Movie review: Ready Player One

Movie reviews

Hello!

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

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

Writing

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

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

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

Directing

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

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

Acting

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

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

Rate: 3.8/5

Trailer: Ready Player One trailer

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Movie review: Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle

Movie reviews

Hello!

Another reboot/sequel of a beloved childhood classic has hit theatres, but, this time around, it’s surprisingly good?! This is Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle! (That title is awful, though.)

IMDb summary: Four teenagers discover an old video game console and are literally drawn into the game’s jungle setting becoming the adult avatars they chose.

Only last year, a 1980s classic, Which was near and dear to a lot of people during their childhood, was remade and the Internet went nuts. However, that Ghostbusters debacle did not stop Hollywood from remaking/attempting to continue another classic property, this time around, from the 1990s. And it looks like the LA suits were right to try: I haven’t seen much hate (barely any) towards the 2017’s a Jumanji. Why is this reboot more acceptable than the Ghostbusters one? Is it the Rock? The Rock and Hart proven combo? The ‘correct’ genders of the characters (mixed cast rather than an all-something reboot)? Or maybe nobody liked Jumanji in the first place as much as I thought they did? I certainly remember the film quite fondly from my childhood.

Writing

Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle was written by Chris McKenna and Erik Sommers (the duo behind Spider-Man: Homecoming and The Lego Batman), the director Jake Kasdan, and Scott Rosenberg and Jeff Pinkner (the writers of the upcoming Venom movie which is currently being filmed). In general, I enjoyed quite a lot of elements of the writing of this film.

To begin with, I thought that the idea to update Jumanji from a board game to a video game was a clever one. However, the way the script went about doing that – just sort of allowing the game to morph by itself – was a bit weird. Also, if they were giving the game an update, why not do a completely contemporary take on it? Make it into a Nintendo Switch type of a thing rather than a very 90s cassette game. What I did like about the video game concept in relation to this film was the fact that the movie overtly and unapologetically used the video game tropes, like the cutscenes, the numbered lives, the strengths/weakness idea, and the different levels. Jumanji might actually be the best video game movie without technically being one

The new characters of Jumanji weren’t bad either. The teenagers/real-life characters got some brief but neat development during the setup, which was nicely built upon during the following adventure. The relationship moments that the characters shared actually provided the picture with some opportunities to explore the ideas of friendship and teamwork. Some nice messages about bravery, self-confidence as well as one’s ability to change were also expressed. The interactions between the characters also resulted in some great humorous moments. The flirting school and the peeing scene were stupid but also hilarious. The switch-ups with the bodies (the nerds becoming athletic and cool; the popular kids being degraded to sidekicks and the comic relief) was another source of jokes for the film.

My main and the only actual critique of the movie was its plot or the set up of it. The game narrative itself was fine and it worked well as an adventure story. However, the way it just came out of nowhere seemed a bit odd. That whole explanation about the stone, the villain, and the curse seemed a bit heavy-handed and too highly fabricated. At least the format of that explanation/set-up (the cutscene) was somewhat meta (explicit in its usage of a trope) and, thus, a bit more interesting.

Lastly, while this film appeared to have been a direct continuation of the original Jumanji with the game itself being found on the beach, where it was last seen, I question whether the people behind-the-scenes are planning to make any further sequels, in case this one is successful. The last scene, which showed the characters breaking the game, suggests that we won’t see any sequels, which is, quite frankly, a shocking thing in today’s mainstream filmmaking business.

Directing

2017’s Jumanji was directed by Jake Kasdan (his last two films were both mediocre Cameron Diaz comedies) and I thought that he crafted quite an entertaining action adventure flick that was so much better constructed that I thought it’d be. The action was inventive enough and energetic. The CGI of the animals could have been a bit better. The pacing was fine for the most part, though the film did slow down a bit towards the end of the second half. Lastly, I’ve noticed (or imagined) some callbacks to other movies in this feature, which seemed like quite neat additions to me: the creepy house and the yellow raincoat reminded me of It, while the biker gang inside the game seemed Mad Max-esque.

Acting

Jumanji’s two casts were both really good. The teenagers/young adult actors – Alex Wolf (Patriot’s Day), Ser’Darius BlainMorgan Turner, and Madison Iseman – were believable and relatable. However, the majority of the film was carried by the video game versions of these characters, played by Dwayne Johnson (Baywatch, FF8, Moana, San Andreas), Kevin Hart (The Secret Life of Pets), Karen Gillan (Guardians of the Galaxy 1 and 2, The Circle), and Jack Black, respectively. Johnson’s and Hart’s chemistry, which blossomed in Central Intelligence, was back in full force in this movie. All of the scenes with the Rock discovering his muscles were incredible and I also appreciated the fact that the film poked fun at his inherent charisma with that ‘smoldering look’ skill. Kevin Hart was amazing and funny too, while Karen Gillan was a complete badass (both as a character and as an actress). Jack Black also surprised me. I have never been much of a fan of his but I highly enjoy seeing him acting as the ‘it’ girl in this film.

A few other characters, worth the mention, were played by Nick Jonas and Bobby Cannavale (Ant-Man). Jonas was okay in the picture but his character was intended to be somewhat of a replacement for Robin Williams character of the original (a person who gets stuck in the game) and, no offense to Nick Jonas, but he could never replace Williams. Cannavale played the villain and he was the worst of the cast, in my mind. I think he went a bit too cartoonish with his performance – yes, there is such a thing as too cartoonish even in a live-action cartoon.

In short, Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle is a surprisingly entertaining adventure movie. It would be the perfect holiday film for the whole family if it wasn’t competing with Star Wars 8.

Rate: 4/5

Trailer: Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle trailer

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Movie review: Paddington 2

Movie reviews

Hi!

A delightful bundle of joy has landed in theatres. It’s Paddington 2!

IMDb summary: Paddington, now happily settled with the Brown family and a popular member of the local community, picks up a series of odd jobs to buy the perfect present for his Aunt Lucy’s 100th birthday, only for the gift to be stolen.

Movie over Winnie-the-Pooh, there is a new bear in town! Christopher Robin and his bear first entered the pop culture in the 1920s (Goodbye Christopher Robin tells that story), while Paddington first debuted in Michael Bond’s children’s books in the late 1950s. In 2014, Paddington’s stories have been brought to life on the big screen for the first time (they have previously been adapted into TV movies throughout the second half of the 20th century). Due to the critical and commercial success of the first film, the sequel has been made and the world is just a tiny bit better because of it.

Writing

Paddington 2 was written by the director of the film Paul King (who also helmed the first film) and Simon Farnaby (actor-turned-writer). The writing for the picture was just great. The viewers got to see Paddington entering the workforce and coming face to face with the harsh realities of life, while never losing his optimism. Despite all challenges he had to face, the lovable bear remained an example of endless hope, understanding, and kindness – somebody that we should all strive to be a little more like. The innocent humor, which arose from the situations that Paddington put himself in, was so nice and a pleasant change from the fart jokes of the other children’s movies. The meta-humor – the joke about the actors being evil as they lie for a living – was appreciated too. The good side of the British culture, that was neatly spotlighted in the first film, was on display here too. I also liked the fact that the movie wasn’t afraid to poke fun at the poshness of Britishness too. Also, I loved the fact that the incentive for a story was a pop-up book – I used to love my fairytale garden pop up book as a child and it is still on the shelve in my old room at my parents’ house.

Not only did Paddington got a chance to go on a fun adventure in a sequel, but his family also got some nice screentime. The teenager problems, the middle-life crisis storyline for the dad, and the desire for adventure for the mother were all nice touches that expanded the plot. I also loved how tight the narrative was. Every detail that was introduced in the set-up came back again during the third act of the film. The son’s steam trains hobby, the dad’s yoga, the sticky toffee apples that Paddington ate during the fair, the judge character, the daughter’s newspaper, the mother’s painting and swimming abilities, Paddington’s folded ladder were all important plot-points, not just random ideas that the screenwriters had.

Directing

The director of the first film Paul King absolutely nailed the sequel. He kept the pure, innocent, and joyful atmosphere of the first movie that is so on-brand for Paddington. The picture’s setting was very well-realized: both the broad one (the feature was sort of a love letter to London) and the narrow one (the fair/carnival/circus setting was just adorable). The CGI animation that brought Paddington to life was impeccable too. The cinematography was amazing as well: the filmmakers used a lot of long and mobile shots that were so impressive.

Acting

Ben Whishaw (A Hologram for the King, In The Heart of The Sea, Spectre, The Danish Girl, Suffragette, The Lobster) was, once again, perfect as the optimistic, innocent, but determined voice behind Paddington. Hugh Bonneville (Breathe), Sally Hawkins (Godzilla), and Julie Walters (I can’t wait for Mamma Mia 2!) were great as the ‘adoptive’ family of Paddington, while Brendan Gleeson (Assasin’s Creed) had a lot of fun with the role of the prison cook. Hugh Grant (Florence Foster Jenkins) was wonderful as the over-the-top theatrical villain, while a plethora of great British actors (Jim Broadbent, Peter Capaldi, Ben Miller) also played some lovely minor roles.

In short, Paddington 2 provides an amazing opportunity for escapism and is both heartbreaking and heartwarming. It also will get you craving for marmalade!

Rate: 4.5/5

Trailer: Paddington 2 trailer

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Movie review: The Mummy

Movie reviews, Music

Hello!

Welcome to another movie review of a film that literally could have come out at any time in the last two decades – The Mummy!

IMDb summary: An ancient princess is awakened from her crypt beneath the desert, bringing with her malevolence grown over millennia, and terrors that defy human comprehension.

The Mummy is the official beginning of the rebooted Universal Monsters franchise, now titled Dark Universe. The first attempt to revive this classical (1920s-1950s) series happened in 2014 with the release of Dracula Untold, however, since the film underperformed, it was later made non-canon. And yet, I still feel like it might be reinstated into the franchise, as The Mummy is not fairing much better, neither critically nor financially. One last note – Universal’s Monster Dark Universe should NOT be confused with Legendary’s MonsterVerse, which has Godzilla and King Kong instead of The Invisible Man, Frankenstein, and The Mummy.

Writing

The 14th The Mummy film was written by David Koepp (who has worked on some of my favorite pictures – Jurassic Park, Mission Impossible, Panic Room; some stinkers like Indy 4 and Mortdecai; and some who were somewhere in between, like Inferno and Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit; he is also writing Indy 5), Christopher McQuarrie (who worked on The Usual Suspects and a trifecta of Tom Cruise films: Jack Reacher, Edge of Tomorrow, and MI 5; he is next both scripting and directing MI 6) and the actor Dylan Kussman (the least accomplished screenwriter on the project – this is only his 3rd project as a writer). The story credits were also given to Jon Spaihts (Prometheus, Doctor Strange, Passengers), the actress Jenny Lumet (she wrote Rachel Getting Married), and the director of the film.

I actually quite enjoyed the writing for The Mummy – it was definitely better than the writing for a few blockbusters that I’ve seen this summer movie season already. The film started on a really solid footing – the set up was good and interesting enough even if a bit heavy-handed and dense (I always liked the mixture of history and fantasy, so maybe that’s why I liked that ancient Egypt sequence)  – but the promising script fizzled out in the 3rd act (the love story and the solution to defeating The Mummy were both predictable). Also, the set-up story was repeated too many times. The viewers did not need to hear the same exposition 3 or more times.

The characters were great though – I liked the fact that we got to see the narrative through the ‘everyman’s’ perspective (even if Tom Cruise isn’t really an ‘everyman’). What I liked the most about his characters was the fact that he was a genuine idiot – let me explain – his character was a thief and not even a very good one, so the stupid actions that he had to make during the plot actually sorta made sense. It would have been illogical if a super smart person acted that certain way that action movie narratives require. I also liked the contrast between the two leads, how she was a scientist and he was totally clueless about most of the stuff except how much everything is worth on the black market. The duo of the two military partners was also good – I liked how one was an adventurer and the other wanted nothing more than not to be there. These contrasts between the characters gave rise to some funny moments. Actually, The Mummy was a way funnier movie in general than I expected it to be. A lot of the funny moments stemed from the awkward encounters or involved characters reacting to stuff – nothing too original but at least these scenes weren’t cringe-y.

Looking to the future of the series, the two main things should be kept in mind. First, Russel Crowe’s double identity (Jekyll and Hyde, good and evil) will probably come into play in the next film. He, as the head of Prodigium, is the connecting tissue for the Dark Universe, so his involvement in all the films is all but guaranteed. Second, Tom Cruise’s character’s double identity, acuired in the final act, will probably be also explored further, maybe in other Dark Universe films or perhaps in The Mummy 2, when or if that movie materializes (the future is unclear due to lukewarm reception from critics and moviegoers alike).

Directing

The Mummy was directed by the screenwriter Alex Kurtzman – this was only his second directorial attempt and it wasn’t a bad one for sure. The pacing was fine and the action sequences were serviceable too. The design of The Mummy was really cool looking as well and her powers were realized well (even if they were really vague). I especially liked that reanimation effect – it lookes appropriatelly disgusting. The world building/the visualization of mythology was fine too. The design for The Mummy’s victims-turned-zombies could have been better though – they looked like they were in/from World War Z. Overall, a good directing effort – not groundbreaking but nothing to be ashamed of either.

Acting

The Mummy had a pretty well-known cast. The biggest name was, of course, Tom Cruise, in the lead role Nick Morton. Say what you want about him as a person, but I still belive that Cruise is a good actor, especially when he is in his element – an action movie. He is good at physical stunts and charming AF. This time around, he also got a chance to show off his comedic skills – haven’t seen those in a while. His next film is Doug Liman’s American MadeAnnabelle Wallis (quite an unknow actress to me) starred as Jennifer Halsey and was good too. This was defintely her biggest role to date. She also had a small part in the new King Arthur film, which I’m finally seeing in a couple of days.

Sofia Boutella played Princess Ahmanet. She has made a name for herself by performing physically interesting or challenging roles in pictures like Kingsman and Star Trek Beyond. Those skills really helped her embody The Mummy as well. Her next film is Atomic BlondeRussell Crowe (Noah, The Nice Guys) was also good as Dr. Henry Jekyll. I like the fact that they were able to get a serious actor into this franchise – maybe that will give it more gravitas?

The comedian/actor Jake Johnson (21 Jump Street, Neighbors, Mike and Dave Need Weding Dates) starred as the sidekick to Tom Cruise’s character and did a good job being the comic relief. Lastly, Marwan Kenzari, who I just saw in The Promise a handful of days ago, played a security officer. I knew he looked familiar and I was rocking my brain, trying to remembering who he was, everytime he appeared on screen. 

In short, while The Mummy is a rocky start to Universal’s Dark Universe, it is a perfectly fine summer action movie. It doesn’t have any deeper themes, but it is also not convoluted, offensive or boring.

Rate: 3.5/5

Trailer: The Mummy trailer

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Movie review: Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales

Movie reviews

Hello!

The summer movie season is already in full swing. Let’s see what it has to offer in Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales also known as Salazar’s Revenge.

IMDb Summary: Captain Jack Sparrow searches for the trident of Poseidon.

Let’s start with a disclaimer: I have always been a fan of this franchise despite its flaws. The third’s film is my favorite (and I’m definitely in the minority) and its third act – one of my most rewatched action sequences. Also, the role of Jack Sparrow is the only kooky role that I still like Johnny Depp in.

Writing:

Pirates 5’s screenplay was written by Jeff Nathanson (Catch Me If You Can, Indiana Jones 4, next project – the live action Lion King) with some input on the story by Terry Rossio (who had a hand in creating these characters in the first place). In general, I have mixed feelings about the quality of writing for this film and wish it was better because it could have been (like the writing for so many blockbusters these days – come on, Hollywood, just hire some amazing TV writers!).

To begin with, I thought that the set-up for the narrative was too reliant on coincidences, while the twists and turns in the plot – just way too convenient. The film was also going all over the place with the multiple plotlines that were just thrown together. It was nice to see all the old characters and the new one were good too but I just wish they all would have fit into the narrative more organically. Another problem with the reveals in the story is that they came out of nowhere. They were surprising, for sure, but not in a good way. Not in a way ‘I didn’t see it coming but I can retrace the steps of the reveal now’ but more like ‘Oh, so you have come up with this like a year ago and not when you released the previous movies in the series’.

Having critiqued the script, I would now like to mention a few neat writing moments which really impressed me. First, I loved seeing the young Jack Sparrow. In addition to the de-aging technology being really impressive, it was really nice to see Sparrow as an efficient and clever sailor and not just drunk and babbling, even if lovable, idiot. The explanation of how he got the iconic costume and the name was also much appreciated. I also liked the fact that the story of The Turners was continued through their son. The new female lead was also a well-enough written character – I liked that she was a person of science who was confronted by the irrational legends and myths. The feminism aspect could have been handled better, though. The writing for the villain – Salazar – was also quite good. He is no Davy Jones, but then again, Jones had 2 movies worth of development while Salazar had only half of that. Jones might also get even more (further on that in the After-Credits section). Lastly, I also enjoyed the attempt at expanding the mythology of this world.

Directing

The Norvegian directing duo – Joachim Rønning and Espen Sandberg – best known for their Kon-Tiki film (about an expedition on a raft across the Pacific Ocean) helmed Pirates of the Caribbean 5 and did a good job. Having previous experience with water-centric films definitely helped them because the movie did look gorgeous. The locations themselves and the way they were realized on screen were just spectacular. The action wasn’t bad either – it was definitely entertaining and exciting, just not as impressive as it used to be before. This might be because I have seen too many Pirates of the Carribean movies or just action films in general. One particular action sequence – the first one centered on the robbing of the bank – really reminded me of the 3rd act heist in Fast Five but only done with horses instead of the fast cars. The visuals of the map in the final act (the island that’s the perfect image of the sky) were really cool-looking too.

No Pirates of the Carribean review cannot not mention the soundtrack of the film. It was really nice to hear the iconic theme music as well as the rest of the soundtrack, which, this time around was not done by Hans Zimmer but by his long-time collaborator/student Geoff Zanelli.

Acting

Johnny Depp (Transcendence, Alice, Black Mass) was fine in the movie. He was doing the same thing he always does, but I have already said, this is the only role of his that I can stomach his eccentrics in. Please, God, don’t let him screw up Grindewald in the Fantastic Beasts sequel.

The two new leads this movie introduced were both YA alumni – Brenton Thwaites (of The Giver) and Kaya Scodelario (of The Maze Runner). They were better replacements to Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley than the romantic couple from the previous film – On Stranger Tides – played by Sam Claflin and Àstrid Bergès-Frisbey. I hope that Thwaites’s and Scodelario’s careers can get a boost from this movie but I don’t think we will see more of them in these roles. Maybe in a supporting part in a sequel but I don’t see them getting a solo/duo spin-off (more on that in Post-Credits section).

The villain of the picture – Salazar – was played by Javier Bardem – Hollywood’s go-to Spanish actor for villainous roles (No Country For Old Men, Skyfall). Well, one can’t argue that Bardem is really good at playing these types of characters and he was truly menacing as Salazar – the hunter of pirates. His next project is Aronofsky’s Mother!. 

Geoffrey Rush was also, once again, back in the role of Barbosa. While I felt that his character was kinda tacked on, it was nice to see a different side of him. His demise, however, was mostly wasted and should have been built-up more (both story-wise and emotionally).

David Wenham also appears in a film, playing a secondary villain and a high-ranking officer in the British Navy. He is basically just a replacement for the character that Tom Hollander played (and in a much better way) in the original trilogy.

Post-Credits

If you sit through the 10 minutes of the credits, full of digital artists’ names, you will be treated to a potential teaser for a Will Turner spin-off. I really liked the character in the original trilogy and Orlando Bloom does not seem to be doing much, so a Will Turner or a Turner family-centered spin-off might actually be quite good or could at least happen. Maybe Keira Knightley could also be in it and actually get a few speaking lines (she just cameos and says nothing in Dead Men Tell No Tales). Thwaites’s Henry Turner and his new girlfriend, played by Scodelario, might also have a place in that picture.

In short, if you are a fan of the franchise, you will probably be able to overlook the problems with the movie (like you did many times) and will enjoy it for what it is. For all the regular movie goers – Pirates 5 is a good enough time at the movies but not a required viewing.

Rate: 3.3/5

Trailer: Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales 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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In preparation for Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them!!!

Movie previews

Hello!

Fantastic Beast and Where to Find Them is coming out in less than a month, so in order to get myself ready for its release, I decided to read the extra Harry Potter material that I missed or didn’t get a chance to read before now and I would like to share my thoughts on it.

I have always been a huge fan of the main HP series, I have re-read all the main books more times than I can count – they were literally my bible growing up and kinda still are now. Harry Potter fandom was also the first fandom that I’ve ever joined. The last movie of the main series – The Deathly Hallows Part 2 – marked the first time when I genuinely cried in the cinema because I didn’t want to leave that world behind. As a kid, I would also imagine myself in that world – I used to play pretend that I was a student at Hogwarts, even made a wand out of two pencils and some tape. My mom’s bathrobe worked well as the uniform robe too. Nowadays, I express my inner fan of HP more subtly – I have a Hogwarts Alumni t-shirt, a Fantastic Beasts t-shirt, a Ravenclaw pin on my bag and a Time-Turner necklace because a)I would love to turn back time (although, The Cursed Child kinda made me doubt that) and b)I’m basically a muggle reincarnation of Hermione Granger. Plus, I recently order a Golden Snitch bracelet. Last year, I have also visited a few outdoor filming locations – the bridge that was used as the Hogwarts Express viaduct (Glenfinnan Viaduct) and the lake that doubled as the Black Lake (Loch Shiel). I made a blog post about that trip, you can find it here. Next spring, I plan on going to the actual tour of the studios in London as well as the King’s Cross.

Okay, that’s enough of my personal story, let’s now discuss the textbook that the upcoming movie was inspired by as well as other extra books from the HP world.

Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them

Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them, written by Newt Scamander a.k.a. J.K.Rowling is an amusing little book. It was first published as a novella for the UK charity Comic Relief in 2001, so the number of the printed books was quite limited. I managed to get one copy from a local library because I didn’t want to spend a lot of money on it – the books from the first few printings are super expensive on eBay and their prices have been increasing steadily because of the upcoming movie. The book will be rereleased next year as a hardback but who wants to wait that long?

Recently, Warner Bross and J.K. Rowling announced that Fantastic Beasts franchise will have 5 movies in it. The original book consists of less than 100 tiny pages but I can see a lot of potential in it. You can basically just pick one beast that is described in it and come up with an adventure story revolving around it. I also imagine that the filmmakers and J.K. Rowling, who will be writing or at least overseeing the scripts, will pull some extra stuff from the Harry Potter lore on Pottermore or from the other 2 short novellas (which I will discuss bellow). Moreover, since J.K.Rowling is so involved in the creation process I don’t have any problems with her coming up with new stuff – all the fans were super happy when the HP 8th book was published.

Fantastic Beasts not only has a lot of cinematic potential but it is an extremely easy and enjoyable read by itself. The novella is funny, witty and has quite a few easter eggs in the form of Harry’s or Ron’s handwritten notes.

Quidditch Through The Ages

Another Comic Relief book from 2001, Quidditch Through The Ages also has a lot of cinematic possibilities just like Fantastic Beasts. I can definitely see this novella being adapted into a magical sports drama. I think a lot of people would be interested in this type of property, as the Quidditch scenes from the HP films have always been well-accepted. In addition, I think a lot of fans (I included) were quite disappointed when the filmmakers cut the majority of the Quidditch World Championship from the 4th film.

On a side note, Quidditch Throughs The Ages also did a very good job in adding a global aspect to the magical world, as it spotlighted the traditions of Quidditch around the world. I even found out that my native country of Lithuania has a Quidditch team in J.K.Rowling’s mind, called Gorodog Gargoyles. I was so excited after I read that paragraph that I’ll almost let it slide that Rowling used words with Russian language roots (‘gorodo‘ means ‘city‘) to name a Lithuanian team (my country’s and Russia’s common relations are not great due to history).

The Tales of Beedle The Bard

The newest of the charity books, The Tales of Beedle The Bard has been published in association with Children’s High-Level Group in 2008. This short story collection is J.K.Rowling’s magical take on the old-school fairytale genre. Among other stories, the book includes The Tale of the Three Brothers – a myth that played an important role in the final HP book. The short novella also contains Dumbledore’s notes on various tales: these writings not only give us more context and background regarding the magical world but also provide an insight into Dumbledore’s personality. These notes might be useful in kickstarting a Dumbledore-centric film plotline, as it has been speculated that the young version of the character will show up in the future Fantastic Beasts movies.

Finally, one last note on the charity books – I think that they are an amazing idea and that more authors should use their talents for writing to help others. J.K.Rowling not only created more stories for the fans of Harry Potter but actually did something good that will benefit people around the world. Basically, I hope more writers will try to cleverly utilize their fandom for philanthropy.

Harry Potter and The Cursed Child

The last of the books that I’m gonna talk about today is, of course, the new HP book. Written in a play format for the West End and released in a script form, The Cursed Child tells a story of Harry, his family, and friends 19 years after the demise of Voldemort.

I was super excited when I heard that the script of the play will be published as I knew that I wasn’t going to make it to London to see the theatrical production. I absolutely loved coming back to this world and catching up with the character that I grew up with. It was also really nice to see them as proper adults: while their characters as children acted as my personal examples on how to be a child, The Cursed Child can basically act as my guide into adulthood.

I also found it interesting how we got to see a few alternative futures of our beloved characters. In addition, I liked the fact that Rowling picked the Time-Turner from the 3rd book to be the focus of the 8th story – she has taken a supposed plot hole of a previous book and made it into a plot-point. Now, nobody can complain that they should have used the Time-Turner to kill Voldemort in the first place, as the consequences of that could have been even worse. Basically, the main message is DON’T MESS WITH TIME. Also, I liked how she took other familiar bits and pieces from the previous books and presented them in a new way, like the Triwizard Tournament from the 4th book.

The format of the play took some getting used to, as the narrative would jump around in time very quickly. However, that added a quickness and a non-stop pace to the plot, which was quite nice and different. Nevertheless, I did miss the extensive descriptions that would take up a lot of space in the previous novels. The main topics and values like family, friendship, the fight between good and evil, the sacrifice, and the prophecy – the staples of HP – were present and welcomed in The Cursed Child as well.

A few last notes of the book: I really liked how J.K. Rowling managed to resurrect popular characters for the 8th book, by that, I, of course, mean Snape. Reading his lines and imagining Alan Rickman in my mind made his passing even sadder and more heartbreaking. To end this short review on a happier note – I liked how in this book, Draco and Ginny were kinda included into the main trio. This reminded me a lot of the 5th book, which was my favorite because it had more of the main characters. Don’t get me wrong, I have always loved Harry, Hermione, and Ron together, but I also liked seeing them interact with other characters as well and The Cursed Child gave me more of that.


After reading a new HP story and 3 supplementary novellas, I feel quite prepared and in the mood for the new film. I loved the casting choices, especially Eddie Redmayne in the lead, I’m excited about the new U.S. setting and the trailers have also been promising. My review of the film will be coming out the same weekend as the movie hits theaters.

Bye, and Thank You for reading!

Movie review: Inferno

Movie reviews

Hello, my dear readers!

The latest Dan Brown/Ron Howard/Tom Hanks collaboration – Inferno – has reached cinemas, so, let’s review it!

IMDb summary: When Robert Langdon wakes up in an Italian hospital with amnesia, he teams up with Dr. Sienna Brooks, and together they must race across Europe against the clock to foil a deadly global plot.

I have done a preview post for this film where I talked about all the books as well as the previous films of the franchise (you can find it here). As usual, I’ll try to list as many book-to-movie changes as I could spot, although it has been a few months since I’ve read the novel, so I might not have noticed everything. Once again, the critics are ripping this movie apart (like the earlier movies of the series), so I’ll also try to defend it from a fan’s perspective.

SPOILERS AHEAD

Writing

The screenwriter David Koepp adapted Dan Brown’s novel to the big screen and did a fairly good job. Koepp’s track record has been mixed. Although the movies he has written have been very financially profitable, not all of them were liked by the movie goers or the critics. He has contributed to such successes as Jurassic ParkMission: Impossible and Panic Room. However, he also co-wrote the horrible Indiana Jones 4 and directed one of the worst films of Johnny Depp’s career – Mordecai. Koepp has also written the second film of the Robert Landon franchise – Angels & Demons – it used to be my favorite, but I think Inferno has taken its place.

For the bigger part of the movie, narrative alterations have been minimal. Even the third act and the finale went down in a similar way in the book, however, the final end-game of the story was changed completely.

To begin with, the book started with Langdon already in the hospital, while the movie added an explanatory set-up (and yet ‘Would you press a button’ idea came from the book). The picture immersed the viewers into the film’s world first and then dropped Langdon in it, while the book used Langdon as the reader’s lens into the world of the story. The screenwriter also modernized the narrative by showing Zobrist giving a Ted talk like presentation and by using a drone to look for Langdon and Sienna.

The scriptwriter also added some shared history for Sienna and Langdon (met when she was a kid), introduced an idea that Langdon might be a carrier of the virus, and also added a new character of Christoph Bouchard – the inclusion of him allowed the film to explore the plot-line of a virus possibly being stolen and sold. Furthermore, Koepp cut Sinskey’s personal background and added some shared backstory for her and Langdon. He also streamlined the story and made it more linear, as usual for book-to-movie adaptations.

The film’s finale happened in the same location as did the book’s. The premise was also similar – Langdon + W.H.O. and Sienna were separately looking for the bag. However, that’s where the similarities ended. In the film, Sienna had mini bombs to break the bag – she didn’t have them in the book. However, the biggest change was the fact that the virus was actually contained in the movie, while the book explained that the bag has dissolved a week ago and that the virus was already out in the world. The film only talked about the virus killing half of the population, while, in the book, this was only a false facade to hide the fact that the virus would sterilize a third of world’s population. The book also had Sienna’s character surviving the whole thing and she even ends up working for World Health Organization to research the virus, though the book also made it explicit that the sterilization of some humans might be a good thing. The movie cut this kinda controversial ending and finished the picture with the good guys winning and Sienna dying for basically nothing. I wish the filmmakers would have had the courage to keep the novel’s ending.

The film had a lot of expositional dialogue and monolog – some of it worked well and seemed organic, some appeared forced and out-of-place. The character development through dialogue was good: e.g. Sienna mentioning her childhood and Langdon saying that he had a fear of tight spaces and a bad past relationship. However, before the 3rd act of the film began and all the characters had to get on the same page, that part of the exposition was a bit cliche and an extremely obvious plot device.

Directing

Ron Howard (Rush, In The Heart of The Sea) directed the picture, like the two previous features of the franchise and did a solid job. The pacing was really good for the majority of the film, but the movie did slow down during the Sienna/Zobrist flashback and before the 3rd act. The dream montages were effective and quite scary and Langdon’s disorientation was also portrayed well through the shaky cam, close-ups, and quick cuts. I also liked how the classical music was incorporated into the finale – it wasn’t just an outside soundtrack but an actual diegetic musical score. I also found it amusing that the 3rd act’s action happened in the water – fitting for Langdon’s swimming/water polo background.

Acting

  • Tom Hanks as Robert Langdon was good as always. I’m one of a few people who actually like Hanks as this character and I also cannot ever find anything wrong with his acting abilities – in my opinion, he is one of the best and most reliable actors (quality-wise) of today. I don’t think that I would be able to pick my favorite movie of his because I have seen so many and all of them have been great, so I’m just gonna list his latest and upcoming performances. Hanks recently starred in Bridge of Spies, A Hologram for the King, and Sully (which will only premiere in the UK in December – so annoying). Going forward, he will star and produce The Circle and will also come back to voicing Woody in Toy Story 4
  • Felicity Jones as Dr. Sienna Brooks was great as well. Since I knew the big twist of her character, I think I noticed a few hints at it in Jones’s performance. She had a weird look here and a strange expression there, so I was expecting the reveal and was mostly sure that it wouldn’t be cut. I was first introduced to Jones in The Theory of Everything, since then she has moved to way bigger things. On top of being in Inferno and another possible awards’ contender for this year – A Monster Calls – she will also play the lead in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story.
  • Ben Foster as Bertrand Zobrist was good. He didn’t get a lot of screen-time – he actually mostly appeared in flashbacks or in videos. Nevertheless, he played a solid mad genius. Foster’s recent performances include The ProgramThe Finest HoursWarcraft and one of my favorite movies from this year Hell or High Water.
  • Omar Sy (The IntouchablesJurassic Worldas Christoph BouchardSidse Babett Knudsen (A Hologram for the King) as Elizabeth Sinskey and Irrfan Khan (Life of Pi, Jurassic World, The Jungle Book Hindi version) as Harry Sims were also great in their supporting roles. Khan probably stood out the most out of the three of them just because his character was so interesting – wish we could have explored his backstory and his company more.

In short, Inferno was a solid action adventure film with some art history sprinkled on top. It had an okay writing, good directing and nice performances. It wasn’t a special or groundbreaking movie, but I still had fun with it and definitely do not understand why critics hate it so much.

Rate: 3.5/5

Trailer: Inferno trailer

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Dan Brown’s Books and Ron Howard’s Movies (Inferno Preview)

Movie previews

Hello!

In the middle of October, the latest Ron Howard and Tom Hanks collaboration – Inferno – will hit theaters. So, I decided to educate myself on the source material – the amazing bestsellers by Dan Brown as well as the 2 previous films of the franchise – and want to tell you all about my educational and entertaining journey into the world of Robert Langdon.

Dan Brown’s Books

While all of the books in the Robert Langdon series are stand-alone novels, I decided to read them in the order that they were published. My dad used to a big fan of this author’s work, so I had all the novels in my home library. I truly enjoyed reading this series that blends history and modernity beautifully; unravels the whole narrative in such a limited time frame (the stories span maximum of 2 days) and finds real facts to prove conspiracy theories (sort of). A few ideas about the 4 different accounts of the exciting adventures:

  • Angels & Demons – the first and my favorite book of the series. It was the freshest and the most original (because it came first) and it also had the biggest amount of action, mystery, and suspense. I loved the religion v science debate. I also liked the realism of the novel but had a few problems with the ending – it just seemed a bit over-the-top and unbelievable for such a grounded story.  The setting of Rome and Vatican was brilliant, though.
  • The Da Vinci Code – probably the most famous book of the series that explored the topic of art v religion and had quite an open ending that I still don’t know if I liked it or hated it. Either way, I loved learning about Paris.
  • The Lost Symbol – the most philosophical book of the series that dealt with science and spirituality and even magic. I really liked that Brown moved the action to the new world instead of focusing on Europe once again.
  • Inferno – with this book, the writer moved the plot back to Italy, where everything started (Angels & Demons was also set in Italy). The mixture of themes such as literature, art, medicine, religion, and humanism was really cool. The amnesia aspect was a great story device to kick-start the narrative. The idea of The Consortium as an underground organization with a lot of power was impressive too.

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In general, as I’ve said, I loved all of the works by Dan Brown. This series is like a virtual tour of historical cities that I desire to visit in real life as well. My only gripes with the books were 1. the repetition of story devices and 2. a slight overdramatization. After reading all of the volumes of the series, I started noticing that all of the female characters were kinda similar – they all were either daughters/granddaughters/sisters/lovers of the other important characters of the books. All of the 4 leading ladies were also used as the love interests for the main character but they never resurfaced a second time. Robert Langdon’s position was also always pretty much the same – he would be sucked into the action by accident and would usually become a temporary outlaw. The villains tended to be people from the outskirts of society that don’t fully fit in – they were either the assassins, the crazy monks, the revengeful family members or the misunderstood geniuses. Lastly, the author really seemed to like his ending twists – all novels revealed a lot of stuff during the last 20 pages and these ‘exposures’ totally turned things around and changed the stories almost completely.

The 2nd and 3rd books shared an idea that ‘people are not ready to find out some historical truth’, while the 1st and 4th novels focused on some kind of modern technologies that were used in the attempted destruction of the world for religious reasons. The 1st book was my favorite, while the following 3 all shared the runner’s up position.

Ron Howard’s films

The Da Vinci Code was the first book to be adapted into the film in 2006. 3 years later, the big screen adaptation of Angels & Demons was released. I don’t know why they decided to switch the order of the first two books when adapting them, especially, since I felt that Angels & Demons was the stronger novel and might have been a better starting feature of the franchise. I also have no idea why they skipped the 3rd book and decided to adapt Inferno instead. Also, why wait 7 years to adapt the next movie? I think that the audiences might have already forgotten the character of Robert Langdon, particularly, in the market oversaturated with thrillers, adventure films, crime dramas and superhero movies (Ron Howard’s adaptations have various aspects in common with all of these genres).

I also don’t understand why the two films have been panned by critics this much. The few reasons that I can spot in common between all the reviews is the fact that the movies have a lot of narration and that they critique the church – all the reviewers seem to be personally offended by this commentary. I also can not comprehend how the Catholic Church feels threatened by a piece of fictional entertainment/commercial art. Is the church really this weak to see a slightly diverging idea as a serious menace to its thousand year old history and a thousand year long world domination?

A few ideas about the two movies purely from the cinematic perspective:

The Da Vinci Code: 

  • The movie had a smaller amount of explanations and less backstory than the book, Langdon seemed to break the codes way more easily and without the key, and the family relations were altered too.
  • Small moments, like difficulties with the code at the bank and the second cryptex, were cut, but, in general, the picture was quite true to the book.
  • The narrative was more straightforward and streamlined for the film, so as to make in easy to follow to viewers not familiar with the book.
  • The filmmakers added more action in the literal sense of the word, although, they kept the quite underwhelming ending – I expected the film to finish with some big original action sequence since it was made in Hollywood.
  • The movie also had a lot of dialogue in French which is quite unusual for a Hollywood picture, which is primarily aimed at the English-speaking audiences.
  • The visuals of the past/explanatory flashbacks were really nice and interesting. They also served as a nice visual explanation to accompany the narration.
  • The supporting cast was full of big name talent. Ian McKellen and Paul Bettany both were really good and the lesser know (at least to me) French actors Audrey Tautou and Jean Reno were great as well.

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Angels & Demons:

  • This film was less faithful to the book and it had a variety of changes and things being cut.
  • Changes: Vetra’s father was replaced with a different scientist. Olivetti was not part of the Swiss Guard and the Vatican contacted Langdon, not CERN. The last cardinal was saved in the film, while he died in the book. The assassin was way less sadistic and eccentric and died differently. Lastly, the final suicide was public in the novel, but it happened in private in the picture and Langdon also received a different ‘thank-you’ gift.
  • Cuts: the director of CERN didn’t appear in the film. Vittoria wasn’t kidnapped at all. The biological son plotline was left out and Robert also didn’t go into the helicopter in the film, while he did that in the book.
  • However, the film kept the main thematical idea of the book – the whole tradition vs. modernity discussion. It also retained the little details, like Langdon’s passion for water sports and his Mickey Mouse watch.
  • The feature also had a way faster set-up than the book – it took the novel at least a hundred pages to start on the quest of looking for the Path of Illumination, while the film started to look for it after the first 15-20 minutes.
  • A few cool shots that I particularly enjoyed were: the whole sequence in the particle accelerator and the shot of the cardinals leaving their cell phones behind when entering the conclave.
  • The film had a nice supporting cast, although, the characters could have been fleshed out more. Ewan McGregor’s character seemed shady from the start, while Stellan Skarsgård’s character was unlikeable and hostile without any real explanation. Ayelet Zurer’s character also needed a lot of screen time before she grew on me as a likable protagonist.

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I hope you enjoyed this review of a franchise that spans a few mediums, both the cinematic and the textual one. I would really like to do more post like these. My Inferno review will come out as soon as I get a chance to see the film!

Have a great day!

Movie review: Pete’s Dragon

Movie reviews

Hello!

Welcome to the last movie review of this summer! We close the blockbusters season with another live-action fairy tale from Disney – Pete’s Dragon!

IMDb summary: The adventures of an orphaned boy named Pete and his best friend Elliot, who just so happens to be a dragon.

Pete’s Dragon is quite an unusual film for Disney because it is quite small – both budget wise and story/scope wise. However, small doesn’t mean bad – it just another type of picture. It is actually quite refreshing to see Disney spending time and money on newer and lesser known projects. Of course, I have to mention that Pete’s Dragon is not an original film but a remake of a musical with the same name from the 70s. I haven’t seen the 1977’s picture and I doubt that I’ll watch it because it is not a timeless Disney classic and it doesn’t have that good of a rating. Moreover, the new Pete’s Dragon more than satisfied all my wishes.

Writing

The film was written by the director of the feature David Lowery and the screenwriter/producer Toby Halbrooks. Halbrooks has written a few shorts and is also writing a script for 2018’s Peter Pan for Disney to be directed by Lowery. In addition to having his next directing gig sorted out, Lowery will also be writing the script for a war film The Yellow Birds. 

I really enjoyed the story that the duo penned for Pete’s Dragon. It was simple, yet well-crafted. The ideas about family and finding a place where you belong were classic Disney themes but they did actually work because of their universality and wide appeal.

The character development was also quite pleasant. I loved how Pete and Bryce Dallas Howard’s character Grace felt connected through nature. I also enjoyed the father-daughter relationship between Grace and her father, played by Robert Redford. The friendship between the main character Pete and his pet dragon Elliot was also cute and reminded me of other great films where children befriend various animals/beings – Max and E.T. are just two of many.  The main antagonist of the film was a cliche character but he served his purpose well in this family adventure picture.

Lastly, I kinda thought that Pete’s Dragon was a spiritual succesor to another live-action fairy tale of 2016 – The Jungle Book. If at the end of Mowgli’s story, he would have been found by humans and Baloo would have gone looking for him, we would most likely have gotten a Pete’s Dragon type of a situation.

Directing

David Lowery, who has only recently started to dip his toes into the blockbuster business, did quite a nice job with the film. The action scenes were entertaining, the mise-en-scene (the forest and the mountains) – gorgeous and the movie’s direction good as well.

The character design of Elliot – the dragon – was a bit weird. He didn’t really look like a dragon, more like a furry dog or a soft teddy bear that could also fly. I heard that a lot of people hated that the dragon was fury and didn’t have any scales. Personally, this change didn’t bother me – I think that it actually helped Elliot to stand out as a different kind of dragon. Also, from the business standpoint, a furry dragon is way more marketable and more merchandise friendly – what kid doesn’t want another soft plushie toy to his/her collection?

I saw the film in 3D but, honestly, it didn’t add anything to it. The effect actually made the whole film darker and, since a lot of scenes were already happening during the night, the 3D only made it harder for me to see the human characters and Elliot.

Music

The 1977’s Pete’s Dragon was a musical, but the studio decided to remake it as a drama/adventure film and drop the songs. However, the 2016’s film still had an interesting soundtrack by Daniel Hart. It seemed to me that the flick had more of a country-music inspired soundtrack and vibe. It was quite refreshing to hear some deep voices and guitar sounds after a lot of EDM and pop music in all of the other films this summer.

Acting

The main character of the film – Pete – was played by Oakes Fegley. When did the child actors have gotten this good? He was excellent in the role – sweet, relatable to children but still able to display acting chops that some adult actors lack. He has a bright future ahead.

Jurrasic World’s Bryce Dallas Howard played the adult-lead Grace and did a nice job. Grace was very different from Dallas Howard’s Jurassic World’s persona – more motherly and way more nature-orientated. Going forward, the actress has a drama thriller Gold coming up. Also, funny fact, I only recently realized that she was the one playing Gwen Stacy in Spider-Man 3. I did not recognize her with the red hair.

Karl Urban played the main antagonist of the film and was okay. Since I’ve only seen him in Star Trek as the caring doctor Bones, it was quite strange to view him as this unlikeable douchebag. He will be one of the villains in Thor 3, so, I guess, I’d better get used to this.

The cast also included Wes Bentley (We Are Your Friends, Interstellar), Oona Laurence (Southpaw, Bad Moms) and Robert Redford (Captain America: The Winter Soldier) among others. Bentley didn’t have much to do – he mostly reacted to stuff that was happening around him. Laurence was good too, while Redford was also believable as loving but a bit weird grandpa/father.

All in all, Pete’s Dragon was a good movie from Disney. It was well-written and nicely crafted. The film was not groundbreaking or the most original but it still made for some pretty good time at the cinema.

Rate: 4/5

Trailer: Pete’s Dragon trailer

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