2017: 100 Book Challenge

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Hello!

Welcome to another 2017 round-up post. I’ve already done a post about my favorite and least favorite movies of the 2017 and now it is time for my list of book for this year. I don’ really post about books on this blog (I write short comments about them on Instagram as @sharingshelves) but since a lot of the books I’ve read are movie related (novels and comics that are adapted into films or non-fiction works about movies), I thought that some of you might be interested in my suggestions/recommendations. Also, I wasn’t planning on repeating the challenge but I managed to finish 100 books again this year (did the same in 2016). I have to promise myself that I’m not even going to attempt to read this many books next year, as when I have a certain numerical goal in mind, the reading experience does become more about quantity than quality.

Before I give you the list, here are a couple of general notes about it:
• From the 100 books this year, 10 were in Lithuanian (my native language) and 90 in English – I’m reading less and less in my native language every year.
• Most popular authors were Galbraith/Rowling for novels and Ennis, Bendis, and Snyder for comic books.
• I’ve read more graphic novels this year but fewer non-fiction books. My most often read comic book characters were Batman and Wonder Woman.
• I didn’t do an author break down by nationality but a general overview is this – I mostly read books by English-speakers. I didn’t even read a single book by a Lithuanian author (one by an author of Lithuanian descent was on the list, though).
• I’ve read mostly stand-alone books this year: if we’are not counting the comic book series, I’ve only read one full novel series.
• The 20th and 21st-century books were my most preferred for leisure reading, while for my English course, I’ve jumped around all time periods, but mostly focused on the literature of the 19th century.

Anyways, here is my list of books divided into the different genres. In every part, I’ve highlighted a couple of my favorites! I have also linked some movie reviews next to the relevant books. Enjoy!

Non-fiction:

  1. S. Cain – ‘Quiet: The Power of the Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking’
  2. W. Isaacson – ‘Steve Jobs’ (adapted to film)
  3. R. Roll – ‘Finding Ultra’
  4. P. Pfitzinger and S.Douglas – ‘Advanced Marathoning’
  5. F. Hufton – ‘Running: How To Get Started’

Fiction:

  1. D. Brown – ‘Digital Fortress’
  2. M. Zusak – ‘The Book Thief’
  3. W. Carther – ‘Death Comes For The Archbishop’
  4. Z. N. Hurston – ‘Their Eyes Were Watching God’
  5. N. Gaiman – ‘American Gods’
  6. N. Gaiman – ‘The Ocean at the End of the Lane’
  7. S. Meyer – ‘ The Chemist’
  8. A. Huxley – ‘Brave New World’
  9. A. Huxley – ‘Island: a novel’
  10. I. Welsh – ‘Trainspotting’ (adapted to film)
  11. J. Moyes – ‘ The Girl You Left Behind’
  12. L. Groff – ‘Fates and Furies’
  13. R. Galbraith – The Cuckoo’s Calling’
  14. R. Galbraith – ‘The Silkworm’
  15. R. Galbraith – ‘Career of Evil’
  16. L. Moriarty – ‘Big Little Lies’
  17. A. Burgess – ‘A Clockwork Orange’
  18. G. Orwell – ‘Animal Farm: a fairy story’
  19. G. Orwell – ‘1984′
  20. D. Eggers – ‘The Circle’ (adapted to film – review)
  21. J. le Carre – ‘The Night Manager’
  22. E. Morgenstern – ‘The Night Circus’
  23. L. Evans – ‘Their Finest’ (adapted to film – review)
  24. M. Bulgakov – ‘The Master and Margarita’
  25. D. O’Porter – ‘Goose’
  26. C. Palahniuk – ‘Fight Club’
  27. C. Bukowski – ‘Post Office’
  28. N. Larsen – ‘Passing’
  29. G.R.R. Martin and G. Dozois (as editors) – ‘Rogues’
  30. D. Gibbins – ‘Crusader Gold’
  31. R. Sepetys – ‘Between Shades of Gray’
  32. B. Ridgway – ‘The River of No Return’
  33. F. Molnar – ‘The Paul Street Boys’
  34. T. Parsons – ‘Starting Over’
  35. T. Capote – ‘Breakfast at Tiffany’s’
  36. A. Christie – ‘Murder on the Orient Express’ (adapted to film – review)
  37. A. Thomas – ‘The Hate U Give’
  38. P.K. Dick – ‘Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?’ (adapted to film – review)
  39. S. King – ‘It’ (adapted to film – review)

Cinema related books:

  1. G. Jenkins – ‘Empire Building’
  2. J. Luceno – ‘Catalyst: A Rogue One Novel’
  3. A. Freed – ‘Rogue One: A Star Wars Story’ novelization (film review)
  4. C. Fisher – ‘Postcards From The Edge’
  5. C. Fisher – ‘The Princess Diarist’
  6. C. Fisher – ‘Wishful Drinking’
  7. D. O’Neil – ‘The Dark Knight’ novelization
  8. C. Clark – ‘The Prince, The Showgirl and Me’
  9. C. Clark – ‘My Week with Marilyn’
  10. J.K. Rowling – ‘Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them’ script (film review)
  11. A. Kendrick – ‘Scrappy Little Nobody’
  12. S. Nathan and S. Roman – ‘Frozen’ novelization
  13. S. Bukatman – ‘Blade Runner – BFI Film Classics’

English 3rd year degree books:

  1. Aeschylus – ‘Prometheus Bound’
  2. C. Marlowe – ‘Doctor Faustus
  3. J. Milton – ‘Paradise Lost’
  4. M. Shelley – ‘Frankenstein; 1818 text’
  5. R. Henryson – ‘The Testament of Cresseid’
  6. D. Defoe – ‘Robinson Crusoe’
  7. N. Shephard – ‘The Quarry Wood’
  8. N. Larsen – ‘Quicksand’
  9. A. Carter – ‘The Bloody Chamber and other stories’
  10. C. Bronte – ‘Jane Eyre’
  11. E. Bronte – ‘Wuthering Heights’
  12. A. Bronte – ‘The Tenant of Wildfell Hall’
  13. G. Elliot – ‘The Lifted Veil’
  14. G. Elliot – ‘The Mill on The Floss’
  15. C. Dickens – ‘Great Expectations’
  16. H.G. Wells – ‘The Island of Dr. Moreau’
  17. B. Stoker – ‘Dracula’
  18. W. Collins – ‘The Woman in White’

Graphic novels:

  1. Various authors – ‘Marvel Platinum: The Definitive Doctor Strange’ (film review)
  2. D. Abnett – ‘Guardians of the Galaxy: Rocket Raccoon and Groot steal the galaxy’ (film review)
  3. G. Ennis and S. Dillon – ‘Preacher: Gone To Texas’
  4. G. Ennis and S. Dillon – ‘Preacher: Until The End Of The World’
  5. G. Ennis and S. Dillon – ‘Preacher: Proud Americans’
  6. G. Ennis and S. Dillon – ‘Preacher: Ancient History’
  7. G. Ennis and S. Dillon – ‘Preacher: Dixie Fried’
  8. B.M. Bendis and M. Gaydos – ‘Alias: Volume 1’
  9. B.M. Bendis and M. Gaydos – ‘Alias: Volume 2’
  10. B.M. Bendis and M. Gaydos – ‘Alias: Volume 3’
  11. B.M. Bendis and M. Gaydos – ‘Alias: Volume 4’
  12. G. Rucka – ‘Wonder Woman Rebirth: Volume 1 The Lies’ (film review)
  13. G. Rucka – ‘Wonder Woman Rebirth: Volume 2 Year One’
  14. G. Rucka – ‘Wonder Woman Rebirth: Volume 3 The Truth’
  15. M. Finch and D. Finch – ‘Wonder Woman: Resurrection’
  16. S. Snyder and G. Capullo – ‘Batman: The Court of Owls’
  17. S. Snyder and G. Capullo – ‘Batman: The Nights of Owls’
  18. S. Snyder and G. Capullo – ‘Batman: The City of Owls’
  19. S. Snyder and G. Capullo – ‘Batman: Endgame’
  20. J. Tyrion – ‘Batman Detective Comics Rebirth: Volume 1 Rise of the Batmen’
  21. G. Morrison and A. Kubert – ‘Batman and Son’
  22. T. S. Daniel – Batman: Battle for the Cowl’
  23. A. Conner and J. Palmiotti – ‘Harley Quinn Rebirth: Volume 3 Red Meat’
  24. J. Hickman and C. Pacheco – ‘Ultimate Thor: Volume 1’ (film review)
  25. M. Wagner – ‘Trinity’ (film review)

And that is it for the books I’ve read this year! What was your favorite book(s) of the year? What are you planning on/excited to read in 2017?

Leave a comment below and Have a Happy New Year!

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Movie review: Justice League

Movie reviews

Hello!

Welcome to the review of the most polarizing movie of the year. Is anyone even surprised that the said divisive film is just another entry into the DCEU? This is Justice League.

IMDb summary: Fueled by his restored faith in humanity and inspired by Superman’s selfless act, Bruce Wayne enlists the help of his newfound ally, Diana Prince, to face an even greater enemy.

Before moving on to the actual review, I wanted to give you my brief thoughts about the DCEU in general. When Man of Steel came out in 2013, I barely paid any attention to it because I wasn’t into comic book movies much (had watched some Marvel ones and enjoyed them but was still oblivious to the bigger universe). However, 3 years later (in 2016), I had already become a huge fan of MCU, had familiarized myself with the DC character on TV and had started to read comics regularly. Needless to say, I was looking forward to Batman v Superman and Suicide Squad. Both films left me sort of baffled. While I wasn’t a fan of the dark/grim atmosphere, I could understand it as a creative choice. What I couldn’t forgive was the messy and unfocused storytelling. Then Wonder Woman came along and was a breath of fresh air (with a meh third act). Now, Justice League is coming together for the first time on the big screen and I have mixed feelings even before I see it. I care about these characters, because I have been dazzled by them in the comics (I read way more of DC than I do Marvel), have caught up with them every week on TV (The Flash) or in animated films (DC animation used to be so good before it started going sideways with The Killing Joke debacle and Batman and Harley weirdness) and even though the movies themselves were flawed, I have enjoyed seeing these versions of Batman and Wonder Woman (somebody please fix Superman, though). I go into the screening hoping for the best while also worrying about the worst.

SPOILER ALERT

Writing

Justice League’s screenplay was written by Chris Terrio (the writer of Argoand BvS, while Zack Snyder helped out with the story. Joss Whedon (Avengers 1 and 2) also received a screenplay credit but it’s not really clear whether he got the credit because he actually changed some of the narrative of the film or just because he couldn’t get a co-directing credit together with Snyder. Anyways, I thought that the movie’s writing was a mixed bag.

Let’s start with the set-up. I highly enjoyed a lot of its elements but didn’t necessarily think that they all jelled well. The film’s set-up had two main goals: to introduce the new characters and the establish the team and to develop a villain for the story. The introductions of the new characters – Flash, Aquaman, and Cyborg – were brief but effective. Still, if these characters had solo movies prior to this film, I believe I’d have had a stronger connection to them. Since I already knew this universe’s version of Wonder Woman and Batman (BvS was basically his solo film), they were my favorites of the group.

The dynamics within the team were really neat. I liked the different pairings, the contrast between the rookies and the seniors, and the humor within the group. That last thing felt like an obvious influence of Joss Whedon. What I could have done without was all the sexual nods between Diana and all other members. I wouldn’t have minded a few of them, but the constant stream was not welcomed by me.

Speaking of the villain, Steppenwolf served his purpose but wasn’t amazing. What boggled me was the fact that the DCEU is or was supposed to be this realistic and sophisticated reimagining of the DC characters. And yet, all their villains have been super comic book-y and in no way fitting for the tonne of the franchise. The fact that the main villain had a disposable army, like in all the other comic book films, didn’t bode well for the picture either. Having said that, the army of parademons at least had a trait to make them more interesting – they were feeding on fear – and they also served a bigger purpose in the final act (a.k.a. took down Steppenwolf when he experienced fear).

Justice League also had a plethora of references to the future DCEU projects and I immensely enjoyed spotting them. The more into comics I get, the more Easter Eggs I recognize. I also love to research the references I didn’t spot. Honestly, a huge part of watching these films is reading/watching the coverage of them after the actual screening. Speaking about the future of the DCEU, Justice League had an ending that felt like an answer to the critique of the grimness of the franchise. The sense of hope for the future was established. Now, let’s just pray that the box office numbers allow the DCEU to deliver on their promise of course correction (the opening weekend’s numbers have not been great).

Directing

Zack Snyder (300, Watchmen, Sucker Punch) helmed the movie during the principal photography, while Joss Whedon directed the reshoots and was responsible for the final edit. The film that premiered in cinemas around the world was an amalgamation of the talents of both these filmmakers. Snyder’s input was evident in the actions scenes, while Whedon’s influence shined in the aforementioned humor of the feature.

Speaking of the action, the team had 3 big action scenes (the individual characters had some smaller action scenes in addition to the 3 team ones). The action sequence underneath the Gotham harbor was neat and a great first showcasing of the team’s powers together (I loved how the seniors Wonder Woman and Batman were doing the majority of the fighting, while the rookies Flash and Cyborg were more about helping the civilians). The Superman v League fight wasn’t bad either. The final action scene was entertaining but I wish it was more epic and more massive in scope. Well, at least they have some space to grow in the following pictures. They also have a lot of space for the improvement of the CGI: it should have been way more photorealistic. Overall, my favorite action scene did not even involve the Justice League themselves. It was the sequence on Themyscira that I found the most inventive and the most enjoyable.

The movie’s runtime has been cut short. What was supposed to be a 2.5 hours film, ended up being less than 2 hours. The set-up felt like it was missing some scenes and that’s why it might have felt choppy. However, the fact that the picture was shorter than expected, made it feel really quick and more fast-paced than it actually was/might have been. Nobody can say that it dragged.

The credits scenes

Justice League had a mid-credits scene consisting of the race between The Flash and Superman – an iconic moment from the comics that was replicated only recently on DCTV with Supergirl and The Flash. The post-credits scene was a hint for the future alliance of the villains and also introduced the viewers to Deathstroke (who just appeared on DCTV/Arrow last/this week).

Acting

The DCEU casting choices have been their best choices concerning the series. Let’s go over the main players as well as their supporting characters.

  • Ben Affleck (The Accountant, Gone Girl) was great as Bruce Wayne / Batman. I really enjoyed his speech about his lack of humanity. Jeremy Irons (High-Rise, Assasin’s Creed) was neat as Alfred Pennyworth, while J. K. Simmons (The Snowman, Renegades, Patriot’s Day, La La Land) had a couple of scenes as James Gordon. I really want that Batman solo film to materialize and see more of these actors in the iconic roles.
  • Henry Cavill (The Man from U.N.C.L.E., Sand Castle) appeared as Clark Kent / Superman, while Amy Adams (Arrival, Nocturnal Animals) reprised her role of Lois Lane (the big guns). Cavill’s infamous mustache was very noticeable and his face looked really wonky in half of the shots. Subsequently, a lot of Superman’s scenes were distracting. However, he didn’t have much of them in the film. He is the character that has appeared in the biggest numbers of movies in the franchise, so we have already been exposed to him a lot. What I did like about Cavill’s performance in Justice League particularly was the fact that he was allowed to be positive and happy to be alive (in contrast to moping and feeling sorry for oneself).
  • Gal Gadot came back as Diana Prince / Wonder Woman and was as perfect as ever. I really want to see her in more movies, outside this or Fast&Furiousfranchises. Connie Nielsen briefly appeared as Hippolyta. I loved that moment with the signal fire for Diana.
  • Ezra Miller (Fantastic Beasts) as Barry Allen / Flash was the standout of the new characters and that was mostly due to Miller’s comedic talents. His enthusiasm was infectious and his reaction faces just hilarious. His love interest Iris West was set to be played by Kiersey Clemons (Flatliners) but was cut from the final film. We did get an intro to Barry’s father Henry Allen played by Billy Crudup (Alien: Covenant), though. That The Flash solo movie might actually be really good and could compete with the TV show.
  • Jason Momoa played Arthur Curry / Aquasman. I loved Momoa in the role but wish he was given something more to do with it. I’m hopeful about his solo movie, though. Amber Heard (Magic Mike XXL, The Danish Girl), who was introduced as Mera, will also re-appear in it.
  • Ray Fisher starred as Victor Stone / Cyborg and was probably the character most integral to the plot of the film. I didn’t know much about Fisher prior to this movie but was really impressed by his performance. He brought heart and soul to Cyborg – qualities which only a good dramatic actor can portray well.
  • Ciarán Hinds (GOT’s King Beyond the Wall) did the motion capture of and provided the voice for Steppenwolf. He was good enough in the role but I do wish that the design of the character would have been more interesting.

In short, Justice League was the second best film in the DCEU (and while it’s not much, it’s something). It had some great character moments (both action and humor ones) but was still plagued by the wider problems of the whole series. Nevertheless, the future is hopeful.

Rate: 3.5/5

Trailer: Justice League trailer

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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

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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