Movie review: Phantom Thread

Movie reviews

Hello!

Welcome to one the last awards’ movie reviews. This time around, we are discussing Phantom Thread!

IMDb summary: Set in 1950’s London, Reynolds Woodcock is a renowned dressmaker whose fastidious life is disrupted by a young, strong-willed woman, Alma, who becomes his muse and lover.

Paul Thomas Anderson

Phantom Thread was written and directed by Paul Thomas Anderson, known for such films as Magnolia, Boogie Nights, Inherent Vice (which I’ve finally watched and was confused by) and There Will Be Blood (my favorite picture of his). His direction for Phantom Thread was very particular (and, in a way, quite spectacular). The writing was also very specific and, while I, personally, found a lot of problems with its content, I could also see how other people might have been fascinated by it. Let’s begin!

Writing

Phantom Thread’s narrative was, at its core, a love story, albeit a twisted and toxic one. The portrayal of such a love story was my main problem with the film. I have seen this movie described as a true representation of what it is like being in a relationship with an artist. To me, this looked like a situation, in which the film’s supposed authenticity of representation was used as a poor justification for the toxic relationship of the characters. Also, the assertion of authenticity raised another problem in my mind: according to this film, artists are borderline divine deities, to be sheltered and protected. In my worldview, artists are humans: flawed individuals rather than godlike figures to be privileged and raised above everyone else.

Going back to the love story, I couldn’t buy its progression. The female character stared the film as timid and quiet and seemed to be perfectly happy to be in an abusive and strict relationship. However, then she changed into a femme fatale (went from 0 (every second word from her mouth in the first half was ‘yes’) to Christian Grey levels) and attempted to reassert some power/or even take full control of the relationship by using quite deadly means. Where did that change come from? I did not see any hints at it at the beginning of the film! Also, if deciding to play-up the female character as this quiet but deadly individual, why not have the whole tonne of the movie be a bit more cynical and sinister rather than romantical? The changes in tonne would have made the whole shift seem a bit more possible. Also, was her goal to lower his defense mechanism really the only thing driving her forward? Or did she just want to weasel herself into his business and was basically a gold digger?

The male character was equally awful. He was privileged, pedantic, ridden with mommy issues (which were never really explored, just mentioned), demanding, superior without any good reason, obsessive, pretentious and controlling workaholic. Was he like that because of a mental illness or was he just an awful human being? Did his eccentricities really make him remarkable? I found that assertion quite questionable. Also, what did he see in the female character? A person to love, a prize to desire or a great model for his clothes/a real life dressmaker’s dummy?

The two ideas of writing that I liked the most (or the only two I liked at all) were the assertions that clothing is powerful and transformative and the character of the sister. Her jealousy of the new girlfriend/wife was a bit weird but I did like the fact that she was done with her brother by the end of the film and experienced growth – escaped the cycle that the other two characters remained stuck in.

Directing

Phantom Thread looked like a 1950s movie with its blurry and grainy visuals and soft colors. The designs themselves were beautiful but they also seemed very much of their own time – old rather than classical (time-transcending). The picture was also really slow, and since the story was either angering or extremely unengaging for me, I felt that it dragged more than a few times.

Acting

The two lead actors – Daniel Day-Lewis and Vicky Krieps – did a good enough job portraying the character. But, as I found their characters atrocious, I couldn’t really enjoy the actors’ performances. The chemistry between the two actors was interesting. I didn’t see it as positive but rather more confrontational and sometimes awkward, uncomfortable to watch. I don’t think this was Day-Lewis best performance and I certainly don’t think he should retire after it. For Krieps, this was her English-language debut (or one of the first few roles in English) and it was not necessarily the most successful one.

 

 

In short, Phantom Thread was a beautifully shot film, whose writing left me confused and annoyed. Might just be a personal thing, though, as a lot of critics seemed to have loved it.

Rate: 3/5

Trailer: Phantom Thread trailer

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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: Coco

Movie reviews

Hello!

The latest Pixar film has finally landed in my local theatres. This is Coco!

IMDb summary: Aspiring musician Miguel, confronted with his family’s ancestral ban on music, enters the Land of the Dead to find his great-great-grandfather, a legendary singer.

Just before we start, here are the links to my other Pixar reviews: Cars 3, Finding Dory, Inside Out.

Writing

Coco was written by Adrian Molina (worked on Monsters University, Toy Story 3, The Good Dinosaur, Ratatouille) and Matthew Aldrich (who doesn’t have much on his IMDb). Disney/Pixar have been dipping their toes into different cultures more and more (just recently with Moana) and have been attempting to showcase these certain cultures without appropriating them. I think that they succeed at this with Coco. On a side note, Coco is not the first animated film to have explored the day of the dead – 4 years ago, 20th Century Fox animation studios made The Book of Life to little or no fanfare. This only goes to show the importance of the attachment of a big name to any project – people trust Pixar, similarly how they trust Marvel or up until recently, Lucasfilm.

Anyways, back to Coco. So, Molina and Aldrich took the rituals and the beliefs of Dia de Los Muertos and turned them into a mythology of the film. To my mind, they were respectful of the culture and did a very good job of explaining it/informing others about it. I’ve always been interested in this particular celebration (even wrote a paper on it in my first year of uni), however, I only had a limited knowledge of it and Pixar’s Coco expanded it. I loved how they also included other iconic elements/people from the Mexican culture (loved the recurring Frida Kahlo gag). I also liked how the move took something culture-specific, like the idea that people decorate altars with photos, candles, and their ancestors’ favorite things, and used it in a very universal, familiar way, a.k.a in the shrine that Miguel dedicates to his favorite singer. While not all of us have made shrines for our favorite things, I’m certain that everybody who reads this blog has at least one movie poster on their wall. I can tell you that I’ve made many movie shrines in my days.

From the structural point of view, I thought that Coco was a well-written and fun adventure. It had some unexpected twists and turns. Thematically, the movie explored the idea of a family v. individual, though, the true conflict of the film was secrets within a family. In addition, while the Dia de Los Muertos setting of the picture already made it a bit dark, some reveals in the third act made it even darker. The Dia de Los Muertos focus of the film also allowed Coco to stress the importance of remembering one’s ancestors – that was such a nice message to spread. Lastly, in the usual Pixar fashion, all the heartstrings were pulled by Coco too.

Directing

Lee Unkrich (director of Toy Story 3, who has also worked on other Pixar films in various roles since the creation of the beloved studio) directed Coco and did a magnificent job. To begin with, the whole animation department at Pixar should get raises or a standing ovation every morning because Coco was the most beautiful animated picture I have ever seen. The amount of detail that went into the design, the vibrancy of the colors, the lighting – everything was just perfect. A lot of these praises are based just on the original visual appeal of Dia de Los Muertos but I do think that the animators deserve recognition for their work of translating this real-world visual appeal into an animated form. I loved the opening sequence with the backstory given through papercuts – it was both original and a culturally-appropriate way to do exposition.  In addition, I loved the aural cultural aspects that were included – mainly the music and how it was both there to embellish the story and be an important part of the story. ‘Remember Me’ was such a great song and, while it might not be the catchiest one, it carried so much sentimental weight. Lastly, the film was paced very well too. It had a good mix of funny moments, entertaining action, educational information, and heart-wrenching emotions.

Voice work

Anthony Gonzalez voiced Miguel and did such a brilliant job. He had such an expressive and strong voice that was just perfect for the lead in an animated film. Gael García Bernal voiced Héctor, while Benjamin Bratt (he does quite a lot of voice work and was recently in Doctor Strange) was Ernesto. I also really loved the brief but important work of Renée Victor (as Abuelita Elena) and Ana Ofelia Murguía (as Mamá Coco) in the movie. One brought such energy to the character, while the other – such love and affection to her respective character.

In short, Coco was a beautiful story brought to life by gorgeous animation and majestic voice work. This is one of those reviews, where any positive synonym of the word ‘beautiful’ works. And the film is very much worthy of all praise.

Rate: 4.8/5 (I’m taking a few points off not because of the movie but because of its messed up international release date)

Trailer: Coco trailer

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Movie review: Three Billboards Outiside Ebbing, Missouri

Movie reviews

Hello!

Welcome to the review of the big Golden Globe’s winner – Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.

IMDb summary: A mother personally challenges the local authorities to solve her daughter’s murder when they fail to catch the culprit.

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (amazing title, tbh) was written and directed by Martin McDonagh, known for such films as In Bruges and Seven Psychopaths. He handled both jobs extremely well.

Writing

McDonagh was inspired to write this movie by actual billboards about a crime that he has seen while traveling somewhere in the southeast of the US. Before seeing this film, I knew its premise (and thought it was super unique) but I had no idea where the narrative would go. I’m happy to report that McDonagh took this story in an unexpected and as unique as its premise direction.

Three Billboards was a story of three characters (3 billboards, 3 leads), and, through these characters’ arcs, the movie was able to explore a plethora of themes. This picture was, in my mind, more of an exploration of these three characters rather than a crime drama with them in it.

To begin with, the writing for the grieving mother was just spectacular. It was refreshing to see a character allowed to grieve openly and express her anger (it a small step from pain to anger) rather than bottling it up (our society likes us to grieve in private and be done quickly so that we could rejoin society as productive members as soon as possible). The way the film visualized pain – by focusing it on the billboards – was also super interesting. The whole interplay/juxtaposition between typically emotionless corporate advertising spaces (a.k.a. the billboards) and highly emotional plea of a grieving mother was fascinating. Also, the film did a good job of showing the extremism of Mildred (the mother) but also of making her actions understandable – the balance was just right. The flashbacks, showing the mother’s and daughter’s last moments together, also added so much depth to the story.

The second lead – the unfit police officer – was the most unexpected character for me. He began the film as an openly racist and homophobic cop – just an awful human being, but also, simultaneously, a sad little person. However, the script then added some little extraordinary details that intrigued me, like his enjoyment of comic books, ABBA, and classical music. I could not reconcile his worldview and his hobbies in my mind. Also, I expected the movie to sideline him or just use the character to build the atmosphere, but Dixon (that’s his name) actually became the main player as a story unraveled and experienced real growth. While I don’t think I agree that he had the makings of a good cop, he definitely had the capacity to become a decent person (through experience and education). In addition, Three Billboards’ writing was clever about humanizing the character without being too emphatic – found that perfect balance again.

The third lead, the town’s sheriff, was the character the easiest to sympathize with as he was portrayed as being stuck in an impossible position, mediating between a grieving mother and an unfit police force. This type of a police vs, citizen confrontation hasn’t been seen much in pictures recently, mostly because the majority of police and citizen relations have been explored through the perspective of race. Anyways, the town’s sheriff actually seemed like a good person, who cared about his job and his family. His personal arc, relating to his illness, was an unexpected but realistic inclusion, that added some layers to his character.

Three Billboards also presented an interesting dichotomy between the society and the individual: the town’s reaction to the billboards and the prejudice against Mildred and the siding with the police force were both shocking to me and didn’t paint the best picture of the middle America that is already pretty bad after the recent election (which isn’t that recent).

Lastly, the picture had a highly unexpected ending in the team-up of the mother and the police officer. Their final decision – taking justice into their owns hands without substantial proof  – was not easy to agree with. And yet, the fact that their target was spewing such horrible things at the bar and was in the military (which is supposed to consists of people working for the good of society rather than be an example of the worst of it) kinda made me understand Mildred’s and Dixon’s decision. And even though, their final resolution, as well as the previous actions of a mother, might not be the healthiest or the most societally acceptable example of how to deal with grief, it is a potential example, nonetheless. Hey, whatever works, I guess?

Directing

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, while impeccably written, was also well directed. The pacing was great – the movie was intense and emotional all throughout. The cinematography was wonderful too – the visual set-up (opening the movie with the imagery of the billboards) was highly effective and straight to the point. The mobile frame and the handheld camera throughout the rest of the film added that feeling of realism that indie movies have. The whole atmosphere of the movie was also a bit Coen-esque (more Coen-y than the Coen brothers’ own film from last year – Suburbicon). A couple of my favorite scenes in the picture (mostly because they were unexpected) were Mildred’s confrontation with the priest (if you want to find out more about her accusations, watch Spotlight – an Oscar winner from 2 years ago) and her scene with the dentist (that one was especially shocking but of the good kind of shock value).

 

Acting

  • Frances McDormand was truly brilliant as Mildred Hayes. I believe that her performance here was as good as the one in Fargo, for which she won an Oscar, and I’m hoping that she will get another Academy Award this year.
  • Woody Harrelson (Triple 9The Hunger GamesNow You See Me, The Glass Castle, War For The Planet Of The Apes) was also really good as Sheriff Bill Willoughby. His performance was short (ended quite suddenly) but one of the best of his that I’ve seen (then again, he is always good even if the movie itself is lacking).
  • Sam Rockwell delivered his greatest performance as Officer Jason Dixon – he made that character seem like a real person rather than a caricature. I’m so glad that Rockwell is finally getting the recognition he deserves – he definitely should have gotten more awards nominations in the past, especially for 2009’s Moon.
  • On the supporting front, Peter Dinklage had a cameo role and it was a bit weird seeing him here – he and Tyrion Lannister have become one in my mind (playing such an iconic character is both a blessing and a curse). A few actors from other awards nominees’ also had roles here, including Lucas Hedges (was nominated for Manchester by the Sea last year and played a similar role in this film – that of a grieving teenager; he is also in Ladybird – another huge contender this awards season) and Caleb Landry Jones (who appeared in Get Out – the most mainstream film this awards season).

 

In short, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri was a perfectly balanced and powerful drama about grief, pain, and anger that was brought to life by 3 amazing acting performances.

Rate: 4.8/5

Trailer: Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri trailer

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Movie review: All the Money in the World

Movie reviews

Hello!

Famous for its subject matter (the real-life events it depicts) and the behind-the-scenes story (Spacey out, Plummer in just months before the release date), can this movie stand on its own? This is All The Money In The World.

IMDb summary: The story of the kidnapping of 16-year-old John Paul Getty III and the desperate attempt by his devoted mother to convince his billionaire grandfather Jean Paul Getty to pay the ransom.

Writing

All the Money in the World was written by David Scarpa (he wrote some actions films before), based on the book Painfully Rich: The Outrageous Fortunes and Misfortunes of the Heirs of J. Paul Getty by John Pearson. I found the writing for the film to be really good. I loved that the movie managed to be both a biography of J.P. Getty’s and a crime drama about the investigation of his grandson’s disappearance. The biography part was fascinating because its subject – Getty himself – was fascinating. His relationship with money – him being both rich and frugal – was really interesting. The fact that he found safety in materialism (and, in contrast, a high risk of failure in human relationships) also made him into somewhat understandable if not relatable (unless you are a 1-percenter) character.

Getty wasn’t the only character portrayed as being in the morally grey zone. Getty’s advisor was very vocal about his flaws, while the mother character wasn’t completely untouchable either. This morally grey type of portrayal made the characters seem real – as real as their real-life counterparts. The writing for the investigation portion of the film was great too – the investigation itself had so many layers and unexpected turns (I didn’t know the story beforehand). The picture also employed a lot of flashbacks to explain the backstories of characters and managed to make all the temporally different parts seem cohesive.

Directing

Ridley Scott (The Martian) directed All the Money in the World and made me want to see more of his dramas – he should start making them instead of Alien films (give that franchise to Neill Blomkamp, please). This film was impeccably shot and well edited. The world of the 1-percenters, as well as the 1970s time period, were well realized. The pacing was excellent too – the film was intense and engaging all throughout its 2h+ runtime. Lastly, the reshoot situation was handled just seamlessly. I couldn’t spot any inconsistencies in the story or the visuals (if only Justice League would have handled its reshoot that well).

Acting

The three leads of All the Money in the World did a magnificent job. To my mind, the acting was the best part of the film.

Michelle Williams (The Greatest Showman) was amazing. I feel like she was even better than in Manchester by the Sea, for which she was nominated plenty of times during the last awards season. Mark Wahlberg (Ted, Deepwater Horizon, Patriot’s Day, Daddy’s Home 2) was great too – this is not the type of role we are used to seeing him in, but, after this movie, I wish he would do more dramas and less Transformers-type of films cause he posses the acting talents of a dramatic actor and not just an action star. Christopher Plummer (The Man Who Invented Christmas) was brilliant as J. Paul Getty too – his performance becomes even more amazing when you realize that it was a super late addition (he was cast instead of Spacey (after the allegations against him were made public) and all Getty’s scenes had to be reshot months before the release date).

On the supporting front, Charlie Plummer (no relation to the other C. Plummer on the cast) was quite good as John Paul Getty III (the grandson), while a French actor Romain Duris played one of the kidnappers – his character was also morally grey – not a full on ‘villain’ to accompany the not really ‘heroes’ of the story.

In short, All the Money in the World is a well-directed drama with great writing and even better acting. A solid awards nominee if not a sure winner.

Rate: 4.5/5

Trailer: All the Money in the World trailer

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Movie review: Mudbound

Movie reviews

Hello!

Before I start reviewing the major awards contenders, let’s look at one that is on the fringe of the awards voters radar. It’s the Netflix awards offering – Mudbound.

IMDb summary: Two men return home from World War II to work on a farm in rural Mississippi, where they struggle to deal with racism and adjusting to life after war.

Writing

Mudbound was written by Dee Rees and Virgil Williams. I thought that the film’s writing was solid and interesting, though, for the first part of the movie, I wasn’t sure what story it was telling: whether one about a black family’s experience during the WW2 or one about soldiers in and after the war. Only in the second half of the film did the two plotlines converge and made one whole narrative, while the first half seemed a bit confused and all over the place. The domestic set-up, one about a white family moving in next to a black one and having the stereotypical overtly or secretly racist relationship, was average and slow. The foreign set-up – the flashes to the soldiers’ lives during the war – was much more interesting than the domestic front and I wanted to see more of those scenes. It was especially interesting to witness a black man’s encounters with the Europeans. I haven’t seen that aspect explored much on film before. When the two plotlines did meet, Mudbound explored the interplay between race, class, and PTSD. The gender issues, as well as the comparison between black and white families’ distinct problems, were also included.

From the technical point of view, the movie started at the end and then flashed back to the begining of the story. A lot of elements of the plot were given through extensive narration: some of the narration was chilling, and, thus, effective, while other parts seemed annnoying and not essential. As per usual with the film on race, it elicited feelings of anger and disgust. This film, more than any other, portaryed the most radical side of racism in the 20th century the US very overtly, therefore, the feelings it evoked were extremely strong too. And yet, Mudbound ended on a hopeful note and had a message of love not hate. The mixed race friendship as well as the concluding origin of a mixed race family were two strands of hope that were achieved through a lot of pain, hurt, and suffering in the course of the movie.

Directing 

Dee Rees directed Mudbound and did a good job. As I have already mentioned, I wasn’t fully on board with the setup and thought that parts of it were very slow. However, Rees did a brilliant job with crafting striking visuals as well as with weaving the two plot strands neatly together in the second part of the picture. The song, which played during the credits – “Mighty River” by Mary J. Blige, was a lovely touch too.

Acting

Mudbound’s cast was quite stellar. Carey Mulligan (Suffragette, Far From The Madding Crowd), Jason Clarke (Dawn, Everest, and Terminator Genesys – that last film kinda ruined all subsequent performances of Clarke’s for me), and Jonathan Banks (Breaking Bad and its spin-off) were all great in the film, though the stand-outs were definitely Jason Mitchell (Straight Outta Compton, Detroit) and Garrett Hedlund (Unbroken) – their scenes together were fascinating. The actress who is, deservedly, getting the majority of the awards’ recognition for this movie was Mary J. Blige – she is a singer too and was actually the one to perform the end credits song for this film. Her acting performance was amazing too: quiet but very powerful.

In short, Mudbound is a well acted-drama about an old-school subject that is still, sadly, super topical.

Rate: 4/5

Trailer: Mudbound trailer

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5 ideas about a movie: Downsizing

Movie reviews

Hello!

Welcome to January – the month of great awards movies and awful mainstream ones. I don’t know how many reviews of the latter I’m going to be posting but you can be sure that the awards’ film reviews will be plentiful. For example, you are reading one now – this is Downsizing.

IMDb summary: A social satire in which a man realizes he would have a better life if he were to shrink himself to five inches tall, allowing him to live in wealth and splendor.

  1. Downsizing was written and directed by Alexander Payne (of The Descendants and Nebraska). Payne’s long-time collaborator Jim Taylor was also credited as a writer and a producer. To begin with, I thought that these two filmmakers had a genius premise for a movie. I haven’t really seen a social satire that tackled overpopulation as the main problem and definitely haven’t seen a film that had such a cheeky yet somehow believable solution to the problem. The opening sequence of the film was really good – it effectively set up the idea of downsizing as well as it global outreach – I instantly started to believe in the world of the movie. Then, the picture flashed to its main character and that’s where the problems started to arise.
  2. While I don’t necessarily think that the main character was bad, I do strongly believe that the story of the main character was too simplistic (for such an incredible premise, the narrative should have been more unique too). The wife’s decision to leave the husband was such a cliche way to create conflict. The fact that the movie started with one love story and ended with another was not the best decision either because by focusing so much on the romance, Downsizing forgot to explore a multitude of concepts that it introduced.  I wanted less predictability and more time spent on the economic, political, and social implications of downsizing; the abuse of the new technology (cause there always is a darker side behind a shiny billboard), and just the problem of overpopulation itself.
  3. Alexander Payne did a good job directing Downsizing. He realized the world of the story well and visually blended the small and the big worlds almost seamlessly (those visuals had a surrealist feeling to them which was interesting). In addition, Downsizing was billed as a comedy, and, while there were certainly some chucklesome moments, the film definitely wasn’t a laugh-out-loud type of a comedy. My favorite visual (as well as narrative) sequence was the prep for and the actual procedure of downsizing. As I’ve mentioned in the previous part, I wanted to see more of it rather than the love story.
  4. Matt Damon (The Martian, Jason Bourne, The Great Wall) played the lead and was good, but I don’t think that this role will result in any awards’ nominations let alone wins (it’s zero for two for Damon this season as Suburbicon was panned by the critics). Christoph Waltz (Tarzan, Spectre, Tulip Fever) was fun to watch as he was playing an eccentric and creepy character – one straight out of Waltz’s wheelhouse. Kristen Wiig (mother!, Ghostbusters) and Jason Sudeikis had very minor roles but they were great in those and proved to me that I definitely prefer seeing these two actors in more dramatic roles rather in their full-on comedic ones.
  5. The stand-out from the cast, who deservedly is getting all the awards’ recognition for this film was Hong Chau. While her character first appeared to be a comedic stereotype (mostly because of the broken English aspect), she was so much more than that. Chau’s performance was compelling and emotional, innocent yet sophisticated. I’d love to see her winning an Oscar as well as getting more opportunities in Hollywood (she has previously appeared on Big Little Lies and in the picture Inherent Vice).

In short, Downsizing wastes an amazingly original concept on a predictable love story. The cast is good overall but the standout is definitely Hong Chau.

Rate: 3.5/5

Trailer: Downsizing trailer

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Movie review: The Greatest Showman

Movie reviews

Hello!

What you get when you take the songwriters of La La Land and add them to a retired Wolverine? This is The Greatest Showman!

IMDb summary: inspired by the imagination of P.T. Barnum, The Greatest Showman is an original musical that celebrates the birth of show business and tells of a visionary who rose from nothing to create a spectacle that became a worldwide sensation.

Writing

The Greatest Showman, written by Jenny Bicks (one of the writers on Sex and the City) and Bill Condon (directed Beauty and the Beast, wrote Chicago, did both on Dreamgirls), is the story of P.T. Barnum. Being a mainstream musical that values entertainment value over accuracy, The Greatest Showman puts a fictional and quite an optimistic spin on a really dark and depressing real-life story. Barnum’s circus was not the safe haven for the different and marginalized, it was a prison for the so-called ‘freaks’ who neither the society nor Barnum himself actually cared for. And while there are some hints in the film for Barnum’s darker side (him turning away from his performers, and following the money and the high society’s acceptance instead), the overall final product can hardly be called a biography. Nevertheless, if one divorces the movie from its source material and takes it as a fictional story, then The Greatest Showman can absolutely be enjoyable (that’s how I enjoyed the movie – by treating it as a fictional musical rather than a biography).

Thematically, the picture explored ideas of hope and celebrated imagination and tolerance (again, take it as a fictional story, not a biography). It also expressed some ideas about hoaxes as lies for a good purpose (felt iffy about that message). The Greatest Showman also attempted to be a celebration of difference, however, it didn’t end up doing much else than just showcasing the difference – what I mean by this is that the script lacked character development for the majority of the performers. P.T. Barum received the most development, him being the lead and all, but even his personal arc was rushed at the beginning.

Directing

A visual effects supervisor Michael Gracey debuted as a director with The Greatest Showman and did quite a good job. Of course, he did get a lot of help from the aforementioned songwriters Benj Pasek and Justin Paul (their other credits include Dear Evan Hansen – a new and beloved Broadway musical as well as ‘Runnin’ Home To You’ – the song from The Flash musical episode) and composers John Debney and John Trapanese. The choreographer Ashley Wallen is also responsible for the success of the film’s musical numbers. And the musical numbers were plentiful. While on the first hearing, all of the songs somewhat blended together for me, upon a second listen, I started to appreciate them all separately. While ‘This is Me’ was certainly a great song and deserves the awards recognition it is getting, my favorite track was actually ‘Never Enough’. That song might be a bit too depressing and too real for the academy/other awards voters. What I wish that The Greatest Showman had less of was the reprisals of its songs. There were a lot of them and maybe a bit too many for a less than a 2-hour movie.

I’ve seen a few complaints online about the fact that this old school musical had a modern soundtrack – I actually loved the combo of old and new, but, then again, I liked how The Great Gatsby used modern music and I just love easy pop songs in general. I also loved how the movie realized its setting of a carnival/circus – I always thought that circus was a rich and realistically magical setting that is open to a lot of possibilities. In fact, The Greatest Showman’s circus numbers reminded me a bit of one short carnival sequence in the remake of Fame which I have always adored (linked it here).

Acting

Hugh Jackman (X-Men, Eddie The Eagle) starred in the lead of the film and did a good job. There was a reason why he so desperately wanted to make this movie – he knew he would be very good in it. It took me a few songs to get used to him not singing opera-like classics – I have only really heard him singing in Les Miserables before.

Zac Efron (The Disaster ArtistBaywatch, Mike and Dave, We Are Your Friends) was also really good in the picture and it was fun to see him coming back to his roots – a genre that made him well known in the first place (yes, I did grew up watching him in HSM, don’t judge me). Zendaya (Spider-Man) also delivered a wonderful performance, made even more amazing by the fact that she was actually the one doing the trapeze stunts. Michelle Williams (Manchester By the Sea) was also great in the film and in a less depressing role than she usually plays.

Rebecca Ferguson (The Snowman, MI5) delivered a great performance too – I loved the scene of her and Hugh Jackman just looking at each other. However, the most notable scene of Ferguson’s wasn’t even notable because of Ferguson herself – the aforementioned song ‘Never Enough’ was sung by her character but not by the actress herself. She was only lip syncing to the vocals of  Loren Allred. Lastly, Keala Settle rounded out the cast and was superb.

In short, The Greatest Showman was a great musical with delightful performances that was a bit let down by its mediocre writing

Rate: 4/5

Trailer: The Greatest Showman trailer

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5 ideas about a movie: Wonder Wheel

Movie reviews

Hello!

A feature from one of the most polarizing yet still working directors in Hollywood. This is Wonder Wheel.

IMDb summary: On Coney Island in the 1950s, a lifeguard tells the story of a middle-aged carousel operator and his beleaguered wife.

  1. Wonder Wheel was written and directed by Woody Allen. Despite all the allegations and rumors, he is still able to keep his career afloat. This is even more surprising when one considers the current political climate in Hollywood. What is even more disturbing regarding Allen and this particular film is the fact that this movie focuses on the relationships between a mother, a stepdaughter, and a young man – a topic that might be too closely related to the filmmaker himself (he married his stepdaughter in 1997).
  2. After a series of Europe-centric pictures (Vicky Cristina BarcelonaMidnight in Paris, To Rome with Love, and Magic in the Moonlight), Allen has returned to his native US and explored a number of different time periods and parts of US with his latest films: Irrational Man, Cafe Society, and A Rainy Day in New York (premiering next year). While the temporal and the physical places might have constantly been in flux in Allen’s films, the topics that he investigates have stayed the same. Wonder Wheel explored love (the most signature and simultaneously universal theme) and really dug deep into it. The film also celebrated movies as both art and escapism. It also looked at the concept of unfulfilled dreams (a personally relatable topic) and had a dark twist (also, very Allen-like).
  3. The feature also examined writing as an occupation and looked at its tools of dramatization and symbolism. The film also presented life as a script that we write (or have written for us). Wonder Wheel was a bit meta too: not only did it break the 4th wall but it interrogated the differences between the real-life stories and the fictional ones. From the directing standpoint, the movie felt indie and old school. The long takes and the soft colors added to the aforementioned feelings. The jazz score was lovely too.
  4. Kate Winslet (Collateral Beauty, Triple 9, The Mountain Between Us, Steve Jobs) played the lead in the movie and, while she was undeniably great, I’m wondering why she chose this role in the first place. I saw Ginny (her character) as an absolutely stereotypical female character – highly emotional and always needing a man to rely on. Looking past these typical traits, Ginny had some interesting qualities that probably intrigued Winslet too, like her selfishness, shadiness, and her trivial choice to not save Caroline (her stepdaughter). That choice seemed like Ginny’s big stage moment – the meeting point between her life and art (Ginny used to be an actress).
  5. The supporting cast of the film was quite good. The aforementioned Caroline was played by Juno Temple (Black Mass), who brought delightful youthfulness to the role. Justin Timberlake (Trolls) was believable as the guy Caroline and Ginny fancied. While he isn’t the best actor, Timberlake was fine in this role (probably not one far from his life). Jim Belushi played Caroline’s father and Ginny’s husband and was also okay. All of the performances had a touch of the theatrical but that fit the film’s tone, as it explored the idea of life as a dramatic and symbolic story.

In short, Wonder Wheel was a fine film. Not Allen’s best and not an awards’ contender but perfectly watchable and interesting.

Rate: 3.3/5

Trailer: Wonder Wheel trailer

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Movie review: The Disaster Artist

Movie reviews

Hello!

I just saw a great movie about an awful movie. This is The Disaster Artist.

IMDb summary: When Greg Sestero, an aspiring film actor, meets the weird and mysterious Tommy Wiseau in an acting class, they form a unique friendship and travel to Hollywood to make their dreams come true.

Disclaimer: prior to seeing The Disaster Artist, I wanted to watch The Room – the film whose behind-the-scenes story is the subject of this movie. However, then I thought that I already have a never-ending list of past quality pictures that I need to watch but don’t have time for. So, The Room fell off the list without even making on it. But, maybe if I truly love The Disaster Artist, I’ll give The Room a chance too.

Writing

The Disaster Artist was written by Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber (the duo has previously adapted two John Green’s book to the big screen – TFIOS and Paper Towns, they are also writing the New Mutants film for the Marvel Fox division), based on the book The Disaster Artist: My Life Inside The Room, the Greatest Bad Film Ever Made by Greg Sestero (Dave Franco played him in the movie) and a journalist and a critic Tom Bissell. I enjoyed the writing for this picture very much. First of all, as a cinephile, I love all things related to movies, so a film about a different film is right up my alley. Moreover, I adore movies that celebrate other films and The Disaster Artist did just that. It wasn’t making fun of The Room or Wiseau but showed a certain kind of appreciation of and respect to it and him. Also, the fact that the movie didn’t go for the easy jokes, made The Disaster Artist so much better and funnier in its own kind of way.

The writing for Tommy Wiseau as a character for this movie was intriguing. I don’t know how accurate it was but it certainly worked for the film. The fact that Wiseau was trying really hard to make something he believed in and loved came across very clearly. His personal quirks (that have now become infamous) were present in the film too. However, the movie did not single them out more than necessary. What The Disaster Artist seemed to be more focused on were Wiseau’s insecurities and feelings behind the quirks. I drew a conclusion that he was somebody who wanted approval of others but on his own terms (basically, he wanted a friend who would understand him and it’s a good thing that he found one in Sestero. It’s cute that they still talk every day, if the text at the end of The Disaster Artist is to be believed).

Lastly, Wiseau, The Room, and now The Disaster Artist also expressed some neat ideas about cinema and human behavior (how one is the expression of the other). My main takeaway from the 2017’s biopic was the idea that the making of The Room was therapy for Wiseau. In addition, the watching of The Room seems to bring a feeling of catharsis for the viewers too (otherwise, why would they be watching it?).

Directing

James Franco directed The Disaster Artist and did an impeccable job (this film was actually my first introduction to him as a director). Not only did he recreate the scenes from The Room spot on (as evident in the credits side-by-side comparison) but he managed to balance out the film – keep it respectful but also funny. The opening interview montage, full of celebrity cameos, added a slight documentary feel to the movie, while the handled cinematography made it undeniably indie. The late 1990s/early 2000s soundtrack was fun (especially for somebody who grew up on that bad pop music). The funniest sequences of the feature, in my opinion, were the audition montage and the nude scene shoot. Lastly, the shots of the audience laughing while watching The Room felt very meta, as the actions of those moviegoers were mirrored by the audience of The Disaster Artist.

Acting

The Disaster Artist had a display of some bad acting from some great actors. James Franco not only directed the film but played the lead Tommy Wiseau (real Wiseau cameos during the end credits scene that nobody waits to see). I have enjoyed a lot of Franco’s dramatic roles before (like the one in 127 Hours) and I have liked some of his comedic work (he was hilarious in both Sausage Party and This is the End). I feel like, in this film, he combined all of his talents and delivered a brilliant dramatic and comedic performance. He nailed Tommy’s laugh and the vaguely Eastern European accent (though I’m not sure that Wiseau’s own accent is truly Eastern European – this comes from somebody who has spent years trying to lose her accent from the same region, so I think I’d recognize that particular accent in another person).

Dave Franco (Nerve, Now You See Me, The Lego Ninjago, Jump Street) played Greg Sestero and was really good too. He brought innocence and excitement to the role of the young Sestero (he was barely 20 or in his early twenties when shooting The Room). The Disaster Artist marked the first time that both Franco brothers appeared on screen together. Would love to see them collaborate on future projects!

Seth Rogen (Steve Jobs), in addition to producing the film, also had a role as Sandy Schklair, the script supervisor on the production of The Room. He was delightful to watch on screen: his scene about the check going through received a lot of laughs from the audience in my screening. Alison Brie starred as Amber, Sesteros’ girlfriend, while Ari Graynor played the actress who portrayed Lisa (yup, the same one that’s tearing Wiseau apart) in The RoomJosh Hutcherson (Mockingjay) and Zac Efron (BaywatchMike and Dave, We Are Your Friends) also both appeared as the members of The Room’s cast. They got a chance to recreate an incredible scene from The Room (that literally does not connect to anything else in that film) in The Disaster Artist.

In short, The Disaster Artist was an amazing movie that should be highly appreciated by any cinephile out there. Though it still did not fully convince me to watch The Room.

Rate: 4.5/5

Trailer: The Disaster Artist trailer

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