Movie review: Batman & Harley Quinn

Movie reviews

Hello!

Last summer, I branched out and reviewed a straight-to-DVD animated movie because it was an adaptation of a famous graphic novel – Batman: The Killing Joke. This summer, WB/DC has released another Batman animated film, and the reason to review it this year is Batman’s co-star – the highly popular character of Harley Quinn. The Joker’s girlfriend has definitely broken the boundaries in which she was created and become a favorite of both niche comic fans and mainstream audiences (Suicide Squad is mostly to blame/thank for that). So, let’s see what Batman & Harley Quinn have to offer!

IMDb summary: Batman and Nightwing are forced to team with the Joker’s sometimes-girlfriend Harley Quinn to stop a global threat brought about by Poison Ivy and Jason Woodrue, the Floronic Man.

Writing

Batman & Harley Quinn is an original story, written by Bruce Timm (Jim Krieg helped with the script too). Timm has earned the respect of fans by co-creating Batman: The Animated Series. However, recently he lost some of the said respect by doing something ‘original’ with Batman: The Killing Joke (his producing gig resulted in the ruin of the Batgirl character), so I was preemptively concerned about where his originality will go in this film. And I was right to be worried.

The core story of Batman & Harley Quinn certainly wasn’t bad. The eco message was actually quite interesting, while some of Harley’s character development moments were neat too (seeing her ‘going straight’ and being compassionate). However, a lot (and I mean really a lot) weird choices were made with the details of the narrative and the humor. And not weird in a good kind of way, but in a way that made me wonder ‘what?’ and ‘why?’ a lot.

Let’s start with the biggest problem of the film – the sexual references (both obvious and hidden) that lacked all subtlety or sophistication. The therapy joke, the super-babes bar, the freeze frame kiss? Not only were they quite tasteless but also quite meaningless details. They were just there for some reason and didn’t contribute much to the plot.

Another elephant in the room (movie) was that implied Nightwing/Harley sex scene. It seemed really weird but at least it raised a few problems/questions. First, it allowed the film to analyze the sexualization of Harley Quinn as a character (the line about the job offers as well as the interplay of cuteness and sexiness in the portrayal of the character were two fascinating additions)). Maybe, then, that sex scene was quite fitting, knowing how the character has been perceived? Her partner of the scene – Nightwing – has also been involved in a fair share of adult themes too prior to this picture. Another, more real-world, problem that this sex brought into the forefrunt was the fact that our society still can’t comprehend romantic or sexual pairings where the woman is older than a man. In general, age gaps are a big topic even if the consent is there.

 

Speaking about the non-sexual part of the humour, it wasn’t that good either. The fart joke and ‘smells like discipline’ line were bizzare. I can’t even call them childish – that was something else. The singing in the bar scene was odd too. My favorite joke in the movie wasn’t actually part of the movie – it was the post credits scene with the Ask Dr. Harley TV show. It was a smart jab at reality TV and doctor shows and I also appreciated its meta qualities.

Directing

Sam Liu, who has directed my favorite DC animated film Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths as well as already mentioned last year’s The Killing Joke, helmed Batman & Harley Quinn. I though that he did an okay job. I really liked ‘the Pink Panther meets James Bond’ type of credits. The action was quite campy but I thought that it was an intentional omage to the 1960s Batman TV show. The animation style itself was fine too – the familair 2D of all the WB/DC animated projects.

Voice work

It was lovely to hear Kevin Conroy as Batman/Bruce Wayne as well as Loren Lester as Nightwing/Dick Grayson. These role have become synonyms to their names. The Big Bang Theory’s Melissa Rauch voiced Harley Quinn/Dr. Harleen Quinzel. It was her first time doing that and I wasn’t completely onboard with the choices she made. Frankly, she sounded quite annoying and I wasn’t sure about the southern accent (if it even was a southern accent).

In short, Batman & Harley Quinn was a uncohesive and strange mess of a movie. It’s kinda hearbreaking to write that, as all the characters involved in the picture are loved not only by me but a lot of people.

Rate: 2.75/5

Trailer: Batman & Harley Quinn trailer

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Movie review: The Big Sick

Movie reviews

Hello!

I had a chance to watch, probably, the most original film of the year and I really want to talk about it. It’s The Big Sick!

IMDb summary: Pakistan-born comedian Kumail Nanjiani and grad student Emily Gordon fall in love but struggle as their cultures clash. When Emily contracts a mysterious illness, Kumail finds himself forced to face her feisty parents, his family’s expectations, and his true feelings.

Writing

The Big Sick was written by Emily V. Gordon and Kumail Nanjiani. They based the script of their actual relationship and Nanjiani also portrayed a version of himself in the film. Gordon has mostly written for TV before, while Nanjiani has done a lot of acting and writing for TV too. The Big Sick was their biggest writing project to date.

The aspect of the film, which has been discussed the most, was its diversity or, more specifically, the ethnicity/race of the main character/actor as well as the cultural commentary provided by the movie. Everyone in the industry was super surprised that a movie with a Pakistani-American actor in the lead could succeed financially (critical success seemed more plausible) or that audiences were actually interested in a different culture.

On top of being interested in a different culture, audiences just usually look for a quality film to watch, and The Big Sick was exactly that. I thought that it had one of the best scripts of the recent romance films because the relationship was written in a realistic manner. The dialogue between the two people was fresh and actually sounded like an interaction between real people: it had moments of awkwardness and comfort, fun and absurdity but was also very sincere. The slight gendered bickering wasn’t out of place either and felt like a believable part of a modern relationship. The cinematic cliches (e.g. a guy listening to the girl’s voicemails after the breakup) didn’t look forced or cringy but actually seemed cute and natural. Lastly, the way Gordon and Nanjiani wrote the ending of the film was just absolutely brilliant. They didn’t go for a grand reveal and an instant fairy tale conclusion but crafted a realistic ending to a relationship – the kind that people have to work for.

Speaking about the portrayal of a different culture, I thought that The Big Sick was very successful in that aspect. I loved how the film presented a varied Pakistani-Muslim community, with some people keeping up with the traditions more and some less. It was also very thoughtful of the movie to showcase a successful arranged marriage (while it might not be for everyone, it can also bring happiness). In addition, I loved how the movie wasn’t afraid to not just present the culture but to critique it (or even joke about it). One of the best moments in the picture was the scene where Nanjiani’s character voiced his doubts about the culture (are the American lifestyle and the Muslim culture at all compatabile?). I loved how in that moment, he both remained respectful of the culture but also wasn’t blinded by it and underscored the importance of his own personal experience. The inclusion of Nanjiani’s career plot-line into the picture also helped to interrogate the culture from more than not just the romance angle, while it also made the story richer and elevated the whole movie.

Another unique part of the film was Nanjiani’s character’s bonding time with his girlfriend’s parents (I haven’t seen anything similar in recent times or maybe ever). Their conversations were really genuine but also fun. The scene of the mother character showing her daughter’s childhood pictures to the boyfriend was so true to life. The way the parent characters were written to behave at the hospital – writing everything down and googling the symptoms – added another layer of realism to the film too. My only slight gripe was the fact that I didn’t think that the inner problems of the parent’s relationship were necessary. However, their addition to the movie didn’t detract from the main relationship too much.

Directing

The Big Sick was directed by Michael Showalter whose previous picture was also a romantic comedy – Hello, My Name is Doris, which was as unique as The Big Sick. Both of these pictures focused on unconventional romantic pairings, be it because of the age or ethnicity of individuals in the relationship.

I thought that Showalter did a very good job directing The Big Sick. I liked the overall aura of the film: it had the authenticity of a documentary film but was approachable as a narrative film. Plus, although it was an indie picture, it had the continuity and flow of a mainstream romantic comedy.

Moreover, The Big Sick was very nicely paced: the story progressed slowly but never dragged, instead, the movie cleverly took its time to build an emotional core of the narrative. The reveals in the story also came organically and weren’t shocking just for the sake of being shocking. Alternatively, they were, again, more focused on the sentimental impact.

Acting

  • Kumail Nanjiani had a few minor roles on the big screen prior to this picture, though he was most well known for being on the main cast of Silicon Valley (a series that I have yet to watch). I wonder how was it for him to play a version of himself – whether it was easy or extremely difficult and whether he had to withhold or embellish his personality for the camera. Overall, I believe that he portrayed the character’s arc very concincigly and I hope that this film’s success can lead to more movie roles for him.
  • Zoe Kazan was also very good in the picture. Her and Nanjiani’s chemistry was amazing too. Holly Hunter and Ray Romano starred as the parent and did a nice job as well. It was delightful to see Hunter in a better film than her last one (BvS) and Romano actually appearing on the screen instead of just voicing the mammoth in the endless Ice Age movies. Lastly, the film’s cast was rounded out by a whole bunch of stand-up comedians, who all delivered excellent performances.

In brief, The Big Sick is one of the most unique romantic comedies I have ever seen. Not only does it have a fresh perspective and an original concept to explore, it is simply just a very well made movie.

Rate: 4.5/5

Trailer: The Big Sick trailer

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Movie review: War For The Planet Of The Apes

Movie reviews

Hello, 

The third and final installment in the rebooted Apes franchise – War For The Planet Of The Apes – is upon us, so let’s review it.

IMDb summary: After the apes suffer unimaginable losses, Caesar wrestles with his darker instincts and begins his own mythic quest to avenge his kind.

SPOILER ALERT

Writing

War For The Planet Of The Apes broke the trend that most blockbusters follow nowadays and was written by only 2 people instead of a bunch of them. Mark Bomback (who wrote The Wolverine, Insurgent, and the previous entry in the trilogy Dawn) and the director Matt Reeves were the only two screenwriters responsible for the script and, to my mind, that was one of the factors that lead to War’s screenplay being a major success that only had a few minor flaws.

To begin with, I loved the neat recap that played with the titles of the films (Rise, Dawn, War). I also very much enjoyed the direction that this story took with the humans devolving and losing the traits that make them human. The scene in which Woody Harelson’s character exposed that concept was a bit exposition heavy but the idea itself was so interesting that I didn’t care that much. In general, the issues of humanity were even more prevalent than in the previous films and were handled really well. Moreover, I adored the final twists in the plot, where the final battle was more about the human vs human conflict with the apes caught in the middle. Additionally, the idea to have mother nature as the winning agent was a genius one and also helped the action-y third act to tie into Harrelson’s character’s story-idea that apes are more adapted for survival.

Other themes, like Caesar’s struggles of leadership (to stay with the group or be the lone wolf/ape), his drive for revenge and/or survival, and his feelings of guilt and responsibility, were great additions to the narrative that elevated the film. Speaking about Caesar, his death at the end of the movie was quite emotional – he was one of the most memorable sci-fi characters ever that we had a privilege of seeing grow and develop in three, near damn perfect, films.

The new characters in War were excellent additions. The bad ape character was an obvious ploy for comedic relief but he was actually funny (wonder how much of that was improvised and how much was written). The child human character was also really good – she was like a beacon of real humanity and goodness in a war film. Lastly, the few gripes with the picture’s writing I had were mostly illogical gaps in the narrative. For one, the soldier characters were kinda awful at their job, not noticing the little girl or that the apes were gone. Secondly, I wish that the ape characters would have been made to utilize their ape skills more. When Caesar and the band went looking for the colonel, why not make them smell the territory rather than just barge in? Thirdly, this is not really a logical flaw, but I wish that the flower moment with the ape and the girl and that ape’s death scene would have been further apart. It would have given us more time to really get to know the character and would have made the untimely demise even more emotional.

Directing

Matt Reeves took over Rupert Wyatt (he directed Rise) on the second film Dawn and also helmed the final installment War. I loved the continued direction that he first chose for the second film – to treat the movie as a thriller or even a drama but to also have spectacular action moments. War was intense and slow but crafted with such care. The only time the film slowed down too much was the sequences with the apes in the camp before they started planning the escape. Nevertheless, that part had to be in the picture because Caesar had to go through a period of muddled motivations and had to re-find his purpose.

The visuals were amazing: the surroundings of nature were just impeccable and a character in their own right, while the CGI of the apes was absolutely unbelievable as well and even better than it was before (and it was already great). The long takes were awe-inspiring and emotionally driven, like the shot of apes kneeling before Caesar in his introduction or the sweeping shots of the battle. Another emotional moment was the scene of the ‘Apes Together Strong’ sign. Ir really reminded me of The Hunger Games ‘Three Finger Salute’.

Generally, I loved what Reeves did with the final installment in this trilogy and I’m now way more trusting in the fact that he can absolutely nail The Batman solo movie. He recently replaced Ben Affleck as the director of that project and his is also rewriting the script.

Acting

Andy Serkis (LOTR, Star Wars 7, Avengers 2) was back in his element as Caesar and just did his job to perfection. He portrayed so much emotion through all the CGI: some actors can’t even do that with their real faces. He is a mastermind of motion capture and his work must be rewarded or at least recognized. Academy, prove to us that you are not as old fashioned as we think.

Although other actors had to compete with Serkis, they did do a good job with their motion capture performances too. The comedian Steve Zahn was brilliant as the Bad Ape, while the returning talent Karin Konoval and Terry Notary were also really good. I really wish that their motion capture work would lead to more on-screen acting gigs for them. The humans, this time around, were played by Woody Harrelson (Triple 9, Now You See Me 2) – he was great in the villainous role and the young TV actress Amiah Miller – she was a delight to watch as well.

In short, War For The Planet Of The Apes might be the best thriller of this summer and one of the best blockbusters too. It’s smartly written, well-acted, and directed with care on top of being an incredible showcase of what can be achieved with CGI in this day and age.

Rate: 4.5/5

Trailer: War For The Planet Of The Apes trailer

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Movie review: Spider-Man: Homecoming 

Movie reviews

Hello!

The 3rd cinematic reimagining of the Spider-Man character has reached cinemas in a form of Spider-Man: Homecoming. Let’s see whether third time’s a charm!

IMDb summary: Peter Parker, with the help of his mentor Tony Stark, tries to balance his life as an ordinary high school student in New York City while fighting crime as his superhero alter ego Spider-Man when a new threat emerges.

SPOILER WARNING

Writing

Spider-Man: Homecoming was written by 6(!) people and it wasn’t a mess. The scriptwriters included the comedy writing duo Jonathan Goldstein and John Francis Daley, the director Jon Watts, Christopher Ford (who wrote Robot & Frank), Chris McKenna (he worked on The Winter Soldier), and Erik Sommers (wrote The Lego Batman Movie).  The script was a perfect blend of two coming of ages stories: one of growing up into an adult and the other one of evolving as a hero. I loved the two narratives separately as well as how they worked together.

The Spider-Man side of the story was, thankfully, not an origin story, but still showed the character’s beginnings (Year One, basically). I loved the inclusion of the ‘Training Wheels Protocol’ and also enjoyed seeing that handful of moments of Spider-Man failing – they added a lot of realism and believability to the character. The plotlines concerning Peter Parker were also great. The advertised John Hughes-like feeling was actually present in the film and did work (we even saw a scene from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off playing on TV)! I also loved how the high school setting and the student characters were realized. Those awkward commercials were spot on, while the students weren’t just walking stereotypes – they were actually multidimensional. Flash was a popular rich kid, a bully, and a nerd (or at least a wannabe one), Liz was the ‘pretty girl’ who was also smart and a great leader, and MJ was a mixture of a nerd and a hippie. My favorite supporting character was Ned cause I could relate the most to him. I mean, I was making the Lego Star Wars figurines a day before I saw the movie. I also loved his unapologetic excitement about the amazing things that were happening to Peter cause that’s how I feel about Marvel movies. Peter’s family’s plotline also worked. I loved how the screenwriters acknowledged that everyone online loves the new Aunt May by making other characters (not just Tony Stark) flirt with her. I also liked how the death of Uncle Ben wasn’t pushed but only mentioned in passing.

The feeling of a wider MCU was also there but all the tie-ins did not overshadow the standalone narrative of the film. Iron Man was, once again, kinda to blame for the creation of a new villain (the trend continues), but the character himself did not appear much on screen. He didn’t even have a full-on action scene, only a small one. I did, however, really love his and Peper Pots’s moment at the end. In addition, the idea to set the movie’s opening during the Civil War, but to show it from Peter’s perspective, was superb. Not only was that whole sequence funny, but its format – the vlog – was so appropriate for a high schooler and the tone of the picture. The fact that Vulture’s tech was made from the scraps from the previous MCU battles was neat too. I also loved how, by the time Homecoming rolled around, he has been doing his thing for at least half a decade already. However, I wish that the new Stark’s Damage Control Firm would have consisted of the characters from Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. because there have been episodes of the show were those characters cleaned up the mess left by the Avengers. This would have a been a perfect moment to finally allow them to appear in a movie.

Finally, the two big reveals of the film were great too. I did not expect Vulture to be Liz’s dad (need to brush up on my comic book knowledge). The twist in the end fight, where Peter had to save Vulture rather than fight it, was brilliant too.

Directing

Jon Watts directed Spider-Man: Homecoming (he also co-wrote it) and did a spectacular job. This was only his 3rd feature film but he just absolutely nailed the realization of the character. The youthful vibe and the contagious energy were perfect. The sweet moments and the funky fast pace worked too. The way the intense action scenes co-existed next to the high school awkwardness was just wonderful. The action sequences were extremely cool and entertaining too (I just wish we haven’t seen big parts of them in the trailers). They had the staple Spider-Man swings but were also fresh and exciting. The 80s style credits were a nice finish as well. Watts also did a good job of integrating a character into the broader MCU while also showing the daily life and the ground level work that Spider-Man did on the streets. Homecoming was basically a PG version of the Marvel Netflix’s shows.

In summary, I can’t really explain it, but the experience of watching Spider-Man: Homecoming was one of pure fun. This film made me realize why Spider-Man is the best selling and the most popular Marvel character (or even the most popular superhero ever).

The credits scenes

Spider-Man: Homecoming, like all superhero films, had a few extra scenes during the credits. The mid-credits one worked as an epilog for the standalone story of the film and expanded on the character of Vulture, by showing that he has an honor code. The post-credits scene was a continuation of the gag involving Captain America. Cap broke the 4th wall and praised the fans for their patients, while also making a fun of them. The 4th wall breaking joke did work in a Spider-Man film because of who the character is and because of the funny tone of Homecoming (however, it wasn’t as appropriate as it were for Deadpool).

Acting

After blowing everyone away as Spider-Man/Peter Parker, Tom Holland (In The Heart Of The Sea) has grown into the character and has become the best version of the character I have seen on film. He was actually believable as a high schooler, a nerd, and the friendly neighborhood Spider-Man. Peter’s classmates, played by Jacob Batalon and Tony Revolori (The Grand Budapest Hotel), were really good too, as the best friend and the bully, respectively. Laura Harrier played the love-interest, while the highly discussed role of MJ, played by Zendaya (who will soon star in The Greatest Showman), was just a slightly bigger than a cameo. Angourie Rice (The Nice Guys) also had a cameo appearance as a potential love interest in the later films.

The ex-Batman and ex-Birdam Michael Keaton (Spotlight) donned another comic book costume inspired by a bird and nailed the villainous role. He was menacing but also someone that a viewer could identify with. Marisa Tomei was good and her aunt-nephew relationship with Peter was believable and cute. Donald Glover’s (The Martian) involvement in the film was a nice thank you for all his work in attempting to bring a Miles Morales/Spiderman film into existence. Lastly, Robert Downey Jr. (The Judge) reprised the role that has basically become an extension of himself but, thankfully, he didn’t steal the scenes he was in but rather embellished them. Jon Favreau’s (Chef, The Jungle Book) return as Happy Hogan was just delightful – he was in more of the film than RDJ and that actually worked in favor of the picture and made more sense for the story.

In short, Spider-Man: Homecoming is a triumphant return for the character of Spider-Man. Finally, the justice has been done and we have the perfect Spider-Man film. I, honestly, can’t remember the last Marvel stand-alone movie I loved this much (and Civil War doesn’t count, that was a team-up).

Rate: 4.8/5

Trailer: Spider-Man: Homecoming trailer

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Movie review: Wonder Woman

Movie reviews

Hello!

Let me begin by saying that I don’t think I can name another recent movie that had so many external things riding on it. Wonder Woman has at least 3: 1. It has to save DCEU and finally unite the fans and the critics; 2. It has to prove that female-lead (behind and in front of the camera) superhero films and action pictures, in general, can be both of high quality and profitable; 3. It just has to be a good movie on its own.

IMDb summary: Before she was Wonder Woman she was Diana, Princess of the Amazons, trained warrior. When a pilot crashes and tells of conflict in the outside world, she leaves home to fight a war to end all wars, discovering her full powers and true destiny.

SPOILER ALERT

Writing

The first big screen adaptation of the Wonder Woman comics was written by a TV and comic book writer Allan Heinberg, who previously tried bringing Wonder Woman to the small screen in 2011-2012. Batman v Superman’s Zack Snyder and a quite unknown writer Jason Fuchs also contributed to the story.

I really enjoyed the narrative that they crafted for this film and the character development that they managed to interweave into it. I loved how the story started in the modern day with Diana looking at the picture from WW1. The said image was actually one of the first pieces of the promotional material released for this film. The flashback to her childhood and younger years on Themyscira were also fascinating. I appreciated that the film did include both of her origin stories from the comics – the clay one and the one where Zeus is her father.

The whole explanation of the backstory for the Amazons and Aries from the Greek mythology was a bit overwhelming but informative and interesting too. The set-up of the world outside of Themyscyra also worked – the scene where Steve told the Amazons about The Great War not only set up the main conflict but also showcased one of the main tools of WW in action – The Lasso of Truth. In general, a lot of my favorite moments in the movie involved the lasso.

On top having a lot of great story elements from the comics and history, Wonder Woman’s script also had a plethora of comic relief moments which did actually work. While the culture shock, which kickstarted all the funny banter, was a bit cringy at times, it was also equally cute, and, most importantly, quite realistic.

All the comedy, as well as the more dramatic moments, worked because of the characters involved. We not only got to learn Diana’s whole backstory, but we also got to witness an amazing character arc of Steve Trevor. I was really afraid that he would be relegated to the background in this movie, but he was, thankfully, front and center – an equal of Diana’s. It was really nice to see him being efficient at his jobs as a spy and his journey from dismissing to believing Diana was also awesome. Plus, I really liked the fact that both he and Diana had separate things to accomplish in the third act. Their interactions – from comedic to romantic ones – worked too and didn’t seem like they were pushed. I was quite sad to see Trevor go, especially since he is such a crucial part of Wonder Woman’s mythos. Having said that, I still think that they did an amazing job with the character in this film. Other characters in the movie were also really interesting, especially Trevor’s friends. That was one weird group of characters you don’t see together on film often.

Thematically, Wonder Woman provided the commentary on humanity and her whole emotional arc was learning to take humans for what they are, flaws and all. And yet, her signature idea of fighting prejudice on all fronts was still present in the movie. Diana’s final realization – that love is the one thing that can save this world – wasn’t campy at all and actually quite emotional. I felt that the movie earned this type of a conclusion. The big reveal of the film – who was Aries – was actually surprising (for those who did not spoil it to themselves while researching the movie). I really liked how Ares attempt at an armistice was only a ploy for more war as well.

Lastly, Wonder Woman’s story ended the way it began – in a modern day with her writing a thank-you reply to Bruce Wayne for sending her the photo. I loved how this small scene gave a feeling of a bigger universe – DCEU – existing beyond this film. I thought that the scene of her sending the email was much more organic than the video attachments from the BvS.

Directing

Patty Jenkins, whose debut film was also her last one for over a decade, directed Wonder Woman and did a spectacular job. She didn’t lose an ounce of skill that she showcased with the fascinating 2003’s picture Monster, which I only watched yesterday for the first time and was absolutely blown away. Jenkins definitely should have received more praise for it in addition to Charlize Theron, instead of the latter just getting the majority of it. Anyways, after a series of failed movie projects and some highly-regarded and successful TV ones, Jenkins agreed to direct Wonder Woman and we all should be extremely happy and thankful that she did.

First of all, she succeeded in striking a balance of tone for the movie. While BvS was too dark and Suicide Squad was trying too hard to be funny, Wonder Woman had the right amount of seriousness, comedy, and romance. More importantly, this mixture was elevated by sophistication and a level of class. The movie was also edited in a way that was cohesive – the story flowed organically rather than the film just being a collection of sequences of no relation to one another.

Visually, the film was also stunning. The way that Themyscira was realized with a distinctly Greek feeling (architecture, costumes) was just absolutely amazing.  The shots of the island and the ocean were wonderful as well. In contrast to the glamourous yet strong Themyscira, the WW1 Europe was realized as broken and dirty – very realistic. The film had a number of amazing looking shots, like the one of Diana standing on the crashed plane from Steve’s POV from underneath the water or those few shots of Diana looking up at the sky in different locations.

The action was also astounding. The style of fighting of the Amazons – a lot of flips in mid-air while holding a bow and arrow (my weapon of choice alway and forever) – was super cool. Jenkins also used a lot of slow motion but actually did it tastefully and in a way that it enhanced the action. Another epic sequence was Wonder Woman fighting in the no-man’s-land and later on in the village. She looked absolutely brilliant while doing it and I also loved how Trevor and the other characters collaborated with her by making a ramp for her to jump on. The final action sequence was also amazing. My only gripe was that I wish Ares CGI costume would have had a different design, something more inventive. Nevertheless, I loved how in that fight (and in many others), Diana used the Lasso as a weapon and it wasn’t just a tool for truth-telling. Having said that, the way Trevor took the lasso and wrapped in around his hand to make her believe that he was taking her to the front was such a clever idea!

And the last note on the visuals of the film – now I get why all the posters for the film had an orange background – it was meant to symbolize the orange mustard gas. I actually haven’t realized that prior to seeing the movie. Nevertheless, it was nice to see a continuity between the ads and the final product. The soundtrack of the picture wasn’t bad either. I love the Wonder Woman theme and it was used several times. Sia’s song ‘To be human’ played during the credits and made me ask the question: is Sia’s music going to play over the credits of all the summer movies like it did last year? Probably.

Acting  

  • Gal Gadot as Diana Prince / Wonder Woman. Gadot was absolutely amazing in the role. Firstly, she looked like the character – the right mixture of model and fitness athlete. More importantly, she did not look oversexualized. Gadot was also not only marvelous in the action scenes but handled both the dramatic and the comedic moments very well. I can’t wait to see whether this role will give her career a boost. She first rose to prominence with the Fast and the Furious films, while last year she had minor roles in thrillers Triple 9 and Criminal in addition to appearing in BvS. She also showcased her comedic chops in the 2016’s action comedy Keeping Up With The Joneses. The youngest version of Diana was played by a child actress Lilly Aspel. She was also amazing in the few scenes she was in – both cute and fierce.
  • Chris Pine as Steve Trevor is an amazing casting if I ever saw one. Pine was charming yet efficient in the role. His chemistry with Gadot was also believable. While I’m sad that Pine won’t be able to continue playing this character, I hope that we can at least watch him on Star Trek for years to come.
  • Robin Wright delivered a short but powerful performance as General Antiope. I really should watch House of CardsConnie Nielsen also worked as Queen Hippolyta.
  • Danny Huston as General Erich Ludendorff and Elena Anaya as Doctor Isabel Maru / Doctor Poison were also well cast. Huston was threatening as the General (he is probably used to this type of a role), while it was nice to see Anaya playing a character from the comics that somehow really fit into the WW1 scenario.
  • David Thewlis as Ares. The only casting choice that I wish was different. Don’t get me wrong, I though that Thewlis did a good job in the role but I wish they would have done something more interesting with the role than having it played by an older white male.
  • Some ethnic diversity was brought to the movie by a band of Trevor’s friends, played by Saïd Taghmaoui, Trainspotting’s Ewen Bremner (Scottish sniper/singer – amazing), and Eugene Brave Rock. Lucy Davis was also good as the comedic relief secretary of Trevor’s.

In short, Wonder Woman is one the best comic book origin movies, the best female lead superhero film, the best DCEU movie, and one of my favorite pictures of this year already! I highly suggest you see it before continuing to follow Diana’s story in the Justice League. Moreover, if you are interested in the behind-the-scenes backstory of the character, the biographical drama about her creator is currently in the works, titled Professor Marston & the Wonder Women.

Rate: 4.5/5

Trailer: Wonder Woman trailer

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5 ideas about a movie: Sand Castle

Movie reviews

Hello!

Since no new movies that interest me are premiering this week in the UK, I decided to seek out other new films that did not reach cinemas. The first one that I could find was Sand Castle.

IMDb summary: Set during the occupation of Iraq, a squad of U.S. soldiers try to protect a small village.

  1. Sand Castle is a Netflix original film. While the beloved streaming platform is known for having amazing TV shows (Orange is the New Black, Stranger Things, House of Cards, 13 Reason Why just to name a few), their movie game has not been that strong. Some of the pictures received more attention than others, but the majority of them did not leave a lasting impact. A few of the Netflix movies that I’ve seen were perfectly fine, including Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: Sword of DestinyThe Fundamentals of Caring, XOXO, ARQ, The Siege of Jadotville. Let’s see whether Sand Castle is the film that turns things around and is more than just fine.
  2. The movie’s screenplay was written by Chris Roessner and this was his first feature length script. For a debut work, it’s certainly not bad. I appreciated all the thematic concepts that the picture attempted to explore, like masculinity, patriotism (or even chauvinism) and the American culture in general. The moral questions, including why does an individual choose to join the military, were appropriately asked as well. However, although the various ideas were introduced, they didn’t go anywhere and were basically forgotten by the 2nd act, which was the weakest part of the film. The third act and the conclusion were fine, even though an attempt to go back to the film’s message in the last few scenes seemed like an afterthought.
  3. Sand Castle was directed by a Brazilian filmmaker Fernando Coimbra. He succeeded at crafting gorgeous visuals of the surroundings and the long continuous shots during the action sequences were impressive. However, the random jumps in time and the uneven pacing did damage the final product. I also thought that the idea to always keep the camera on the American soldiers, rather than to go back and forth between them and the terrorists, was an interesting, even if a bit one-sided, decision.
  4. The lead of the movie was played by Nicholas Hoult and he did a good job portraying a soldier, affected by the horrors of the war. Hoult is one of my favorite actors, so I try to follow his career pretty closely. Most people know him from the X-Men movies or Mad Max: Fury Road. I’d also suggest you check out his smaller films: Dark Places, Equals, and especially Kill Your Friends.
  5. The supporting cast included Henry Cavill (The Man from U.N.C.L.E.), Logan Marshall-Green (soon will appear in Spider-Man: Homecoming), and Glen Powell (Everybody Wants Some!!, Hidden Figures). Cavill had a pretty small role but he seemed to have more fun with it than he ever had with the role of Superman. It’s quite sad to see that his involvement with the DCEU did not result in more high-brow roles. Well, he is appearing in Mission Impossible 6, so that’s something. Marshall-Green and Powell also delivered fine performances.

In short, Sand Castle was an okay war drama that could have been so much better if it just explored the themes it introduced. It’s not the most original film about war and I probably would not have gone to see it at the cinema, but if you already have a Netflix account, it is definitely worth a watch.

Rate: 3/5

Trailer: Sand Castle trailer

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Movie review: The Lego Batman Movie

Movie reviews

Hi!

With the DCEU films being critical nightmares, which do not earn as much as they should do, Ben Affleck stepping out as director of the Batman solo movie and The Flash film being completely rewritten, the Warner Bros desperately needs a win concerning its DC properties. Might The Lego Batman Movie be the win? Let’s find out!

IMDb summary: Bruce Wayne must not only deal with the criminals of Gotham City but also the responsibility of raising a boy he adopted.

Writing

The Lego Batman Movie was written by Seth Grahame-Smith (who wrote Dark Shadows, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, and the novel version of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies), Chris McKenna (a TV comedy writer), Erik Sommers (Spider-Man: Homecoming writer), Jared Stern (who provided additional story material for Wreck-It Ralph), and John Whittington (a newcomer writer who doesn’t have any significant credits on his IMDb page). The duo of writers/directors behind the uber-successful The Lego Movie – the film that started The Lego franchise – Phil Lord and Christopher Miller – helped to produce this spinoff flick as well. I, personally, absolutely loved the writing for this movie.

Let’s star with the on the nose humor as it was such a huge part of the picture. The Lego Batman was basically Deadpool for kids. Like Deadpool, this film didn’t waste its credits and began mocking the studios and the executives in the first few seconds of its runtime. It then moved on to making fun of the comic book movies cliches, such as ‘the unnecessarily complicated bombs’, ‘the villains who explain their plan aloud’ and other plot conveniences.  Plus, I laughed out loud several times when the characters would start making the shooting noise – ‘pew pew’. I also loved the funny inclusion of the comic book sound effect balloons which showed the origins of Batman. Lastly, the movie also poked fun at merchandise with that merch gun scene (I’m definitely guilty of owning some items myself – I was actually wearing my batman sweatshirt at the screening).

The narrative wise, The Lego Batman Movie didn’t bother with neither the setup nor the basic development and origins of the character and I’m actually really glad that they skipped all of that, cause everybody already knows Batman’s background. Nevertheless, the film still did some cool stuff with its main character, for example, portraying him more as an anti-hero and raising the questions of accountability and legitimacy (basically, Captain America: Civil War storyline). The movie also teased and parodied the Batman’s Rogues Gallery and also mocked his gadgets (while at the same time, showing them on screen just so that they could turn them into toys and merch, which they have also made fun of already).

In addition, this film attempted to do something with the Batman and Batgirl relationship, which was very similar to what The Killing Joke movie did. That development really angered the fans and The Killing Joke really suffered from that addition, so I was worried that this idea might damage The Lego Batman too. However, this film dragged the ship more than pushed it, so everything turned out fine in the end. On the other hand, I really liked the relationship that was created for Batman and The Joker. The were literally like an old married couple. The other little details, like Batman’s password (‘Iron Man sucks), the Hugh Hefner-like dressing gown, and his obsessions with romcoms (shout out to Jerry Maguire) were just amazing. I also loved the fact that they managed to include a Nightwing easter egg and actually used the fact that lego figurines can join together as a plot point in the film.

From the thematical standpoint, the movie explored relationships within a family and between friends as well as narcissism. It looked at the fear of human connection which arose from the possibility of being left alone. The final message of the film – that one has to let people in even if they might hurt you by leaving and disappearing – was a neat one.

Directing

Chris McKay, who worked as an animator and editor on The Lego Movie, directed The Lego Batman and did a spectacular job. I just loved the fact that he took the grimmest property from the dark and sophisticated DC and made it work as a comedy. The Lego Batman Movie was, truly, one of the best action comedies I’ve seen. It had the non-stop jokes and the fast action (the film was unbelievably energetic) but it still found time for quieter, more heartfelt moments (every animated movie needs ‘the feels’). The only few moments in the picture, which annoyed me a bit, were all the singing and rapping scenes. They juts seemed of a lower level of humor than all the wonderful meta-references and jokes.

Additionally, the animation was just striking. Every shot looked so densely animated and complex – you could just see how much work it has taken to bring this story to life in this format. The Lego Batman Movie was definitely a perfect match between the material and the format, cause I doubt that this narrative could have worked in live action. It would have just come across as stupid (mostly because of all the rapping), but now it blended the right amount of stupidity and cleverness and was, overall,  extremely fun and very enjoyable.

Speaking more about the visuals of the film, I loved seeing the recreations of all the previous Batman films in the lego form. I also really appreciated the lego versions of all the other DC and non-DC villains that cameoed in the film – crossover all the way! We got to see Voldemort, Sauron, King-Kong, The Wicked Witch, and Doctor Who’s Daleks – basically all properties that belong to WB.

I have also noticed, that the majority of DC films (both live-action and animated) are now team-ups. It also seems that one cannot have a Batman movie without Superman or the other Justice League members (that short scene was a neat surprise and maybe it was there to set-up a sort of solo Lego movies for other DC characters?).

Music

Lorne Balfe was responsible for the soundtrack and he picked some very appropriate, witty, and catchy songs for the film. While I didn’t really like the actual Batman song, I loved the updated version of ‘Man in the Mirror’ and felt that it was a more clever jab at Batman rather than the on the nose Batman song.

Voice Cast

The film had an amazing voice cast. Will Arnett (a long time voice actor and narrator) just killed it as Bruce Wayne / Batman, while Zach Galifianakis (who has also had some experience with voicing) was an equally amazing JokerMichael Cera (Sausage Party) brought a sense of innocence to Dick Grayson / Robin, while Rosario Dawson’s (who voices Wonder Woman in most of the direct to video JL films) voice really fit Barbara Gordon / Batgirl – she sounded as and actually was an efficient go-getter. Ralph Fiennes (Kubo and the Two Strings) oozed class as Alfred PennyworthJenny Slate (Zootopia, The Secret Life of Pets) was the voice of Harley Quinn. It might be the Margot Robbie effect, but I wanted Harley to sound sassier.  The filmmakers also managed to get the big name talent – Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill –  to record a few lines as Superman and Green Lantern, respectively (they voiced these characters in The Lego Movie), while Adam DeVine joined them as The Flash.

In short, The Lego Batman Movie was both a successful spin-off of The Lego Movie as well as a great parody of all the comic book movies. Extremely funny and highly enjoyable!

Rate: 4.7/5

Trailer: The Lego Batman trailer

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2016: 100 Book Challenge

Uncategorized

Hello!

The end of the year usually means a lot of looking-back/reflection/summary posts. This one is no exception. Also, if you ever needed more proof that I am a gigantic nerd, this is it.

At the beginning of the year, I raised myself a challenge – to read 100 books and to keep track of them. I mainly did that because 1. I wanted to read more – I used to read a lot during childhood but couldn’t find time for books in later years, due to watching a lot of films and 2. since I read/watch/hear so many stories, I wanted to have a list of them so that I would not start reading a book which I have read before.

I’m glad to announce that I did achieve my goal and did finish 100 books in 12 months. I covered a variety of genres, authors, and languages.

Some statistics before I give you the list: out of the 100 books:

  • 23 were in my native Lithuanian language and 77 were in English.
  • 20 of them were for study purposes, 80 – for leisure.
  • 60 authors were covered: I read only one book by 44 authors and a few books by 16 authors. W. Shakespeare came in first with 8 repeats, T. Morrison followed second with 6 and J.K.Rowling with 5. D. Brown had 4, while A. Moore, R. Riggs, M. Strandberg and S.B. Elfrgen and Sir A. Conan Doyle all had 3. Lastly, I read 2 books by each of the following authors: A. Miller, H. Ibsen, A. Spiegelman, S. Plath, J. Conrad, J. Moyes, G. Flynn, and H. Lee.
  • 30 writers were American, 15British, 5French, 2 (each) were Lithuanian, Irish, Japanese, and Scandinavian and 1 (each) – Russian, Polish, Nigerian, and Pakistani.
  • 72 were stand-alone books, while 28 belonged to 11 series.
  • 53 were modern books, while 47 were classics.
  • 56 were prose and 2poetry books. 15 were plays, 18graphic novels, and 9memoirs.
  • 8 was my monthly average.

Before I give you the long list by genre, here is my TOP 10 in no particular order:

  • A. Spiegelman – ‘Maus’
  • A.Moore and D.Gibbons – ‘Watchmen’
  • J.K.Rowling – ‘Harry Potter and the Cursed Child’
  • S. Plath – ‘The Bell Jar’
  • H. Lee – ‘Go Set a Watchman’
  • A. Weir – ‘The Martian’
  • G. Flynn – ‘Sharp Objects’
  • E. Cline – ‘Ready Player One’
  • L. Wacquant – ‘Body and Soul: The Notebooks of an Apprentice Boxer’
  • C. McDougall – ‘Born to Run’

Now the actual list by genre:

Prose:

  1. E. A. Poe – collection of short stories titled ‘The Gold-Bug’
  2. A. de Saint-Exupéry – two storiesSouthern Mail’ and ‘Night Flight’ in one novel.
  3. M. Shelley – ‘Frankenstein’
  4. J.M.Barie – ‘Peter Pan’
  5. W. Golding – ‘Lord of the Flies’
  6. V. Nabokov – ‘Lolita’
  7. K. Ishiguro – ‘Never Let Me Go’
  8. S. Plath – ‘The Bell Jar’
  9. J. Conrad – ‘Hearth of Darkness’
  10. J. Conrad – a trio of short stories ‘An Outpost of Progress’, ‘Karan’, ‘Youth’.
  11. J. Baldwin –  ‘Giovanni’s Room’
  12. C. Achebe – ‘Things Fall Apart’
  13. T. Morrison – ‘Beloved’
  14. T. Morrison – ‘Sula’
  15. T. Morrison – ‘Song of Solomon’
  16. T. Morrison – ‘A Mercy’
  17. T. Morrison – ‘The Bluest Eye’
  18. T. Morrison – ‘Home’
  19. M. Mauss – ‘The Gift’
  20. H. Melville – ‘Moby Dick’
  21. J. Austen – ‘Sense and Sensibility’
  22. J. Moyes – ‘Me Before You’
  23. J. Moyes – ‘After You’
  24. H. Lee – ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’
  25. H. Lee – ‘Go Set a Watchman’
  26. A. Weir – ‘The Martian’
  27. G. Flynn – ‘Sharp Objects’
  28. G. Flynn – ‘Dark Places’
  29. M. Strandberg and S.B.Elfgren – ‘The Circle’
  30. M. Strandberg and S.B.Elfgren – ‘Fire’
  31. M. Strandberg and S.B.Elfgren – ‘The Key’
  32. K. Vonnegut – ‘The Breakfast of Champions’
  33. I. Fleming – ‘Casino Royale’
  34. D. Brown – ‘Angels and Demons’
  35. D. Brown – ‘The Da Vinci Code’
  36. D. Brown – ‘The Lost Symbol’
  37. D. Brown – ‘Inferno’
  38. G. DeWeese – ‘Into the Nebula (Star Trek: The Next Generation #36)’
  39. R. Riggs – ‘Miss Peregrine’s Home for the Peculiar Children’
  40. R. Riggs – ‘Hollow City’
  41. R. Riggs – ‘The Library of Souls’
  42. E. Blyton – ‘The Famous Five: Five Go Down to the Sea’
  43. E. Blyton – ‘The Famous Five: Five Go to Mystery Moor’
  44. E. Blyton – ‘The Famous Five: Five Have Plenty of Fun’
  45. E. Blyton – ‘The Famous Five: Five on a Secret Trail’
  46. K. Keplinger – ‘The Duff’
  47. P. Hawkins – ‘The Girl on the Train’
  48. J.K.Rowling – ‘The Casual Vacancy’
  49. J.K.Rowling – ‘Fantastic Beast and Where To Find Them’
  50. J.K.Rowling – ‘Quidditch Through The Ages’
  51. J.K.Rowling – ‘Tale of Beedle The Bard’
  52. Sir A. Conan Doyle – ‘The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes’
  53. Sir A. Conan Doyle – ‘The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes’
  54. Sir A. Conan Doyle – ‘The Return of Sherlock Holmes’
  55. E. Cline – ‘Ready Player One’
  56. G.R.R.Martin – ‘The World of Ice and Fire’
  57. D.Grayson – ‘Doctor Strange: The Fate of Dreams’

Poetry:

  1. S. Heaney – ‘North’
  2. S. Plath – ‘Ariel’

Plays:

  1. J.M.Synge – ‘The Playboy of the Western World’
  2. A. Miller – ‘The Crucible’
  3. A. Miller – ‘Death of a Salesman’
  4. H. Ibsen – ‘A Doll’s House’
  5. H. Ibsen – ‘Hedda Gabler’
  6. J. Lyly – ‘Galatea’
  7. W. Shakespeare – ‘The Taming of the Shrew’
  8. W. Shakespeare – ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’
  9. W. Shakespeare – ‘Twelfth Night’
  10. W. Shakespeare – ‘The Merchant ofVenice’
  11. W. Shakespeare – ‘The Tempest’
  12. W. Shakespeare – ‘Coriolanus’
  13. W. Shakespeare – ‘Hamlet’
  14. W. Shakespeare – ‘Troilus and Cressida’
  15. J.K.Rowling – ‘Harry Potter and the Cursed Child’

Graphic Novels:

  1. A. Spiegelman – ‘Maus’
  2. A. Spiegelman – ‘In The Shadow of No Towers’
  3. M. Satrapi – ‘Persepolis’
  4. J. Maroh – ‘Blue is the Warmest Colour’
  5. C. Burns – ‘Black Hole’
  6. M.Millar and S.McNiven – ‘Civil War’
  7. Various authors – ‘Marvel’s Mightiest Heroes: Wolverine’
  8. A.Moore and D.Gibbons – ‘Watchmen’
  9. A.Moore and D.Lloyd – ‘V for Vendetta’
  10. A.Moore and B.Bolland – ‘Batman: The Killing Joke’
  11. M.Anusauskaite and G.Jord – ’10 litu’
  12. Various authors – ‘The Greatest Batman Stories Ever Told’
  13. Various authors – ‘Marvel Platinum: The Definitive Iron Man’
  14. J. Sacco – ‘Palestine’
  15. C.Thompson – ‘Blankets’
  16. M.Wolfman and G.Perez – ‘Crisis on Infinite Earths’
  17. E. Brubaker – ‘The Death of Captain America’

Memoirs:

  1. D. Howell and P. Lester – ‘The Amazing Book Is Not On Fire’
  2. T. Oakley – ‘Binge’
  3. C. Franta – ‘A Work in Progress’
  4. G. Helbig – ‘Grace’s Guide: The Art of Pretending to be a Grown-Up’
  5. L. Wacquant – ‘Body and Soul: The Notebooks of an Apprentice Boxer’
  6. M.Youafzai and C.Lamb – ‘I am Malala’
  7. I.Staskevicius – ‘Maratono laukas’ (‘Marathon running’)
  8. H. Murakami – ‘What I talk about when I talk about running’
  9. C.McDougall – ‘Born to Run’

I hope you enjoyed flicking through my 2016 reading list. I really want to start writing more book-centric posts next year, so this was like a taster-post. Have a great New Year and tell me in the comments your favorite book from last year!

A snapshot of my collection

5 ideas about a movie: The Accountant 

Movie reviews

Hello!

An original thriller – The Accountant – finally premiered in the UK, so, let’s review it!

IMDb summary: As a math savant uncooks the books for a new client, the Treasury Department closes in on his activities and the body count starts to rise.

  1. The Accountant is an original thriller, written by Bill Dubuque, who has previously penned the script for RDJ’s The Judge. I absolutely loved the narrative of this film from a thematical point of view. The movie felt fresh because it had a unique character – an accountant – in the lead (usually, thrillers tends to focus on ex-military personnel, former spies, even politicians). Moreover, the personal background of the character was out of the ordinary and new. The story also had a good mix of personal and professional narrative ideas. Plus, I loved the fact that they made accounting seem interesting, similar like The Big Short made the housing crisis exciting rather than dull. The twists and turns were also unexpected but much appreciated. My only gripe with the screenplay is that I wish the movie would have explained some stuff sooner. There was around 10 min of expositional dialogue full of information just before the 3rd act started and I think that if the scriptwriter would have dispersed that info into a few scenes, the plot would have flowed a bit better.
  2. Gavin O’Connor, whose last two films were Warrior (one of my favorite sports films ever) and Jane Got a Gun, directed The Accountant and did a magnificent job. I loved how subtle his directing was and how he found a good balance between drama and action in a thriller. The visuals, as well as the handling of the mise-en-scene (props and setting used for the purposes of the narrative ) were nice and neat as well. The picture unraveled slowly but was extremely engaging.
  3. Ben Affleck (BvS, Gone Girl) played the lead character and did a spectacular job. I believed that he had the highly-functioning autism and I also appreciated the fact that they spotlighted this type of an individual in a movie. I also applaud the film for trying to show that autistic people are not lesser than everyone else – they are just different and special in their own way. Huge props to the movie and to Ben Affleck for attempting to break social stigmas associated with this supposed illness/condition. I, personally, could also relate to the character, because even though I’m not autistic, I’m quite shy and anti-social, so seeing all the problems that the characters had while communicating with people made me cringe a bit as well as sympathize since it hit so close to home.
  4. Anna Kendrick (Pitch Perfect, Mike and Dave, Trolls) and Jon Bernthal (WAYF, Sicario) played two supporting characters that had relations to the main character. Kendrick did a nice job with the few scenes she had and I did love her optimism in contrast to Affleck’s calmness and serenity. Bernthal was also great – I did not predict his character’s twist. His character shared some similarities with The Punisher, so I could see why Bernthal wanted to play this role, as I think he really enjoyed playing The Punisher. His solo series is coming out next year.
  5. J.K. Simmons and Cynthia Addai-Robinson played the government personnel and brought a different perspective into the movie. For Simmons, this is one of his 10 movies this year. Two other notable pictures which have premiered at festivals, but haven’t had wide releases are La La Land and Patriot’s Day. I’m also excited for Simmons’s role in next year’s Justice League.  Addai-Robinson was also really good in her role – I was excited to see her on a big screen, as she has mostly done TV until now. I first became a fan of her after she appeared as Amanda Waller on Arrow before Suicide Squad‘s storylines had to be scratched from the small screen.

In short, The Accountant was a great original film that didn’t deserve to be panned by the critics as much. It had good directing, amazing acting and a thematically strong and important story.

Rate: 4/5 

Trailer: The Accountant trailer

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Movie review: Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children

Movie reviews

Good morning/day/evening!

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

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

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

SPOILERS AHEAD

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Directing

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

Acting

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

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

Rate: 2.7/5

Trailer: Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children trailer

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