5 ideas about a movie: Sand Castle

Movie reviews

Hello!

Since no new movies that interest me are premiering this week in the UK, I decided to seek out other new films that did not reach cinemas. The first one that I could find was Sand Castle.

IMDb summary: Set during the occupation of Iraq, a squad of U.S. soldiers try to protect a small village.

  1. Sand Castle is a Netflix original film. While the beloved streaming platform is known for having amazing TV shows (Orange is the New Black, Stranger Things, House of Cards, 13 Reason Why just to name a few), their movie game has not been that strong. Some of the pictures received more attention than others, but the majority of them did not leave a lasting impact. A few of the Netflix movies that I’ve seen were perfectly fine, including Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: Sword of DestinyThe Fundamentals of Caring, XOXO, ARQ, The Siege of Jadotville. Let’s see whether Sand Castle is the film that turns things around and is more than just fine.
  2. The movie’s screenplay was written by Chris Roessner and this was his first feature length script. For a debut work, it’s certainly not bad. I appreciated all the thematic concepts that the picture attempted to explore, like masculinity, patriotism (or even chauvinism) and the American culture in general. The moral questions, including why does an individual choose to join the military, were appropriately asked as well. However, although the various ideas were introduced, they didn’t go anywhere and were basically forgotten by the 2nd act, which was the weakest part of the film. The third act and the conclusion were fine, even though an attempt to go back to the film’s message in the last few scenes seemed like an afterthought.
  3. Sand Castle was directed by a Brazilian filmmaker Fernando Coimbra. He succeeded at crafting gorgeous visuals of the surroundings and the long continuous shots during the action sequences were impressive. However, the random jumps in time and the uneven pacing did damage the final product. I also thought that the idea to always keep the camera on the American soldiers, rather than to go back and forth between them and the terrorists, was an interesting, even if a bit one-sided, decision.
  4. The lead of the movie was played by Nicholas Hoult and he did a good job portraying a soldier, affected by the horrors of the war. Hoult is one of my favorite actors, so I try to follow his career pretty closely. Most people know him from the X-Men movies or Mad Max: Fury Road. I’d also suggest you check out his smaller films: Dark Places, Equals, and especially Kill Your Friends.
  5. The supporting cast included Henry Cavill (The Man from U.N.C.L.E.), Logan Marshall-Green (soon will appear in Spider-Man: Homecoming), and Glen Powell (Everybody Wants Some!!, Hidden Figures). Cavill had a pretty small role but he seemed to have more fun with it than he ever had with the role of Superman. It’s quite sad to see that his involvement with the DCEU did not result in more high-brow roles. Well, he is appearing in Mission Impossible 6, so that’s something. Marshall-Green and Powell also delivered fine performances.

In short, Sand Castle was an okay war drama that could have been so much better if it just explored the themes it introduced. It’s not the most original film about war and I probably would not have gone to see it at the cinema, but if you already have a Netflix account, it is definitely worth a watch.

Rate: 3/5

Trailer: Sand Castle trailer

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Movie review: Guardians of the Galaxy Vol.2

Movie reviews

Hello!

The 15th MCU movie and a sequel to the 2014’s Marvel gamble – Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 2 – has premiered on my side of the world, so, I’m going to talk about it!

IMDb summary: Set to the backdrop of Awesome Mixtape #2, ‘Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2’ continues the team’s adventures as they unravel the mystery of Peter Quill’s true parentage.

Before I review the actual film, here are the links to my previous Marvel reviews, starting with GOTG Vol.1Doctor Strange, Civil War, Avengers 2, Ant-Man, Captain America 1 + 2.

SPOILER WARNING

Writing

The writer and director of the first film – James Gunn – also penned the screenplay for the sequel. Overall, I very much enjoyed seeing the continuation of the Guardians story but I did feel that the first act of the film was a bit wonky. I thought that the set-up involving The Sovereign was choppy. In addition, The Sovereign were not utilized in a useful way throughout the rest of the movie (they just popped up in the third act because the film needed to have an even bigger space battle – they were basically the sequel’s Nova Corps). Plus, the fact that Aysha was interested in Peter’s heritage and, in the very next scene, Peter’s dad Ego suddenly appeared seemed as just too much of a coincidence.

The jokes and the banter at the beginning also seemed a bit forced. They were the bad kind of cheesy. However, as the picture progressed, the humor got way better and the narrative also found its footing and started to unfold quite cohesively. GOTG 2 just needed those first 30 minutes to get going and it could afford that, being a 2h+ movie.

I also really liked the character development in the film. I loved learning more about Peter, his past, and his dad. Ego was a wonderful addition to the cast and I also really enjoyed the fact that they turned him into a villain. And he actually was a good Marvel villain – menacing and threatening! I liked the fact that his and Yondu’s backstories fit together quite organically as well. I’m just worried that the filmmakers might have overpowered Ego – I can’t imagine what will Thanos be like?

A character which surprised me a lot was Yondu – I did not think much about him in the first film but the reveal of his backstory and true feelings towards Peter made him into a wonderful character. Sucks that he met his end as soon as I started to like him. The other new addition to the Guardians (well, sort of) was Nebula – I did enjoy learning more about her and thought that her and Gamora’s relationship progressed nicely. The definite newcomer – Mantis – was also a fun new inclusion. I loved the duo she and Drax made.

Lastly, I loved the thematical core of the film – the Guardians coming to terms with the fact that they care about each other and are a family. Yes, the family angle is cheesy and overdone (Fast and Furious in space) but it still works and has a universal appeal.

Directing

James Gunn, once again, directed the movie (and he also just recently announced that he will be back to helm Vol. 3). I believe that he did a great job. The visual design was just extraordinary, especially the visual realization of Ego in his various forms. I loved the landscapes of his planet as well as his appearance as a human. The visual sequence of Ego rebuilding his human body from a skeleton to being Kurt Russell was really impressive. The fact that they actually put a face on a planet was also really cool and a neat nod to the character’s representation in the comics. Another great visual sequence was Yondu’s ‘Ravager’s funeral’: it was so colorful and actually emotional. An extremely funny visual was the space travel facial distortion – it was such an unexpected but really brilliant gag.

The ‘money shot’ – the round shot of all the Guardians standing together was also just glorious. The camera work, in general, was very vibrant and elaborate – and it made the action look amazing. The opening shot was really great too – the focus on the Baby Groot with the action happening in the background was a really inventive and funny way to kickstart the film. Generally, Baby Groot was a complete scene-stealer. Huge props to the CGI department for realizing an animated (basically) character and adding so much personality (much more than the adult Groot had) to his movements and facial expressions. I also loved the fact that his size was an asset to the team and that Baby Groot was part of a final solution, not just the cuteness relief (a cute version of comic relief). Lastly, I loved the two visual gags and how they were both part of the story and fun references to the real life – I, of course, am talking about the cameos by David Hasselhoff and Pac-Man.

Music

The film’s soundtrack was also really good – equal to the soundtrack of its predecessor. Tyler Bates was responsible for the music but I think Gunn also had a hand in picking the songs. I also appreciated the fact that the music was half-diegetic and a part of the story.

Acting/Favorite Character Moments

  • Chris Pratt (Passengers, Jurassic World, The Magnificent Seven, The Lego Movie) as Peter Quill / Star-Lord. Pratt was really good in the role – he has that infinite charm of a leading man and I can’t wait for him to appear on screen with other MCU leading men, like Robert Downey Jr. I also though that Pratt’s and Kurt Russell’s/Ego’s (The Hateful Eight) chemistry was believable. I bought them as father and son for a while and that scene with the ball was really touching and a nice callback to Peter missing out on this type of activity during childhood because of a lack of father figure.
  • Zoe Saldana (Star Trek Beyond) was also good as Gamora, my favorite shot with her was when she picked up that oversized gun. Her and Karen Gillan’s/Nebula’s (The Big Short, The Circle (premiering this weekend in the US as well)) chemistry was good and the banter – really enjoyable.
  • Dave Bautista as Drax the Destroyer. Bautista’s acting abilities have improved since the first film and his unapologetic and unironic comic relief was amazing. His budding relationship with Pom Klementieff’s Mantis was also lovely. Their scene on the steps was really moving. Klementieff was a nice addition to the cast and her performance was appropriate for the character.
  • Michael Rooker as Yondu Udonta. The scene-stealer of the film. I loved the sequence where he used the arrow to escape from the Ravagers. It was just spectacular. I would have loved to see more of Rooker’s performance in subsequent films, but, oh well.
  • Vin Diesel (Fast&Furious) as the voice of Baby Groot  I have no idea why Diesel returned to voice Groot when Baby Groot sounds nothing like Vin Diesel. Well, at least they can put his name on the adverts and posters and that will get them a lot of money in China. 
  • Bradley Cooper (War Dogs, Joy) as the voice of Rocket. Cooper’s voice somehow fits Rocket’s appearance and behavior. I loved how the actor depicted the character’s dry sense of humor.
  • Elizabeth Debicki (The Man from U.N.C.L.E.) as Aysha. While Debicki did look cool with all that gold make-up on, I don’t think she took the role seriously enough. Her acting seemed a bit cheesy but I am excited to see where her character’s story goes next, cause my favorite moment with her, performance-wise, was her delivery of a few lines during the mid-credits scene. In that scene, she sounded way more ominous and authenticate than she did in before.
  • Sean Gunn as Kraglin. I really liked the fact that we got to see more of Sean Gunn’s on-screen character during the sequel. If you didn’t know, he also does the motion capture for Rocket.

5 CREDITS SCENES

As James Gunn promised, the film had 5 scenes during the credits (that has to be some kind of record). 2 scenes played before the credits, 2 in the middle and 1 after. They were very well dispersed and the credits themselves did not feel long at all. The scenes were mostly related to the predeceasing film but they also set up some minor but long awaited stuff.

  1. The first pre-credits scene depicted Sean Gunn’s character Kraglin learning to work with Yondu’s arrow and failing at it. It was both funny and developed the story further.
  2. The second pre-credits scene showed Sylvester Stallone’s (Creed) character reforming the Ravagers out of the characters who were the original Guardians of the Galaxy in the comics. Their inclusion during the credits probably means that they will have a role to play in MCU or at least in GOTG Vol.3. It was also nice to see another scene with Stallone as he only appeared in a handful of them during the main runtime of the movie. It was basically just a cameo and if the role would not have been played by a big name talent like Stallone, no one would talk about it.
  3. The first mid-credits scene was a conclusion to The Sovereign’s plotline and a potential set up for the arrival of the long anticipated character – Adam Warlock! I really hope he finally shows up in the next film!
  4. The second mid-credits scene was probably my favorite out of all of them: it showed the teenager Groot acting as a typical teenager, while Peter attempted to be the Dad. Groot is kinda the child of the Guardians. What a dysfunctional yet lovable family.
  5. The last scene which came at the end of the credits was another Stan Lee cameo. He had a cameo in the main part of the film but it was also nice to see him again. I read online that they film a lot more scenes with Lee than they actually use, so it was quite neat that they found a place to use some more of that material.

Rate: 4.5/5

Trailer: Guardians of the Galaxy Vol.2

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Movie review: Fast & Furious 8

Movie reviews

Hello!

The latest FF film – The Fate of the Furious or Fast & Furious 8 – has driven into theaters, so, let’s discuss it!

I can’t actually believe that I have never reviewed a Fast and Furious movie before as I have been a fan of them since I was a child. 2006’s Tokyo Drift was probably the first nonanimated movie that I saw at the cinema and have been hooked ever since. I and my dad would always watch these movies together and bond over the fast cars and the crazy action. And that’s what I have come to expect from these films: the amazing action and the funny jabs between the cast members (or a family, wink wink) that have real chemistry. I am not looking for Oscar-worthy performances or original stories. However, I have to give immense props to the 7th film for dealing with Paul Walker’s death in such a gracious and poised way. I don’t think anyone expected a Fast and Furious movie to show so much class but it did. Well, enough talking about the previous entries in the franchise, let’s see what the 8th picture can offer! Has anyone ever believed that this series would have eight installments with 9th and 10th ones already planned ???

IMDb summary: When a mysterious woman seduces Dom into the world of terrorism and a betrayal of those closest to him, the crew face trials that will test them as never before.

Writing

FF8‘s script was written by Chris Morgan, who penned all the previous films, except the first two. The narrative was exactly what one thinks it was: just a collection of expositional scenes to further the story and a sprinkling of funny jabs and interactions between the characters. The film’s plot referenced the events and the characters from the previous 3 films quite a lot too, which was really fun for longtime viewers of the franchise and not that surprising, knowing that all of the referenced entries were written by the same screenwriter. It was also nice that the said references didn’t seem pushed but happened quite organically. Thus, The Fate of the Furious seemed like a true continuation of the same story arc that more or less started with the 5th picture.

The interactions between the characters were brilliantly ridiculous as well. I wonder how much of that was written and how many jokes were just improvised on the spot by Dwayne Johnson and Jason Statham, Tyrese Gibson and Ludacris. The love triangle jokes were funny too. The attempt to give characters more development was also fine. The main theme of the series – family – was present in this film more than in any other entries before. Similarly to Dom having to make a choice between family and his criminal/car chasing past in this movie, the same choice now has to be made by this franchise when moving forward. And the picture did leave a few opportunities open for the same plotline to be continued.

Directing

Fast & Furious 8 was helmed by a newcomer director to the franchise – F. Gary Gray, best known for directing Straight Outta Compton. He did a good enough job with the movie and utilized the FF staples – the exotic locations and the butts. I appreciated the first, could have done without the second, but it looks like the two were a packaged deal. Speaking of the third staple of the series – the crazy action set pieces excecuted with the help of gorgeus and extremely expensve cars – they were not the best of the franchise but were still quite inventive and, most importantly, explosive, energetic, and entertaining. Yes, the technology was far-fetched and, yes, the explosions – unsurvivable and unbelievable. But you can’t argue that they didn’t look cool and absolutely kickass and that’s all I wanted. The visuals were nicely paired with a good soundtrack too, although I can’t pinpoint an iconic song that will be on the radio all summer, similarly how I See You Again was everywhere after the 7th film, We Own It after the 6th and Danza Kuduro after the 5th.

Acting

Fast and Furious was one of the first film series to have a truly diverse cast and the franchise is continuing the trend. While the 8th flick didn’t really introduce any new characters apart from revealing Charlize Theron (The Hunstman, Mad Max, Kubo) as the big bad behind the last few films, it had a ton of fun cameos and comebacks. Speaking of Theron – she was a great addition to the cast and a good villain, I would even dare to say the best of the franchise. I think her distinct look really helped her to stand out – those white dreads and V-neck T-shirts looked effortestly cool.

All of the familair faces, except Jordana Brewster, were back. Vin Diesel (Guardians), Michelle Rodriguez, Dwayne Johnson (San Andreas, Central Intelligence, Moana), Tyrese Gibson, Ludacris, and Nathaniel Emmanuel (Game of Thrones, The Maze Runner) appeared to be genuinely having fun on screen, both as their characters and as the actors themselves. The return of Jason Statham (Transporter films, Spy) was also actually appreciated by me, even though I have never been much of a fan of his. I never thought that I would want to see Dwayne Johnson and Jason Statham just absolutely dragging each other non-stop. Gibson’s, Ludacris’s and Emmanuel’s characters’ interactions were good too, I loved the rivalry and the shades of the love triangle. Gibson’s action moment was good too and a nice touch for the character, who usually ends up being a butt of a joke.

Kurt Russell (The Hateful Eight, Deepwater Horizon) also reprised his role and took Scott Eastwood along for a ride this time as his assistant/trainee. Eastwood’s character was a bit annoying at the beginning but he was supposed to be like that and actually turned out to be a not that bad addition to the cast. He certainly had more to do in this film than in a similar role in Suicide Squad.

In short, Fast and Furious 8 was exactly what I wanted it to be – a cheesy nonsensical fun. This franchise is certainly not done and still has some steam left.

Rate: 4/5

Trailer: Fast and Furious 8 trailer

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SPOILERS

The film unexpectedly had quite a few reveals and twists and turns in the story which I didn’t want to spoil in the main review but still wanted to mention. I expected the leverage that Cypher had on Dom to be Bryan’s and Mia’s child but the movie instead presented us with Dom’s and Elena’s (5th movie) son – a new family member for a character obsessed with having a family. The way the child was named at the end was also a cute and touching moment – I do love the fact that FF franchise remembers its roots and how much Paul Walker and his character Bryan did for the series.

The same topic of family was continued with the return of Jason Statham’s (7th film) character (that babysitting action scene was amazing), but this time around his mother made an apperance, played by Helen Mirren (Eye in the Sky, Collateral Beauty, Trumbo). Her inclusion was enjoyable and I loved the few scenes she was in. Staham’s character’s brother Owen (6th movie), played by Luke Evans, also cameod. Evans’s performance in Beauty and the Beast has really solidified me as a fan of his, so I was extremely happy to see his cameo.

5 ideas about a movie: Free Fire

Movie reviews

Hello!

Welcome to a review of a new British indie movie Free Fire that acted as a great counter-programming to the awful Ghost in the Shell.

IMDb summary: Set in Boston in 1978, a meeting in a deserted warehouse between two gangs turns into a shootout and a game of survival.

  1. Long time readers of my blog will know that I’m a fan of British contemporary cinema. Even before I lived in the UK, I would try to watch all smaller British films that reached my then hometown’s movie theater. It’s pretty sad that the majority of these films do no interest non-European audiences. It’s especially heartbreaking that an amazing film, like Free Fire, will probably go unacknowledged by many global cinema-goers as well. I first found out about the picture in an article in an Empire magazine. The publishing focused on the logistics of the big shoot-out sequence and made me really interested to see the final product.
  2. Free Fire was written and directed by Ben Wheatley, in collaboration with the long-time creative partner – writer and editor Amy Jump. I’m very much a newcomer to Wheatley’s work. The first film of his that I saw was last year’s High-Rise. The dystopian drama was both puzzling and intriguing. It also had a magnificent cast –  Wheatley continued this trend in his next movie too.
  3. The writing for the movie was quite nice. There was no obvious narrative or a story, but the way the character interactions were included within the action was really cool. The attempts at flirting were especially inappropriate in the circumstances of the movie, and, thus, hilarious. In general, the movie was full of actually funny jokes. I laughed out loud multiple times. This group of characters with their various levels of stupidity and all the in-fighting was also super entertaining to watch on screen. Lastly, the decision to loosely tie in the film’s plot to the real historical events in Ireland/Northern Ireland in the 1970s was an interesting choice.
  4.  I also loved the visuals of the film. The big action set-piece was seamlessly executed. The visual craziness was neatly paired with quieter moments full of amazing verbal jabs. Plus, even before everything had escalated, Wheatley succeeded at building tension between the characters, so the start of the shoot-out was somewhat believable even if extremely sudden. The action itself was captured with a mixture of close-ups and wider shots and, while the said action was gritty, bloody, and brutal, it was not literally dark, so one could actually see what was happening on screen. In fact, the color palette was pretty warm – a lot of browns and yellows – a perfect match for the 1970s setting and the tacky costumes. I’m so happy that shoulder pads are no longer in style. What I’m sad about is that this film’s soundtrack and the similar style of music are no longer on the radio.
  5. The film had an amazing cast, full of accomplished and well-known actors. This time around, their ‘acting’ included playing kindergarten-like children in adult bodies and crawling around a lot. The cast’ included big name talent like Brie Larson (Room, Kong), Sharlto Copley (Blomkamp’s films, Hardcore Henry), Armie Hammer (The Man from U.N.C.L.E.The Birth of a Nation, Nocturnal Animals), Cillian Murphy (In the Heart of the Sea, Anthropoid, soon Dunkirk), and Jack Reynor (Sing Street). I loved Larson’s character as well as her interactions with Murphy’s character – they had this subtle chemistry which really worked. I also liked seeing Hammer actually having fun with the role and loosen up a bit. Reynor has been popping on my radar a lot lately, maybe that he is that one actor whose involvement in the Transformers franchise actually led to some good work? The film’s cast was rounded out by a lot of great but less well-known actors: Babou Ceesay (Eye in the Sky), Enzo Cilenti (small role on GOT), Sam Riley (Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, Maleficient), Michael Smiley (Black Mirror’s White Bear episode), Noah Taylor (small role on GOT too), Patrick Bergin (Irish screen actor), and Tom Davis and Mark Monero (TV actors).

In short, Free Fire is a super enjoyable action-comedy that works both as an action movie (the craftmanship of the big action sequence is amazing) an as a comedy (the visual jokes as well as small funny moments of dialogue pair off nicely).

Rate: 4.5/5

Trailer: Free Fire trailer

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Movie review: Ghost in the Shell

Movie reviews

Hello!

Hollywood’s first big attempt at recreating a beloved anime property has hit theaters, so, let’s discuss it. This is the review of Ghost in the Shell.

To begin with, the 1995’s Ghost in the Shell movie was my introduction into the world of anime as an adult. During childhood, I would sometimes watch Dragon Ball Z after school, however, in later years, I got really into American and British films and TV series, so there wasn’t really enough time for the pop-culture of the Far East. Nowadays, as anime is becoming more and more popular and easily accessible, I’m tasting it bit by bit. What are some shows or pictures I should watch? I really loved the recent film Your Name and would have loved to review it but, sadly, I couldn’t find time to do that.

Anyway, back to the topic at hand. I thought that the original animated picture was really cool. I liked the visuals and the themes. It had an unexpected, interesting, and exciting ending and a unique soundtrack – nothing that I’ve ever heard before. I have yet to watch the sequels and the TV shows of this franchise or read the original manga but I’ll definitely put them on my infinite list of things to do.

IMDb summary: In the near future, Major is the first of her kind: A human saved from a terrible crash, who is cyber-enhanced to be a perfect soldier devoted to stopping the world’s most dangerous criminals.

SPOILER ALERT

Writing

2017’s Ghost in the Shell’s script was written by Jamie Moss (known for writing Street Kings), William Wheeler (wrote Queen of Katwe and contributed to the upcoming The Lego Ninjago Movie), and Ehren Kruger (wrote the last 3 Transformers films). It was inspired by/based on various different elements from the Ghost in the Shell franchise as a whole rather than just the 1995 movie. The writing for a film was a mixed bag. The narrative, during the first two acts, was pretty basic: the characters were just going from point A to B to C. The story did pick up in the last act and felt way more cohesive but also way more complex and interesting. And yet, for a plot set in such a futuristic world, it had a very traditional and very basic villain – an evil businessman.

Speaking more about the characters, their development was scarce. The supporting cast was just there to serve the story and to fill in space on the screen. The main character did not fair much better either. She was introduced as an individual without the past with only fragments of memories (which turned out to be false). Only in the third act, she and the viewer find out her true background, which was super problematic in itself by being connected to the whitewashing issue.

So, if Major’s real mother was portrayed as Asian, that means that the real Motoko was also an Asian young woman. On the other hand, the shell, built by Hanka Robotics, was that of a white person. So was this the filmmakers’ way of justifying casting Scarlett Johansson? If that’s the case, then it’s a very flimsy explanation. In general, everything in the screenplay appeared as flimsy and inconsistent. It might have worked conceptual, but fell flat in execution.

For example, the picture attempted to tackle big ideas, like humanity, AI, memories, and identity, but the treatment of these ideas was so convoluted and, one again, inconsistent. At the end of the film, Major embraced her identity by saying that her memories do not define her. And yet, she was only able to embrace her identity, when she find out her true past. Practice what you preach! In addition, the fact that Major even began to question her existence came out of nowhere and way too suddenly.

Directing

Ghost in the Shell was directed by Rupert Sanders. This was his only second feature film, the debut being 2012’s Snow White and the Huntsman, which did earn a sequel/prequel for which Sanders did not return. His work on Ghost in the Shell was of mixed quality. I didn’t think that he paced the movie that well, but he did have impeccable visuals, which were both gorgeous to glance at and interesting to analyze further. The whole mise-en-scene did look like it was ripped from animation. If I tried describing it in relation to other live-action films, I’d say it was most similar to Blade Runner’s world with some more color of The Fith Element’s world thrown in. Plus, the opening ‘creation’ sequence reminded me a lot of Westworld (the white liquid) – another great futuristic property.

And yet, while the mise-en-scene was really cool, it had a very much Asian/Japanese flavor. The soundtrack was also very much one from the Far East. Now, this was very good for a film trying to replicate an anime feel but this was not good for a movie who had a multinational cast. I didn’t think that it would take me out of the movie but it did. If they wanted to have the multinational cast, I felt that they should have brought more global elements into the setting as well. But then, the film wouldn’t be Ghost in the Shell, although I didn’t feel that it was Ghost in the Shell now either.

Acting

To discuss the cast of the movie is to get into the issue of whitewashing. I don’t feel too well versed on such a complex issue so I’m just gonna briefly state my opinion.  Since it is a Hollywood remake I didn’t really expect them to cast a Japanese actress in a lead. I also am a fan of Scarlett Johansson so I’m a biased in that I’m happy that she was the one who got the role. Then again, I do feel that the filmmakers should have stayed true the source material and focused more on the creative rather than the financial aspects of the project. Moreover, as I have already mentioned, the discrepancy between an obviously Asian/Japanese setting and a multi-national cast did take me out of the movie.

That last thing – the film’s multi-ethnic supporting cast – is another problem in itself. Was it a step forward, trying to present a multi-cultural/multi-nationalistic world? Or was it a step back and a failed opportunity to showcase Japanese or at least broadly Asian talent in a Western-made picture?

Speaking of the actual actors in this role, Scarlett Johansson was good but I did not think that she made the role totally her own and proved us that she was the only one, who could have played Major. Needless to say, I much prefer her as Black Widow or Lucy. The prominent Japanse actor Takeshi Kitano, who was supposed to be the saving grace of this film, did not have much to do and was basically wasted in the role. Michael Pitt played the most interesting character: I actually wish that the movie would have focused on him. Game of Thrones’s Pilou Asbæk was good and I did like his character’s look, but once again, there wasn’t much for him to do. Lastly, Juliette Binoche – a French art-cinema actress – was also underused in her role.

In short, Ghost in the Shell was an okay movie. If felt uneven, inconsistent, and convoluted. The whitewashing of the main character and the majority of supporting cast did actually ruin a lot of other elements of the film.

Rate: 2,5/5

Trailer: Ghost in the Shell trailer

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Movie review: Power Rangers

Movie reviews

Hello!

Welcome to the review of Power Rangers. I should probably start with a disclaimer: before going to see the new film, I had no prior knowledge of the property. But, fun fact, I recently did find a photo of myself as a 3 year wearing a Power Rangers T-shirt. My mom got it for me without even knowing what it was.

Generally, I wasn’t really excited about this movie and didn’t have any expectations. I wouldn’t have even watched it but, since I like superhero films and I’m okay with YA pictures, I decide to give Power Rangers a fair chance. And, I was actually pleasantly surprised and quite entertained by the movie.

IMDb summary: A group of high-school kids, who are infused with unique superpowers, harness their abilities in order to save the world.

Writing 

The film’s screenplay was written by John Gatins (who also co-wrote the recent Kong: Skull Island) but Matt Sazama, Burk Sharpless, Michele Mulroney, and Kieran Mulroney all contributed to the story. The script was based on both Saban’s early 90s Power Rangers and their original version – Super Sentai by Toei Company. The movie’s narrative wasn’t the most inventive and original but it was done in a way that was still pretty entertaining. Nevertheless, those super convenient story turns, plot-holes (oh, so you know how to fight now?) and a cliche big monster at the end still annoyed me. That Krispy Kreme marketing, though –  that was something else.

As usual, the viewer got to spend more time with the characters instead of just watching the endless action. Usually, YA films crumble when it comes to the characters, but this new team was quite likable and I actually cared for them. Granted, some characters were more developed than others, though that always happens. The diversity aspect of the film was pretty good too. I thought that the scriptwriters did a really good job representing an autistic teenager, but I wish they would have explored the LGBTQ+ aspect of one of the other characters more. I also wanted to see more background of the Asian character: while African Americans are slowly but surely becoming fully formed characters in mainstream movies, Asian actors and characters are usually still just there for financial rather than creative reasons.

The interactions between the teenagers were also pretty good, though also maybe a bit too exaggerated. Then again, young people are known for exaggerating everything. The camaraderie within the group also sorta worked. I loved the sequence where the kids were just having fun with their powers as well as the camping scene.

Although the plot itself was a bit cliche, it still had some neat message relating to coming of age and friendship. I, personally, really liked the fact that they written in a character who realizes that they are a terrible person and need to change – basically, I appreciated the how NOT to grow up into an awful individual aspect in one of the character’s story.

Directing 

Project Almanac’s Dean Israelite directed Power Rangers. I feel that his previous film was his audition tape for this movie, cause Project Almanac and Power Rangers were fairly similar. I mostly liked what he did with the picture. The action was solid, while the CGI was either decent or good. The handheld shots were a nice touch and reminded me of the found footage style of Project Almanac. Some other camera work was a bit weird, like those four full 360 shots at the beginning of the movie in the car. They felt really disorientating. The training montage was typical but fun too. The soundtrack was pretty neat as well.

Power Rangers also has a mid-credits scene which teased the potential arrival of the Green Ranger in the film’s sequel. However, I’m not entirely sure whether the movie will get a sequel cause I can’t see it earning a lot of money. I know that the filmmakers said that they have ideas for 5-6 sequels, but that just seems to be wishful thinking.

Acting

The 5 Power Rangers were played by relative newcomers who are obviously hoping that this will be their big break. One could definitely see that they were trying to give their best performances possible. The cast consisted of Dacre Montgomery (will appear in season 2 of Stranger Thrings), Naomi Scott (has worked with the Disney Channel), RJ Cyler (known to indie fans because of his appearance in Me and Earl and the Dying Girl), Becky G (singer – this is her first big screen role), and Ludi Lin (recently starred in a Chinese film Monster Hunt) as Red, Pink, Blue, Yellow and Black Rangers, respectively. Elizabeth Banks played the main villain of the film and was probably the most horrible aspect of the movie. She was just so over the top and cartoonish. Didn’t even look like she was trying to do anything legitimate with the role. I think she should better stick with directing. Bryan Cranston also had a small role. He was fine but I’m so tired of seeing him in these B-level films (Trumbo, Godzilla, The Infiltrator, Why him?) all the time. His career has gone downhill with the end of Breaking Bad and I’m not even entirely sure whether he can get any better roles anymore.

In short, Power Rangers is a fun dumb time at the movies, although, the film is not as cheesy as the trailers wiould lead you to believe. I didn’t expect much and was pleasantly surprised.

Rate: 3,2/5

Trailer: Power Rangers trailer

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Movie review: Kong: Skull Island

Movie reviews

Good day!

Kong: Skull Island was not a film that I was excited for until I saw its first trailer. That 2-minute preview really got me hyped and raised my expectations. Let’s see if Kong can deliver!

IMDb summary: A team of explorers and soldiers travel to an uncharted island in the Pacific, unaware that they are crossing into the domain of monsters, including the mythic Kong.

Kong: Skull island is the second installment in Legendary’s MonsterVerse franchise, which begun in 2014, with the reboot of Godzilla. Legendary’s MonsterVerse should not be confused with the Universal Monsters series, which also technically begun in 2014 with Dracula Untold and is continuing later this year with The Mummy reboot (although now, that Dracula movie has been dropped from the canon). While I’m all for cinematic universes, I find these two a bit ridiculous. First, they are too similar and are definitely going to blend in the public’s consciousness. Secondly, these properties are good enough on their own – not everything has to be mixed. And yet, I was recently informed that King Kong and Godzilla have already fought against each other in a Japanese film from the 1960s made by Toho. So, is this new shared universe just another Hollywood remake of a foreign property? I, personally, found 2014’s Godzilla to be an okay movie but hopefully, Kong can get me fully on board with this franchise.

Writing

Kong: Skull Island was written by Dan Gilroy (wrote The Bourne Legacy and wrote and directed the spectacular indie film Nightcrawler) and Max Borenstein (wrote the new Godzilla). To my mind, the writing for the film was okay: not great but not bad either. As usual, since the monsters were expensive to animate, the viewer got to spend a lot of time with the human characters and yet, the character development was scarce. All of the characters had one major feature that defined them and the said defining trait was sometimes interesting and promising and very cliche in the other instances. The representation of the tribal people of the island was a bit stereotypical and from a definite Western POV (and that’s is a huge no-no for me as an anthropology student).

Story-wise, the movie had a fairly quick and interesting set-up. I liked that the film had a wide variety of characters – the military, the scientists and two leads (Hiddleston and Larson) but, as I have already mentioned, I wish they would have done more with them. The twists and turns in the plot were also fine for the most part, but the narrative did have a few too convenient moments (like the vomiting of the dog tags). The Monster vs. Monster or ‘Let them fight’ idea that begun in Godzilla was also continued here. Kong: Skull Island actually included a surprising variety of monsters: from Kong himself to the big buffalo-like looking animal to the huge spider (felt a bit squeamish watching that scene) to the tentacle monster to the giant ant and, lastly, to the actual skull crawlers.

The film’s setting in the 70s served the purpose of providing some commentary on the issue of war. It was a promising concept and they should have done more with it than they did (the portrayal of the colonel as stubborn and plainly cruel was a bit laughable or at least it played that way). The other overarching topic was man vs. nature – an obvious choice for the monster/survival movies. That whole idea about dropping bombs was really stupid but I also have a feeling that it might have been temporally accurate. The whole ‘What is it? Let’s kill it!’ topic of the movie was also kinda idiotic but also very realistic.

The film had good comedic relief. Some of the jokes landed, some didn’t. One line, in particular, stuck with me. It wasn’t supposed to be funny but it just sounded so ironic in today’s context. I’m, of course, talking about the line ‘there won’t be a more screwed up time in Washington’. Well, how about now?

Directing

The picture was helmed by Jordan Vogt-Roberts and this was only his 3rd feature film. His directorial debut was the indie coming of age drama Kings of Summer, which I really enjoyed – I remember it was recommended to me by a friend, who absolutely loved the movie. Bearing in mind that this was only the 3rd picture for the director and the first one of such a massive scale, I think he did an incredible job. While the opening plane crash CGI looked horrible, all of the following CGI of the monsters and the fights was magnificent. I loved the shot of King Kong in a fiery background as well as all the other wide, sweeping shots of the nature of the island. The northern lights also looked neat. The shots from within the helicopter during the first major action sequence were great too. I also thought that Vogt-Roberts had more visuals of Kong than Edwards did of Godzilla. Or maybe they were just dispersed throughout the film more than they were in Godzilla. The old school photo/video visuals were also a nice touch. Lastly, the fact that the first (the sun) and the last (the eye) shots of the picture were similar was also an excellent way to frame the whole thing.

The post-credits scene

Yes, you read that correctly. The post-credits scenes aren’t unique just to comic book movies. I was the only person in my screening who sat through the 10 minutes of the credits but I wasn’t disappointed that I did. The tease for the future was quite cool and made me wonder whether the actors who appeared in the teaser, will reprise their roles in the future sequels of this shared universe.

Acting

Tom Hiddleston as James Conrad. Hiddleston was good in the role even if the role itself wasn’t that great. I mean, his character was just unexplainably good at everything. The most over the top part of his arc was that scene with a sword in a gas cloud – it looked cool but didn’t make much sense and kinda came out of nowhere. I just finished watching Hiddleston in The Night Manger for which he won a Golden Globe. While his acceptance speech wasn’t the greatest, his performance was spectacular, so I’d highly recommend this mini-series. Going forward, he will reprise the role of Loki – arguably, the best villain of MCU – in Thor: Ragnarok.

Brie Larson as Mason Weave. I liked the fact that Larson’s character was a photo-journalist and that they didn’t call much attention to her gender (only in one scene, which should have been cut). Larson herself was good in the role and I’m happy that she is getting more work post her Oscar win (Room). Having said that, the majority of the acting she had to do was basically just reacting to the imaginative things around her. Nevertheless, she did have that one scene of special connection with Kong. What is up with female characters and giant monkeys? Katelyn Snow and Grodd also had a special connection on The Flash.

Samuel L. Jackson as Colonel Packard. Jackson was just recently in another jungle-based movie – The Legend of Tarzan – and I think I liked him more in that one. Here, his performance seemed a bit too much for me. But, I cannot argue that he does know how to play/appear as a menacing villain-ish character.

John C. Reilly as Hank Marlow. Reilly was supposed to be the comic-relief character, based on the trailers and, while he certainly joked around, he was also the exposition machine. Plus, the Jason Mitchell and Shea Whigham duo provided some additional comic relief which was funnier than Reilly’s.

The scientists of the film were played by John Goodman (Trumbo, Patriot’s Day), Jing Tian (The Great Wall), and Corey Hawkins. They served the purposes of their roles well and added some diversity to the cast (the last two). Toby Kebbell (Warcraft, Fan4stic, Ben-Hur) played Jack Chapman and had the emotional character arc of the movie. While I get what the film was aiming for, I didn’t really feel much for Kebbell’s character.

In short, Kong: Skull Island was an entertaining adventure monster movie. The visuals looked amazing and made up for the sorta lackluster script.

Rate: 3.5/5

Trailer: Kong: Skull Island trailer

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Movie review: Logan

Movie reviews

Hello!

The last (supposedly) Hugh Jackman-lead X-Men movie – Logan – has hit theaters, so, let’s review it! The review is spoiler-free, for the most part. I have written down 8 points, full of spoilers, at the very end and included an additional warning.

IMDb summary: In the near future, a weary Logan cares for an ailing Professor X in a hide out on the Mexican border. But Logan’s attempts to hide from the world and his legacy are up-ended when a young mutant arrives, being pursued by dark forces.

The X-Men franchise has had its fair share of hits and misses. While the original movie and its sequel X2 were mostly well-accepted, everyone would rather forget X3. Looking at the newer prequel franchise, once again, the first two pictures were really good, especially, Days of Future Past, while the third one – X-Men: Apocalypse – was just kinda meh. The most successful X-Men film to date is the spinoff Deadpool, which came out just last year. Now, Logan is following the formula set by Deadpool – the R-rating + the faithfulness to the source material – and is hoping for a win. The previous two Wolverine movies didn’t impress anyone, and that’s putting it mildly. Maybe, third time’s a charm? Both this being the 3rd sub-trilogy within the X-Men series and the 3rd movie of it.

Writing

Logan was written by Scott Frank, the director James Mangold, and a TV writer Michael Green. Frank has written 2013’s The Wolverine and 2002’s Minority Report, while Green is the writer behind Green Lantern (that sounds worrying, however, Green is also listed as the screenwriter for a lot of big upcoming films, like Alien: Covenant, Blade Runner 2049and Murder on the Orient Express, so maybe his writing for Green Lantern was just an unfortunate accident that will never, hopefully, be repeated again?

Even though I had some worries about the writing for this film, I should not have, cause the narrative of Logan was just spectacular – cohesive yet varied and complex. I’m gonna go over all the different story points in the spoiler part, so here I’m just gonna mention some of the general stuff. To begin with, Logan had clever dialogue which provided the viewers with snippets of the overarching story, rather than explaining it through narration. Even the one explanatory scene was done in an interesting and modern way – through a video on a phone.

I also loved all the character moments that were written into the script: Caliban actually had some important stuff to do instead of just being an accessory, like in X-Men:Apocalypse; Professor X, even though he was old, has not lost his nurturing nature; X-23 was animalistic but intelligent (loved the moment when she sucked the bullets out of her hand): she did not say a word until the end of the second hour of the movie, and when she finally spoke, she did that in both Spanish and English, making her an even more of an authentic character; and, lastly, Logan himself has a variety of stunning moments that drove home the idea that he is not the Wolverine that we were used to seeing: this time around, he needed glasses and his claws did not pop out as easily as they used to. The moment from the trailer, where he holds up the comics was also great – it was so fun seeing a comic book character whining about the comics.

Thematically, Logan continued the tradition of all the X-Men films and looked at the staple topics of family and belonging, but not in any other movie have these two topics felt more relevant and emotional.

Directing

James Mangold is best known for directing The Wolverine and the awards’ nominated western remake 3:10 to Yuma (Logan was a kind of western too – set in a similar location but modernized). Mangold did an absolutely spectacular job directing the movie. The opening sequence was just wonderful – it set the tone for the film and explained the characters psychological and physical state with a single, quite short, action sequence. I also have to praise the director for using the various visual storytelling techniques – showing instead of telling. The overall action of Logan was also magnificent. If you thought that Deadpool was violent, then I can tell you that you haven’t seen nothing yet. Logan was 100 times bloodier and way more brutal – it was sometimes hard to watch. And yet, even though the picture’s themes and visuals were dark and brutal, the color pallet was not, meaning that one could actually see the action, instead of guessing what’s happening in the shadows.

Acting

Hugh Jackman was just absolutely wonderful. I’m so happy that he got a chance to finally play the type of Wolverine that he always wanted to play. I really am gonna miss him in this role. Jackman’s next project is a musical The Greatest Showman, which he is going to produce and star in. Patrick Stewart’s last outing as Professor Xavier was also excellent. I wasn’t expecting this many casual humor moments to come from him. His next gig is voicing the poop emoji in The Emoji Movie. Yup, this is the world we live in.

Richard E. Grant was amazing as Zander Rice. I loved his character’s look as well as behavior. Boyd Holbrook was good as Donald Pierce too. His character wasn’t the most interesting but I guess the movie had to have the ‘big bad’ – a mad scientist running things from above. Stephen Merchant replaced Tómas Lemarquis in the role of Caliban and did a much better job. Some of its due to better writing, but I also felt that Merchant delivered a more nuanced performance. Lastly, I have to mention how amazing was Dafne Keen as Laura/X-23. I really hope that this young lady has a bright future ahead of her, be it as the new lead of this franchise or working on other projects.

In short, Logan is a magnificent movie that pushes the boundaries of the comic book genre. It is well acted, has an emotional and interesting story, and spectacular action to top it off.

Rate: 4.7/5

Trailer: Logan trailer

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SPOILER PART

  1. I loved how Logan subverted the action genre tropes. For example, during their first escape, their car actually got stuck in the fence and couldn’t go through it, which usually happens in films. Also, when the bad guy was beginning to give his monolog, I loved that Logan just shot him and cut his speech short. Not only was this a great subversion of a classical action movie cliche, but this action left some gaps in the story, which the villain hadn’t had time to explain
  2. Namely, the biggest gap is the question of what has happened to the mutants that they basically went extinct? The character of Pierce seemed to be the one who was responsible, but Professor X also remembered something related to that incident. Was Xavier somehow responsible too or was he just feeling guilty for not being able to save them?
  3. Speaking about Professor X, while a lot of us predicted his death, it was still an emotional moment. I did shed a tear during his funeral when Logan was at a loss for words and X-23 just took his hand. I loved the scenes of Xavier’s seizures, though, they had such an interesting special effect.
  4. The X-23’s backstory was interesting and pretty faithful to the comics. We also got a bunch of others genetically conceived mutant kids, which I wish we knew more about, cause I wanted to care more for them during the final act. We did get a taste of their powers and I wonder whether they will be the ones to continue this franchise.
  5. Touching upon the third act, it was probably my least favorite part of the movie. I felt that the beginning of it dragged a bit and slowed down the movie too much. It also made the final product feel too long.
  6. The inclusion of the X-24 – an almost perfect killing machine and a double of Wolverine – was an interesting choice. At times, it felt like an afterthought, but I cannot fully argue against its inclusion, cause Hugh Jackman vs Hugh Jackman fights were astonishing.
  7. I have already mentioned how Wolverine was complaining about the comics, but I would also like to draw attention to the fact that the said comics weren’t just there to be an Easter Egg but acted as a driving force for the plot. This idea just blew my mind completely.
  8. And to finish off this spoiler-y part, we, of course, have to talk about the ending and the final send-off of the character. I absolutely loved Logan’s final arc and the mutual saving part of his relationship with X-23. Not only did he actually save her from the Transigen company but she also saved him from suicide. I thought that his death was worth the character’s life and his last moment with Laura, when she utters ‘Daddy’, was a complete tearjerker. The turning of the cross into an X was just a heartbreaking icing on a cake made of tears. I wasn’t completely surprised that they decided to allow this character to die. Hugh Jackman does not really want to do these movies anymore and what a better way to end one’s career as a specific character than to give him the ultimate send-off. It just adds to the legacy of Hugh Jackman as Wolverine.

Movie review: The Great Wall

Movie reviews

Hello!

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

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

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

Writing

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

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

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

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

Directing

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

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

Acting

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

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

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

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

Rate: 3/5

Trailer: The Great Wall trailer

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Movie review: John Wick: Chapter 2

Movie reviews

Hello!

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

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

SPOILER ALERT

Writing

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

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

Directing

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

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

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

Acting

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

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

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

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

Rate: 4.7/5

Trailer: John Wick: Chapter 2 trailer

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