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: 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: 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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Movie review: Maze Runner: The Death Cure

Movie reviews

Hello!

The last of the YA dystopias is coming to an end. This is Maze Runner: The Death Cure.

IMDb summary: Young hero Thomas embarks on a mission to find a cure for a deadly disease known as the “Flare”.

Writing

The Death Cure was written by T.S. Nowlin (the writer of the two previous pictures in this series and the upcoming Pacific Rim: Uprising film), based on the book of the same name by James Dashner. I’ve read the original trilogy more than 5 years ago now, so I hardly remember its plot details (I might have remembered a bit more a year ago, when this film was supposed to come out but, as it was pushed back due to Dylan O’Brien’s injury on set, I’m now more in the dark than I’ve ever was). However, this movie franchise has gone so far off the books (especially in the second film) that my background of having read and not remembering the book hardly impacts the motion picture watching experience. Having said that, I did recount two major things from the last book that managed to stay with for 5+ years and both of these developments were preserved in the film. I was quite upset that the filmmakers kept the first thing (from the selfish fan perspective) but quite glad that they retained the second one (from an objective-ish reviewer perspective). Let me elaborate. Also: SPOILERS!

The first thing I had in my mind was the death of probably my favorite character from the series – Newt. I distinctly remember being very sad after finishing the book and hoping that, when this novel will finally reach the big screen, Newt will be allowed to live. However, I’m not surprised that the screenwriter kept such an ending for one of the main character’s, as his final scene was pretty emotional and made for a great and powerful moment on screen. His nickname for Thomas – Tommy – was heartbreakingly sweet too. The second development that I’ve mentioned as having liked from a more objective point of view was the movie’s (and the book’s) ultimate ending. The film ended with all the surviving characters living on an island (a more realistic version of the safe haven from the books. In the original novels, a portal had to be taken to reach safety rather than just a boat). I’m glad that the screenwriters didn’t change the ending into fairytale/happy one but kept it ambiguous: what will Thomas do with HIS gift? In addition, I feel like a happy ending (like a sequence of the cure being spread to everyone) would have undercut all the losses that the surviving characters had to go through.

Now, having explored some of the narrative details, let’s look at some themes. One of the major topics of discussion for the film was memory (and my musings about remembering or forgetting certain details of the plot somehow feel more appropriate). Another big concept for this series has always been friendship, which was on display here once more (Thomas, Newt, and Minho are one of my favorite trios in YA fiction). The shades of the love triangle (Thomas, Teresa, Brenda) were present too, though, they weren’t on display that much.

My few slight criticism towards the writing were mainly just two and both of them had to do with the antagonists of the series. For one, I have never fully understood the hierarchy within the WCKD. In this film, Ava Paige had to ask somebody else for the permission to start the human trials of the cure as if they haven’t been experimenting on humans for years already to get the vaccine in the first place?! Also, I’m still not entirely sure whether I buy Teresa’s shifting allegiances or it might be that I just don’t understand her character and the scale she uses to judge what is right on.

 

 

Directing

Wes Ball directed The Death Cure (he also did The Maze Runner and The Scorch Trials) and did quite an amazing job, especially with only around $60 million budget. The last entry into the franchise was highly action-packed. The said action was also quite varied: the film had a variety of sets (all brown and broken but still cool looking) and a ton of CGI that looked quite good (I’ve seen movies that cost double what this one did and looked four times worse (*cough, cough*, Geostorm). The focus on the action in this film also allowed this series to finally differentiate itself from the other YA dystopias, mainly The Hunger Games. While THG finished off as more of a political thriller, TMR series seems to have always been more about the spectacle and only then about the ideas. The ideas – the attempt to go the political thriller route with the cure only being meant for the privileged – were present but they did feel like an afterthought. The Maze Runner series should not have tried to shy away from its action roots, as these sequences were the best ones in the movie. Having said that, the characters had to break into The Capitol-like city in this film, so maybe these two series aren’t that different after all. I wonder how the Divergent/Allegiant situation is going on? That series probably won’t end ever.

Anyways, the fact that this movie had a lot of action, also helped it with the pace, which was quite fast. The only dip came in the second act, however, the first and the third acts were rapid and intense.  My only critique of the action sequences was that, at times, they were filmed with a bit too much of the shaky cam. Nevertheless, those moments were far and few in between, while the majority of the action was captured by a handheld but steady enough camera, while the mobile frame helped with the intensity. I also loved how the action scenes in the first act (the maze and the grievers; the cranks) were used as a slight reminder of what happened in the previous pictures. Lastly, how nice was it that they the filmmakers (and the suits) didn’t divide the finale of the trilogy into two parts!

Acting

The Death Cure saw the return of all the favorites. Dylan O’BrienThomas Brodie-Sangster, and Ki Hong Lee were all great as my favorite trio: Thomas, Newt, and Minho, respectively. I only wish that they would have shared more scenes together. O’Brien’s TV show – Teen Wolf – has ended last year but he has been steadily racking up movie roles (in this series, Deepwater Horizon, and American Assasin) and seems to be fairing much better than the actual lead of his TV show – Tyler Posey. I really hope that the relative financial success of this franchise will allow Thomas Brodie-Sangster and Ki Hong Lee to be cast in more projects too.

Will Poulter (The Revenant, Detroit) also returned as Gally, while Dexter Darden had some neat moments (operating a crane) as FrypanKaya Scodelario (Pirates 5) was okay as Teresa, while Giancarlo Esposito’s (OkjaJorge and Rosa Salazar’s Brenda were neat to watch in their father-daughter-like relationship. On the villain side, Patricia Clarkson (The Party) was still immaculately dressed in white as Ava Paige, while Littlefinger – Aidan Gillen (Sing Street) as Janson – was doing his thing as usual. Another GOT family member (who also stars in Fast&Furious franchise) Nathalie Emmanuel (as Harriet), as well as ShadowhuntersKatherine McNamara (as Sonya), appeared too, although the film didn’t really know what to do with them, after having introduced them in The Scorch Trials as members from a different maze/test group.

In short, Maze Runner: The Death Cure was an entertaining finale to the, overall, surprisingly strong YA franchise, that pleased my heart and mind. And this praise comes from somebody who was once the biggest fan of the book and this genre in general.

Rate: 3.8/5

Trailer: Maze Runner: The Death Cure trailer

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Movie review: 12 Strong

Movie reviews

Hello!

Welcome to a review of another January release. This time around, it’s 12 Strong!

IMDb summary: 12 Strong tells the story of the first Special Forces team deployed to Afghanistan after 9/11; under the leadership of a new captain, the team must work with an Afghan warlord to take down for the Taliban.

Writing

12 Strong – a biographical action drama – was written by Ted Tally (adapted The Silence of the Lambs all those years ago) and Peter Craig (wrote both parts of Mockingjay and the upcoming Robin Hood and Top Gun 2), based on the non-fiction book ‘Horse Soldiers’ by a journalist Doug Stanton. Overall, the film’s script was very much ‘by the books’ but it also had a couple of original and unique ideas.

The movie’s set-up was typical. It included: a reminder that 9/11 happened (and simultaneously situated this film in a the war on terrorism timeline), a couple of scenes with the family members of the soldiers (and no other character development, except maybe a few bonding scenes with the other soldiers), and a single scene to introduce the villain (and honestly, his actions in the said scene were so despicable that that one scene was enough).

The ideas, which I found original, were few but present. I really liked the warlord’s speech about the difference between a warrior and a soldier. I’ve always thought about these two words as synonyms that meant the same, but, now, I see that they do slightly differ in the reasons for fighting (whether for survival or as a job). The warlord’s (whose beliefs were presented as very Western – was that an authentic feature or did the filmmakers wanted to make him more sympathetic to the Western audiences?) concluding statement, about the US becoming just another tribe in the Middle East rung very true, knowing the events that followed the ones of depicted in this picture. I really wish that the movie had more of a ‘looking back’ perspective like the one expressed in that monologue. Lastly, some questions that this movie (like all the others of this genre) raised but didn’t necessarily answer, for me personally, were: how do the followers of Islam balance their own culture and the human rights (that’s mostly a women right’s question that is interpreted wrongly by some Muslims)? And how can the West help that region achieve freedom and peace without imposing Westernization upon them?

Directing

12 Strong was directed by Nicolai Fuglsig – Danish filmmaker and photojournalist. This was his American film debut and he certainly didn’t do a bad job. Action/terrorism movies are a hard sell and they only really capture the audiences’ atention when they have some awards backing (e.g. The Hurt Locker or, more recently, American Sniper). Fuglsig’s picture didn’t have any big names attached (Hemsworth is only a draw if he is Thor) and it’s coming out in an unfortunate month. Still, the film was quite okay. The shoot-outs were well constructed and intense. The movie aslo did a good job of visualizing the new kind of warfare by showing the choppers in the clouds and the combat on horseback combat.

 

Acting

12 Strong assembled a cast, full of quite well-known actors. Leading them was Chris Hemsworth (Thor 3, The Huntsman, Ghostbusters, In The Heart of The Sea, Avengers 2). He was joined by Michael Shannon (Midnight Special, Nocturnal Animals), another Marvel family member Michael Peña (Ant-Man, The Martian, Collateral Beauty, The Lego Ninjago, Murder on the Orient Express), and the up-and-coming Trevante Rhodes (who got everytbody’s attention with Moonlight and will soon appear in The Predator). A bunch of other actors played the other 8 (of the titular 12) soldiers but, as they didn’t really have a character arc, I don’t see the neccesity to mention them. Navid Negahban played the warlord ally of the American troops: he has played a similar role before multiple times. His next project is a bit different, though – he will be the Sultant in next year’s live-action Alladin.

In short, 12 Strong was a mediocre and by-the-numbers action/drama with some good performances and a few intersting ideas.

Rate: 3/5

Trailer: 12 Strong trailer

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