5 ideas about a movie: Roman J. Israel, Esq.

Movie reviews

Hello!

This is an awards’ film (barely) with Denzel Washington and he is the only nominee. Well, that never happens (*cough, cough*)…This is Roman J. Israel, Esq.

IMDb summary: Roman J. Israel, Esq., a driven, idealistic defense attorney, finds himself in a tumultuous series of events that lead to a crisis and the necessity for extreme action.

  1. Roman J. Israel, Esq. was written and directed by Dan Gilroy (he debuted as a director in 2014 with Nightcrawler and also wrote the recent Kong: Skull Island). While he didn’t do a bad job per say, I wouldn’t say that the film was successful either. At best, it was okay, at worst: so-so.
  2. From the writing standpoint, Roman J. Israel, Esq. was super dense. The law jargon was confusing and was not presented in an interesting way (it seems that ‘show, don’t tell’ rule was unheard of by the filmmakers). The only interesting visual with the legal paperwork was the opening sequence of a typed text –  I wanted to see more of that or other types of visualizations of the law. The movie was also quite slow and long – the plot dragged in more than a few places. In addition, the big twist – Roman’s decision to acquire some money through shady means – seemed far-fetched as the character did not seem to be so desperate as to commit such an act. The act could be believable if the movie was attempting to showcase the fragility of idealism when materialism comes calling. That’s one depressing message.
  3. Despite the flaws in the script, some neat dualities could be found in the writing. For one, Roman’s personal character and the requirements of his job were at odds – he was antisocial and introverted in nature but had to present a certain flashier business image of himself (extrovert in a suit with sleek rather than ethnic hair). His personal beliefs were also challenged by the modern times: his outlook was fairly old school and he didn’t seem to be able to adapt to the changes (the scene where he is lecturing the activists, as well as his exchange with the two women about the line between chivalry and sexism, come to mind).
  4. If my cryptic intro was too cryptic, what I meant by it was the fact that Denzel Washington has been nominated in the acting categories a plethora of times throughout his career, however, the films, in whole, have not faired great. Fences was completely shut down just last year (except for the Viola Davis’s win, which was more of a career win rather than a reward for that specific movie) and Flight did not do any better in the 2012/2013 season. Washington’s last big win was in 2002/2003 with Training Day. Here, he was good as Roman J. Israel and also acted as the only reason for me to watch this film. However, the performance wasn’t special – it was neither showy nor subtly powerful. Just good. And yet, if not for Denzel’s involvement with this film, we wouldn’t be even talking about it: another recent law drama/biography Marshall didn’t get any nominations because it didn’t have an awards’ voters favorite in the lead (that one did have a Black Panther, though).
  5. While the film was mostly a Denzel-centric show, the other members of the cast were good too. Colin Farrell (The Killing of a Sacred Deer, The Beguiled, Fantastic Beasts, The Lobster) didn’t have much to do but he did fit the role of a high profile lawyer very well. Carmen Ejogo (Fantastic Beasts, Alien: Covenant) was good as an activist too.

In short, Roman J. Israel, Esq. fades as a movie, while Denzel Washinton peaks as per usual.

Rate: 3/5

Trailer: Roman J. Israel, Esq. 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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Movie review: Manchester By The Sea

Movie reviews

Hello!

Since the awards’ season is finally in full swing, let’s review one of its frontrunners – Manchester By The Sea!

IMDb summary: An uncle is asked to take care of his teenage nephew after the boy’s father dies.

Writing

Kenneth Lonergan, who I only knew as the screenwriter behind Scorcese’s Gangs of New York, both wrote and directed Manchester By The Sea. I really enjoyed the narrative that he came up with for this film. First of all, I liked the setting choice – the majority of movies (both indie and mainstream ones) that I’ve seen tend to focus on either the huge urban metropolises of the USA or on the stereotypical rural south, so it was refreshing to see an American movie set in just a normal and mundane city of Manchester that wasn’t super big but also was not just a small town in the middle of nowhere.

In addition, I liked the fact that the film’s mundane focus, like the logistics of daily life, were treated with respect and importance because these things are important even if we don’t think about them as such. The big reveal of the past tragedy was unexpected and completely horrifying, but it allowed the film to explore the themes of guilt, of feeling like one should have been punished and of not being able to forget. Speaking about the last theme, I loved that the resolution of the movie was that one does not necessarily have to forget, no big revelations has to come in the end. Sometimes, it is better to just live.

Other few topical points that the movie made were 1. the portrayal of the worker as present in people’s lives without being seen and 2. that the showing of emotions is a positive thing and not a sign of weakness. From this review or the trailers, you might think that this film is really depressing and sad and it is that in part (it is also sometimes uncomfortable and unsettling), however, it also has a few lighter moments that arise from the daily lives of the characters and that give hope to the future and hope is the only thing that makes our lives, as well as these character’s lives, better.

Directing

Lonergan’s directing was as great as his writing. I loved the almost documentary-like feeling of the picture and the slow but engaging pace. The steady camera shots brought a classic aspect to the film while the play between the offscreen and onscreen space modernized it. The sea or the ocean wasn’t as big of a character in the movie as I expected it to be, but it was always present in the background and kinda characterized the city without overbearing it. I also really enjoyed the soundtrack by Lesley Barber. The sacral gospel-like numbers and the tunes by a string orchestra really elevated the atmosphere of the picture.

Acting

Casey Affleck (Triple 9, The Finest Hours, Gone Baby Gone) played the main character in the film and did a magnificent job. His brilliant performance has already been rewarded with a Golden Globe and a Critics’ Choice Award. He will, most likely, take both the SAG and the Oscar in the Best Lead Actor category. Casey has always tried to stay out of the spotlight but I think that it is gonna be quite hard to do that moving forward. I wonder if he is going to follow in his brother’s Ben’s footsteps and do something really mainstream (although Ben Affleck is probably regretting that he took on the role of Batman as the critics just can’t stop picking on his films both the mainstream and the indie ones).

Speaking more about his performance in Manchester By The Sea – it was truly brilliant. He portrayed the social reservedness/awkwardness and almost the emotionless of the character just perfectly. The past tragedy of the character could also always be felt in the appearance/the behavior of the actor. Affleck also played the character as a realistic drunk and not an over the top one (similarly to Emily Blunt in The Girl on The Train). The overall performance seemed to be of low energy but it was actually very subtly powerful.

Michelle Williams (Blue Valentine, My Week with Marilynstarred as the main character’s ex-wife and, even though she only appeared in the handful of scenes, she did a spectacular job. Similarly to Affleck’s, her performance was grounded and silently persuasive. My favorite scene of the film was William’s and Affleck’s characters’ encounter in the street – it wasn’t an easy or a pleasant scene to watch but it just allowed the acting skills of both actors to truly shine and that’s why it was my favorite.

Lucas Hedges, to whom Manchester By The Sea was a breakthrough film, played the teenager nephew of Affleck’s character and was really good too. I liked the fact that his character was written as a realistic teenager that could both be in a band and on a hockey team, both have girlfriend(s) and like Star Trek.

Kyle Chandler and C.J. Wilson also played two small supporting roles and did a great job with their limited screentime.

In short, Manchester By The Sea was a great picture with nice writing and directing. However, the acting was the thing that made it stand out from other films.

Rate: 4,5/5

Trailer: Manchester By The Sea trailer

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