Movie review: Deadpool 2

Movie reviews

Hello!

Welcome to a review of Deadpool 2. Took me absolutely forever (4 weeks and 3 screenings) to finally write it.

IMDb summary: Foul-mouthed mutant mercenary Wade Wilson (AKA. Deadpool), brings together a team of fellow mutant rogues to protect a young boy with supernatural abilities from the brutal, time-traveling cyborg, Cable.

Writing

The Deadpool sequel was written by the same duo that wrote the first film – Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick, however, this time around, the star of the movie – Ryan Reynolds – also got a writing credit. I thought that the second film’s writing was fairly similar to the first one’s writing in that, the screenwriters took a familiar plot and packaged it in new and exciting ways. While the first film was an origin story of sorts, the sequel did the typical superhero sequel thing and took away the familiar things from the hero, taught him a lesson, and expanded the universe. And yet, while we all have seen these elements before, they still felt fresh because they were accompanied by that unique to Deadpool tone: humor, references to the real world, the 4th wall breaks, etc. The Easter Eggs were plentiful and I don’t know if any one person can actually get all of them, I certainly didn’t. The Mid-Credits scenes contained the best jokes so make sure you wait for them! (Although you have probably already seen the movie as I’m so late with this review).

And yet, while Deadpool 2 was similar to the first film in a lot of ways, it also felt different because it came across as more sincere – seriously emotional (this come from the loss and the lesson elements in the picture). It also felt very comic-book and had an ending that combined Logan’s and Doctor Strange’s 3rd acts (save a kid + play with time). Cable worked well in the story, though his first appearance felt a bit out of nowhere. In general, this picture engrained itself more into the X-Men lore but in true Deadpool fashion, did not fully commit.

Directing

David Leitch – the one half of the directing duo behind John Wick and the director of Atomic Blonde – helmed Deadpool 2 and did a spectacular job. The hand to hand combat was good and the bigger budget was well utilized on the bigger explosive action scenes. The pacing worked well too and the emotional core of the movie was also handled well. The soundtrack was fun too (what’s dubstep tho?:D).

Acting

Ryan Reynolds pulled double duty as both Wade Wilson / Deadpool and Juggernaut and was absolutely incredible. Nobody can deny that he was born to be Deadpool, not just play the role but fully embody it. Josh Brolin was amazing as Cable and topped his very recent performance as ThanosMorena Baccarin returned as Vanessa and had some neat scenes. Hunt for the Wilderpeople’s Julian Dennison joined the cast as Russell Collins / Firefist alongside another newcomer Zazie Beetz as Domino. Both of them were great and I can’t wait to see more of them in X-Force (potentially/probably). T.J. Miller (Ready Player One) also appeared in a film and in a significantly reduced role, probably because of all the legal issues that surround him. Brianna Hildebrand returned as Negasonic Teenage Warhead, while Deadpool’s BFF Colossus was again voiced by Stefan Kapičić. The movie also featured some fun cameos by Terry CrewsBill Skarsgård, Rob DelaneyBrad PittAlan Tudyk, and Matt Damon.

In short, Deadpool 2 is similar to the first film but also tops it with a stronger emotional core and more expensive action!

Rate: 4.5/5

Trailer: Deadpool 2 trailer

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Movie review: Avengers: Infinity War

Movie reviews

Hello!

And welcome to a review of a movie that requires no introduction – Avengers: Infinity War!

IMDb summary: The Avengers and their allies must be willing to sacrifice all in an attempt to defeat the powerful Thanos before his blitz of devastation and ruin puts an end to the universe.

As per usual, just before we start, these are my previous MCU reviews: Black Panther, Thor: Ragnarok, Spider-Man: Homecoming, Civil War, Doctor Strange, The Winter Soldier, Ant-Man, Age of Ultron, Guardians 1and 2.

Also, since #ThanosDemandsYourSilence, I’m keeping this review spoiler free!

Writing

Infinity War was written by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely (the duo who wrote all the Captain Americamovies and The Chronicles of Narniacinematic adaptations). There were so many things to love in the script. Firstly, the screenwriters did an amazing job handling the plethora of characters that they had to work with. They didn’t have time to develop any of them really so you do kinda need to have seen at least some of the previous movies to really enjoy this one (but then again, if you are watching Infinity War, you have seen some of the previous 18 films for sure). What the screenwriters did manage very successfully was to give each of the characters some meaningful moments that were either emotional and weighty or funny and entertaining. The different scenes of the various characters meeting each other and interacting were just brilliant. The deep cuts to the MCU lore (cameos and tiny plot elements from other films) were also greatly appreciated. I also liked the fact that script fast-tracked over some meetings and explanations, as that made sure that the movie’s pace stayed top-notch. Secondly, they did an amazing job developing the character of Thanos and explaining his motivations and point of view. Marvel officially doesn’t have a problem with villains no more. Thirdly, the movie did a good job of picking a theme – sacrifice – a sticking to it, through and through.

Fourthly, the script delivered on the unexpected twists and the consequences a.k.a. characters we didn’t forsee died, both throughout the film and in the third act. Every one of those deaths meant something and was felt by every fan in the screening. I’m incredibly interested to see how will these consequences be dealt with in the next film: whether Marvel is gonna go back on some of them or all of them. I would love to see a lot of these characters back but I would also love to see them making the ballsiest move in cinema and not bringing any of them back. The film’s post-credits scene – only one but worth the wait – hints at how the universe will move forward and solve the problem, like Thanos (I wrote that in a ‘How do you solve a problem like Maria’ singing voice).

Directing

After nailing the unique political thriller vibes with The Winter Soldierand after managing to work with a massive cast in Civil WarAnthony Russo and Joe Russo were trusted with the biggest Marvel movie yet and they did an excellent job. They made it feel like an event and not just a movie. The vibes this time were cosmic and so so so Marvel Comics-like. The massive group of characters was even bigger this time and all of them were accounted for. The action was epic and explosive and there were so many amazing team-ups and groups during the fight scenes (especially one great episode with my favorite female characters). The quips during the fighting felt very Marvel but not cheesy or annoying. The editing was also clear and seamless.

Acting

Infinity War had an awesome display of that perfect Marvel casting and just listing the whole cast is gonna take forever but here we go: Robert Downey Jr. (his new armor is lit), Chris Hemswort (Thor has a great arc), Mark Ruffalo (interesting things happen with Hulk), Chris Evans (still Cap even if not of America), Scarlett Johansson (loved the new look), Benedict Cumberbatch (Doctor Strange has really come into his own), Tom Holland (still a teenager), Chadwick Boseman (still the king), Paul Bettany and Elizabeth Olsen (some great stuff involving the two of them), Anthony Mackie and Don Cheadle (have some great ‘the team-ups of the sidekicks’ moments), Sebastian Stan (also known as a L’Oreal model), Tom Hiddleston (his arc picks up where Ragnarok left off), Idris Elba (his arc might anger some fans/theorists), Benedict Wong (has no cash), Chris Pratt (has a great gag about voice), Pom Klementieff (surprisingly important), Karen Gillan (has a great visual scene), Dave Bautista (the funniest of the cast), Zoe Saldana (Gamora has a briliant arc), Danai Gurira (still a bad-ass), and Letitia Wright (the third member of the science bross) are all back and better than they have ever been.

From the newbies, Peter Dinklage has a gigantic cameo, while Josh Brolin does a great job with the motion capture. Thanos’ pawns are voiced/captured by Terry Notary (mocap performer in Apes, Warcraft, and Kong), Tom Vaughan-Lawlo (little-known actor), Carrie Coon (Fargoseason 3), and Michael James Shaw (TV actor).

In short, Avengers: Infinity War is the movie event of the year that has to watched multiple times to truly be appreciated. My next screening is on Monday, when’s yours?

Rate: 4.5/5

Trailer: Avengers: Infinity War trailer

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5 ideas about a movie: Isle of Dogs

Movie reviews

Hello!

And welcome to a review of one peculiar little picture. This is Isle of Dogs.

IMDb summary: Set in Japan, Isle of Dogs follows a boy’s odyssey in search of his lost dog.

  1. Isle of Dogs was written and directed By Wes Anderson and was undeniably his picture. His style of filmmaking is just so unique and different that it is impossible to confuse his films with anyone else’s. While Anderson did write the screenplay himself, the story credits went to Roman Coppola, Jason Schwartzman (two of Anderson’s frequent collaborators), and Kunichi Nomura (a Japanse actor/writer who was also one of the two casting directors for this film).
  2. I have seen a lot of articles and comments online about Isle of Dogs in relation to the appropriation of Japanese culture. I certainly had a similar thought when watching the movie. I wasn’t entirely sure why the setting had to be Japan, though I found the interplay between the languages – English and Japanese – quite an interesting choice for the film. I also wouldn’t like to state that the filmmaker was definitely appropriating something as I believe that cultures should be shared. And yet, where is the line between respectful homage and appreciation versus malevolent appropriation?
  3. In my mind, Isle of Dogs’ story unfolded on two plains: the surface and the hidden one. The surface story was an elaborate but clear adventure narrative about some dogs and a boy fighting an evil empire. That story was a bit slow but the humor was still snappy (the comedic timing was quite impeccable). The deeper meaning that I took from the picture was the commentary on the modern society, which enjoys nothing more than othering and excluding people that it finds unsuitable for a whole number of reasons (a lot of which relate to the person’s identity).
  4. I highly enjoyed the format of Isle of Dogs. I have always been a fan of the stop-motion animation and I sill find it just so captivating. The amount of work that goes into this style of animation blows my mind every time I see a new film using it. The design of the animals was also great – real but not really. Every shot felt just so material: saturated with objects, colors, and textures. The symmetrical steady shots also felt very Anderson. The film was also very musical in that its score had an underlying beat, constantly ringing in the background, which provided a sort of rhythmic backdrop for the story. The animation, art, and music departments should get as much recognition for this movie as Anderson himself does.
  5. Isle of Dogs’ voice cast was full of Hollywood’s most recognizable and expressive voices that added so much to the picture. Bryan Cranston (Trumbo, Power Rangers), Edward Norton (Collateral Beauty), Bill Murray (The Jungle Book), Jeff Goldblum (ID2, Thor 3), Bob BalabanGreta Gerwig (Lady Bird), Frances McDormand (Three Billboards), Scarlett Johansson (Ghost in the Shell, MCU), and Tilda Swinton (Okja, Doctor Strange) all had roles of varying sizes.  On the Japanese front, Koyu Rankin, Kunichi Nomura, Akira Takayama and even Yoko Ono lent their voices to some characters.

In brief, Isle of Dogs was a bizarre and fascinating Wes Anderson-y ride that might or might not have been culturally insensitive.

Rate: 3.5/5

Trailer: Isle of Dogs trailer

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5 ideas about a movie: Game Night

Movie reviews

Hello!

Welcome to a review of a comedy whose trailers’ actually made a fairly good impression. This is Game Night!

IMDb summary: A group of friends who meet regularly for game nights find themselves trying to solve a murder mystery.

  1. Game Night was written by Mark Perez (he has written a couple of obscure comedies before). I thought that the writing for this comedy was quite good: fairly smart and even original at times. I loved the actual idea of a game night – that opening set-up of the main couple’s relationship through the various games was super fun! I also really appreciated the fact that the movie celebrated adult friendship. All the film and pop culture references were much appreciated too. Lastly, I liked how the movie set up some details and actually delivered on them – the creepy neighbor had a role in the film and wasn’t just used for a funny cameo, the Fight Club recurring verbal joke ended up being more than just a verbal jab, while even the minor doctor character reappeared.
  2. For all the good parts of the writing, there was an equal quantity of bad ones (a bit less, maybe, I don’t want to be too harsh on this movie). I did like the fact that the characters fairly quickly realized that they weren’t playing a game. However, that actual mystery of the film that they found themselves in was a bit too convoluted: there were too many layers of fakeness and reality for it to make sense. Also, ‘the everyday Joe/Jane’ characters did Jar Jar Binks-ed their way through a lot of the plot and got lucky one too many times. Still, I wasn’t that mad at the picture for some these inconsistencies or stupid-ish moments, as I found the story of the film entertaining on the whole.
  3. Game Night was directed by John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein. The duo was on the writing team for Spider-Man: Homecoming and are also supposed to helm the Flashpoint movie for DCEU (if it ever materializes). They also did the questionable Horrible Bosses comedy and the god-awful Vacation movie. Weirdly, I believe that they did a good job with this film: the movie was exciting and was paced well in addition to being of appropriate length (90minute-ish/short and sweet/doesn’t overstay its welcome). The score was also fun: it has electronic music vibes and featured few familiar hits. The credits were cool too: they were very thematically and narratively appropriate for the picture.
  4. Game Night had quite a big cast, consisting of actors of various caliber. At the centre of the film were three main couples, all of whom had somekind of personal problem to argue about during the quiter scenes: there was Rachel McAdams (Doctor Strange, Spotlight, Southpaw) and Jason Bateman (heard good things about his Netflix show Ozark) going on about having kids, New Girls’ Lamorne Morris and Kylie Bunbury (a TV actress) bickering about past celebrity hookups, and Billy Magnussen (the prince in Into The Woods) and Sharon Horgan (a British/Irish TV actress) just getting to know each other though arguments about everything.
  5. In smaller roles, there was the brother character played by Manchester By The Sea’s Kyle Chandler (Bateman and he do look fairly similar and they could actually be brothers). Westworld’s Jeffrey Wright also had a short scene (can’t wait for that TV show to come back). Plus, Fargo’s Jesse Plemons was absolutely brilliant in being creepy! Lastly, there was also a revolving door of villains and bad guys played by both familiar and new faces. They were too numerous and their roles – too insignificant to list here, though.

In short, Game Night is an entertaining and fun comedy with some neat moments. Not a sure hit but worthy of a watch.

Rate: 3.7/5

Trailer: Game Night trailer

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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

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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

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Movie review: Coco

Movie reviews

Hello!

The latest Pixar film has finally landed in my local theatres. This is Coco!

IMDb summary: Aspiring musician Miguel, confronted with his family’s ancestral ban on music, enters the Land of the Dead to find his great-great-grandfather, a legendary singer.

Just before we start, here are the links to my other Pixar reviews: Cars 3, Finding Dory, Inside Out.

Writing

Coco was written by Adrian Molina (worked on Monsters University, Toy Story 3, The Good Dinosaur, Ratatouille) and Matthew Aldrich (who doesn’t have much on his IMDb). Disney/Pixar have been dipping their toes into different cultures more and more (just recently with Moana) and have been attempting to showcase these certain cultures without appropriating them. I think that they succeed at this with Coco. On a side note, Coco is not the first animated film to have explored the day of the dead – 4 years ago, 20th Century Fox animation studios made The Book of Life to little or no fanfare. This only goes to show the importance of the attachment of a big name to any project – people trust Pixar, similarly how they trust Marvel or up until recently, Lucasfilm.

Anyways, back to Coco. So, Molina and Aldrich took the rituals and the beliefs of Dia de Los Muertos and turned them into a mythology of the film. To my mind, they were respectful of the culture and did a very good job of explaining it/informing others about it. I’ve always been interested in this particular celebration (even wrote a paper on it in my first year of uni), however, I only had a limited knowledge of it and Pixar’s Coco expanded it. I loved how they also included other iconic elements/people from the Mexican culture (loved the recurring Frida Kahlo gag). I also liked how the move took something culture-specific, like the idea that people decorate altars with photos, candles, and their ancestors’ favorite things, and used it in a very universal, familiar way, a.k.a in the shrine that Miguel dedicates to his favorite singer. While not all of us have made shrines for our favorite things, I’m certain that everybody who reads this blog has at least one movie poster on their wall. I can tell you that I’ve made many movie shrines in my days.

From the structural point of view, I thought that Coco was a well-written and fun adventure. It had some unexpected twists and turns. Thematically, the movie explored the idea of a family v. individual, though, the true conflict of the film was secrets within a family. In addition, while the Dia de Los Muertos setting of the picture already made it a bit dark, some reveals in the third act made it even darker. The Dia de Los Muertos focus of the film also allowed Coco to stress the importance of remembering one’s ancestors – that was such a nice message to spread. Lastly, in the usual Pixar fashion, all the heartstrings were pulled by Coco too.

Directing

Lee Unkrich (director of Toy Story 3, who has also worked on other Pixar films in various roles since the creation of the beloved studio) directed Coco and did a magnificent job. To begin with, the whole animation department at Pixar should get raises or a standing ovation every morning because Coco was the most beautiful animated picture I have ever seen. The amount of detail that went into the design, the vibrancy of the colors, the lighting – everything was just perfect. A lot of these praises are based just on the original visual appeal of Dia de Los Muertos but I do think that the animators deserve recognition for their work of translating this real-world visual appeal into an animated form. I loved the opening sequence with the backstory given through papercuts – it was both original and a culturally-appropriate way to do exposition.  In addition, I loved the aural cultural aspects that were included – mainly the music and how it was both there to embellish the story and be an important part of the story. ‘Remember Me’ was such a great song and, while it might not be the catchiest one, it carried so much sentimental weight. Lastly, the film was paced very well too. It had a good mix of funny moments, entertaining action, educational information, and heart-wrenching emotions.

Voice work

Anthony Gonzalez voiced Miguel and did such a brilliant job. He had such an expressive and strong voice that was just perfect for the lead in an animated film. Gael García Bernal voiced Héctor, while Benjamin Bratt (he does quite a lot of voice work and was recently in Doctor Strange) was Ernesto. I also really loved the brief but important work of Renée Victor (as Abuelita Elena) and Ana Ofelia Murguía (as Mamá Coco) in the movie. One brought such energy to the character, while the other – such love and affection to her respective character.

In short, Coco was a beautiful story brought to life by gorgeous animation and majestic voice work. This is one of those reviews, where any positive synonym of the word ‘beautiful’ works. And the film is very much worthy of all praise.

Rate: 4.8/5 (I’m taking a few points off not because of the movie but because of its messed up international release date)

Trailer: Coco trailer

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2017: 100 Book Challenge

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Hello!

Welcome to another 2017 round-up post. I’ve already done a post about my favorite and least favorite movies of the 2017 and now it is time for my list of book for this year. I don’ really post about books on this blog (I write short comments about them on Instagram as @sharingshelves) but since a lot of the books I’ve read are movie related (novels and comics that are adapted into films or non-fiction works about movies), I thought that some of you might be interested in my suggestions/recommendations. Also, I wasn’t planning on repeating the challenge but I managed to finish 100 books again this year (did the same in 2016). I have to promise myself that I’m not even going to attempt to read this many books next year, as when I have a certain numerical goal in mind, the reading experience does become more about quantity than quality.

Before I give you the list, here are a couple of general notes about it:
• From the 100 books this year, 10 were in Lithuanian (my native language) and 90 in English – I’m reading less and less in my native language every year.
• Most popular authors were Galbraith/Rowling for novels and Ennis, Bendis, and Snyder for comic books.
• I’ve read more graphic novels this year but fewer non-fiction books. My most often read comic book characters were Batman and Wonder Woman.
• I didn’t do an author break down by nationality but a general overview is this – I mostly read books by English-speakers. I didn’t even read a single book by a Lithuanian author (one by an author of Lithuanian descent was on the list, though).
• I’ve read mostly stand-alone books this year: if we’are not counting the comic book series, I’ve only read one full novel series.
• The 20th and 21st-century books were my most preferred for leisure reading, while for my English course, I’ve jumped around all time periods, but mostly focused on the literature of the 19th century.

Anyways, here is my list of books divided into the different genres. In every part, I’ve highlighted a couple of my favorites! I have also linked some movie reviews next to the relevant books. Enjoy!

Non-fiction:

  1. S. Cain – ‘Quiet: The Power of the Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking’
  2. W. Isaacson – ‘Steve Jobs’ (adapted to film)
  3. R. Roll – ‘Finding Ultra’
  4. P. Pfitzinger and S.Douglas – ‘Advanced Marathoning’
  5. F. Hufton – ‘Running: How To Get Started’

Fiction:

  1. D. Brown – ‘Digital Fortress’
  2. M. Zusak – ‘The Book Thief’
  3. W. Carther – ‘Death Comes For The Archbishop’
  4. Z. N. Hurston – ‘Their Eyes Were Watching God’
  5. N. Gaiman – ‘American Gods’
  6. N. Gaiman – ‘The Ocean at the End of the Lane’
  7. S. Meyer – ‘ The Chemist’
  8. A. Huxley – ‘Brave New World’
  9. A. Huxley – ‘Island: a novel’
  10. I. Welsh – ‘Trainspotting’ (adapted to film)
  11. J. Moyes – ‘ The Girl You Left Behind’
  12. L. Groff – ‘Fates and Furies’
  13. R. Galbraith – The Cuckoo’s Calling’
  14. R. Galbraith – ‘The Silkworm’
  15. R. Galbraith – ‘Career of Evil’
  16. L. Moriarty – ‘Big Little Lies’
  17. A. Burgess – ‘A Clockwork Orange’
  18. G. Orwell – ‘Animal Farm: a fairy story’
  19. G. Orwell – ‘1984′
  20. D. Eggers – ‘The Circle’ (adapted to film – review)
  21. J. le Carre – ‘The Night Manager’
  22. E. Morgenstern – ‘The Night Circus’
  23. L. Evans – ‘Their Finest’ (adapted to film – review)
  24. M. Bulgakov – ‘The Master and Margarita’
  25. D. O’Porter – ‘Goose’
  26. C. Palahniuk – ‘Fight Club’
  27. C. Bukowski – ‘Post Office’
  28. N. Larsen – ‘Passing’
  29. G.R.R. Martin and G. Dozois (as editors) – ‘Rogues’
  30. D. Gibbins – ‘Crusader Gold’
  31. R. Sepetys – ‘Between Shades of Gray’
  32. B. Ridgway – ‘The River of No Return’
  33. F. Molnar – ‘The Paul Street Boys’
  34. T. Parsons – ‘Starting Over’
  35. T. Capote – ‘Breakfast at Tiffany’s’
  36. A. Christie – ‘Murder on the Orient Express’ (adapted to film – review)
  37. A. Thomas – ‘The Hate U Give’
  38. P.K. Dick – ‘Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?’ (adapted to film – review)
  39. S. King – ‘It’ (adapted to film – review)

Cinema related books:

  1. G. Jenkins – ‘Empire Building’
  2. J. Luceno – ‘Catalyst: A Rogue One Novel’
  3. A. Freed – ‘Rogue One: A Star Wars Story’ novelization (film review)
  4. C. Fisher – ‘Postcards From The Edge’
  5. C. Fisher – ‘The Princess Diarist’
  6. C. Fisher – ‘Wishful Drinking’
  7. D. O’Neil – ‘The Dark Knight’ novelization
  8. C. Clark – ‘The Prince, The Showgirl and Me’
  9. C. Clark – ‘My Week with Marilyn’
  10. J.K. Rowling – ‘Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them’ script (film review)
  11. A. Kendrick – ‘Scrappy Little Nobody’
  12. S. Nathan and S. Roman – ‘Frozen’ novelization
  13. S. Bukatman – ‘Blade Runner – BFI Film Classics’

English 3rd year degree books:

  1. Aeschylus – ‘Prometheus Bound’
  2. C. Marlowe – ‘Doctor Faustus
  3. J. Milton – ‘Paradise Lost’
  4. M. Shelley – ‘Frankenstein; 1818 text’
  5. R. Henryson – ‘The Testament of Cresseid’
  6. D. Defoe – ‘Robinson Crusoe’
  7. N. Shephard – ‘The Quarry Wood’
  8. N. Larsen – ‘Quicksand’
  9. A. Carter – ‘The Bloody Chamber and other stories’
  10. C. Bronte – ‘Jane Eyre’
  11. E. Bronte – ‘Wuthering Heights’
  12. A. Bronte – ‘The Tenant of Wildfell Hall’
  13. G. Elliot – ‘The Lifted Veil’
  14. G. Elliot – ‘The Mill on The Floss’
  15. C. Dickens – ‘Great Expectations’
  16. H.G. Wells – ‘The Island of Dr. Moreau’
  17. B. Stoker – ‘Dracula’
  18. W. Collins – ‘The Woman in White’

Graphic novels:

  1. Various authors – ‘Marvel Platinum: The Definitive Doctor Strange’ (film review)
  2. D. Abnett – ‘Guardians of the Galaxy: Rocket Raccoon and Groot steal the galaxy’ (film review)
  3. G. Ennis and S. Dillon – ‘Preacher: Gone To Texas’
  4. G. Ennis and S. Dillon – ‘Preacher: Until The End Of The World’
  5. G. Ennis and S. Dillon – ‘Preacher: Proud Americans’
  6. G. Ennis and S. Dillon – ‘Preacher: Ancient History’
  7. G. Ennis and S. Dillon – ‘Preacher: Dixie Fried’
  8. B.M. Bendis and M. Gaydos – ‘Alias: Volume 1’
  9. B.M. Bendis and M. Gaydos – ‘Alias: Volume 2’
  10. B.M. Bendis and M. Gaydos – ‘Alias: Volume 3’
  11. B.M. Bendis and M. Gaydos – ‘Alias: Volume 4’
  12. G. Rucka – ‘Wonder Woman Rebirth: Volume 1 The Lies’ (film review)
  13. G. Rucka – ‘Wonder Woman Rebirth: Volume 2 Year One’
  14. G. Rucka – ‘Wonder Woman Rebirth: Volume 3 The Truth’
  15. M. Finch and D. Finch – ‘Wonder Woman: Resurrection’
  16. S. Snyder and G. Capullo – ‘Batman: The Court of Owls’
  17. S. Snyder and G. Capullo – ‘Batman: The Nights of Owls’
  18. S. Snyder and G. Capullo – ‘Batman: The City of Owls’
  19. S. Snyder and G. Capullo – ‘Batman: Endgame’
  20. J. Tyrion – ‘Batman Detective Comics Rebirth: Volume 1 Rise of the Batmen’
  21. G. Morrison and A. Kubert – ‘Batman and Son’
  22. T. S. Daniel – Batman: Battle for the Cowl’
  23. A. Conner and J. Palmiotti – ‘Harley Quinn Rebirth: Volume 3 Red Meat’
  24. J. Hickman and C. Pacheco – ‘Ultimate Thor: Volume 1’ (film review)
  25. M. Wagner – ‘Trinity’ (film review)

And that is it for the books I’ve read this year! What was your favorite book(s) of the year? What are you planning on/excited to read in 2017?

Leave a comment below and Have a Happy New Year!

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Movie review: Call Me By Your Name

Movie reviews

Hello!

Another awards’ contender has landed in theatres! This is the review of Call Me By Your Name.

IMDb summary: In 1983, the son of an American professor is enamored by the graduate student who comes to study and live with his family in their northern Italian home.

Writing

Call Me By Your Name was written by James Ivory (a writer and director of mainly indie dramas), based on the book by Andre Aciman. To begin with, I’m sure that the LGBTQ+ focus of this film will automatically mean that it will be compared to the big awards winner of last year – Moonlight – especially since Call Me By Your Name is also supposed to get at least nominated. I believe that this comparison is quite unfair because, even though both movies tell coming-of-age stories of young men, exploring their sexuality, the circumstances and the details of their stories are vastly different (race, class, time period, location, community – all these aspects of the two movies are on the opposite sides of the spectrum). Other topics of discussion, which will surely arise in the popular discourse, are the questions of consent and age of consent. I can already see the online fights brewing, with minimal productive arguments about legality and morality, and full of trolls who just want to see the world burn.

Anyways, I, personally, loved a lot of aspects of the writing. To begin with, I liked the settings of the movie quite a lot, both the spatial one (Italy) and temporal one (the 1980s). Both of these places/times posses a feeling of freedom and history mixed with timelessness – almost a fairytale-like setting, perfect for a story of first love. And the said romance at the center of the movie was written beautifully and richly. The film explored the interplay between masculinity and sexuality, sensuality and sexuality, innocence and maturity, and emotional love and physical love. It touched upon the ideas of art, creativity, and self-expression. It portrayed the teasing and flirting stages of the relationship so purely. Call Me By Your Name also examined both the development of its main character’s personality and sexuality, e.g. wanting to be with Oliver and/or wanting to be Oliver (copying his mannerisms (‘Later’) and style (sunglasses, shirts, the pendant of the star of David).

The movie also presented an unheard of example of accepting parents. It was so refreshing to see parents being so nonchalant about their child’s exploration of his sexuality. That final speech of the father was one of the best written fatherly wisdom scenes ever. My few criticisms regarding the picture were: 1) it was a bit too long. I know that it was made to be long so as to build up the stronger connection between the characters and the viewers but I also believe that this connection could have been created through a few quality scenes much better than through a bigger quantity of mediocre ones. 2) I also would have loved to see the film interrogate the role of women in this instance, whether as supportive friends or ‘girlfriends for show’ a bit more.

In short, ultimately, Call Me By Your Name was a gorgeously written sad love story full of moments of hope and happiness and what can all of us ask more of life than brief moments to enjoy?

Directing

Call Me By Your Name by Luca Guadagnino – an Italian film director, best known to English-speaking audiences for his 2015 film A Bigger Splash with Tilda Swinton (a longtime collaborator of Guadagnino). He directed the film absolutely beautifully. Call Me By Your Name looked raw, rough, and unpolished – an example of natural beauty. The handheld camera brought the vibrancy to the film, while the close-ups helped to create an intimate and personal atmosphere. The lingering shots strengthened the emotional impact.

In addition, Call Me By Your Name explored the male sexuality by looking at the male physicality: the male bodies and their parts were at the center of the camera’s gaze. The topic of bodily physicality was continued with the inclusion of the sculptures into the movie. Some scenes were quite explicit and not the most comfortable to look at (*cough, cough*, peach). Other images were just beautiful and deserve to be framed in an art gallery. The closing image of Elio, looking at the fire and contemplating his experiences, was just so striking and a perfect visual to finish the film with.

Acting

  • Timothée Chalamet, who has previously appeared in Interstellar as well as some lesser-known indies, was absolutely brilliant as one-half of the main pair. The other half was equally brilliantly played by Armie Hammer, who is finally getting the recognition he deserves as an actor. He has experienced a relative level of success with The Social Network and J. Edgar and I also quite liked him in The Man from U.N.C.L.E., Nocturnal Animals, and Free Fire, however, I believe that Call Me By Your Name will be his ‘big break’ and maybe even get him an Oscar nomination. Chamalet absolutely deserves one too.
  • The supporting cast of the film was quite small and didn’t have much to do. However, the aforementioned moment of fatherly wisdom would not have been the same without Michael Stuhlbarg (Doctor Strange, Arrival) in the role of the father. It was also lovely to see some European actors joining the American talent on screen, namely Amira Casar (in the role of the mother) and Esther Garrel (who played Elio’s friend).

In short, Call Me By Your Name is an emotional, beautiful, and raw drama about love and finding oneself through it.

Rate: 4/5

Trailer: Call Me By Your Name trailer

CallMeByYourName2017

Movie review: Thor: Ragnarok

Movie reviews

Hello!

What a time to be a nerd! A new Marvel movie is in theatres every 4 months! Is this heaven or what? Without further ado, let’s discuss Thor: Ragnarok!

IMDb summary: Imprisoned, the mighty Thor finds himself in a lethal gladiatorial contest against the Hulk, his former ally. Thor must fight for survival and race against time to prevent the all-powerful Hela from destroying his home and the Asgardian civilization.

If it wasn’t obvious from my intro, I’m a huge MCU fan and have reviewed quite a few films of the franchise, thus, I’m linking the said reviews here: Captain America 1+2, Ant-Man, Guardians 1 and Guardians 2, Avengers 2, Civil War, Doctor Strange, Spider-Man: Homecoming.

This review is SPOILER FREE. The discussion involving SPOILERS is located at the end of the page.

Writing

Thor: Ragnarok was written by Eric Pearson (writer of a few MCU one-shots (I wish they were still making them) and writer on Agent Carter), Craig Kyle (comic book writer, producer the first two Thorfilms and of some of Marvel’s direct-to-video animated pictures), and Christopher Yost (longtime collaborator of Kyle, writer of Thor: The Dark World). I loved the writing for this film.

To begin with, I appreciated how dense the narrative was. So much happened in this picture and every second of that 2-hour runtime was packed with plot. It felt like this movie consisted of a couple of films, which was exactly the case. Thor: Ragnarok contained the first third of a Hulk solo movie – the middle part and the ending will probably be folded into Avengers 3and 4. I was a bit worried that the Hulk sideline will feel tacked-on but it didn’t – Bruce Banner and his green friend fit into this picture organically. I loved the fact that we got to see more of Hulk and find out about his own separate personality.

In general, the majority of the main characters had very satisfying character arcs. First of all, Thor went on a journey on finding his path again, while Valkyrie also had to re-find her purpose in life (I loved how she was both badass and had her flaws). Loki attempted to redeem himself in the most questionable and Loki-appropriate way possible and Heimdall got to do something meaningful for once in these films. Skurge’s questioning of morality was great, while Grandmaster’s hijinks were hilarious.

Speaking of the comedy in the film – it was just wonderful. The situational relatable humor, the reactions, the call-backs, the references, and the jabs at the previous MCU events were extremely funny. However, the film also had some heart to it. One particularly touching moment occurred in Norway at the beginning of the film. That scene’s location – Norway – was also a neat nod to the Norse mythology roots of these characters.

MCU films have been notorious for their lack of great villains. I didn’t think that Hela followed this trend. She was both memorable and menacing. I also loved how she had a family connection to the protagonist, and, thus, how the film got an opportunity to explore the notions of family and home. I also enjoyed seeing her be actually threatening, setting the stakes high and having a lasting impact on both Thor and Asgard (physical and emotional).

Directing

Thor: Ragnarok was directed by the incredible filmmaker from New Zealand – Taika Waititi. I was only introduced to his work last year with the awards’ nominated delightful and heartfelt comedy Hunt for the Wilderpeople. Before going to see Ragnarok, I also watched his brilliant vampire mockumentary What We Do in the Shadows. Needless to say, my expectations were high and I’m so glad to say that Waititi delivered on them 100%! Thor: Ragnarok had the heartwarming feeling of Spider-Man: Homecoming, the jokes of Guardians of the Galaxy, and the trippy visuals of Doctor Strange. Nevertheless, it wasn’t just a rehashing of elements from other films, but a refreshing, unique, and immensely entertaining take on them.

The color palette of Thor 3 was just so gorgeous and super vibrant. The location and the character designs have never looked better in a Thor film (the looks reminded me of a mixture of Star Wars, Star Trek, Lord of the Rings and just 1980s style). The action was just so dynamic and energetic. It was also varied: we got to see a couple of one-on-one fights as well as some epic scale battles and a few spaceship chases. One of my favorite action pieces was the short opening fight between Thor/Loki/Hela in the rainbow bridge. Not on it, but in its stream. The music (by Mark Mothersbaugh) was also nicely incorporated into the film. I’m gonna listen to that Led Zeppelin song every day at the gym now.

Acting

  • Chris Hemsworth (Ghostbusters, The Huntsman, In the Heart of the Sea) had his 5th and best outing as Thor. We already knew that he was great a the role of a hero, but here he also displayed all his comedic chops!
  • Tom Hiddleston (High-Rise, Kong) was sly and charismatic as Loki again (I love the character, so I’ll never complain about seeing him).
  • Cate Blanchett (Carol, Cinderella) had a snake-like quality to her performance of Hela. At the beginning, I thought that she was bordering on being too cartoonish a too bit much but I think she quickly found her footing.
  • Idris Elba (The Mountain Between Us, The Dark Tower, Star Trek Beyond, Bastille Day, Beasts of No Nation) returned as Heimdall and got a chance to do something more in the film than just stand in one room!
  • Jeff Goldblum (ID2) was perfect as Grandmaster. He was doing his Jeff Goldblum thing (I can’t explain it) and that fit the character so well! He, in my mind, had the leeway to go cartoonish and I’m glad he went there at least a bit.
  • Tessa Thompson (Creed) was wonderful as Valkyrie. I loved how Thompson portrayed her character’s flaws, regrets, and determination.
  • Karl Urban (Pete’s Dragon, Star Trek Beyond) as Skurge. I hope that Urban’s involvement with a new comic book property means that he might go back to one of his old ones – the role of Dredd. Nonetheless, I loved seeing him here.
  • Mark Ruffalo (Spotlight, Now You See Me 2) delivered a short but sweet performance as Bruce Banner / Hulk. Immense props to him for his comedic timing too!
  • Anthony Hopkins (Transformers 5) only appeared briefly as Odin but he was responsible for the most touching and the most emotionally-challenging scene of the film, as a dramatic actor of his caliber should be.

In short, Thor: Ragnarok was without a doubt the best Thor film but it also might be one of the best MCU solo films ever! Not only worthy of watching once, but repeated viewing is recommended!

Rate: 4.8/5

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SPOILER-Y PART: 

Since I saw the movie super early (thanks, UK release schedule), I didn’t want to talk about spoiler stuff in the main part of the review, so I’ll just unpack some ideas in more detail here:

  1. Thor: Ragnarok had a great cameo by Doctor Strange. Those, who saw Doctor Strange and waited for the post-credit scene of that film, knew that Sorcerer Supreme will be showing up in Thor 3. It was wonderful to see the character appear on film as being closer to his comic book counterpart – way more advanced in his skill and more in control of his powers than he was when we last saw him.
  2. Matt Damon, of all actors, had a super funny cameo as an Asgardian actor playing Loki. It’s always nice to see a great actor doing some bad acting and Damon nailed his. Stan Lee also had an amazing cameo as the hairdresser. I’m glad that he was the one who supposedly got a chance to change Thor’s look. I feel like, since that change came from Lee, it is somehow automatically canon.
  3. Hela was turned into Thor’s and Loki’s sister for the film (she is the daughter of Loki in the comics). I liked the change because it allowed the movie to explore the differences between Odin’s relationships with each of his kids. Also, the fiction vs truth idea came into play in the movie because of that change.
  4. Some of my favorite jokes, which I didn’t want to spoil were: the Sakar’s infomercial sequence; Loki’s reaction to Hulk throwing Thor around like a ragdoll – Loki experienced the same fate in Avengers; Thor’s attempt to calm Hulk down with Black Widow’s lullaby; and the jabs at Tony Stark. Even if RDJ is not in the film, his presence is always felt. Another delightful comedic part was Taika Waititi’s motion capture and vocal performance as Korg. Waititi is a great comedic actor and I’m glad he got to showcase that here in addition to directing.
  5. Lastly, Thor: Ragnarok had two end-credits scenes. The mid-credits scene was a very vague tease for Avengers: Infinity War, while the post-credits scene was just a fun nod to this particular film.