5 ideas about a movie: The Florida Project

Movie reviews

Hello!

Welcome to the indie of this weekend. This is The Florida Project!

IMDb summary: Set over one summer, the film follows precocious 6-year-old Moonee as she courts mischief and adventure with her ragtag playmates and bonds with her rebellious but caring mother, all while living in the shadows of Disney World.

  1. The Florida Project was written by the director of the film Sean Baker and Chris Bergoch. Baker has previously directed Tangerine (which was co-written and co-produced by Bergoch) – a movie that was both unique in its subject (it focused on a transgender sex worker) and in the way it was filmed (on 3 iPhone 5s). His follow-up picture is also centered around marginalized people, living on the fringes of society (both literally and figuratively – their motel is on the edge of Disney World). This type of social realism filmmaking reminds me of Andrea’s Arnold’s work, especially her last film American Honey, which focused on a traveling sales crew, hopping from motel to motel in the American Midwest.
  2. The Florida Project’s writing elicited mixed feelings out of me, like all films of this kind do. The picture’s message was clear – the society needs to attempt to understand and to help the people, living on its margins. And yet, how can the said help be given when the marginalized individuals don’t even seem to want it, act entitled (when they have no right to do that) or worse, are violent/abusive. What is the solution to this conundrum or the middle ground?
  3. The Florida Project’s story was mostly centered on the little girl and a single summer of her childhood. The movie nicely portrayed the joys of childhood – being wild and free. And yet, it also noted how that freedom of childhood might not be secure or healthy for a child. The mother-daughter relationship on display was also a complex one. While the mother obviously appeared to love her daughter, to love is not enough to be a good mother. The actual physical care and education are as important for the child’s development as the emotional connection. The movie also explored the idea of a community that the individuals on the fringes of society form. The said community was presented as a small society of its own: it had a structure and was held together by the inner relationships of its members.
  4. From the purely visual perspective, The Florida Project looked bright and vibrant. And yet, that was only the surface that hid the underlying problems from view. I loved how the camera juxtaposed the poverty and the prosperity in the wide shots, where the children would be walking past the endless dinners, gifts shops, and billboards. The whole setting was very well realized and was strikingly American. The mobile frame and the pacing were distinctly indie, while the pacing of the film was good too, even if a bit slow. Lastly, the ending sequence of the two girls running through Disney World was interesting. It made the movie seem as if it was pandering to Disney, by showing that the beloved theme park is the true magic kingdom and the land of escapism. But, maybe this positive portrayal was there so that the Mouse House would not sue the whole film, as that sequence was shot without the corporation’s knowledge or consent.
  5. The cast of The Florida Project delivered quite stellar performances. It was great to see Willem Dafoe (What Happened To Monday, Death Note, The Great Wall) in a more sophisticated/non-mainstream project and to witness his full talent on display. The newcomer Brooklynn Prince was delightful as Moonee – the girl at the center of the story. Bria Vinaite starred as Moonee’s mother – the now-actress was actually discovered on Instagram by the director. I really wonder how much of the dialogue between the children actors as well as between the characters of Moonee and her mother was in the script and how much of it was improvised.

In short, The Florida Project is an important piece of social realism that might infuriate or educate its viewers. Or both.

Rate: 4/5

Trailer: The Florida Project trailer

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5 ideas about a movie: Home Again

Movie reviews

Hello!

Home Again is trying to prove that the rom-com genre is not dead yet. Or is it?

IMDb summary: Life for a single mom in Los Angeles takes an unexpected turn when she allows three young guys to move in with her.

  1. Home Again is a directorial (and writing) debut of Hallie Meyers-Shyer, the daughter of Nancy Meyers – producer and director of various successful rom-coms (she produced her daughter’s first film too). The fact that it is somebody’s first movie explains a lot about it: Home Again was cliched, predictable, cringe-y at times, and real slow at others and, lastly, mostly consisted of elements and plot-points borrowed from other similar films. And yet, I didn’t hate it. If somebody needs an escapist, ‘no-thinking-required’ type of a film to relieve some stress or quiet one’s mind, I recommend you to see Home Again and experience somebody else’s first world problems instead of your own.
  2. The movie tackled three broad ideas: it attempted to be a traditional rom-com, with some sitcom humor, while also being a picture about the film business. Let’s start with that last part, which was, unsurprisingly, my favorite. As a cinephile, I appreciate films which appreciate films. The LA setting, the father director (who looked/came across as pre-Star Wars George Lucas), the aspiring filmmaker characters and their attempt to make a movie were all elements which I adored.
  3. The two other concepts/genres weren’t bad either (but, as I’ve said, nothing remotely original too). I liked the sitcom parts best out of the two, especially the silent reaction faces that the characters would exchange (then again, I love real-life humor). The romcom part was fine too. A bit fairytale-ish but we are talking escapism here (at least they left the ‘happy ending’ slightly ambiguous). By far the best detail of the romantic comedy side of Home Again was the reversal of the trope of the age difference between the two genders: the female character was the older one in a relationship (that is still very much a taboo thing – just look at all the news coverage about the fact that France’s president’s wife is older than him).
  4. The main thing that made Home Again work was its star – Reese Witherspoon (Sing). She has moved away from romcoms and came back to them constantly throughout her career. This instance of return was somewhat successful. She brought some heart into an otherwise shallow picture and was extremely lovable in her role, despite how cliche it was (I mean, are there any other occupations for mothers besides interior design ???).
  5. The film’s supporting cast wasn’t bad either and their performances were fine (again, appropriate for the picture). Nat Wolff (the most well-known out of the three co-leads because of TFIOS, Paper Towns, and Death Note), SNL alumni Jon Rudnitsky and quite an unknown actor Pico Alexander (who has the potential to be the next teen heartthrob) were all fun to watch. For some reason, Michael Sheen (Far From The Madding Crowd, Passengers, Nocturnal Animals) and TV royalty Candice Bergen also appeared in the movie (‘paycheck gigs pay the bills!’).

In short, Home Again is a perfectly serviceable rom-com that you have seen before. It’s a great rental/TV-rerun: a good background movie or a laundry/cooking movie. If you want a more modern take on the genre, check out The Big Sick

Rate: 2.8/5

Trailer: Home Again trailer

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5 ideas about a movie: Get Out

Movie reviews

Hello!

Recently, I had some spare time to catch up on the 2017 movies that I’ve already missed and, since this one will definitely come up in the conversation later in the year, during the awards season, I decided to review it. Of course, I’m talking about the modern masterpiece that is Get Out. A note on the review: since I’m at least half a year late to the initial discussion of the film and I also don’t feel qualified enough to give you an extensive look at it, I’ ll just express my brief, general thoughts on it. However, I highly suggest you watch some more in-depth coverage on the picture, cause both the film and the debate surrounding it are truly fascinating.

IMDb summary: It’s time for a young African American to meet with his white girlfriend’s parents for a weekend in their secluded estate in the woods, but before long, the friendly and polite ambiance will give way to a nightmare.

  1. Get Out was a directorial debut (and his first solo screenplay for a feature to be produced) of one-half of the Key&Peele comedic duo – Jordan Peele. While the majority of his previous work has been in the comedy genre and on TV, here, Peele reinvigorated both the horror genre and the modern cinema landscape by injecting some contemporary, very topical, and, most importantly, original ideas, into them.
  2. Get Out tackled the untouched concept of the liberal racism – an even more uncomfortable side of the already dreadful issue. However, no matter how unsettling the issue is, I have always been a strong believer in a necessity to still talk about it, and Get Out did just that. The movie also introduced the concept of racist compliments, which was such a simple and easily noticeable idea that all previous filmmakers have somehow still missed. The picture spread a message of common humanity and I do hope to see it being achieved in my lifetime.
  3. While Peele created a modern, discussion-worthy, masterpiece by taking a simple outline of a narrative and injecting brilliant themes into it, he also created a very entertaining movie. The reveals in the story were subtle yet still shocking and suspenseful, while the viewers’ expectations were constantly played with, from the very beginning to the closing images.
  4. Peele also assembled a great cast for his picture. Daniel Kaluuya, who some people might remember from the 15 Million Merits episode of Black Mirror, was incredible in the lead and I’m so happy that the role in this film led to a boost to his career – he will also star in Black Panther. This Marvel deal could not have happened to a more deserving actor! Girls‘ Allison Williams was also amazing in her role. Her performance had layers and the reveals and shifts in her character were just wonderful to witness.
  5. Bradley Whitford and Catherine Keener delivered bone-chilling nuanced performances, while Caleb Landry Jones (American Made) was brilliantly crazy. Lil Rel Howery was delightful as the comic relief and was never out of place. Every time he appeared on the screen, it felt like a much needed minute to catch one’s breath. LaKeith Stanfield (who went on to star in Death Note) also had an interesting cameo role.

In short, Get Out, which has already been hailed as the best movie of 2017, is very deserving of that title. I really don’t remember the last time I saw a film that was both simple and straightforward and yet so complex and layered.

Rate: 5/5

Trailer: Get Out trailer

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Movie review: What Happened To Monday

Movie reviews

Hello!

Welcome to the review of What Happened To Monday, posted on a Monday. The movie came out on Netflix just recently but it also had a limited release at the cinema, so I’m hesitant to call it a Netflix original, but it still is that, at least partially.

IMDb summary: In a world where families are limited to one child due to overpopulation, a set of identical septuplets must avoid being put to a long sleep by the government and dangerous infighting while investigating the disappearance of one of their own.

What Happened To Monday belongs to the once lucrative dystopian genre. Up until very recently, films like this one were made by all the studios, especially Legendary. Interestingly, the majority of the previous dystopian movies were targeted at young adults, while What Happened To Monday does not feature the letter YA anywhere on its IMDb or wiki page. Nevertheless, it looks and feels like the rest of them, be it YA or not.

Writing

What Happened To Monday was written by Max Botkin and Kerry Williamson. Botkins’s original screenplay for the film was on the 2010’s Blacklist and this picture would have been received so much better if it came out at the beginning of this decade rather than during its second half.

The script had a lot of elements, which I enjoyed. I thought that the world building, while not the most original, was efficient and impressive enough. The flashbacks, which expanded the mythology, were good too. The One Child Policy idea was also interesting and reminded me of a similar system that is used in China, where the policy is obviously not as strict but, nonetheless, exists.

Character wise, the concept of the 7 sisters and the wordplay with their names were both cool. I also enjoyed the idea to have separate vignettes/days that focused on each of the siblings. Plus, the fact that there were 7 leads actually allowed the movie to have higher stakes and kill some of them.

Now, let’s touch upon the flaws in the writing, which was, sadly, plentiful. First, there wasn’t enough characterization for or differentiation between the separate sibling personalities, they all mostly had one character trait each. Most of the time, I didn’t know who was who. The writing for the villains wasn’t great either. The main antagonist was so evil, she bordered on cartoonish, while her pawns – officers of the law – seemed, mostly, really nonchalant about killing people. Monday’s motivation – to save some of her family by betraying other members of the family – didn’t make much sense. Additionally, there were just too much of ‘lucky coincidences’ written into the narrative, like the fact that the finger the Settman siblings were missing was the exact one that unlocked the gun or that cryo-sleep wasn’t actually a thing.

Lastly, while What Happened To Monday started as a personal quest for survival of one family, it, as all dystopian films, ends up being a large scale conflict about toppling the system. I guess if I desire a personal exploration of the dystopian world, I should just watch Black Mirror (well, some of its episodes).

Directing

The Norwegian director Tommy Wirkola, who only has one other English language film Hansel & Greteldirected What Happened To Monday and did an okay job. The futuristic world was well realized visually, even if it looked like a collection of things the viewers have seen in other movies (for example, the film’s poster looked exactly like the poster for The Scorch Trials, only with a gray rather than orange-ish color scheme). The action was fine – more graphic than other dystopian films and more in line with Netflix’s other pictures, like the gruesome violence in Death Note.

Acting

  • Noomi Rapace played 7+1 roles and did a fairly good job, though her performance (in addition the writing) didn’t differ enough from sibling to sibling. Rapace is known for starring in the Swedish versions of The Girl With a Dragon Tattoo films, while the English speaking audiences might remember her from Prometheus and Alien: Covenant’s promotional material. Her next film – Bright – will also be released on Netflix.
  • Willem Dafoe (another Netflix actor, at least for now, he was just in Death Note) had a small role, which he was good in, while Marwan Kenzari (who was recently in The Mummy) also starred. Lastly, Glenn Close played the typical role that a highly respected actor usually plays in a dystopian film. Her involvement was supposed to elevate the project, though, I don’t think that actually happened, as Close herself has mostly fallen off everyone’s radar.

In short, What Happened To Monday is an okay sci-fi dystopian picture that has enough interesting and entertaining ideas to be a worth a watch but lacks originality to be a must see. And yet, if you already have a Netflix account, why not check out the movie?

Rate: 2.9/5

Trailer: What Happened To Monday trailer

 

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Movie review: Death Note

Movie reviews

Hello!

The latest of Netflix’s original films (and, arguably, the most interesting one) is streaming worldwide, so, let’s talk about it. This is the review of Death Note.

IMDb summary: Light Turner, a bright student, stumbles across a mystical notebook that has the power to kill any person whose name he writes in it. Light decides to launch a secret crusade to rid the streets of criminals. Soon, the student-turned-vigilante finds himself pursued by a famous detective known only by the alias L.

2017’s Death Note is a live-action adaptation of a beloved anime/manga franchise. The Netflix’s version of this IP has been called the ‘American adaptation’ with the hopes of stopping or minimizing the criticism on the topic of whitewashing. Weirdly, I haven’t seen the same argument being used to defend Ghost in the Shell. Also, I find it strange that, in this day and age, somebody would make a movie purely for the American audience, when it is definitely gonna be seen all over the globe.

Writing

Death Note’s script was written by Charles Parlapanides and Vlas Parlapanides (the duo behind 2011’s Immortals – a Henry Cavill pre-Superman film), and Jeremy Slater (who wrote, oh no, 2015’s Fantastic Four). Going in line with the idea of Americanization, the screenwriters efficiently grounded the film’s story in an American life by opening the movie with the sequence set in a stereotypical American high-school. This was a first and a very obvious change from the original material. As I’m not familiar with neither the original Death Note anime or manga, I’d be interested to find out what other changes occurred? How were the characters different (excluding the race switch)? How much of the original plot-points were retained? Were the changes made because of the Americanization or for some other reason? The picture still did have some Japanese elements (mainly two: the word ‘Kira’ and its meaning remained and a few minor Japanese characters were involved in the narrative).

Speaking about the fantasy part of the story – I found it very fascinating and now I get why every anime fan loves Death Note. I thought that the film set up the mystical side of its story very well, although Light’s transition into being the full-on Kira figure was a bit sudden. Nevertheless, I did like that the movie raised questions about the vigilante justice (on a massive scale) and questioned the limits that some people might be willing to push past. Other, more real-world-related topics, which were touched upon in the film, were bullying, anti-socialness, and the unproductive parent-child relationships.

As the narrative is usually made or broken by its characters, let’s discuss them. I very much enjoyed the writing for Light. I loved how smart he was and, yet, how he still made stupid mistakes appropriate for his age (like telling his girlfriend about the book, although, I’m quite happy that the scriptwriters allowed him to ‘show and tell’ rather than act like Iron Fist, who only tells his story without any proof and expects others to believe him). Light’s opposite and equal – L – was also quite nicely realized. I loved the fact that the stand-off between these two was happening on a whole other level of brilliance. Their genius-ness could be seen in 1)L’s initial detective skills and 2)Light’s ability to avoid culpability in the end. I also liked how the main difference – one’s readiness to kill and other’s refusal to, was highlighted in the movie.

Another important character in the film was Mia, Light’s girlfriend. The writing for her was the worst, mostly because the secrets and the reveals, related to her, were fairly obvious. However, I noticed an interesting parallel between Death Note’s notebook having an influence over Mia similarly to how Tom Ridley’s diary had a hold on Ginny in HP2.

Directing

Adam Wingard directed the 2017’s Death Note and did a good job. His previous work mostly belongs to the horror genre and it looks like he brought elements of it to Death Note too and turned the psychological thriller/detective thriller into more of a horror film. He did that by using plenty of jump scares and really gruesome and gory violence. The graphic content didn’t detract from the plot but it didn’t add to it either. The final product also definitely had a feeling of a Hollywood film, due to its soundtrack (by Atticus Ross and Leopold Ross) and all the slow motion (so the Americanization of the property continued from the script into the visuals and the sounds).

The character design of Ryuk was quite good. He looked terrifying enough and kinda reminded me of the clown in the new IT film. I applaud the filmmakers for using mostly practical effects – puppets and costumes -to bring this character to life (CGI was only used for the face). I’ll comment on the look of the other characters in the acting category.

Lastly, the 3rd act of the film was quite strong. The final chase (L going after Light) was neatly paced and I liked its instrumental score and the urban setting. The ferry’s wheel sequence was also exciting and entertainingly crazy, especially when all the characters came clean.

The director’s next project is Godzilla vs. Kong for Legendary’s MonsterVerse.

Acting

Nat Wolff was really good in the lead role of L. He played the lead character as a psychotic but vulnerable genius.Wolff is slowly building his career, he first popped on everyone’s radar with a small part in The Fault in Our Stars and later starred in the John Green follow-up movie Paper Towns.

L was played by Lakeith Stanfield. The actor had previous small roles in Selma, Straight Outta Compton and Get Out (which I’m going to review in a couple of days). The idea to cast an African American actor in the role added some diversity and accuracy for a US-based film. Still, I don’t think that this type of diversity can work as an apology for not casting Asian talent in any of the lead roles. And yet, while the character did not retain neither its original race nor the iconic hair, his sitting position remained the same, which was a nice. Also, if we take the character’s look on its own and don’t compare him to anyone else, I have to admit – L did look very cool .

Mia was played by Margaret Qualley (The Nice Guys). I thought that she was the weakest of the cast. Her character’s shadiness was very obvious, presumably because the actress performance lacked subtlety. Willem Dafoe voiced and did the facial expressions for Ryuk. His voice fit the character neatly and the facial expressions were sinister enough.

In brief, Death Note was an okay adaptation of a beloved anime (but honestly, the bar has been set pretty low by Ghost in the Shell). Whitewashing aside, the film had a couple of writing problems, but, in general, was enjoyable.

Rate: 3/5

Trailer: Death Note trailer 

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