5 ideas about a movie: Renegades

Movie reviews

Hello!

Welcome to a review of a film that I had no intentions of seeing but somehow ended up actually entertained by. This is the review of Renegades!

IMDb summary: A team of Navy SEALs discover an underwater treasure in a Bosnian lake.

  1. If you have never heard about this movie, I’m not surprised. It comes from the Luc Besson’s EuropaCorp company that has been struggling a lot with the release of its films, both in its native Europe but especially in the US (Renegades has even been taken off the release schedule in the USA, but it did already premiere in some European countries and will expand the market throughout September). Not only has this film been made by Besson’s company but he actually produced it and penned its script, together with Richard Wenk (who wrote The Expendables 2, The Equalizer, Jack Reacher 2, and The Magnificient Seven). Besson has already lost a ton of money on Valerian and I don’t really see Renegades being super profitable either.
  2. In general, the writing for the film wasn’t bad: it also wasn’t the most original, smart or believable but it was still somewhat entertaining. The jokes and the funny banter between the soldiers were funny, while the details of their plan to get the gold out of the lake were actually quite interesting. I also liked how the movie incorporated the idea that some people, during the times of war, would rather destroy their home than see it fall into the enemy’s hands. Lastly, Renegades also had a surprising philanthropic message, although, it was advertised as, more or less, a selfish robbery story.
  3. Steven Quale directed Renegades and did an okay job. This might actually be his best movie to date, as his previous films include Final Destination 5 and Into the Storm. Before his solo directing projects, he was a second unit director on James Cameron’s pictures. The pacing of Renegades was fine, while the action – okay too. The underwater sequences were a bit hard to follow, though.
  4. The 5 leads of the movie were played by mostly unknown actors. They were basically The Expendables without the years of glory, consisting of: Sullivan Stapleton (300: Rise of an Empire is probably his best known previous film), Charlie Bewley (has worked on mostly young adult TV shows and movies), Diarmaid Murtagh (TV actor), Joshua Henry (Broadway actor), and Dimitri Leonidas (a few small roles in indie films). They had good enough chemistry and were believable as crazy Americans, wrecking havoc in Europe (though the majority of them are not actually Americans).
  5. The supporting cast of the picture had a few recognizable stars, like J.K. Simmons (La La Land, Patriot’s Day, The Accountant, Terminator Genisys), whose reaction faces were hilarious (still, I’m not sure how he wandered onto the set of this movie), and Ewen Bremmer, who played a combined version of his two previous characters from Trainspotting 2 and Wonder Woman. A Dutch actress Sylvia Hoeks was the lone female in the film and she did a good job. Still, since she played a Bosnian local, I’d have loved to see a native of the region taking on the role and being exposed to a wider audience. Hoeks’s career is also on a rise, as she is next appearing in Blade Runner 2049

In short, Renegades is a perfectly forgettable and expendable actioner that isn’t worth the full cinema ticket price but is absolutely serviceable as a rental or a TV rerun.

Rate: 2.75/5

Trailer: Renegades trailer

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Movie review: Alien: Covenant

Movie reviews

Hello!

Welcome to a review of Alien: Covenant – an apology for Prometheus or its continuation?

IMDb summary: The crew of a colony ship, bound for a remote planet, discover an uncharted paradise with a threat beyond their imagination and must attempt a harrowing escape.

Writing

Alien: Covenant was written by John Logan (The Last Samurai, The Aviator, Hugo, Spectre, Genius) and Dante Harper (a production manager), based on a story by Jack Paglen (Transendence) and Michael Green (Logan and Green Lantern – what a combo). Similarly to how the previous filmography of these screenwriters is a mixed bag, Covenant is also a movie of mixed quality. It just mostly rehashes the plot of the original Alien and throws in some Prometheus themes. I, personally, liked the ideas of the film Prometheus but didn’t feel like they were executed particularly well. Same happens in Covenant – the potential is there but the attempt at the backstory of the xenomorphs just convolutes the plot too much (how many unpredictable experiments have to happen for their final version to appear?). The idea to have a crew/cast of 10+ people also means that none of them receive any development. We do find out some traits of a few characters, but I am not even sure what roles did the majority of the crew members had on a ship. They all could have been scientists or sheep herders. The couples idea is also just plain stupid. Why would you have a bunch of couples on a dangerous space mission? Wouldnt’ they judgement in a difficult situation be impacted by the fact that their significant other is also on board?

Having bashed the plot, I would now like to praise a few good moments of the film. The discussion about creation was an interesting and promising concept. The faith and rationality divide was also a good idea to introduce. The decision to include another character played by Fassbender was the best judgment that the filmmakers made. While I am not sure when did David turn so purely evil, I liked seeing the David v Walter interactions, even if they were quite creepy.

Directing

Ridley Scott has made some amazing (Blade Runner, original Alien, and Gladiator) and less than amazing (Prometheus, Exodus) films throughout his career. His last picture – 2015’s The Martian – was one of my favorite movies of that year. Alien: Covenant falls somewhere in the middle on a quality scale. Visually, the film was gorgeous: the landscapes, the scope, and the scale were just breathtaking. (Prometheus was also visually stunning – I actually visited the filming location of the opening sequence – Isle of Skye). However, I felt that the action scenes could have been better – more suspenseful and intense. There also could have been more of them to replace some of the creepy dialogue sequences. And yet, at least Covenant was way grittier, gruesome, and more stylistically in line with the original two films than the squeaky clean Prometheus.

Acting

The cast of the film was quite big but not a lot of the actors delivered memorable performances (which was partially the blame on the script). Michael Fassbender (X-Men, Assasin’s Creed, Steve Jobs), not surprisingly, was the standout in his double role, while Fantastic Beast’s Katherine Waterston was also quite good. Billy Crudup (Spotlight, Jackie) and Danny McBride (Sausage Party) were the only two other actors from the cast who I remember as doing something of significance in the film. James Franco was probably featured more in the extra promo materials than in the actual film, while Noomi Rapace had a picture cameo only.

In short, Alien: Covenant was mostly disappointing. It had some good elements, but, ultimately, everything was ruined by the awful script full of laughable but not funny moments. If you want to watch a straight-up sci-fi horror, check out Life instead (even though it is just a knock-off of the original Alien), or if you want a more PG space movie, Passengers should do.

Rate: 3/5

Trailer: Alien: Covenant trailer

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Movie review: Ghost in the Shell

Movie reviews

Hello!

Hollywood’s first big attempt at recreating a beloved anime property has hit theaters, so, let’s discuss it. This is the review of Ghost in the Shell.

To begin with, the 1995’s Ghost in the Shell movie was my introduction into the world of anime as an adult. During childhood, I would sometimes watch Dragon Ball Z after school, however, in later years, I got really into American and British films and TV series, so there wasn’t really enough time for the pop-culture of the Far East. Nowadays, as anime is becoming more and more popular and easily accessible, I’m tasting it bit by bit. What are some shows or pictures I should watch? I really loved the recent film Your Name and would have loved to review it but, sadly, I couldn’t find time to do that.

Anyway, back to the topic at hand. I thought that the original animated picture was really cool. I liked the visuals and the themes. It had an unexpected, interesting, and exciting ending and a unique soundtrack – nothing that I’ve ever heard before. I have yet to watch the sequels and the TV shows of this franchise or read the original manga but I’ll definitely put them on my infinite list of things to do.

IMDb summary: In the near future, Major is the first of her kind: A human saved from a terrible crash, who is cyber-enhanced to be a perfect soldier devoted to stopping the world’s most dangerous criminals.

SPOILER ALERT

Writing

2017’s Ghost in the Shell’s script was written by Jamie Moss (known for writing Street Kings), William Wheeler (wrote Queen of Katwe and contributed to the upcoming The Lego Ninjago Movie), and Ehren Kruger (wrote the last 3 Transformers films). It was inspired by/based on various different elements from the Ghost in the Shell franchise as a whole rather than just the 1995 movie. The writing for a film was a mixed bag. The narrative, during the first two acts, was pretty basic: the characters were just going from point A to B to C. The story did pick up in the last act and felt way more cohesive but also way more complex and interesting. And yet, for a plot set in such a futuristic world, it had a very traditional and very basic villain – an evil businessman.

Speaking more about the characters, their development was scarce. The supporting cast was just there to serve the story and to fill in space on the screen. The main character did not fair much better either. She was introduced as an individual without the past with only fragments of memories (which turned out to be false). Only in the third act, she and the viewer find out her true background, which was super problematic in itself by being connected to the whitewashing issue.

So, if Major’s real mother was portrayed as Asian, that means that the real Motoko was also an Asian young woman. On the other hand, the shell, built by Hanka Robotics, was that of a white person. So was this the filmmakers’ way of justifying casting Scarlett Johansson? If that’s the case, then it’s a very flimsy explanation. In general, everything in the screenplay appeared as flimsy and inconsistent. It might have worked conceptual, but fell flat in execution.

For example, the picture attempted to tackle big ideas, like humanity, AI, memories, and identity, but the treatment of these ideas was so convoluted and, one again, inconsistent. At the end of the film, Major embraced her identity by saying that her memories do not define her. And yet, she was only able to embrace her identity, when she find out her true past. Practice what you preach! In addition, the fact that Major even began to question her existence came out of nowhere and way too suddenly.

Directing

Ghost in the Shell was directed by Rupert Sanders. This was his only second feature film, the debut being 2012’s Snow White and the Huntsman, which did earn a sequel/prequel for which Sanders did not return. His work on Ghost in the Shell was of mixed quality. I didn’t think that he paced the movie that well, but he did have impeccable visuals, which were both gorgeous to glance at and interesting to analyze further. The whole mise-en-scene did look like it was ripped from animation. If I tried describing it in relation to other live-action films, I’d say it was most similar to Blade Runner’s world with some more color of The Fith Element’s world thrown in. Plus, the opening ‘creation’ sequence reminded me a lot of Westworld (the white liquid) – another great futuristic property.

And yet, while the mise-en-scene was really cool, it had a very much Asian/Japanese flavor. The soundtrack was also very much one from the Far East. Now, this was very good for a film trying to replicate an anime feel but this was not good for a movie who had a multinational cast. I didn’t think that it would take me out of the movie but it did. If they wanted to have the multinational cast, I felt that they should have brought more global elements into the setting as well. But then, the film wouldn’t be Ghost in the Shell, although I didn’t feel that it was Ghost in the Shell now either.

Acting

To discuss the cast of the movie is to get into the issue of whitewashing. I don’t feel too well versed on such a complex issue so I’m just gonna briefly state my opinion.  Since it is a Hollywood remake I didn’t really expect them to cast a Japanese actress in a lead. I also am a fan of Scarlett Johansson so I’m a biased in that I’m happy that she was the one who got the role. Then again, I do feel that the filmmakers should have stayed true the source material and focused more on the creative rather than the financial aspects of the project. Moreover, as I have already mentioned, the discrepancy between an obviously Asian/Japanese setting and a multi-national cast did take me out of the movie.

That last thing – the film’s multi-ethnic supporting cast – is another problem in itself. Was it a step forward, trying to present a multi-cultural/multi-nationalistic world? Or was it a step back and a failed opportunity to showcase Japanese or at least broadly Asian talent in a Western-made picture?

Speaking of the actual actors in this role, Scarlett Johansson was good but I did not think that she made the role totally her own and proved us that she was the only one, who could have played Major. Needless to say, I much prefer her as Black Widow or Lucy. The prominent Japanse actor Takeshi Kitano, who was supposed to be the saving grace of this film, did not have much to do and was basically wasted in the role. Michael Pitt played the most interesting character: I actually wish that the movie would have focused on him. Game of Thrones’s Pilou Asbæk was good and I did like his character’s look, but once again, there wasn’t much for him to do. Lastly, Juliette Binoche – a French art-cinema actress – was also underused in her role.

In short, Ghost in the Shell was an okay movie. If felt uneven, inconsistent, and convoluted. The whitewashing of the main character and the majority of supporting cast did actually ruin a lot of other elements of the film.

Rate: 2,5/5

Trailer: Ghost in the Shell trailer

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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: The Martian

Movie reviews

Hello, my dear readers!!

I have missed you so much!! I haven’t written in a while because I was buried underneath piles of work. Living on my own while studying is way harder than I expected it to be. I already cannot even look at pasta and I still have 4 more years to go eating it. Anyway, we are not here to talk about my mundane problems. We are here to review the latest space opera – The Martian. I have actually seen it during the opening weekend but only managed to review it a week later…Sorry…

Also, I would like to give a spoiler warning for The Martian if you have not seen it yet.

BTW, it’s been a month since I started taking Introduction to Film course, so tell me in the comments if my reviewing style has changed somehow (maybe it improved, hopefully?).

Comparison

It is not a secret that in the last few years, we had a few high production astronomical blockbusters – 2013’s Warner Bros’s Gravity and 2014’s Legendary’s Interstellar. Now, 20th Century Fox takes its shot and creates a mixture of those two films (even borrows some actors): The Martian has a plot-line of a ‘lonely astronomer lost in space’ from Gravity and ‘his team trying to save him’ from Interstellar. While I have enjoyed both of these films, The Martian might be my favorite out of all 3. I have also seen this film described as Castaway meets Apollo 11, which, I agree, is an accurate representation.

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The tagline for this film was Bring Him Home and it was definitely true to the film because Mark Watney’s attempt to go home was the scientific and emotional core of the film. Also, for me as a newly created emigrant, it’s a theme near and-and dear to my heart. Yes, I’m not stranded on another planet, but being away from home is hard no matter the distance.

Water on Mars!

This movie had perfect time!! Just before its release, scientists actually found flowing water on Mars. Now, we are one step closer to turning The Martian from Science Fiction to Science Reality. If you like to learn more about this exciting development, I suggest you watch this Sci Show explanatory video.

Story & Writing

The Martian’s screenplay was written by Drew Goddard who has written mainly for TV before this. His credits include Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Lost, and Daredevil, which he also helped to produce. His last film script was for World War Z, which I, personally, really enjoyed but sadly been in a minority of moviegoers. Going back to The Martian, I really liked his treatment of this story. Although the movie has no real action, for the most part, a lot of crucial things still happen during the middle of the film and keep the viewer engaged and interested. Nothing happens and a lot of things happen at the same time (we actually just studied films like this in my film class last week). Moreover, it needs to be mentioned that this is not an original story but an adaptation of Andy Weir’s book with the same name. I added it to my reading list and you should too.  I have seen it in bookstores, re-released with the cover that looks like the movie’s poster, so it should be quite easy to get your hands on a copy of it.

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Realism

This movie has been praised for its scientific accuracy and it’s probably the most accurate of the 3 recent astronomical blockbusters. I am not expert on astronomy, physics, botany or any science but I am interested in these fields (that’s one of the reasons why I like sci-fi so much). Anyway, I found this Screen Junkies video on The Martian to be really interesting and helpful in thinking about Movie Science. I love all of their stuff on YouTube , but Movie Science videos are at the top of the list.

Directing and Visuals

The Martian is directed by the fan favorite Ridley Scott. His filmography includes Allien, Blade Runner (got its DVD from the library today), Gladiator, Prometheus and last year’s Exodus. Lots of people had problems with his last film and the whitewashing issue while I loved it. The interpretation of a biblical story was done in much better way than in Noah and the visuals were just stunning. Scott didn’t disappoint with The Martian as well. The Mise-en-Scene (I’ve learned a few fancy words in film class) was just stunning and really realistic while the futuristic technology was realized in a believable fashion as well. The action both on Mars and in the outer space looked amazing too. The NASA base was also a cool set, whose backgrounds could be analyzed separately from the narrative/on their own.

Acting

The titular character of the film and the main start, of course, is Matt Damon. It’s not the first time that Damon is playing a lost astronaut – he had a similar role in Interstellar. However, while he was an extreme douche-bag in that film, here he is a loveable, funny, witty, intelligent and self-efficient character who carries the whole film. Damon’s performance blew me away and definitely turned me into a fan of his. I’ve seen a few of his films and was always on a fence about him, but his role as Mark Watney changed my perspective. I also loved that he was a botanist – you never really see movies that focus on plant biology scientists, films usually tend to pick physics or chemistry scholars, so this was a nice and refreshing change.

While Matt Damon as Mark Watney is the central character of the film, he gets great support from a very diverse, established, and extensive supporting cast. I’m going to divide these characters into Space team and Earth team.

Space team includes:

  • Jessica Chastain as Melissa Lewis, Ares III commander – another Interstellar alumni. Loved her in that film as much as this one.
  • Michael Peña as Rick Martinez, astronaut – the scene-stealer of Ant-Man shined in this film too. Can’t wait to see more of his work.
  • Kate Mara as Beth Johanssen, astronaut – played a similar role to the one she did in Fantastic Four. While they definitely messed up Sue Storm in that film, her character was a great addition to this motion picture’s cast.
  • Sebastian Stan as Chris Beck, astronaut – the Winter Soldier can be more than Marvel’s next Captain America. I am a fan of Stan, so loved seeing him popping up in this film.
  • Aksel Hennie as Alex Vogel, astronaut – rounded up the space part of the cast. Sadly, I’m not familiar with his work, so cannot really comment much, except to say that he was great in this film.

We didn’t get to spend much time with these characters and they didn’t get a lot of development. However, I believe that they served their purpose for this specific film perfectly by providing Matt Damon’s character with great support.

Earth team includes:

We did get to spend more time with the Earth-based part of the cast which had a few surprising performances.

  • Kristen Wiig as Annie Montrose, NASA spokesperson – was the biggest surprise. I have never imagined Wiig in not a comedic role but she blew me away. I wish she would do more action/drama films, but sadly her next movie is Ghostbusters remake, which I have mixed feelings about. Furthermore, I loved her character because she brought the public into the film. I haven’t seen the theme of public’s affect of NASA and NASA’s manipulation of public explored before.
  • Jeff Daniels as Teddy Sanders, head of NASA, Chiwetel Ejiofor as Vincent Kapoor, a NASA mission director, and Sean Bean as Mitch Henderson, a NASA mission director were the powerful trio of NASA and for me, they worked best in their scenes together, because they played off of each others energy. Surprisingly, Sean Bean did not die. Also, seeing him make Lords of the Rings references was amazing!!
  • Donald Glover as Rich Purnell, a NASA astronomer and Mackenzie Davis as Mindy Park, a satellite planner in Mission Control were the 2 younger actors in the Earth team. I liked the nerdy-ness that Glover’s character brought to the film and I appreciated the introduction to Davis as an actress.

Lastly, this film had a few international actors from China: Eddy Ko and Chen Shu. While I don’t know if this side-plot was the part of the original story of the book, but I guess we all know why it was included in the film. Get that Chinese Box Office, Fox!

All in all, this fall is proving to be one of the greatest movie seasons ever! I haven’t seen a film which I didn’t enjoy so far. The Martian is a great adaptation of (I’m sure) an amazing book with wonderful acting from the whole ensemble cast, especially the leading man – Matt Damon. In addition, it has stunning visuals and a strong emotional appeal as well as is scientifically accurate as much as sci-fi film can be accurate.

Rate: 5/5

Trailer: The Martian trailer

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