Movie review: Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle

Movie reviews

Hello!

Another reboot/sequel of a beloved childhood classic has hit theatres, but, this time around, it’s surprisingly good?! This is Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle! (That title is awful, though.)

IMDb summary: Four teenagers discover an old video game console and are literally drawn into the game’s jungle setting becoming the adult avatars they chose.

Only last year, a 1980s classic, Which was near and dear to a lot of people during their childhood, was remade and the Internet went nuts. However, that Ghostbusters debacle did not stop Hollywood from remaking/attempting to continue another classic property, this time around, from the 1990s. And it looks like the LA suits were right to try: I haven’t seen much hate (barely any) towards the 2017’s a Jumanji. Why is this reboot more acceptable than the Ghostbusters one? Is it the Rock? The Rock and Hart proven combo? The ‘correct’ genders of the characters (mixed cast rather than an all-something reboot)? Or maybe nobody liked Jumanji in the first place as much as I thought they did? I certainly remember the film quite fondly from my childhood.

Writing

Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle was written by Chris McKenna and Erik Sommers (the duo behind Spider-Man: Homecoming and The Lego Batman), the director Jake Kasdan, and Scott Rosenberg and Jeff Pinkner (the writers of the upcoming Venom movie which is currently being filmed). In general, I enjoyed quite a lot of elements of the writing of this film.

To begin with, I thought that the idea to update Jumanji from a board game to a video game was a clever one. However, the way the script went about doing that – just sort of allowing the game to morph by itself – was a bit weird. Also, if they were giving the game an update, why not do a completely contemporary take on it? Make it into a Nintendo Switch type of a thing rather than a very 90s cassette game. What I did like about the video game concept in relation to this film was the fact that the movie overtly and unapologetically used the video game tropes, like the cutscenes, the numbered lives, the strengths/weakness idea, and the different levels. Jumanji might actually be the best video game movie without technically being one

The new characters of Jumanji weren’t bad either. The teenagers/real-life characters got some brief but neat development during the setup, which was nicely built upon during the following adventure. The relationship moments that the characters shared actually provided the picture with some opportunities to explore the ideas of friendship and teamwork. Some nice messages about bravery, self-confidence as well as one’s ability to change were also expressed. The interactions between the characters also resulted in some great humorous moments. The flirting school and the peeing scene were stupid but also hilarious. The switch-ups with the bodies (the nerds becoming athletic and cool; the popular kids being degraded to sidekicks and the comic relief) was another source of jokes for the film.

My main and the only actual critique of the movie was its plot or the set up of it. The game narrative itself was fine and it worked well as an adventure story. However, the way it just came out of nowhere seemed a bit odd. That whole explanation about the stone, the villain, and the curse seemed a bit heavy-handed and too highly fabricated. At least the format of that explanation/set-up (the cutscene) was somewhat meta (explicit in its usage of a trope) and, thus, a bit more interesting.

Lastly, while this film appeared to have been a direct continuation of the original Jumanji with the game itself being found on the beach, where it was last seen, I question whether the people behind-the-scenes are planning to make any further sequels, in case this one is successful. The last scene, which showed the characters breaking the game, suggests that we won’t see any sequels, which is, quite frankly, a shocking thing in today’s mainstream filmmaking business.

Directing

2017’s Jumanji was directed by Jake Kasdan (his last two films were both mediocre Cameron Diaz comedies) and I thought that he crafted quite an entertaining action adventure flick that was so much better constructed that I thought it’d be. The action was inventive enough and energetic. The CGI of the animals could have been a bit better. The pacing was fine for the most part, though the film did slow down a bit towards the end of the second half. Lastly, I’ve noticed (or imagined) some callbacks to other movies in this feature, which seemed like quite neat additions to me: the creepy house and the yellow raincoat reminded me of It, while the biker gang inside the game seemed Mad Max-esque.

Acting

Jumanji’s two casts were both really good. The teenagers/young adult actors – Alex Wolf (Patriot’s Day), Ser’Darius BlainMorgan Turner, and Madison Iseman – were believable and relatable. However, the majority of the film was carried by the video game versions of these characters, played by Dwayne Johnson (Baywatch, FF8, Moana, San Andreas), Kevin Hart (The Secret Life of Pets), Karen Gillan (Guardians of the Galaxy 1 and 2, The Circle), and Jack Black, respectively. Johnson’s and Hart’s chemistry, which blossomed in Central Intelligence, was back in full force in this movie. All of the scenes with the Rock discovering his muscles were incredible and I also appreciated the fact that the film poked fun at his inherent charisma with that ‘smoldering look’ skill. Kevin Hart was amazing and funny too, while Karen Gillan was a complete badass (both as a character and as an actress). Jack Black also surprised me. I have never been much of a fan of his but I highly enjoy seeing him acting as the ‘it’ girl in this film.

A few other characters, worth the mention, were played by Nick Jonas and Bobby Cannavale (Ant-Man). Jonas was okay in the picture but his character was intended to be somewhat of a replacement for Robin Williams character of the original (a person who gets stuck in the game) and, no offense to Nick Jonas, but he could never replace Williams. Cannavale played the villain and he was the worst of the cast, in my mind. I think he went a bit too cartoonish with his performance – yes, there is such a thing as too cartoonish even in a live-action cartoon.

In short, Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle is a surprisingly entertaining adventure movie. It would be the perfect holiday film for the whole family if it wasn’t competing with Star Wars 8.

Rate: 4/5

Trailer: Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle trailer

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Movie review: The Disaster Artist

Movie reviews

Hello!

I just saw a great movie about an awful movie. This is The Disaster Artist.

IMDb summary: When Greg Sestero, an aspiring film actor, meets the weird and mysterious Tommy Wiseau in an acting class, they form a unique friendship and travel to Hollywood to make their dreams come true.

Disclaimer: prior to seeing The Disaster Artist, I wanted to watch The Room – the film whose behind-the-scenes story is the subject of this movie. However, then I thought that I already have a never-ending list of past quality pictures that I need to watch but don’t have time for. So, The Room fell off the list without even making on it. But, maybe if I truly love The Disaster Artist, I’ll give The Room a chance too.

Writing

The Disaster Artist was written by Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber (the duo has previously adapted two John Green’s book to the big screen – TFIOS and Paper Towns, they are also writing the New Mutants film for the Marvel Fox division), based on the book The Disaster Artist: My Life Inside The Room, the Greatest Bad Film Ever Made by Greg Sestero (Dave Franco played him in the movie) and a journalist and a critic Tom Bissell. I enjoyed the writing for this picture very much. First of all, as a cinephile, I love all things related to movies, so a film about a different film is right up my alley. Moreover, I adore movies that celebrate other films and The Disaster Artist did just that. It wasn’t making fun of The Room or Wiseau but showed a certain kind of appreciation of and respect to it and him. Also, the fact that the movie didn’t go for the easy jokes, made The Disaster Artist so much better and funnier in its own kind of way.

The writing for Tommy Wiseau as a character for this movie was intriguing. I don’t know how accurate it was but it certainly worked for the film. The fact that Wiseau was trying really hard to make something he believed in and loved came across very clearly. His personal quirks (that have now become infamous) were present in the film too. However, the movie did not single them out more than necessary. What The Disaster Artist seemed to be more focused on were Wiseau’s insecurities and feelings behind the quirks. I drew a conclusion that he was somebody who wanted approval of others but on his own terms (basically, he wanted a friend who would understand him and it’s a good thing that he found one in Sestero. It’s cute that they still talk every day, if the text at the end of The Disaster Artist is to be believed).

Lastly, Wiseau, The Room, and now The Disaster Artist also expressed some neat ideas about cinema and human behavior (how one is the expression of the other). My main takeaway from the 2017’s biopic was the idea that the making of The Room was therapy for Wiseau. In addition, the watching of The Room seems to bring a feeling of catharsis for the viewers too (otherwise, why would they be watching it?).

Directing

James Franco directed The Disaster Artist and did an impeccable job (this film was actually my first introduction to him as a director). Not only did he recreate the scenes from The Room spot on (as evident in the credits side-by-side comparison) but he managed to balance out the film – keep it respectful but also funny. The opening interview montage, full of celebrity cameos, added a slight documentary feel to the movie, while the handled cinematography made it undeniably indie. The late 1990s/early 2000s soundtrack was fun (especially for somebody who grew up on that bad pop music). The funniest sequences of the feature, in my opinion, were the audition montage and the nude scene shoot. Lastly, the shots of the audience laughing while watching The Room felt very meta, as the actions of those moviegoers were mirrored by the audience of The Disaster Artist.

Acting

The Disaster Artist had a display of some bad acting from some great actors. James Franco not only directed the film but played the lead Tommy Wiseau (real Wiseau cameos during the end credits scene that nobody waits to see). I have enjoyed a lot of Franco’s dramatic roles before (like the one in 127 Hours) and I have liked some of his comedic work (he was hilarious in both Sausage Party and This is the End). I feel like, in this film, he combined all of his talents and delivered a brilliant dramatic and comedic performance. He nailed Tommy’s laugh and the vaguely Eastern European accent (though I’m not sure that Wiseau’s own accent is truly Eastern European – this comes from somebody who has spent years trying to lose her accent from the same region, so I think I’d recognize that particular accent in another person).

Dave Franco (Nerve, Now You See Me, The Lego Ninjago, Jump Street) played Greg Sestero and was really good too. He brought innocence and excitement to the role of the young Sestero (he was barely 20 or in his early twenties when shooting The Room). The Disaster Artist marked the first time that both Franco brothers appeared on screen together. Would love to see them collaborate on future projects!

Seth Rogen (Steve Jobs), in addition to producing the film, also had a role as Sandy Schklair, the script supervisor on the production of The Room. He was delightful to watch on screen: his scene about the check going through received a lot of laughs from the audience in my screening. Alison Brie starred as Amber, Sesteros’ girlfriend, while Ari Graynor played the actress who portrayed Lisa (yup, the same one that’s tearing Wiseau apart) in The RoomJosh Hutcherson (Mockingjay) and Zac Efron (BaywatchMike and Dave, We Are Your Friends) also both appeared as the members of The Room’s cast. They got a chance to recreate an incredible scene from The Room (that literally does not connect to anything else in that film) in The Disaster Artist.

In short, The Disaster Artist was an amazing movie that should be highly appreciated by any cinephile out there. Though it still did not fully convince me to watch The Room.

Rate: 4.5/5

Trailer: The Disaster Artist trailer

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5 ideas about a movie: Daddy’s Home 2

Movie reviews

Hello!

The Christmas season at the cinema continues. This is the review of Daddy’s Home 2.

IMDb summary: Brad and Dusty must deal with their intrusive fathers during the holidays.

Two weeks ago, a mother-daughter Christmas-themed comedy sequel has premiered – A Bad Moms Christmas. Daddy’s Home 2 is a father-son Christmas themed sequel. Coincidence or a conscious decision to target both genders? How about just making *gasp* one movie that everyone could enjoy? Anyways, onto the review.

  1. Back in 2015, the first Daddy’s Home film completely skipped my radar. I don’t think I even heard any coverage about it or seen an ad for it. Nevertheless, before going to see the sequel, I streamed its predecessor and found it to be a slow and silly but watchable comedy. Thus, I didn’t have any expectations for a sequel and was actually pleasantly surprised, as Daddy’s Home 2 felt like an improvement.
  2. The movie’s script was written by John Morris and Sean Anders, who also directed the film (the duo also worked on the first picture as well as on a bunch of B level comedies before). The story was fine. Firstly, I liked how this movie (and the first one too) spotlighted a non-nuclear family – a reality that a lot of people can relate to today. The doubling up of the parental competition worked well too (or tripling up if you count the moms’ plotline, which was basically what Bad Moms have already done). The family issues that were explored had some heart to them and the film’s attempt to put a comedic spin on the emotional moments was fairly successful.
  3. Speaking about the jokes of the movie in general, they were a mixed bag (as usual). Daddy’s Home 2 had some brilliant moments of humor (the thermostat joke was my favorite and the nativity scene wasn’t bad either) and some jokes that just didn’t land. There were some product placement-related jokes and some fun celebrity cameos. As this film dealt a lot with the concept of family, its humor was generally more family-friendly and less raunchy that the humor of a lot of modern comedies.
  4. The film’s direction was okay. The cabin setting felt a bit Grown Ups-esque (a.k.a. actors wanting a vacation), while the pacing wasn’t perfect – the picture slowed down a lot its third act. The callbacks to the first movie (the airport setting, the repetition of Ferrell’s character supposed death) were fun to spot. The musical number at the end was cute. Lastly, that pandering to cinemas ending was either a great meta-references or a super forced and out of place way to end the film. Can’t decide yet.
  5. Will Ferrell and Mark Wahlberg (Patriot’s Day, Deepwater Horizon, Transformers 4 and 5), came back as the co-dads at the center of the picture and were good. I’ve never been a fan of Ferrell but his comedic skills are growing on me (might give his other Christmas comedy Elf another chance). On the other hand, I’ve always liked Wahlberg in comedies and action-comedies (Ted 2), so I was just happy to see him in another one. The dads of the dads were played by Mel Gibson (who was actually hysterical to watch; plus, I guess this means that he is back, not only behind the camera (Hacksaw Ridge) but in front of it too) and John Lithgow (who was kinda jarring to watch in a comedic role cause he is engrained on my brain as Churchill on The Crown). Other cast members included Linda Cardellini and the celebrities/non-actors like John CenaAlessandra AmbrosioChesley Sullenberger (Sully) of all people.

In short, Daddy’s Home 2 was a perfectly serviceable but messy Christmas comedy that is more suitable for the whole family that the female version of the same film – A Bad Moms Christmas.

Rate: 2.75/5 

Trailer: Daddy’s Home 2 trailer

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Movie review: Wonder

Movie reviews

Hello!

In honor of the World Kindness Day, the cinemas all over the UK put on special preview screening of Wonder and I got a chance to attend one of them. So, let’s review it!

IMDb summary: Based on the New York Times bestseller, WONDER tells the incredibly inspiring and heartwarming story of August Pullman, a boy with facial differences who enters fifth grade, attending a mainstream elementary school for the first time.

Writing

Wonder was written by Jack Thorne (a playwright and a TV writer), Steve Conrad (the writer of The Pursuit of Happyness (one of the most hopeful movies I’ve ever seen – no surprise he got this gig) and the director of the film Stephen Chbosky, based on the children’s novel of the same name by R.J. Palacio. I enjoyed the film’s writing quite a bit. I loved how the movie focused on multiple characters and had separate vignettes centered on each of them. The characters, who were chosen to be spotlighted, were not the typical ones. For example, the former friend of the main character’s sister. The typical thing would have been to turn her into a shallow bully rather than explore her backstory, which was what Wonder did. I only wish that we would have gotten more development for the parent characters and seen their struggles outside their relationship with their children.

The themes that Wonder explored and the messages it tried to spread made the picture the perfect fit for the World Kindness Day. The movie encouraged its viewers to value true friendship and family, to give people a second chance, to be the bigger person and to be kind at the same time, to be proud of one’s scars, to learn to listen and to be empathetic. Wonder’s story was heartwarming and hopeful, while still remaining grounded in the real world – not shying away from its problems, but encountering them with goodness in the mind and in the heart. The plot was also full of funny moments. I, personally, loved all the Star Wars references. I wonder whether they were in the original book or whether the film just included them because Jacob Tremblay (the actor who played the main character) is quite a fan of the franchise himself.

Directing

Wonder was directed by Stephen Chbosky – the author of The Perks of Being a Wallflower (he also wrote and directed the movie adaptation of that story) and the writer of the movie musical Rent and Disney’s live-action juggernaut Beauty and the Beast. I though that he did quite a good job with directing. I loved the visual metaphors and how science and astronomy were used to express the emotional state of the character. The vignette structure was also handled well and the film wasn’t choppy. It was a bit slow, though, but a story like this needs to evolve organically, so I wasn’t too annoyed about the pacing issues.

Acting

Wonder’s lead was played by Jacob Tremblay – one of the best young actors, in my mind. He was absolutely stellar in Room a few years back and as good in this film. He also did an incredible job acting through the make-up and the prosthetics. Julia Roberts (Money Monster) played the mother of the main character and was a pure joy to watch. Owen Wilson (She’s Funny That Way, Cars 3) starred as the dad and was appropriately funny (sometimes his roles go from comedic to stupid and I’m so glad this one wasn’t an example of that). Izabela Vidovic was really good as Tremblay’s character’s sister, while Noah Jupe, who I saw less than a week ago in Suburbicon, was great as the main character’s friend from school.

In brief, Wonder was a wonderful little film with a nice message.

Rate: 4/5

Trailer: Wonder trailer

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5 ideas about a movie: A Bad Moms Christmas

Movie reviews

Hello!

Welcome to the start of the Christmas Season (yup, Halloween was yesterday)! We are opening it with a festive female comedy sequel – A Bad Moms Christmas!

IMDb summary:  A Bad Moms Christmas follows our three under-appreciated and over-burdened women as they rebel against the challenges and expectations of the Super Bowl for moms: Christmas.

  1. 2016’s Bad Moms was a delightfully surprising comedy that was made super cheaply and earned a lot of money. Thus, STX Entertainment rushed out a themed sequel in just over a year. Interestingly, in a few weeks, we will get another Christmas comedy sequel – Daddy’s Home 2. Who would have thought that 2017 is gonna be the year of gendered and parental Christmas comedies?
  2. A Bad Moms Christmas was written and directed by the duo responsible for the first film as well as The Hangover movies – Scott Moore and Jon Lucas. I enjoyed the writing for the film quite a lot. It did have a lot of the same elements as the first film only in a different – now a Christmas – setting. However, the addition of the moms’ moms was great and made for some amazing moments of humor, especially in the varied messed up relationships between the older moms and their daughters/moms.
  3. The jokes, in general, were not the most sophisticated but, honestly, they didn’t have to be. The heightened reality/far-fetched cartoonish situations are what make makes movies like this one enjoyable. And A Bad Moms Christmas was definitely fun and entertaining. While it could not really be seen as a regular Christmas movie (aka one that’s appropriate for the whole family), the picture still had some traditional Christmasy heart and warmth to it. It also had a lovely message of compromise.
  4. The directing was also great. I wonder how much of the situational humor was directed and how much improvised, though. The editing was spectacular too. I loved the western parody sequence in the trampoline park and the cheesy usage of the slow-mo. The inclusion of Christmas music was also tonally and seasonally appropriate. The credits sequence was also cute and cheesy.
  5. A Bad Moms Christmas assembled a fun cast. Mila Kunis (Jupiter Ascending), Kristen Bell, and Kathryn Hahn were great once again, but, this time around, they were a bit outshined by ‘their moms’: Christine Baranski (I adored her character and also loved that she had a singing scene – it reminded me of her Mamma Mia! role and also made me even more excited for the sequel to my guilty pleasure movie musical); Cheryl Hines (cutely creepy); and Susan Sarandon (unapologetically crazy).

To summarise: was this film a revelation? No. Was it entertaining and helped me to get into a Christmas spirit way too early? Absolutely. I had a chill and chucklesome time at the cinema and listened to the Michael Buble Christmas album for the first time this year on my way home.

Rate: 3.25/5

Trailer: A Bad Moms Christmas 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: American Made

Movie reviews

Hello!

Tom Cruise is back in the air in American Made, 30 years after he flown in Top Gun. Let’s see if he still has what it takes!

IMDb summary: A pilot lands work for the CIA and as a drug runner in the south during the 1980s.

  1. American Made is a real-life story of an American pilot Barry Seal, which was adapted to screen by Gary Spinelli – quite an inexperienced writer (his only other produced picture is 2012’s Stash House). The narrative of the film was extremely crazy and so far out there that it had to have happened (and the only place it could have happened was the dear old U.S. of A.). The plot presented in the movie felt a bit choppy but that was intentional. By the end of the picture, it was revealed that there was a framing device of the cassette tapes, full of memories that Barry recorded after the events had happened and recounted for the viewer in this film, so the different segments of the movie corresponded to the separate tapes and, thus, weren’t really connected.
  2. Doug Liman, known for a few things, like starting The Bourne franchise with Identity, creating the former power-couple Brangelina with Mr. & Mrs. Smith, and producing the 2014 film with multiple names that audiences didn’t know how to feel about – Edge of Tomorrow, directed American Made and did a good job. The pacing was fine if a bit slow, while the comedic timing was nearly perfect. The reaction shots of the characters, responding to the insane events around them, were super funny, while, by far, the most hilarious scene in the film was the sequence, where all the different law enforcement departments were fighting over the right to arrest Barry.
  3. The visuals and the cinematography of American Made seemed a bit confused to me. The frame would be super mobile one minute and then transition into a steady shot. A lot of handheld tracking shots and extreme close-ups were also used. Then the camera would switch to a long or even extremely long exterior shot. Lastly, there were cutaways to the actual homemade films that Barry made, that broke the fourth wall. It seemed to me that American Made was partially filmed as an indie documentary and partially as a classical Hollywood biopic. The era appropriate Universal logo at the start was a nice timely touch, though.
  4. Tom Cruise (Mission: Impossible series, Edge of Tomorrow, Jack Reacher series, The Mummy) starred in the lead role of Barry Seal and did an amazing job. While the real Barry Seal looks nothing like a Hollywood celebrity Cruise, I still believed his performance. How couldn’t I, when I still find Cruise extremely charismatic? It was also interesting to see him doing a more emotionally rather than physically demanding role. I don’t think I remember the last time, I saw Cruise in a dramedy like American Made, instead of a straight up actioner. His next film is MI6 as well as Edge of Tomorrow 2, where he will reteam with Liman.
  5. The supporting cast of the film didn’t stand out much but served their purpose. Sarah Wright was mostly just an eye-candy for the male viewers, while Domhnall Gleeson (The Revenant, Brooklyn, The Force Awakens, Anna Karenina, Unbroken) had quite an interesting role as a CIA agent – his nervous twitch and constant blinking were memorable parts of the performance. Glee’s Jayma Mays and Fargo’s Jesse Plemons (who also was in Black Mass) had cameo roles, while Get Out’s Caleb Landry Jones appeared in a similarly crazy role like the one he had in the highly regarded race-relations picture.

In short, American Made is a really funny take on a story that has insane twists and turns and a fairly sad ending. Tom Cruise, once again, flys high in a role that should be despicable but is likable instead.

Rate: 4/5 

Trailer: American Made trailer

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Movie review: The Hitman’s Bodyguard 

Movie reviews

Hello!

With the summer movie season coming to a close, let’s discuss one of its last offerings – The Hitman’s Bodyguard!

IMDb summary: The world’s top bodyguard gets a new client, a hit man who must testify at the International Court of Justice. They must put their differences aside and work together to make it to the trial on time.

Writing

The Hitman’s Bodyguard was written by Tom O’Connor and this picture was only his second screenplay to be produced. The script had both fun and dumb moments. The set-up, as well as the shared backstory of the protagonists, was good, while the dialogue and the banter were actually quite funny. The movie also had way more emotional depth than I expected it to. However, the antagonist was quite awfully written. I’m really over Eastern European politicians or mob bosses as villains in Hollywood films, mostly because I’m from that region but also because American screenwriters tend to reduce them to cinematic caricatures instead of portraying them as actual real-life threats. The fact that the writers (or somebody behind the scenes) thought that they needed to clarify that Belarus used to be a part of the Soviet Union with that sub-heading was kinda sad too.

Directing

The Hitman’s Bodyguard was directed by Patrick Hughes, who also did The Expendables 3. The influences of his previous picture could certainly be felt in his current one: while the last of The Expendables films was an intentional homage to the 80s actioners, the critics can’t really pinpoint the exact decade Hughes was referencing with The Hitman’s Bodyguard. I saw it being called ‘a love letter’ to both the 80s and 90s, but to me, it felt like an early 2000s action film, especially because of the split-screen opening sequence. The hand-to-hand combat was choreographed quite well, while the car chases were also entertaining and exciting enough. The soundtrack by Atli Örvarsson, full of well-known old-school pop songs, was a fun addition to the film too. The movie actually had two very enjoyably-cringy musical moments – the sing-off between Reynolds and Jackson and the nun bus scene. Another humorous sequence was Reynolds’s monologue to the bartender with action happening in the background (it wasn’t the most original but still a well-executed sequence).

Acting

The best part about The Hitman’s Bodyguard was its two leads – Ryan Reynolds (Life, Deadpool) and Samuel L. Jackson (Avengers, The Hateful Eight, Kong, Tarzan, Miss Peregrine) and their amazing chemistry. It was interesting seeing Reynolds trying to play ‘the straight man’, while it was also fun to see Jackson going absolutely crazy, even though he has done that before, for example, in Kingsman. Jackson has appeared in a tonne of films lately, I wonder whether the audiences will get bored of him or whether he is actually priceless in a supporting role.

Elodie Young played Reynolds’s love interest and did a nice job. She had a very good weekend, with not only The Hitman’s Bodyguard hitting theatres, but The Defenders (where she stars as Elektra) landing on Netflix. Salma Hayek (Sausage Party) had a tiny but hilarious role as Jackson’s love interest, while Gary Oldman (Dawn), for whatever reason, played the main caricature of a villain. Joaquim de Almeida also had a cameo role and an important plot-point was kinda spoiled by his involvement in the film (he just usually plays two-sided characters so I was fairly certain that he will be shady in this movie too).

In short, The Hitman’s Bodyguard is predictable but an entertaining enough action comedy that has a very expendable villain but is elevated by its two leads.

Rate: 3.5/5

Trailer: The Hitman’s Bodyguard

Movie review: Girls Trip

Movie reviews

Hello!

It seems that nowadays, more and more Hollywood films break the boundaries of disposable entertainment and start to provide commentary on or revelations about the modern society. Girls Trip has accidentally become one of those kinds of films too. Let’s review it!

IMDb summary: When four lifelong friends travel to New Orleans for the annual Essence Festival, sisterhoods are rekindled, wild sides are rediscovered, and there’s enough dancing, drinking, brawling, and romancing to make the Big Easy blush.

For those not understanding my cryptic intro: Girls Trip is a female centric comedy about a group of friends reuniting after years of separation. Sounds familiar? That’s because you have already seen that movie this summer and I have also reviewed it for you. It was called Rough Night and it wasn’t that good. Things get interesting when you realize what is the difference between the two films. Rough Night had a predominantly ‘white’ cast, while Girls Trip has cast mostly ‘black’ actors. What surprised Hollywood the most was the fact that the ‘black’ version of the film did much better at the box office and with critics. I don’t even want to get into what this means for the business and for society. Is it a coincidence? A one time deal? A plea for more diversity? Or maybe Girls Trip is just a better and more entertaining film than Rough Night? Cause at the end of the day, Hollywood movies are still, first and foremost, pieces of entertainment, despite the extra baggage that they now carry.

Writing

Girls Trip was written by Kenya Barris (the creator of Black-ish who has also worked on ANTM), Tracy Oliver (a TV writer), and Erica Rivinoja (also a TV writer but she also penned the story for Trolls).

The initial opening and the set up for the story was short but effective. It quickly (but not in a rushed way) setup all 4 ladies as, more or less, 4 equal leads. The archetypes of a girl group were there (the mommy, the crazy one, the career-focused, the leader) but were also expanded upon as well as subverted. The script also had a lot of fun with the different pairings of the girls.

The script treatment of the concept of friendship was amazing because of how realistically this relationship was portrayed. There were moments of genuine sweetness (the inside jokes felt real as well as the majority of the dialogue) and fearless confrontation. While I really liked the relatably exaggerated moments of comedy (something along the lines of memes or FB post you would tag your bestie on), the heated scenes full of arguing were where the screenplay (and the actresses) shined the most. I loved how these disputes touched upon the influence of social media as well as the career v friendship discussion. These moments really added some drama and elevated the whole film from just being a comedy. Additionally, these scenes helped to bring home the message about true friends, who aren’t afraid to confront you for your own good. The second dual message of the movie was also wonderful. Both the surface idea that one can have it all was uplifting, as well as the deeper idea about being okay with not having it all. The final speech about discovering one’s own voice and embracing the loneliness was very lovely too.

Directing 

Girls Trip was directed by Malcolm D. Lee. I thought that he did a very good job realizing the modern setting of the film and pacing this story. The snappy moments of humor (like the tripping sequence and the dance off) were paired with slower sequences of the character (and the friendship) development, which were believably emotional. The style of filming was good too: varied but familiar.

Acting

The 4 actresses in the lead – Regina HallQueen LatifahJada Pinkett Smith, and Tiffany Haddish – did a wonderful job bringing these characters to life. They seemed like they had a lot of actual fun on the set – the chemistry was real. I really wish I knew more about their previous work, especially Hall’s and Haddish’s. Speaking about Haddish – she was really close to being too much (going into cartoon territory) and yet still, her antics somehow worked. What I loved even more was the other actresses’ reaction faces – they were priceless. Lastly, Hall’s and Queen Latifah’s characters’ competitive yet loving relationship was also very well portrayed, while it was fun to see Jada Pinkett Smith in a much more comedic and tonally lighter role than her the one she used to play on Gotham. She was also recently in two other comedies – Magic Mike XXL and Bad Moms.

The supporting cast, in addition to having a plethora of celebrity cameos, also included a few familiar faces from Netflix. Luke Cage’s Mike Colter had a small role, while Kate Walsh, from 13 Reasons Why, also starred.

In short, Girls Trip is an entertaining and relatable comedy. And yes, it is better than Rough Night cause it knows what it is and what it has to deliver.

Rate: 4/5

Trailer: Girls Trip trailer

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