Movie review: The Man Who Invented Christmas

Movie reviews, Uncategorized

Hello!

The Christmas movie season continues. After a couple of comedies (A Bad Moms Christmas and Daddy’s Home 2), we now have a biographical drama – The Man Who Invented Christmas!

IMDb summary: The journey that led to Charles Dickens’ creation of “A Christmas Carol,” a timeless tale that would redefine the holiday.

Writing

The Man Who Invented Christmas‘ script was written by Susan Coyne (a Canadian playwright and TV writer), based on a historical non-fiction book with the same name by Les Standiford. Even though the screenplay was based on historical fact, I still question the accuracy of the film’s narrative, as the cinematic adaptations of biographies tend to usually strive for an entertaining rather than truthful story. And this movie’s narrative was certainly compelling, mostly due to its content but also structure.

The Man Who Invented Christmas told (though great dialogues, I might add) the behind-the-scenes story of the creation of one of the most beloved novellas for readers of all ages – Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol. I do particularly remember reading the book as a child while laying down in bed with a cold during winter. Seeing this film made me want to definitely reread the book this winter. I would probably understand it in a completely different way now, not only because I watched this film but also because I just studied Charles Dickens’ other works, last of which I read and researched only last month – Great Expectations.

If the movie is to be believed, a lot of different elements from Dickens‘ life acted as the inspiration for the novella. One of the elements was Dickens’s struggles with the concept of class: the class divide and the class consciousness. He was known as ‘the writer of the people’ and yet, he was very much part of the upper/middle class. However, he had experienced lower class life as a child in a workhouse and those experiences haunted him the rest of his life. Dickens‘ father’s belief that he belonged to a higher class even if he had no funds to back up his membership also influenced the writer. The portrayal of the competitive literary scene of the 19th century Britain also acted as a neat realistic background for the story.

As much as I have enjoyed the content of the narrative, I also really loved its structure (a.k.a. how the inspiration behind A Christmas Carol was portrayed in the film). I thoroughly enjoyed seeing Dickens interact with his characters and move around his version of London in the story. It was as if the magical atmosphere of the book was transferred to its behind the scenes story. I loved seeing the parallels between Dickens and Scrooge too and liked the idea that both of them needed to learn to open themselves up to the world and see the hopeful side of it. It looks like writing was a form of therapy for Dickens. Lastly, I absolutely adored the picture’s message about the importance and the usefulness of imagination and storytelling.

Directing

The Man Who Invented Christmas was directed by Bharat Nalluri and this was the first film of his that I have seen. I thought that he did a stellar job. I loved the fairytale-like atmosphere of the film – the said aura made the movie more than just a biographical drama. The pacing was quite good too. The cinematography (by Ben Smithard) was good and varied as well, while the orchestral soundtrack (by Mychael Danna) was grand and emotional. Lastly, the narrative’s sentimental message and a heart-warming conclusion were brought to life in an excellent manner. My favorite scene of the movie that just epitomized all that was great about it was Stevens as Dickens looking at the first published copy of his new book and getting emotional about it. That single scene underscored both the hardships and the joys of creativity as Stevens‘ character seemed both relieved and excited.

Acting

Dan Stevens starred as Charles Dickens and did a great job. His performance was quite theatrical, which really fit the fairytale aura of the film (but would have been odd in a more realistic setting). Stevens seems to have a hard time escaping historical roles – he was just the Beast in 18th century France (Beauty and the Beast) and, of course, who can forget the beginning of his career and Cousin Matthew on Downton Abbey? If you want to see him in more contemporary roles, The Guest and Legion are both excellent (even though Legion is maybe set in the past – the visual style of that series makes it really hard to pinpoint its time period).

The supporting cast of the movie was full of great talent. Christopher Plummer was just amazing as Scrooge (I should not be surprised at how great he was after looking at his IMDb: he is, basically, the cinema royalty, and was even in The Sound of Music all those decades ago). Jonathan Pryce was also quite good as Dickens’s father. On the female character side, the movie didn’t have much (it was set in the 19th century, are you even surprised at the lack of female leads?). Having said that, it did attempt to do something with Dickens’ wife, played by Ger Ryan (she mentioned something about wanting an adventure of her own – not an idea that a woman would have had in the 19th century but definitely would have had nowadays) and Anna Murphy as Tara (an Irish housemaid, whose tales kickstarted the writing process of A Christmas Carol).

In short, The Man Who Invented Christmas was a unique biographical drama with a lovely message and a touch of theatricality.

Rate: 4.3/5

Trailer: The Man Who Invented Christmas trailer

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5 ideas about a movie: Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool

Movie reviews

Hi!

Welcome to a review of a film with the best title ever. This is Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool.

IMDb summary: A romance sparks between a young actor and a Hollywood leading lady.

  1. Film Stars Don’t Die In Liverpool was written by Matt Greenhalgh (the British cinema writer). As the name suggests, this was a film about the movie business – a genre, that I, as a cinephile, am very partial too. However, the picture was also so much more than a love letter to cinema: it was also a survival story (not the best example on how to treat one’s cancer or any other serious illness), a faithful biography (it was based on the memoir by Peter TurnerJamie Bell’s character in the movie), and a timeless romance with a contemporary couple (these type of age dynamics in a couple – older woman/younger man – are still treated as an abnormal).
  2. The movie also explored the idea of growing old but staying old. It also mentioned bisexuality in the 1970s-1980s but didn’t dwell on that plot point. The film was set in the meeting point between the celebrity and the real world, which was an exciting boundary to consider. It also drew an interesting parallel between this real live romance and Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet. The narrative’s structure was also unusual: the movie’s story unfolded over the two time frames (past and present) and that allowed the story to have more an emotional impact, which stemmed from the contrast of the happy past and sad present.
  3. Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool was produced by Barbara Broccoli (longtime producer of the James Bond films) and directed by Paul McGuigan (he has directed some episode of Sherlock and Luke Cage as well as the movie Viktor Frankenstein). The visual transitions that McGuigan crafted between the aforementioned time frames, were quite beautiful and inventive. However, the CGI locations looked quite fake and took me out of the film more than once. The pacing was also really slow so the viewer had to be interested/invested in the story to keep watching. Lastly, I loved how the director replayed the same scene from two different perspectives and completely altered its meaning.
  4. Annette Bening (who has had a long and fairly successful career but only appeared on my radar last year with 20th Century Women) played the lead actress and was really great. Her actress character was portrayed as a bit of a stereotypical Hollywood celebrity – selfish, a bit aloof, and deeply insecure. This didn’t necessarily make her the most likable but certainly an interesting character. I loved the shots that focused on her makeup routine – they powerfully underscored the importance of the outer appearance of actors.
  5. Jamie Bell played the male lead of the film and was absolutely brilliant. I only remember seeing him in Fantastic Four where he didn’t have much to do, so I was quite blown away by his dramatic talents on display in this film. However, he has previously worked with Lars von Trier on Nymphomaniac and was also in Snowpiercer, so I think I should have known how good he was.

In short, Film Star Don’t Die in Liverpool was a lovely biographical drama with a real-life cinematic love story at its center.

Rate: 4/5

Trailer: Film Star Don’t Sie in Liverpool trailer

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Movie review: Paddington 2

Movie reviews

Hi!

A delightful bundle of joy has landed in theatres. It’s Paddington 2!

IMDb summary: Paddington, now happily settled with the Brown family and a popular member of the local community, picks up a series of odd jobs to buy the perfect present for his Aunt Lucy’s 100th birthday, only for the gift to be stolen.

Movie over Winnie-the-Pooh, there is a new bear in town! Christopher Robin and his bear first entered the pop culture in the 1920s (Goodbye Christopher Robin tells that story), while Paddington first debuted in Michael Bond’s children’s books in the late 1950s. In 2014, Paddington’s stories have been brought to life on the big screen for the first time (they have previously been adapted into TV movies throughout the second half of the 20th century). Due to the critical and commercial success of the first film, the sequel has been made and the world is just a tiny bit better because of it.

Writing

Paddington 2 was written by the director of the film Paul King (who also helmed the first film) and Simon Farnaby (actor-turned-writer). The writing for the picture was just great. The viewers got to see Paddington entering the workforce and coming face to face with the harsh realities of life, while never losing his optimism. Despite all challenges he had to face, the lovable bear remained an example of endless hope, understanding, and kindness – somebody that we should all strive to be a little more like. The innocent humor, which arose from the situations that Paddington put himself in, was so nice and a pleasant change from the fart jokes of the other children’s movies. The meta-humor – the joke about the actors being evil as they lie for a living – was appreciated too. The good side of the British culture, that was neatly spotlighted in the first film, was on display here too. I also liked the fact that the movie wasn’t afraid to poke fun at the poshness of Britishness too. Also, I loved the fact that the incentive for a story was a pop-up book – I used to love my fairytale garden pop up book as a child and it is still on the shelve in my old room at my parents’ house.

Not only did Paddington got a chance to go on a fun adventure in a sequel, but his family also got some nice screentime. The teenager problems, the middle-life crisis storyline for the dad, and the desire for adventure for the mother were all nice touches that expanded the plot. I also loved how tight the narrative was. Every detail that was introduced in the set-up came back again during the third act of the film. The son’s steam trains hobby, the dad’s yoga, the sticky toffee apples that Paddington ate during the fair, the judge character, the daughter’s newspaper, the mother’s painting and swimming abilities, Paddington’s folded ladder were all important plot-points, not just random ideas that the screenwriters had.

Directing

The director of the first film Paul King absolutely nailed the sequel. He kept the pure, innocent, and joyful atmosphere of the first movie that is so on-brand for Paddington. The picture’s setting was very well-realized: both the broad one (the feature was sort of a love letter to London) and the narrow one (the fair/carnival/circus setting was just adorable). The CGI animation that brought Paddington to life was impeccable too. The cinematography was amazing as well: the filmmakers used a lot of long and mobile shots that were so impressive.

Acting

Ben Whishaw (A Hologram for the King, In The Heart of The Sea, Spectre, The Danish Girl, Suffragette, The Lobster) was, once again, perfect as the optimistic, innocent, but determined voice behind Paddington. Hugh Bonneville (Breathe), Sally Hawkins (Godzilla), and Julie Walters (I can’t wait for Mamma Mia 2!) were great as the ‘adoptive’ family of Paddington, while Brendan Gleeson (Assasin’s Creed) had a lot of fun with the role of the prison cook. Hugh Grant (Florence Foster Jenkins) was wonderful as the over-the-top theatrical villain, while a plethora of great British actors (Jim Broadbent, Peter Capaldi, Ben Miller) also played some lovely minor roles.

In short, Paddington 2 provides an amazing opportunity for escapism and is both heartbreaking and heartwarming. It also will get you craving for marmalade!

Rate: 4.5/5

Trailer: Paddington 2 trailer

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5 ideas about a movie: The Death of Stalin

Movie reviews

Hello!

I’m taking another break from the mainstream cinema, and reviewing a weird indie. This is The Death of Stalin.

IMDb summary: Follows the Soviet dictator’s last days and depicts the chaos of the regime after his death.

  1. Before going to see this film, I had some reservations because I knew that The Death of Stalin was a comedy and I didn’t think that anything relating to Stalin was a joking matter. That was probably because I was born and grew up in a region that directly suffered underneath his hand – Eastern Europe. He was responsible for the deaths of millions of people from that area, including a few hundred thousand people of my own nation. And while I’m not particularly patriotic and I don’t feel that loyal neither to my country nor to my nation, I do subscribe to the moral framework of the basic humanity.
  2. Nevertheless, I guess nowadays any story/event/concept is open for interpretation and reimagining. And this particular narrative has been reworked by quite a few creators. Produced for the international market, The Death of Stalin is a British made film, directed by a satirist Armando Iannucci (he created the TV show Veep), which’s script by the director himself, David Schneider, Ian Martin, and Peter Fellows, which was based on a French graphic novel by Fabien Nury and Thierry Robin, which was itself based on the historical events in the USSR. Also, not only is this film highly international, but its graphic novel roots technically make it into a comic book movie.
  3. My main worry about the film was its potential lack of ethics. I was worried that the movie would come across as making fun of the victims of the situation rather than its culprits. I’m glad to say that this was not the case. The Soviet politicians were the ones receiving all the satirized critique. They were portrayed as the walking real-life caricatures and that’s exactly who they were. The variety of accents that all of the actors employed sounded a bit strange, but I feel like they were employed deliberately, to have a stronger sense of a warped reality. One thing that annoyed me about the writing was the usage of the English swear words instead of the Russian ones. Again, this might have been a creative choice to enhance the cartoonishness of the film, but I think that the Russian swear words would have added some authenticity to the film and complimented the very accurate reproduction of the mise-en-scene (the red color palette and the tasteless pomposity).
  4. The Death of Stalin was also thematically rich and surprisingly contenporray. The film dealt with the ideas of the fake news, fabrication of truth and changing narratives – all of the things we should have left in the past but keep bringing into the future. The picture also did a good job of poking fun at the power struggle and the political plotting, showing these two developments in all their ridiculous glory. Lastly, while the movie was mostly focused on the irony/satire and the comedy of the situation, it also did not shy away from the terror/tragedy aspects of it and showed them quite explicitly.
  5. The Death of Stalin assembled a highly accomplished cast. Jeffrey Tambor (The Accountant), Steve BuscemiMichael PalinSimon Russell BealePaddy ConsidineAndrea Riseborough (Battle of the Sexes), Rupert Friend (Hitman: Agent 47), and Jason Isaacs (Star Trek: Discovery – really want to watch it), and the lone Eastern European actress in a film Olga Kurylenko (she is actually of both Russian and Ukranian ancestry but has a French citizenship).

In short, The Death of Stalin was an effective satirical reimagining that wasn’t that far from the truth.

Rate: 4.2/5

Trailer: The Death of Stalin trailer

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5 ideas about a movie: The Party 

Movie reviews

Hello!

It’s nice to sometimes take a break from the mainstream cinema and see something super unique and very obviously indie. This is The Party.

IMDb summary: A comedy wrapped around a tragedy. It starts as a celebration and ends with blood on the floor.

  1. The Party was written and directed by Sally Potter, whose previous movies have all been indies/experimental or art films in the short or the feature-length format. So, The Party – a real-time, black and white, just over an hour long picture was very much a continuation of her style. What a brilliant film it was, though.
  2. The Party’s narrative unfolded over a single hour. Its story was full of major personal dramas for each of the characters. All the issues that were touched upon were all directly related to the domestic space, and, while I’ve never been particularly interested in those types of topics, I was extremely into The Party. The film explored the concepts like politics, marriage, friendship, love, family, money, life, and death. It also had an extremely smart dialogue: the most intelligent small talk ever put to film. It was also full of real-life situational humor.
  3. The Party’s 7 characters made for a weird bunch. An idealist politician, a cynic and ironic best friend, a spiritualist life coach, a cheating and ill husband, a money-driven capitalist druggie, and a lesbian couple, consisting of an academic and a pregnant-with-triplets woman all found themselves present at the same party. The whole plot was all about them so there was plenty of character development. Also, that title – The Party – had a double meaning of both a political party and a social gathering. Thus, I’ve seen the picture interpreted as a metaphor for the modern Britain – a country in turmoil, incapable of reconciling its differences.
  4. The movie was filmed in black and white (don’t think I’ve ever seen a movie in B&W in a cinema), so the play between the shadows and the light was super important and interesting to notice. The real-time setting of the plot was exciting and extraordinary. The mobile frame and the handheld shots were authentically indie. All these features also made the movie seem a bit like a play. I guess the closest film I’ve ever seen to this one is Fences, which also felt like a filmed stage production (cause it was based on a play).
  5. The Party had a stellar international cast and was a brilliant display of acting. Emily MortimerCillian Murphy (Dunkirk, Free Fire, In The Heart of The Sea), Kristin Scott ThomasCherry JonesTimothy SpallPatricia Clarkson (The Maze Runner), and Bruno Ganz put on incredible dramatic (both tragic and comedic) performances. Murphy and Clarkson were my favorite.

In short, The Party is a great film about a really bad party. Short, smart, sophisticated and satisfying.

Rate: 4,5/5

Trailer: The Party 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: Kingsman: The Golden Circle

Movie reviews

Hello!

Kingsman: The Secret Service came out of nowhere and blew everyone away back in 2014. 3 years later and the expectations are high for the sequel. Can Kingsman: The Golden Circle deliver?

IMDb summary: When their headquarters are destroyed and the world is held hostage, the Kingsman’s journey leads them to the discovery of an allied spy organization in the US. These two elite secret organizations must band together to defeat a common enemy.

Writing

The Kingsman sequel was written by the same duo who wrote the first film – Jane Goldman and the director Matthew Vaughn, based the characters by the comic book royalty – Mark Millar and Dave Gibbons (the said screenwriting duo has also written Stardust, Kick-Ass, X-Men: First Class, and X-Men: DOFP together, while Goldman’s solo writing credits also include Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children). I thought that they did a great job on writing The Golden Circle. They ticked off all the necessary boxes for a sequel: took away everything familiar from the heroes (destroyed their home and comrades), made it personal (involved significant others and long lost friends), introduced new characters and locations (Statesman, Poppy’s Land), and had plenty of callbacks to the first film (returning characters, familiar scenes recreated with a twist).

The most interesting new addition was the aforementioned Statesman organization as well as the general feeling of Americana, especially potent in the villain’s layer. This expansion of the Kingsman world to the other side of the Atlantic really worked for me. I loved seeing the differences between UK and US expressed in a fun and comic-book-y way. The obviously American aura of the film also reminded me of Logan Lucky (who also shares a song – ‘Take Me Home, Country Roads’ and an actor – Channing Tatum with The Golden Circle). Lastly, I loved how, even though the American side of the story/ characters were introduced, the British roots were not forgotten either and remained the focus of the movie.

Speaking about those British roots, I appreciated all the commentary on honor and the right kind of masculinity that this picture had. Its attempt to say something about the drug usage, law, and innocence wasn’t bad either. The villain for this film was just as campy and just as appropriate tonally as Valentine was in/for the last one.

Directing

Matthew Vaughn was back in his element with Kingsman 2. While I have been disappointed by some of his producing efforts (Fantastic Four and Kick-Ass 2), he has never let me down, when he was in a role of the director. The action was just spectacular: highly stylized, explicit, campy, and not at all realistic but just so fun and entertaining! All the gadgets were magnificent and a great parody/homage of the 007/other spy films. The filming style (cinematography by George Richmond) – handheld and smooth rather than shaky with just the right amount of slow-mo – was highly appreciated too and so dynamic (it was so fun I could forgive some wonky CGI)! The British glamour, as well as American ruggedness, were both well realized too. The score (music by Henry Jackman and Matthew Margeson) was great as well, I especially loved the instrumental version of the already mentioned ‘Take Me Home, Country Roads’ song. The only criticism that I have for this highly entertaining live-action cartoon was the fact that it’s a bit long – over two hours. If it was chopped down to 2h, the narrative might have been tighter and the criticism would not exist.

Acting

Taron Egerton (Eddie The Eagle, Testament of Youth, Legend, Sing) was great as the lead Eggsy. He had both the coolness and the vulnerability needed for the character. Colin Firth (Magic in the Moonlight, Genius) also came back (wish that wasn’t spoiled in the trailer) – his performance seemed a bit off but his character also acted a bit off. Mark Strong had a lovely arc in the film and one of the best exists of the character I have seen in a while. Hanna Alström also came back as her character. I really did not expect her to stick around for a sequel but the filmmakers kinda took that explicit ending of the first film (and the introduction of her…character) and sort of made into a cute side plotline.

Newcomers included Channing Tatum (Logan Lucky, Hail, Caesar!, The Hateful Eight, Magic Mike XXL, Jupiter Ascending), who had some fun scenes but wasn’t in the movie much. However, the conclusion of The Golden Circle promised that we will see more of him in the 3rd picture. Pedro Pascal (The Great Wall) gave a wonderful performance too: he had the coolest weapon and an awesome death scene (on par with the one on GOT). Halle Berry (DOFP) played kinda a typical role of the behind-the-scenes/tech personnel but I’m excited to follow her journey further. Jeff Bridges (Hell or High Water) also had a very minor role in the picture. He was the only actor who just seemed to be included in order to raise the profile of the film rather than to actually have him do something cool. Lastly, Julianne Moore (Mockingjay) made for a great villain. It was so fun seeing her let loose in a role!

In short, I really enjoyed Kingsman: The Golden Circle. It was as good as The Secret Service, so if you liked the first one, the sequel should also please you. Plus, if you enjoy comic book movies that truly feel like a comic book that has come to life, Kingsman 2 is the film for you!

Rate: 4/5

Trailer: Kingsman: The Golden Circle trailer

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5 ideas about a movie: Victoria & Abdul

Movie reviews

Hello!

The British awards contender for this year – Victoria & Abdul – has premiered in its motherland/fatherland, so, let’s review it!

IMDb summary: Queen Victoria strikes up an unlikely friendship with a young Indian clerk named Abdul Karim.

  1. Victoria & Abdul was written by a playwright and a screenwriter Lee Hall, who based the script on a book by Shrabani Basu. Halls’s last produced film was 2011’s War Horse (one of Spielberg’s recent and lesser films). Victoria & Abdul tells a true-ish story of Queen Victoria and her Indian servant Abdul Karim. I’m calling this narrative ‘true-ish’ because the movie itself stated that the events depicted happened only ‘mostly’. The plot was written as a comedy and to me, as an anthropologist-to-be, this raised a question/a problem: should the British make fun of colonialism? Are they right to depict a sort of nice side of the whole affair, while leaving out a lot of uncomfortable details? In the case of this picture, should they be allowed to make light of colonialism because they also poke fun at the ridiculousness of the British royal culture? I don’t really have answers to these questions, but they certainly sprung up in my mind while watching the movie.
  2. A few specific details that were of note in the film were: 1. the commentary on the Western civilization as being one of immense caste difference (the first thing the arrivers see – beggars) and 2. the showcasing of the artificial creation of the Oriental, specifically Indian, culture to be more exciting to the Westerners (the garments and their fake authenticity). In addition, a lot of the comedy in the movie arose from the cultural differences and the way the characters reacted to them. If not digging deeper (basically not thinking about the question I raised in point 1), on a surface level, the humor was working and the jokes were funny.
  3. The last and most important part of the film was the portrayal of friendship between the queen and her servant. I thought that the screenwriter added a lot of neat details for the two individuals to bond over, like the stories from India, the learning of the language, and etc. The friendship was very believably portrayed by Judi Dench and Ali Fazal. Their performances made the movie heartwarming and very enjoyable and almost quieted the nagging issues in my mind.
  4. Stephen Frears has directed Victoria & Abdul to follow in the footsteps of his other similar films like Philomena and Florence Foster Jenkins. He has also already made a movie about a queen, be it a more current one, in 2006, called The Queen. I thought that he did a good job with this picture: the visuals were stunning and the pacing okay too.
  5. Judi Dench has already played Victoria in Mrs. Brown as well as other royal/aristocratic/historical figures in Shakespeare in LovePride & Prejudice, and even the recent Tulip Fever. She is also the current M in the 007 films (one of the best parts about them too). Her speech in the movie about being many things but insane was phenomenal. Ali Fazal has not appeared in many English-language films but I do hope that his appearance in this one will lead to more roles for him. Tim Pigott-Smith also appeared in the movie, in the last role of his career. Lastly, The Big Sick’s Adeel Akhtar played my favorite character in the film, who was both the comic relief and the voice of reason/truth in the movie. 

In short, Victoria & Abdul is a light-hearted and heartwarming true-ish tale that is both funny/entertaining and disturbing if you just think a bit more about it.

Rate: 3.25/5

Trailer: Victoria & Abdul trailer

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Movie review: Churchill

Movie reviews

Hello!

Churchill is the first of the two biographical dramas of 2017 about ‘the greatest Briton of all time’ Winston Churchill (or the second of the three if we count his appearance on Netflix’s The Crown). Let’s see how good it is!

IMDb summary: 96 hours before the World War II invasion of Normandy, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill struggles with his severe reservations with Operation Overlord and his increasingly marginalized role in the war effort.

While The Crown mostly touched upon Churchill’s second term in the office (1951-55), both biopics of this year are looking at his first term as the Prime Miniter. The second drama that’s coming around Christmas – The Darkest Hour – will look at the beginning of that term and the start of WW2 (1940-41), while Churchill explored the closing months of the said war and the D-day preparations (1944).

Writing

Churchill’s script was written by a British historian and author Alex von Tunzelmann, thus, all (or at least the majority of) historical facts in the screenplay were most likely true to life, while the film-writing specific mistakes could be explained by a lack of experience in writing scripts (she has worked on a historical TV series before but only a little bit).

The biggest flaw in the writing for Churchill, to my mind, was the fact that a plethora of brilliant ideas were introduced or hinted at but never fully explored. I loved the nods to the strained UK/US relationship (like a parent/child one or an old married couple type of one) and the brief showcasing of the Churchill/King George VI relationship that was a complex combo of professionalism and friendship. Churchill’s relationship with his wife was also on display – she was his reality check as well as the biggest supporter – and I wanted to see more of their confrontations and reconciliations.

The writing for the character of Churchill tried being complex but ended up confused. And yet, it still managed to surprise me. For one, I’ve never thought of Churchill as the leader of the ‘everyman’, who thought about the war in terms of the lives lost. I have also seen him as a very conservative leader, while this film depicted him as kinda a rebel in the eyes of the other war generals. This type of rebellious imagining also clashed with the other side of his persona – the fact that he was always seen as too old or living in the past (here the experience versus the inability to move forward debate comes up). His public vs private sides were also touched upon in the movie but were never distinguished well enough one from the other. Lastly, this film suggested that Churchill felt underappreciated for his efforts, which kinda goes against the ideas of today, where he is hailed as ‘The greatest Briton’ and statues of him are to be found in every major city in the UK (and on every corner in London, basically).

While I usually appreciate ambiguities as well as opposing ideas being presented in the motion picture, this time around, I felt that Churchill was just grasping all over the place and not only didn’t have a clear final message but didn’t even have an initial outline of what it wanted to achieve. It’s really a shame because a lot of ideas that the film introduced were ripe for exploration but were either wasted or wrongly mixed with other creative concepts.

Directing 

An Australian director Jonathan Teplitzky directed Churchill and did an okay job. I loved the opening images of the film – the signature hat in the bloody water – and thought that they were really cinematic. However, all of the following visuals really lacked grandness and felt like they belonged in a BBC TV movie or a miniseries. The lack of cinematic visuals could partially be explained by the fact that the movie’s script was very personal, more fitting to a long format analysis on the small screen. Speaking about longness, while the film itself was just around 100 minutes long and quite slowly paced, it, sadly, wasn’t always engaging to justify the slowness of the plot.

Acting

The best part of the whole film was its cast. Both Brian Cox and Miranda Richardson delivered transformational performances as Winston and Clementine Churchill. Cox brought vulnerability as well as a stubbornness to the performance, while Richardson was the perfect embodiment of the female strength.

Ella Purnell played Churchill’s secretary Helen Garret. Her role in the film really reminded me of another Churchill’s secretary character of Venetia Scott, played by Kate Phillips in The Crown. King George VI was played by James Purefoy. His character is probably one of the most recognizable movie characters of the British monarchy because of the slight stutter, explored in The King’s Speech.

In short, Churchill was an okay biopic that deserved a clearer and more concise writing and should have had more cinematic qualities in its visuals.

Rate: 3/5

Trailer: Churchill trailer

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Movie review: King Arthur: Legend of the Sword 

Movie reviews

Hello!

I’m still playing catch up with the summer movies, so let’s review a picture that some people (small numbers of them as it tanked at the box office) saw last month. It’s King Arthur: The Legend of the Sword.

IMDb summary: Robbed of his birthright, Arthur comes up the hard way in the back alleys of the city. But once he pulls the sword from the stone, he is forced to acknowledge his true legacy – whether he likes it or not.

A few general thoughts on the background of the movie: 1. I’m actually a fan of the 2004’s version of King Arthur. It used to be one of my favorite nonanimated childhood movies and the archery sequence on the lake combined with Lord of the Rings: Two Towers final battle were two reasons why I took up archery. 2. While the trailers for the film looked fine, I never expected it to succeed at the box office or to turn a big profit. Neither the two leads are big box office draws, nor is the mythology that the film is based on a hot property. So, bearing that in mind, who, the hell, approved a $175 million budget for this picture?

Writing

2017’s King Arthur’s screenplay was credited to the director Guy Ritchie, producer of HP films Lionel Wigram, and, the writer of the new Robin Hood and The Flash movies, Joby Harold. The Judge’s director David Dobkin contributed to the story as well. In general, the writing was of mixed quality. I thought that the narrative (broadly speaking) was fairly straightforward (an hour of Arthur being called into action, and another hour of him attempting to defeat Jude Law’s character), however, the details within the story were really convoluted and even confused (there was too much happening at once).

Thematically, the concepts of egoism and power were suitably touched upon. The ending teases of the round table and all the knights were also pleasant. Other than that, since I don’t know much of King Arthur mythology from the legends, I can’t comment on the stuff they did or didn’t use.

The script also made a lot of interesting choices with the characters. For example, Arthur was written as a witty, talkative and borderline cocky individual – all these ideas are in opposition to the Arthur I’ve alway imagined – serious, reserved, yet quietly proud (basically, the 2004’s movie’s version). Still, overall, I was quite pleased with a different take on a character. I have also seen a lot of complaints online about the female characters of this film, mostly the lack of them. I can definitely see where these people are coming from – a few female characters that are introduced are either sacrificed, portrayed as obese or sexualized tentacled mermaids or are used for decoration purposes. And yet, the main mage character was also a female and she did shine in the movie and displayed her powers (really vaguely defined ones) in a spectacular fashion. The informant female character did not have much to do but at least she was present. Hers and Jude Law’s characters interactions were actually quite neat.

Directing, Editing and the Soundtrack

The Man from U.N.C.L.E.’s and RDJ’s Sherlock Holmes’s director Guy Ritchie helmed King Arthur and did an okay job. The high fantasy medieval setting (which I’m a fan of) was realized quite well (I’m a sucker for the combination of good historical costumes, sword fights, archery, and magic). The epic scope of the film was also worthy of praise. However, the mediocre CGI was quite infuriating, especially in the movie that cost this much to produce. The action scenes – filmed in a video game-like close-ups and slow motion – could have been better too.

The elements of the film, which are the most discussion worthy, were editing and sound design/mixing. The soundtrack on its own (by Daniel Pemberton) was really good and it was, at times, inventively paired with the visuals. However, some combos of image and music did not work. However, even in the bad combos, the song choices weren’t as unfitting as they were in Suicide Squad. A lot of these combination sequences were edited in a music video style – a lot of jump cuts, short snippets of dialogue, and a fast pace. On their own, these sequences seemed quite unique and entertaining (their explosive energy was amazing). However, when these quick sequences were followed by long, drawn-out scenes of people sitting and talking, the final effect turned out to be quite jarring and the whole film – uneven.

 

Acting

  • The two leads of the film were played by Sons of Anarchy’s Charlie Hunnam and Jude Law. I really liked Hunnam in the titular role and would love to see him getting more cinematic roles but I doubt that that will happen, due to the poor box office of this picture. He previously played the lead in the Pacific Rim and a supporting part in Crimson Peak. The Lost City of Z is his other 2017 release. Jude Law’s (The Grand Budapest Hotel, Genius, Anna Karenina) performance, to my mind, was the best part of this film. He looked good (his armor was basically the silver version of Dominic Cooper’s armor in Warcraft) and he seemed menacing. In the final battle, I would have rather seen him fighting in the said armor rather than a generic CGI monster (his evil form). I also thought that the announcement of Law as the Young Dumbledore in Fantastic Beasts sequel will give this movie a boost and some free promo but it doesn’t seem like the said casting news helped much or at all.
  • The two female characters were played by theFrenchh-Spanish actress Àstrid Bergès-Frisbey from Pirates 4 and by The Mummy’s Annabelle Wallis. I really enjoyed the cool and collected performance of Bergès-Frisbey.
  • King Arthur also employed the talents of two GOT actors that can’t seem to espace the middle ages – Aidan Gillen (Baelish) and Michael McElhatton (Bolton). Gillen (who was also recently in Sing Street) did a good job and I could see shades of Baelish in his performance, while McElhatton’s role was just slightly bigger than a cameo.
  • Another two actors, whose involvememnt is worthy of mention, were Djimon Hounsou (Guardians, The Legend of Tarzan) and Eric Bana (The Finest Hours). They both did a fine job with their limited screeentime.

In short, King Arthur: The Legend of the Sword was, to my mind, not as bad as everyone said. The filmmakers made some weird choices with the editing and music (at least they tried something different) and did overcomplicate the plot which lacked (sort of) female characters, and yet, I was still pretty entertained by the final product.

Rate: 3.5/5

Trailer: King Arthur: The Legend of the Sword

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