Movie review: The Lego Ninjango Movie

Movie reviews

Hello!

Welcome to a review of the 3rd Lego movie and the 2nd one this year. This is The Lego Ninjago Movie!

IMDb summary: Shunned by everyone for being the son of an evil warlord, a teenager seeks to defeat him with the help of his fellow ninjas.

To begin with, I really loved the 2014’s original The Lego Movie and adored the 2017’s The Lego Batman Movie as both a continuation of the Lego franchise and as a parody of the comic book movie/the superhero genre. The Lego Ninjago Movie seemed like a cool expansion of the Lego cinematic series though I didn’t know anything about the Lego ninja sub-brand. Also, I had no idea why they chose to release it this year, so close to The Lego Batman.

Writing

The Lego Ninjago Movie was written by a bunch of screenwriters, way more than it should have had. The two directors Bob Logan and Paul Fisher, and the writers William Wheeler, Tom Wheeler, Jared Stern, and John Whittington. Additionally, the story credits went to Hilary Winston, Dan Hageman, and Kevin Hageman. This just seems excessive: why would not that original children’s movie need 10 writers????

Speaking about that lack of originality: The Lego Ninjago Movie was super similar to The Lego Movie. And while we applauded its originality in 2014, 3 years later and a second-time around, the same ideas just don’t seem that fresh. This film had the same type of a framing device – real-world/live-action set-up which enveloped the lego story. The message – one about encouraging the imagination, play, and the storytelling during childhood – also stayed the same but I can’t really fault it because of how positive even if repetitive it is.

Speaking about the Lego part of the narrative: it was fine but nothing new. The plot focused on the child of a villain (Disney’s Descendants?) and dealt with his experiences as a high schooler (any teen movie ever?) who has a secret superhero life (Big Hero 6?). The ninja characters, in general, seemed to have been inspired by Transformers, Power Rangers, Pacific Rim, and Ironman. I’m guessing that a lot of Japanese/samurai movies were also consulted (and their clips included in the actual film). The elemental powers were cute but old. Lastly, the whole father-son thing was very Star Wars.

The humor of the film wasn’t bad but, at times, it did feel like the movie was trying too hard to be hip and cool (and the kids are cynical these days). That ultimate weapon reveal was super dumb but still hilarious, though.

Directing

The Lego Ninjago Movie had three directors: Charlie Bean, Paul Fisher, and Bob Logan – all long time animators but new to directing.  Speaking about that part of the film which they were best at – the animation was spectacular. This animation style still amazes me and I applaud all the animators for achieving the visuals that I haven’t thought possible just a few years back. The pacing was good too, stuff was always happening for the most part and the movie’s runtime wasn’t stretched out for no reason. Also, this quick pace kinda gave a movie a video game-esque feeling, which was good. There were a lot of dances and songs included too, similarly to the other two Lego films. However, The Lego Ninjago Movie differed from its predecessors in one aspect: it actually did feel like a commercial for the Lego toys way much more than the others did. I know that both The Lego Movie and The Lego Batman Movie were ads for Lego too but at least they were not as obvious about it and had something extra (like the originality or the references) to embellish the ad. The Lego Ninjago Movie lacked that extra.

Voice work

The Lego Ninjago Movie assembled quite a stellar voice cast. Of course, one cannot make a ninja movie without Jackie Chan, so he both voiced a character and appeared on screen (I kinda think that he is still appealing to kids, while the adults don’t care much for him anymore). Dave Franco (Nerve, Now You See Me) and Justin Theroux (The Girl on The Train) voiced the son and the father and were fun to listen to. Silicon Valley’s Kumail Nanjiani (The Big Sick) and Zach Woods played the child-friendly version of their characters from the HBO show. Michael Peña (Ant-Man, The Martian, Collateral Beauty), Abbi JacobsonFred Armisen, and Olivia Munn (X-Men) rounded out the cast and delivered good aural performances too.

In short, The Lego Ninjago Movie was an okay addition to the Lego movie franchise. It mostly just rehashed the same stuff and didn’t add anything new but was still entertaining and enjoyable.

Rate: 3.2/5

Trailer: The Lego Ninjago Movie trailer

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5 ideas about a movie: The Mountain Between Us

Movie reviews

Hello!

A counterprogramming drama that dared to go against Blade Runner 2049. This is the review of The Mountain Between Us.

IMDb summary: Stranded after a tragic plane crash, two strangers must forge a connection to survive the extreme elements of a remote snow-covered mountain.

  1. The Mountain Between Us was written by Chris Weitz (the writer of Cinderella and Rogue One) and J. Mills Goodloe (the writer of Everything, Everything, The Age of Adaline, The Best of Me), based on the novel of the same name by Charles Martin. The Palestinian/Dutch director Hany Abu-Assad directed the film. While his non-English projects have been well received and even gotten a few Academy Awards nominations, his latest English language project will definitely not reach that level of success.
  2. The Mountain Between Us could be briefly described as Sully + Everest + any generic romantic drama from the last century. As you can probably tell, that last part (the romance) was the thing that I had the most problems with. I really thought that the whole romantic aspect of the movie was extremely forced. I did not buy the two characters as lovers. There is such thing as getting closer when facing a crisis and then there is just bad writing. The strangers to dislike to love arc did not work at all.
  3. I also didn’t particularly appreciate the very traditional archetypes for characters based on their gender. Of course, the female of the two had to be the more emotional one (an old-school damsel in distress), while the man could be rational/logical. Also, the driving factor for the woman had to be family/love/marriage, while the male character would focus on his career more. Having said that, if you are gonna make your character into a doctor (what a lucky coincidence for the plot), I can at least applaud you for picking the specialization that I wanted to practice – neurology.
  4. Structurally, the picture was fine. The opening set-up was efficient and quick even if a bit far-fetched. However, the drawn-out conclusion felt unnecessary and like an afterthought. Visually, the film did look good, mostly because of the gorgeous mountainous settings. However, some of the accidents on the mountain, like the characters falling, seemed rather fake – problems with CGI? Lastly, the inclusion of the dog into the story did nothing for me, as not an animal lover, but I’m sure that it was a positive factor for a lot of moviegoers.
  5. The two leads of the movie were played by Idris Elba (The Dark Tower, Star Trek Beyond, Bastille Day, Beasts of No Nation) and Kate Winslet (Collateral Beauty, Triple 9, Steve Jobs, Insurgent). Their performances were satisfying, cause the both of the actors are professionals, but nothing extraordinary. Also, I feel like their performances were not as good so as to carry the whole movie, which was exactly what they had to do.

In short, The Mountain Between Us was a confused survival/romance drama that felt really dated. A definitely skippable (at the cinema) movie, though it would probably work as a rental.

Rate: 2.7/5

Trailer: The Mountain Between Us trailer

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5 ideas about a movie: Detroit

Movie reviews

Hello!

The race issue has always been a prominent theme for the awards’ season. Nowadays, this problem has re-established itself as a contemporary issue and, with the street riots and the public displays of violence back in the news, Kathryn Bigelow’s cinematic return – Detroit – is more topical than ever.

IMDb summary: Fact-based drama set during the 1967 Detroit riots in which a group of rogue police officers responds to a complaint with retribution rather than justice on their minds.

  1. Detroit was written (and produced) by Mark Boal, who has also written Bigelow’s two previous features. The script was based on real events, while the characters were also inspired by real people. The film opened with a 2D animated sequence, which gave a brief history of the larger issue. However, the picture itself focused on the specific events in Detroit and on a group of people, in various positions, who got caught up in the event. This limited focus helped to go deep into the matter, while the inclusion of a wide variety of characters presented multiple sides of it. The film didn’t paint one said as inherently bad or good. Both of them seem to be operating in a gray area. For one, not all the police officers were abusive. Similarly, not all the rioters were actually fighting for anyone’s rights – they just looted and spread chaos for the sake of it.
  2. I really appreciated the human perspective on the riots, meaning that the personal lives of the characters took the front seat, while the riots were only the background setting. These two layers came together in the middle of the film, for the main sequence in the hotel, which was really hard to watch because of the blatant police brutality as well as stupidity (e.g. not even knowing how intimidation tactics work). One of the most despicable moments in the picture was a police officer tampering with the crime scene to spin the story in a positive light for him. It was also interesting to see how those police officers weren’t necessarily painted as racist but just simply awful people in general.
  3. It was also fascinating to see the differences in the portrayal of the local vs the state police vs the national guard and made me question the training and the background checks of the lowest tier of the police officers. There were some policeman in the film (from all levels) who actually attempted to help the people and I wish that there was maybe more of that type of representation for a more balanced view to be formed (unless there weren’t actually many police officers helping IRL instead of doing the damage). And the damage has been done in excess: by taking lives or ruining them; by making incorrect assumptions; by painting the innocent as the enemy because of their skin color; and by distorting and perverting justice. The ending of Detroit drove home the point that, while life goes on, the consequences – both physical and psychological scars – remain.
  4. Although Kathryn Bigelow hasn’t made a movie since 2012’s Zero Dark Thirty (and 2008’s The Hurt Locker before that), she has not lost an ounce of her style. Detroit’s visuals had her signature mobile frame and quicks zoom ins/outs – basically, a narrative picture’s interpretation of the documentary style. The structure of the film was good too – I liked how she relocated the main event from its usual 3rd act into the middle of the film.
  5. Detroit had a great cast full or both familiar and fresh faces. John Boyega (Star Wars VII, The Circle) was really good as the intermediator between the two sides, while Will Poulter (The Maze Runner, The Revenant, War Machine) was absolutely stellar – while Poulter has already played bullies, I have never hated him as much as I did in this film. The singers Algee Smith and Jacob Latimore (Collateral Beauty) had small roles, while Jason MitchellHannah Murray (GOT’s Gilly), and Kaitlyn Dever also co-starred. Jack Reynor appeared as well: he has been doing quite good, career-wise, by booking pictures like Sing Street and Free Fire – that Transformers 4 gig, thankfully, hasn’t done a lot of damage. Lastly, Anthony Mackie (Marvel, Triple 9) had a borderline cameo role too, he has previously worked with Bigelow on The Hurt Locker.

In short, Detroit was a great crime drama and also a great biographical picture, that told both the personal stories of the people and the communal facts of the event. The watching experience itself was quite heavy on a heart but incredibly engaging to the mind.

Rate: 4.2/5

Trailer: Detroit trailer

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Movie review: Fast & Furious 8

Movie reviews

Hello!

The latest FF film – The Fate of the Furious or Fast & Furious 8 – has driven into theaters, so, let’s discuss it!

I can’t actually believe that I have never reviewed a Fast and Furious movie before as I have been a fan of them since I was a child. 2006’s Tokyo Drift was probably the first nonanimated movie that I saw at the cinema and have been hooked ever since. I and my dad would always watch these movies together and bond over the fast cars and the crazy action. And that’s what I have come to expect from these films: the amazing action and the funny jabs between the cast members (or a family, wink wink) that have real chemistry. I am not looking for Oscar-worthy performances or original stories. However, I have to give immense props to the 7th film for dealing with Paul Walker’s death in such a gracious and poised way. I don’t think anyone expected a Fast and Furious movie to show so much class but it did. Well, enough talking about the previous entries in the franchise, let’s see what the 8th picture can offer! Has anyone ever believed that this series would have eight installments with 9th and 10th ones already planned ???

IMDb summary: When a mysterious woman seduces Dom into the world of terrorism and a betrayal of those closest to him, the crew face trials that will test them as never before.

Writing

FF8‘s script was written by Chris Morgan, who penned all the previous films, except the first two. The narrative was exactly what one thinks it was: just a collection of expositional scenes to further the story and a sprinkling of funny jabs and interactions between the characters. The film’s plot referenced the events and the characters from the previous 3 films quite a lot too, which was really fun for longtime viewers of the franchise and not that surprising, knowing that all of the referenced entries were written by the same screenwriter. It was also nice that the said references didn’t seem pushed but happened quite organically. Thus, The Fate of the Furious seemed like a true continuation of the same story arc that more or less started with the 5th picture.

The interactions between the characters were brilliantly ridiculous as well. I wonder how much of that was written and how many jokes were just improvised on the spot by Dwayne Johnson and Jason Statham, Tyrese Gibson and Ludacris. The love triangle jokes were funny too. The attempt to give characters more development was also fine. The main theme of the series – family – was present in this film more than in any other entries before. Similarly to Dom having to make a choice between family and his criminal/car chasing past in this movie, the same choice now has to be made by this franchise when moving forward. And the picture did leave a few opportunities open for the same plotline to be continued.

Directing

Fast & Furious 8 was helmed by a newcomer director to the franchise – F. Gary Gray, best known for directing Straight Outta Compton. He did a good enough job with the movie and utilized the FF staples – the exotic locations and the butts. I appreciated the first, could have done without the second, but it looks like the two were a packaged deal. Speaking of the third staple of the series – the crazy action set pieces excecuted with the help of gorgeus and extremely expensve cars – they were not the best of the franchise but were still quite inventive and, most importantly, explosive, energetic, and entertaining. Yes, the technology was far-fetched and, yes, the explosions – unsurvivable and unbelievable. But you can’t argue that they didn’t look cool and absolutely kickass and that’s all I wanted. The visuals were nicely paired with a good soundtrack too, although I can’t pinpoint an iconic song that will be on the radio all summer, similarly how I See You Again was everywhere after the 7th film, We Own It after the 6th and Danza Kuduro after the 5th.

Acting

Fast and Furious was one of the first film series to have a truly diverse cast and the franchise is continuing the trend. While the 8th flick didn’t really introduce any new characters apart from revealing Charlize Theron (The Hunstman, Mad Max, Kubo) as the big bad behind the last few films, it had a ton of fun cameos and comebacks. Speaking of Theron – she was a great addition to the cast and a good villain, I would even dare to say the best of the franchise. I think her distinct look really helped her to stand out – those white dreads and V-neck T-shirts looked effortestly cool.

All of the familair faces, except Jordana Brewster, were back. Vin Diesel (Guardians), Michelle Rodriguez, Dwayne Johnson (San Andreas, Central Intelligence, Moana), Tyrese Gibson, Ludacris, and Nathaniel Emmanuel (Game of Thrones, The Maze Runner) appeared to be genuinely having fun on screen, both as their characters and as the actors themselves. The return of Jason Statham (Transporter films, Spy) was also actually appreciated by me, even though I have never been much of a fan of his. I never thought that I would want to see Dwayne Johnson and Jason Statham just absolutely dragging each other non-stop. Gibson’s, Ludacris’s and Emmanuel’s characters’ interactions were good too, I loved the rivalry and the shades of the love triangle. Gibson’s action moment was good too and a nice touch for the character, who usually ends up being a butt of a joke.

Kurt Russell (The Hateful Eight, Deepwater Horizon) also reprised his role and took Scott Eastwood along for a ride this time as his assistant/trainee. Eastwood’s character was a bit annoying at the beginning but he was supposed to be like that and actually turned out to be a not that bad addition to the cast. He certainly had more to do in this film than in a similar role in Suicide Squad.

In short, Fast and Furious 8 was exactly what I wanted it to be – a cheesy nonsensical fun. This franchise is certainly not done and still has some steam left.

Rate: 4/5

Trailer: Fast and Furious 8 trailer

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SPOILERS

The film unexpectedly had quite a few reveals and twists and turns in the story which I didn’t want to spoil in the main review but still wanted to mention. I expected the leverage that Cypher had on Dom to be Bryan’s and Mia’s child but the movie instead presented us with Dom’s and Elena’s (5th movie) son – a new family member for a character obsessed with having a family. The way the child was named at the end was also a cute and touching moment – I do love the fact that FF franchise remembers its roots and how much Paul Walker and his character Bryan did for the series.

The same topic of family was continued with the return of Jason Statham’s (7th film) character (that babysitting action scene was amazing), but this time around his mother made an apperance, played by Helen Mirren (Eye in the Sky, Collateral Beauty, Trumbo). Her inclusion was enjoyable and I loved the few scenes she was in. Staham’s character’s brother Owen (6th movie), played by Luke Evans, also cameod. Evans’s performance in Beauty and the Beast has really solidified me as a fan of his, so I was extremely happy to see his cameo.

5 ideas about a movie: Moonlight 

Movie reviews

Hello!

Welcome to probably the last review of the awards season. Today, we are discussing the frontrunner Moonlight!

IMDb summary: A timeless story of human self-discovery and connection, the film chronicles the life of a young black man from childhood to adulthood as he struggles to find his place in the world while growing up in a rough neighborhood of Miami.

  1. Moonlight was written and directed by Barry Jenkins, based on a play ‘In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue’ by Tarell Alvin McCraney. Jenkins made his directorial debut in 2008, with the critically acclaimed indie romantic drama Medicine for Melancholy. Moonlight is only his second feature film.
  2. At its core, Moonlight is a coming of age story. However, it is a coming of age story like no other because it focuses on an individual that the mainstream media would rather forget – a poor black gay boy/teenager/man. And yet, even if a viewer’s identity falls on the other side of the spectrum, the movie still has universal appeal. The family problems, bullying, finding a life path for oneself, dealing with emotions, learning to forgive and reconnect – these are all topics of widespread appeal. The more personal issues of sexual identity and masculinity are also present. The picture paints a complex picture – it asserts that only an individual can decide who he/she wants to be, but also undermines this statement by showing a stereotypical outcome for the character of this background. Lastly, the film provides interesting commentary on the LGBTQ+ position within the black community.
  3. For such a progressive and modern movie, Moonlight has a very striking traditional structure – the film is divided into vignettes, like some movies from the past. Jenkins manages to create a deeply personal almost documentary-like feeling for the film. The long slow takes in the first part of the movie allow this story to unfold at its own pace, while the shaky and fast closeups in the other parts of the picture create a sense of disorientation and intimacy. Some pretty standard techniques, like the over the shoulder shots for the dialogue, are also implemented.
  4. In the first part of the film, the main character of Chiron, played by Alex Hibbert, takes on a passive role in order for Mahershala Ali’s Juan – the drug dealer mentor of Chiron – to shine. Juan is even the first characters that the viewer is introduced to. Ali has been getting a lot of recognition for his work in this film and that’s happening for a reason. Although he only appears in a handful of scenes, both his characters and the actor himself leave a striking mark on the picture. Juan, the drug dealer, seems to be the only positive influence on Chiron and they form a student/mentor type of relationship. The scene in which Juan teaches Chirton to swim is just beautiful. The question arises why would a Juan care for this child? Maybe because he saw a part of himself in the little boy?
  5. The teenager Chiron is portrayed by Ashton Sanders, while the adult Chiron is played by Trevante Rhodes. Rhodes does an absolutely incredible job in the third part of the film and I wish that his performance would have been rewarded much more. Nevertheless, this film really helped him to breakthrough into the business, as he was just cast in a mainstream movie – 2018’s The Predator. Janelle Monáe also appears in the film as the truth mother figure for Chiron. Her career has also kicked off to a good start – she starred in not one but two awards contenders in 2016, other being Hidden Figures. Naomie Harris also plays a small role of the actual birth mother of Chiron. Although the role is a bit stereotypical, Harris does a brilliant job. She has also probably hoped to be in 2 awards contender this year. She also recently acted in Collateral Beauty, which was supposed to be an awards movie, but that film did not materialize at all.

In short, Moonlight is a well-written and nicely directed personal story that takes the framework of a coming of age narrative and tells a unique story about an individual who has been relegated to the fringes of society for too long.

Rate: 4.5/5

Trailer: Moonlight trailer

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Movie review: Collateral Beauty

Movie reviews

Hello!

Welcome to a review of a film that was advertised as a spiritual and uplifting story but turned out to be a movie about selfishness and scheming. This is Collateral Beauty.

IMDb summary: Retreating from life after a tragedy, a man questions the universe by writing to Love, Time and Death. Receiving unexpected answers, he begins to see how these things interlock and how even loss can reveal moments of meaning and beauty.

Writing

Collateral Beauty’s script was written by Allan Loeb, who has written a few so-so comedies and is writing the upcoming sci-fi flick The Space Between Us. I honestly don’t know if anyone even fully read his script before approving the film. Probably not, as the movie was advertised as something completely different.

The main story of the film made no sense. It didn’t have enough of a set-up (one scene is not enough!) and the main character was not developed properly. His one defining feature was the tragedy that occurred in his family. His co-workers’ attempts to help him had extremely conflicting goals: they wanted to make him look like he was crazy but also sort of actually help him? The worst part was, it worked. The one saving grace of the main plotline was that twist in the end when one person turned out to be somebody else. It was completely unrealistic but, after sitting through 1.5h of illogical writing, I was ready to suspend my disbelief and find at least some enjoyment in the film.

Collateral Beauty also had 3 side storylines that had a lot of potential but didn’t receive enough of screentime. Nevertheless, at times, these sidelines, even if underdeveloped, seemed more interesting than the main plotline.

The film also spent at least 10 minutes of its runtime trying to explain its titular concept. Sadly, even after sitting through it, I still have no idea what ‘Collateral Beauty’ is.

Directing

The director of The Devil Wears Prada (all-time personal favorite) David Frankel directed Collateral Beauty and did a somewhat passable job. He did create a few interesting scenes but even those weren’t super special (by this I mean the falling dominos sequences – they looked cool but you can also see them on youtube without going to the cinema). The shots of NY were good looking too, but that’s more of a complement to New York city than to this film. The pacing was okay too. Basically, the director did as good job as he could with the poorly written script. Nonetheless, where Frankel failed was at inspiring his cast.

Acting

The A-list cast was sleepwalking through this film. Will Smith delivered the best performance because this was obviously his Oscar bait movie. Last year’s Concussion was actually an interesting film that was snubbed. Well, Collateral Beauty was overlooked for a reason.

The supporting cast consisted of Edward NortonKeira KnightleyMichael PeñaNaomie HarrisJacob Latimore, Kate Winslet, and Helen Mirren. They did have some nice moments but mostly one could see the disbelief in the lines they were saying reflected in their eyes. The actors and actresses of their caliber should not have been in this film.

Music

The last saving grace for this movie was the song that played during the credits. It was OneRepublic’s (my favorite band) Let’s Hurt Together. Because this song was playing, I did not run out of the screening as fast I wanted to, after watching this snooze fest.

In short, Collateral Beauty was awfully written awards’ bait that crashed and burned. Not worth the money or a cinema trip.

Rate: 2.5/5

Trailer: Collateral Beauty trailer (no point in watching the trailer as it doesn’t represent the final product at all)

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