5 ideas about a movie: The Promise 

Movie reviews

Hello!

During the busy summer blockbuster season, I like to make time for the ‘regular’ movies too. The picture that I’m reviewing today – The Promise – falls exactly into this category.

IMDb summary: Set during the last days of the Ottoman Empire, The Promise follows a love triangle between Michael, a brilliant medical student, the beautiful and sophisticated Ana, and Chris – a renowned American journalist based in Paris.

  1. A few months ago, I raised a general question to my dad (who watches lots of movies with me): when will we run out of war stories? Well, I pretty much got my answer while watching The Promise and the short version is – never. Not only do we have lots of modern/current wars to tell stories about, but we still have a ton of untold tales from the past wars. The Promise focuses on the Armenian Genocide inside the Ottoman Empire during the First World War – not a topic that World War I movies have previously touched upon.
  2. The reason why The Promise decided to tell this particular story was because of the film’s source of funding. The entire budget was donated by an American businessman that has Armenian roots – Kirk Kerkorian – and his sole wish was to bring this story into the mainstream consciousness rather than earn money. Sadly, this film didn’t succeed at either – it was a box office bomb, which means that not a lot of people had a chance to witness this narrative.
  3. The Promise was directed by Terry George, from the script by the director himself and the screenwriter Robin Swicord. I thought that the directing was quite solid even if the film was a bit long and dragged at times. However, at the same time, I don’t think that they should have cut anything from the story – I applaud the writers for not oversimplifying the journey that these characters had to take. I would also like to praise them for creating 3 interesting leads who seemed both realistic and believable enough and were also cinematically engaging. It was also nice to see a level of objectivity in a war movie – I believe that it was really important to include a character on the Turkish side who was actually a good person rather than just to paint that whole nation as the villains.
  4. The emotional core of the film was also effective. This real-life story is tragic in itself and the dramatic love triangle (which worked and wasn’t too tearful or cliche) only added extra emotions to the script. A few of especially heart-wrenching moments were the sequence where Oscar Isaac’s character finds his village’s people slaughtered by the river and the shots of the makeshift red-cross flag, placed on the side of the mountain.
  5. The Promise had a stellar cast, full of gifted actors who delivered spectacular dramatic performances. Sadly, not a lot of them were of Armenian descent – I think it would have been nice to spotlight some lesser known Armenian talent. Oscar Isaac was absolutely wonderful – these are the types of roles that I’d like to see more of him in rather than the awful supporting roles in failed blockbusters (X-Men: Apocalypse). Having said that, I would also like to see him continuing to star in more successful big-budget pictures, like Star Wars. Christian Bale (The Big Short) was also really good, although it was quite unusual, seeing him in a role which did not require a lot of physical change. Charlotte Le Bon (The Walk, The Hundred-Foot Journey, Bastille Day) was also amazing. Probably the most well-known Armenian actress on the cast was Westworld’s Angela Sarafyan – she played a small but important role. Other non-American and non-English actors were also included (which seems better than just having Americans and Brits playing Armenians): Mexican Daniel Giménez Cacho, Iranian Shohreh Aghdashloo, Croatian Rade Sherbedgia, Dutch-Tunisian Marwan Kenzari, and Israeli actor Yigal Naor all had supporting roles in the picture.

In short, The Promise is a well-made historical drama that might not sound super original but is, nonetheless, very important, as it tells a forgotten story of the marginalized people.

Rate: 4.25/5

Trailer: The Promise trailer 

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Movie review: Their Finest 

Movie reviews

Hello!

The first movie of the year focused on the battle of Dunkirk – Their Finest – has reached theaters, so, let’s review it.

IMDb summary: A British film crew attempts to boost morale during World War II by making a propaganda film after the Blitzkrieg.

While Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk (premiering in July) will tackle and reproduce the actual battle and the evacuation, Lone Scherfig’s film Their Finest is a story about a war propaganda film, based on a fictional story related to the real-life events at Dunkirk, produced in order to raise the patriotism of the nation. The genres and tones of the 2 movies differ vastly: one looks like a grim and serious action drama, while another one is a lighter comedy drama with some romance thrown in as well.

On top of being one of the two films about Dunkirk, Their Finest interested me for 3 reasons: 1. I wanted to see the representation of the British propaganda and how it differed or was similar to the Soviet propaganda – the kind that I’m more familiar with from history classes and from just generally growing up in Eastern/Northern Europe. 2. I have always enjoyed films about filmmaking and as this one centered on screenwriters – an occupation that I would like to pursue – my interest was peaked. 3. The movie started Sam Claflin – an actor, whose career I’ve been following pretty closely. So, let’s see if Their Finest is as ‘fine’ of a picture as the title suggests!

Writing

Their Finest was written by a TV writer Gaby Chiappe, based on novel Their Finest Hour and a Half by Lissa Evans. From the technical standpoint, the writing for the film was very nice: the narrative was well structured and rich with ideas. Whether or not the ideas worked, is a very subjective question. I, personally, really liked some of the themes but was equally frustrated by the others.

To begin with, the picture focused a lot on the relationship between Gemma Arterton’s and Sam Claflin’s characters. I highly disliked the fact that their professional relationship had to be turned into a romantic one by the end of the film. I find that this happens in a lot of stories, even in the contemporary ones. For example, the way J.K.Rowling, writing under the pseudonym Robert Galbraith, is portraying the relationship between the two main characters in her Cormoran Strike Series irritates me a lot. And yet, going back to the relationship between the characters in Their Finest, if I considered the said relationship’s romantic aspect separately, I thought that it did work and was convincing. The two individuals seemed pretty evenly matched and their sparring was entertaining to watch. The sudden end to the relationship was also emotionally effective. At first, I deemed that the end might have been too sudden but I later I’ve realized that the scriptwriters intended it to be that way and to convey a message that one never knows what might happen in war.

The second big theme of the picture was Gemma Arterton’s character’s growth as an individual. Her personal story acted very much as a symbol for a lot of women’s stories during the war – how they have finally begun to transition from the domestic spaces into the public ones. Sadly, this process is still is progress, 70+ years later. I thought that the main character was developed quite nicely – I wish we would have found out more about her background and upbringing in Wales, but I really liked her subtle journey towards independence.

Thirdly, the movie explored the screenwriting and the filmmaking business. I really loved this particular aspect of the film and just loved the fact that Their Finest celebrated the movies and tried finding positive attributes of cinema even if it was political cinema. I simply loved Sam Claflin’s character’s enthusiasm about and love for the pictures, especially since his character otherwise seemed really pessimistic and ironic. I could identify with this type of depiction very closely. The way the movie played up the uber-poshness of the actors and of the British actors, to be specific, with Bill Nighy’s character was also really fun.

Lastly, Their Finest dealt with the propaganda filmmaking, not just simple filmmaking. Not only did this type of story provided a different perspective on war, but it also proved to me that the types of propaganda don’t vary much from country to country. Like the Soviet propaganda, some of the British propaganda was very obvious but some of it was something more, just like the-picture-within-the-picture in Their Finest or a real life example, such as Sergei Eisenstein’s Battleship Potemkin. And yet, since both Their Finest and The Nancy Starling (a-movie-within-a-movie) stressed the importance of optimism and happy endings, I can’t help but wonder where exactly did the cinematic propaganda end?

Directing

Their Finest was directed by Lone Scherfig. Although the director is Danish, I thought that she nailed the British feeling of the film. She has already done that earlier with The Riot Club – that movie has really made me question my adoration of the British culture quite a bit. So, Their Finest resembled the previous historic UK-based movies that I’ve reviewed, like SuffragetteTestament of Youthand Far From The Madding Crowd. The fact that the movie was executed with the classical stationary camera work and the steady frame, also added an appropriate old-school yet timeless feel to the picture. The pacing of the picture was also very even. 

Acting

Gemma Arterton played the lead in the film and did a really good job. I hope that this is a career-changing role for her, as so far she has been starring in mostly B-level pictures, like Clash of the TitansPrince of Persia: The Sands of Time, and Hansel & Gretel: Witch HuntersI really loved how subtle yet powerful her performance was. My favorite line of hers was the last words to the boyfriend: ‘You shouldn’t have painted me that small’. Her delivery was brilliant. I also though that Arterton’s chemistry with the co-star Sam Claflin was really good and believable. I loved Claflin’s character and the actor’s performance. It was so interesting to see a writer who can express oneself well enough of paper but struggles to do the same face to face. After starting his big screen career by acting the big action flicks, like Pirates of the Caribbean 4 and The Hunger Games franchise, Claflin has mostly stuck to dramas recently, including 2014’s Love, Rosie and 2016’s Me Before You. His next film is also a historical drama – My Cousin Rachel. He has also previously collaborated with the director of Their Finest on The Riot Club.

The supporting cast included established English actors Bill NighyHelen McCroryEddie Marsan, and Richard E. GranJack Huston (American Hustle, Hail, Caesar!and Ben-Hur) also had a minor role.

In short, Their Finest is a brilliant little movie, which, sadly, will be overlooked by the majority of movie-goers and buried by the blockbusters, including the one it shares the topic with. I highly recommend this film for all those interested in history and the art of filmmaking.

Rate: 4.3/5

Trailer: Their Finest trailer

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Movie review: Fences

Movie reviews

Hello!

The reviews of the awards season continue. Today, we are discussing Fences!

IMDb summary: A working-class African-American father tries to raise his family in the 1950s, while coming to terms with the events of his life.

Writing

The film Fences is a cinematic adaptation of August Wilson’s play by the same name. The play first premiered on Broadway in 1987 and was also revived in 2010, with Denzel Washington and Viola Davis playing the lead characters (as they do in the movie). When watching the picture, it is fairly obvious that it is based on a theatrical play because nothing much happens action-wise. The narrative is mostly dialogue driven and the dialogue itself is extremely dense, full of important backstories as well as plot points for the story. I wouldn’t even call this movie a narrative film – it is definitely more of a personal character study.

Fences touches on quite a few important topics. First of all, it shows the lives of African-Americans in a never before seen period – just before the civil rights movement kicked in (so it kinda follows the trend of a different kind of ‘race’ movie). It also doesn’t really look at the issues of the whole race of people but centers on an individual. The film also looks at the father-son relationship – how the sins of the father weigh down on the son. Fences focuses the most on the character of Troy and discusses a number of themes related to him, like being stuck in the past and not being able to move and raising high standards for others but not keeping to them himself. Troy is a flawed person and that makes him not only relatable but way more interesting.

Fences is certainly not an easy watch – I wouldn’t call this film entertaining in the simple sense of the word – but it is for sure engaging and requires a lot of attention. It looks at a daily life and the serious and the heartbreaking moments of it. Nevertheless, the film also has a few lighter and funnier bits which arise from the same daily life. Its ending is also very beautiful and touching.

Directing

Denzel Washington not only stars in the picture but also directs it (this is his 3rd movie). He has a very clear vision for the film and executes it neatly. However, I don’t think that his direction is that great. I understand his creative choices but I also don’t think that he utilizes the cinematic means of storytelling much or at all. What I mean is that Fences feels very much like a filmed play. It is set in a very limited space – one house – and this type of setting reminds of a theater stage. The long takes look impressive but, once again, they feel more theater-like than motion-picture-like. I really really wish that more visual storytelling techniques would have been used, for example, Troy’s monologs could have been used as the voiceover narrations for the flashback scenes instead of just being told directly to the camera. In short, Fences has a few super engaging dialogue moments but it also drags at times (and this maybe could have been fixed with some more visuals).

Acting

Denzel Washington (The Magnificent Seven, The Equalizer) plays the lead and does an absolutely magnificent job. This role looks like it has been written for him. Viola Davis (Suicide Squad) is also brilliant. She and Denzel play off of each other really well, probably because they have lived with these characters (as I’ve mentioned, they starred in the 2010 Broadway revival of this play). Both Washington and Davis have been nominated for the Academy Awards in the acting categories and they both starred in one mainstream movie this year, so both sides of their career (mainstream and indie) are on the rise or at least doing good.

The supporting characters of the film are played by Stephen McKinley Henderson, Jovan AdepoRussell HornsbyMykelti Williamson, and Saniyya Sidney. They do a good enough job but they also kinda fade into the background when sharing scenes with either Washington or Davis.

In short, Fences is an interesting film that requires constant attention in order to understand it. It has a distinct direction which I don’t particularly like but I cannot praise enough the acting performances of the two leads.

Rate: 4/5

Trailer: Fences trailer

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5 ideas about a movie: Captain Fantastic

Movie reviews

Hello!

With the awards season in motion, let’s review one of the earliest contenders for this year’s awards. It’s Captain Fantastic!

IMDb summary: In the forests of the Pacific Northwest, a father devoted to raising his six kids with a rigorous physical and intellectual education is forced to leave his paradise and enter the world, challenging his idea of what it means to be a parent.

  1. To begin with, Captain Fantastic was written and directed by a longtime TV actor Matt Ross. This was only his second feature film and it is the movie that he got the most recognition for so far (mostly in the festival circuits and less so during the main awards season). I did like his directing but I mostly gonna focus on his writing, as the script is the most interesting part of the movie.
  2. I really enjoyed the unique premise and the out of the ordinary narrative of the film. The living in the woods/far from the society idea has become really popular lately with The Lobster and Hunt for the Wilderpeople also exploring it. However, I think that Captain Fantastic is the best film out of the three when it comes to the commentary on the modern world. I like the fact that this film could be used as a kick-starter for conversations on themes such as the cultural clashes (especially the cultural clashes at home) and the legitimacy of the education system (multiple vs singular way(s) of achieving intelligence). I also appreciate the fact that the movie spotlights a different way to deal with loss.
  3. Captain Fantastic also has a lot to say about capitalism. I, personally, don’t really think that capitalism is the ultimate way to structure the lives and the relationships of people but it still the best system out there. Still, it is good to talk about its flaws, so I believe that movies like Captain Fantastic should exist. And yet, knowing that this film was made in Hollywood by a big business (even if not by one the giant studios) as a product to be consumed kinda undercuts its critique on capitalism. How can one be part of the machine and also go against it? Isn’t that a bit hypocritical? I also find it funny that the movies audiences are basically the complete opposites of the film’s characters. What does that say about us or the film?
  4. Where Captain Fantastic felt short for me was in its lack of appreciation for the middle ground. I felt that, at times, it just went too far to the extreme side and, frankly, turned into a really pretentious picture. Some scenes were definitely cringe-y and uncomfortable and not in a good kind of way. In addition, even though I’m not the biggest fan of society’s norms, even I can admit that there are some great things about the human society. And even though the modern world has its problem, giving up and running away from it is not a suitable option.
  5. The one thing about the film that almost everybody can agree on is the quality of Viggo Mortensen’s performance. It took me at least half of the runtime of the film to figure out that he was the same Viggo Mortensen from Lord of the Rings and I can quite the majority of LOTR. His performance was truly transformative and I’m happy to see that he got a least a few nominations from the major awards. The film had quite an extensive supporting cast as well, as the main character had a lot of children. Young and up-and-coming TV actors took on the majority of the kids’ roles and did quite a nice job. George MacKay was definitely a stand-out performer, but all of them (Samantha IslerAnnalise Basso, Nicholas Hamilton, Shree Crooks, and Charlie Shotwell) deserve to be praised.

In brief, Captain Fantastic is a great conversation-starter of a film that has some flaws but overall is very enjoyable, especially because of the amazing performances by the lead actor and the supporting cast.

Rate: 3.9/5

Trailer: Captain Fantastic trailer

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5 ideas about a movie: Kubo and The Two Strings

Movie reviews

Hello!

Let’s review a possible Best Animated Feature nominee that came out a few months ago – Kubo and The Two Strings.

IMDb summary: A young boy named Kubo must locate a magical suit of armor worn by his late father in order to defeat a vengeful spirit from the past.

  1. 2016 has been a strong year for animation, especially financially: Zootopia and Finding Dory both earned over a million dollars, while The Secret Life of Pets came super close. Kubo might not have been as big of a financial hit as the other animated pictures but it definitely appealed to the critics and the cinephiles.
  2. Kubo and The Two Strings is the latest stop-motion picture from Laika. I’ve always been a fan of this type of animation and of this particular studio and their product. Coraline is still one of my favorite animated films of all time and I also enjoyed 2014’s The Boxtrolls. Kubo is their least financially successful but the best (quality-wise) film. It differs from the other pictures with its Japanese setting. Kubo feels like a blend of Western and Eastern animation – the anime of the West.
  3. Kubo was written by Marc Haimes and Chris Butler. I loved the adventure story that they crafted for the film. The feeling of the deeper underlying mythology was present and enriched the narrative nicely. The themes discussed were serious and universal, like family, love, and memories. I also loved the writing for the main character (his powers were so cool and unique) and the writing for the supporting cast (the choice of animals for the secondary roles was really extraordinary- haven’t seen many beetle and monkey team-ups before). The dialogue was good too: the heartfelt emotional moments mixed well with the funny bickering (and flirting). The super positive ending was also lovely.
  4. The film was directed by Travis Knight, who has worked as an animator on a bunch of stop-motion animated pictures. I loved the atmosphere and the overall look of Kubo: it was eerie and scary but also adorable and really beautiful. The character design was magnificent too:  I loved that the main character appeared to be of ambiguous gender and that the character’s look corresponded with the character’s traits (e.g. the ability to fly came from the kimono top). Kubo actually reminded me a lot of Mulan (and yes, I know one comes from Japan and the other from China). Lastly, touching more on the animation – I loved how origami (the next level origami, while I don’t even remember how to make a swan) – a distinctly Japanese art of folding that is popular globally – was used in a stop-motion animation setting. It was truly a great combination of tecniques and ideas.
  5. The film featured great performances from the A-list voice cast, which included Charlize TheronMatthew McConaughey (Sing), Ralph Fiennes (will voice Alfred in The Lego Batman), and Rooney MaraArt Parkinson (GOT’s Rickon) was great as the titular lead character as well. The movie’s soundtrack by Dario Marianelli was spectacular too.

In short, Kubo and The Two Strings is another great animation of 2016. However, this one is the most unique because of its style, setting, and characters.

Rate: 4,5/5

Trailer: Kubo and The Two Strings trailer

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5 ideas about a movie: Swiss Army Man

Movie reviews

Hello!

Before the big 2017 releases start, let’s review a possible awards contender from last year. Today, I’m discussing one of the strangest film I’ve ever seen – Swiss Army Man.

IMDb summary: A hopeless man stranded on a deserted island befriends a dead body and together they go on a surreal journey to get home.

  1. Swiss Army Man might be the most ‘indie’ (as in ‘out there’) independent picture ever. It was written and directed by a duo of filmmakers – Daniel Scheinert and Daniel Kwan. Swiss Army Man was also one of the most original experimental movies in 2016.
  2. At the center of Swiss Army Man, we find a bizarre combination of a depressing survival story mixed with disgusting and childish comic relief – fart jokes (next level fart jokes). Although this combo should not work, it somehow did. The jokes lightened up the tone, while the serious narrative made the jokes seem more legit.
  3. I also loved the film’s self-consciousness and the meta-reference to Jurassic Park (my all time favorite flick): ‘If you don’t know Jurassic Park, you don’t know s*it’. The play on the dichotomy of the diegetic and the non-diegetic sound was interesting and unique too. Basically, Swiss Army Man was a real ‘WTF’ film (that’s also the last line of the film) that was either stupid or brilliant.
  4. Danielle Radcliffe’s (HP, Kill Your Darlings, Now You See Me 2) performance as the farting corpse with superpowers was the only thing that everybody talked about in reference to this film, and I can see why. His acting in the picture was extraordinary: the ‘dead’ (literally) delivery of the dialogue and the look all worked and were equal parts realistic and believable and kooky and cartoonish.
  5. The other main character was played by Paul Dano (Little Miss Sunshine), who also did a magnificent job. He had a few different levels and layers to his performance and added a lot of relatability to the film.

In short, Swiss Army Man is not a film for the mainstream audiences and even cinephiles might find it too weird. And yet, whether you hate it or love it, this film is one to remember.

Rate: ?/5 (I have no idea how to rate this film in a numerical frame)

Trailer: Swiss Army Man trailer

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BEST, WORST, and MISSED movies of 2016!

Movie previews, Movie reviews

Hello!

Yes, it’s that time of the year again for me to list my favorite and least favorite pictures. Like last year, I will also give you a top 5 of the films that you might have missed because of various reasons but which are worth a watch. 2015’s lists are here.

A short warning before we start: I have not seen all the pictures released this year, especially the majority of the awards contenders, so do not expect to find a lot of them here. Also, this is not an objective ranking of films – these are my subjective personal preferences. That means that the movie you hated might have been one of my favorites and vice versa. Similarly, a film that the critics bashed or a movie that bombed at the box office might also find itself on my best list. Without further ado, let’s begin:

Best:

  1. Captain America: Civil War
  2. Deadpool
  3. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
  4. Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them
  5. Doctor Strange
  6. Hell or High Water
  7. Sully
  8. Arrival
  9. Zootopia
  10. Hacksaw Ridge

The first 5 places on my list are all occupied by big blockbusters. Not surprisingly, two Marvel movies managed to squeeze into the list at number 1 and 5, respectively. The fact that a Harry Potter and a Star Wars film made the list at 4th and 3rd place isn’t unexpected either. The biggest shocker of this year and the first half of my list finds itself at number 2. I was extremely worried about Deadpool but it totally blew my mind. Even though it came out back in February, I still cannot forget it and that’s why it is a runner-up on my favorite movie list.

The second half on the Top 10 spotlights a few ‘regular’ movies. Here we have my favorite indie picture at number 6, my favorite drama at number 7 and the best sci-fi I’ve seen in years at number 8. The list closes with my favorite animation of the year from none other than Disney at 9th place (it was so hard to pick the best animated picture – we had a few good ones in 2016) and the best historical film of the year at 10th place.

Worst:

  1. Jack Reacher: Never Go Back
  2. The Divergent Series: Allegiant
  3. Independence Day: Resurgence
  4. Assasin’s Creed
  5. Jason Bourne
  6. Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates
  7. Alice Through The Looking Glass
  8. Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children
  9. The BFG
  10. The Girl on the Train

I wouldn’t necessarily state that these films are the worst that I have seen this year but rather the most disappointing. The problem that I had with the majority of them was the fact that they wasted their potential and were extremely generic.

This list has a few sequels that nobody asked for (1st, 3rd, 7th). It also has a couple of YA adaptations that should not have been made the way they were at number 2 and number 8. It has a film that was basically destined to be bad at number 4. Plus, the list has my biggest disappointment of the year at number 5. Lastly, at the 6th place, we find a generic comedy that was not that funny; at number 9 – the worst Spielberg movie possibly ever and, in the last place, we have another bland thriller that was not that thrilling.

Missed Movies:

  1. Everybody Wants Some!! – the latest coming of age drama from Richard Linklater and the spiritual successor to Dazed and Confused, Everybody Want Some!! was a great film that not a lot of people saw. It came out in spring and had a neat story, nice directing, and great performances from a whole cast.
  2. Eye in the Sky – a modern and very topical thriller about contemporary warfare. It was suspenseful and intriguing. The film also featured the last on-screen performance by Alan Rickman.
  3. Eddie the Eagle – the feel-good film of the year. It had an inspiring story about a loveable underdog played by Taron Egerton. Wolverine himself provided the support.
  4. Nocturnal Animals – the second feature from the designer Tom Ford that had one of the most inventive and exciting narratives this year. The film was engaging, it asked questions, and was visually stunning.
  5. The Nice Guys – an actually funny comedy from this summer that nobody saw! It had both style and substance! The lead duo – Ryan Gosling and Russell Crowe – were amazing too!

So, these are my lists for the year! What movies did you love or hate in 2016? What is a film that you think I should watch that came out this year? Leave the answers in the comments bellow! I am looking forward to reviewing and discussing movies with you in 2017!

Bye!

My dorm room’s wardrobe

Movie review: La La Land

Movie reviews

Hello!

Today, I had a chance to see the current awards front-runner – the film La La Land – so let’s review it! I have read a lot of emotional (both positive and negative) tweets about it in my feed these past few weeks, but, as usual, I decided to make up my own mind by watching it.

IMDb summary: A jazz pianist falls for an aspiring actress in Los Angeles.

I would like to begin by saying that La La Land is very much an indie picture – it won’t please the majority of the mainstream audiences and it certainly didn’t appeal to the majority of the people at my screening, who were complaining throughout the whole runtime. Despite their actions, I took La La Land for what it was – a niche musical about Hollywood – and had a great time watching it.

Writing

La La Land was written by Damien Chazelle, who also directed the picture. Chazelle is best known for directing and writing 2014’s awards winner Whiplash, but he also wrote the recent 10 Cloverfield Lane. I, personally, found La La Land’s story to be interesting. It wasn’t the most original but it was executed quite well. I, as a fan of cinema, have always enjoyed movies set in LA and Hollywood. Musicals have also always been my guilty pleasure genre. La La Land combined both of these things in a more successful way than Hail, Caesar – another recent film about Hollywood that featured some musical numbers. Lastly, I loved all the homages in La La Land, especially, the Rebel Without a Cause recreation.

Thematically, the film was also quite good. The character development was great as well – the two leads appeared as fully rounded and real characters. I saw some complaints saying that the lead female character was really unlikeable. To my mind, firstly, the characters don’t necessarily have to be likable to interesting. Secondly, I thought that not only the female lead but the male lead had some qualities that made them unlikeable. Besides, real people aren’t always likable too, so why should then the movie characters be over-idealized versions of us? I though that the main pair’s relationship had its ups and downs and that both individuals involved were damaged as well as rewarded by it. She might not have gotten to fulfill her dreams without him but neither would he have reached his goals without her. Not surprisingly, one of my favorite scenes from the writing perspective was their argument over dinner – it had great timing and a lot of emotional weight. Overall, I did enjoy the message of the film, so dream big because somebody has to.

Directing

For the most part, I really enjoyed La La Land’s directing. I loved the mixture of the long tracking shots and the speedy montages. I liked the upbeat energy of it, the dreamy atmosphere, the colorful pallet as well as the beautiful settings and the whole mise-en-scene. However, I think that the picture’s pace was a bit uneven and that the film was a tiny bit too long.

My biggest problem with La La Land was the fact that the movie was confused about its genre. Maybe this was an intentional decision and if so, I don’t think that this particular blend of genres worked. La La Land, at times, was a realistic, grounded, quite modern film, close to a drama. However, a few scenes later, it would very much remind of a filmed theater performance – the levels of overdramatization would go through the roof. This would happen a lot during the musical numbers, which sometimes made the movie seem like a live TV special, like Grease: Live! and Hairspray: Live! I wish the filmmakers would have picked one direction and followed it: either make La La Land into a fully modern or a fully traditional musical.

So, even though La La Land didn’t reach the quality of Singing in the Rain, it still had some pretty enjoyable sequences. A couple of my favorites were all the times when Ryan Gosling’s character played the main theme of the film. I also really like Gosling’s and Stone’s interaction during the ‘I ran’ performance. The dream sequence was also lovely and looked visually stunning. I liked The Messengers’ gig scene too. However, my favorite sequence was the dance with the city’s skyline in the background. 

Music

Justin Hurwitz was responsible for the soundtrack and I think he did a neat job. Although I’m not the biggest fan of jazz, I did appreciate its tunes and all the nostalgia surrounding them in this film. Other songs were beautiful as well but not catchy in that pop-music kinda way. Nevertheless, City of Stars is a magnificent song.

Acting

Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone made for a great lead duo. Their chemistry was amazing as usual, as this was not the first time they worked together – they have also started in Crazy, Stupid, Love (one of my favorite romantic comedies) and a passable thriller Gangster Squad. Both of the actors did a good job with their singing – theirs were not the best singing performances I’ve seen in a film but they weren’t the worst either. I absolutely loved the dancing, though. I don’t know if the two of them are going to win any big awards in the acting category but I could definitely spot a few scenes that were included in their awards reels. For Gosling, it could have been any of the piano playing scenes, while for Stone it was most likely the audition storytelling/singing sequence.

A few of my favorite Stone’s film are Easy A, Magic in the Moonlight, Irrational Man, and Birdman. Going forward, she has a sport’s comedy Battle of the Sexes listed for next year. Gosling’s best film are Blue Valentine, Drive, The Big Shortand The Nice Guys. He will star in the Blade Runner sequel next year.

The film’s supporting cast didn’t have much to do in the film, but I’d like to mention two individuals who stood out. First one was, of course, well-known singer John Legend – has was great. The second one – J.K.Simmons – it was nice of him to cameo in a different movie by Chazelle as Whiplash earned Simmons an Academy Award and it was nice of Chazelle to include him in the film for the same reason.

To conclude, La La Land was a gorgeous looking film with a nice story, lovely performances, and great music. However, I can’t recommend it as a must-watch as I think that only a very open minded audience would enjoy it. With musicals, like this one, you just have to go with everything and do not find the random bursting out into song moments awkward or uncomfortable.

Rate: 4/5

Trailer: La La Land trailer

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Movie review: Snowden

Movie reviews

Hi!

While everyone else is already starting to review Rogue One, I’m still catching up on films that were only just released in the UK. Sully came out 3 months late, and Snowden followed suit. So, let’s review it!

IMDb summary: The NSA’s illegal surveillance techniques are leaked to the public by one of the agency’s employees, Edward Snowden, in the form of thousands of classified documents distributed to the press.

Writing

Although I was alive when the main events depicted in this film came to light (it was 2013), I don’t necessarily remember watching or reading any media coverage of them. However, before watching  the film, I did know who Snowden was, so I must have heard or read something back in 2013.

The film’s script was written by Kieran Fitzgerald and the director of the film Oliver Stone, based on books The Snowden Files by Luke Harding and Time of the Octopus by Anatoly Kucherena. The movie’s main narrative was told in a flashback form. The filmed picked up days before the events of 2013 and told the different parts of Snowden’s live and depicted the different jobs he did in the flashbacks. The movie also did a good job with the writing for its main character: the film showed his transition from conservative to a liberal in a believable way and also humanized Snowden, by including his private personal story together with the public professional one.

I, personally, always had a stance on what Snowden did and this film didn’t change that, only reaffirmed it. Having said that, I still think that the movie fairly treated both sides of the story and didn’t necessarily have hidden agenda beneath. I did enjoy the discussion about the surveillance and the raising of the question whether it was for safety or for control. The ideas on privacy and patriotism were also interesting. I especially liked the line that stated that the government does not equal the country, which was an extremely important idea for me to remember because of all the events of 2016.

I also appreciated the fact that the movie showed how Snowden’s work had an impact on his health and relationships. The work of spies is only glamorous and cool when it’s fictional. Lastly, the movie’s story was a bit scary as well as angering because it represented the reality that we all live in. Its cautionary message should not go unheard of.

Directing

Oliver Stone, who is known for making politically and economically focused films, both documentaries and narrative pictures, directed Snowden and created another solid drama. The film was compelling and well constructed. The pacing was a bit slow, but I was intrigued enough by the story to let the slight dragging slide. Visually, one of my favorite sequences of the film was the CGI montage of the surveillance connections that ended up in Snowden’s eye. It was kinda an obvious way of explaining the mass scale of surveillance but it was done well. I do believe that this story had to be told and what better way that to tell it than in a mainstream movie – a medium that has probably the widest reach.

If you enjoyed Snowden and would like to see a similar movie, may I suggest Eye in the Sky – that film goes into more detail about the actual surveillance in the field and shows the inner working and links between the different organizations.

Acting

  • Joseph Gordon-Levitt (Inception, Looper, The Walk) played Edward Snowden and completely lost himself in the role, as usual. His voice acting was unbelievable too. Edward Snowden also appeared as himself at the end of the movie, and I did appreciate this real-world tie-in. Fun fact, I almost attended the university that he is the symbolic rector of – University of Glasgow.
  • Shailene Woodley (The DescendantsThe Fault in Our Stars, Divergent) as Lindsay Mills was amazing. This is her best performance I have seen yet.
  • Zachary QuintoScott Eastwood, and even Nicolas Cage had small supporting roles in the film. I was happy to see Quinto in another movie, as I have become a fan of his after Star Trek. Eastwood also did a good job but I still think that he works better in the supporting roles rather than in the lead – didn’t like him much in The Longest Ride but he was fine in the tiny role in Suicide Squad. Even Cage was great, although, I can only stomach him in small doses.

In short, Snowden is a well-made film that tells an important story. The acting and the directing are good, but I think that the writing is the best aspect of the film.

Rate: 4/5

Trailer: Snowden trailer

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Movie review: Nocturnal Animals

Movie reviews

Hello!

Welcome to another Amy Adams movie review. A few back, I discussed Arrival and today, I’m giving you my thoughts on Nocturnal Animals.

IMDb summary: An art gallery owner is haunted by her ex-husband’s novel, a violent thriller she interprets as a veiled threat and a symbolic revenge tale.

In short, I would describe Nocturnal Animals as Hell or High Water and The Neon Demon put together. The more glamorous parts of the film (the bourgeoisie and the art scene), as well as the stylistic look of it, reminded me of The Neon Demon (plus, Demon was about the fashion world, Animals directed by a fashion designer), while the grittier parts – the book’s plot – were reminiscent of Hell or High Water both visually and thematically.

The fashion designer Tom Ford both wrote, directed, and produced Nocturnal Animals. This was his second attempt at making a feature film . I’ve not seen his first movie – A Single Man – but he impressed me a lot this time around, so I will most likely check out his debut movie. He successfully transitioned from designing to filmmaking and I’m excited to see what he will come up with next.

Writing and Story

I absolutely loved the clever and intriguing narrative of the film. All the different storylines – the reality, the book’s plot and the flashbacks – were separately interesting and distinctive but I also liked how they were combined and how they mirrored each other. In general,  I would say that the fipm was based on  thematical dichotomies – Texas vs. LA/NY, parents vs. children, felons vs. victims, past vs. present, and book vs. reality – and all of them were super engaging. I also liked the fact that the movie did not take sides: it critiqued both the southern traditional way of life and the uber modern and stylish world of the urban high classes.

Nocturnal Animals also appealed to me because it explored my biggest anxieties: the most obvious one was, of course, all of the events of the book (kidnap, rape, and murder). However, the fear of becoming like my parents and the anxiety which surrounds the uncertainty of my future are both very familiar and deeply personal to me as well. 

The movie had a very open ending and left some questions unanswered. Three theories immediately sprung up in my mind. 1. Maybe the film’s message was that one cannot truly change the past and it might sometimes be too late to say sorry, so that’s why the ex-husband didn’t show up. 2. Maybe, the novel’s events were just the main character’s way of dealing with the past mistakes a.k.a. putting ideas into a narrative and the ex-husband wasn’t actually a real person. 3. Maybe the book was just one big suicide note and that’s why he didn’t show up?  I’m probably totally wrong but it is fun to speculate and think about it.

Directing and Visuals

Nocturnal Animals had an interesting blend of visuals: it mixed urban lights with rural desserts. I especially loved all the landscape shots – the framed stills would make for some amazing photographs. The way modern art was used in the film was also interesting. I, personally, don’t get modern art but I can appreciate it. However, I got to say – I was a bit weirded out by the opening of the film (nudity) and wasn’t entirely sure if I was even in the right screening. However, I think that that was the point of the scene – it was meant to shock and to showcase the eccentric world of art that the film’s main character inhabited.

Nocturnal Animals was a perfect example of a successfully and tastefully stylized movie. Tom Ford’s design background and eye for textures and colors really assisted him in the choice of visuals. In addition, he dealt with the pacing of the picture very well: it was slow but never dragged – it was suspenseful and mesmerizing without beeing cliche.

Music and Soundtrack

Abel Korzeniowski did the soundtrack for the film. I really liked the instrumental score: it fit both the visuals and the narrative nicely. My favorite track was the one that sounded like the sextet from the movie Cloud Atlas. That particular track accompanied a variety of scenes and was also played during the credits.

Acting

The film had a stellar cast. Amy Adams was magnificent – I liked her performance even more than the Arrival one. Her eye-acting was mesmerizing. I also loved the way the movie played with the fact that Amy Adams’s and Isla Fisher’s look very similar. Jake Gyllenhaal was also brilliant – he lost himself in the role as he usually does. Michael Shannon was also a stand-out – loved his cool yet realistic portrayal of the detective. Lastly, Aaron Taylor-Johnson completely surprised me – this was probably his best role that I have seen yet just because it felt like the most challenging one. He was so good as the crazy, cocky, and eccentric felon. Armie Hammer also appeared in the film in his signature role of  ‘a white privileged businessman’.

Cast’s movie recommendations:

In short, Nocturnal Animals was beautifully stylized film, which also had important themes and interesting narrative ideas to match its gritty and glamorous visuals. The acting was also top-notch.

Rate: 4.5/5

Trailer: Nocturnal Animals trailer

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