5 ideas about a movie: The Promise 

Movie reviews

Hello!

During the busy summer blockbuster season, I like to make time for the ‘regular’ movies too. The picture that I’m reviewing today – The Promise – falls exactly into this category.

IMDb summary: Set during the last days of the Ottoman Empire, The Promise follows a love triangle between Michael, a brilliant medical student, the beautiful and sophisticated Ana, and Chris – a renowned American journalist based in Paris.

  1. A few months ago, I raised a general question to my dad (who watches lots of movies with me): when will we run out of war stories? Well, I pretty much got my answer while watching The Promise and the short version is – never. Not only do we have lots of modern/current wars to tell stories about, but we still have a ton of untold tales from the past wars. The Promise focuses on the Armenian Genocide inside the Ottoman Empire during the First World War – not a topic that World War I movies have previously touched upon.
  2. The reason why The Promise decided to tell this particular story was because of the film’s source of funding. The entire budget was donated by an American businessman that has Armenian roots – Kirk Kerkorian – and his sole wish was to bring this story into the mainstream consciousness rather than earn money. Sadly, this film didn’t succeed at either – it was a box office bomb, which means that not a lot of people had a chance to witness this narrative.
  3. The Promise was directed by Terry George, from the script by the director himself and the screenwriter Robin Swicord. I thought that the directing was quite solid even if the film was a bit long and dragged at times. However, at the same time, I don’t think that they should have cut anything from the story – I applaud the writers for not oversimplifying the journey that these characters had to take. I would also like to praise them for creating 3 interesting leads who seemed both realistic and believable enough and were also cinematically engaging. It was also nice to see a level of objectivity in a war movie – I believe that it was really important to include a character on the Turkish side who was actually a good person rather than just to paint that whole nation as the villains.
  4. The emotional core of the film was also effective. This real-life story is tragic in itself and the dramatic love triangle (which worked and wasn’t too tearful or cliche) only added extra emotions to the script. A few of especially heart-wrenching moments were the sequence where Oscar Isaac’s character finds his village’s people slaughtered by the river and the shots of the makeshift red-cross flag, placed on the side of the mountain.
  5. The Promise had a stellar cast, full of gifted actors who delivered spectacular dramatic performances. Sadly, not a lot of them were of Armenian descent – I think it would have been nice to spotlight some lesser known Armenian talent. Oscar Isaac was absolutely wonderful – these are the types of roles that I’d like to see more of him in rather than the awful supporting roles in failed blockbusters (X-Men: Apocalypse). Having said that, I would also like to see him continuing to star in more successful big-budget pictures, like Star Wars. Christian Bale (The Big Short) was also really good, although it was quite unusual, seeing him in a role which did not require a lot of physical change. Charlotte Le Bon (The Walk, The Hundred-Foot Journey, Bastille Day) was also amazing. Probably the most well-known Armenian actress on the cast was Westworld’s Angela Sarafyan – she played a small but important role. Other non-American and non-English actors were also included (which seems better than just having Americans and Brits playing Armenians): Mexican Daniel Giménez Cacho, Iranian Shohreh Aghdashloo, Croatian Rade Sherbedgia, Dutch-Tunisian Marwan Kenzari, and Israeli actor Yigal Naor all had supporting roles in the picture.

In short, The Promise is a well-made historical drama that might not sound super original but is, nonetheless, very important, as it tells a forgotten story of the marginalized people.

Rate: 4.25/5

Trailer: The Promise trailer 

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Movie review: War Machine

Movie reviews

Hi!

As the counterprogramming to Pirates 5 and Baywatch (review coming in a few weeks cause international release schedules), Netflix released its newest original picture – War Machine. Since I’m not seeing Wonder Woman till Monday, I decided to make War Machine my movie of the weekend. I have already reviewed a Netflix film before and given you my general thoughts on Netflix’s attempt to break into the movie business. Weirdly, that picture was also a war drama – Sand Castle. I didn’t enjoy it much but I’m still hopeful about War Machine.

IMDb summary: A successful, charismatic four-star general, Glenn McMahon, leaps in like a rock star to command NATO forces in Afghanistan, only to be taken down by a journalist’s no-holds-barred exposé

Writing 

War Machine was written by the director of the film David Michôd, based on the non-fiction book The Operators by Michael Hastings. I quite enjoyed a variety of aspects of the writing for this film. To begin with, I loved the acknowledgment of the internationality of the war and the importance of the involvement of the other NATO nation’s as well as of the Afghans themselves.

I also was intrigued by the satirical air of the movie. It was so refhreshing to see a serious issue, like war, being examined with a level of irony, especially nowadays, when everybody gets offended by everything. More importantly, the satirical approach was so suitable for the topic of war because of the inherent hopelessness and even stupidity within it. The lack of final resolution to the narrative was also very appropriate as there isn’t actually a final solution to the war(s) in the Middle East.

In addition to the movie being bold in its choice of tone, it was also very daring in its message. That message sounded simple and yet it is so hard for a lot of Western nations to comprehend: ‘you cannot build a nation at gunpoint’ and ‘don’t invade a country you want to make friends with’.

War Machine was also unique in that it did not focus on the physical fighting of the war but rather looked at the paperwork, the planning, and the advertising side of it. I also loved how the team behind the general was spotlighted – I never did think how much is happening behind the scenes or behind the leader. Moreover, the divide between the military and the polity and all the miscommunication that was occuring was fascinating to see.

The writing for the main character (who is based on a real person) was also really good. I loved how idealistic he was – a sort of guy who makes you believe that there is good in the world. And yet, there were still layers to his idealism and I liked the fact that the movie questioned his motives. Were they trully as altruistic as they seemed? The conclusion to the narrative was also complex. I felt that, even though the article, written by the Rolling Stones journalist (who acted as the movie’s version of the real life author, who wrote the book the script was based on), destroyed the General’s career, this film was quite respectuful of it and him. Ultimately, he was painted in a good light, so to say.

Lastly, to end this long passage on the writing, let’s critique one aspect of the screenplay which was lacking – the structure of the narrative and the way it was presented. Of course, I am talking about narration. I do understand that the narration in this film could be sort of justified by saying that it’s the author/the journalist who is telling a story (and that actor did narrate the whole thing). However, the narration is such a cheap story device. Yes, it makes the plot very clear and is easy to understand. But it also makes it boring. I really wish the story could have been conveyed more organically and cinematically rather than just being spelled out for the viewers verbally.

Directing

David Michôd, a director of shorts and documentaries, helmed War Machine and did a good job. The movie was well-paced and the comedic/satirical atmosphere – well handled. The film did not have a lot of sequences of fighting and they weren’t missed – the dialogue and the character interactions were engaging enough. Having said that, the third act’s action sequence was well-crafted and suspenseful. Another sequence which I really liked was the conference in Germany and the stand-off between the German politician and the General. I also loved the ending shot of the film and how it represented the idea of hopelessness and the closed-loop of war. Same place, same job, different people. Doesn’t really matter who, though.

Acting

Brad Pitt (The Big Short, Allied, By The Sea) delivered career-defining performance as General Glen McMahon. The best I have seen from him in years. The performance was so complex, involving all the parts of the body and the face (especially, the eyebrows and the eyes). Also, he did some amazing voice modification for the role – the play with the accent and intonations was spectacular. I also loved how he delivered a comedic performance without being disrespectful. He should definitely get at least a Golden Globe nomination. Pitt also served as a producer – he does that a lot nowadays. He also produces films he does not star in.

The aforementioned team behind the General consisted of a bunch of actors of varying caliber, including Anthony Hayes, Emory Cohen, RJ Cyler, Daniel Betts, and Topher Grace. They all were good and their chemistry and comradeship seemed believable.

The journalist, who was inspired by the real-life writer, who wrote the book the script was based on, was played by Scoot McNairy. He also narrated the whole movie. Will Poulter and Keith Stanfield played two soldiers ‘on the ground’ who actually did the fighting. Stanfield’s character’s confusion about the war was an interesting aspect. I wish it were explored more.

Tilda Swinton also appeared in a single scene as a German politician. While I can’t comment on her German accent, I thought that she was absolutely amazing in the 5 min she was on screen.  Ben Kingsley also had a small role in the film – a quite typical one for him – that of a leader/person from an Eastern country.

In short, War Machine worked well as a biographical drama and as a war film. More importantly, the commentary provided was not only thought-provoking but presented in an entertaining way.

Rate: 3.7/5

Trailer: War Machine trailer

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My review: Everything Everything 

Movie reviews

Hello!

Hiding behind all the summer blockbusters, are smaller drama films. This particular one is also on a mission to prove that YA movies are not dead yet. This is Everything Everything.

IMDb summary: A teenager who’s spent her whole life confined to her home falls for the boy next door.

While YA adaptations have been on a high a few years back, they have mostly fallen off the radar. Everything, Everything is the most similar to The Fault In Our Stars but no one expects it to replicate the latter’s success. And yet, it might still be a good movie on its own. As a disclaimer – I had no prior knowledge about the film, hadn’t even seen the trailer, so I’m judging it purely based on what I saw on screen.

Writing

Everything, Everything’s script was written by J. Mills Goodloe (she wrote Nicholas Sparks’s The Best of Me and another romantic drama – The Age of Adaline), based on a book of the same name by Nicola Yoon. I’ve never read the book (and do not plan to), so I can’t comment on any changes if there were any. However, I will say that the characters of the story were quite interesting and fairly realistic – at least I was able to identify with both the girl (she reads a lot and writes reviews, kinda an obvious similarity?) and the guy (me and him both have a cynical outlook on the surface). The dialogue between the two leads sounded realistic enough too. It wasn’t just cute but appropriately awkward and uncomfortable.

What annoyed me in the film the most, was the cliche of the overprotective and the abusive parents. Abuse within a family, accidental or deliberate, is a serious issue but it had been reduced to a young adult movie cliche by Hollywood. The actual concept has been long overdone but it has never been explored successfully or in a way that would elicit a change in the real world. This film just basically reduced the abuse from a guy’s dad into an inciting incident.

The girl’s side of the story was explored more widely but the movie did not delve deeper into the issue. If the legal and psychological backgrounds related to the illness that the girl’s mom has were explored, the movie would have been way more sophisticated and would have been elevated from the level of a YA romance. It would have also been interesting to see how her medical background had affected her sickness. Also, the picture should have said the name of the illness a loud –  Munchausen syndrome by proxy – cause a lot of viewers in my screening were confused by the ending. I don’t think they were entirely sure whether the mom was just malicious or whether she actually had a mental disability.

Directing

A relative newcomer to the filmmaking business, Stella Meghie directed Everything, Everything and did a fairly good job. While the cliches such as the pop songs in the soundtrack and the shots of beautiful locations during the ‘escape’ sequence (here they traveled to Hawai – really reminded me of TFIOS sequence in Amsterdam) were present in the film, it also had a couple of original-looking scenes. I especially loved the visualization of the online conversations through the prism of the girl’s architectural models – the dinner and the library. The recurring visual of the astronaut was also a nice Easter Egg within a movie. Overall, not a bad effort from a fresh director.

Acting

Amandla Stenberg, best known for her role as Rue in the first Hunger Games, played the female lead, while Jurassic World’s Nich Robinson played the male lead. He also has prior YA movie experience – he has previously starred in The Fifth Wave. While watching the film, I actually thought that he was a different actor – the one who played the oldest child in Captain Fantastic – George MacKay. Turns out, they are two different people. Weirdly enough, Stenberg, having just starred alongside Robinson, will now perform next to his doppelganger Mackay in Where Hands Touch.

A Disney Legend Anika Noni Rose (the voice of Tiana) played the role of the overprotective mother and did a good job. She did the best she could with a role that could have been rich but was really shallowly written.

In short, Everything, Everything is a good offering of the dying genre, which I doubt it will save. The cast is talented, the directing is inspiring, but the script is lacking.

Rate: 2.8/5

Trailer: Everything Everything trailer

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Movie review: The Circle

Movie reviews

Hello!

Sorry for not posting for a while but now I am back with a new movie review. This time, we are discussing The Circle.

IMDb summary: A woman lands a dream job at a powerful tech company called the Circle, only to uncover an agenda that will affect the lives of all of the humanity.

Spoiler Warning

Writing

The Circle was written by the director James Ponsoldt and the author of the original novel Dave Eggers. Even though Eggers was helping with the adapting process, the usual book to movie changes did occur. The narrative was streamlined and some of the unnecessary plot details were cut out (mainly the extra development for the main character – her interaction with the couple on a boat and her quite uncomfortable relationship with the character of Francis (who does not appear in the film at all). Also, the reveal of John Boyega’s character came sooner in the movie while it was held secret until the end of the book.

Idea-wise, the film was quite fateful, although it did have more gray areas, which I quite liked. My main complaint about the book was that it presented the ideas on privacy and freedom but wasn’t critical of them. The fact that the majority of people were okay with this new world order and didn’t bat an eye about losing their right to chose were two things that were hard to believe. This type of naivety was quite unrealistic and, in turn, annoying. If something sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

The book’s ending, while shocking, was also very much frustrating and solidified the unlikeability of the character (due to her complete naivety). The movie’s main character – Mae – appeared to be more critical of the world she inhabited, and even though there were plenty of moments where the character appeared to have drunk the kool-aid completely, she ultimately chose to fight against it. However, whether she was fighting against the loss of privacy or just against the two heads of The Circle, I don’t know. I wish that would have been made more clear. Additionally, it is important to note that her decision to rebel might have made the film’s ending more stereotypically Hollywood-like, but I thought that it was more interesting than the book’s ending: it still raised the questions of transparency but it also gave a resolution to the story, even if a very uncertain one.

Directing

James Ponsoldt, who has previously directed The Spectacular Now, which I quite liked, and The End of The Tour, which I have been meaning to watch for a while, helmed The Circle and did an okay job. The setting and the design of The Circle company was good – not too futuristic and actually believable (in contrast to the ideas). The camera work was fine too – a variety of angles was used. The pacing was solid and the levels of intensity worked too. Overall, the film was not spectacular but I don’t think that Ponsoldt’s directing abilities were in any way to blame.

Acting

Emma Watson starred as the main character Mae. While reading the book, I absolutely hated this character but Watson succeeded in making her at least a tiny bit more likable and relatable on screen. I also thought that she made the character’s arc seem believable, as much as she could with the flawed writing. Her performance was not superb but it was an okay follow-up to one of the biggest movies of the year – Beauty and the Beast.

Tom Hanks (Sully, Inferno, Bridge of Spies) starred as one of the heads of The Circle and played a sort of villainous role – that’s not typical of him. However, the match between an actor and a character was actually quite a good one – the character needed to be really charismatic and Hanks as an actor just seems so likable and personable. I loved his reaction to Mae turning against him.  Interestingly, Hanks has already starred in a previous adaptation of one of Eggers’s books – A Hologram for the King.

John Boyega had a small role as his follow-up to Star Wars: The Force Awakens. He didn’t have much to do but he did shine in a few scenes he was in. Later this year, he will also appear in a potential award’s contender – Bigelow’s Detroit. He was also cast in the Pacific Rim franchise.

Karen Gillan also had a little role and was okay. It was nice actually seeing her on screen without all the blue makeup of Nebula (Guardians of the Galaxy). Her next film is the Jumanji remake/sequel.

Boyhood’s Ellar Coltrane and the comedian Patton Oswalt also appeared in the picture and did a fine job. Bill Paxton also had a small role. The Circle was his final appearance on film, may he rest in peace.

In short, The Circle is a good drama that has the potential to kickstart a conversation on the issues it addressed. However, I don’t think that the movie itself did a good enough job on commenting on the said problems that it introduced.

Rate: 3.75/5

Trailer: The Circle trailer

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Movie review: Their Finest 

Movie reviews

Hello!

The first movie of the year focused on the battle of Dunkirk – Their Finest – has reached theaters, so, let’s review it.

IMDb summary: A British film crew attempts to boost morale during World War II by making a propaganda film after the Blitzkrieg.

While Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk (premiering in July) will tackle and reproduce the actual battle and the evacuation, Lone Scherfig’s film Their Finest is a story about a war propaganda film, based on a fictional story related to the real-life events at Dunkirk, produced in order to raise the patriotism of the nation. The genres and tones of the 2 movies differ vastly: one looks like a grim and serious action drama, while another one is a lighter comedy drama with some romance thrown in as well.

On top of being one of the two films about Dunkirk, Their Finest interested me for 3 reasons: 1. I wanted to see the representation of the British propaganda and how it differed or was similar to the Soviet propaganda – the kind that I’m more familiar with from history classes and from just generally growing up in Eastern/Northern Europe. 2. I have always enjoyed films about filmmaking and as this one centered on screenwriters – an occupation that I would like to pursue – my interest was peaked. 3. The movie started Sam Claflin – an actor, whose career I’ve been following pretty closely. So, let’s see if Their Finest is as ‘fine’ of a picture as the title suggests!

Writing

Their Finest was written by a TV writer Gaby Chiappe, based on novel Their Finest Hour and a Half by Lissa Evans. From the technical standpoint, the writing for the film was very nice: the narrative was well structured and rich with ideas. Whether or not the ideas worked, is a very subjective question. I, personally, really liked some of the themes but was equally frustrated by the others.

To begin with, the picture focused a lot on the relationship between Gemma Arterton’s and Sam Claflin’s characters. I highly disliked the fact that their professional relationship had to be turned into a romantic one by the end of the film. I find that this happens in a lot of stories, even in the contemporary ones. For example, the way J.K.Rowling, writing under the pseudonym Robert Galbraith, is portraying the relationship between the two main characters in her Cormoran Strike Series irritates me a lot. And yet, going back to the relationship between the characters in Their Finest, if I considered the said relationship’s romantic aspect separately, I thought that it did work and was convincing. The two individuals seemed pretty evenly matched and their sparring was entertaining to watch. The sudden end to the relationship was also emotionally effective. At first, I deemed that the end might have been too sudden but I later I’ve realized that the scriptwriters intended it to be that way and to convey a message that one never knows what might happen in war.

The second big theme of the picture was Gemma Arterton’s character’s growth as an individual. Her personal story acted very much as a symbol for a lot of women’s stories during the war – how they have finally begun to transition from the domestic spaces into the public ones. Sadly, this process is still is progress, 70+ years later. I thought that the main character was developed quite nicely – I wish we would have found out more about her background and upbringing in Wales, but I really liked her subtle journey towards independence.

Thirdly, the movie explored the screenwriting and the filmmaking business. I really loved this particular aspect of the film and just loved the fact that Their Finest celebrated the movies and tried finding positive attributes of cinema even if it was political cinema. I simply loved Sam Claflin’s character’s enthusiasm about and love for the pictures, especially since his character otherwise seemed really pessimistic and ironic. I could identify with this type of depiction very closely. The way the movie played up the uber-poshness of the actors and of the British actors, to be specific, with Bill Nighy’s character was also really fun.

Lastly, Their Finest dealt with the propaganda filmmaking, not just simple filmmaking. Not only did this type of story provided a different perspective on war, but it also proved to me that the types of propaganda don’t vary much from country to country. Like the Soviet propaganda, some of the British propaganda was very obvious but some of it was something more, just like the-picture-within-the-picture in Their Finest or a real life example, such as Sergei Eisenstein’s Battleship Potemkin. And yet, since both Their Finest and The Nancy Starling (a-movie-within-a-movie) stressed the importance of optimism and happy endings, I can’t help but wonder where exactly did the cinematic propaganda end?

Directing

Their Finest was directed by Lone Scherfig. Although the director is Danish, I thought that she nailed the British feeling of the film. She has already done that earlier with The Riot Club – that movie has really made me question my adoration of the British culture quite a bit. So, Their Finest resembled the previous historic UK-based movies that I’ve reviewed, like SuffragetteTestament of Youthand Far From The Madding Crowd. The fact that the movie was executed with the classical stationary camera work and the steady frame, also added an appropriate old-school yet timeless feel to the picture. The pacing of the picture was also very even. 

Acting

Gemma Arterton played the lead in the film and did a really good job. I hope that this is a career-changing role for her, as so far she has been starring in mostly B-level pictures, like Clash of the TitansPrince of Persia: The Sands of Time, and Hansel & Gretel: Witch HuntersI really loved how subtle yet powerful her performance was. My favorite line of hers was the last words to the boyfriend: ‘You shouldn’t have painted me that small’. Her delivery was brilliant. I also though that Arterton’s chemistry with the co-star Sam Claflin was really good and believable. I loved Claflin’s character and the actor’s performance. It was so interesting to see a writer who can express oneself well enough of paper but struggles to do the same face to face. After starting his big screen career by acting the big action flicks, like Pirates of the Caribbean 4 and The Hunger Games franchise, Claflin has mostly stuck to dramas recently, including 2014’s Love, Rosie and 2016’s Me Before You. His next film is also a historical drama – My Cousin Rachel. He has also previously collaborated with the director of Their Finest on The Riot Club.

The supporting cast included established English actors Bill NighyHelen McCroryEddie Marsan, and Richard E. GranJack Huston (American Hustle, Hail, Caesar!and Ben-Hur) also had a minor role.

In short, Their Finest is a brilliant little movie, which, sadly, will be overlooked by the majority of movie-goers and buried by the blockbusters, including the one it shares the topic with. I highly recommend this film for all those interested in history and the art of filmmaking.

Rate: 4.3/5

Trailer: Their Finest trailer

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5 ideas about a movie: Moonlight 

Movie reviews

Hello!

Welcome to probably the last review of the awards season. Today, we are discussing the frontrunner Moonlight!

IMDb summary: A timeless story of human self-discovery and connection, the film chronicles the life of a young black man from childhood to adulthood as he struggles to find his place in the world while growing up in a rough neighborhood of Miami.

  1. Moonlight was written and directed by Barry Jenkins, based on a play ‘In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue’ by Tarell Alvin McCraney. Jenkins made his directorial debut in 2008, with the critically acclaimed indie romantic drama Medicine for Melancholy. Moonlight is only his second feature film.
  2. At its core, Moonlight is a coming of age story. However, it is a coming of age story like no other because it focuses on an individual that the mainstream media would rather forget – a poor black gay boy/teenager/man. And yet, even if a viewer’s identity falls on the other side of the spectrum, the movie still has universal appeal. The family problems, bullying, finding a life path for oneself, dealing with emotions, learning to forgive and reconnect – these are all topics of widespread appeal. The more personal issues of sexual identity and masculinity are also present. The picture paints a complex picture – it asserts that only an individual can decide who he/she wants to be, but also undermines this statement by showing a stereotypical outcome for the character of this background. Lastly, the film provides interesting commentary on the LGBTQ+ position within the black community.
  3. For such a progressive and modern movie, Moonlight has a very striking traditional structure – the film is divided into vignettes, like some movies from the past. Jenkins manages to create a deeply personal almost documentary-like feeling for the film. The long slow takes in the first part of the movie allow this story to unfold at its own pace, while the shaky and fast closeups in the other parts of the picture create a sense of disorientation and intimacy. Some pretty standard techniques, like the over the shoulder shots for the dialogue, are also implemented.
  4. In the first part of the film, the main character of Chiron, played by Alex Hibbert, takes on a passive role in order for Mahershala Ali’s Juan – the drug dealer mentor of Chiron – to shine. Juan is even the first characters that the viewer is introduced to. Ali has been getting a lot of recognition for his work in this film and that’s happening for a reason. Although he only appears in a handful of scenes, both his characters and the actor himself leave a striking mark on the picture. Juan, the drug dealer, seems to be the only positive influence on Chiron and they form a student/mentor type of relationship. The scene in which Juan teaches Chirton to swim is just beautiful. The question arises why would a Juan care for this child? Maybe because he saw a part of himself in the little boy?
  5. The teenager Chiron is portrayed by Ashton Sanders, while the adult Chiron is played by Trevante Rhodes. Rhodes does an absolutely incredible job in the third part of the film and I wish that his performance would have been rewarded much more. Nevertheless, this film really helped him to breakthrough into the business, as he was just cast in a mainstream movie – 2018’s The Predator. Janelle Monáe also appears in the film as the truth mother figure for Chiron. Her career has also kicked off to a good start – she starred in not one but two awards contenders in 2016, other being Hidden Figures. Naomie Harris also plays a small role of the actual birth mother of Chiron. Although the role is a bit stereotypical, Harris does a brilliant job. She has also probably hoped to be in 2 awards contender this year. She also recently acted in Collateral Beauty, which was supposed to be an awards movie, but that film did not materialize at all.

In short, Moonlight is a well-written and nicely directed personal story that takes the framework of a coming of age narrative and tells a unique story about an individual who has been relegated to the fringes of society for too long.

Rate: 4.5/5

Trailer: Moonlight trailer

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Movie review: Fences

Movie reviews

Hello!

The reviews of the awards season continue. Today, we are discussing Fences!

IMDb summary: A working-class African-American father tries to raise his family in the 1950s, while coming to terms with the events of his life.

Writing

The film Fences is a cinematic adaptation of August Wilson’s play by the same name. The play first premiered on Broadway in 1987 and was also revived in 2010, with Denzel Washington and Viola Davis playing the lead characters (as they do in the movie). When watching the picture, it is fairly obvious that it is based on a theatrical play because nothing much happens action-wise. The narrative is mostly dialogue driven and the dialogue itself is extremely dense, full of important backstories as well as plot points for the story. I wouldn’t even call this movie a narrative film – it is definitely more of a personal character study.

Fences touches on quite a few important topics. First of all, it shows the lives of African-Americans in a never before seen period – just before the civil rights movement kicked in (so it kinda follows the trend of a different kind of ‘race’ movie). It also doesn’t really look at the issues of the whole race of people but centers on an individual. The film also looks at the father-son relationship – how the sins of the father weigh down on the son. Fences focuses the most on the character of Troy and discusses a number of themes related to him, like being stuck in the past and not being able to move and raising high standards for others but not keeping to them himself. Troy is a flawed person and that makes him not only relatable but way more interesting.

Fences is certainly not an easy watch – I wouldn’t call this film entertaining in the simple sense of the word – but it is for sure engaging and requires a lot of attention. It looks at a daily life and the serious and the heartbreaking moments of it. Nevertheless, the film also has a few lighter and funnier bits which arise from the same daily life. Its ending is also very beautiful and touching.

Directing

Denzel Washington not only stars in the picture but also directs it (this is his 3rd movie). He has a very clear vision for the film and executes it neatly. However, I don’t think that his direction is that great. I understand his creative choices but I also don’t think that he utilizes the cinematic means of storytelling much or at all. What I mean is that Fences feels very much like a filmed play. It is set in a very limited space – one house – and this type of setting reminds of a theater stage. The long takes look impressive but, once again, they feel more theater-like than motion-picture-like. I really really wish that more visual storytelling techniques would have been used, for example, Troy’s monologs could have been used as the voiceover narrations for the flashback scenes instead of just being told directly to the camera. In short, Fences has a few super engaging dialogue moments but it also drags at times (and this maybe could have been fixed with some more visuals).

Acting

Denzel Washington (The Magnificent Seven, The Equalizer) plays the lead and does an absolutely magnificent job. This role looks like it has been written for him. Viola Davis (Suicide Squad) is also brilliant. She and Denzel play off of each other really well, probably because they have lived with these characters (as I’ve mentioned, they starred in the 2010 Broadway revival of this play). Both Washington and Davis have been nominated for the Academy Awards in the acting categories and they both starred in one mainstream movie this year, so both sides of their career (mainstream and indie) are on the rise or at least doing good.

The supporting characters of the film are played by Stephen McKinley Henderson, Jovan AdepoRussell HornsbyMykelti Williamson, and Saniyya Sidney. They do a good enough job but they also kinda fade into the background when sharing scenes with either Washington or Davis.

In short, Fences is an interesting film that requires constant attention in order to understand it. It has a distinct direction which I don’t particularly like but I cannot praise enough the acting performances of the two leads.

Rate: 4/5

Trailer: Fences trailer

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Movie review: Hidden Figures

Movie reviews

Hello!

Welcome to a review of a movie that would have been on my Top 10 films of 2016 if I have seen it before the end of the year (when will the studios realize the benefits of the global day-in-day releases?). This is Hidden Figures!

IMDb summary: Based on a true story. A team of African-American women provide NASA with important mathematical data needed to launch the program’s first successful space missions.

Similarly to Loving and Fences, Hidden Figures is a different kind of movie that spotlights the African-American talent. It’s set during the civil rights movements but doesn’t directly relate to it, even if some of the movement’s ideas are addressed in the film in a really powerful way. This movie also stands out as one of the major female-driven films of the awards season. It has been praised by critics but most importantly it managed to debut at the top of the box office list in the US, meaning that a lot of mainstream moviegoers saw it!

Writing

Hidden Figures was written by Allison Schroeder and the director of the picture Theodore Melfi, based on the book of the same name by Margot Lee Shetterly. I absolutely adored the film’s story. I knew about Katherine Goble Johnson before seeing the film (thank you, SciShow on Youtube) but I loved getting to know more about her as well as other African-American women working at NASA. I immensely enjoyed seeing all the different parts of NASA (the 3 of them worked in different departments – calculations, engineering, and computing) and the space race through their distinct perspective. It was actually really interesting to finally see a Cold War movie that didn’t focus on the local conflicts in Vietnam, Korea or Berlin, but a one which looked at the more passive but no less interesting space race.

In addition, I liked that not only the professional but also the private lives of the 3 main characters were presented. This made them all into more well-rounded and realistic characters. Hidden Figures’ writing also focused a lot on the importance of education, portraying it as a key to a better life. I have always been a strong believer of this statement, so the film automatically appealed to me. It was also quite cool that the picture underlined the importance of mathematics, as it is usually the most hated subjects in school (I actually quite liked it). The film’s story, even though set in 1960s, was also contemporary and very topical, if you think about its possible relation to the Women in STEM program.

Lastly, Hidden Figures tackled all kinds of discrimination, mainly sexism and racism but also general discrimination in the work place. Even though half a century has passed, all of these types of bullying are still happening today and should be stopped. Hidden Figures contributes to this conversation by a lot. And even though the film deals with serious topics, it still ends on a positive note and has a very satisfying ending. Katherine, Dorothy, and Mary are not just heroes to all girls or African-Americans. They should be idols to all underdogs and, let’s be frank, we are all underdogs in one field or another.

Directing

Hidden Figures was directed by Theodore Melfi and he did a superb job with his 2nd feature (St.Vincent was his directorial debut). The movie was balanced and well-paced, both entertaining and intellectually engaging. It was compelling, suspenseful, and intense and these feelings were only strengthened by the fact that it told a real and not a fictional story. The picture had a few very powerful scenes, like Taraji P.Henson’s character’s speech about the bathroom discrimination as well as Janelle Monáe’s courtroom speech. The film also has a few more personal and touching moments to counteract the powerful and serious scenes, like Mahershala Ali’s character’s proposal to Taraji P. Henson character.

Hidden Figures also had a magnificent soundtrack by Hans Zimmer, Pharrell Williams (he also produced the film), and Benjamin Wallfisch. It was upbeat and fun and really helped to lighten up the serious mood of the picture. When watching the film, I didn’t know who composed the movie’s music, but now, seeing who was involved, I’m not at all surprised that I liked the soundtrack. I mean, Hans Zimmer and Pharrell Williams!? Such a great combo of class and pop!

Acting

The three leading ladies of the film were played by Taraji P.Henson (Empire), Octavia Spencer (The Help, Snowpiercer, Zootopia, Divergent) and the newcomer Janelle Monáe. I absolutely loved the individual performances of all the actresses as well as their chemistry in the group scenes. In my mind, the cast is the film’s strongest element so it is not surprising that the movie received a lot of SAG nominations. Octavia Spencer has been getting the majority of the recognition but I would have preferred if they would have spotlighted Taraji P. Henson in the lead actress category instead. Spencer already had her big win with The Help andmore importantly, I thought that Henson’s performance was stronger. If the voters wanted to only reward the film’s in the supporting actress category (like they are doing now),  Janelle Monáe should have received a nomination instead of Octavia Spencer. Monáe is a true breakout star of 2016, as she was also in Moonlight. Don’t get me wrong, Spencer was great too but it would have just been nice to reward the other two actresses as well or instead.

The picture also has a splendid array of secondary characters who were brought to life by great actors. Big Bang Theory’s Jim Parsons played a familiar role (he can’t seem to escape the nerdy scientist part) and did a great job. His character was the one that bullied Katherine the most, but I think that he would have been jealous of anyone. Sadly, Katherine’s gender and skin color made her an easy target. Kirsten Dunst (Midnight Special) also played a part in the film and had an amazing line that just summed up the movie perfectly. I, of course, mean her statement about how the USA are fast to space but slow when it comes to the progress on the ground. Mahershala Ali, who was in Moonlight too, also had a small role and did a nice job. The mainstream audiences know him best from Luke Cage, so his career, both the mainstream and the indie parts of it, are on the rise. Lastly, even Kevin Costner (Draft Day, McFarland, USAdelivered his best and the most interesting performance in years.

In short, Hidden Figures was an excellent film that told an important and fascinating story but did that in an entertaining way. The movie was really well-made behind the scenes and it also had the best on-screen ensemble I’ve seen in a couple of years.

Rate: 4.8/5

Trailer: Hidden Figures trailer

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Movie review: Lion

Movie reviews

Good day!

Another potential awards contender – the motion picture Lion – has landed in the UK cinemas, so, let’s review it!

IMDb summary: A five-year-old Indian boy gets lost on the streets of Calcutta, thousands of kilometers from home. He survives many challenges before being adopted by a couple in Australia; 25 years later, he sets out to find his lost family.

Writing

The biographical drama Lion was written by Luke Davies (an Australian film critic, novelist, and poet) based on the memoir ‘A Long Way Home’ by  Saroo Brierley
(co-written by Larry Buttrose). The film’s narrative is divided into two parts. The first hour- long story revolves around the child Saroo. The viewer gets to see Saroo’s relationships with his birth mother, sister, and brother; and witnesses the unfortunate accident of him getting lost and trying to survive alone and away from home. This first-half of the movie is very well written: the audiences are able to form a bond with the main character and become emotionally invested in the boy’s journey.

Lion then flashes 20 years forward: Saroo is now an adult and lives with his adoptive parents in Australia. This part of the film is not as solid when it comes to writing as the first part. To begin with, the audiences don’t get to see a lot of Saroo’s life as an adult, so his change of heart (from not caring about his birth family to desperately trying to find them) seems a bit sudden. A few extra scenes, maybe showing a different stage in his life, like the teenage years, would have helped to solidify the fact that he never really felt at home in Australia and always wanted to find his family. The second part of the narrative also has two other important storylines which don’t get enough of screentime. First one is Saroo’s relationships with his adoptive mother and his adoptive brother (who might have a mental illness?) and the second one is Saroo’s relationship with his on-and-off-again girlfriend. Both of these plotlines had to be included in the film (bio-dramas try to be as accurate as possible) but I wish that they would have been given more screen time because that would have made them more compelling. Maybe the movie could have been 15 minutes longer or maybe the first story could have been shortened by the same amount (if they wanted to keep the film at 2h).

Even though I have found some problems with the technical structure of the narrative, I found the narrative itself to be very interesting and fascinating. The fact that the modern technologies actually brought people together instead of separating them was just amazing. In general, the whole Saroo’s story was both heartbreaking and hopeful. It had more than a few tear-jerker moments, especially at the end. The inclusion of real-life counterparts of the characters was nice too.

From the anthropological perspective (sorry, I can’t turn it off, if you study anthropology you are basically living it), the film was also very valuable. It mostly felt like a documentary with a higher budget and a fancier production design. Nevertheless, the ideas on privilege and poverty and on the adoption across countries/cultures are just two of the concepts that could be considered in an anthropological discussion in relation to this film.

Directing

An Australian TV and commercial director Garth Davis made his very successful feature film directorial debut with Lion. I loved how he realized the shots of the nature of India. That whole opening sequence was just beautiful and very classic. The pacing could have been neater but it didn’t bother me much. Basically, if this was his first motion picture, I can’t wait to see what he will do next.

Also, on a side note, guess whose song was playing during the credits. If you said Sia, you either read my blog a lot or just go to the movies a lot. Sia wrote a song called ‘Never Give Up’ specifically for this film. Her songs have also been used in Sing, Star Trek Beyond, The Shallows, The Neon Demon, and Finding Dory. You will also be able to hear her during Fifty Shades Darker.

Acting

Dev Patel played Saroo in the second half of the film and did an amazing job. After seeing the film, I finally realized why he is being nominated in the supporting actor category, even though he is playing the lead. Well, the answer is simple – he only plays the lead during the second hour of the film, while the viewer spends the first hour with a 5-year-old Saroo played by an adorable child actor Sunny Pawar. So, on the whole, if we add up Patel’s scenes, his screentime probably comes closer to that of a supporting rather than a lead role. Anyways, despite the fact that he is not in the first half of the film, Patel delivers his best performance yet. He has really matured as an actor since the days of Slumdog Millionaire. His best scenes that were most likely included in his awards reels were  1. the montage in which he finally reaches the breakthrough on Google Earth. The way he whispers ‘Mum’ is just breathtaking. And 2. the final meeting sequence – he showed a lot of acting skills in that one too.

Moving forward, I would love to see Patel cast in a racially blind role, meaning that I would like to see him playing a character whose ethnicity is not his main character trait. Up until this point, Patel played characters whose ethnicity was really important character feature, like in Slumdog Millionaire, The Man Who Knew Infinity and even The Exotic Marigold Hotel films. I’d like to see him take on roles similar to the one he had on Chappie, but it looks like that is not on the horizon, as his next film is also India-centric and based on true events – Hotel Mumbai.

The picture’s supporting cast also delivered brilliant performances. Rooney Mara (Carol) starred as Saroo’s girlfriend and was great in the few scenes she had. David Wenham (recognized him faster than another LOTR alumni – Viggo Mortensen in Captain Fantastic) appeared briefly as Saroo’s adoptive dad but it’s Nicole Kidman as Saroo’s adoptive mother who stole all the attention in their scenes together. Lion also spotlighted some lesser known (in the West) Indian talent (as it should): Abhishek Bharate, Divian LadwaPriyanka BoseDeepti NavalTannishtha Chatterjee, and Nawazuddin Siddiqui all co-starred and did a great job with their limited screentime.

In summary, Lion was a lovely picture with an amazing story at its core. Sadly, this story was not represent as cohesively and compellingly as it could have been. However, the flaws in writing were covered up with great directing and amazing acting performances.

Rate: 4/5

Trailer: Lion trailer

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Movie review: Manchester By The Sea

Movie reviews

Hello!

Since the awards’ season is finally in full swing, let’s review one of its frontrunners – Manchester By The Sea!

IMDb summary: An uncle is asked to take care of his teenage nephew after the boy’s father dies.

Writing

Kenneth Lonergan, who I only knew as the screenwriter behind Scorcese’s Gangs of New York, both wrote and directed Manchester By The Sea. I really enjoyed the narrative that he came up with for this film. First of all, I liked the setting choice – the majority of movies (both indie and mainstream ones) that I’ve seen tend to focus on either the huge urban metropolises of the USA or on the stereotypical rural south, so it was refreshing to see an American movie set in just a normal and mundane city of Manchester that wasn’t super big but also was not just a small town in the middle of nowhere.

In addition, I liked the fact that the film’s mundane focus, like the logistics of daily life, were treated with respect and importance because these things are important even if we don’t think about them as such. The big reveal of the past tragedy was unexpected and completely horrifying, but it allowed the film to explore the themes of guilt, of feeling like one should have been punished and of not being able to forget. Speaking about the last theme, I loved that the resolution of the movie was that one does not necessarily have to forget, no big revelations has to come in the end. Sometimes, it is better to just live.

Other few topical points that the movie made were 1. the portrayal of the worker as present in people’s lives without being seen and 2. that the showing of emotions is a positive thing and not a sign of weakness. From this review or the trailers, you might think that this film is really depressing and sad and it is that in part (it is also sometimes uncomfortable and unsettling), however, it also has a few lighter moments that arise from the daily lives of the characters and that give hope to the future and hope is the only thing that makes our lives, as well as these character’s lives, better.

Directing

Lonergan’s directing was as great as his writing. I loved the almost documentary-like feeling of the picture and the slow but engaging pace. The steady camera shots brought a classic aspect to the film while the play between the offscreen and onscreen space modernized it. The sea or the ocean wasn’t as big of a character in the movie as I expected it to be, but it was always present in the background and kinda characterized the city without overbearing it. I also really enjoyed the soundtrack by Lesley Barber. The sacral gospel-like numbers and the tunes by a string orchestra really elevated the atmosphere of the picture.

Acting

Casey Affleck (Triple 9, The Finest Hours, Gone Baby Gone) played the main character in the film and did a magnificent job. His brilliant performance has already been rewarded with a Golden Globe and a Critics’ Choice Award. He will, most likely, take both the SAG and the Oscar in the Best Lead Actor category. Casey has always tried to stay out of the spotlight but I think that it is gonna be quite hard to do that moving forward. I wonder if he is going to follow in his brother’s Ben’s footsteps and do something really mainstream (although Ben Affleck is probably regretting that he took on the role of Batman as the critics just can’t stop picking on his films both the mainstream and the indie ones).

Speaking more about his performance in Manchester By The Sea – it was truly brilliant. He portrayed the social reservedness/awkwardness and almost the emotionless of the character just perfectly. The past tragedy of the character could also always be felt in the appearance/the behavior of the actor. Affleck also played the character as a realistic drunk and not an over the top one (similarly to Emily Blunt in The Girl on The Train). The overall performance seemed to be of low energy but it was actually very subtly powerful.

Michelle Williams (Blue Valentine, My Week with Marilynstarred as the main character’s ex-wife and, even though she only appeared in the handful of scenes, she did a spectacular job. Similarly to Affleck’s, her performance was grounded and silently persuasive. My favorite scene of the film was William’s and Affleck’s characters’ encounter in the street – it wasn’t an easy or a pleasant scene to watch but it just allowed the acting skills of both actors to truly shine and that’s why it was my favorite.

Lucas Hedges, to whom Manchester By The Sea was a breakthrough film, played the teenager nephew of Affleck’s character and was really good too. I liked the fact that his character was written as a realistic teenager that could both be in a band and on a hockey team, both have girlfriend(s) and like Star Trek.

Kyle Chandler and C.J. Wilson also played two small supporting roles and did a great job with their limited screentime.

In short, Manchester By The Sea was a great picture with nice writing and directing. However, the acting was the thing that made it stand out from other films.

Rate: 4,5/5

Trailer: Manchester By The Sea trailer

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