Movie review: John Wick Chapter 3 – Parabellum

Movie reviews

Hello!

And welcome to the review of John Wick 3: Parabellum! The first two films have been pretty great but can they stick the landing of the trilogy?

‘Si vis pacem, para bellum’

IMDb summary: Super-assassin John Wick is on the run after killing a member of the international assassin’s guild, and with a $14 million price tag on his head – he is the target of hit men and women everywhere.

Writing

John Wick 3 was written by Derek Kolstad (who created this series), Shay Hatten, Chris Collins, and Marc Abramshile. While the first film introduced us to the character, and the second one did wonders for word building, the third film had a goal of separating the first from the second, meaning it tried taking out the character out of his world. And while the film separated John Wick from the rules of his world of assassins, it only expanded the viewers’ familiarity with the different aspects of it. Thematically, John Wick 3 looked at what happens when human connection interferes with the rules and how order can never fully account for the human factor.

Also, apparently it’s not only Wick who loves dogs in this assassins’ world. In summary, the plot was perfectly fine for an action film. It was mostly there to enable the action but I don’t think it was purely there just to serve the action but could actually stand somewhat on its own. However, I don’t think the plot will be able to do that much longer. The ending of the third film made it appear as if John Wick 4 is in the plans and I feel like they maybe should have stopped with 3. I’m afraid things from now own will start making less sense or require even more suspension of disbelief.

Directing

Chad Stahelski returned to direct John Wick 3 and gave us what we expected: some finely choreographed and filmed action. The action scenes throughout the trilogy have certainly gotten more and more ridiculous. It’s a shame that the franchise is leaving its somewhat realistic roots behind as I thought these particular roots were one of its major strengths. I understand why they are moving away from them, even if not consciously: topping the action of the first two films is difficult when the bar they set themselves is this high. And yet, it’s becoming more and more obvious that some of the sets in this film were there just to look cool rather than to make sense. Also, some of the injuries really should have been deadly.

What was particularly great about the film’s action was that the movie made its violence count: the breaks, the cuts, the bullets – all left an impact not just on characters’ bodies but had a physiological impact on the viewer. In short, don’t watch this movie if you are squeamish. While some R rated films just work to desensitize the viewer to violence, John Wick 3 uses its R rating to make us care and think about that same violence.

Acting

Keanu Reeves shined for the third time as the titular character. Man of little words, Reeves was still both believable and enjoyable to watch in an action film that was made to serve his talents while hiding the things he may be lacking (action above dialogue). Ian McShane came back to sprout some cool sounding one-liners that one cannot think about for a long time. While the second film helped to kickstart Ruby Rose’s film career, this one seems to attempt to help Halle Berry resurrect hers (decently successfully too). Laurence Fishburne returned as the crazy pigeon dude. Asia Kate Dillon played the main villain role in the film and was fine but quite annoying.

On the representation front, John Wick 3 had a diverse cast. Still, I wouldn’t stay it had diverse representation, more like diverse inclusivity? More importantly, I don’t think John Wick 3 is the type of film that one really wants to be represented in (this being a movie about assassins and all).

In short, John Wick 3 might not live up to its predecessors but is a decent action film overall. Still, if the filmmakers are planning on moving forward with the series, they should go back to the drawing board and see what made the first films better: in my mind, a tighter plot and more realistic action.

Rate: 3.7/5

Trailer: John Wick 3

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Movie review: Avengers: Endgame

Movie reviews

Hello!

And welcome to a review 11 years in the making. This is Avengers: Endgame!

IMDb summary: After the devastating events of Avengers: Infinity War (2018), the universe is in ruins. With the help of remaining allies, the Avengers assemble once more in order to undo Thanos’ actions and restore order to the universe.

Disclaimer: this review is going to be super vague as I’m trying to avoid spoiling even the smallest moments of the film. Still, I might not always manage to do that, thus, proceed with caution!

Writing

Endgame was written by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely. The duo has written a lot of previous MCU films, so they certainly have a good knowledge of this universe and these characters. And that shows as the script is just spectacular. So so so much happens in this movie: it is complex yet clear. Also, being the ‘end of an era’ type of a film, Avengers 4 really focuses on the core original Avengers, while the new characters kinda fade into the background. Focusing a film in this way makes sense to me: the newbies have to earn their right to be at the forefront. Moreover, Endgame also does a great job with setting up the future: both a couple of concrete films and just concepts that will hopefully turn into movies. Quite a few very comic-booky concepts too!

In my opinion, where Endgame shines the most is by being the sequel to end all sequels. It continues Infinity War perfectly and deals with all the issues head-on (like the ‘should have gone for the head’ gripe). It also references so so so much stuff from MCU that it makes Easter Eggs a part of the plot. Everything is referenced: lines, whole scenes, and Internet/fan jokes. It is so satisfying spotting the references or the subversion of the references: Marvel really rewards the loyalty of its longtime fans.

While I cannot really talk about the ending in this spoiler-free review, let me just say that it feels poetical. And though it may hurt, we all know it’s right.

Directing

I truly bow my head to Anthony and Joe Russos for giving me my new favourite MCU film (and their previous 3 films – Captain America 2 and 3 and Avengers 3 literally take up all the runner-up spots). The fact that they manage to portray such a complex story with clear editing is unbelievable. Plus, the fact that they succeed in making a 3h movie so engaging is also an achievement. I also appreciate all the different tones/genres that they squeeze into Endgame.

First, Endgame is a comedy: it has so many amazing comedic moments and is also a perfect conclusion (even if a temporary one) to MCU as the more family-friendly/lighter franchise. It takes that statement (that some use as a compliment and some as a critique) and owns it. I believe that these comedic undertones to the film come from The Russos’ directing roots as they did, in fact, made a name for themselves with Arrested Development and Community – two beloved comedy TV series.

Endgame is also a drama: it has depth and character moments aplenty. When I say there was no dry eye in my midnight screening, I mean it.

Endgame is also a superhero actioner through and through. It has all the CGI one would like but it also enhances it by actually making the viewers care about the characters involved rather than the third act just being a clash of random pixels. It has so many goosebump-inducing or so-called ‘money shots’. I especially loved one female empowerment shot that is hopefully not a one-off, but rather a signal to the changing times (though there was a severe lack of female viewers in my screening: really wanted it to be a 50/50 split but it was more like 80/20).

Acting

There is no way that I can possibly name all the cast members involved with this film but I believe that they all did a great job, no matter how short their involvement might have been. The core 6 – Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth, Scarlett Johansson, Mark Ruffalo, and Jeremy Renner – them I will mention by name because their performances should go down as one of the best ever in movie history. The actors got to showcase their dramatic chops so much because we really see the characters as just completely broken people. The fact that the actors also have perfect comedic timing (some especially) make their overall performances that much greater.

Post-credits

With Endgame, Marvel breaks the tradition that it created, and doesn’t have a post-credits scene. And I think that’s perfectly fine: there is nothing to promote or tease moving forward (Spiderman 2 is so separate and also already being promoted with trailers that it doesn’t make sense to stick it on there): Endgame is the end of not one but 3 phases, so let it feel like a definite ending. Besides, there are setups for the future before the credits roll. Also, I believe that the lack of post-credits is also good in that it doesn’t undercut the emotional weight of the ending of the picture. The last scene one sees and remembers is the end.

In short, Avengers: Endgame makes you laugh and cry and everything in between. It also makes sure that you will come back again. Not only for future films but to rewatch this one. Again. And again. And Again. (at least that’s what I’ll be doing).

Rate: 5/5 (I mean, are we surprised? Also, that number rating has never been about objectivity but rather included by necessity).

Trailer: Avengers: Endgame trailer

P.S. If you would like to take a trip down memory lane, these are my previous MCU reviews: Black Panther, Thor: Ragnarok, Spider-Man: Homecoming, Civil War, Doctor Strange, The Winter Soldier, Ant-Man, Age of Ultron, Guardians 1and 2.

Movie review: The Nutcracker and Four Realms

Movie reviews

Hello!

And welcome to a review of a first Christmas movie of the 2018 holiday season. If the whole season will be as rocky as its start, then we can just cancel Christmas. This is a quite negative (as you have probably already guessed) review of The Nutcracker and Four Realms.

IMDb summary: A young girl is transported into a magical world of gingerbread soldiers and an army of mice.

Writing

The Nutcracker and Four Realms – a mouthful of a title, huh – was written by Ashleigh Powell. It’s a remake/reimagining of a classic fairytale and a famous ballet. Disney has been making quite a few live-action fairytales. Some of them crashed, like Alice in Wonderland and its sequel. Some blossomed like Cinderella and Beauty and the Beast. The Nutcracker seems like it will be joining the first group. I feel like there is a general fatigue of live action fairytales and only the really special ones turn into something. The Nutcracker, being a niche and holiday-specific fairytale, is already a hard sell. The fact that it’s premiering so early in November also almost guarantees that it will have a small opening. Maybe it will play for a long time?

Anyways, speaking of the writing: it wasn’t bad but wasn’t original in any way, shape or form. The message on how to deal with grief was a neat one and the young woman’s journey into self-confidence was also a nice thing to spotlight. The actual adventure was sooo by the numbers. The twist could be seen from miles away. The characters were also just meh. The nutcracker especially was so unexceptional despite being the titular character. The dialogue was very simplistic. It just seemed that this whole film was aimed at a very young audience. And by young, I mean babies.

Directing

The Nutcracker was directed by Lasse Hallström (of The Hundred-Foot Journey and A Dog’s Purpose) and Joe Johnston (of Captain America: The First Avenger) – what a weird duo of directors. And even a weirder end product. They did a good job with the visuals – I cannot fault the film’s production value. The CGI could have been cleaner. The pacing was way off. At least the runtime was fairly decent. To end on a positive note: the ballet scenes and the ballet-inspired credits were nice touches. The score, which included the classic melodies, was good too.

Acting

The Nutcracker’s cast’s performances were a huge letdown. Mackenzie Foy and Jayden Fowora-Knight were both wooden. Hellen Mirren and Morgan Freeman were folding in their performances and were still the best just because they are true pros and can outact everyone in their sleep. Keira Knightley was killing her career with every minute of being on screen. She was both a cartoon and a parody: everything about her performance – from the look to the speech to the behavior – were just so cringe-y. Her work her kinda reminded me of Anne Hathaway in Alice in Wonderland (another unfortunate comparison between the two less than good Disney fairytales).

The actor who played the father – Matthew Macfadyen –  looked like off-brand Armie Hammer. The British comedian Jack Whitehall also had a cameo role – good on him for finally getting into a Disney movie (even if bad one) after being cut from Frozen.

In short, The Nutcracker and Four Realms was a boring film that won’t bring anyone any Christmas joy. A basic narrative, oversaturated visuals, and some cringe-y acting – that’s this picture in one sentence.

Rate: 2.4/5

Trailer: The Nutcracker and Four Realms trailer

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Movie review: Bohemian Rhapsody

Movie reviews

Hello!

And welcome to a review of a film that somehow ended up being my most looked forward to movie of the year. This is the perfect blend of music and movies also knows as Bohemian Rhapsody!

IMDb summary: A chronicle of the years leading up to Queen’s legendary appearance at the Live Aid (1985) concert.

Writing

Bohemian Rhapsody was written by Darkest Hour’s Anthony McCarten and The Crown’s Peter Morgan. I actually enjoyed the writing for the film despite spotting some flaws within it. The main complaint I’ve seen against the writing for this film was its historical inaccuracy. As someone who wouldn’t call herself a fan of Queen (I’m more of an appreciative observer), I couldn’t really spot the inaccuracies so they didn’t bother me.

The second critique that I’ve seen and that I agreed with was the fact that the movie felt choppy and like a collection of snapshots of someone’s life rather than a cohesive plot. However, how can a writer fit a larger than life story into an actual narrative? I think one can make numerous films on the different parts of Queen’s existence but if this film was going for a broad, all-encompassing introduction, I think it was quite successful.

Another interesting think about Bohemian Rhapsody was that I wasn’t sure whether it was a Queen biopic or a Freddie Mercury one. This goes back to the whole discussion whether Mercury was the only important member of Queen (that’s crap, in my mind). I do wish that other members were spotlighted a bit more cause I did enjoy seeing the small bits of their lives too.

Speaking of Mercury, I really liked how he was portrayed on film. The movie did a good job of both celebrating the legendary performer but also showing his flaws. He was never idolized by the movie and that made him seem more real and even more fascinating.

Directing

Bryan Singer (yes, the X-Men director) directed some portion of the film before getting fired. Dexter Fletcher (he did Eddie the Eagle and is currently working on Rocketman – an Elton John biopic) finished the film but, sadly, won’t be getting a director’s credit. I thought that they both did a good job. Yes, the film was a bit choppy but it was still compelling. The scenes of the concerts (especially Live Aid) were highly effective and emotional (I cried more than once during them because of their effectiveness and my current personal state (of going to my favorite band’s gig fee days prior)). Hearing Queen’s song in the theatre was the second best thing to having the opportunity to hear them live. It was also interesting to see so many older people at my screening: my guess was that they grew up with Queen’s music or may have even been fans when they were younger.

Acting

I was sure that Rami Malek will get an Oscar nomination for this role after only seeing the trailer. Having seen the film, I’m now even more sure that he deserves the nomination but I’m more dubious about that happening due to the poor critic reception of the film in general. It would be a shame if this iconic performance of an icon would be paid dust.

Lucy Boynton of Sing Street (another amazing music-related film) was also great. Gwilym Lee, Ben Hardy, and Joseph Mazzello were amazing as the other members of Queen and I do wish that they would have been given more to do with by the script. Game of Thrones’ Aidan Gillen, The Night Manager’s Tom Hollander, and Downton Abbey’s Allen Leech rounded out the cast playing the managers.

In short, Bohemian Rhapsody was a highly entertaining and enjoyable film. See it if you are a fan and see it if you are not a fan – you’ll be one by the time the credits roll.

Rate: 4/5

Trailer: Bohemian Rhapsody trailer

Movie reviews: Crazy Rich Asians and Searching

Movie reviews

Hello!

And welcome to the reviews of TWO films that are equally just important as Black Panther was/is! Today, we are discussing Asian representation in Crazy Rich Asians and Searching.

IMDb summaries:

Crazy Rich Asians: This contemporary romantic comedy, based on a global bestseller, follows native New Yorker Rachel Chu to Singapore to meet her boyfriend’s family.

Searching: After his 16-year-old daughter goes missing, a desperate father breaks into her laptop to look for clues to find her.

Acting

Even though I usually start my reviews by discussing the writing of the film(s), I thought that these two movies warranted that we discuss the acting and the casting first. While Black Panther was a first big-brand film with a predominately black cast, Crazy Rich Asians was the first American mainstream film with an overall Asian cast (as the title suggests). More importantly, the film showcased the diversity within the Asian community by casting actors that were from or descendant from a plethora of countries: Taiwan, Malaysia, China, South Korea, Hong Kong, The Phillippines, and Singapore. The cast consisted of Constance Wu and Henry Golding (A Simple Favor) as the superb lead couple, and Michelle Yeoh, Gemma Chan, Lisa Lu, Awkwafina (who was also recently in Ocean’s 8), Ken Jeong, Sonoya Mizuno, Chris Pang, Jimmy O. Yang, and Ronny Chieng among others in the supporting roles. Could more Asian identities/actors have been included? Yes. Did they have space for that in the film? Maybe. Did Crazy Rich Asians begin a process of change in Hollywood through which more Asian identities could be portrayed by Asian actors? I really hope so!

Searching didn’t have an Asian-only cast – it had a better thing – a blindly casted Asian lead – a lead that was Asian but his race never once came into play, played superbly by John Cho (of American Pie and Star Trek films).

What I loved even more than these two film’s (and their casts’) separately was the fact that the actors from the two films were so supportive of one another, especially Henry Golding and John Cho. Their mutual cross-promotion was one of the reasons why I put these two reviews together!

Writing

Crazy Rich Asians was a book adaptation of Kevin Kwan’s novel of the same name by screenwriters Peter Chiarelli and Adele Lim. Searching was an original screenplay by Aneesh Chaganty (who also directed) and Sev Ohanian. Both of these films took well known Hollywood tropes and genres – romcom and thriller, respectively – and made them feel brand new!

In Crazy Rich Asians, the romantic plotlines and the Cinderella-like tale were not as cliche as I was expecting them to be. The story also had more depth and sophistication than I was expecting. Some great ideas about the differences between Asian experiences (as a native and an immigrant/old culture vs new culture) were also expressed and added layers to the story.

Searching had a great showcase of father’s love and determination. On the flip side, it also showed the negative side of a parent’s love and how that love and ‘everything for one’s child’ attitude might be quite damaging. The end reveal of the plot was quite surprising and I don’t know if it worked completely. Nevertheless, it allowed the movie to look at a couple of more issues – toxic masculinity and obsessive relationships.

Directing

John M.Chu (of Step Up and Now You See Me 2) directed Crazy Rich Asians, while Aneesh Chaganty helmed Searching (both directors are also of Asian descent!). Chu handled the world building of Singapore beautifully (the glamour of the culture itself + rich setting made for a neat world to vicariously live in for the audiences a.k.a. me) and also nailed the pacing and the comedic timing of the film. My one critique was that the movie might have been a touch too long.

Chaganty and cinematographer Juan Sebastian Baron made Searching unique by having so much of that film be portrayed with screens on the cinema screen: the opening montage was just brilliant. I never thought that the movie portrayed through social media and technology (screens within the screen) could be so compelling and intense.

In short, Crazy Rich Asians and Searching were two films that not only did a lot in terms of representing an underappreciated group of actors and audiences but were just great movies in general!

Rate: both at 4.5/5

Trailers: Crazy Rich Asians trailer | Searching trailer

Movie review: The Predator

Movie reviews

Hello!

And welcome to complete newbies review of The Predator – a 4th (or 6th) movie in the series that I’m completely unfamiliar with!

IMDb summary: When a young boy accidentally triggers the universe’s most lethal hunters’ return to Earth, only a ragtag crew of ex-soldiers and a disgruntled science teacher can prevent the end of the human race.

Writing

The Predator was written by Fred Dekker and Shane Black (who also directed this film and has also starred in the original while also doing some re-writes on its script). Now, my statement in the opening of this review (that I know nothing) isn’t completely true. Having been a fan of movies almost my entire life, I have seen bits and pieces of the previous films on TV as well as come across plot-details and news about them online. Initially, I thought that I might watch the previous films before seeing The Predator but then I decided that ‘fresh eyes’ type of perspective might also be interesting. And I wasn’t disappointed in that respect – I thought that the film had enough exposition and world building for me to get the plot without having the knowledge of the previous films. I was also able to spot the most famous references as they were pretty heavy-handed with those. And that’s about the only two compliments I can give this movie’s writing.

My other two main complaints were the portrayal of autism and just the intellectual quality of the plot. First of all, portraying autism as a superpower of sorts is not a new thing and has been put to films before. And while I do get the sentiment – trying to empower people with disabilities – I think that these films, including The Predator, achieve the absolute opposite. They showcase one’s disability – autism in this case – as the defining feature that makes people special rather than portraying than as successful individuals despite their disability. Show how people can be successful having dealt with their disability rather than celebrating the disability!

My second negative point about The Predator was just its plot in general. I had so questions many questions starting with ‘why’, ‘what’, and ‘how’ that I honestly lost count. Why the film began as a pretty straight-up action film soon devolved into a mess of plot-lines of multiple Predators and multiple one-dimensional characters (if they even had a single dimension to them). The *spoiler* idea that one of the Predators was humanities savior just gave me an instant flashback to the new Alien movies and their unsuccessful attempts to play with the ideas of human creation, saint-hood, etc.

Directing

Shane Black directed The Predator, while in truth he directed at least two movies within it. A buddy-cop/soldier action comedy (which he knows how to do as The Nice Guys is amazing film) and a more serious/darker action film (which he is not great at (Iron Man 3…). The action itself was pretty decent and I liked the smaller Predator’s probably real costume – it looked intimidating and real. On the other hand, the bigger Predator looked like a cartoon doll and was most definitely CGI (and not particularly effective CGI).

Acting

The Predator’s cast consisted of a variety of lesser known actors, including as Boyd Holbrook (Logan) in the lead and Trevante Rhodes (Moonlight, 12 Strong) as his new soldier-buddy. They had other teammates too but they were highly interchangeable and forgettable. Also, their humor was quite cringe-y most of the time. Jacob Tremblay played Holbrook’s soon and was good. This wasn’t the first time he had to play a disabled person, he also did that in Wonder. His character in Room wasn’t disabled but that was still a very challenging role. Olivia Munn (X-Men: Apocalypse) was fun to watch as the scientist of the group even if her acting style didn’t fit the tone of the group at all. Sterling K.Brown was fine as the human villain too.

In short, The Predator was a lackluster blockbuster that I couldn’t enjoy as a newbie. I feel so sorry for the fans who were expecting something. Or maybe they knew what to expect?

Rate: 3.2/5

Trailer: The Predator trailer

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: 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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5 ideas about a movie: Suburbicon

Movie reviews

Hello!

Once a sure awards contender, now a rotten tomato, Suburbicon has landed in theatres. Let’s see what it has to offer.

IMDb summary: A home invasion rattles a quiet family town.

  1. Suburbicon was directed by George Clooney (this was his 6th directorial outing but the first time that he did not star in a film he directed) from a script by the Coen brothers (Hail, Caesar!, Bridge of Spies, Unbroken), George Clooney himself, and Grant Heslov (actor-turned-producer/writer). Just looking at the list of talent involved behind the camera, this movie should have been great. And while it was surprising in the fact that it was not what I expected thematically, it was also not what I expected quality-wise.
  2. Suburbicon appeared to have two separate storylines that had little to do with one another, except maybe were there to be contrasted. The film opened with the event of an African American family moving into an idyllic white neighborhood. The racist undertones of the community’s reaction to their new neighbors quickly evolved into a racist attack and a riot – things that we should have left in the 1960s but which feel very contemporary. Another, supposedly main storyline, involved Matt Damon’s character. That plotline came a bit out of nowhere – we didn’t even meet Damon’s character in the set-up. The idealized facade of his family was never believable – the secrets that were supposed to be hidden could very easily be predicted. Suburbicon wasn’t subtle, let’s just say that. The parent-child dynamics and the husband cheating with his wife’s twin sister were both interesting concepts to explore but that didn’t really happen.
  3. The whole writing of the film started off quite simplistic and, while it did get more complex and compelling as the narrative unraveled, it never really reached the level of quality that was desirable. The two storylines never connected in the movie itself, they could only be brought together by the viewer. I interpreted the decision to have these two family plotlines side by side as an attempt to make a statement on race and society. The perfect facade of a white family hid deep perversion underneath, while the loving African American family was seen as unacceptable. The truth and appearances didn’t add up and I took the film’s message to be a slight warning for today’s society. I didn’t anticipate any of that to be in the movie from its trailer – that’s what I meant when I said that Suburbicon was thematically unexpected.
  4. Visually, Suburbicon looked quite nice and neat. In general, I find the 1960s setting aesthetically pleasing, so it was cool to see it realized quite well in this picture. The opening sequence in a style of a fairytale book was also good. The slow pace was a bit of a drag. Suburbicon also felt like a weird mashup of an old-school crime drama and a modern thriller. Some of its scenes of violence were very conservatively left out of frame – filmed as a shadow or only focusing on the characters’ feet, while some other violent scenes were extremely graphic – like the scenes one would expect to see in an R-rated modern thriller.
  5. Suburbicon had a great cast that deserved better material to work with. Matt Damon (The Martian, Jason Bourne, The Great Wall, soon Downsizing – now his only film for the awards season) and Julianne Moore (Kingsman 2, Mockingjay) were both really good, but a standout to me was Oscar Isaac (Star Wars, X-Men, The Promise) – I loved his spunky and charismatic insurance investigator character. The child lead of the film – Noah Jupe – was also quite good. I swear the child actors, in general, have never been as good as they are now.

In short, Suburbicon was a mediocre film that was not thrilling enough to be a crime thriller or funny/ironical enough to be a black comedy or stylized enough to be seen as an art metaphor.

Rate: 2.9/5

Trailer: Suburbicon trailer

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Movie review: Baby Driver

Movie reviews

Hello!

An original movie, in this day and age, is a rarity, and that makes Baby Driver ten times more special than it already is. Let see whether the film can live up to the hype, whether it can prove the worth of original material, and whether it can act as the comeback of Edgar Wright! Plus, can it just be a fun and enjoyable summer movie?

IMDb summary: After being coerced into working for a crime boss, a young getaway driver finds himself taking part in a heist doomed to fail.

Edgar Wright

Baby Driver was both written and directed by the coveted auteur Edgar Wright (one of the few auteurs working in Hollywood). Wright is best known for creating The Three Flavours Cornetto trilogy and cult classic Scott Pilgrim vs. The World. He also worked on the Marvel project Ant-Man before parting ways with the studio. Even though he left Disney/Marvel, he did live to make another movie and Baby Driver very much proves that his career is far from over. So, on a side note, Lord and Miller situation (them being fired from the Han Solo movie) might also turn out fine.

Writing

I very much enjoyed the writing for Baby Driver. The story was tight and simple, but yet also complex and unique. Let’s begin with the main character of Baby – I don’t think I can name another recent character that was so extraordinary. His love for music and driving, his sense of style (those glasses – brilliant), his relationships with his mother, girlfriend, and the deaf foster dad, and a good heart made him not only a relatable but extremely likable lead. And yet, he also had unexpected qualities (like the idea for that brutal kill or just bravery enough to kill). Also, the fact that the movie acknowledged that there are different ways to enjoy music (by hearing AND feeling it) was so great.

The romantic plotline also actually worked, which it rarely does in an action film. I loved the ending shot in black and white: they looked like a couple of criminals from a 60s movie. All the main criminal characters were amazing too and I loved the fact that all of their arcs had a definitive ending and that they weren’t dropped halfway through the runtime. My only gripe was that I didn’t think that Kevin Spacey’s character’s change of heart fully worked. The film also had wonderful humor, some of my favorite parts were the kid in the post office and the butchery metaphor. Lastly, I loved how Wright paid dues to other movies, by either giving them a shout-out or just showing a clip from them on TV. Baby Driver was, truly, a film written by a movie lover for movie lovers.

Directing

From the trailers, Baby Driver seemed like a super fun movie but I didn’t feel that it had the signature flavor of Wright. I was kinda right – Baby Driver was his lowest energy project yet (although it did dial everything up for the finale) and his most mainstream film so far and that is not really a bad thing. It was basically something different yet familiar. I loved all the action sequences and enjoyed the irony of Baby also having to run rather than drive in one of them. I was also impressed by the long takes, especially the one that followed the opening car chase. The signature close-ups were also neat.

Plus, I liked the fact that they used normal looking cars, not super expensive and super fast ones. Thus, Baby Driver was a celebration of driving – a thing that The Fast and The Furious used to have but lost completely in the later installments. Lastly, I cannot write a review for Baby Driver without mentioning the editing and the soundtrack. This is how you edit the visuals into the music. King Arthur and Suicide Squad should watch and learn.

Acting

Baby Driver’s cast was marvelous: it consisted of both proven actors and some up-and-comers. Ansel Elgort (TFIOS, Divergent) was spectacular, they way he acted into the music/with the music was just thrilling to watch. Lily James (Cinderella) was good as his girlfriend: they looked cute together and had chemistry. The cinema veterans Kevin Spacey (House of Cards), Jon Hamm (Keeping Up With The Joneses was actually not bad), Jamie Foxx (Sleepless was the best movie of this January – not much but something), and Jon Bernthal (The Accountant) all brought their A-game and appeared to be having a ton of fun with this picture. Lastly, an unknown (to me) Mexican actress Eiza González was an amazing badass to watch as well.

In short, Baby Driver is the best version of Drive meets American Grafitti. It has great action, funny jokes, cool editing, spectatcular soundtrack and it’s Edgar Wright at his best, even if that ‘best’ is a bit different than we are used to.

Rate: 4.5/5

Trailer: Baby Driver trailer

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