Movie review: Maleficent: Mistress Of Evil

Movie reviews

Hello!

And welcome to a review of a movie that revolves around a character I feel a spiritual connection to. This is Maleficient: Mistress Of Evil!

IMDb summary: Maleficent and her goddaughter Aurora begin to question the complex family ties that bind them as they are pulled in different directions by impending nuptials, unexpected allies, and dark new forces at play.

Out of all Disney dark remakes/reboots/reimagining, 2014’s Maleficent has been somewhat not completely panned by critics, while also being financially successful (in comparison, on the dark front, first Alice was a monetary win, however, the second one had dreadful returns. Neither Nutcracker nor Dumbdidn’t leave an impression on anyone. Some more classical takes like Cinderella and Beauty and the Beast also left a mark. Mary Poppins was a moderate success.

Writing

Maleficent 2 was written by Linda WoolvertonNoah Harpster, and Micah Fitzerman-Blue. All three have written the first film as well, whereas Woolverton also penned the aforementioned Alice remake and its sequel. Even though the screenwriters were continuing their own work, they didn’t really respect it, as the opening narration of this film completely dismissed whatever happened in the first picture. And yet, since the idea of truth not mattering if someone can tell a catchy (even if fake) story was a topic explored within the film, I will let this disregard of the first film slide.

What I won’t let slide was the stupidity of the rest of the story, especially its inciting incident. While I am more than willing to suspend my disbelief and accept the existence of fairies and flying half-humans, I cannot forgive the movie for making its characters lack any intelligence or common sense. The inciting incident of the king being cursed is a horrible scene as it is so obviously not the truth. Aurora’s character is also written horribly. Even though she may be kind-hearted, the fact that she seems so gullable does not make her into a character anyone can root for. And even at the end, Aurora does not seem as if she learned anything. Even though she ultimately begins questioning the events happening around her, she still makes a stupid decision in the third act that cost a different character’s life. But this is Disney, so a happy ending is squeezed in there too, with not much explanation.

Not only does the movie try to say something about fake narratives, but it also goes for the big war or peace question. I would like to give props to the writers for trying to have some kind deeper thematical background to the fairytale but I am afraid the movie does not end up saying anything revelatory. But it’s a fairytale, so should I expected anything even remotely close to that? The film also vastly lacks screentime and more action for its titular character. All the bits of the movie that revolve around Maleficent are the best parts. And yet, the story chooses to spend most of its time with humans.

Directing

Joachim Rønning directed Maleficent 2. Previously, the director has worked on Pirates of the Caribbean 5. This movie suffers from the same problems his other one did. It looks spectacular but is empty story-wise. Cannot really blame the director for the lacking script, though. Rønning here also does his best with what he is given. The costume department and the production team should also be commended.

Acting

Angelina Jolie once again proves to be the case of perfect casting. Her accentuated cheekbones do half the job, though. Still, Jolie manages to balance out sophisticated acting with some dramatic flair needed for the fairytale genre. Michelle Pfeiffer, on the other hand, goes full-cartoon and becomes almost a caricature of the villain. Was the director to scared to tell Pfeiffer to reel it in a bit? Ultimately, the viewer doesn’t know whether they hate the villain Pfeiffer plays or her performance. Jenn Murray who plays Pfeiffer’s sidekick also should have tonned down her performance a bit. Sam Riley is fun to watch as Maleficent’s sidekick once again and he and Jolie do have some fun scenes of strained but enjoyable banter. Elle FanningChiwetel Ejiofor, and Ed Skrein all serve their purpose within the film. Prince Phillip gets recast and is played by Harris Dickinson this time around. He does not really leave any bigger impression than his predecessor Brenton Thwaites did. 

 

In short, Maleficent 2 is a pretty looking but poorly written film. Angelina Jolie shines once again but is not given enough screentime to save the whole film with her spectacular performance.

Rate: 2.75/5

Trailer: Maleficent: Mistress of Evil trailer 

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Movie review: Tomb Raider

Movie reviews

Hello!

And welcome to Hollywood’s gazillionth try at making video game movies into a thing. This is Tomb Raider!

IMDb summary: Lara Croft, the fiercely independent daughter of a missing adventurer, must push herself beyond her limits when she finds herself on the island where her father disappeared.

Writing

Tomb Raider was written by Evan Daugherty (of Divergent, The Huntsman, and TMNT), Geneva Robertson-Dworet (according to IMDb, hasn’t written any movies before this one but has 7 announced projects including MCU’s Captain Marvel), and Alastair Siddons (writer of Trespass Against Us – a movie with Michale Fassbender/new Lara Croft’s real-life husband. Fun connection). This film is based on the famous game series (which I have never played) and also acts as the reboot of the previous Lara Croft movie franchise from the early 2000s (which I don’t remember at all but plan on rewatching in April when I have some more free time). The writing for the new Tomb Raider wasn’t bad but it also wasn’t great either. The narrative itself was structured well enough and the story was interesting too. However, all of us have seen this movie before and more than once. We have also previously heard a good portion of the film’s by the numbers dialogue too.

The movie started promising. The set-up was interesting and I did like how contemporary it was (Lara being a deliveroo type of food courier). The only part of the set-up that sort of came out of nowhere was the invention of the villain – Trinity organization was mentioned in passing and was never developed more throughout the film. There were a plethora of hints at it in the closing scenes of the picture but whether the sequel will happen for those hints to result in anything substantial is a big question. No one is sure whether we will get to see Lara with her two signature guns either, which she acquired in the last scene of the film (I did like her with bow and arrows a lot, though). Thematically, Tomb Raider toyed with the ideas of history and the supernatural. I did like the historical quest/puzzle element of the film and I do appreciate the fact that they didn’t go the full supernatural route like The Mummy did. In general, the picture was an okay origin story and a good-enough reintroduction of the character but with so many other big franchises currently being produced, I don’t really know whether there is space for Lara Croft.

Directing

Tomb Raider was directed by a Norwegian director Roar Uthaug and, as far as I can tell, this film was his English language/Hollywood debut. I thought he did a good job realizing the flawed script. The pacing was okay too. I mostly had problems with the tone and the action of the film. The in-camera/on-location action was executed really well and made the movie feel like a tight action film. I especially liked the opening bike chase sequence, the chase on the boats in Hong Kong, and all the hand-to-hand combat in general. However, some other action scenes were really CGI heavy and had so many unbelievable moments that made them laughable. The shipwreck scene was super dark and filmed in a really shaky fashion, while the plane/river sequence just had way too many lucky coincidences. Those over the top, unrealistic action sequences made Tomb Raider feel like a video game movie, which I guess was the point. The final action sequence in the tomb was a mixed bag of good realistic action of an action movie and over the top CGI of a video game movie. I can’t really comprehend why somebody would make a movie lean more towards video game-ness, when the quality and the reaction to all the previous video games was so poor and when that same movie would be so much much better if it went the more classical/grounded action movie route.

Acting

Alicia Vikander played the lead and was actually really good as Lara Croft. Just the physical shape alone that the actress was able to achieve for this role was incredible, worthy of praise, and a bit inspiring. Made me want to do a couple of more extra crunches at the gym. I have always been impressed with Vikander’s indie/awards’ work (like The Danish Girl for which she won an Oscar and even Tulip Fever – the film was bad but she was good in it) and I was really glad to see her cast in a more mainstream/bigger budget/higher profile film. She has had supporting roles in mainstream films before, like – The Man From U.N.C.L.E. and Jason Bourne, but this is the first time she is headlining a movie of this scale and hopefully, a whole franchise. Still, I do doubt whether this movie will spawn a franchise but I also don’t think that it will damage Vikander’s career in any way if it doesn’t.

Walton Goggins (The Hateful Eight) was fine as the typical power hungry and blind-to-everything villain and I think I have seen Goggins in this role before (like in The Death Cure just a month ago). Dominic West (Genius, Money Monster) played the role of an equally delirious man and was okay in it. The writing didn’t make either of these characters sympathetic or understandable in any way, shape or form. Daniel Wu (Geostorm) had a small supporting role in the picture and, while he had some neat moments, his character was also forgotten in the third act. Wu has already starred in one video game movie – WarcraftKristin Scott Thomas (Darkest Hour, The Party) appeared too with the promise of a bigger role in the sequel (when and if it happens).

In short, Tomb Raider was an entertaining but forgettable film. It didn’t do much for the video game movie genre but didn’t damage it further (if that is even possible) either.

Rate: 3.3/5

Trailer: Tomb Raider

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Movie review: Allied

Movie reviews

Hello!

Today, I’m reviewing Allied – the movie that ‘broke’ Brangelina, the ‘it’ couple of Hollywood. Okay, I’m kidding –  I don’t actually believe or care much about the rumors. To me, Allied is, first and foremost, a film by a director that is of my native descent (Zemeckis is half-Lithuanian).

IMDb summary: In 1942, an intelligence officer in North Africa encounters a female French Resistance fighter on a deadly mission behind enemy lines. When they reunite in London, their relationship is tested by the pressures of war.

Writing

Steven Knight wrote the screenplay for Allied. So far, his accomplishments have been a bit average: I absolutely loved his small film Locke and really enjoyed the stories of The Hundred-Foot Journey and Pawn Sacrifice. However, Knight also penned the script for the so-so picture Burnt and wrote the completely awful Seventh Son as well. His next film will be a different Brad Pitt picture – Wold War Z 2. Speaking of the writing for this film, quality-wise, Allied was a mixed bag , just like Knight’s track record.

I felt that Allied contained two distinct stories which could have been explored in two separate movies. The first suspenseful act of the two characters falling in love on a mission was cool and interesting. It was a successful homage to Casablanca and the Golden Age of Hollywood. The second story – the home life and the investigation – was much slower and less interesting than the preceding set-up. Nevertheless, I did enjoy the fact that this film focused more on the romance and less on the war because I have already seen enough historical films, in which the romantic aspect is relegated to the sidelines and feels out of place. Allied made a decision to be a romantic movie first and a war drama second and stuck with it. I, as I have mentioned, enjoyed and liked this idea, but I can also understand that some people might see it as too sappy and melodramatic. I, personally, found it touching and heartbreaking, although not Casablanca level heartbreaking (Allied didn’t reach the levels of ‘We’ll always have Paris’ is what I’m saying).

Having said that, Allied still did have some pretty nice lines of dialogue and some rather cool concepts. I don’t really know why but I liked the trailer line: ‘Being good at this kind of job is not very beautiful’. I also enjoyed the ideas about love in war – the problem isn’t the action of getting involved, it is feeling something about the involvement. Lastly, I liked how the film underscored that the two main characters could never be trusted, as they were trained to lie.

Directing

Robert Zemeckis, who is responsible for creating a whole slew of cinematic classics – Back To The Future trilogy, Who Framed Robert Rabbit, Forrest Gump, and Cast Away and whose latest films include The Walk and Flight, directed Allied and did quite a good job. The film looked beautiful visually, although the CGI at the beginning (the desert) seemed a tiny bit fake and took me out of the film. Other historical settings were realized nicely, though. Zemeckis also used a lot of time jumps in the film and they did make sense for the most part. Lastly, I did like his long takes that some critics panned. At first, they seemed unnecessarily long to me as well, but then I realized that they were this long for a reason and were meant to show or to indicate something extra.

Acting

I think that the lead duo – Brad Pitt and Marion Cotillard – did an amazing job. First, they had crazy good chemistry and made a believable couple – their back and forth dialogue was superb, especially in the first act. Secondly, I think that the two actors nailed the ‘fake’ spy acting and didn’t make it seem cartoony. I was also quite surprised to see Lizzy Caplan in a supporting role and thought that her character was interesting, although, I question the motives behind the decision to include her character. A trio of actors, who seem to constantly appear in historical movies – Jared Francis Harris, Matthew Goode, and Simon McBurney, rounded up the cast of Allied and brought solid performances too.

Actors’ film recommendations:

  • Brad Pitt: Seven, Fight ClubMr. & Mrs. Smith (why not, it is still a good movie), Inglorious Basterds, Fury, The Big Short, By The Sea (even more ironic, as this one is directed by Jolie).
  • Marion Cotillard: Macbeth, The Dark Knight Rises, Inception, Big FishLa Vie en Rose for which she won an Oscar should also be on this list, even though I haven’t seen it yet. 
  • Lizzy Caplan: Now You See Me 2, Mean Girls (what a throwback).
  • Jared Harris: Benjamin Button, Lincoln, The Man from U.N.C.L.E.
  • Matthew Goode: Downton Abbey, The Imitation Game, Watchmen.
  • Simon McBurney: MI:Rogue Nation, Magic in the Moonlight, The Theory of Everything, Jane Eyre.

In brief, Allied was a solid romantic war drama. It had good acting and a decent story and visuals. However, the film was not groundbreaking, which it could have been, knowing who was involved in its making, both in front and behind the camera.

Rate: 3,75/5

Trailer: Allied trailer

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5 ideas about a movie: Money Monster

Movie reviews

Hello!

Welcome to a review of one the smaller and more serious films of the summer – Money Monster.

IMDb summary: Financial TV host Lee Gates and his producer Patty are put in an extreme situation when an irate investor takes over their studio.

  1. Money Monter was written by a TV writer Alan Di Fiore, Jim Kouf, who has written a lot of independent films and Dear John’s writer Jamie Linden. This diverse group of screenwriters has crafted a really interesting narrative, full of amazing and intense dialogue. The story was simple enough to understand for those who don’t know anything about economics (me) and yet still complex, intense and exciting. The comic relief and the jokes were organic and not forced. The themes: ‘value of the human life’ (refusing to help Clooney by not buying the stocks), ‘the broken capitalism’ (‘business is just business’) and ‘life goes on’ (shot of the table football) were also interesting. The plot seemed to be of a very small scale,  but in truth, the overarching story was much bigger and broader. At the end of the film, it seemed that the notion that ‘the rich can get away with anything’ will be proved once again, but the inclusion of the online backlash really subverted this notion and made the movie more connected to the contemporary world.
  2. The film was directed by Jodie Foster, who went the Elizabeth Banks route – from acting to directing. But, to be fair, Foster started directing TV shows and movies way earlier than Banks – back in the 90s. However, then she took a couple of decades break from directing and only started getting behind the camera in the 2010s. She did a great job with Money Monster: the stakes felt high, the pace was fast and the visuals – colorful and unique. I also enjoyed the small time frame – the movies plot started and was resolved in a single day. In general, the film was well-constructed and a solid economic thriller – it actually felt like an action movie but made with dialogue instead of explosions. The end credits song – What Makes the World Go ‘Round (MONEY!) – was also really appropriate and a neat way to finish the film.
  3. I also really enjoyed seeing the behind the scenes or the production side of a TV program. I would like to be a producer or even a director one day and Money Monster showed how the professionals deal with difficult situations.
  4. Money Monster also had a great cast, full of accomplished actors: George Clooney (Hail, Caesar!, Tomorrowland), Julia Roberts, Jack O’Connell (Unbroken), Dominic West (Testament of Youth), Caitriona BalfeChristopher Denham, and Giancarlo Esposito (The Maze Runner). All of the actors performed their lines really well, especially Clooney, Roberts and O’Connell. O’Connell’s character acted believably desperate and Clooney’s and Robert’s snappy back-and-forth bickering was one of the best parts of the picture. The way Clooney’s character was trying to talk himself out of the situation was also pretty nice.
  5. If you  enjoyed Money Monster, a few films that I’d like to recommend are The Big Short – a really funny economic drama and The Ides of March – a political thriller, starring and directed by Clooney.

In short, Money Monster was interesting, intense, complex but easily understandable economic drama. The performances, as well as the directing, were both solid but the film’s writing was the best part of it.

Rate: 4/5

Trailer: Money Monster trailer

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5 ideas about a movie: By the Sea

Movie reviews

Hello!

This is the first movie review of 2016! Interestingly, the first movie that I have reviewed last year was Angelina Jolie’s Unbroken (which technically came out in 2014). This year, my first movie post will also be dedicated to a film, created by Jollie-PittBy The Sea (which also premiered at the end of 2015 in some places).

IMDb summary: Set in France during the mid-1970s, Vanessa, a former dancer, and her husband Roland, an American writer, travel the country together. They seem to be growing apart, but when they linger in one quiet, seaside town they begin to draw close to some of its more vibrant inhabitants, such as a local bar/café-keeper and a hotel owner.

  1. By The Sea is Angelina’s 3rd feature/mainstream film. In 2007, she directed and produced a documentary A Place in Time and then moved on to narrative films in 2011 with In The Land Of Blood and Honey. That film dealt with a historical issue – Yugoslavian wars at the end of the last century. I applaud Jolie for casting local/foreign actors to play the roles of Eastern Europeans – this added a level of authenticity to the film. However, I did not understand why they had to speak English with their heavy accents if they knew the local language. I know that this was not a creative decision but a commercial one – English-speaking audiences inexplicably cannot read subtitles while the rest of the world somehow manages to do that or actually learn a different language.  Speaking about the languages of By the Sea – I liked the fact that the French language was used in public and English in private. It looked like a realistic situation. As much as I enjoyed this film and Jolie’s directorial debut, Unbroken is still my favorite film of hers.
  2. By The Sea’s script was also written by Jolie. While the film was visually beautiful and stimulating, it’s narrative had a few problems. The film was really long, slow and even frustrating at times, because nothing really happened. The twist/secret was not that surprising and did not have enough shock value – I might not understand this as I am not a mother (and do not plan on becoming one in the near or far future) and never had a desire or a dream to become a mother – even as a child I would rarely play with dolls. In short, while these type of films are not my cup of tea, I can understand the appeal of their ideas (e.g. intimate story) and visuals.
  3. Jolie not only wrote and directed the film but also starred in it alongside her husband Brad Pitt. Their chemistry was as amazing as 10 years ago in Mr. and Mrs. Smith. Both of them are without a doubt wonderful actors who portray emotional characters, like these ones, just impeccably.  Their characters were a tiny bit creepy, though.
  4. The supporting cast included French actors and an actress: Melanie Laurent as Léa, Niels Arestrup as MichelMelvil Poupaud as François and Richard Bohringer as Patrice. I (and the majority of Western audiences) are most familiar with Melanie Laurent – she has starred in films like Inglorious Basterds (she was incredible in that one) and Now You See Me.
  5. The opening of By The Sea reminded me of Iranian director’s A. Kiarostami’s film’s The Wind Will Carry Us opening sequence. The setting and some wide shots also evoked similarities to Italian director’s M.Antonioni’s L’Avventura (The Adventure).

To sum up, By The Sea was a unique film – it was a visual masterpiece with an intimate story. While it might not have been a movie that I would typically watch, I definitely would recommend it to the fans of this genre.

Rate: 3.25/5

Trailer: By The Sea trailer

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Movie review: Unbroken

Movie reviews

Hi!
On Monday, I went to the cinema to watch Angelina Jolie’s Unbroken. I have seen several films depicting World War II events from different angles (Schindler’s list, Fury, Inglorious Basterds, Pearl Harbor, Forest of Gods and The Imitation Game) and now Unbroken joins this list.

In short I would describe the film as a mixture of Life of Pi and Fury with a pinch of Forest of Gods and topped of with Edge of Tomorrow.

Unbroken isn’t Angelina’s directorial debut – it’s her 2nd time being behind the camera. The film tells a story of Louis Zamperini – an Olympic athlete who spent the 2nd World War in a prisoner of war camp in Japan after surviving 47 days of a raft in the middle of the ocean. It’s based on a book by Laura Hillenbrand as well as real life events. Sadly, the real Louis Zamperini died in spring of 2014 and didn’t get to see his life on the big screen.

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Acting

Louis Zamperini is portrayed by Jack O’Connell – a British actor who is best known for his work on the TV show Skins. I liked his performance, it was so-so at the beginning of the movie but in the end, when Jack really got into the character, it was just amazing. The emotional dual between him and the Bird truly showed his talent and made me enjoy the scene which was actually horrible and heartbreaking but inspiring at the same time. I would love to see more of his work.

Speaking about the Bird – a Japanese general who tortured Louis both mentally and physically – he was played by a Japanese singer Miyavi. The character seemed a bit cartoon-y to me – almost like a stupid school bully. Nonetheless, I hated the character almost as much as Christoph Waltz’s Hans Landa in the Inglorious Basterds, so Miyavi did a great job as a villain.

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Other cast members included : Domhnall Gleeson, Garrett Hedlund, Finn Wittrock, Jai Courtney, Luke Treadaway, Jordan Patrick Smith and many others. As you can already tell, this is an all male cast type of movie. I don’t have any problems with that because there were no women at war. However, I do have a problem with the fact that I can’t remember anything about the characters that these actors played with the exceptions of Jack O’Connel and Miyavi. They didn’t develop them well enough and didn’t make me care about them or even remember them at all.

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Visuals and Directing

The movie is beautifully shot and I really liked Angelina’s work as a director. The scenes in the water were cool but sometimes cheesy while prisoner of war camp was portrayed realistically.

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Sport

Louis Zamperini was an Olympic runner and for me as an athlete, the part which told us about his athletic career was the most interesting. I also loved the fact that they didn’t diminish the importance of sport in Louis Zamperini’s life. If he hadn’t been an athlete and hadn’t trained as hard as he did, he probably wouldn’t have survived the war. I loved the clip of the real Louis running with the Olympic torch in 1998 Winter Olympics in Japan.

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Religion

Louis Zamperini also was a religious person, who found God when he needed him the most. Religion’s theme was mentioned in the film but didn’t explored deeply enough. The end of the film was really touching and made me tear up. It showed the importance of forgiveness – sometimes it’s better to turn the other cheek than to raise a fist.

Criticisms

Unbroken received mixed reviews from the critics and was shut down from the award’s season. Overall, I liked the film, though, a few scenes were really unbelievable and took me out of the movie. For example, their fight with a shark – you can’t catch a shark with your bare hands. The pacing had a few problems, but I would still recommend to watch this movie if you are a sport’s fan and interested in history.

Rate 4/5

Trailer: Unbroken trailer

Photos: Screenshots form the trailer.

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