Movie review: Ferdinand

Movie reviews

Hello!

Welcome to a review of a film that dared to go against Star Wars: The Last Jedi at the box office. This is Ferdinand!

IMDb summary: After Ferdinand, a bull with a big heart, is mistaken for a dangerous beast, he is captured and torn from his home. Determined to return to his family, he rallies a misfit team on the ultimate adventure.

Writing

The list of writers on Ferdinand is quite extensive. Robert L. Baird, Tim Federle, and Brad Copeland wrote the screenplay, while Ron BurchDavid Kidd, and Don Rhymer received the story credits. The original source material – the children’s book The Story of Ferdinand –  was written by Munro Leaf and Robert Lawson. Even though movies with a lot of writers rarely turn out well, Ferdinand proved to be the exception.

To begin with, Ferdinand critiqued some elements of the Spanish culture quite bravely. The element I have in my mind is the Spanish bullfighting also known as corrida. I expected the film to shy away from the more violent and controversial aspects of corrida – mainly, the killing of the bulls. However, the picture surprised me by taking that element and making it into one of its main plot points. The corrida killing of bulls also allowed Ferdinand to have the good old dead parents trope that all children’s’ movies use way too much. The anti-corrida idea also seemed just a tad bit pro-vegetarian too (honestly, knowing the spread of vegetarianism and veganism, I’m surprised we hadn’t got a more overtly explicit movie about such lifestyles). While I would like to praise Ferdinand’s writers for not being afraid of angering a whole culture, I wish that they would have included some more celebratory elements of it to balance out the critique (and to maybe avoid the backlash). Some more Spanish cultural traits (maybe some Spanish words, dances or settings) could have been included too.

Not only did Ferdinand have some things to say about Spain, but it also had some other national stereotypes as characters. The horses in the film were German (I personally didn’t see the connection between the animals and the country), while one of Ferdinand’s bull friends – Angus – was Scottish. While that character was just the typical stereotype of the Scottish people, it wasn’t offensive one. In fact, everything to do with Angus got a very positive reaction from the audience in my screening in Scotland.

Ferdinand also tackled some interesting ideas about animal gene development with that Frankebull character and presented an idea of a calming goat (which is a real thing, if Daily Mail is to be believed). In addition to all the innocent humor, the movie also had some lovely message about being oneself rather than sticking to the plan that others have formed for you. It also had a neat idea about pacifist not being cowards and celebrated pet (an unlikely pet but still a pet) and human friendship as well.

Directing

Ferdinand was directed by Carlos Saldanha of Ice Age and Rio films. He did a good enough job with the film. The animation was adorable (the ear wagging was the cutest thing ever). The dance battle sequence came a bit out of nowhere but was, nonetheless, fun. The finale was also super silly but also lovely. The Nick Jonas song Home was a good choice as the main theme for the movie. In general, Ferdinand wasn’t super unique but it was perfectly serviceable children’s film. Plus, I sort of felt a personal connection to it because it reminded me of an animated feature about cows that I loved as a child – Home of the Range.

Voice work

The main character Ferdinand was voiced by John Cena, who was the perfect fit for the character. The film had a tonne of jokes about Ferdinand being gigantic and they sounded even funnier when one realized how John Cena looks in real life (bigger than an average human). Kate McKinnon (Ghostbusters, Rough Night) was fun to listen to in the role of the goat – also, in her most PG role yet. Lastly, my beloved Scottish bull was voiced by none other than the Doctor and Kilgrave himself – David Tennant.

In short, Ferdinand is a cute little children’s’ movie that is perfect for the holiday season.

Rate: 4/5

Trailer: Ferdinand trailer

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Movie review: The Great Wall

Movie reviews

Hello!

Welcome to a review of the movie that is either groundbreaking or just a continuation of the oldest Holywood tradition. It’s The Great Wall!

IMDb summary: European mercenaries searching for black powder become embroiled in the defense of the Great Wall of China against a horde of monstrous creatures.

My introductory point about this film possibly being groundbreaking has to do with the circumstances of its creation. The Great Wall is the first major co-production between US and China (Kung Fu Panda 3 was also a co-production and came before this movie, but it was an animated project rather than a live-action one). And yet, this movie has also been accused of whitewashing – the old trend for Hollywood, which only recently started receiving some backlash. So, can this film be a start of something new or is just the same old thing?

Writing

The picture’s script was written by Carlo Bernard and Doug Miro (writers of the Prince of Persia movie), and Tony Gilroy (writer of the first 4 Bourne films and Rogue One). The combined previous filmography of these screenwriters is of mixed quality and the writing for The Great Wall is also kinda mixed, mostly leaning towards mediocre.

To begin with, the whole decision to have a white lead was not explained that well during the runtime of the picture. It made sense to have a white lead and a supporting cast, full of Chinese actors, from the business standpoint, but it didn’t make much sense story-wise. The film, at least, stated that Matt Damon was not supposed to be playing a Chinese character but a European explorer, who is looking for gunpowder, so Damon’s casting cannot necessarily be called whitewashing. However, the decision to focus on a European hero, who saves China, brought up the whole ‘white savior’ debate. The fact the character’s arc begun with him wanting to steal the gunpowder didn’t paint the best picture either. Is the film, then, only reaffirming colonial thinking or is trying to tell a historical story accurately?  In short, I, personally, didn’t think that the picture gave a good enough explanation for having a European lead (played by an American) in a foreign setting. Even the film The Last Samurai came up with a better reason.

Speaking about the other aspects of the writing – I did enjoy quite a few of them. I liked the world-building and the mythology that the film was inspired by. I loved the idea to have a variety of specialized parts of the army. I liked that the lead character was written as an archer, because of my personal fondness of archery. I appreciated the fact that two languages were used in the film – it made the movie seem more as a co-production in contrast to it appearing as if Hollywood just hijacked another foreign story. I also loved that so many female warrior characters were written into the story. I don’t actually know if that is historically accurate, but I didn’t care much, in the moment of watching the movie. The picture’s attempt to have an underlying important theme – the opposition between paid participation and the true loyalty – was also commendable. While this debate wasn’t really treated as fully as it should have been, I like the fact that the film at least tried to be something more than it ended up to as.

And that final something is the fact that the film’s story was just kinda meh. The narrative was simple and straightforward – nothing one hasn’t seen before. It had two obvious plotlines – the first about fighting the monster and the other about stealing the gunpowder – which converged in the end. The main character’s change of heart during the finale was predictable and cliche. Basically, for a movie that did something very different with its financing and production, The Great Wall should have also done something new and interesting with its story.

Directing

The Great Wall was directed by Zhang Yimou. The majority of his films act as Chinese submissions for the Academy Awards in the Best Foreign Language category, so he is an accomplished director. His direction for this movie was quite nice too and I do think he did the best he could with the given material.  The action scenes looked cool and I liked the massive scope of them. The film had some impressive long takes too. The historical setting, as well as the different sections of the army, were also realized well enough. Plus, the design of the monsters was varied and quite interestng (they kinda reminded me of the zombies from World War Z because of their movement and the sounds they emitted). However, the CGI definitely could have been more photorealistic, especially in this day and age.

My favorite action sequence was the first battle, mostly because it was reminiscent of the final battle from The Lord Of The Rings: The Two Towers, although not as good. I also really liked the smaller corrida-type (Spanish bull-fighting) fight scene, in which Pedro Pascal’s character was luring the monster and Matt Damon’s character was trying to shoot it with an arrow. I also loved that the battle scenes had a diegetic beat – the drumming within a story provided a rhythm for both the characters, who were fighting, and the viewers, who were just enjoying the soundtrack. Lastly, the scene with the Chinese lanterns also looked lovely but, as weird as this sounds, it didn’t felt unique. These lanterns are now used all over the world for various celebrations (or in movies, like Tangled), so their usage in an actual Chinese setting didn’t seem as unique as it should have.

Acting

Matt Damon played the lead and did as good a job as he could have. Honestly, he has never been my first choice for a historical movie but he did make the role work. Even with all the whitewashing backlash, Damon will be fine, as his career has been going great. While his return to the role of Jason Bourne wasn’t as positive as it could have been, his work on The Martian is still on everyone’s minds. Besides, in addition to acting, Damon’s producing work has been going great, as the film he recently produced – Manchester by the Sea – is a big awards nominee this season.

Pedro Pascal played a supporting role and brought a tiny bit of a different kind of diversity into the picture. Pascal impressed everyone on a single season of Game of Thrones and I am kinda surprised that his work on GOT didn’t lead to more roles for him. Nevertheless, I really liked his The Great Wall’s character’s sass – it pleasantly reminded me of Oberyn.

Willem Dafoe also appeared in the movie and didn’t have much to do, while the Chinese part of the cast delivered great performances. Jing Tian was amazing as the female lead, while Andy Lau and Zhang Hanyu did a good enough job with what they were given as well. I really wish that I knew more about these actors and their previous filmography.

In brief, The Great Wall was a film, whose behind the scenes story was more interesting than its on-screen plot. While it might have broken grounds from the business standpoint, it was nothing more than average from the creative one.

Rate: 3/5

Trailer: The Great Wall trailer

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