Movie review: Life

Movie reviews

Hello!

Welcome to a review of the annual space movie. For the year 2017, it’s Life.

Life follows in the vein of the sci-fi space films, like 2013’s Gravity, 2014’s Interstellar, 2015’s The Martian, and, I guess, 2016’s Passengers. It’s also kinda similar to the earlier pictures, such as 2009’s Moon and 2007’s Sunshine. Life is the most similar to the last one because both films feature diverse groups of astronauts stuck on a space ship and have horror/slasher elements in addition to the sci-fi themes.

IMDb summary: A team of scientists aboard the International Space Station discover a rapidly evolving life form, that caused extinction on Mars, and now threatens the crew and all life on Earth.

Writing

Life was written by Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick (the duo previously co-wrote Zombieland and Deadpool). Story wise, the movie was not the most original but the narrative was still interesting and exciting. The two major themes were human intervention and survival. The character development was minimal but there were still a few nice character moments dispersed throughout. In fact, the movie’s main star was the alien – all the set-up focused on it rather than the humans. Life definitely depicted life beyond earth in an old-school way: the creature was instantly violent rather than communicative like the ones in Arrival. Whether the actual alien of this movie was just the rip-off of the Allien, I don’t know. It definitely appeared similar to that one and it was probably a good idea for this film to come out before Allien: Covenant.

In addition to there being some scenes to depict the character’s backgrounds, the picture also had a couple of sequences of the astronauts doing both scientific experiments and publicity for ISS. I really loved those parts and appreciated the fact that the scriptwriters attempted to show a variety of activities done by the astronauts. The ending of the movie was also interesting. I don’t know whether they didn’t explain what actually happened with the pods (how did they switch?) because they are hoping for a sequel or because they wanted to leave it open for speculation/discussion?

Directing

The Swedish director Daniel Espinosa directed Life. This was his second US-based picture, but he has also directed Child 44 in the UK (really enjoyed that one) and made a couple of films in both Denmark and Sweden. I quite liked what he did with Life. The visuals were just absolutely gorgeous and not once did I think that we weren’t in the real ISS. The pacing and the intensity were also great. The horror elements of the action weren’t cheesy either and didn’t rely too much on the jump scares but used the technique of suspense building and the visceral imagery to elicit a reaction. In fact, some of the scenes were quite gruesome and uncomfortable to watch but they were effective so I can’t fault a movie for that. The camera work was also pretty impressive, especially one of the early long shots that seemingly went all through the space station. The alien POV was also a neat effect.

Acting

The film had a very diverse cast for a narrative reason rather than just for a financial one. The astronauts were played by Jake GyllenhaalRebecca FergusonRyan ReynoldsHiroyuki SanadaAriyon Bakare, and Olga Dihovichnaya.

Seeing Gyllenhaal on screen in yet another movie made me realize that he is one of a few actors who is constantly working. He never seems to fall off the radar even if his pictures don’t earn much. A few of his recent films that I enjoyed are Everest, Southpaw, and, especially, Nocturnal Animals. It was also really nice to see Ferguson in yet another American film (she began her career in Sweden, but has already appeared in MI5, Florence Foster Jenkins, and The Girl on The Train) and I’m excited to continue following her career. For Reynolds, this was his first post-Deadpool film and I think that his role in the marketing campaign for Life was expanded because he is the man behind the Merc with a Mouth. The ad campaign led me to believe that he will be an important part of the picture so I was quite surprised with his character’s story arc.

Sanada, weirdly enough, portrayed a character in Life who very closely resembled his character in Sunshine – a movie which I already mentioned in this review because of its and Life’s similar stories. What a coincidence that these films share an actor too. Bakare has mostly done TV work before now, but he also had cameos in big films like Rogue One and The Dark Knight. Lastly, Dihovichnaya is a newcomer to the Western mainstream cinema but is an established actress in Russian-speaking indie cinema market. I hope that her work in Life will provide her with more opportunities in the West.

In short, Life was a well-made space horror flick. It had a great cast and neat, suspenseful action, which will entertain the majority of the cinema -goers, and an open ending for those who appreciate the intellectual layer in their sci-fi.

Rate: 4/5

Trailer: Life trailer

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Movie review: Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them

Movie reviews

Hello Hello Hello!

Welcome to the review of Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them. If my triple greeting wasn’t enough of a hint – I’m super excited to review this film! A few weeks ago, I’ve done a preview post for this picture, where I talked about my personal relations to this universe as well as the original textbook novella that inspired the movie, so, without further ado, let’s travel back to the beloved magical universe!

IMDb summary: The adventures of writer Newt Scamander in New York’s secret community of witches and wizards seventy years before Harry Potter reads his book in school.

MINOR SPOILERS AHEAD (gonna give another spoiler warning when I talk about the big reveal)

Writing and Story

The author of the original HP series and all the extra material – J.K.Rowling – is credited as the sole screenwriter for this movie. If that’s the truth (that she wrote the whole script by herself), I have to applaud her. I was a bit worried that she wouldn’t be able to transition from the novel writing to screenwriting (she did collaborate with a few playwrights when writing The Cursed Child play), but she proved me wrong ten times over. I loved how imaginative the story was, how it expanded the already known magical world and how it was just purely entertaining and enjoyable.

Moreover, I loved the fact that this movie and the narrative can and did stood on their own – although Fantastic Beasts is technically an HP prequel, it didn’t rely too heavily on the previous knowledge of and love for this franchise. Also, with all the speculation about the sequels to this film, even before it came out, and the upcoming Grindelwald/Dumbledore arc, I was worried that this movie would get hijacked by the future set-up but it wasn’t! Fantastic Beasts was first and foremost Newt Scamander’s and his beasts’ story, while the teases came in second. An important reveal happened at the end when Newt’s main plot was already over and it wasn’t obvious at all – there was only one spoiler-y visual cue for it in the film. Honestly, if I hadn’t read the rumors online and if I wasn’t actively looking for their evidence in the picture, I would have been super surprised by the reveal.

On top of expanding the magical world, Fantastic Beasts and Rowling did a good job of incorporating the said world into real history. I loved the fact that Newt arrived in NY by boat – that scene reminded me of a similar scene in last year’s Brooklyn. I liked how the New Salem anti-wizard movement had verbal and visual relations to the actual Salem Witch Trials. That jazz club and the whole setting of the 1920s was well realized too – it’s one of my favorite historical eras, so I loved seeing its magical version on screen.  Lastly, the decision to portray the U.S. magical world as more strict and the wizard/muggle relationship as intolerable seemed kinda appropriate for the contemporary world. I wonder if that was Rowling’s way of critiquing the modern and real-life discrimination that we have yet to get rid off.

Another interesting thematical idea were the Obscurials, who are created when a child tries to suppress his/her magical abilities. This was a perfect and a very on-theme/appropriate for the magical world way to encourage the movie’s viewers to be themselves. Furthermore, I applaud J.K.Rowling (just keep clapping) for touching upon quite a dark topic of abuse in a family film.

Lastly, the character development was really nice. I loved the writing for the character of Newt – his backstory was intriguing but I also liked that they remarked that people change and they do leave their pasts behind. I also loved Newt’s life motto – that worrying makes one suffer twice. All the other character, wizards and no-majs alike, were cool and interesting as well. Their inner relationships were cute and natural – they didn’t seem forced or pushed. In general, I’m intrigued enough to want to spend more time with these characters.

Directing and Visuals 

David Yates, who did the 5th, 6th, 7th and 8th HP films as well as this year’s live-action Tarzan, directed Fantastic Beasts and did an amazing job. I’m really happy that he was the one directing because he already has such a great knowledge and understanding of this world. I absolutely loved the visuals, starting with the newspaper opening and ending with the epic 3rd act fight. I loved the fact that visuals (like the story) were sorta familiar but not repetitive – fresh and exciting. The design of the actual beasts and of the Obscurials was cool too: scary, inventive but sort of tied to reality.

Yates also did a wonderful job at finding a balance between epic action and slower character moments – the pacing was top-notch. In addition, the cinematographer Philippe Rousselot also deserves the praise for helping bring this world and its action to the big screen in such a spectacular way. Lastly, all the production and set design teams should be honored for their work on the movie, but I want to give a special appreciation shout out to Colleen Atwood, who did the costumes – I absolutely loved all the coats and classy formal costumes. The coats especially reminded me of BBC’s Sherlock which I just finished watching and I’m currently obsessed with.

The score by James Newton Howard was great too, although, I was most excited to hear the familiar theme music, which was originally composed by John Williams. 

Acting

  • Eddie Redmayne was so good as Newt Scamander. I absolutely loved the character because I could relate to him so much (introverts, unite!). Redmayne’s performance was super fitting for the character: awkward, shy, vulnerable but confident and skilled in his field. He was adorable and super likeable too. I have been a fan of Redmayne since 2012’s Les Miserables and although I did enjoy his indie films, like The Theory of Everything and The Danish Girl, I’m quite happy to see him in a more mainstream (and succseful) film (let’s pretend that Jupiter Ascending didn’t happen).
  • Katherine Waterston as Tina Goldstein – I loved her character –  she was an Auror – as well as Waterson’s performance. I wasn’t familair with her as an actres before (although, I did see her in Steve Jobs), but she did impress me. Her next movie is the 2017’s Allien prequel.
  • Dan Fogler as Jacob Kowalski was amazing too. His character was the funniest and the most likebale and relatable out of the whole cast. I wasn’t familair with Fogler’s work either, but I do hope that he returns as the character of Kowalski in the future films.
  • Alison Sudol as Queenie Goldstein was great too. I liked the fact that we got to explore a sorta new (mentioned in HP 5) skill of magic – Legilimency – through her character. Sudol is an alternative singer-songwriter, but I was fascinated by her acting abilites too – she portrayed Queenie as a very loveable and free-spirited character, in a realistic and natural way.

BIG SPOILER WARNING

  • Ezra Miller as Credence Barebone. I didn’t predict the reveal concerning his character and I was led to believe that the Obscurial would turn out to be his siter. Nevertheless, his performance was great – I love the facts that Miller can play such weird and closed-off characters, but also be able to embody super likeable and extroverted characters like the Flash (based on the Justice League trailer). I also like the fact that he brings his indie acting skills and makes them work in a mainstream film.
  • Colin Farrell as Percival Graves. I loved Farrell in the role and, as I said, I would not have seen the big reveal if I wasn’t looking for it. I really hope that the filmmakers find a way to bring back Farrell as the real Percival Graves. If not, well then at least we can watch him in other pictures – I still need to check out the highly praised The Lobster.
  • AND The Big Reveal and The Biggest Spoiler …..as speculated online, Johnny Depp is playing Grindelwald and he did have a cameo appearance and a few lines to say in this movie. He looked a bit different than I imagined Grindelwald to be but I am open to Depp proving me wrong since I still believe that he is a great actor, despite the all the mishaps. Now, moving forward, the crucial decision to make for the filmmakers is who to cast as Dumbledore? Grindewald/Dumbledore relationship is super complicated and will obviously be imporatnt in the future films, so the actor that will take on this role not only has to do Dumbledore justice but also have to able to hold his own againt Depp.

SPOILERS END HERE

In short, Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them is an amazing return to the magical world that should please both the fans (it satisfied me) but should also interest the non-fans as well as people who are new to the franchise (if there are any left, though). The story is fantastic, the acting is great (the cast is full of both movie stars and smaller talent), and the visuals are superb. I’m very much looking forward to another decade of magic!

Rate: 4.9/5

Trailer: Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them trailer

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Movie review: Arrival

Movie reviews

Hello, my dear readers!

An original sci-fi flick – Arrival – has landed in cinemas, so let’s review it! Since I hadn’t seen an inventive science fiction film in theaters for quite some time (I did, however, only recently watched an original sci-fi movie on Netflix, called ARQ – it was quite entertaining), I was super excited to see Arrival. Plus, I’ve also really enjoyed the previous work of the director as well as the cast.

SPOILER ALERT

IMDb summary: A linguist is recruited by the military to assist in translating alien communications.

Writing

Eric Heisserer, who has mostly written horror films, penned Arrival’s script and did an absolutely spectacular job. This movie’s narrative was so refreshing – it never went where I expected it to go.

To begin with, I appreciated the fact that this movie focused on a linguist and on the subject of languages and communication. Sci-fi films usually tend to have scientists or military personnel front and center, but this time, these types of characters were relocated to the supporting positions. As someone who studies art and humanities, I was extremely happy to see these subjects as useful in a sci-fi scenario, since usually after watching a science fiction movie, I would regret not studying physics or biology. But now, I can imagine that my language and anthropology skills can also be useful.

On the topic of anthropology, last year, in my symbolic anthropology class we studied the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis that this movie took and made true. The hypothesis states that one’s language determines one’s culture, behavior, and thinking and Amy Adams’s characters mind was heavily impacted by the alien language. On the topic, of Adams’s character – I loved how the plot played up her backstory. Those ‘flashbacks’ were not only a story-telling technique but a part of the actual story. That was amazing and mindblowing.

Like other science fiction films, Arrival explored the topic of humanity. Some of the ideas and dialogue lines sounded a bit ironic and skeptical, especially in the post-Brexit and post-U.S. election context. The notions that the world needs to work together and that peaceful communication come first rather than violent attack/defense are wonderful ideas, but I highly doubt their real-life application. The plot-points about protecting humanity by not talking to other humans seemed like a more realistic outcome of the situation. The media’s role in all of this mess was also a great and topical inclusion for the modern context. Lastly, showcasing the panic as the biggest threat to humanity was also good writing! These thematical parts of the film frustrated me quite a bit, but then again, these kinds of things frustrate me IRL, so I guess the movie just represented the contemporary world and explored its negative aspects and shortcomings really well.

Arrival, like a lot of other sci-fi films, started as a grounded science movie but then quickly escalated into the fiction territory. It asked questions and didn’t answer some of them. With these type of movies, there is always a debate going on whether there was some kind of deeper meaning and I was just too stupid to notice it or whether the film was just badly written and didn’t make much sense. Having said that, I think this debate is part of the beauty of making and writing about motion pictures – they always mean something different to different people. I also believe that Arrival is a brilliant and intriguing film to watch and discuss.

Directing

Denis Villeneuve, who is best known for making 2013’s Prisoners and last year’s Sicario, directed the film and did a wonderful job. The visuals were spectacular: the design of the ships – so simple yet so cool and the long tracking shots – awe inspiring. At first, I wasn’t completely sure about the design of the aliens, but when we got to see them whole, I was pleasantly surprised. The way the communication aspect was visualized was super cool too. I also liked all the inventive and innovative camera angles. On a personal note, I loved Amy Adams’s character’s home – would love to have a house with such a stunning view myself.

I also really liked the pacing of the film – it was slow and suspenseful and did not need some big and over-the-top 3rd act action piece to be memorable and entertaining. The music choices (by Jóhann Jóhannsson) were great as well and really helped to build thrilling, frightening and yet curious type of atmosphere.

Acting

  • Amy Adams as Dr. Louise Banks, a linguist was at the center of the film and delivered a really subtle performance. I do believe that these smaller, more indie-like films showcase her talent much more than big blockbusters (BvS). So, I suggest you check out Amy in Nocturnal Animals, American Hustle, and Big Eyes.
  • Jeremy Renner as Ian Donnelly was also great in his role of a scientist. Renner is also one of those actors that is on everyone’s radar and is constantly working but is not a complete A-lister which he should be. He is equally enjoyable to watch in popcorn flicks like Marvel movies and Mission Impossible films and in more serious pictures like The Hurt Locker, The Town, and Kill The Messenger.
  • Forest Whitaker as Colonel Weber and Michael Stuhlbarg as Agent Halpern provided great support and presented a more stereotypical government perspective to the movie. Whitaker still has Rogue One to be released in a month, while Stuhlbarg just had a small role in the recently released Doctor Strange.

In short, Arrival was a visually stunning picture, with an extremely clever and interesting story and some nice thematical concepts and great acting. It is a great conversation starter of a movie.

Rate: 4.5/5

Trailer: Arrival trailer

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Movie review: The Martian

Movie reviews

Hello, my dear readers!!

I have missed you so much!! I haven’t written in a while because I was buried underneath piles of work. Living on my own while studying is way harder than I expected it to be. I already cannot even look at pasta and I still have 4 more years to go eating it. Anyway, we are not here to talk about my mundane problems. We are here to review the latest space opera – The Martian. I have actually seen it during the opening weekend but only managed to review it a week later…Sorry…

Also, I would like to give a spoiler warning for The Martian if you have not seen it yet.

BTW, it’s been a month since I started taking Introduction to Film course, so tell me in the comments if my reviewing style has changed somehow (maybe it improved, hopefully?).

Comparison

It is not a secret that in the last few years, we had a few high production astronomical blockbusters – 2013’s Warner Bros’s Gravity and 2014’s Legendary’s Interstellar. Now, 20th Century Fox takes its shot and creates a mixture of those two films (even borrows some actors): The Martian has a plot-line of a ‘lonely astronomer lost in space’ from Gravity and ‘his team trying to save him’ from Interstellar. While I have enjoyed both of these films, The Martian might be my favorite out of all 3. I have also seen this film described as Castaway meets Apollo 11, which, I agree, is an accurate representation.

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The tagline for this film was Bring Him Home and it was definitely true to the film because Mark Watney’s attempt to go home was the scientific and emotional core of the film. Also, for me as a newly created emigrant, it’s a theme near and-and dear to my heart. Yes, I’m not stranded on another planet, but being away from home is hard no matter the distance.

Water on Mars!

This movie had perfect time!! Just before its release, scientists actually found flowing water on Mars. Now, we are one step closer to turning The Martian from Science Fiction to Science Reality. If you like to learn more about this exciting development, I suggest you watch this Sci Show explanatory video.

Story & Writing

The Martian’s screenplay was written by Drew Goddard who has written mainly for TV before this. His credits include Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Lost, and Daredevil, which he also helped to produce. His last film script was for World War Z, which I, personally, really enjoyed but sadly been in a minority of moviegoers. Going back to The Martian, I really liked his treatment of this story. Although the movie has no real action, for the most part, a lot of crucial things still happen during the middle of the film and keep the viewer engaged and interested. Nothing happens and a lot of things happen at the same time (we actually just studied films like this in my film class last week). Moreover, it needs to be mentioned that this is not an original story but an adaptation of Andy Weir’s book with the same name. I added it to my reading list and you should too.  I have seen it in bookstores, re-released with the cover that looks like the movie’s poster, so it should be quite easy to get your hands on a copy of it.

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Realism

This movie has been praised for its scientific accuracy and it’s probably the most accurate of the 3 recent astronomical blockbusters. I am not expert on astronomy, physics, botany or any science but I am interested in these fields (that’s one of the reasons why I like sci-fi so much). Anyway, I found this Screen Junkies video on The Martian to be really interesting and helpful in thinking about Movie Science. I love all of their stuff on YouTube , but Movie Science videos are at the top of the list.

Directing and Visuals

The Martian is directed by the fan favorite Ridley Scott. His filmography includes Allien, Blade Runner (got its DVD from the library today), Gladiator, Prometheus and last year’s Exodus. Lots of people had problems with his last film and the whitewashing issue while I loved it. The interpretation of a biblical story was done in much better way than in Noah and the visuals were just stunning. Scott didn’t disappoint with The Martian as well. The Mise-en-Scene (I’ve learned a few fancy words in film class) was just stunning and really realistic while the futuristic technology was realized in a believable fashion as well. The action both on Mars and in the outer space looked amazing too. The NASA base was also a cool set, whose backgrounds could be analyzed separately from the narrative/on their own.

Acting

The titular character of the film and the main start, of course, is Matt Damon. It’s not the first time that Damon is playing a lost astronaut – he had a similar role in Interstellar. However, while he was an extreme douche-bag in that film, here he is a loveable, funny, witty, intelligent and self-efficient character who carries the whole film. Damon’s performance blew me away and definitely turned me into a fan of his. I’ve seen a few of his films and was always on a fence about him, but his role as Mark Watney changed my perspective. I also loved that he was a botanist – you never really see movies that focus on plant biology scientists, films usually tend to pick physics or chemistry scholars, so this was a nice and refreshing change.

While Matt Damon as Mark Watney is the central character of the film, he gets great support from a very diverse, established, and extensive supporting cast. I’m going to divide these characters into Space team and Earth team.

Space team includes:

  • Jessica Chastain as Melissa Lewis, Ares III commander – another Interstellar alumni. Loved her in that film as much as this one.
  • Michael Peña as Rick Martinez, astronaut – the scene-stealer of Ant-Man shined in this film too. Can’t wait to see more of his work.
  • Kate Mara as Beth Johanssen, astronaut – played a similar role to the one she did in Fantastic Four. While they definitely messed up Sue Storm in that film, her character was a great addition to this motion picture’s cast.
  • Sebastian Stan as Chris Beck, astronaut – the Winter Soldier can be more than Marvel’s next Captain America. I am a fan of Stan, so loved seeing him popping up in this film.
  • Aksel Hennie as Alex Vogel, astronaut – rounded up the space part of the cast. Sadly, I’m not familiar with his work, so cannot really comment much, except to say that he was great in this film.

We didn’t get to spend much time with these characters and they didn’t get a lot of development. However, I believe that they served their purpose for this specific film perfectly by providing Matt Damon’s character with great support.

Earth team includes:

We did get to spend more time with the Earth-based part of the cast which had a few surprising performances.

  • Kristen Wiig as Annie Montrose, NASA spokesperson – was the biggest surprise. I have never imagined Wiig in not a comedic role but she blew me away. I wish she would do more action/drama films, but sadly her next movie is Ghostbusters remake, which I have mixed feelings about. Furthermore, I loved her character because she brought the public into the film. I haven’t seen the theme of public’s affect of NASA and NASA’s manipulation of public explored before.
  • Jeff Daniels as Teddy Sanders, head of NASA, Chiwetel Ejiofor as Vincent Kapoor, a NASA mission director, and Sean Bean as Mitch Henderson, a NASA mission director were the powerful trio of NASA and for me, they worked best in their scenes together, because they played off of each others energy. Surprisingly, Sean Bean did not die. Also, seeing him make Lords of the Rings references was amazing!!
  • Donald Glover as Rich Purnell, a NASA astronomer and Mackenzie Davis as Mindy Park, a satellite planner in Mission Control were the 2 younger actors in the Earth team. I liked the nerdy-ness that Glover’s character brought to the film and I appreciated the introduction to Davis as an actress.

Lastly, this film had a few international actors from China: Eddy Ko and Chen Shu. While I don’t know if this side-plot was the part of the original story of the book, but I guess we all know why it was included in the film. Get that Chinese Box Office, Fox!

All in all, this fall is proving to be one of the greatest movie seasons ever! I haven’t seen a film which I didn’t enjoy so far. The Martian is a great adaptation of (I’m sure) an amazing book with wonderful acting from the whole ensemble cast, especially the leading man – Matt Damon. In addition, it has stunning visuals and a strong emotional appeal as well as is scientifically accurate as much as sci-fi film can be accurate.

Rate: 5/5

Trailer: The Martian trailer

The Martian movie poster