Movie review: Mudbound

Movie reviews

Hello!

Before I start reviewing the major awards contenders, let’s look at one that is on the fringe of the awards voters radar. It’s the Netflix awards offering – Mudbound.

IMDb summary: Two men return home from World War II to work on a farm in rural Mississippi, where they struggle to deal with racism and adjusting to life after war.

Writing

Mudbound was written by Dee Rees and Virgil Williams. I thought that the film’s writing was solid and interesting, though, for the first part of the movie, I wasn’t sure what story it was telling: whether one about a black family’s experience during the WW2 or one about soldiers in and after the war. Only in the second half of the film did the two plotlines converge and made one whole narrative, while the first half seemed a bit confused and all over the place. The domestic set-up, one about a white family moving in next to a black one and having the stereotypical overtly or secretly racist relationship, was average and slow. The foreign set-up – the flashes to the soldiers’ lives during the war – was much more interesting than the domestic front and I wanted to see more of those scenes. It was especially interesting to witness a black man’s encounters with the Europeans. I haven’t seen that aspect explored much on film before. When the two plotlines did meet, Mudbound explored the interplay between race, class, and PTSD. The gender issues, as well as the comparison between black and white families’ distinct problems, were also included.

From the technical point of view, the movie started at the end and then flashed back to the begining of the story. A lot of elements of the plot were given through extensive narration: some of the narration was chilling, and, thus, effective, while other parts seemed annnoying and not essential. As per usual with the film on race, it elicited feelings of anger and disgust. This film, more than any other, portaryed the most radical side of racism in the 20th century the US very overtly, therefore, the feelings it evoked were extremely strong too. And yet, Mudbound ended on a hopeful note and had a message of love not hate. The mixed race friendship as well as the concluding origin of a mixed race family were two strands of hope that were achieved through a lot of pain, hurt, and suffering in the course of the movie.

Directing 

Dee Rees directed Mudbound and did a good job. As I have already mentioned, I wasn’t fully on board with the setup and thought that parts of it were very slow. However, Rees did a brilliant job with crafting striking visuals as well as with weaving the two plot strands neatly together in the second part of the picture. The song, which played during the credits – “Mighty River” by Mary J. Blige, was a lovely touch too.

Acting

Mudbound’s cast was quite stellar. Carey Mulligan (Suffragette, Far From The Madding Crowd), Jason Clarke (Dawn, Everest, and Terminator Genesys – that last film kinda ruined all subsequent performances of Clarke’s for me), and Jonathan Banks (Breaking Bad and its spin-off) were all great in the film, though the stand-outs were definitely Jason Mitchell (Straight Outta Compton, Detroit) and Garrett Hedlund (Unbroken) – their scenes together were fascinating. The actress who is, deservedly, getting the majority of the awards’ recognition for this movie was Mary J. Blige – she is a singer too and was actually the one to perform the end credits song for this film. Her acting performance was amazing too: quiet but very powerful.

In short, Mudbound is a well acted-drama about an old-school subject that is still, sadly, super topical.

Rate: 4/5

Trailer: Mudbound trailer

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Movie review: The Snowman

Movie reviews

Hello!

Welcome to a review of a movie you have never heard about. This is The Snowman!

IMDb summary: Detective Harry Hole investigates the disappearance of a woman whose pink scarf is found wrapped around an ominous-looking snowman

Writing

The Snowman is a European crime thriller (I love thrillers!), written by Hossein Amini (Drive, Snow White and The Huntsman, Our Kind of Traitor), Peter Straughan (Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, Frank, Our Brand is Crisis), and Søren Sveistrup (a Scandinavian TV writer), based on the book of the same name by Jo Nesbø – quite a well-known Norwegian crime novel writer. I’ve, personally, never read any of his books, but I definitely know that my dad has enjoyed quite a few of them. Sadly, I didn’t have the same experience with the movie adaptation of The Snowman. Mostly because of how illogical the plot was.

The opening set-up for a villain left me with so many questions, which were not really answered throughout the film. So, supposedly, the bad guy did nefarious things because he grew up abused by a man, who was probably his father, but somehow blamed his mother for everything and then decided to punish all less-than-perfect mothers las an adult? What kind of senseless self-styled heroism is this? I’m guessing you could make a case about his psychological damage pushing him to do that, but, even if we take his potential mental disorders into consideration, his actions still don’t make much sense!?

The other ‘hero’ characters were all similarly damaged. Additionally, the detective case was not just a job for them, but a personal vendetta. Their character development was minimal: the majority of the traits of the characters directly related to the plot. Or, on the opposite end of the spectrum, the character features appeared to be completely unnecessary and not relating to anything but then were forced into the main plotline. The supporting characters served no purpose in the movie, a few of them were dropped halfway through, with no explanation.

The narrative was predictable, typical, and full of plot-holes. The story was spread out all over the place – elabarote but not in a good way and convoluted rather than complex. All of the plotlines and the story strands were super loose. And yet, the movie somewhow managed to tie everything together. I guess the plot sort of made sense in the context of the film, but it would fall apart easily if one just dug a little deeper. The Snowman did very much feel like an adaptation of a book and I have a feeling that the story worked much better in the novel form.

Directing

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy’s director Tomas Alfredson helmed this film and did a passable job. At the beginning, the film did have a slight David Fincher-esque vibe, but that quickly went away. The Norwegian setting and the visuals of the fjords and the snow were good. In general, the realistic, down-to-earth vibe of a very European thriller was refreshing (I’ve been watching a lot of Hollywood high-glamour thriller lately, so this one was a nice change). However, that same vibe also made the project seem less cinematic and more like a TV movie. The violence was quite brutal and explicit (so maybe don’t see the film if that bothers you or your stomach). Lastly, the pacing was super slow and the intensity wasn’t always there to make up for the lack of action.

Acting

The Snowman assembled quite a good cast. In the lead was Michael Fasssbender, who desperately needed a financial or a critical win after Assasin’s Creed and Alien: Covenant (in both of which he was actually good in). However, The Snowman won’t do his career any good. Can somebody get him another Steve Jobs-type of a role? Or are we betting everything on the next X-Men film?

Rebecca Ferguson (MI5, The Girl on The Train, Life) was the co-lead on the film. Her character arc started out promising but then turned into a stereotype, however, Ferguson still delivered a neat performance. The supporting cast included a French actress Charlotte Gainsbourg (whose English language films include Independence Day: Resurgence), Val Kilmer (who I haven’t seen in a movie for years), and J.K. Simmons (Renegades) who had no business being in this picture. Oh, Jarvis aka James D’Arcy (Dunkirk) was in it too!

In short, The Snowman is a thriller that is not worth anyone’s time. If you are interested in the story, maybe read the book instead of watching the film?

Rate: 2.7/5

Trailer: The Snowman trailer

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Movie review: Blade Runner 2049

Movie reviews

Hello!

The long-awaited (by some) sequel to another 1980s hit – Blade Runner 2049 – has reached theaters, so, let’s see whether it was worth the wait and all the hype.

IMDb summary: A young blade runner’s discovery of a long-buried secret leads him to track down former blade runner Rick Deckard, who’s been missing for thirty years.

The original Blade Runner has been a cult classic for years but I’ve never expected it to get a sequel 3 decades later because of the lack of mainstream success. Undoubtedly, it has aged well: the story is still solid and is open to as many different interpretations as there are versions of the film. The pacing is a bit slow but that can be seen as a feature of the time. The effects are great too even if you can tell that they have that particular 1980s futuristic style. Even though I did like the original film, I wouldn’t have been as excited about its sequel if they hadn’t gotten Dennis Villeneuve to direct it. His attachment to the project was the factor that immensely increased my interest the movie! Besides, the marketing shorts, which filled in the 30-year-old gap between the two feature films – the anime Black Out 2022, and the live action shorts 2036: Nexus Dawn and 2048: Nowhere to Run – have acted as great tasters for the sequel and doubled the hype as well!

SPOILER ALERT

Writing

Blade Runner 2049 was written by Hampton Fancher (the writer of the original) and Michael Green (the writer of Logan, Alien: Covenant, and the upcoming Murder on the Orient Express, the co-creator of American Gods). This duo of scriptwriters did an amazing job: they paid homage to the original (both the plot and the thematic concepts) and expanded upon it/them extremely successfully.

The first two acts of the sequel were structured as a mystery: a smart yet straightforward one man’s quest for answers. The third act upped the complexity: it had a tonne of exciting reveals and a bunch of sidelines converging with the main one. The writing for the lead character was just brilliant too. Every act of the film had some kind of twist relating to him: either the fact that he was a replicant at the beginning, a potential offspring of a replicant in the second act and just a decoy for the actual child in the end. It was amazing to see a character go from not knowing who he was to finding actual answers but quickly realizing that he was asking the wrong questions in the first place. He both found and lost an identity before our eyes in the time span of two hours. It was such a great and different character arc.

Two huge thematic concepts that 2049 introduced were the virtual/holographic humans and the procreation ability of the replicants. These two ideas pushed the question of ‘what is humanity ?’ so much farther than I ever dream it could go. I still can’t wrap my head around these two concepts.

Directing

Denis Villeneuve, who has quickly become one of the most critically acclaimed directors of our time with films like Prisoners, Sicario, and especially last year’s Arrival, directed the Blade Runner sequel and did a spectacular job. To begin with, he stayed faithful to the original with the pacing and the style of the visuals. Having said that, Villeneuve also built upon what was already there. 2049 was a really long and quite a slow film, however, it never dragged. It was always intense, intriguing, and exciting – way more than the original ever was.

When it comes to visuals, they were just breathtaking. The set design (by Alessandra Querzola + production design by Dennis Gassner), the costume design (by Renée April), the lighting and the cinematography (by Roger Deakins) – all these different departments just brought their A-game and created such a cohesive masterpiece. The scope was epic and awe-inspiring. The shots were composed so beautifully, you could just freeze them and frame every single image. The colors were so vibrant and just popped off the screen. The shots also lingered a lot (that’s why the movie was so long) but the combination of the visuals and the amazing score made them so impactful, powerful, and effective. In general, the soundtrack (by Benjamin Wallfisch and none other than Hans Zimmer) was so cool and that new instrumental theme was so heart wrenching.

A lot of films have tried to emulate a similar style but none of them have come close to Blade Runner 2049 (Ghost in the Shell looked good but wasted the visuals on an awful story). A few of noteworthy sequences in this picture were: 1. the interplay between the shadows and the light in the pyramid; 2. the memory-construction scene – such a brilliant example of storytelling within a bigger story; 3. the zoom/enhance effect carried over from the first film; 4. a very unique sex scene (not an adjective I’ve ever thought I’d use to describe a sex scene; and 5. an impeccable looking de-aging moment – that technology has never looked better.

Acting

Blade Runner 2049 had quite an extensive cast, full of fan-favorite actors in roles of varying sizes. At the centre of it was Ryan Gosling, who has lent his talents to a variety of genres throughout his career, including but not limited to musicals (La La Land), art films (Only God Forgives), indies with mainstream appeal (Drive), mainstream romantic dramas (The Notebook), arty romantic dramas (Blue Valentine), comedies (Crazy,Stupid,Love), political dramas (The Ides of March), action comedies (The Nice Guys), biopics (The Big Short), and crime dramas (Gangster Squad). Finally, he has added sci-fi to this extensive list with the lead role in Blade Runner 2049, which he was just absolutely brilliant in: powerful, vulnerable, dramatic, emotional. Totally marvelous.

Harrison Ford has come back to another role from his younger days. He has already retired Han Solo and will be back as Indiana Jones in 2020. In Blade Runner 2049, he only appeared in the third act but that was enough to make an impression.

The film also had quite a few female characters. Ana de Armas (War Dogs) was amazing as the virtual girlfriend, Sylvia Hoeks (Renegades) was wonderful as the warrior replicant, Robin Wright (Wonder Woman) was a badass police chief,
Mackenzie Davis (Black Mirror’s ‘San Junipero’ episode) had a fun appearance and, lastly, Carla Juri had a surprisingly important role. Guardians of the Galaxy’s Dave Bautista appeared in a short but the most dramatically challenging role of his career so far, while Captain Phillips’s and Eye in the Sky’s Barkhad Abdi also had a cameo (wish he got more roles). Lastly, Jared Leto (Suicide Squad) played the main antagonist and, although his role was unsettling and quite creepy, it seemed quite normal by Leto’s standards. He was great in it, though.

In short, Blade Runner 2049 was one of those wow pictures that stays with you, long after you are done watching it. Gorgeously looking, carefully written, brilliantly acted sequel that is *gasp* better than the original.

Rate: 4.8/5

Trailer: Blade Runner 2049

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Movie review: Baby Driver

Movie reviews

Hello!

An original movie, in this day and age, is a rarity, and that makes Baby Driver ten times more special than it already is. Let see whether the film can live up to the hype, whether it can prove the worth of original material, and whether it can act as the comeback of Edgar Wright! Plus, can it just be a fun and enjoyable summer movie?

IMDb summary: After being coerced into working for a crime boss, a young getaway driver finds himself taking part in a heist doomed to fail.

Edgar Wright

Baby Driver was both written and directed by the coveted auteur Edgar Wright (one of the few auteurs working in Hollywood). Wright is best known for creating The Three Flavours Cornetto trilogy and cult classic Scott Pilgrim vs. The World. He also worked on the Marvel project Ant-Man before parting ways with the studio. Even though he left Disney/Marvel, he did live to make another movie and Baby Driver very much proves that his career is far from over. So, on a side note, Lord and Miller situation (them being fired from the Han Solo movie) might also turn out fine.

Writing

I very much enjoyed the writing for Baby Driver. The story was tight and simple, but yet also complex and unique. Let’s begin with the main character of Baby – I don’t think I can name another recent character that was so extraordinary. His love for music and driving, his sense of style (those glasses – brilliant), his relationships with his mother, girlfriend, and the deaf foster dad, and a good heart made him not only a relatable but extremely likable lead. And yet, he also had unexpected qualities (like the idea for that brutal kill or just bravery enough to kill). Also, the fact that the movie acknowledged that there are different ways to enjoy music (by hearing AND feeling it) was so great.

The romantic plotline also actually worked, which it rarely does in an action film. I loved the ending shot in black and white: they looked like a couple of criminals from a 60s movie. All the main criminal characters were amazing too and I loved the fact that all of their arcs had a definitive ending and that they weren’t dropped halfway through the runtime. My only gripe was that I didn’t think that Kevin Spacey’s character’s change of heart fully worked. The film also had wonderful humor, some of my favorite parts were the kid in the post office and the butchery metaphor. Lastly, I loved how Wright paid dues to other movies, by either giving them a shout-out or just showing a clip from them on TV. Baby Driver was, truly, a film written by a movie lover for movie lovers.

Directing

From the trailers, Baby Driver seemed like a super fun movie but I didn’t feel that it had the signature flavor of Wright. I was kinda right – Baby Driver was his lowest energy project yet (although it did dial everything up for the finale) and his most mainstream film so far and that is not really a bad thing. It was basically something different yet familiar. I loved all the action sequences and enjoyed the irony of Baby also having to run rather than drive in one of them. I was also impressed by the long takes, especially the one that followed the opening car chase. The signature close-ups were also neat.

Plus, I liked the fact that they used normal looking cars, not super expensive and super fast ones. Thus, Baby Driver was a celebration of driving – a thing that The Fast and The Furious used to have but lost completely in the later installments. Lastly, I cannot write a review for Baby Driver without mentioning the editing and the soundtrack. This is how you edit the visuals into the music. King Arthur and Suicide Squad should watch and learn.

Acting

Baby Driver’s cast was marvelous: it consisted of both proven actors and some up-and-comers. Ansel Elgort (TFIOS, Divergent) was spectacular, they way he acted into the music/with the music was just thrilling to watch. Lily James (Cinderella) was good as his girlfriend: they looked cute together and had chemistry. The cinema veterans Kevin Spacey (House of Cards), Jon Hamm (Keeping Up With The Joneses was actually not bad), Jamie Foxx (Sleepless was the best movie of this January – not much but something), and Jon Bernthal (The Accountant) all brought their A-game and appeared to be having a ton of fun with this picture. Lastly, an unknown (to me) Mexican actress Eiza González was an amazing badass to watch as well.

In short, Baby Driver is the best version of Drive meets American Grafitti. It has great action, funny jokes, cool editing, spectatcular soundtrack and it’s Edgar Wright at his best, even if that ‘best’ is a bit different than we are used to.

Rate: 4.5/5

Trailer: Baby Driver trailer

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5 ideas about a movie: The Neon Demon

Movie reviews

Hello!

Nowadays, the majority of wide theatrical releases are mainstream films, so, whenever I get a chance to see a more experimental motion picture, I take it! Thus, without further ado, let me tell you about The Neon Demon.

IMDb summary: When aspiring model Jesse moves to Los Angeles, her youth and vitality are devoured by a group of beauty-obsessed women who will take any means necessary to get what she has.

  1. The Neon Demon is sort of a horror film. I, personally,  don’t really watch any horror movies. However, this one intrigued me because it wasn’t just a straight up mainstream horror flick with jump scares and ghosts. It had elements of psychological drama and thriller. Moreover, it was created by a very artsy indie director Nicolas Winding Refn. I loved Winding Refn’s Drive and I also kinda enjoyed his other film with Ryan Gosling – Only God Forgives. The Neon Demon also explored the world that I’m interested in – the fashion business. The previous films about fashion that I have seen were all very light – Zoolander 1 and 2, The Devil Wears Prada and Confessions of a Shopaholic. On the contrary, The Neon Demon was unapologetically dark. While overall I enjoyed the movie, I also had some problems with it. Basically, I thought that it was visually rich, but lacked substance and was narratively hollow.
  2. Visuals: the director Nicolas Winding Refn is know for beautiful visuals, so it is no surprise that The Neon Demon was a stunning film to look at. Half of the praises should go to Natasha Braier, for her amazing cinematography. If you freeze any frame of the film, you would get an amazing photograph. All of the manipulation of lights, colors and geometrical shapes was remarkable. The slow motion and the close-ups really fit with the slow pace of the film as well. The picture has quite a few bloody scenes, especially near the end, so be aware if that bothers you.
  3. Narrative: the film was written by the director, the screenwriter Mary Laws and the playwright Polly Stenham. I felt that the writing was the weakest part of the film. The main character – the innocent girl from a small town that comes to the city to become a model – was such a cliche. Her transition from innocence to confidence was way too quick as well. All of the faults of the fashion industry were also really predictable. The portrayal of men as sexual predators and the depiction of women as vain and jealous individuals were both stereotypical choices.The film also missed a few plot opportunities. Keanu Reeves’s character appeared in 3 scenes and then disappeared. The over-the-top ending didn’t help the film either.
  4. A few ideas of the story that I liked were the fact that beauty can make money and that beauty has an expiration date. These concepts weren’t really that original but I appreciated their inclusion and depiction. The movie also had quite a lot of symbolism. For me, some of the symbols worked, some didn’t. The symbol of mirrors was cool, but the scene with the cougar kinda went over my head when I first saw the film. The soundtrack by Cliff Martinez was pretty neat too – I liked the inclusion of Sia’s song Waving Goodbye. In general, the whole film felt very much controlled, maybe even strained and over-constructed. There wasn’t really anything organic or natural about it, but I guess the fashion world is really artificial, so the movie set in that world should give off a feeling of fakeness and manufacture.
  5. Acting: I enjoyed the majority of the performances. The conversations between the characters seemed a bit awkward at times but I think that they were intentionally awkward – those scenes were uncomfortable to watch and one must never feel comfortable when watching a more experimental film. Speaking of the actors: Elle Fanning (Maleficent, Super 8) was okay as Jesse. I feel that the lack of originality in the writing for the lead character ruined Fanning’s execution a bit. Karl Glusman was good as Dean – the most normal character of the picture. Jena Malone (The Hunger Games and BvS Ultimate Edition) as Ruby was an absolute scene stealer and really went all the way in this role. Her sex-scene was more than disturbing. Bella Heathcote (Dark ShadowsPride and Prejudice and Zombiesas Gigi was good as well, but I though that model Abbey Lee (Mad Max Fury Road) as Sarah kinda stole all her scenes. Keanu Reeves had a few scenes as Hank and I, personally, thought that anybody could have played his part. Lastly, Desmond Harrington as Jack  was a believable sort of artsy and kinda shady photgrapher.

In short, The Neon Demon was/is defintely an experimental film. It is not easy to watch and might be considered an unsuccessful experiment by the majority of the mainstream audiences. I did enjoy it but kinda had to make myself sit through it at first. Visually, it is one of the most beautiful films I have ever seen, while plot-wise it could have been more refined and more sophisticated. If you want to try any of Winding Refn’s films, I suggest you start with Drive, as it is the most accessible one. Maybe leave The Neon Demon and Only God Forgives for some other time. I also want to check out his Bronson film, as it stars my favorite actor – Tom Hardy.

Rate: 3.25/5

Trailer: The Neon Demon trailer

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Sightseeing: A day in Vilnius

Sightseeing

Hello my dear readers!

I haven’t posted in a few days and I thought that I will tell you about my day in a few sentences. Today, a bunch of seniors from my school went on an educational trip to Vilnius, the capital of Lithuania. We attended a lecture about study possibilities at Vilnius university – the best higher education school in my country. We also walked aroud university’s library and a few study halls. This university was established in 1579 and most of the building stated the same from the 16th century. There is also a lot of paintings and sculptures from 18th and 19th centuries. After visiting university, we had a few hours of free time at the city centre, so I and my classmate strolled up and down Gediminas street, looked for clothes and H&M and had lunch at a small and cosy cafe. We also saw a building were parlament of Lithuania meets and make decisions about our country’s future.

I had a great day because I learned something new about possible opportunities for me after graduating from high school. Moreover, I love the architecture of Vilnius old town and city centre. It combines modern building with historical sights. In addition, some buildings have already been decorated for Christmas and I love to walk under fairy lights and other decorations. Bellow you will find a few photos from the university and Vilnius’s old town. Bye!

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