5 ideas about a movie: Downsizing

Movie reviews

Hello!

Welcome to January – the month of great awards movies and awful mainstream ones. I don’t know how many reviews of the latter I’m going to be posting but you can be sure that the awards’ film reviews will be plentiful. For example, you are reading one now – this is Downsizing.

IMDb summary: A social satire in which a man realizes he would have a better life if he were to shrink himself to five inches tall, allowing him to live in wealth and splendor.

  1. Downsizing was written and directed by Alexander Payne (of The Descendants and Nebraska). Payne’s long-time collaborator Jim Taylor was also credited as a writer and a producer. To begin with, I thought that these two filmmakers had a genius premise for a movie. I haven’t really seen a social satire that tackled overpopulation as the main problem and definitely haven’t seen a film that had such a cheeky yet somehow believable solution to the problem. The opening sequence of the film was really good – it effectively set up the idea of downsizing as well as it global outreach – I instantly started to believe in the world of the movie. Then, the picture flashed to its main character and that’s where the problems started to arise.
  2. While I don’t necessarily think that the main character was bad, I do strongly believe that the story of the main character was too simplistic (for such an incredible premise, the narrative should have been more unique too). The wife’s decision to leave the husband was such a cliche way to create conflict. The fact that the movie started with one love story and ended with another was not the best decision either because by focusing so much on the romance, Downsizing forgot to explore a multitude of concepts that it introduced.  I wanted less predictability and more time spent on the economic, political, and social implications of downsizing; the abuse of the new technology (cause there always is a darker side behind a shiny billboard), and just the problem of overpopulation itself.
  3. Alexander Payne did a good job directing Downsizing. He realized the world of the story well and visually blended the small and the big worlds almost seamlessly (those visuals had a surrealist feeling to them which was interesting). In addition, Downsizing was billed as a comedy, and, while there were certainly some chucklesome moments, the film definitely wasn’t a laugh-out-loud type of a comedy. My favorite visual (as well as narrative) sequence was the prep for and the actual procedure of downsizing. As I’ve mentioned in the previous part, I wanted to see more of it rather than the love story.
  4. Matt Damon (The Martian, Jason Bourne, The Great Wall) played the lead and was good, but I don’t think that this role will result in any awards’ nominations let alone wins (it’s zero for two for Damon this season as Suburbicon was panned by the critics). Christoph Waltz (Tarzan, Spectre, Tulip Fever) was fun to watch as he was playing an eccentric and creepy character – one straight out of Waltz’s wheelhouse. Kristen Wiig (mother!, Ghostbusters) and Jason Sudeikis had very minor roles but they were great in those and proved to me that I definitely prefer seeing these two actors in more dramatic roles rather in their full-on comedic ones.
  5. The stand-out from the cast, who deservedly is getting all the awards’ recognition for this film was Hong Chau. While her character first appeared to be a comedic stereotype (mostly because of the broken English aspect), she was so much more than that. Chau’s performance was compelling and emotional, innocent yet sophisticated. I’d love to see her winning an Oscar as well as getting more opportunities in Hollywood (she has previously appeared on Big Little Lies and in the picture Inherent Vice).

In short, Downsizing wastes an amazingly original concept on a predictable love story. The cast is good overall but the standout is definitely Hong Chau.

Rate: 3.5/5

Trailer: Downsizing trailer

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Movie review: Tulip Fever

Movie reviews

Hello!

After being pushed back a few years, Tulip Fever has finally reached theaters! Does it have any Oscar potential as its cast list suggests?

IMDb summary: An artist falls for a young married woman while he’s commissioned to paint her portrait during the Tulip mania of 17th century Amsterdam.

Writing

Tulip Fever was written by a playwright and occasional screenwriter Tom Stoppard. His most recent previous film script was the one for 2012’s Anna Karenina. The film’s story and the writing, in general, started out promising but quickly wasted all the said promise. The opening, which set the context of the tulip market and the 17th Amsterdam, as well as the initial details of the actual plot, was quite interesting. However, the more the narrative unraveled, the more unbelievable it became. The ending was especially unsatisfying because the movie didn’t commit to going the full on fantasy route and having a fairytale ending but also wasn’t grounded enough for a realistic conclusion, so it just had one that landed somewhere in the middle. All the characters in the picture were way too interconnected and the twists and turns in the story were mostly lucky coincidences. The drama and the emotional core felt really fake and manufactured as well. Basically, Tulip Fever felt as an old school literary adaptation, which it was exactly: a contemporary yet classical historical romance novel (by Deborah Moggach) with typical yet modernized characters that was turned into a film.

While the final product did not turn out well, as I have said, the promise was there in the details. It was really interesting to see the love and the lack of love juxtaposed through sex scenes. I also liked the exploration of the women’s roles in a patriarchal system and how cunning they had to be to survive, and yet, how they also felt bounded by their duty (Vikander’s character was never entirely sure about her actions) I also appreciated the portrayal of Christoph Waltz’s character – a clueless man, living in privilege, and not even understanding his privilege yet not being malevolent about it. I also liked the hints at the concept of friendship and the hardships it has to endure when spanning multiple caste levels. Lastly, I was really glad to see a historical drama focusing not on The British Empire but on the player that preceded it in the world domination – Holland/The Netherlands.

Directing

Justin Chadwick, who has received some recognition a few years back for Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom, directed Tulip Fever and did a fabulous job with a flawed script. While he went along with the over the top dramatization of the story, nothing bad can be said about his visuals. Tulip Fever was a gorgeous looking movie, with beautiful and rich shots, full of textures and colors. The costume department should also get a raise because their spectacular collars contributed a lot to the magnificence of the look and helped prove the point that Holland was a powerful country. The artistic close-ups of Vikander reminded me of a fashion film or a high-end makeup ad too. If a movie career doesn’t work out for Chadwick, he should check out the advertising business.

Acting

Tulip Fever had a stellar cast, full of Academy favorites, old (Judi Dench, Christoph Waltz) and new (Alicia Vikander). Vikander (The Man From U.N.C.L.E., The Danish Girl, Jason Bourne, The Testament of Youth, Anna Karenina) did a fabulous job and she and Waltz (Spectre, Tarzan) made an interesting pair. Their more formal scenes had a feeling of warmness and respect, while their more intimate scenes felt very uncomfortable (which was the goal). In turn, Vikander’s and Dane Deehan’s (Valerian) scenes felt realistically intimate (sexier than Fifty Shades, though, that’s a low bar to be aiming for). BTW, I bought Deehan much more as a struggling lovesick artist than an action hero.

Judi Dench had a fun, although highly fictional role, in the film. Jack O’Connell (Unbroken, Money Monster)and Holiday Grainger (Cinderella, The Finest Hours) delivered neat and likable performances (Grainger’s voice fit the role of the narrator very well). Glee’s Matthew Morrison, Tom Hollander (MI5, The Promise), and model-turned-actress Cara Delevigne (Paper Towns, Suicide Squad, Valerian) also appeared. Lastly, Zach Galifianakis (The Lego Batman) played his typical role, that wasn’t necessary for the movie at all.

In short, Tulip Fever was a beautiful looking but a poorly written picture that had some stellar and wasted acting performances too.

Rate: 3/5

Trailer: Tulip Fever trailer

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Movie review: The Legend of Tarzan

Movie reviews

Hello!

The final live-action fairytale of the summer of 2016 – The Legend of Tarzan – has finally hit theaters, so let’s talk about it.

IMDb summary: Tarzan, having acclimated to life in London, is called back to his former home in the jungle to investigate the activities at a mining encampment.

When I was younger, I would always mix up Tarzan and Mowgli (although they are quite different if you think about it – Mowgli is the weaker one that ultimately chooses to live with the humans, while Tarzan is very strong and, being the king of the jungle, he stays to live in the jungle). This year, both of these characters appeared on the silver screen in a live-action, though in very different forms. The Jungle Book was a very child-friendly film, while The Legend of Tarzan was significantly more adult. In general, Mowgli is usually portrayed as a child, while Tarzan normally appears as an adult, so I do think that the 2016’s cinematic interpretations of the characters were appropriate.

The animated Tarzan movie from 1999 was/is one of my favorites. The opening montage set to Phil Collins’s Two Worlds is magnificent. In general, the whole soundtrack of the film is superb. The sequence, where Jane and Tarzan first meet, is beautiful and emotional. The scene, in which the gorillas are improvising and singing, is super funny and my kind of comedic relief. Overall, this particular animated film (like many others) manages to portray a range of human values and vices realistically and believably.

In addition to loving the animated picture during my childhood, I also used to play a Tarzan video game, where I had to jump around and pick bananas or something, so the character of Tarzan is very near and dear to my heart, because of that childhood connection.

So, I have given you some context and my general thoughts on Tarzan, but now let’s see if Warner Bros have finally managed to launch a successful live-action fairytale after crashing and burning with Pan. The critics were really harsh on this film, which, to my mind, was highly unnecessary.

!SPOILER ALERT!

Writing

The Legend of Tarzan was written by Adam Cozad and Craig Brewer – two quite unknown screenwriters. I really hope that they get a career boost because of this film because I really liked what they did with the script. It was partially based on various stories by the original creator of the character Edgar Rice.

To begin with, the idea to tie in the story of Tarzan with real historical facts was brilliant. The 19th-century setting and all the ideas about colonialism, slavery, the diamond and ivory business and the wars between tribes (there are actually lots of people who live in the jungle) made the movie more topical and much more serious. I also appreciated the fact that the writers sincerely asked the question what would happen if a person grew up outside of civilization. They treated the story in a realistic and respectful way and, although the movie was a bit dark, it was dark for a reason. I complained about the dark tone of BvS because I felt that it was dark just to be dark, while a more solemn tone of Tarzan was actually justified.

I also really enjoyed the writing for each of the characters. The attention to details and all the flashbacks really gave the characters some needed depth in a clear manner. We saw Tarzan’s parents dying in the jungle, we got glimpses of his life with the apes, we saw his first meeting with Jane and how he left the apes to live with the tribe. The detail about Tarzan’s hands whose bone structure has changed was also a nice touch. I also liked the fact that we saw Tarzan or John Clayton III in England. He was an educated and intelligent person – a complex character who was dealing with his human and animal sides like all of us – and not just someone who happened to grow up in a jungle. The backstory, involving the killed son and a lack of honor were also sophisticated and exceptional ideas. Jane’s backstory was also great – I liked the idea that she grew up near a tribe and didn’t just come to Africa as an adult. I also liked that they did not make her a damsel in distress. She did actually manage to escape from her captors but chose to come back so as to save the animals. Samuel L.Jackson’s character’s backstory with the civil war and the extension of the races were also interesting. Lastly, the writing for the villain played by Waltz was amazing (definitely better than writing for Waltz’s previous villain in Spectre). Rom’s weapon of choice – the cross necklace – was so unique. The little detail, like the shot where he was rearranging the knife and the fork, after Jane has finished eating, also showed his pendantic side in a perfect way.

Other little details of the narrative that I welcomed were the portrayal of the elephants as gentle, wise, and alsmost god-like creatures, like in many stories (e.g. The Jungle Book) and the usage of a different language to show the communication inside the tribe. The scenes were the members of the tribe were singing the traditional songs and dancing their folk dances were also excellent. It was also interesting to see more of the life in the jungle – how the different tribes interact and how some of them are hostile as well as how the people of the jungle are also killing animals like their western counterparts. Nevertheless, as per usual, the European colonialists (civilized savages) were the real bad guys of the film and deservedly so. Just look at history. If you don’t like to read history books, I suggest you check out a few novel about colonial Africa. Any book or novella by Joseph Conrad will give you a European perspective but if want to see how the natives felt about the invasion, read Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe.

Lastly, I loved the film’s ending. The birth of Tarzan’s and Jane’s baby was not only a nice callback to the beginning of the film, where they were mourning their dead child, but also a hopeful way to end the picture. I hope that WB will actually make a sequel, just maybe with a smaller budget – The Legend of Tarzan cost $180 million to make.

Directing

The Legend of Tarzan was directed by David Yates, who did the last 4 Harry Potter films and is also directing Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, coming out later this year. I thought that he did an excellent job with Tarzan. Firstly, the wide shots of nature, including the opening shot of the mountains in the fog, were absolutely beautiful and magnificent. In addition, all of the close-ups of the character’s faces and eyes were framed really neatly. The CGI of the animals was also amazing – realistic and detailed. The only CGI effect that wasn’t that great was the shot with the young Tarzan and Jane. It looked a bit fake. Nevertheless, all of the action scenes were exciting: my favorite ones were Tarzan swinging on the branches and lianas and the train fight sequence, which kinda reminded me of a similar scene in Snowpiercer. The 3rd act’s action piece with the running animals was also reminiscent of Spanish Corrida or running with the bulls/bullfighting. The film’s soundtrack by Rupert Gregson-Williams was good as well, especially the end credits song by Hozier.

Acting

  • Alexander Skarsgård as Tarzan / John Clayton III was astounding in the role. He was great in the action scenes as well as in the slower shots with the close-ups. His sad brooding face was awesome too. Skarsgård is mostly known for his small screen work – the TV series True Blood. He has had a few supporting roles in indie and small-budget films but hasn’t had any big screen hits yet. I hope that Tarzan is his game-changing role.
  • Margot Robbie as Jane Porter Clayton was really good as well. She even kinda sounded like Minnie Drive (the actress who voiced Jane in the animated picture). Robbie’s career is on fire right now. Since starring in the Wolf of Wall Street, Robbie appeared in well-received movies like Z for Zachariah, Focus and Whiskey Tango Foxtrot. She also had the Suicide Squad film coming up next month.
  • Samuel L. Jackson as George Washington Williams was also good. His reaction face was priceless, especially in the scene where Tarzan was greeting the tigers. I have no idea how does Samuel L. Jackson has time to appear in at least 3 films per year. I reviewed 3 of his movies from last year: Kingsman, Age of Ultron and The Hateful Eight. Later this year, he will be in Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children.
  • Christoph Waltz as Captain Léon Rom was a good villain. Waltz will probably always play a villain, I just wish that sometimes, a writing for his character would be better. Since his character in Tarzan had good writing, Waltz actually could do something interesting with it. However, I don’t think that he will ever be able to top up his Inglourious Basterds performances. Next year, Waltz will appear in Tulip Fever. 
  • Djimon Hounsou as Chief Mbonga was okay as well. The close-up of his face during the fight and that single tear in his eye and on his cheek made for a beautiful picture. Hounsou has appeared in movies like GladiatorGuardians of the Galaxy and Furious 7. He will also star in King Arthur: Legend of the Sword next year. 

To conclude, The Legend of Tarzan was probably my favorite live-action fairytale of this summer. It had a great narrative, good effects and exciting action and great acting. Don’t really see why the critics are destroying this film in their reviews.

Rate: 4/5

Trailer: The Legend of Tarzan trailer

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Movie review: Spectre + a look back

Movie reviews

Hello!!!

The latest (24th!) James Bond film – Spectre – has finally hit theaters in its native UK and this is going to be my review!!

To begin with, as some of you may know, James Bond franchise is one of 2 spy/agent/espionage film series that I adore (other being Mission Impossible). And while MI films only had one interpretation of Ethan Hunt, James Bond has been played by a huge variety of actors and all fans have their favorite one. Mine is Daniel Craig’s Bond, just because it is the one that I’m most familiar with and that I actually grew up watching. In truth, I have seen one or two Pierce Brosnan’s Bond films on TV as a child, but they weren’t that good while Craig’s first outing as Bond in 2006’s Casino Royale was amazing. I would also love to check out the earliest editions of Bond and read the original novels by Ian Fleming someday.

Let’s go over the 3 previous films in a franchise, before moving on to talking about Spectre!

SPOILER WARNING

Casino Royale (2006)

Casino Royale is one of my favorite movies ever made. I still cannot believe that Martin Campbell directed it and did such an amazing job and then moved on to making Green Lantern. Casino Royale was the origin story of 007 and it had amazing action (the parkour chase) and wonderful suspense (the best poker scene ever put to film – made me want to learn poker). It also had amazing callbacks to the lore of Bond: the ordering of Martini, the iconic line to end the film and so forth. It was also the film that pushed the boundaries of violence – the torture/whipping scene was something that I have never seen before. It was really uncomfortable to watch but you could not take your eyes off the screen at the same time. This film also had the best Bond girl  – Vesper played by Eva Green. Vesper was resourceful and strong female character, who also had femininity and softness to her. She was just an overall great, well-developed character. It sad that she had to die for 007 to become the real Bond.

Quantum of Solace (2008)

This sequel to the majority of fans was a bit of a disappointment and I have to agree with them. While I really liked how this film based its story on the things that happened in the first film, it wasn’t up to par with its predecessor on any level.The plot was really messy and hard to follow. Quantum was directed by Marc Forster, who later made World War Z, which a lot of people hated while I kinda liked it.

Skyfall (2012)

Skyfall was the big comeback of this series as well as the commemorative film of Bond’s 50th anniversary. While Casino Royale was the origins of Bond and the Quantum of Solace was the Bond-y Bond, Skyfall was all about the broken Bond. It was great seeing a different side of the character as well as being able to glimpse into his past and his family – a theme which will be very important in Spectre. In addition, this film allowed us to spend more time with Judi Dench’s M and introduced 2 great new characters: Ralph Fiennes’s Mallory and Ben Whishaw’s Q. Lastly, as a new inhabitant of Scotland, I really appreciated the setting of the last part of the film, when I’ve re-watched it only recently: Welcome to Scotland!

Overall, this franchise has great acting and really good villains – in the first and third films to be precise. It also is an internationally set franchise which is always a plus for me. It also has a great soundtrack: my favorite theme song (not counting the original James Bond theme song) is still Adele’s Skyfall, but I do like Sam Smith’s Writing’s on the Wall as well. Chris Cornell’s You Know My Name and Jack White’s and Alicia Keys’s Another Way to Die are also great songs, worth the listen.

SPOILER WARNING FOR SPECTRE

IMDb summary: A cryptic message from Bond’s past sends him on a trail to uncover a sinister organization. While M battles political forces to keep the secret service alive, Bond peels back the layers of deceit to reveal the terrible truth behind SPECTRE.

Overall, I’ve definitely enjoyed Spectre but not as much as I thought I would. Casino Royale is still the best Bond movie, to my mind, and, sadly, Spectre is not as enjoyable as Skyfall. Quantum of Solace, not surprisingly, takes the last place on the list.

Opening credits

Spectre had my favorite opening credits of the last 4 Bond films. Skyfall had amazing opening as well, but this one had even a better one. I loved how they started with the theme of fire and then played off of the Spectre’s logo – the octopus. I also really enjoyed the references to the previous films (or at least to 1st and 3rd films – everybody wants to forget Quantum): images of Vesper, M, Le Chiffre and Silva appeared in a breaking glass.

Tone

Spectre was probably the funniest Craig’s Bond film. It had a lot of laugh out loud moments and these were set up not only by dialogue punch lines but by action scenes. For example, I loved how Bond fell onto the sofa after that building crashed at the beginning of the film. At the same time, this movie was really dark and conveyed emotions like hopelessness and loneliness perfectly.

Story

The film’s script was written by a group of people: John Logan, Neal Purvis, Robert Wade, Jez Butterworth. All of them, except Butterworth, have previously worked on other Bond films. Logan has been nominated for an Oscar for writing Gladiator, The Aviator, and Hugo. Purvis and Wade have worked on other films together and Butterworth wrote Edge of Tomorrow and this year’s Black Mass. All of these accomplished writers did an okay job, however, I believe that they could have refined the story a bit more. A few supporting characters could have fared better with some more development and the plot could have made more sense: at times it felt that Bond was going from point A to B to C for no reason. Nevertheless, I really enjoyed the dialogue of the film, which was brought to life by amazing performances from the whole cast. The way Spectre’s story tied the whole series together is also worth praising. The theme of modernity versus tradition was an interesting idea to introduce into the Bond franchise as well. Lastly, I do not know about you, but I would definitely not feel safe if I am constantly being watched.

Directing

Skyfall’s Sam Mendes returned as a director for Spectre. He did an amazing job in 2012 and did not disappoint this year as well. I loved the opening crowd chase scene in Mexico as well as the car chase in Rome. I also liked how the ending of the film was set in Bond’s home – London. It was nice seeing the old MI6 base. Speaking about Mendes’s other films, I really want to watch American Beauty, which earned him an Academy Award for best director.

In addition, not only the action scenes were exciting, but the whole film was visually appealing, glamorous, luxurious and elegant. Praises for this go to cinematographer Hoyte van Hoytema.

Acting

  • Daniel Craig as James Bond, agent 007. This was Craig’s 4th time playing Bond and it was yet again a different side of Bond. If Skyfall showed us a physically broken Bond, Spectre gave us an emotionally damaged one. It also showed that even though he is a stone cold assassin, he would like to change his way and find his ‘happy ending’. I’m sure that that ‘ happy ending’ won’t last long since Craig’s contract states that he has one more movie left (at least according to the Internet). However, there has been some rumors that Craig will refuse to play Bond moving forward, so I guess we will see what happens.
  • Christoph Waltz as Ernst Stavro Blofeld was a good villain, who could have been great if we just have spent more time with him. I believe that it was a wasted opportunity not to put more of C. Waltz in the film because he is amazing in villainous roles. Just watch Inglorious Basterds if you don’t believe me. Check out Django Unchained as well if you want to marvel at how great of an actor Waltz is.
  • Léa Seydoux as Dr. Madeleine Swann. Finally, a Bond girl (well, not really) who challenges Bond and who was actually as good as Vesper! I loved her character and would have wanted to spend more time with her as well. Seydoux is an accomplished French actress with films like the aforementioned Inglorious Basterds, Midnight in Paris, Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol, Blue is the Warmest Color and The Grand Budapest Hotel on her resume.
  • Ben Whishaw as Q. I loved how Q’s abilities were crucial to the plot of Spectre and I, once again, wish that we could have spent more time with him. I have talked more about him in my Suffragette review.
  • Naomie Harris as Eve Moneypenny. I quite liked the brother-sister relationship that she and Bond have. However, her character was kinda wasted in this film – it is a shame that they didn’t give more things for her to do.
  • Monica Bellucci as Lucia Sciarra. I have always been skeptical about Bellucci as an actress and never really paid any attention to her. However, she was perfectly fine in this film as the sex toy-Bond Girl. You see there are different types of Bond girls and she played the most stereotypical one.
  • Ralph Fiennes as Gareth Mallory aka the new M. As much as I like Fiennes as an actor, my favorite M will always be Judi Dench. Having said that, Fiennes did a nice job in the role and I did love his serious facial expression.
  • Andrew Scott as Max Denbigh – C. He was a really unlikable character even before it was revealed that he was working for Spectre. You could sense his douchebagness from miles away, so the twist was not that surprising.
  • Jesper Christensen came back as Mr. White and I really liked the fact that his comeback was meaningful and not just a random cameo to please the fans.
  • Dave Bautista as Mr. Hinx – the assassin of Spectre. He was not really developed as a character but, not surprisingly, did an amazing job in the fight/action scenes as in Guardians of the Galaxy.
  • Lastly, it turns out that a Lithuanian actor (I’m Lithuanian also) Gediminas Adomaitis, who I have never heard before, was one of Oberhauser’s Right Hand Man, according to IMDb. That’s pretty cool.

All in all, Spectre was definitely an enjoyable film, however, it could have been and should have been so much better. I don’t know whether my expectations were too high and that’s why I am so harsh on this film. Still, I firmly believe that the film’s script was its weakest part. While I loved the tone and the dialogue, the plot could have used another revision. Nevertheless, the acting and the visuals, both in the opening and in the actual film, were splendid.

Rate: 3.5/5

Trailer: Spectre trailer

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