Movie review: Battle of the Sexes

Movie reviews

Good evening,

My BFI London Film Festival series of reviews (it opened with Breathe) continues with Battle of the Sexes – another potential awards contender for the year!

IMDb summary: The true story of the 1973 tennis match between World number one Billie Jean King and ex-champ and serial hustler Bobby Riggs.

As a side note, before the actual review begins, I just wanted to tell you about a different tennis movie that already came out this year and left me pleasantly surprised. It’s Borg vs. McEnroe and I suggest you check it out! Onto Battle of the Sexes!

Writing

Battle of the Sexes was written by Simon Beaufoy (who is known for writing such movies as Slumdog Millionaire127 HoursSalmon Fishing in the YemenThe Hunger Games: Catching Fire, and Everest) and the film’s script was inspired/based on real events.

Battle of the Sexes tackled/portrayed two big concepts – the LGBTQ+ identity and the feminism/women’s rights. Sadly, both of these thematical spheres are still highly controversial and not discussed enough (or if they are debated, then only really unproductively, with zero chances of reaching a consensus between the opposing sides). Some might say that both of these issues are more topical in today’s socio-political climate than they were in the 1970s.

The movie approached these topics head-on (feminism way more than the LGBTQ+ side) and had a strong overall message. Personally, I loved it, but then again, I am a woman, a feminist, and a liberal. The general audiences, full of individuals of different genders/ideologies/beliefs, might turn on this movie because of its strong message of social justice. There was one short scene in the movie, where Emma Stone’s character confronted a journalist and clearly declared that she was not fighting to be seen as better, she just wanted to be treated equally. I wanted that idea – one of equality – to be more overtly stated in the movie because I worry that a takeaway for some audience members might be the fact that women want to be on top, rather than by side with the other genders. It is a bummer that, for some, being pro-female ultimately translates into an anti-male stance and I would hate if the cinema-goers interpreted Battle of the Sexes in such a way.

Now, let’s discuss some aspects of the writing in more detail. I thought that the presentation of Steve Carell’s character was captivating: his personal background and problems very clearly affected his actions of the tennis court. The way his gambling addiction and his work – tennis – were combined was super interesting too. It was also fascinating to see how he embellished his toxic masculinity for the public eye. The whole commentary on tennis as an activity in the middle of the spectacle v sports dichotomy was brilliant. In addition, the conflicting position of Carell’s character’s wife, played by Elisabeth Shue, was just amazing to watch: she rooted for her husband because he was her love but she also seemed to be cheering for Billie Jean and her cause.

Lastly, Battle of the Sexes also toyed with the concept of the gentlemanliness/sexism line (where one ends and the other begins). It also showcased sport as the factor that triumphed any relationship in the character’s life. The picture also did a very good job of combining feminity with feminism (which are often presented as polar opposites, which they aren’t). Oh, and the jokes were good too!

Directing

Battle of the Sexes was directed by a duo of filmmakers – Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris – who are responsible for directing one of my all-time favorite pictures Little Miss Sunshine. They did a great job with this film and its nuances and layers. Battle of the Sexes was a great biographical drama, a good sports drama, and an amazing romantic drama. The extreme close-ups of the characters made the movie seem intimate, real, and raw. The 1970s setting was well-realized, from the retro logos to the colorful vintage tracksuits. The sequences of the actual tennis play were good too, the final one was especially intense. The body doubles were hardly noticeable, so props to the directors, the cinematographer, and the camera crew for cleverly shooting around them.

Acting

Emma Stone (Magic in the MoonlightIrrational Man) and Steve Carell (The Big Short, Cafe Society) played the two lead roles. Both of these actors had quite similar careers – they started in comedy and then tried to transition to more serious roles, with varying levels of success. For Stone, this performance is her follow-up to the Oscar win for La La Land and a strong contender for at least a nomination this year. For Carrel, the involvement in Battle of the Sexes might bring him another nomination too. Emma was extremely lovable in the role and exuded both strength and relatable vulnerability. Steve was really good too – he looked exactly like the real person and also made the guy into a somewhat likable human being, even if he was sprouting nonsense most of the time.

The supporting cast was also really good. I loved Sarah Silverman as the bossy manager, she was perfectly cast. Andrea Riseborough (Nocturnal Animals) was brilliant as Billie Jean’s lover, while Austin Stowell (Bridge of Spies) brought a lot of heart to his role of Billie’s husband. Finally, I loved to hate Bill Pullman (ID: Resurgence) in his role and adored Elisabeth Shue in hers!

In short, Battle of the Sexes was a great drama about equality, freedom, and fighting. Undoubtfully, it was well executed, but whether you will agree with its message, will entirely depend on who you are as a person.

Rate: 4.3/5

Trailer: Battle of the Sexes trailer

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5 ideas about a movie: Goodbye Christopher Robin

Movie reviews

Hello!

One of the early potential awards contenders has premiered, thus, let’s evaluate its chances. This is the review of Goodbye Christopher Robin.

IMDb summary: A behind-the-scenes look at the life of author A.A. Milne and the creation of the Winnie the Pooh stories inspired by his son C.R. Milne.

  1. Goodbye Christopher Robin was written by a novelist and a British TV/movie writer Frank Cottrell-Boyce and a TV producer Simon Vaughan and directed by Simon Curtis (who previously directed My Week With Marilyn – one of my favorite films about the movie business). Curtis’s directing was very competent. He paced the movie neatly and made it feel like an old-school classical drama. The way he shifted the focus from one character to the next (from the father to the son) in the two halves of the movie was also an interesting choice.
  2. The script tackled a lot of topics and concept that all made up the incredible real-life story behind Winnie-the-Pooh. To being with, although, ultimately, this narrative was one of hope and happiness, it was framed by a feeling of dread and loss: the filmed opened with a scene that made the viewer believe that the real Christopher Robin had died at war, thus, the following long flashback (the rest of the film) felt like it was destined to end badly. However, the opening scene turned out to be bait-and-switch and the picture indeed had sort of happy ending – as happy as you can get in the real world.
  3. Additionally, Goodbye Christopher Robin had a lot to say about the middle/upper-class family relationships in the 20th century (and also now). First, the role of the nanny as ‘the true parent’ was portrayed explicitly. Also, an engaging message about motherhood was stated: how giving birth does not equal motherhood – one has to earn the right to call oneself a mother. The film also did a good job of portraying Milne’s PTSD and his ideas about/against the war(s).
  4. The film also examined the issues of creativity and commerce. The sequence of the writing of the books was really pleasant and sweet: it was also nice to notice the real-life details that inspired the plot-points in the books. The movie also did a good job of portraying the jealousy and the damage that comes with fame at a young age. Billy’s childhood was similar to that of contemporary children on reality TV (Toddlers and Tiaras, Dance Moms, etc.). Did the father appropriate his child’s childhood for profit? Was he right to do so in order to bring happiness to the masses? Is the happiness of many more worthy than the happiness of one? Robin’s experiences as a child and his desire for anonymity in the army as an adult sure made for a heartbreaking example cause and effect.
  5. Fox Searchlight has definitely assembled a stellar cast for this film, which delivered impeccable performances. Domhnall Gleeson (Anna Karenina, The Revenant, Star Wars, American Made, Mother!, Brooklyn, Unbroken) shined as the frustrated artist and the difficult father. Margot Robbie (Suicide Squad, Tarzan) was equal amounts likable and despicable as Daphne. Kelly Macdonald (T2: Trainspotting) was amazing as the voice of reason and the source of heart (the nanny). However, all three of them seemed like they barely aged over the 3 decades – better make-up or some CGI would have been beneficial. Christopher Robin was played by two actors: the young Will Tilston, who looked like a real-life version of his character’s book counterpart (just brilliant casting), while Alex Lawther handled the more challenging grown-up scenes and displayed his acting talent that some of us have already had a glimpse of on Black Mirror (the ‘Shut Up and Dance’ episode).

In short, Goodbye Christopher Robin was well-made biographical drama, whose subject-matter was complex, layer, and fascinating. I’ll never look at Winnie-the-Pooh the same (a.k.a. as optimistically)….and I have its face of my duvet cover (waking up wrapped in depression?).

Rate: 4/5

Trailer: Goodbye Christopher Robin trailer 

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Movie review: It

Movie reviews

Hello!

Let me start this review by saying that I don’t do horror films, especially at the cinema. BUT, since I wanted to christen my new unlimited cinema card and there were no other new releases, I decided to give It a chance. Plus, I have seen all the great reviews and didn’t want to miss out on the movie event of September if not the whole fall.

IMDb summary: A group of bullied kids band together when a monster, taking the appearance of a clown, begins hunting children.

Writing

It belongs to a wave of new smart horror movies (other members being Get Out and Split, both of which I watched – again, not a horror fan here, but I can make an exception for a great film). It owes its smartness to the source material – the beloved novel by Stephen King. And yet, the screenwriters Chase PalmerCary Fukunaga (True Detective, Beasts of No Nation), and Gary Dauberman (Annabelle films) should also be praised for taking a well-known property and adapting it to the big screen (other writers, who have adapted King’s works, proved that it doesn’t always turn out great). While I haven’t read the book, I knew some of the plot details and really liked the bold move of the scriptwriters to focus on just one time period. Before we see the adult side of the story in chapter 2, I will definitely read the book.

While It had stellar moments of horror (2 layers: the supernatural horror of Pennywise and the real-life horror of the abusive parents and the school bullies), the film ultimately was a story about this group of children ‘coming of age’. The movie did an absolutely brilliant job of setting them all up and there were 7 characters to set up! Some films can’t even make me care about their single lead, while, here, I was invested in the lives of a whole bunch of unfamiliar (to me, personally) characters. I also liked how the backstory of the plot (the exposition) was given as a part of the character development (those scenes told the viewer more about Derry as a town AND Ben as a person).

Speaking more about the children – I adored their dialogue and how unfiltered it was. A lot of the film’s jokes also steamed from it and landed most of the time. The preteen/teenage concepts, such as the first love (and the first jealousy), friendship, bullying, puberty, were neatly depicted and never wore too far into being cheesy rather than cute and relatable.  The depiction of fear as subjective and relating to one’s inner demons was so interesting too!

Directing

Andy Muschietti, who first rose to prominence with his directorial debut Mama, did a wonderful job with It. He paced the movie so well and masterfully built its suspense. He also made sure that It earned all of its jump scares. The visuals (cinematography by Chung-hoon Chung) and the music (soundtrack by Benjamin Wallfisch) worked amazingly together to create an uncomfortable yet super engaging sensory experience.

Muschietti should also be given props for directing a group of child actors so well. His decision – to keep Pennywise partially hidden or obscured for some of the runtime – also paid off: the clown was ten times scarier when you could only see his face or one eye. While his whole appearance made for a terrifying sight, the more of It one saw, the more he/she could have gotten used to it.

Acting

It had a brilliant cast of unknown and known child actors, whose performances were a pure delight to watch. Front and center was Jaeden Lieberher, who audiences might already know from Midnight Special or The Book of Henry. He did such an amazing job bringing the character of Bill to live and made that stutter seem believable and natural. Jeremy Ray Taylor (as Ben) and Molly Ringwald of this generation – Sophia Lillis (as Beverly) were also great. Stranger Things’ fans could spot Finn Wolfhard (as Richie) in the picture too. Here, he played the funny, talkative one – a contrasting role to one he plays on the Netflix show. Wyatt Oleff brought a slightly mysterious quality to Stan, Chosen Jacobs made for an extremely likable Mike, while Jack Dylan Grazer contributed to the comedy of the film as Eddie. His mom seemed to be suffering from Munchausen syndrome by proxy (Everything Everything looked at that illness already this year) or she might have just been way too overprotective.

Nicholas Hamilton also did a good job as the bully Henry Bowers, while the youngest member of the cast Jackson Robert Scott was great as the symbol of innocence (Georgie) during the opening of the picture. Lastly, how can I not mention Bill Skarsgård as It/Pennywise the Dancing Clown? While the costume and the makeup departments helped a lot to make Pennywise scary looking, Skarsgård’s performance was the most unsettling thing about the character. The actor was recently in Atomic Blonde, while his next project is also Stephen King related – its the web series Castle Rock.

In short, It was both terrifying and engaging. I, as a viewer, wanted to look away and couldn’t. The script was top-notch, the direction – amazing, while the performances of the cast just a huge cherry on top.

Rate: 4.5/5

Trailer: It trailer

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5 ideas about a movie: Get Out

Movie reviews

Hello!

Recently, I had some spare time to catch up on the 2017 movies that I’ve already missed and, since this one will definitely come up in the conversation later in the year, during the awards season, I decided to review it. Of course, I’m talking about the modern masterpiece that is Get Out. A note on the review: since I’m at least half a year late to the initial discussion of the film and I also don’t feel qualified enough to give you an extensive look at it, I’ ll just express my brief, general thoughts on it. However, I highly suggest you watch some more in-depth coverage on the picture, cause both the film and the debate surrounding it are truly fascinating.

IMDb summary: It’s time for a young African American to meet with his white girlfriend’s parents for a weekend in their secluded estate in the woods, but before long, the friendly and polite ambiance will give way to a nightmare.

  1. Get Out was a directorial debut (and his first solo screenplay for a feature to be produced) of one-half of the Key&Peele comedic duo – Jordan Peele. While the majority of his previous work has been in the comedy genre and on TV, here, Peele reinvigorated both the horror genre and the modern cinema landscape by injecting some contemporary, very topical, and, most importantly, original ideas, into them.
  2. Get Out tackled the untouched concept of the liberal racism – an even more uncomfortable side of the already dreadful issue. However, no matter how unsettling the issue is, I have always been a strong believer in a necessity to still talk about it, and Get Out did just that. The movie also introduced the concept of racist compliments, which was such a simple and easily noticeable idea that all previous filmmakers have somehow still missed. The picture spread a message of common humanity and I do hope to see it being achieved in my lifetime.
  3. While Peele created a modern, discussion-worthy, masterpiece by taking a simple outline of a narrative and injecting brilliant themes into it, he also created a very entertaining movie. The reveals in the story were subtle yet still shocking and suspenseful, while the viewers’ expectations were constantly played with, from the very beginning to the closing images.
  4. Peele also assembled a great cast for his picture. Daniel Kaluuya, who some people might remember from the 15 Million Merits episode of Black Mirror, was incredible in the lead and I’m so happy that the role in this film led to a boost to his career – he will also star in Black Panther. This Marvel deal could not have happened to a more deserving actor! Girls‘ Allison Williams was also amazing in her role. Her performance had layers and the reveals and shifts in her character were just wonderful to witness.
  5. Bradley Whitford and Catherine Keener delivered bone-chilling nuanced performances, while Caleb Landry Jones (American Made) was brilliantly crazy. Lil Rel Howery was delightful as the comic relief and was never out of place. Every time he appeared on the screen, it felt like a much needed minute to catch one’s breath. LaKeith Stanfield (who went on to star in Death Note) also had an interesting cameo role.

In short, Get Out, which has already been hailed as the best movie of 2017, is very deserving of that title. I really don’t remember the last time I saw a film that was both simple and straightforward and yet so complex and layered.

Rate: 5/5

Trailer: Get Out 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: Dunkirk

Movie reviews

Hello!

A movie, that needs no introduction, has reached theaters, so let’s talk about it. This is the review of Dunkirk.

IMDb summary: Allied soldiers from Belgium, the British Empire, and France are surrounded by the German army and evacuated during a fierce battle in World War II.

Before we start discussing the film, I’d like to remind you that there already is a picture about Dunkirk, released in 2017 – Their Finest. It’s a completely different but as interesting take on the ‘event that shaped the Western world’. Also, my previous review of a Nolan film is the one for Interstellar.

Christopher Nolan

Both written and directed by Nolan, Dunkirk is the highly acclaimed director’s 10th feature film. It has already been labeled as his best film as well as a ‘masterpiece’ of modern cinema. With all of these accolades in mind, my expectations have also been really high. And while I certainly wasn’t let down, I haven’t been blown away either.

Writing

Dunkirk’s writing is unique (as should be expected from Nolan – the master storyteller) in that the film doesn’t tell a story of the evacuation but rather recreates the evacuation. The staples of the narrative, like the extensive dialogue or the character development, are mostly absent from the movie and the glimpses of the personal stories are scarcely dispersed throughout the intense action scenes. I believe that the lack of the character development actually serves the movie right because that makes the viewer see the characters as nobodies – a faceless mass of interchangeable soldiers – which is what they actually were. I did miss Nolan’s great dialogue, though, even if this film’s setting didn’t really call for it.

Even though, the picture doesn’t have much in terms of narrative, the plot that is in the film is told in a non-linear way (again, as it should be expected from Nolan). However, there isn’t too much of jumping around (Dunkirk is no Memento). The three main plot threads – the land, the air, and the sea – provide different and interesting perspectives on the evacuation but I wish that these viewpoints were wider within themselves. For example, I wanted to see the faiths of more than a few soldiers, or more than two planes, or more than just one civilian boat.

Another interesting choice that is made in the script is the decision to never call out the nationality of the enemy. Never once in the picture, do we hear the words ‘Germans’ or ‘Nazis’. It’s always ‘the enemy’. Is that the political correctness of today bleeding into a WW2 film or is the eternal shame and guilt of the German nation is slowly coming to an end?

Directing

Christopher Nolan has always been amazing at visuals and he proves that again with Dunkirk. The whole film feels, more or less, like the expanded version of the Saving Private Ryan opening beach sequence, with the levels of dread, fear, and destruction, never dipping below the maximum. The intensity is palpable, while the emotions – heart-wrenching. From a purely aesthetic view, the shots are masterfully composed, both in the air, on land, or in the water. To my mind, Dunkirk might not be his best film, but it is certainly a great-looking one.

Music

An element of Dunkirk that sometimes rivals the visuals as its best part, is the soundtrack by Hans Zimmer (a longtime creative partner of Nolan’s). The master composer (I feel like I used the word ‘master’ too much already) surpasses the sky high expectations and delivers an emotional, eerie, thrilling, and haunting score. The sounds of the bombs are so crisp and clear that one can definitely hear if their cinema’s sound system is lacking in quality (I’m not pointing any fingers).

Acting

Dunkirk has an extensive ensemble cast, full of newcomers as well as seasoned A-listers. All of them deliver excellent if brief performances. On land, we follow Fionn Whitehead (in his first film role), Aneurin Barnard (a Welshman playing a Frenchman disguised as an Englishman) and an ex-1D member and a successful solo artist Harry Styles. Nolan has claimed to not have known about Styles’ fame before casting him in the film. I find that doubtful because Nolan has a teenage daughter who might (must) have known who he was. Also, even if she (or he) wasn’t a fan, the 1D craze a few years back far exceed the limits of the fandom and was absolutely everywhere, so Nolan should have definitely at least have heard about him. Anyways, for whatever reason Styles was cast in the picture, he did act as a somewhat box office draw, as evident by a mother-daughter duo, who sat next to me in the cinema and could not shut up when his face showed up on screen. On a side note, I didn’t see anyone complaining about his involvement in the film or that his ‘famous face’ took the viewer out of the movie, but, somehow, Ed Sheeran signing three lines on Game of Thrones is a disaster that breaks the fictional world’s continuum?

Back to the cast I was discussing in the first place, the ‘land’ portion of the plot also had Kenneth Branagh (director of Cinderella and the upcoming Murder on the Orient Express) and James D’Arcy (Agent Carter) as two officers of exposition and trailer one liners. The ‘on the sea’ perspective had Mark Rylance (whose career really took off only in 2015 with Bridge of Spies, then The BFG, and soon Ready Player One), accompanied by a screen newcomer Tom Glynn-Carney and a bit more experienced Barry Keoghan. A longtime creative partner of Nolan’s  Cillian (Free Fire) also appeared in the film, in the probably the most fleshed out role. The ‘air’ part of the plot was acted out by Jack Lowden and another of Nolan’s usuals – Tom Hardy (Mad Max, Legend, The Revenant) with his face half-obscured as always.

In short, while I might not think that Dunkirk is a masterpiece, I unquestionably agree that it is a great film. The visuals are stellar, the acting is effective, and the writing – full of bold choices that I might not like but can and do appreciate.

Rate: 4,3/5

Trailer: Dunkirk 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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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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