5 ideas about a movie: American Assasin

Movie reviews

Hello and welcome to the third and the last movie review of this weekend!

In this post, we are discussing American Assasin: one generic monstrosity of a film that was so basic that I couldn’t even come up with an interesting introduction for its review. I could have called it just ‘another movie in the line of films that all have the word ‘American’ plus a random noun in their titles’ (American MADE, BEAUTY, PSYCHO, GRAFITTI, etc.)

IMDb summary: A story centered on counterterrorism agent Mitch Rapp.

  1. American Assasin, as a story, first originated in a book format, written by Vince Flynn. 7 years and 4 screenwriters later (Stephen Schiff (writer of 1990s’ pictures like True Crime and Lolita, who now mostly works on the small screen), Michael Finch (wrote Hitman: Agent 47), Edward Zwick (TV writer), and Marshall Herskovitz (writer of The Great Wall and Jack Reacher 2), this narrative reached the silver screen. Now, I haven’t read the book, so I can’t comment on the similarities/differences between the version of the plot in the film and in the novel. However, I can tell you that, as a motion picture, American Assasin was completely unoriginal, predictable, bland, uninspiring, and, frankly, boring. It is also mind-boggling to see 4 scriptwriters credited for the writing of the movie. They seriously couldn’t come up with anything better?
  2. American Assasin didn’t bring anything new to the table when it comes to movies about terrorism (it even resulted in being just as the same old white male vs white male fight). It didn’t have anything new to say neither about the mentor-mentee relationship nor the world of the military/CIA/secret-ops and their rogue agents. It also didn’t practice what it preacher: everything was personal and nobody followed the rules. Lastly, the twists and turns could be seen a mile away, while the dialogue lines were super recycled, and, thus, cringe-y.
  3. A couple of compliments I could award the screenplay was that I liked seeing the transition of Dylan O’Brien’s character: from a millennial who would film his proposal (the acting made that moment sweet rather than eye-roll worthy) to an assassin with a personal (and almost justified) vendetta. I also loved the idea of the virtual training. The IRL training sequence (the one with the re-created shop) was also neat.
  4. Michael Cuesta, TV director and producer and the director of Kill the Messenger, helmed American Assasin and did as good of a job as he could. The script didn’t really give him much to work with but at least he made the hand-to-hand combat seem somewhat exciting. The pacing was fine too. The generic setting of the various European and non-European cities was well realized, but, still generic (Americans seem to enjoy wreaking havoc on the old continent).
  5. Inarguably, the best part about this film was the performances of its two leads. Dylan O’Brien has really begun his final transition from the YA-movies (a la The Maze Runner, which he still has one to promote and oversee the release of) and the young adult TV (Teen Wolf is also airing its last episodes, which he scarcely appears in). He has also had a small role in Deepwater Horizon. His performance here was believable and likable. Michael Keaton (Spider-Man: Homecoming, Spotlight) was also great: there were shades of ‘let’s get nuts’ level of craziness in his performance. Taylor Kitsch was fine as the villain too, though there wasn’t anything particularly interesting about his performance. The few female supporting characters were lazily written but performed well enough by Sanaa Lathan (who was, sadly, just the exposition machine) and Shiva Negar (or the film’s lazy attempt at the female empowerment and diversity).

In short, American Assasin is an action film that you have already seen numerous times. If you like the two leads (Keaton and O’Brien) you might watch it for them, other than that – I don’t recommend it. Maybe as a rental or a free TV rerun.

Rate: 2.5/5

Trailer: American Assasin trailer

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Movie review: Transformers: The Last Knight

Movie reviews

Hello!

While the majority of the world is already enjoying Spider-Man, I’m watching Transformers: The Last Knight, because the international release schedules hate me. Here we go.

IMDb summary: Autobots and Decepticons are at war, with humans on the sidelines. Optimus Prime is gone. The key to saving our future lies buried in the secrets of the past, in the hidden history of Transformers on Earth.

Writing

The 5th Transformers film was written by Art Marcum and Matt Holloway (Iron Man’s writers), Ken Nolan (Black Hawk Down’s writer), and Akiva Goldsman (writer of Batman & Robin, the Oscar-winning picture A Beautiful Mind, and Ron Howard’s Da Vinci Code films). For a movie with this much going on, I expected it to have at least 8 scripwriters. The narrative (sort of) continued where the last movie left off (I, honestly, barely remember Age of Extinction or the original trilogy – I reviewed all of them in 2014 and wasn’t going to suffer through all of them again this year). The story was so messy. Like I said, the film had so much going on, and yet, it still managed to be pretty boring. Neither of the 4(?) plotlines was given any room to breathe and develop, we were just jumping around them all the time. The dialogue was bland or used as a tool for forced exposition. The jokes fell flat most of the time, although they weren’t as offensive as usual.

Before going to see this film, I was actually quite excited about the promised deconstruction of history and the inclusion of the King Arthur legend (the ‘it’ myth for this summer – King Arthur 2017 review). However, I don’t think it was used in a compelling way. Nevertheless, I will give the scriptwriters one compliment – I thought that they used the Stonehenge and the supercontinent Pangaea real-world tie-ins quite neatly. The rest of the fantastical narrative didn’t make much sense but at least these tie-ins were good.

Transformers films have always had a problem with the female characters. I guess this film was the least problematic in that aspect? The teenage girl was fine in the first act and then she was kinda forgotten for the rest of the movie before reappearing in the third act for no reason. She was just mostly there for Mark Wahlberg’s character to have a replacement daughter. I was really happy that they didn’t use the girl’s scenes from the promotional material in the actual film (the ones with ‘you fight like a girl’). If they included that, I would have begged the Transformers films to go back to sexism rather than attempting to do feminism and damaging the whole cause. The adult female character was fine. I appreciated the fact that she was a scholar, although her other mannerisms made her into a walking British stereotype with a Megan Fox costume.

There was a teaser scene at the beginning of the credits: I don’t know what it means, I don’t want to know and, most importantly, I don’t want to watch more of these movies.

Directing

This was supposedly Michael Bay’s final Transformers film. Despite what you think of him creatively, I have no idea how can anyone objectively think of him as a good director from a technical standpoint. I mean, those ever changing aspect ratios. Why??? They showed immense sloppiness and carelessness. Also, what was up with the constant color and lighting shifts? The action and the CGI – the staples of this franchise – looked fine but they were also all the same: loud noises, big explosions, and quick cuts. I couldn’t tell you who was fighting who, even in the opening battle with the real humans. The two compliments for action I can give is that I liked the shots of the Transformers in car form and I also liked the scene of the different parts of the Bumblebee fighting separately and then rejoining together, while in action.

Acting

The cast of Transformers 5 was way better that the movie deserved. Mark Wahlberg (Patriot’s Day, Deepwater Horizon, Ted 1+2) returned from the 4th film for probably his last outing as the character. The actors from the original trilogy – Josh Duhamel and John Turturro – also returned in their original roles, while Stanley Tucci (Beauty and the Beast, Hunger Games), who previously appeared in the 4th film, had a new role in the 5th film. Who cares, though? Nobody on this movie cared about continuity, so why should we waste out time trying to figure this out? Anthony Hopkins (Noah) also had a role in this film. I wonder what he was promised to appear in this mess. Starlord’s mom from Guardians of the Galaxy Laura Haddock played the main female lead, while Nickelodeon’s Isabela Moner played the teenage girl in the first act, All of the actors delivered okay performances. They weren’t terrible but they didn’t seem to be trying much either, and, honestly, I don’t blame them.

In short, Transformers: The Last Knight is an incoherent mess in all aspects. Nothing can save this franchise and nothing should.

Rate: 2/5

Trailer: Transformers 5 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: Patriot’s Day 

Movie reviews

Hello!

Welcome to a review of a film which is based on the very recent real-life events. This is the review of Patriot’s Day.

IMDb summary: An account of Boston Police Commissioner Ed Davis’s actions in the events leading up to the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing and the aftermath, which includes the city-wide manhunt to find the terrorists behind it.

  1. Up until this point, the majority of movies, inspired by true events, would act as my first encounters with the said events. However, Patriot’s Day recounts the 2013 Boston Marathon bombings, which I followed extremely closely. I distinctly remember watching CNN and BBC and being completely horrified. The worst part was that that same week, I was planning on participating in a running event. Even though I was sure that nothing would happen, as my native country is too small of a target, I was still a bit scared to be in the crowd, full of runners, spectators and etc.
  2. Patriot’s Day is the 3rd collaboration between the director Peter Berg and the actor Mark Walhberg. Just a few months ago, their previous project Deepwater Horizon (also inspired by true events) came out. 2013’s Lone Survivor (also based on real life events) was their first picture together.
  3. The film’s screenplay was written by the director Peter Berg, Matt Cook, and Joshua Zetumer. I think that they managed to respectfully retell such a well known (and fresh in people’ minds) story. It had the usual great set-up/development to make the viewers care about these characters/real people. It also succeeded at showing the bombings and their aftermath from a variety of perspectives.  I was especially interested in the film’s ideas on the concept of survivor’s guilt.
  4. Peter Berg did a great job with the direction of this film. The set-up was effective, the recreation of the actual bombings – super realistic, while the investigation – suspenseful and intense. Overall, the film did have a strong emotional impact. The feels really hit home while listening to the accounts of the real individuals, who lived through the terror attack, during the credits.
  5. Although the film was advertised with Mark Wahlberg (Ted, Transformers) in the lead, I think that it was more ensemble based. And what great ensemble cast it had: John Goodman (Trumbo), J. K. Simmons (La La Land, The Accountant, Zootopia, Whiplash), Michelle Monaghan (Pixels), and Kevin Bacon (Black Mass) all starred in the picture. The casting choices for the terrorists (who weren’t even good at being terrorists) were interesting: the relative newcomers Alex Wolff and Themo Melikidze played the two bombers, while Melissa Benoist, who is most well known for being Supergirl, played the role of a terrorist’s wife. It was so interesting and unusual to see Benoist in such a contrasting role to her usual one.

In short, Patriot’s Day was a well directed and an emotional retelling of the 2013 Boston Marathon bombings. In addition, the film’s extensive cast delivered great performances.

Rate: 4.5/5

Trailer: Patriot’s Day trailer

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Movie review: Deepwater Horizon

Movie reviews

Hello!

Welcome to another film review. This time, we’re discussing the latest Berg-Wahlberg collaboration – Deepwater Horizon!

IMDb summary: A story set on the offshore drilling rig Deepwater Horizon, which exploded during April 2010 and created the worst oil spill in U.S. history.

Deepwater Horizon’s story was based on true events that actually happened on an oil rig called Deepwater Horizon back in 2010. Although this particular platform was located in the Gulf of Mexico, a similar disaster has also happened near the city that I currently live. I’m talking about Aberdeen, also known as the oil capital of Europe. The oil rig called Piper Alpha, located 120 miles to the northeast of the city, exploded in 1988, killing 167 crew members. while only 11 lost their lives at Deepwater Horizon.

This movie shares certain similarities with other biographical survival dramas. All pictures like this follow a formula – they developed the characters and form an emotional connection between the characters and the viewers, only to then allow the members of the audience to feel utterly helpless while watching how the characters on screen are trying (and failing) to overcome various challenges. If you’d like to see more films like Deepwater Horizon, you can check out 2015’s Everest, which had a similar fall release date. Last year, we also had The Finest Hours, which told the story of an oil disaster as well, only this time on a ship rather than on a rig.

Now, let’s move on to discussing the various aspects of the feature that this review is for.

Writing

Deepwater Horizon’s screenplay was written by two Matthews: Matthew Michael Carnahan and Matthew Sand. Carnahan wrote the World War Z big screen adaptation and has also worked with the director of the film Peter Berg on another movie called The Kingdom. Sand hasn’t really worked much, although, he did write 2009 film Ninja Assassin. Deepwater Horizon’s script was based on The New York Times article Deepwater Horizon’s Final Hours, written by David BarstowDavid Rohde, and Stephanie Saul.

As I have mentioned, the narrative of the film was formulaic. However, it did work. The set-up was fairly clear (some of the specific terms went over my head) and the character development – sufficient and efficient. The picture had more than a few nice instances of friendly banter between the co-workers and was also really attentive to detail, for example, in showing the OCD of the main character through his orderly office. There were also a few subtle and less than subtle foreshadowing moments – one with the can of coke and the other with that safety award.

Deepwater Horizon also had some interesting commentary on capitalism and big business. It very obviously established the hierarchy based on money – rich owners and executives lived and had all the charges dropped, even though they were the ones who allowed this disaster to happen, while the innocent workers lost their lives. I also liked that idea about how any business consists of thousands of moving parts. Well, it seems like all of those parts stopped working on Deepwater Horizon that fatal night in April of 2010. The ideas of who is accountable and who has the right to order the evacuation and a shutdown were also fascinating to watch.

Directing

Peter Berg, the creator of Friday Night Lights and the director of such films as Battleship and Lone Survivor, directed the film and did a good job. He had some really amazing visual effects and some scarily beautiful shots of the old rig on fire. Moreover, everything looked uber realistic, except the CGI on the inside of the pipe. The real recording of the hearings as well as the actual footage of the rig burning were nice additions to the film. Not only did a decision to add them both at the beginning and at the end of the film tied everything together, but it also connected the film’s narrative to the actual real life events.

Deepwater Horizon felt like a quite a short movie. Despite its runtime being over 100 minutes, the fast pace of the film made it seem more like a 1h feature. The set up was a bit long but it didn’t drag. Furthermore, when the disastrous action started to happen, the time just flew by. The wrap-up was also quite speedy.

Berg managed to craft a fine film, which was both emotional, sad, and difficult to watch. The last few scenes – the aftermath of the disaster – were the most moving. Seeing the characters on screen deal with the horrors that they endured made my eyes water, I’m not gonna lie. The instrumental score also contributed a lot to the feelings that arose while watching this film.

Acting

The movie had an ensemble cast, but a few stand-outs were, of course, Mark WahlbergKurt Russell, John MalkovichGina Rodriguez and Dylan O’Brien.

For Wahlberg, this was his second collaboration with Berg (first being Lone Survivor) and they also have another movie coming out this year – Patriot’s Day, based on the 2013 Boston Marathon Bombing. He was really good in the lead, I liked his chemistry with Kate Hudson, who played his character’s wife and the cute moments with his character’s daughter. Kurt Russel was amazing too. Lately, he seems to be re-establishing himself on the big screen once again, starting with last year The Hateful Eight. He will also be in the next Fast and Furious film and will play a crucial role in Guardians of the Galaxy 2.

Another silver-screen veteran John Malkovich was also great – his character was an awful person but Malkovich did a marvelous job making me hate him. The two younger members of the cast were also excellent. Jane the Virgin’s Gina Rodriguez had some nice lines and her final moment with Wahlberg’s character was just amazing, while Dylan O’Brien played his usual likable and a little bit quirky boy-next-door type of a character. O’Brien is best known for starring in the MTV series Teen Wolf, but he has also played the lead in The Maze Runner series, whose final installment has been pushed back because of a serious injury that Dylan sustained on set. Nevertheless, he seems to be back on his feet and working.

In short, Deepwater Horizon was a fine film. It had solid writing and directing and wonderful acting. It is not a type of picture to rewatch multiple times, but if you enjoy good movies, I suggest you check it out at least once. Besides, it is a sorta original film (still an adaptation) in a sea of remakes and sequels.

Rate: 4/5

Trailer: Deepwater Horizon trailer

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Extraordinary Cinema Review II (The Shows of Shows + Persepolis)

Movie reviews

Hello!

I’m continuing my series of indie foreign films that I’ve started yesterday. My previous post and the reasons behind me doing this review series are here.

The previous two films I discussed both belong to the narrative cinema genre, so they were fairly close the mainstream. However, these two are more outside the box: one of them is a stock footage documentary and the other – black and white 2D animated feature.

The first film I’m discussing today is The Show of Shows: 100 Years of Vaudeville, Circuses, and Carnivals. It’s an Icelandic director’s Benedikt Erlingsson’s musical documentary from 2015. The whole film is one giant found footage montage. Erlingsson just pieced together various National Fairground Archive clips of circus and carnival performances. The picture has no dialogue, no narrative – it just a spectacular combination of music and visuals and the upbeat tempo of the soundtrack really adds a lot of liveliness to the already spectacular video recording. The film is kinda divided into different sections – you get 10 minutes of dance acts at the start, then the movie spotlights the different animal performers, jugglers, gymnasts, clowns and all kinds of other circus personnel.  The Show of Shows ends with the sequence of people laughing and drives home the idea that circus wouldn’t exist without the spectators.

The feature is definitely amusing and entertaining (just like the carnival), though, the animal parts are quite hard to watch. The previously heard stories about animals being treated badly at the circus kinda ruined the enjoyment of the film for me just a bit.

Watching this film was not only a great experience because of its content – the location added some flavor to the mix too. I actually got to see this film outside during the night. During the summer, the Lithuanian international film festival Kino Pavasaris (eng. Cinema Spring) in partnership with the Kaunas’ Art Cinema Romuva put on a screening of this particular picture in the Old Town of Kaunas. The event attracted a lot of people and we all got a chance to spend a nice summer evening watching a movie underneath the stars.

Rate: 5/5

Trailer: The Show of Shows trailer

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The second film I want to mention was made in 2007 but skipped my attention until two days ago. It’s the animated feature Persepolis, directed by Marjane Satrapi and Vincent Paronnaud, based on Satrapi’s autobiographical graphic novel of the same name. I have read the novel – it was one of the first comics I have read – and absolutely loved it, so I decided to check out the movie as well.

To begin with, I loved the film because it was so close to graphic novel – the animated graphics looked exactly like the comic book panels. In addition, although all the characters were animated and lacked any coloring, they were so full of life and expressive.

I also appreciated the fact that the picture was respectful to the subject but also dared to make some jokes. The film revolves around a girl’s (Satrapi’s) life – how she lives through a war and through a revolution in Iran, how she eventually has to leave her native country and has to build a new home abroad. All of the facts are laid out neatly and clearly, the problems and horrors are showed unflinchingly, but the comic-relief and the everyday funny situations also find a place in the picture. In short, Persepolis is both heartwarming and anger-inducing. It kinda makes everyday problems of my own life seem unimportant.

One of the most interesting aspects of the film (and the original novel) was the concept of Westernization of Iran. It was interesting to see that Iranian people weren’t actually that different from people in the West – they liked the same music and films. It was also captivating to see the items of the Western world being sold as contraband on the streets – the situation was pretty similar in the Soviet block, where my parents grew up, so it was fascinating to see the same things happen in a different part of the world. I guess, for better or for worse, one cannot escape Westernization, be it a voluntary or involuntary process.

Rate: 5/5

Trailer: Persepolis trailer

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I hope you enjoyed this slight break from the mainstream films. I will return to reviewing them tomorrow with a post on Deepwater Horizon. In the meantime, let’s go back to binge-watching Luke Cage.