moreover, by that point in the runtime, the viewers were already so checked out that they didn’t care at all what the movie was doing. Basically, Gringo was definitely not worthy of a cinema screen and I wouldn’t even recommend it as a rental/streaming movie. It was a B movie at best. More like an F, though.
  5. Gringo assembled a great and unworthy cast full of talent way too big for this movie. But, I guess everyone needs to pay bills (can you hear the chorus sing the words *paycheck gig* in the distance?). David Oyelowo and Joel Edgerton (Red Sparrow, Bright, Loving, Midnight Special, Black Mass) were both fine, though, their characters were really unappealing. Charlize Theron (Mad Max, The Huntsman, FF8, Atomic Blonde) was stuck playing a very old-school female character (oversexualized for the wrong reasons), while Amanda Seyfried had little to nothing to do in the film. Wait, scratch that, Westworld’s Thandie Newton was the one who had absolutely nothing to do in the movie. Lastly, Sharlto Copley (Free Fire, Hardcore Henry) played his usual type of character – kooky and quirky.

In brief, Gringo was an action comedy with no action or humor.

Rate: 2.2/5

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Movie review: Pacific Rim: Uprising

Movie reviews

Hello!

Welcome to a review of Pacific Rim: Uprising – a sequel to a movie I liked but didn’t think warranted a sequel.

IMDb summary: Jake Pentecost, son of Stacker Pentecost, reunites with Mako Mori to lead a new generation of Jaeger pilots, including rival Lambert and 15-year-old hacker Amara, against a new Kaiju threat.

Writing

Pacific Rim: Uprising was written by Emily Carmichael (a writer of short movies and TV series, is also supposed to write Jurassic World 3), Kira Snyder (a TV writer and producer), T.S. Nowlin (the writer of The Maze Runner series), and the director Steven S. DeKnight. I thought that the film’s writing was a mixed bag, like in so many cases with action movies nowadays.

The movie opened on a promising note. I liked the short summary of the first film as well as the background set-up of the main character (though, he was a bit too similar to the main character of the first film – both were great but hesitant pilots because of personal reasons). Still, I liked the fact that the main character for this film had a connection to the characters in the first movie. I also appreciated how this picture expanded the mythos of the world by showcasing new possibilities relating to both Jaegers and Kaiju, aliens and humans. I mean, the mash-up of the two (in each of the pairs) was a kinda obvious but undeniably awesome next step. For the most part, I also didn’t mind the actual plot of this movie: I found the story engaging and unexpected. For a minute, I thought that the movie will go one way (maybe do something with abuse of capitalism and power) but it quickly pulled back and picked a monster-y villain to fight against.

While the movie didn’t have a post-credits scene, it did have a post-logo tease (like Tomb Raider did just last week) about the next movie, suggesting a trip to the alien dimension in Pacific Rim 3 (if or when it happens). I wouldn’t mind seeing that but I’m not holding my breath either.

Directing

Pacific Rim was directed by the now Oscar winner Guillermo del Toro (The Shape of Water) but he did not return to direct the sequel. Instead, the reins were passed over to Steven S. DeKnight – a TV producer and director, to whom Uprising was a directorial feature debut. He did quite a good job with the movie. The pace was a bit uneven but the action was pretty great. I liked the designs of all the monsters and robots as well as the actual fight sequences. I also appreciated the fact that they were set during the day and one could actually see stuff. I guess the often repeated line from the script – ‘Bigger the Better’ – was sort of true in the case of the action in this film. I only say ‘sort of’ the case because the final action sequence was a bit senseless and overblown, which leads me to my only gripe with this movie (and a lot of PG-13 action movies) – the bloodless destruction porn that the action sequences result in. The viewers have become desensitized to the destruction, so they don’t care much for it anymore: its entertaining to look at but there is no longer any emotional investment. On the believability side – the realism has been gone from action movies since probably the 80s. Massive injuries result in zero bloody wounds, while the aforementioned massive destruction kills nobody. Hmmm…How long will that be the thing? Probably forever.

Acting

Pacific Rim: Uprising assembled an international cast to pander to global audiences (especially China). I didn’t really mind that as I think inclusivity is fun and good for business (and Hollywood is, first and foremost, a business). I thought that John Boyega (SW7, SW8, The Circle, Detroit) was a charming lead and I’m really glad that he got a chance to showcase his comedic chops. Scott Eastwood was fine too, though, I feel like I have seen him in a straight-laced military person in supporting role in many movies before (like Fast and Furious 8, Suicide Squad). Newcomer Cailee Spaeny and Jing Tian (The Great Wall) was good too.

Rinko KikuchiCharlie Day, and Burn Gorman all returned from the first film and had arcs that actually made sense in this movie. Weirdly, Charlie Hunnam did not return – his character would have had a place in the story, so it was probably a behind the scenes issue that sealed his exclusion from the film (maybe the reason was the poor financial performance of King Arthur?).

In short, Pacific Rim: Uprising is, or less, up to par with the first film, so if you liked that one, you will probably enjoy this one. Also, if you like Transformers, Power Rangers, Godzilla/Kong, or all of the above, you will probably find some enjoyment out of this picture too.

Rate: 3.5/5

Trailer: Pacific Rim: Uprising trailer

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Movie review: Tomb Raider

Movie reviews

Hello!

And welcome to Hollywood’s gazillionth try at making video game movies into a thing. This is Tomb Raider!

IMDb summary: Lara Croft, the fiercely independent daughter of a missing adventurer, must push herself beyond her limits when she finds herself on the island where her father disappeared.

Writing

Tomb Raider was written by Evan Daugherty (of Divergent, The Huntsman, and TMNT), Geneva Robertson-Dworet (according to IMDb, hasn’t written any movies before this one but has 7 announced projects including MCU’s Captain Marvel), and Alastair Siddons (writer of Trespass Against Us – a movie with Michale Fassbender/new Lara Croft’s real-life husband. Fun connection). This film is based on the famous game series (which I have never played) and also acts as the reboot of the previous Lara Croft movie franchise from the early 2000s (which I don’t remember at all but plan on rewatching in April when I have some more free time). The writing for the new Tomb Raider wasn’t bad but it also wasn’t great either. The narrative itself was structured well enough and the story was interesting too. However, all of us have seen this movie before and more than once. We have also previously heard a good portion of the film’s by the numbers dialogue too.

The movie started promising. The set-up was interesting and I did like how contemporary it was (Lara being a deliveroo type of food courier). The only part of the set-up that sort of came out of nowhere was the invention of the villain – Trinity organization was mentioned in passing and was never developed more throughout the film. There were a plethora of hints at it in the closing scenes of the picture but whether the sequel will happen for those hints to result in anything substantial is a big question. No one is sure whether we will get to see Lara with her two signature guns either, which she acquired in the last scene of the film (I did like her with bow and arrows a lot, though). Thematically, Tomb Raider toyed with the ideas of history and the supernatural. I did like the historical quest/puzzle element of the film and I do appreciate the fact that they didn’t go the full supernatural route like The Mummy did. In general, the picture was an okay origin story and a good-enough reintroduction of the character but with so many other big franchises currently being produced, I don’t really know whether there is space for Lara Croft.

Directing

Tomb Raider was directed by a Norwegian director Roar Uthaug and, as far as I can tell, this film was his English language/Hollywood debut. I thought he did a good job realizing the flawed script. The pacing was okay too. I mostly had problems with the tone and the action of the film. The in-camera/on-location action was executed really well and made the movie feel like a tight action film. I especially liked the opening bike chase sequence, the chase on the boats in Hong Kong, and all the hand-to-hand combat in general. However, some other action scenes were really CGI heavy and had so many unbelievable moments that made them laughable. The shipwreck scene was super dark and filmed in a really shaky fashion, while the plane/river sequence just had way too many lucky coincidences. Those over the top, unrealistic action sequences made Tomb Raider feel like a video game movie, which I guess was the point. The final action sequence in the tomb was a mixed bag of good realistic action of an action movie and over the top CGI of a video game movie. I can’t really comprehend why somebody would make a movie lean more towards video game-ness, when the quality and the reaction to all the previous video games was so poor and when that same movie would be so much much better if it went the more classical/grounded action movie route.

Acting

Alicia Vikander played the lead and was actually really good as Lara Croft. Just the physical shape alone that the actress was able to achieve for this role was incredible, worthy of praise, and a bit inspiring. Made me want to do a couple of more extra crunches at the gym. I have always been impressed with Vikander’s indie/awards’ work (like The Danish Girl for which she won an Oscar and even Tulip Fever – the film was bad but she was good in it) and I was really glad to see her cast in a more mainstream/bigger budget/higher profile film. She has had supporting roles in mainstream films before, like – The Man From U.N.C.L.E. and Jason Bourne, but this is the first time she is headlining a movie of this scale and hopefully, a whole franchise. Still, I do doubt whether this movie will spawn a franchise but I also don’t think that it will damage Vikander’s career in any way if it doesn’t.

Walton Goggins (The Hateful Eight) was fine as the typical power hungry and blind-to-everything villain and I think I have seen Goggins in this role before (like in The Death Cure just a month ago). Dominic West (Genius, Money Monster) played the role of an equally delirious man and was okay in it. The writing didn’t make either of these characters sympathetic or understandable in any way, shape or form. Daniel Wu (Geostorm) had a small supporting role in the picture and, while he had some neat moments, his character was also forgotten in the third act. Wu has already starred in one video game movie – WarcraftKristin Scott Thomas (Darkest Hour, The Party) appeared too with the promise of a bigger role in the sequel (when and if it happens).

In short, Tomb Raider was an entertaining but forgettable film. It didn’t do much for the video game movie genre but didn’t damage it further (if that is even possible) either.

Rate: 3.3/5

Trailer: Tomb Raider

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Movie review: Red Sparrow

Movie reviews

Hello!

Welcome to March – the new ‘it’ month for high-profile movie releases. And it opens with Red Sparrow!

IMDb summary: Ballerina Dominika Egorova is recruited to ‘Sparrow School,’ a Russian intelligence service where she is forced to use her body as a weapon. Her first mission, targeting a C.I.A. agent, threatens to unravel the security of both nations.

Writing

Red Sparrow was written by Justin Haythe (who wrote two previous Gore Verbinski’s films The Lone Rangerand A Cure For Wellness), based on the book of the same name by Jason Matthews. I found the writing to be quite uneven and I’m going to unpack my ideas more broadly by discussing the narrative and the themes. The film had two parts, each about an hour long. The first hour acted as an extensive set-up and developed the main character quite a lot. The viewers got to follow her life as an everyday citizen (though she was never just an everyday person – she was always special, first as a ballerina and later as a sparrow), then to witness the inciting incident and its consequences: the extensive training to be a tool of the state (more on that in the second part on themes). The set-up was quite long but it did work: the main character’s capacity for the horrific actions that she was going to commit as a sparrow was always present in the set-up.

In the second hour of the film (+20minutes), Red Sparrow’s actual plot unraveled, and sadly, it was quite uneven. The writers really tried crafting a complex and layered story, full of characters with constantly shifting allegiances. And while that sounds all good – actually it is quite fascinating – the mysterious and the secretive nature of the plot was not always realized compellingly. Also, looking back to the plot – not all the dots necessarily connect and make sense. Still, I have to applaud the ending of the story. For a while, it seemed like the movie was headings towards a typical romantic conclusion but then it broke away from all of that and delivered and strong finale with some great double-crosses and twists. Though, the reveal of the mole was a bit heavy-handed and surprising it a bad way a.k.a.it came out of nowhere.

Thematically, I’d like to touch upon two major things: the usage of sex in the film as well as the Russia vs. US standoff. Before going to see the film, I got the impression that the main weapon of the sparrow will be psychological manipulation but I feel like the ads and trailers lied to me. Red Sparrow, in my mind, was missing its promised psychological manipulation and was all about the pure physical manipulation a.k.a. manipulation through sex. And while physical and psychological manipulations are certainly connected, I really wish that the movie would have looked at that actual connection or the psychological side quite a lot more. Also, the usage of sex by a specifically female heroine of the film raised even more questions about the position of female sexuality on film. While it can certainly be seen/used as a strong creative choice, it has also been reduced to a cheap trick quite a few times. Also, there is but a fine line between female sexuality as a form of empowerment or a tool of exploitation. To my mind, Red Sparrow was leaning more towards the second option, as the female sparrows were taught and made to use sex as a weapon by a patriarchal system rather than having chosen it as a weapon out of their own agency.

On the US v Russia front, the picture was certainly successful at establishing the askew nationalistic ideas that were/are so prevalent in Russia and portraying the brainwashing politics accurately. Still, it had an overall message of American heroism as the better/ the winning option. The weird US/Russia antagonism also made the movie’s temporal setting feel rather vague: it could have been set during the Cold War, the early aftermath of it in the late 90s/early 2000s or even just last year.

Directing

Francis Lawrence (the director of the 3 last The Hunger Games films, including my two favorites – Catching Fire and Mockingjay 1) directed Red Sparrow and did an okay job. I highly appreciated the style of the picture: the raw and indie feeling of it as well as the cold and cool tone. However, the slowness of the pace and the length of the movie really minimized the enjoyment of the film. Moreover, the plot (the substance) wasn’t good enough to make up for the lacking pace. The graphic violence and graphic nudity were both present in Red Sparrow and I don’t really know whether they served the plot or were they just there for shock value. During the scenes of violence, Red Sparrow did feel like a more contemporary version of its predecessor Atomic Blonde, while the scenes of creepy nudity were more plentiful than in the whole Fifty Shades franchise.

Acting

Jennifer Lawrence (reunited with F. Lawrence after THG) played the lead of the film and did a good job but she wasn’t great or irreplaceable. Her Russian accent was fine, though, at times, she did sound like she was speaking with a clogged noise (as if she had a cold). Her decision to play this role is probably more interesting than the performance itself. The actress has vocally expressed how uncomfortable she was with the skin tight costume of Mystique in the X-Men movies and yet she was somehow fine with complete nudity in this film? Was this an act of bravery and growth as a performer or a desperate attempt to reclaim some fame? Her fan circle has been decreasing: The Hunger Gamesfinished a with whimper rather than a bang, she annoyed a lot of Marvel/X-Men fans because of her lack of enthusiasm about that series, her various comments on talk shows have also been reacted to quite badly online, and even her last two more serious awards films failed to connect with the audiences or the critics (Joyat least got her another Oscar nomination, while mother! turned out to be a complete disaster).

Some big-name talent was also involved with this film on the supporting front. Joel Edgerton (Bright, Midnight Special, Loving, Black Mass) and Matthias Schoenaerts (Far From The Madding Crowd, The Danish Girl) had two best-developed and most interesting male roles in the film. Jeremy Irons (BvS, High-Rise) and Game of Thrones’ Ciaran Hinds (Justice League) also both appeared but in much smaller, cameo-sized roles. Charlotte Rampling (45 Years, Assasin’s Creed) played the matriarch of the school of the sparrows and it was quite unexpected seeing her in a film with a, supposedly, strong female lead after her sort of anti-women comments a few awards seasons ago (that ran along the lines of ‘women in the West don’t have anything to complain about’).

In short, Red Sparrow was a mediocre thriller that betrayed its message and overstayed its welcome.

Rate: 3/5

Trailer: Red Sparrow trailer

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Movie review: Black Panther

Movie reviews

Hello!

Welcome to the review of the newest and, arguably, the most important Marvel movie! This is Black Panther!

IMDb summary: T’Challa, after the death of his father, the King of Wakanda, returns home to the isolated, technologically advanced African nation to succeed to the throne and take his rightful place as king.

As usual, before I start, my previous MCU reviews are here: Guardians 1 and 2, Avengers 2, Ant-Man, Doctor Strange, Civil War, Spider-Man: Homecoming, Thor 3.

Writing

Black Panther was written by the director of the film Ryan Coogler and Joe Robert Cole. I thought that the duo did a stellar job with the script. I’m not going to talk about the plot in detail, so as to keep this review spoiler free, other than to stay that a lot of narrative things happen in this film and a couple of them are quite unexpected. There are also a few of meaningful deaths (that might silence MCU critics who say that nobody ever dies in this universe). What I’m going to discuss more elaborately are the brilliant and multiple thematical concepts of Black Panther.

Just on the surface representational level, this film was a game changer. Black characters were elevated from the roles of the supporting friend/the funny sidekick/the one-scene cameo and were brought to the forefront. It’s also refreshing to see fictional black characters rather than real-life rebel slaves or civil rights activists (those smaller biographical movies are important too, but diversity in the blockbuster field is key as well). Also, even though this movie told a fictional story about fictional characters, it honored and paid homage to a lot of its real-world equivalents/inspirations, which raised a question for me: why haven’t we seen pictures about real, past or current, African tribes that were not documentaries???

Anyways, more on Black Panther paying homage to certain real-world ideas/events. I absolutely loved how the movie honored the connection that Africans have with their ancestors (and how in touch with their spirituality they are) as well their connection with nature (healing herbs, animals as deities). It was also great for the movie to acknowledge the violence within African culture (both the inner to the culture and the one coming from the west). Most importantly, it was just so amazing to see the Afrofuturism ideas on screen, which connected modernity with the traditional side of the culture. Scholars have been racking their brains about how to develop Africa without Westernizing it! Well, just do what Black Panther did: connect the two things rather than make one negate the other!

As the movie’s main character was a sovereign of a country, Black Panther also had some political commentary, mostly about a single country’s relation and obligation to the world. It also explored the well-known idea of the sins of the father reflecting of the children but in a royal context.  The film also had some fascinating things to say about communities, tribes or one’s ‘people’. How do we define that category? Do we draw lines based on race? Ethnicity? Nationality? Culture? Common beliefs and ideals? One of the central conflicts in the film was based on the fact that the villain and the hero of the story had different answers to that question. Speaking of the villain, Killmonger might be Marvel’s best one yet because he wasn’t just a villain but a character in his own right, whose goals were radical yet valid. The viewer could definitely understand his frustrations and reasons for his thinking.

Directing

Ryan Coogler (of Creedand Fruitvale Station) did an amazing job with Black Panther. He realized the visuals of Afrofuturism so well (with the help of production design, of course). The sets were brilliant and the costumes – absolutely impeccable and so cool as well! The action was really great too: fast-paced, intense, and meaningful for the plot. The pacing was also great!  The much-celebrated music of the movie was great (so it has been celebrated for a reason). I wanted to hear even more if it!

Acting

Black Panther assembled a stellar cast, led by Chadwick Boseman (Civil War) in a role that he was born to play. I’d love to see his involvement in the MCU leading to more non-biographical roles for him (cause I have seen him in quite a few biopics). Coogler’s collaborator Michael B. Jordan (Creed, Fantastic Four) played the villain and fully embodied the role, both physically and emotionally. I absolutely loved his character’s Americanized look too. An absolute scene stealer was Letitia Wright as the tech (and actual) princess. I loved her portrayal as a tech genius who was super excited about her creations and I also loved all her outfits and amazing sense of humor (bit cringe-y at times but so relatable). Lupita Nyong’o (The Jungle Book, The Force Awakens) also had a great role in the film – really loved seeing her in a big picture in person (not as in Star Wars, in motion capture).

Walking Dead’s Danai Gurira played an incredible role of the leader of Dora Milaje (who were all so amazing), while the breakout star of last year Daniel Kaluuya (Get Out) also had an interesting role to play (I loved how his character’s cape-like looking thing was also a shield). Winston Duke played a fun and multifaceted character too. Some more seasoned talent was also spotlighted: Angela Bassett was great as the mother of the king, while Forest Whitaker (Southpaw, Arrival, Rogue One) was perfect as an elderly statesman. Martin Freeman and Andy Serkis (War For The Planet of The Apes, The Last Jedi) also reprised their earlier roles in the MCU and were great. Freeman was a lovable CIA agent (not a word I’d use to describe a CIA agent, but, oh well), while Serkis was super crazy as one the villains of the film but it was really nice to see him in a non-motion capture performance.

Post-credits/End-credits (bit spoiler-y)

While Black Panther was mostly divorced from the MCU (it didn’t have many Easter Eggs that I could notice except of course the Stan Lee cameo), it did have a neat after-credits scene, where a fan-favorite from Civil War (‘White Wolf’) was defrosted. He seemed to be doing well in Wakanda.

The mid-credits scene was closely related to this picture and had a nice message of peaceful communication. It sounded a tiny bit naive but I can’t really fault hope.

In short, Black Panther was both a great Marvel comic book movie and a sophisticated game-changer in terms of representation for the whole context of modern cinema.

Rate: 4.8/5

Trailer: Black Panther trailer

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5 ideas about a movie: Den of Thieves

Movie reviews

Hello!

Welcome to review of the most January movie ever. Yes, I know it’s already February but January is more than just a month, it’s a whole separate genre of movies. This is Den of Thieves.

IMDb summary: A gritty crime saga which follows the lives of an elite unit of the LA County Sheriff’s Dept. and the state’s most successful bank robbery crew as the outlaws plan a seemingly impossible heist on the Federal Reserve Bank.

  1. Den of Thieves was directed by Christian Gudegast from the script by Gudegast himself and Paul Scheuring. The duo has worked on various projects before. Gudegast is probably best known for writing London Has Fallen, while Scheuring is responsible for creating the TV show Prison Break. Their work on this film was a mixed bag. The film was directed competently enough (especially for a first-time feature director) but the writing was just a steaming pile of cliches and recycled ideas.
  2. Let’s start with the characters. Den of Thieves attempted to pin to equally awful sides against one another: the criminals (who first were shown as having some kind of an honor code which didn’t stick for long) and the unlawful police officers (who were literally introduced while eating donuts – such a cliche). For the first act of the picture, the movie decided to have an interview+flahbacks structure that was instantly dropped as soon as the set-up was finished. Then, the movie went into more of a confrontation-type of a plot, rather than an investigation story. This type of direct relationship between the two groups would have made for a great story if it weren’t so convoluted. Den of Thieves really tried going for the elaborate and turned out confused (even the titles appearing on screen were convoluted as both the names of characters, the names of places and the times were all flashed on screen).
  3. In addition, for the movie that picked direct confrontation as its narrative structure, it really lacked actual action scenes. All of the action was crammed into the last 30 minutes of the film and I wish there was more of it in the preceding 1.5h. For an old-school actioner, Den of Thieves was surprisingly action-less. The movie also should have explained more of its twist and turns as to make it more engaging throughout. The final reveal was quite good but it came way too late for me to have carried.
  4. Two ideas in the script that I found quite interesting and worthy of mention were 1)the way to enter a gang and 2)the position of bars as neutral grounds. The fact that sport or the military are the only two points of acceptance on the street was fascinating. It really drew attention to what is valued in terms of male identity in the criminal world. Also, the portrayal of a bar as a cesspool of information was spot-on (this comes from somebody who has worked behind the counter and provided basically free therapy for customers).
  5. The film assembled quite a good cast of B-listers. Gerard Butler (Geostorm) was half of a cartoon, half of the real person as the main ‘bad cop’. Inexplicably, he also had a family on the side (cause even when Butler plays a twat, he has to have a family. He is the Scottish Liam Neeson, basically). American God’s Pablo Schreiber played the main villain of the film and was good. It took me forever to recognize the actor without the ginger hair and bear of Mad Sweeney, though. O’Shea Jackson Jr. (Straight Outta Compton) played the mediator between the two groups and was great too. He was also the only one to have some sort of a character arc. A bunch of others actors rounded up the cast but as they had almost nothing to do, I don’t see the point to mention them. Also, as Den of Thieves was mostly just a fest of traditional masculinity, it had a total zero of female characters.

 

In short, Den of Thieves was an okay action movie that should have had more action and fewer cliches.

Rate: 2.7/5

Trailer: Den of Thieves trailer

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