Movie review: The Shape of Water

Movie reviews

Hello!

Welcome to a review of another awards movie. This is The Shape of Water!

IMDb summary: At a top secret research facility in the 1960s, a lonely janitor forms a unique relationship with an amphibious creature that is being held in captivity.

Writing

The Shape of Water was written by the director Guillermo del Toro and Vanessa Taylor (who wrote Divergent and the upcoming live-action Alladin and has also worked on Game of Thrones). I thought that the duo crafted a unique yet familiar love story. The characters – the mute woman and the creature – were the two things that made the conventional plot into an unconventional (subverted) and extraordinary one. It was interesting to see how Elisa’s disability made her more empathetic towards other individuals who were shunned by society (not only the creature but the (?)gay (he is never labeled in the movie) neighbor but the black co-worker). Her specific disability (being mute) and her gender (female) also had an interesting correlation with the idea of women being silenced/having no voice in that period (the 1960s – prior to the sexual revolution and the overt women’s rights movements).

The hints at the fact that the amphibian man was the one who hurt her as a child made for some fascinating implications in their relationship too. For one, that possibility (of him maybe having hurt her) and some of his other actions in the film made him seem as a creature in which goodness and destruction coexist (sort of like in humanity: Hawkins‘ character symbolizing the kindness and Shannon’s – the violence). The whole romantic relationship between the two characters was just so pure, even adorable and yet still slightly creepy. The picture didn’t shy away from the more questionable parts of the relationship (Beauty and the Beast never raised those kinds of questions) which was quite brave, in my mind, mostly in risking alienating the audience. The film’s ending was quite unexpected, to me, personally. I was assuming that the script will go the melancholic route – ‘if you love, let go’ – but The Shape of Water chose the hopeful/happy fairytale conclusion and finished on the note of love and unity. That was quite an escapist ending but it did fit the surreal quality of the film.

A few other notes on the writing. First, I loved this movie’s appreciation for cinema and creative arts in general (painting, drawing). I’ve always loved films which love (like me) and pay homage to other motion pictures (I’d love to live above the movie theatre). The second interesting point of writing that was somewhat divorced from the main love story was Michael Shannon’s arc and his character’s relation to the ideas of the male success and the expectations for such success. Failure was not an option for him and it is still not seen as a legitimate or appropriate part of the construction of masculinity, especially the white privileged form of masculinity.

Directing

Guillermo del Toro directed The Shape of Water and succeeded in crafting almost a spiritual sequel (an adult one) to Pan’s Labyrinth (while I have liked his more action-driven works like Hellboy and its sequel and Pacific Rim, his weirder creations (fantasy realism or realistic fantasies) were always more fascinating to me and that includes Crimson Peak). Anyways, speaking about this picture, I adored its mixed tonne. The Shape of Water was both a genre movie and a typical awards movie. It was an old-school monster thriller/horror movie (think the original Universal Monsters Universe, Creature from the Black Lagoon) as well as an old-school romantic drama with some shades of the theatrical musical or more than just shades in one particular sequence (think Singin’ in the Rain, An American in Paris, just recently La La Land). The adult tone that I’ve mentioned in the opening sentence was that fact that the film had sexual and sensual undertones that one would not find in a more family-friendly film, like Pan’s Labyrinth (though, both that movie and The Shape of Water were rated R, so maybe Pan’s Labyrinth isn’t that all-ages appropriate as I remember).

Visually, the film looked stunning. The 1960s world of science was well realized (stellar production design) and the underwater sequences at the beginning and the end of the film were amazing (top-notch cinematography). The movie’s and the main character’s relationship to water was realized so cleverly and beautifully too. The costume design and the makeup were impeccable as well: the monster looked incredibly real.

Acting

Sally Hawkins (Paddington 2) delivered a brilliant performance that shined through the limited means of expression, a.k.a., she was amazing, even though, she barely said any lines. She seemed so endearing and had such a complex interplay innocence and maturity about her. And, although she was so great in the film, part of me wishes that the role would have been given to am an actually mute actress – I’d love to see more opportunities being extended to actors with disabilities (or special abilities). The TV show Switched at Birth has taught me that there are quite a few mute and deaf actors working in the business.

Doug Jones (a longtime collaborator of del Toro, currently part of the main cast of Star Trek: Discoveryor the Andy Serkis of practical costumes/effects was great as the creature and was definitely more than able to act through all that rubber. Michael Shannon (12 Strong, Nocturnal Animals, Loving) was also fascinating to watch even when though he played a very despicable character. Octavia Spencer (Hidden Figures, Allegiant) also had some fun scenes, while Richard Jenkins was amazing as the neighbor. Michael Stuhlbarg also had a small role in the film (and applause go to him and his agent for having three awards movie this season – The Shape of Water, Call Me By Your Name, and The Post – that join numerous other awards movies in his filmography, including the recent ones: Steve Jobs, Trumbo, and Arrival).

In short, The Shape of Water was one of those movies that made me go ‘huh?!’ and made me unsure what to feel (or think) in the best way possible.

Rate: 4,8/5

Trailer: The Shape of Water 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: Only The Brave

Movie reviews

Hello!

A touching cinematic ode to the fallen firefighters – Only The Brave – has reached theatres, so, let’s review it.

IMDb summary: Based on the true story of the Granite Mountain Hotshots, a group of elite firefighters risk everything to protect a town from a historic wildfire.

  1. I haven’t seen a lot of movies focusing on firefighters before. There have been a fair few films telling the stories of the police officers or the doctors, so it was only right that the firefighters and their important work should also be spotlighted. And that’s exactly what Only The Brave did. The picture was directed by Joseph Kosinski (director of Tron: Legacy and writer/director of Oblivion, who is also set to direct Top Gun 2) and written by Ken Nolan (Black Hawk Down, Transformers 5) and Eric Warren Singer (American Hustle). The script was based on a GQ article “No Exit” by Sean Flynn.
  2. In general, Only The Brave’s writing was good and ticked off all the boxes of the biographical drama to do list. The set-up and the character development was present, the narrative unraveled smoothly, and the emotional punch was strong. The film’s 3 acts had distinct qualities. The first act/the set-up acted as the ‘origin’ story of the Grand Mountain Hot Shots, the middle part showed their career highs and strengthened the connection between the viewer and the characters, while the last act revolved around a game-changing event. The conclusion of the movie used that aforementioned connection to make its viewers teary-eyed during the third act. In addition, I found that idea of nature as fuel for fire very interesting and unique – never seen nature from that perspective myself.
  3. The character development was mostly given to two characters – Miles Teller’s Donut and Josh Brolin’s Supe. We got to see their struggles and their family lives. Jeff Bridges’s character was there to push the plot forward, while Taylor Kitsch’s character was used as the comedic relief (‘2 dads and a baby’ moment was so funny). The other guys were there for the atmosphere. The said atmosphere started out quite unappealing, especially for me as a female viewer. I do get that guys talk like that (by that, I mean borderline sexist) in an all-male environment, but that doesn’t mean that I’d like to see it. What I did enjoy seeing was the training of the group as well as their growth from bullying each other to legitimately caring for one another.
  4. The directing of the film was quite good. The pacing was okay and the intensity of the action sequences was fine too – the movie did succeed in conveying the risks that these people were taking. The southern rural US setting was well-realized too. The burning bear visual was neat, while the other scenes of fire looked realistic. The nice dedication at the end of the film and the photos of the real-life counterparts of the characters were both nice touches.
  5. The cast of the film was quite extensive, but, as I have said, only a handful of characters were focused on. Josh Brolin (Hail, Caesar!, MCU) played Supe and was good, though I have already seen him in a comparable role (Everest and Sicario both come to mind). Similarly, Jeff Bridges also played a role he has played before (in Hell or High Water or even in Kingsman 2). Miles Teller (War Dogs, Allegiant, FF) was good too and I kinda feel that his character, at least during the first act, was basically the person that everyone images Teller to be in real life (he doesn’t have the greatest image in the media). Taylor Kitsch (American Assasin) was okay as well, but I wanted to see something more out of him. Jennifer Connelly (Noah, she was also the voice of Karen (the suit’s AI) in Spider-Man: Homecoming) played Supe’s wife and she actually had more to do than the characters of wifes or girlfriends usually do in films like these.

In short, Only The Brave was a well-made and a heartfelt biographical drama, worthy of a watch but not necessarily at the cinema.

Rate: 4/5

Trailer: Only The Brave trailer

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Movie review: The Glass Castle

Movie reviews, Uncategorized

Hello!

The Captain Fantastic-esque movie for this awards’ season – The Glass Castle – has reached theatres, so let’s see if it is as good as its predecessor.

IMDb summary: A young girl comes of age in a dysfunctional family of nonconformist nomads with a mother who’s an eccentric artist and an alcoholic father who would stir the children’s imagination with hope as a distraction to their poverty.

Writing

The Glass Castle’s script was written by the director of the picture Destin Daniel Cretton, Andrew Lanham (who wrote the 2017 religious pic The Shack), and Marti Noxon (writer on Buffy and To The Bone). It was based on the memoir of the same name by Jeannette Walls (who was played in the film by Brie Larson). The writing for the film was interesting – it had some great moments but a few flaws too. First, the narrative simultaneously unraveled in two temporal lines, past and present, and these two were connected well-enough. However, the story itself was a bit too long – there were differently quite a few moments which could have been cut and made the plot more tight and streamlined. Nevertheless, the fact that the story was so long and drawn out kinda helped to build a strong emotional core of the film.

The Glass Castle had the Interstellar syndrome of focusing on a single child’s relationship with the parents and kinda letting the other children fade into the background (but, I guess, since the movie was based on one person’s memoir, it’s okay for the film to also have a more centered focus). Thematically, the movie tackled a lot of issues. The most obvious one was the less-than-conventional lifestyle of the family (and this were the Captain Fantastic similarity came in, although, CF was more about living unconventionally, while this one was more about just living in poverty). It was depicted quite well and with enough detail. The second topic was the parent-child relationship. That discussion had the ultimate message that parents need to respect their children’s life choices, even if they might do something different in their place (at least that was my takeaway).

The third issue was the abuse in the family. This problem was depicted in both The Walls’ family and the father’s family. The first recreation of the issue (in The Walls family) was way more well-rounded, while the abuse in the father’s own family (abuse of the mother/grandma) was only just glanced at, which was the biggest flaw in the film. If that was definitely the case of pedophilia, the movie should have looked at it much more. If it wasn’t the case, all the speculations needed to be cleared out way more overtly. Lastly, The Glass Castle also presented an alcoholic character and had one of the best and most accurate representations of the issue. The withdrawal scene, as well as the irrational need for a drink, were very realistic inclusions.

While The Glass Castle did a fairly good job of presenting a variety of issues and topics, I wish it were more critical of them. I saw this being the main complaint in the reviews of the various critics and I completely agree with them. The end of the picture was mostly sugar-coated and very Hollywood-y. While forgiveness is a powerful tool to have, an ability to stand for one’s own beliefs and to cut toxic people from one’s life, no matter how close to them one used to be, are also important life lessons that I wish the film would have added.

Directing

Destin Daniel Cretton, who has previously mostly worked on short films and documentaries, directed The Glass Castle as his 3rd feature film. The pacing of the movie was really slow, and while the emotional connection between the viewer and the characters was quite successfully built, the narrative itself did drag and got too repetitive at times. The cinematography was good, very classic, drama-style one. The director also did a good job of working with the actors and pulling amazing performances out of them.

Acting

The two stand-outs from the cast were Brie Larson (Room, Kong, Free Fire) and Woody Harrelson (Triple 9, Now You See Me 1+2, War For The Planet Of The Apes). Larson has actually previously worked with this director and her involvement in his film post-Oscar win, kinda raised the movie’s profile. Anyway, Larson, once again, proved that she deserved that last Oscar that she won and I hope to see her standing on the Academy stage once more in the future. Harrelson also nailed his role. This time around his performance as an alcoholic was even more believable than in The Hunger Games. Other supporting cast members included Divergent’s Naomi Watts (she was amazing as the eccentric artist mother) and Sarah Shook (Steve Jobs), Josh Caras, and Brigette Lundy-Paine as Jeannette’s siblings. New Girls Max Greenfield also had a fun role, while Ella Anderson did a very good job as the younger version of Jeannette.

In short, The Glass Castle is an interesting biopic that should have analyzed rather than just depicted its source material. The acting is top-notch, though.

Rate: 3.5/5

Trailer: The Glass Castle trailer

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5 ideas about a movie: Rough Night 

Movie reviews

Hello!

After two weeks of back to back volunteering gigs at big sports events, I needed a simple and fun movie. I expected Rough Night to be just that. Let’s see if it were.

  1. Rough Night was written by the director of the film Lucia Aniello and Paul W. Downs (real-life and comedic partners, who both work on Comedy Central projects). The writing was mostly fine: I liked the topical humor, like the fact that Scarlet Johansson’s politician character looked like Hilary Clinton or that the film made fun of the selfie culture. The ending was a bit out-there but managed to get a few laughs from me, so that’s good. The typical (almost cliche) themes of the friend rivalry and the growing apart were also present.
  2. Aniello’s direction for the movie was okay, though it did seem a bit amateurish, with some neat moments dispersed throughout. The whole idea to set the film in Miami, unfortunately, reminded me of Snatched and how that film was just basically set in a more exotic location so that the actors could go on vacation. The pop soundtrack was fun and summery, though.
  3. The main 5 ladies were played by Scarlett Johansson (Marvel films (Rough Night’s low box office killed any possibilities of a Black Widow movie), The Jungle Book, Hail, Caesar!, Ghost in the Shell), Kate McKinnon (Ghostbusters), Jillian BellIlana Glazer, and Zoë Kravitz (Divergent, Mad Max, Fantastic Beasts). Although their characters seemed pretty varied, all of their performances were really similar. My favorite one was actually Kravitz, while McKinnon’s Australian-ness (the actress is American) seemed like a cheap joke that was pushed too far.
  4. The supporting cast of the film was way more fun than the main one. The groom and his friends at the wine tasting sequence (what melodrama were they from? doesn’t matter – it worked), as well as the slow-motion sequence at the shop, were hilarious. The screenwriter of the film Paul W. Downs actually played the part of the groom-to-be. The cameo appearances by Demi Moore and Ty Burrell also added a few laughs.
  5. The movie had two after/during credits scenes. The mid-credits one was a way too long joke involving McKinnon’s character, while the after-credits scene provided some extra revelations about the plot. I didn’t even wait for it, though.

In short, Rough Night (or Bridesmaids: the crime comedy) was an okay summer flick that served some laughs as well as some cringy moments.

Rate: 3/5

Trailer: Rough Night 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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Movie review: Jackie

Movie reviews

Hi!

Welcome to a review of the best 1960s film made in the 21st century. It’s Jackie.

IMDb summary: Following the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy fights through grief and trauma to regain her faith, console her children, and define her husband’s historic legacy.

Writing and Acting: the main character and the lead actress

Like I did in the review of Elle, I’m going to combine the writing and the acting parts of this review because like Isabelle Huppert and Elle, Jackie and Natalie Portman are inseparable. Also, when watching Elle, I was sure that Huppert will take the Oscar for playing the titular character. Now, having seen Portman’s performance, I’m not that sure. Honestly, I’d be happy if either of them wins because they both deserve it. Portman already has an Academy Award for Black Swan, while it would be the first one for Huppert.

Anyways, let’s focus on Jackie. The picture’s screenplay was written by Noah Oppenheim who previously wrote some so-so YA adaptations, like The Maze Runner and Allegiant. I can’t actually comprehend how he could be the one who wrote all of these differents scripts. Not only are these films all very varied but the quality of the writing also differs drastically, with Jackie, obviously, being his best script yet. He did win ‘Best Screenplay Award’ at the 73rd Venice International Film Festival for it, so that should tell you all you need to know.

Speaking of the writing in more detail, the picture’s narrative was located in a limited timeframe and had a deep focus on the specific events. The movie was structured as a real-time interview with incorporated flashbacks. It portrayed Jackie as a complex and multifaceted individual. The differences between her public and private persona and between the pre-incident and post-incident Jackie were just fascinating to watch.

I’ve always imagined Jacqueline Kennedy as being sort of innocent, poised, and feminine figure. However, in truth, she was very much a strong-willed individual whose public appearances were always performative. Especially after the assassination, there seemed to be a certain amount of bitterness in her being that might have risen from the feelings of self-guilt. Her relationship with her husband was certainly not easy, with JFK having multiple affairs, but, in the end, she did love him and witnessed him being murdered in her arms. The film also raised the political questions of legacy (both hers and his) and also commented on the famous Camelot parable, but also showed Jackie’s more personal side through her adoration of arts and history, so kudos to the scriptwriter for showing multiple sides of the character/the real person. However, it was Natalie Portman who carried this movie and absolutely nailed the performance. The way she manipulated the different layers of the character and the way she transformed her look, behavior and speech were just magnificent to watch. Jackie would go from episodes of almost panic to showing imaginable strength in a heartbeat, so Portman was able to display a wide variety of her acting skills. She played Jackie as so much more than merely a President’s wife because she was indeed so much more than just that.

Directing

A Chilean director  Pablo Larraín, with whose previous work I’m sadly not familiar with, directed Jackie and did a spectacular job. I loved the temporarily appropriate aspect ratio and the whole old-school feeling of the film. The documentary-like handheld camera work for the flashbacks and the steady mostly 180° shots for the interview sequences also worked. The fact that the interview was shot from the straight-on perspective made the actors’ performances even more effective. The viewers could feel like Jackie was basically speaking directly to them/at them. The filmmakers’ choices of music were also interesting (soundtrack by Mica Levi). The instrumental theme of the picture was very classic with a slightly modern edge. A few moments of it reminded me of the sounds one would hear in a neo-noir thriller.

The supporting cast

The secondary roles of the film (as famous as the role of Jackie herself) were played by moderately known actors. Peter Sarsgaard starred as Robert F. Kennedy, Greta Gerwig played Nancy Tuckerman, Billy Crudup was Theodore H. White/The Journalist, and John Hurt appeared as Father Richard McSorley. The casting director also did a good job in finding an actor who looked quite similar to JFKCaspar Phillipson. Granted, he appeared in only a handful of scenes, but since everybody knows how JFK looked in real life, it was nice to see the picture trying to be as accurate and as seamlessly realistic as possible.

In short, Jackie was a great personal biopic that showed the complexities of the JFK’s assassination’s aftermath and neatly spotlighted the woman who was in the middle of all of it – Jacqueline Kennedy (Onassis)Portman’s performance as the titular character was just brilliant and spectacular.

Rate: 4.2/5

Trailer: Jackie trailer

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BEST, WORST, and MISSED movies of 2016!

Movie previews, Movie reviews

Hello!

Yes, it’s that time of the year again for me to list my favorite and least favorite pictures. Like last year, I will also give you a top 5 of the films that you might have missed because of various reasons but which are worth a watch. 2015’s lists are here.

A short warning before we start: I have not seen all the pictures released this year, especially the majority of the awards contenders, so do not expect to find a lot of them here. Also, this is not an objective ranking of films – these are my subjective personal preferences. That means that the movie you hated might have been one of my favorites and vice versa. Similarly, a film that the critics bashed or a movie that bombed at the box office might also find itself on my best list. Without further ado, let’s begin:

Best:

  1. Captain America: Civil War
  2. Deadpool
  3. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
  4. Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them
  5. Doctor Strange
  6. Hell or High Water
  7. Sully
  8. Arrival
  9. Zootopia
  10. Hacksaw Ridge

The first 5 places on my list are all occupied by big blockbusters. Not surprisingly, two Marvel movies managed to squeeze into the list at number 1 and 5, respectively. The fact that a Harry Potter and a Star Wars film made the list at 4th and 3rd place isn’t unexpected either. The biggest shocker of this year and the first half of my list finds itself at number 2. I was extremely worried about Deadpool but it totally blew my mind. Even though it came out back in February, I still cannot forget it and that’s why it is a runner-up on my favorite movie list.

The second half on the Top 10 spotlights a few ‘regular’ movies. Here we have my favorite indie picture at number 6, my favorite drama at number 7 and the best sci-fi I’ve seen in years at number 8. The list closes with my favorite animation of the year from none other than Disney at 9th place (it was so hard to pick the best animated picture – we had a few good ones in 2016) and the best historical film of the year at 10th place.

Worst:

  1. Jack Reacher: Never Go Back
  2. The Divergent Series: Allegiant
  3. Independence Day: Resurgence
  4. Assasin’s Creed
  5. Jason Bourne
  6. Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates
  7. Alice Through The Looking Glass
  8. Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children
  9. The BFG
  10. The Girl on the Train

I wouldn’t necessarily state that these films are the worst that I have seen this year but rather the most disappointing. The problem that I had with the majority of them was the fact that they wasted their potential and were extremely generic.

This list has a few sequels that nobody asked for (1st, 3rd, 7th). It also has a couple of YA adaptations that should not have been made the way they were at number 2 and number 8. It has a film that was basically destined to be bad at number 4. Plus, the list has my biggest disappointment of the year at number 5. Lastly, at the 6th place, we find a generic comedy that was not that funny; at number 9 – the worst Spielberg movie possibly ever and, in the last place, we have another bland thriller that was not that thrilling.

Missed Movies:

  1. Everybody Wants Some!! – the latest coming of age drama from Richard Linklater and the spiritual successor to Dazed and Confused, Everybody Want Some!! was a great film that not a lot of people saw. It came out in spring and had a neat story, nice directing, and great performances from a whole cast.
  2. Eye in the Sky – a modern and very topical thriller about contemporary warfare. It was suspenseful and intriguing. The film also featured the last on-screen performance by Alan Rickman.
  3. Eddie the Eagle – the feel-good film of the year. It had an inspiring story about a loveable underdog played by Taron Egerton. Wolverine himself provided the support.
  4. Nocturnal Animals – the second feature from the designer Tom Ford that had one of the most inventive and exciting narratives this year. The film was engaging, it asked questions, and was visually stunning.
  5. The Nice Guys – an actually funny comedy from this summer that nobody saw! It had both style and substance! The lead duo – Ryan Gosling and Russell Crowe – were amazing too!

So, these are my lists for the year! What movies did you love or hate in 2016? What is a film that you think I should watch that came out this year? Leave the answers in the comments bellow! I am looking forward to reviewing and discussing movies with you in 2017!

Bye!

My dorm room’s wardrobe

Movie review: Assasin’s Creed

Movie reviews

Hello!

Notoriously, the video game movies have always been pretty bad. Everybody hoped that this cycle would be broken with this summer’s Warcraft but the majority of people and the critics hated it (I and the Chinese audiences actually liked it a lot). Now, all hopes have been directed towards Assasin’s Creed but it has also been getting some pretty nasty reviews. Similarly to Warcraft, I knew nothing of the mythology of the game before going to see the film. I vaguely remember reading Assasin’s Creed comic, which I got during the free comic book day, but that’s about it when it comes to my knowledge on the subject.

Nevertheless, I was still looking forward to the movie because of its cast and because its blend of the future and the past interested and intrigued me. I used to think that history and modernity were two incompatible concepts, however, I just binged Westworld over Christmas and absolutely loved it, so I thought that maybe Assasin’s Creed could further extend my love for this new concept of fusion. Sadly, while I did like the acting and the atmospheric setting of the film (two things that I was looking forward to), other components of the movie left me pretty disappointed.

IMDb summary: When Callum Lynch explores the memories of his ancestor Aguilar and gains the skills of a Master Assassin, he discovers he is a descendant of the secret Assassins society.

Writing

The film’s script was written by Michael Lesslie (Macbeth), Adam Cooper and Bill Collage (Exodus, Allegiant, 2015’s Transporter). Their track record has not been great and their quality of work really showed in Assasin’s Creed. Let’s mention the things that I liked before going into the negatives. So, I quite liked the mythological ideas of the film – the fact that blood is our main relation to the past and to our ancestry. However, I didn’t think that these ideas were conveyed clearly or interestingly in the film: all the expositional dialogue felt clunky, hard to understand, and, frankly, quite boring. The movie’s commentary on the modern world was clearly wrong too: freedom and free-will are now more important than ever rather than being easily surrendered.

The writing for the characters wasn’t great either. They didn’t receive enough development and the choices that were made for and by the characters were super weird. Cotillard’s character had such an unclear story, her decisions opposed one other from scene to scene. In fact, her whole plotline seemed quite stupid. The cliche artifact didn’t help the story much either. The motivation for the actions of the other assassins was not clear too. Lastly, the ending was unsatisfying – they were hoping for a sequel, which they are not going to get. Why would they not worry about a sequel and make a good stand-alone film for once?

Directing

Macbeth’s director Justin Kurzel helmed Assasin’s Creed and left me kinda baffled. I expected more from a Palme d’Or nominated director. To begin with, the whole jumping around from the past to the present while in the Animus was unnecessary and uneven. In addition, I felt that the majority of the movie’s scenes were cut short. The confused, all-but-the-kitchen-sink camera work, which included everything from the long tracking shots to the first person’s POVs, wasn’t great either. The shaky cam was also not pleasant – the filmmakers should just stop with the shaky action – it has already stopped working for the Bourne series and it originated this technique. Nevertheless, let’s end on a positive note: even though they were unbelieavble, the parkours and the roof jumps did look cool and were entertaining.

Acting

The cast did a pretty good job with the awful material that they have been given. Michael Fassbender (X-Men, Steve Jobs) was great in the lead but his producing input on the movie did not help it. Marion Cotillard (Allied), Jeremy Irons (BvS), Brendan Gleeson (In The Heart of The Sea), and Charlotte Rampling  (45 years) were okay too, although I was quite surprised to see Rampling getting work in a big blockbuster after her last year’s comments on the #OscarsSoWhite controversy. Ariane Labed (The Lobster) played probably the most interesting character with a lot of potential that wasn’t tapped into. 

Briefly: Assasin’s Creed wasted a great premise on a cliche story. Throw in some faulty directing and good acting into the mix and you have another forgettable video game movie. I only recommend it to super fans of the game or Fassbender.

Rate: 2.5/5

Trailer: Assasin’s Creed trailer

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Movie review: Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children

Movie reviews

Good morning/day/evening!

Another YA adaptation from a once visionary director has hit theaters, so, let’s take it apart! This is the review of Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children!

IMDb summary: When Jacob discovers clues to a mystery that stretches across time, he finds Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. But the danger deepens after he gets to know the residents and learns about their special powers.

Allow me to begin by saying that I think that this movie (and the book) has one of the coolest names ever. Yes, it is quite long, weird, and hard to remember, but that’s what makes it special. Just the name alone tells you a lot about the story, but, at the same time, doesn’t give anything away. I wanted to start this review with a compliment because I imagine I will be quite hard on the film in the following paragraphs since I had a number of problem with it.

SPOILERS AHEAD

The narrative: the book, the changes, and the screenplay

The trilogy of books by Ransom Riggs that inspired this film was one of the two YA series that I checked out this year, other being the Engelsfors series by M.Strandberg and S.Bergmark Elfgren. I have always been a fan of fantasy, so I knew that I would enjoy the novels. I also really liked the role that the old vintage photographs played in the making of the books and how they were used in the final product. Those pictures really made the series stand out from the other numerous YA franchises out there.

However, before going to see this film, I questioned whether it can become a successful cinematic trilogy since YA adaptations have been going down both in quality and in the box office numbers. Mockingjay Part 2 was a disappointing finale that didn’t earn as much as expected, Allegiant absolutely crashed and burn – didn’t even earn enough to get the final entry in the franchise made into a film and the release of The Maze Runner‘s final movie had to be postponed due to Dylan O’Brien’s injury on set. Will the audiences still want to see The Death Cure a year later? Will they show up to support an altogether new franchise? I guess, we’ll have to wait and see.

The film’s script was written by Jane Goldman – a long time co-writing partner of Matthew Vaughn. Together, they have worked on movies such as Kingsmen: The Secret Service, X-Men: First Class, Stardust and Kick-Ass. Miss Peregrine Home for Peculiar Children was her second solo writing project, first being the period horror picture The Woman in Black.

As usual, when adapting a piece of literature to the big screen, some (or a lot) of details of the narrative are changed. Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children was no exception. For the first two acts, the film followed the book pretty closely but it did create a completely new and different 3rd act. Concerning the smaller alterations, I’ll try to list as much of them as I could spot:

  1. Emma’s and Olive’s abilities were switched. Emma had the power of air instead of fire, while Olive controlled fire rather than being able to float.
  2. Bronwyn was aged down, while Olive aged up. I understand why they did this: Regarding Bronwyn –  it is more striking to see a little girl lift huge weight rather than a teenager, whereas Olive had to be a teenager for them to have a second romantic couple in the film.
  3. The underwater ship scene went down a different way in the book. They probably wanted to make it more visually interesting in the film and I also think that this scene was the reason they switched Emma’s and Olive’s peculiarities.
  4. Miss Avocet’s involvement in the main narrative was altered.
  5. Jacob’s only normal human friend was cut from the beginning of the story and, in general, in the picture, Jacob was made into an even more of a social outcast than he was in the book.
  6. The hollows were eating the eyes of the peculiars instead of their souls. Since eyes are the window to the soul, this might have been the filmmakers’ attempt to visualize a soul as something material.
  7. Miss Peregrine’s kidnapping was altered and basically, all the 3rd act, which followed the kidnapping, went completely away from the book. The film’s final act had different locations than the book’s (the action happened in the house, on a big ship and in the circus, rather than on a small boat on a sea) and it was also more action-y in the cliche Hollywood way. The decision to use the ship allowed Emma to do more stuff and was a cool effect, but everything that happened after that fell flat. Personally, I think that the modern setting and fantasy don’t mix well, so the whole sequence in the circus in 2016 just seemed ridiculous. It might have looked cool and clever on paper but it appeared childish and stupid on screen. I also get why some people complain that the plot was hard to follow during the 3rd act because it actually was a jumbled mess.

A few other points on the script of the feature. To begin with, the film had an awful amount of obvious exposition. The characters would just sit around listening to each other tell important points of the backstory. Half of that exposition could have been incorporated more organically. Secondly, the writing for Jacob was quite awful – he mostly stood around asking questions or reacting to stuff. He was quite a useless hero – it there will be a sequel, I want him to take charge of his situation much more. Actually, he kinda did that at the end of the film, although we didn’t see it because they just montaged through his individual travels. Thirdly, the writing for Jacob’s parents was paper-thin. They were super one dimensional – their one character trait was the fact that they don’t really care about their son. Lastly, gonna end on a positive note and praise the picture for adding a couple of interesting moments to the story: one, Peregrine shooting the hollow was a cool scene and, two, young Abraham’s call was a nice emotional detail.

Although I try my best to always allow the movie to stand on its own, this time, I’m just gonna come out and say that I liked the book’s story better. I’d love to see a sequel that is closer to the second book’s (Hollow City) plot but I doubt it’s possible since the narrative has gone into a way different direction.

Directing

Tim Burton used to be an imaginary and fantastic director but he seems to have run out of steam lately. I have even done a separate post on his filmography before Alice 2 came out earlier this year. Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children and Tim Burton seemed like a match made in heaven between the source material and the director, however, the movie was just fine. Nothing spectacular or special. The visuals were great, I liked how the film opened with the photos and the letters – it was a nice optical callback to the photographs in the book. The CGI and the design of the monsters were cool too. The slight steampunk vibes were also appreciated. However, the decision to allow (or make) the actors overdramatize some line and scenes, the awkward and choppy editing and the pacing problems (rushing through the setup, dragging in the middle, rushing in the end) were just a few of the flaws of the flick that Burton should have fixed.

Acting

  • Eva Green (Casino Royale, Dark Shadows, 300: Rise of an Empire) as Miss Peregrine. Green is a fabulous actress and she should have been great as Peregrine but her whole performance seemed a bit off to me. She was younger than I imagined Peregrine to be in the book and she also portrayed the character more as a quirky but cool aunt, rather than strict but caring grandma. Nevertheless, she did seem more friendly and open in the movie, which I liked, though, her shaky introduction and the signature Tim Burton crazy/dead eyes weren’t great.
  • Asa Butterfield (Ender’s Game, Hugo, X+Y) as JacobButterfield is one of the most promising young actors working today but his performance here was a bit stiff and low energy. The writing for Jacob was problematic and the performance didn’t save the character either.
  • Ella Purnell (Maleficient) as Emma was good. She and Butterfield did have some chemistry, although, I still think that their love story was creepy and forced. Grandad and grandchild having the same girlfriend. Really!? It is kinda a Twilight type of a coupling, just with switched genders.
  • Lauren McCrostie as Olive was good. She didn’t have much to do, but I’d like to see more of her. Since they aged up the character, they should’ve used her more.
  • Finlay MacMillan as Enoch. Enoch was one of my favorite parts of the books. He could have been such a cool sarcastic character on screen but the actor just portrayed him as super annoying, which was a disappointment.
  • Samuel L. Jackson (Kingsman, The Hateful Eight, Marvel) as Mr. Barron. Jackson is a great actor but here he was kinda a caricature. He was funny and his portrayal of the character did work for the film, but, on its own, the performance would be considered a complete parody.

In summary, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children was promising but didn’t really fulfill any of the promises as much as it could have. The story started out good but fell flat in the 3rd act, the directing was disjointed and the acting – only so-so.

Rate: 2.7/5

Trailer: Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children trailer

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