Movie review: A Star Is Born

Movie reviews

Hello!

And welcome to a review of a potential Oscar movie. In October. I swear the classical awards season stars earlier and earlier every year and I don’t think I can keep up. Anyways, this is A Star is Born!

IMDb summary: A musician helps a young singer and actress find fame, even as age and alcoholism send his own career into a downward spiral.

Writing

A Star Is Born was written by Eric Roth, Bradley Cooper (who also directed and starred), and Will Fetters. The 2018 film was the 4th iteration of this story and the 3rd reboot of the original 1937 movie. All the films have differed slightly by having either movie or music stars in the lead roles. I really enjoyed the fact that this time around the focus was on singers and songwriters as when I’ve recently got pretty burned out with movies and their reviews, music became my new main hobby. Thus, this film was kinda the perfect combo of my old and new hobby.

While the characters have shifted between different areas of entertainment throughout the reboots, the stories themselves have always been pretty similar. The same 3 plotlines were also used in the latest version: one’s career going up, the other’s career going down, and a simultaneous romantic involvement of the two stars, the up-and-coming one and the one whose career is in decline. I thought that the interplay between the 3 storylines was really good. However, I had some problems with the pacing of the story. The first and the seconds acts felt like they unraveled organically, however, the third one seemed rushed. The breaking points in both character’s career seemed quite sudden. Why did he completely fell off the wagon that suddenly when he had managed to maintain a steady-ish career up until that point? How did she break through that quickly and at that exact point? I guess that showbiz? One can never predict it?

Directing

Bradley Cooper directed A Star Is Born as his directorial debut and impressed me immensely. The pacing, as I have mentioned before, was a bit strange, but the world-building and the visuals were great. I loved how the viewer got to be onstage with the stars and see an unseen side of a concert. The film could have been a tad bit shorter though. The soundtrack was good, ‘The Shallows’ was my favorite song and I could see it being nominated for an Oscar.

Acting

  • In addition to directing and writing (and producing), Bradley Cooper (Joy) also played the lead and was great! I was also so surprised how good he was at singing!
  • Lady Gaga had her first big screen role in this film. She has previously cameoed or had supporting roles and films and has worked on TV (on American Horror Story). I was lucky enough to see her live 6 years ago, in my first ever big concert which was part of the Born This Way Ball tour. She sounded splendid live back then and was equally as amazing (in both the singing and the acting) in this film! I could see an Oscar nomination in her future.
  • A couple of important supporting roles were played by Sam Elliott, Andrew Dice Clay, Anthony Ramos, and Rafi Gavron. A few celebrity cameos could also be spotted but this was no Entourage.

In short, A Star Is Born was a bit long but a neat musical romance with some stellar acting and singing performances!

Rate: 4.2/5

Trailer: A Star Is Born trailer

img_0664

Advertisements

Movie review: Skate Kitchen

Movie reviews

Hello!

And welcome to the review of a film you probably haven’t heard of before but really should watch! This is Skate Kitchen!

IMDb summary: A teenaged skateboarder makes friends with a bunch of other skateboarding girls in New York City.

Writing

Skate Kitchen was written by the director of the film Crystal Moselle, Jen Silverman, and Aslihan Unaldi. It told a story of a group of skateboarding girls but was so much more than just that.

First, it explored a subculture that I haven’t seen put to film before (I remember really wanting to learn skateboarding at around 12-13, even bought a board and everything. Never ended up learning it. Oh well, I still have time). It also showcased, celebrated and explores female friendship and female development that happens with one’s friends help (learning from friends, talking openly about explicit topics, questioning one’s beliefs). While 18 seemed like a bot of later than usual time for parents problems and teenage angst, it also drove home the point that development is personal and can happen at a variety of ages. Also, Skate Kitchen had a sweet message about parents – if you actually talk to them, they might be accepting (communication is key). By putting skateboarding culture and female friendship together, the movie also tackled gender roles and broke them with pleasure. Absolutely loved that part.

The main conflict in the film had to do with the idea of a ‘girl code’ or certain rules that govern female (or any) friendships. Another problem that the movie tackled was the youthful hypocrisy of the main character: complaining about to somebody about their friends being bad people while being a bad friend to her own friends.  The ending of the film, where the conflict and the problems were resolved by simply saying sorry seemed a bit weak. In my personal experience, a simple apology does not necessarily work.

Directing

Skate Kitchen was directed by Crystal Moselle, who has mostly done documentaries and short films prior to this. It reminded me a lot of Ingrid Goes West – another colorful, youthful, contemporary, Sundance darling of a film. It was also partially similar to Tangerine and The Florida Project in its focus on a specific underrepresented thing (transgenders and single mothers, respectively) and also with its visual style. Those two films and Skate Kitchen all felt like documentaries. They felt (were) real and intimate, captured with a mobile camera by using a lot of close-ups. The skating (tricks) shots were magnificent too. It was also interesting to see a film, which focused on a ground culture – skating – have so much of its setting be elevated, upon the roofs of new york’s skyscrapers.

Acting

Skate Kitchen’s cast consisted of real skateboarding girls, that the director met on the streets of New York: Rachelle Vinberg, Jules Lorenzo, Ardelia Lovelace, Nina Moran, and Kabrina Adams among others. As they were all previous/real skateboarders, the physical stuff and the stunts were impeccable. The more challenging acting parts – dramatic dialogue and monologue – were a bit stiff but that’s understandable as they were all non-professional actors. The one professional actor of the ensemble was Jaden Smith and he was actually good in the film and not annoying as his real-life persona is.

In short, Skate Kitchen was a fascinating and grounded exploration of female friendship and skateboarding subculture worthy of everyone’s attention.

Rate: 4.3/5

Trailer: Skate Kitchen trailer

MV5BMTgwMTQ1ODY1N15BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwMjM4NjQ3NTM@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,674,1000_AL_

5 ideas about a movie: Mille 22

Movie reviews

Hello!

And welcome to the review of a typical Mark Wahlberg movie – Mile 22. Honestly, this review could stop here but I’m gonna try to squeeze out a couple hundred words out of this movie.

IMDb summary: An elite American intelligence officer, aided by a top-secret tactical command unit, tries to smuggle a mysterious police officer with sensitive information out of the country.

  1. Mile 22 was written by Graham Roland and Lea Carpenter. The movie’s premise was interesting but its execution in the script left a lot to be desired. The quest to get the ‘package’ to a certain location was chaotic and hard to follow. The twisty ending also did not add anything to the movie. In fact, it made it seem as if the film lacked an ending or a conclusion.
  2. While this movie wasn’t based on any real events, it appeared to be claiming that. It was also interesting to see that Russians are now back as villains in Hollywood films. Still, the main antagonist of the film ended up being the character played by an Indonesian actor.
  3. Speaking of acting, Iko Uwais was the aforementioned Indonesian actor and his performance was the bright spot of the film even if the material that he was given to work with was more or less a typical terrorist role (even with all the double-crossing, of course, it’s him who is the villain). Other supporting roles of varying sizes were played by John Malkovich, Lauren Cohan, and Ronda Rousey.
  4. The lead of the film was played by Mark Wahlberg (All The Money In The World, Daddy’s Home 2, Transformers 6) and this was one of the first times that I hated him in an action movie, mostly because of how his character was written as a cocky show-off with a slow temper. Wahlberg couldn’t make that character charismatic or appealing in any way. Seeing him just annoyed and frustrated me.
  5. Peter Berg, the longtime collaborator of Wahlberg’s (on Patriot’s Day, Lone Survivor, and Deepwater Horizon – all better films than this one) directed Mille 22 and did an okay job at best. The pacing was fine but the action itself was disorienting and hard to follow (or see because of the shaky cam). The action pieces were not particularly original either, just some shootouts in cars or buildings.

In short, Mile 22 is the first real dud in Berg’s/Wahlberg’s professional relationship that is definitely not worth paying for to see on the big screen.

Rate: 2.7/5

Trailer: Mile 22 trailer

Movie review: A Simple Favor

Movie reviews

Hello!

And welcome to a review of the film that critics love but I was confused by! This is A Simple Favor!

IMDb summary: A woman seeks to uncover the truth behind the disappearance of her best friend.

Writing

A Simple Favor was written by Jessica Sharzer (writer of Nerve and American Horror Story), based on the book of the same name by Darcey Bell. This film a successor of earlier female-centric book-to-movie thrillers like Gone Girl and The Girl on The Train. I have always loved the thriller genre so I was quite excited about the film. I haven’t read the book prior to watching so I had no idea about the plot. And the plot left me speechless and I still don’t know whether in a good or bad way.

I thought that the movie’s set-up was successful and intriguing. However, the complete 180 that the main character did (going from a good friend to a certainty shady person) confused me. I wish we would have seen more of her past ‘darker’ side than just a couple of scenes – maybe I would have believed her transition more. I also thought that the first half of the film felt a bit rushed and then the third act dragged on, with reveals being pilled on top of each other and not allowed to make an impact. The reveals were messy and even laughable at times, and yet, sort of interesting – I was hoping that one final reveal might make everything make sense but I never really got that.

I appreciated the movie’s attempts to explore a variety of adult relationships: friendships, family relationships, romantic or sexual relationships. However, all of them were portrayed as quite toxic and I don’t think that that is quite true to life. Due to these toxic relationships, the characters involved in them did not seem that likable. However, that wasn’t my main issue with them – it’s the fact that they did not appear to think at all or consider the consequences of their actions that annoyed me.

Directing

Paul Feig, quite a well-known director of female-centric comedies, like Bridesmaids and Ghostbusters, left his usual genre but took his skills with him. While A Simple Favor was supposed to be a mystery thriller, it had a plethora of comedic moments, some of which fit and some of which felt completely jarring and out of place. Those 3 parents that were sort of there in the background and would sometimes pop-up to comment on something felt very Bad Moms-esque and annoyed me with their awkwardness.

Acting

Anna Kendrick and Blake Lively – two amazing and under-appreciated actresses – played the leads and were ready great even if I didn’t think that the movie itself was so great. Lively (The Shallows, Cafe Society) fabulous in all those suits and the mysterious character really suited her. It was quite weird seeing Kendrick in a mother’s role as I still have her stuck in my mind as a student or an intern from Pitch Perfect and The Accountant, respectively, and she just seems so young in real life. Henry Golding (of Crazy Rich Asians whose review is coming soon) also had a role in this film and was really good. Hope to see more of him in mainstream films!

In short, A Simple Favor, while a complex and mysterious thriller according to some people, was a messy and awkward film in my view.

Rate: 3.4/5

Trailer: A Simple Favor trailer

Movie review: The Predator

Movie reviews

Hello!

And welcome to complete newbies review of The Predator – a 4th (or 6th) movie in the series that I’m completely unfamiliar with!

IMDb summary: When a young boy accidentally triggers the universe’s most lethal hunters’ return to Earth, only a ragtag crew of ex-soldiers and a disgruntled science teacher can prevent the end of the human race.

Writing

The Predator was written by Fred Dekker and Shane Black (who also directed this film and has also starred in the original while also doing some re-writes on its script). Now, my statement in the opening of this review (that I know nothing) isn’t completely true. Having been a fan of movies almost my entire life, I have seen bits and pieces of the previous films on TV as well as come across plot-details and news about them online. Initially, I thought that I might watch the previous films before seeing The Predator but then I decided that ‘fresh eyes’ type of perspective might also be interesting. And I wasn’t disappointed in that respect – I thought that the film had enough exposition and world building for me to get the plot without having the knowledge of the previous films. I was also able to spot the most famous references as they were pretty heavy-handed with those. And that’s about the only two compliments I can give this movie’s writing.

My other two main complaints were the portrayal of autism and just the intellectual quality of the plot. First of all, portraying autism as a superpower of sorts is not a new thing and has been put to films before. And while I do get the sentiment – trying to empower people with disabilities – I think that these films, including The Predator, achieve the absolute opposite. They showcase one’s disability – autism in this case – as the defining feature that makes people special rather than portraying than as successful individuals despite their disability. Show how people can be successful having dealt with their disability rather than celebrating the disability!

My second negative point about The Predator was just its plot in general. I had so questions many questions starting with ‘why’, ‘what’, and ‘how’ that I honestly lost count. Why the film began as a pretty straight-up action film soon devolved into a mess of plot-lines of multiple Predators and multiple one-dimensional characters (if they even had a single dimension to them). The *spoiler* idea that one of the Predators was humanities savior just gave me an instant flashback to the new Alien movies and their unsuccessful attempts to play with the ideas of human creation, saint-hood, etc.

Directing

Shane Black directed The Predator, while in truth he directed at least two movies within it. A buddy-cop/soldier action comedy (which he knows how to do as The Nice Guys is amazing film) and a more serious/darker action film (which he is not great at (Iron Man 3…). The action itself was pretty decent and I liked the smaller Predator’s probably real costume – it looked intimidating and real. On the other hand, the bigger Predator looked like a cartoon doll and was most definitely CGI (and not particularly effective CGI).

Acting

The Predator’s cast consisted of a variety of lesser known actors, including as Boyd Holbrook (Logan) in the lead and Trevante Rhodes (Moonlight, 12 Strong) as his new soldier-buddy. They had other teammates too but they were highly interchangeable and forgettable. Also, their humor was quite cringe-y most of the time. Jacob Tremblay played Holbrook’s soon and was good. This wasn’t the first time he had to play a disabled person, he also did that in Wonder. His character in Room wasn’t disabled but that was still a very challenging role. Olivia Munn (X-Men: Apocalypse) was fun to watch as the scientist of the group even if her acting style didn’t fit the tone of the group at all. Sterling K.Brown was fine as the human villain too.

In short, The Predator was a lackluster blockbuster that I couldn’t enjoy as a newbie. I feel so sorry for the fans who were expecting something. Or maybe they knew what to expect?

Rate: 3.2/5

Trailer: The Predator trailer

Movie review: Lady Bird

Movie reviews

Hello!

Welcome to the review of the best tomato (once) in the movie business. This is Lady Bird.

IMDb summary: In 2002, an artistically inclined seventeen-year-old girl comes of age in Sacramento, California.

Greta Gerwig

Lady Bird was written and directed by Greta Gerwig – an actress-turned-writer, now also a director (this film was her directorial debut). The ‘tomato’ line in the opening of this review, of course, refers to the fact that this movie was once the best-reviewed movie on Rotten Tomatoes (it has now fallen to 99% from the initial 100%). While it was certainly a great film, I, personally, didn’t think that it was as unique or out of the ordinary as everyone hailed it to be (spoiler alert: I think I change my mind by the end of this review).

Writing

Lady Bird’s story was a personal coming of age tale. While some of the details of the plot were very interesting and quite extraordinary, at its core, the movie’s plot was quite conventional. And there is nothing wrong with that! Nowadays, very rarely do we see completely original films. Likewise, movies that take something familiar and update it (like Lady Bird did) are rare too and should be celebrated! Still, I don’t think that they should be over-complimented just to make a statement.

Anyways, by being a coming of age tale, Lady Bird mostly focused on the perils of growing up and maturing. It looked at high-school drama but not in a cheesy way: the school/friend/boyfriend problems were treated with utmost importance, as they would be regarded from a teenage girl’s perspective when one’s whole life is high school. Those scenes felt really heartfelt rather than cheap and shallow, even if some of them were intended to be humorous (like, the theatre activities that were so fun to watch). I also appreciated how real the scenes looked – Lady Bird’s reaction to her first kiss was just perfect and highly relatable. A few of the scenes were a bit cringe-y as well but that was also very true to a life of a teenager.

Thematically, the movie: hinted at exploration of sexuality; looked at the experience of having a crush on a teacher; explored ideas relating to one’s identity (rebelling, trying to get in with the ‘cool kids’, realizing who you really are, etc.); examined friendship and relationships (first steps into dating), and suggested ideas relating to potential mental illnesses. Basically, the movie covered all the grounds of teenage experience through either the main or the supporting characters.

A crucial part of coming of age for everyone has always been one’s relationship with their parents. Lady Bird mostly centered on the mother-daughter relationship and explored it quite successfully. However, I have seen this movie celebrated for showing the mother’s perspective – I, personally, didn’t think that the mother character had nearly enough scenes, especially, solo ones, to truly say that this movie treated her POV as equal to her daughter’s POV. Anyways, I still believe that the relationship itself (when not arguing about the POVs) was portrayed extremely well: as both passive aggressive but, ultimately, loving. Essentially, a mirror image of me and my mom 7-8 years ago. I also really loved the film’s message that love is attention – that was quite a heartwarming takeaway for the viewers.

The movie also explored the importance of a location of one’s youth. For Gerwig herself and for Christine that was Sacramento. A lovely but maybe overtly idyllic place, which certainly was far from the worst place in America, but, I guess to each their own. The film, ultimately, was either intentional or unintentional love letter to Sacramento, California. Another autobiographical aspect of Lady Bird’s story was the character’s somewhat religious upbringing. The whole idea of a Catholic school seemed quite bizarre to me but I did appreciate the fact that the movie noted that religion is not something one can be forced into but, rather, something that a person has to discover by themselves (as Christine rediscovered it in college, when she had the freedom of choice).

Directing

I highly enjoyed the visualization of the teenage experience in this film, which mostly occurred through the costumes and the set design. The uniqueness of the main character was perfectly portrayed through her hair and the changes she made to the uniform. I also loved the thrifting scenes: they not only showed her unique style but captured her family’s station in life too (and stressed the importance of keeping up the image even in poverty). I also loved Lady Bird’s room: it looked so eclectic and really reminded me of my bedroom as a teenager. The scenes of her painting over all the things on her walls really signaled her growth. I’m older than Lady Bird was supposed to be in this film and I’m definitely not even close to that stage in life, as my bedroom walls’ look even messier and more confused than they did when I was a teen. Another signal of the character’s growth was her decision to change her name back to Christine. And yet, the movie also ended ambiguously and noted that she still has a lot of work to do on her identity, as she still lied about where she was from and wasn’t yet fully comfortable with who she is/was. Are we ever really are?

On a final note, Lady Bird was a fairly slow movie but it was also really short – one of the shortest awards movies for sure. I sometimes really appreciate films that manage to tell tight stories and to say everything they need to say in 90 minutes without making the pictures themselves feel rushed. And Lady Bird definitely did that!

Acting

Saoirse Ronan was delightful to watch in the film and I completely bought her as a teenager. Her American accent was also extremely convincing. I also loved the overall deep emotional quality of her performance: she didn’t have a lot of flashy scenes but she didn’t need them to be absolutely brilliant in the picture. Her involvement in this movie also made me recall another coming of age tale of hers – Brooklyn– through the character in that picture was completely different (Ronan certainly has the range).

Laurie Metcalf played Christine’s mother and did a great job. Her performance was ‘quietly good’ rather than super explosive, like Janney’s one in I, Tonya. I believe that Metcalf will be unfairly overlooked in the supporting actress category due to the quietness or the subtlety of her performance, when being evaluated against more ‘out there’ performances like Janney’s, a.k.a. I don’t think her nomination will lead to a win.

On the supporting front, the two love interests of the titular character were played by two young actors, who are already awards’ voters’ favorites (and deservedly so). Lucas Hedges (from Manchester by the Sea last year and Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri this year) had a small role in this film, while Timothee Chalamet (the breakout star from Call Me By Your Name) was also on the cast list and proved that he can play a heterosexual romantic lead as well as a homosexual one.

In short, I started this review with a statement that I didn’t think that Lady Bird was that exceptional but I do think that I fell in love with this movie all over again by writing the paragraphs that followed the said statement. And I’m not going to change the intro declaration because this review, like Lady Bird’s and all our lives, are all works in progress.

Rate: 4.5/5

Trailer: Lady Bird trailer

Lady_Bird_poster.jpeg

Movie review: Black Panther

Movie reviews

Hello!

Welcome to the review of the newest and, arguably, the most important Marvel movie! This is Black Panther!

IMDb summary: T’Challa, after the death of his father, the King of Wakanda, returns home to the isolated, technologically advanced African nation to succeed to the throne and take his rightful place as king.

As usual, before I start, my previous MCU reviews are here: Guardians 1 and 2, Avengers 2, Ant-Man, Doctor Strange, Civil War, Spider-Man: Homecoming, Thor 3.

Writing

Black Panther was written by the director of the film Ryan Coogler and Joe Robert Cole. I thought that the duo did a stellar job with the script. I’m not going to talk about the plot in detail, so as to keep this review spoiler free, other than to stay that a lot of narrative things happen in this film and a couple of them are quite unexpected. There are also a few of meaningful deaths (that might silence MCU critics who say that nobody ever dies in this universe). What I’m going to discuss more elaborately are the brilliant and multiple thematical concepts of Black Panther.

Just on the surface representational level, this film was a game changer. Black characters were elevated from the roles of the supporting friend/the funny sidekick/the one-scene cameo and were brought to the forefront. It’s also refreshing to see fictional black characters rather than real-life rebel slaves or civil rights activists (those smaller biographical movies are important too, but diversity in the blockbuster field is key as well). Also, even though this movie told a fictional story about fictional characters, it honored and paid homage to a lot of its real-world equivalents/inspirations, which raised a question for me: why haven’t we seen pictures about real, past or current, African tribes that were not documentaries???

Anyways, more on Black Panther paying homage to certain real-world ideas/events. I absolutely loved how the movie honored the connection that Africans have with their ancestors (and how in touch with their spirituality they are) as well their connection with nature (healing herbs, animals as deities). It was also great for the movie to acknowledge the violence within African culture (both the inner to the culture and the one coming from the west). Most importantly, it was just so amazing to see the Afrofuturism ideas on screen, which connected modernity with the traditional side of the culture. Scholars have been racking their brains about how to develop Africa without Westernizing it! Well, just do what Black Panther did: connect the two things rather than make one negate the other!

As the movie’s main character was a sovereign of a country, Black Panther also had some political commentary, mostly about a single country’s relation and obligation to the world. It also explored the well-known idea of the sins of the father reflecting of the children but in a royal context.  The film also had some fascinating things to say about communities, tribes or one’s ‘people’. How do we define that category? Do we draw lines based on race? Ethnicity? Nationality? Culture? Common beliefs and ideals? One of the central conflicts in the film was based on the fact that the villain and the hero of the story had different answers to that question. Speaking of the villain, Killmonger might be Marvel’s best one yet because he wasn’t just a villain but a character in his own right, whose goals were radical yet valid. The viewer could definitely understand his frustrations and reasons for his thinking.

Directing

Ryan Coogler (of Creedand Fruitvale Station) did an amazing job with Black Panther. He realized the visuals of Afrofuturism so well (with the help of production design, of course). The sets were brilliant and the costumes – absolutely impeccable and so cool as well! The action was really great too: fast-paced, intense, and meaningful for the plot. The pacing was also great!  The much-celebrated music of the movie was great (so it has been celebrated for a reason). I wanted to hear even more if it!

Acting

Black Panther assembled a stellar cast, led by Chadwick Boseman (Civil War) in a role that he was born to play. I’d love to see his involvement in the MCU leading to more non-biographical roles for him (cause I have seen him in quite a few biopics). Coogler’s collaborator Michael B. Jordan (Creed, Fantastic Four) played the villain and fully embodied the role, both physically and emotionally. I absolutely loved his character’s Americanized look too. An absolute scene stealer was Letitia Wright as the tech (and actual) princess. I loved her portrayal as a tech genius who was super excited about her creations and I also loved all her outfits and amazing sense of humor (bit cringe-y at times but so relatable). Lupita Nyong’o (The Jungle Book, The Force Awakens) also had a great role in the film – really loved seeing her in a big picture in person (not as in Star Wars, in motion capture).

Walking Dead’s Danai Gurira played an incredible role of the leader of Dora Milaje (who were all so amazing), while the breakout star of last year Daniel Kaluuya (Get Out) also had an interesting role to play (I loved how his character’s cape-like looking thing was also a shield). Winston Duke played a fun and multifaceted character too. Some more seasoned talent was also spotlighted: Angela Bassett was great as the mother of the king, while Forest Whitaker (Southpaw, Arrival, Rogue One) was perfect as an elderly statesman. Martin Freeman and Andy Serkis (War For The Planet of The Apes, The Last Jedi) also reprised their earlier roles in the MCU and were great. Freeman was a lovable CIA agent (not a word I’d use to describe a CIA agent, but, oh well), while Serkis was super crazy as one the villains of the film but it was really nice to see him in a non-motion capture performance.

Post-credits/End-credits (bit spoiler-y)

While Black Panther was mostly divorced from the MCU (it didn’t have many Easter Eggs that I could notice except of course the Stan Lee cameo), it did have a neat after-credits scene, where a fan-favorite from Civil War (‘White Wolf’) was defrosted. He seemed to be doing well in Wakanda.

The mid-credits scene was closely related to this picture and had a nice message of peaceful communication. It sounded a tiny bit naive but I can’t really fault hope.

In short, Black Panther was both a great Marvel comic book movie and a sophisticated game-changer in terms of representation for the whole context of modern cinema.

Rate: 4.8/5

Trailer: Black Panther trailer

Black_Panther_film_poster

Movie review: Phantom Thread

Movie reviews

Hello!

Welcome to one the last awards’ movie reviews. This time around, we are discussing Phantom Thread!

IMDb summary: Set in 1950’s London, Reynolds Woodcock is a renowned dressmaker whose fastidious life is disrupted by a young, strong-willed woman, Alma, who becomes his muse and lover.

Paul Thomas Anderson

Phantom Thread was written and directed by Paul Thomas Anderson, known for such films as Magnolia, Boogie Nights, Inherent Vice (which I’ve finally watched and was confused by) and There Will Be Blood (my favorite picture of his). His direction for Phantom Thread was very particular (and, in a way, quite spectacular). The writing was also very specific and, while I, personally, found a lot of problems with its content, I could also see how other people might have been fascinated by it. Let’s begin!

Writing

Phantom Thread’s narrative was, at its core, a love story, albeit a twisted and toxic one. The portrayal of such a love story was my main problem with the film. I have seen this movie described as a true representation of what it is like being in a relationship with an artist. To me, this looked like a situation, in which the film’s supposed authenticity of representation was used as a poor justification for the toxic relationship of the characters. Also, the assertion of authenticity raised another problem in my mind: according to this film, artists are borderline divine deities, to be sheltered and protected. In my worldview, artists are humans: flawed individuals rather than godlike figures to be privileged and raised above everyone else.

Going back to the love story, I couldn’t buy its progression. The female character stared the film as timid and quiet and seemed to be perfectly happy to be in an abusive and strict relationship. However, then she changed into a femme fatale (went from 0 (every second word from her mouth in the first half was ‘yes’) to Christian Grey levels) and attempted to reassert some power/or even take full control of the relationship by using quite deadly means. Where did that change come from? I did not see any hints at it at the beginning of the film! Also, if deciding to play-up the female character as this quiet but deadly individual, why not have the whole tonne of the movie be a bit more cynical and sinister rather than romantical? The changes in tonne would have made the whole shift seem a bit more possible. Also, was her goal to lower his defense mechanism really the only thing driving her forward? Or did she just want to weasel herself into his business and was basically a gold digger?

The male character was equally awful. He was privileged, pedantic, ridden with mommy issues (which were never really explored, just mentioned), demanding, superior without any good reason, obsessive, pretentious and controlling workaholic. Was he like that because of a mental illness or was he just an awful human being? Did his eccentricities really make him remarkable? I found that assertion quite questionable. Also, what did he see in the female character? A person to love, a prize to desire or a great model for his clothes/a real life dressmaker’s dummy?

The two ideas of writing that I liked the most (or the only two I liked at all) were the assertions that clothing is powerful and transformative and the character of the sister. Her jealousy of the new girlfriend/wife was a bit weird but I did like the fact that she was done with her brother by the end of the film and experienced growth – escaped the cycle that the other two characters remained stuck in.

Directing

Phantom Thread looked like a 1950s movie with its blurry and grainy visuals and soft colors. The designs themselves were beautiful but they also seemed very much of their own time – old rather than classical (time-transcending). The picture was also really slow, and since the story was either angering or extremely unengaging for me, I felt that it dragged more than a few times.

Acting

The two lead actors – Daniel Day-Lewis and Vicky Krieps – did a good enough job portraying the character. But, as I found their characters atrocious, I couldn’t really enjoy the actors’ performances. The chemistry between the two actors was interesting. I didn’t see it as positive but rather more confrontational and sometimes awkward, uncomfortable to watch. I don’t think this was Day-Lewis best performance and I certainly don’t think he should retire after it. For Krieps, this was her English-language debut (or one of the first few roles in English) and it was not necessarily the most successful one.

 

 

In short, Phantom Thread was a beautifully shot film, whose writing left me confused and annoyed. Might just be a personal thing, though, as a lot of critics seemed to have loved it.

Rate: 3/5

Trailer: Phantom Thread trailer

Phantom_Thread.png

Movie review: The Shape of Water

Movie reviews

Hello!

Welcome to a review of another awards movie. This is The Shape of Water!

IMDb summary: At a top secret research facility in the 1960s, a lonely janitor forms a unique relationship with an amphibious creature that is being held in captivity.

Writing

The Shape of Water was written by the director Guillermo del Toro and Vanessa Taylor (who wrote Divergent and the upcoming live-action Alladin and has also worked on Game of Thrones). I thought that the duo crafted a unique yet familiar love story. The characters – the mute woman and the creature – were the two things that made the conventional plot into an unconventional (subverted) and extraordinary one. It was interesting to see how Elisa’s disability made her more empathetic towards other individuals who were shunned by society (not only the creature but the (?)gay (he is never labeled in the movie) neighbor but the black co-worker). Her specific disability (being mute) and her gender (female) also had an interesting correlation with the idea of women being silenced/having no voice in that period (the 1960s – prior to the sexual revolution and the overt women’s rights movements).

The hints at the fact that the amphibian man was the one who hurt her as a child made for some fascinating implications in their relationship too. For one, that possibility (of him maybe having hurt her) and some of his other actions in the film made him seem as a creature in which goodness and destruction coexist (sort of like in humanity: Hawkins‘ character symbolizing the kindness and Shannon’s – the violence). The whole romantic relationship between the two characters was just so pure, even adorable and yet still slightly creepy. The picture didn’t shy away from the more questionable parts of the relationship (Beauty and the Beast never raised those kinds of questions) which was quite brave, in my mind, mostly in risking alienating the audience. The film’s ending was quite unexpected, to me, personally. I was assuming that the script will go the melancholic route – ‘if you love, let go’ – but The Shape of Water chose the hopeful/happy fairytale conclusion and finished on the note of love and unity. That was quite an escapist ending but it did fit the surreal quality of the film.

A few other notes on the writing. First, I loved this movie’s appreciation for cinema and creative arts in general (painting, drawing). I’ve always loved films which love (like me) and pay homage to other motion pictures (I’d love to live above the movie theatre). The second interesting point of writing that was somewhat divorced from the main love story was Michael Shannon’s arc and his character’s relation to the ideas of the male success and the expectations for such success. Failure was not an option for him and it is still not seen as a legitimate or appropriate part of the construction of masculinity, especially the white privileged form of masculinity.

Directing

Guillermo del Toro directed The Shape of Water and succeeded in crafting almost a spiritual sequel (an adult one) to Pan’s Labyrinth (while I have liked his more action-driven works like Hellboy and its sequel and Pacific Rim, his weirder creations (fantasy realism or realistic fantasies) were always more fascinating to me and that includes Crimson Peak). Anyways, speaking about this picture, I adored its mixed tonne. The Shape of Water was both a genre movie and a typical awards movie. It was an old-school monster thriller/horror movie (think the original Universal Monsters Universe, Creature from the Black Lagoon) as well as an old-school romantic drama with some shades of the theatrical musical or more than just shades in one particular sequence (think Singin’ in the Rain, An American in Paris, just recently La La Land). The adult tone that I’ve mentioned in the opening sentence was that fact that the film had sexual and sensual undertones that one would not find in a more family-friendly film, like Pan’s Labyrinth (though, both that movie and The Shape of Water were rated R, so maybe Pan’s Labyrinth isn’t that all-ages appropriate as I remember).

Visually, the film looked stunning. The 1960s world of science was well realized (stellar production design) and the underwater sequences at the beginning and the end of the film were amazing (top-notch cinematography). The movie’s and the main character’s relationship to water was realized so cleverly and beautifully too. The costume design and the makeup were impeccable as well: the monster looked incredibly real.

Acting

Sally Hawkins (Paddington 2) delivered a brilliant performance that shined through the limited means of expression, a.k.a., she was amazing, even though, she barely said any lines. She seemed so endearing and had such a complex interplay innocence and maturity about her. And, although she was so great in the film, part of me wishes that the role would have been given to am an actually mute actress – I’d love to see more opportunities being extended to actors with disabilities (or special abilities). The TV show Switched at Birth has taught me that there are quite a few mute and deaf actors working in the business.

Doug Jones (a longtime collaborator of del Toro, currently part of the main cast of Star Trek: Discoveryor the Andy Serkis of practical costumes/effects was great as the creature and was definitely more than able to act through all that rubber. Michael Shannon (12 Strong, Nocturnal Animals, Loving) was also fascinating to watch even when though he played a very despicable character. Octavia Spencer (Hidden Figures, Allegiant) also had some fun scenes, while Richard Jenkins was amazing as the neighbor. Michael Stuhlbarg also had a small role in the film (and applause go to him and his agent for having three awards movie this season – The Shape of Water, Call Me By Your Name, and The Post – that join numerous other awards movies in his filmography, including the recent ones: Steve Jobs, Trumbo, and Arrival).

In short, The Shape of Water was one of those movies that made me go ‘huh?!’ and made me unsure what to feel (or think) in the best way possible.

Rate: 4,8/5

Trailer: The Shape of Water trailer

images

Movie review: Maze Runner: The Death Cure

Movie reviews

Hello!

The last of the YA dystopias is coming to an end. This is Maze Runner: The Death Cure.

IMDb summary: Young hero Thomas embarks on a mission to find a cure for a deadly disease known as the “Flare”.

Writing

The Death Cure was written by T.S. Nowlin (the writer of the two previous pictures in this series and the upcoming Pacific Rim: Uprising film), based on the book of the same name by James Dashner. I’ve read the original trilogy more than 5 years ago now, so I hardly remember its plot details (I might have remembered a bit more a year ago, when this film was supposed to come out but, as it was pushed back due to Dylan O’Brien’s injury on set, I’m now more in the dark than I’ve ever was). However, this movie franchise has gone so far off the books (especially in the second film) that my background of having read and not remembering the book hardly impacts the motion picture watching experience. Having said that, I did recount two major things from the last book that managed to stay with for 5+ years and both of these developments were preserved in the film. I was quite upset that the filmmakers kept the first thing (from the selfish fan perspective) but quite glad that they retained the second one (from an objective-ish reviewer perspective). Let me elaborate. Also: SPOILERS!

The first thing I had in my mind was the death of probably my favorite character from the series – Newt. I distinctly remember being very sad after finishing the book and hoping that, when this novel will finally reach the big screen, Newt will be allowed to live. However, I’m not surprised that the screenwriter kept such an ending for one of the main character’s, as his final scene was pretty emotional and made for a great and powerful moment on screen. His nickname for Thomas – Tommy – was heartbreakingly sweet too. The second development that I’ve mentioned as having liked from a more objective point of view was the movie’s (and the book’s) ultimate ending. The film ended with all the surviving characters living on an island (a more realistic version of the safe haven from the books. In the original novels, a portal had to be taken to reach safety rather than just a boat). I’m glad that the screenwriters didn’t change the ending into fairytale/happy one but kept it ambiguous: what will Thomas do with HIS gift? In addition, I feel like a happy ending (like a sequence of the cure being spread to everyone) would have undercut all the losses that the surviving characters had to go through.

Now, having explored some of the narrative details, let’s look at some themes. One of the major topics of discussion for the film was memory (and my musings about remembering or forgetting certain details of the plot somehow feel more appropriate). Another big concept for this series has always been friendship, which was on display here once more (Thomas, Newt, and Minho are one of my favorite trios in YA fiction). The shades of the love triangle (Thomas, Teresa, Brenda) were present too, though, they weren’t on display that much.

My few slight criticism towards the writing were mainly just two and both of them had to do with the antagonists of the series. For one, I have never fully understood the hierarchy within the WCKD. In this film, Ava Paige had to ask somebody else for the permission to start the human trials of the cure as if they haven’t been experimenting on humans for years already to get the vaccine in the first place?! Also, I’m still not entirely sure whether I buy Teresa’s shifting allegiances or it might be that I just don’t understand her character and the scale she uses to judge what is right on.

 

 

Directing

Wes Ball directed The Death Cure (he also did The Maze Runner and The Scorch Trials) and did quite an amazing job, especially with only around $60 million budget. The last entry into the franchise was highly action-packed. The said action was also quite varied: the film had a variety of sets (all brown and broken but still cool looking) and a ton of CGI that looked quite good (I’ve seen movies that cost double what this one did and looked four times worse (*cough, cough*, Geostorm). The focus on the action in this film also allowed this series to finally differentiate itself from the other YA dystopias, mainly The Hunger Games. While THG finished off as more of a political thriller, TMR series seems to have always been more about the spectacle and only then about the ideas. The ideas – the attempt to go the political thriller route with the cure only being meant for the privileged – were present but they did feel like an afterthought. The Maze Runner series should not have tried to shy away from its action roots, as these sequences were the best ones in the movie. Having said that, the characters had to break into The Capitol-like city in this film, so maybe these two series aren’t that different after all. I wonder how the Divergent/Allegiant situation is going on? That series probably won’t end ever.

Anyways, the fact that this movie had a lot of action, also helped it with the pace, which was quite fast. The only dip came in the second act, however, the first and the third acts were rapid and intense.  My only critique of the action sequences was that, at times, they were filmed with a bit too much of the shaky cam. Nevertheless, those moments were far and few in between, while the majority of the action was captured by a handheld but steady enough camera, while the mobile frame helped with the intensity. I also loved how the action scenes in the first act (the maze and the grievers; the cranks) were used as a slight reminder of what happened in the previous pictures. Lastly, how nice was it that they the filmmakers (and the suits) didn’t divide the finale of the trilogy into two parts!

Acting

The Death Cure saw the return of all the favorites. Dylan O’BrienThomas Brodie-Sangster, and Ki Hong Lee were all great as my favorite trio: Thomas, Newt, and Minho, respectively. I only wish that they would have shared more scenes together. O’Brien’s TV show – Teen Wolf – has ended last year but he has been steadily racking up movie roles (in this series, Deepwater Horizon, and American Assasin) and seems to be fairing much better than the actual lead of his TV show – Tyler Posey. I really hope that the relative financial success of this franchise will allow Thomas Brodie-Sangster and Ki Hong Lee to be cast in more projects too.

Will Poulter (The Revenant, Detroit) also returned as Gally, while Dexter Darden had some neat moments (operating a crane) as FrypanKaya Scodelario (Pirates 5) was okay as Teresa, while Giancarlo Esposito’s (OkjaJorge and Rosa Salazar’s Brenda were neat to watch in their father-daughter-like relationship. On the villain side, Patricia Clarkson (The Party) was still immaculately dressed in white as Ava Paige, while Littlefinger – Aidan Gillen (Sing Street) as Janson – was doing his thing as usual. Another GOT family member (who also stars in Fast&Furious franchise) Nathalie Emmanuel (as Harriet), as well as ShadowhuntersKatherine McNamara (as Sonya), appeared too, although the film didn’t really know what to do with them, after having introduced them in The Scorch Trials as members from a different maze/test group.

In short, Maze Runner: The Death Cure was an entertaining finale to the, overall, surprisingly strong YA franchise, that pleased my heart and mind. And this praise comes from somebody who was once the biggest fan of the book and this genre in general.

Rate: 3.8/5

Trailer: Maze Runner: The Death Cure trailer

MazeRunnerDeathCureFinalPoster.jpeg