Movie review: Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets

Movie reviews

Hello!

Welcome to another birthday movie review! For the past 3 years, I have spent my birthdays at the cinema, always watching a comic book movie. In 2014, it was Guardians of the Galaxy, in 2015 – Ant-Man, and just last year – Suicide Squad. Well, this year, neither DC nor Marvel are releasing films in August, so, I’m branching out and giving a chance to Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets – a film, based on a French comic book Valerian and Laureline, advertised by the director Luc Besson as ‘the ‘it’ European blockbuster’, that is as good as its Hollywood counterparts.

IMDb summary: A dark force threatens Alpha, a vast metropolis and home to species from a thousand planets. Special operatives Valerian and Laureline must race to identify the marauding menace and safeguard not just Alpha, but the future of the universe.

Luc Besson

The French filmmaker, known for 1990s’ classics Léon: The Professional and The Fifth Element and that Scarlett Johansson Black Widow addition film – Lucy, both wrote and directed Valerian. Besson was a fan of the comic book by Pierre Christin and Jean-Claude Mézières growing up but didn’t seriously consider adapting the property until Avatar showed him what can be done with CGI. I, personally, was quite interested in the film as I love the sci-fi genre as well as the previous work of the director. However, I seemed to have been the only one, as Valerian didn’t really click with the critics, nor the audiences. To be fair, even if the audiences liked the movie, no amount of the box office money could have justified the insanely huge budget. The decision to cast financially unproven leads didn’t help the film either.

Writing and Story

The writing for the film was quite a mixed bag. The story itself was actually quite interesting, however, it was way too drawn out. A lot of the plotlines truly felt like an excuse for the CGI team and the director to showcase more of the spectacular effects. If a lot of the scenes of the characters, aimlessly wandering around, would have been cut, the final product would have had a much tighter and more exciting adventure narrative. I didn’t hate the expositional scenes, though. I actually quite liked the silent opening of the film – the establishment of Alpha – and I did appreciate that the characters spelled out the plot points to the audience during the third act because the walking (or running) around scenes made me kinda lose track of the purpose of their journey.

Thematically, the two leads weren’t bad. I enjoyed the fact that the two of them represented different ideas – Valerian was all about the rules, while Laureline was more rebellious. Nevertheless, the character of Valerian bugged me because of how inconsistent he seemed. Although all the promotional booklets that I received prior to this film (one at the cinema and one during the Free Comic Book Day) introduced Valerian as super ambitious and career-driven major, in the picture, he seemed more interested in advancing his relationship with Laureline rather than getting to a higher career level. In truth, the whole romantic aspect of the movie wasn’t fully working for me and seemed a bit pushed.

Directing and Visuals

The visuals have been the most universally praised part of the film and I feel confident in seconding those praises. Valerian looked magnificent – from the character and the location designs to the scope, the CGI was both inventive and of good quality. It didn’t look photo-realistic, but it was a brilliant realization of a vision of fantasy. The sweeping shots of the market at the begging as well as the sequence of Valerian’s chasing the intruders through the Alpha station were two of my favorite parts of the film. The scene with Rihanna – her performance – was too long. Also, I wanted it to have more of the amazing transformations and fewer elements of a strip club-like dance. Lastly, the runtime (which I already mentioned) – Valerian was way way way too long. Honestly, halfway through the film, I could already feel its self-indulgence.

Acting

However unproven this cast was as the box office draws, I still mostly enjoyed them in the roles. I’ve been a fan of Cara Delevigne (Paper Towns, Suicide Squad) before she started acting and I always believed that she had a natural kind of charisma that shines through her acting. That might be because a lot of the characters are extensions of herself (rebellious, charming, and beautiful). Even though I think she is quite charismatic on her own, her chemistry with the co-star Dane DeHaan was not to be found. On his own, DeHaan hasn’t really blown me away as of yet and I still feel the same after Valerian. He was bearable in the role and I doubt that his career will get much of a boost. More importantly, if his box office numbers don’t improve, he might not get another chance. He might actually be better off sticking with smaller dramas than big actioners. 

The involvement of more serious, indie and niche actors, like Clive OwenEthan Hawke (Boyhood), and Sam Spruell (Sand Castle) was supposed to give this movie more gravitas, but I’m not entirely sure that that plan worked. These serious actors did seem a bit like caricatures of themselves, acting with all that green screen. Rihanna (Battleship, soon Ocean’s Eight) was fine in the brief cameo performance. (Fun fact: I saw her live at a concert almost exactly a year ago). However, her appearance in the film should have been played up way more – that might have been the only saying grace of this movie’s ad campaign. Speaking about the things that still might save this film – that’s Chinese audiences and the Chinese star Kris Wu, who has a small yet stereotypically crucial (plot-wise) role in the film. He made his Hollywood debut just earlier this year, in XXX: Return of Xander Cage

In short, Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets is a grand and gorgeous film, with a runtime (and story) that’s even longer than the film’s name.

Rate: 3/5

Trailer:  Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets trailer 

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Movie review: Elle

Movie reviews

Hello!

The awards season is usually dominated by American and British films, while the non-English language pictures tend to be relegated to the Best Foreign Film Category. However, sometimes a movie escapes this section and gets wider recognition. The French language films (or pictures made by the French) are the ones that succeed at this the most often (The Artist, Amour) and 2016’s Elle is hoping to one of them.

IMDb summary: A successful businesswoman gets caught up in a game of cat and mouse as she tracks down the unknown man who raped her.

Writing and Acting: The main character and the lead actress

Elle is getting the most recognition for the performance of the lead actress – Isabelle Huppert. The film’s story revolves solely around her as the titular character. At first glance, the movie appears to be just another rape victim story that so often gets reduced to just being the awards bait for great actresses (like Downton Abbey’s rape plotline for Joanne Froggatt’s character). However, the character of Elle is so much more than a rape victim: she is complex and multifaceted and so much more than just the victim of her incident. The great Isabelle Huppert meticulously maneuvers this labyrinth of character traits and delivers a mesmerizing performance. And even though I would love for the Academy, the various guilds, and the Hollywood Foreign Press Association to recognize actresses that play more contemporary strong female characters, I cannot be that mad at them for rewarding Huppert, as she both conforms to the needs of this traditional role and also confronts them.

Now, let’s go over the writing for the main character in more detail. The script was penned by David Birke, based on the novel ‘Oh…’ by Philippe Djian. While I did not necessarily agree with all of their ideas, the film’s writing certainly raised questions.

  1. The fact that the female character is reluctant to speak out and treats the whole situation almost nonchalantly does not set the best example. The romanticization of the rape (Stockholme Syndrome) could also be seen as a problematic or at least a controversial choice.
  2. And yet, I applaud the film for being open about women’s sexual lives. This topic is becoming less and less of a taboo, especially, when films like Fifty Shades of Grey are being made, are seen by many, and then are discussed online (even if not in the most productive way).
  3. While the role of a rape victim might appear as a very traditional female role, the film’s complex commentary on rape and consent is really contemporary and extremely relevant.
  4. The background writing for the main character is super unique too because the female lead is portrayed as working in the field of video games. I don’t think I can name another film with a female character working in such a stereotypically male field.
  5. The personal background of the main character is super rich too. All the different relationships are super complex and interesting separately but the interconnectivity of them is the thing that makes them realistic and even more interesting. The father-daughter relationship affects mother-daughter relationship, while the friendship between the two co-workers suffers because of the cheating.
  6. The fact that the main female character is open to the idea of having multiple lovers and at least a dozen of admirers (employees) was not only a fresh development in the portrayal of female characters but also makes it more believable that this silence and nonchalance would be the way for her to deal with the incident (even if I don’t personally agree with her decisions).
  7. The fact that her father was a murderer and that she might also have violent tendencies adds another interesting layer to the character. Her jealousy and selfishness that would sometimes result in despicable and frankly creepy actions made it hard to see her as a victim but I also think that this might have been a conscious choice. This might show that bad things happen to bad people too or that the victimization or the sainthood of the victims are fickle facades that might not actually be true.

Directing

A well known Dutch filmmaker Paul Verhoeven, best known to the mainstream audiences as the man behind such films, like Total Recall and Showgirls, directed Elle and did a magnificent job. He unfolds this story brilliantly: the viewer is dropped into the film’s world straight up, without any set-up. The rape is showed in the first sequence and later on revisited and showed from different perspective and angles to not only enhance its effect but also to show the different outcomes of it. The whole ‘cat and mouse’ game is also realized neatly: it is slow but suspenseful and intense. The film is truly a psychological thriller with some elements of a great scary movie. It reminds me of Gone Girl, The Girl with a Dragon Tattoo, and Panic Room. And yet, it differs from these American films in its atmosphere: European films always seem realistically glamorous instead of being cinematically glamorous. The level of sophistication is also much higher.

Supporting Cast

The film has an extensive supporting cast full of European talent. The secondary roles are filled by Christian BerkelAnne ConsignyVirginie EfiraLaurent LafitteCharles Berling, Alice IsaazJudith Magre, Jonas Bloquet, Vimala Pons and Lucas Prisor and all of them do a fabulous job.

To conclude, Elle is either empowering or subversive and either traditional or contemporary (or both in both cases) film with a complex female lead who is brought to life by the astonishing Isabelle Huppert whose performance is subtle and restrained but still extremely powerful.

Rate: 4.5/5

Trailer: Elle trailer

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Dan Brown’s Books and Ron Howard’s Movies (Inferno Preview)

Movie previews

Hello!

In the middle of October, the latest Ron Howard and Tom Hanks collaboration – Inferno – will hit theaters. So, I decided to educate myself on the source material – the amazing bestsellers by Dan Brown as well as the 2 previous films of the franchise – and want to tell you all about my educational and entertaining journey into the world of Robert Langdon.

Dan Brown’s Books

While all of the books in the Robert Langdon series are stand-alone novels, I decided to read them in the order that they were published. My dad used to a big fan of this author’s work, so I had all the novels in my home library. I truly enjoyed reading this series that blends history and modernity beautifully; unravels the whole narrative in such a limited time frame (the stories span maximum of 2 days) and finds real facts to prove conspiracy theories (sort of). A few ideas about the 4 different accounts of the exciting adventures:

  • Angels & Demons – the first and my favorite book of the series. It was the freshest and the most original (because it came first) and it also had the biggest amount of action, mystery, and suspense. I loved the religion v science debate. I also liked the realism of the novel but had a few problems with the ending – it just seemed a bit over-the-top and unbelievable for such a grounded story.  The setting of Rome and Vatican was brilliant, though.
  • The Da Vinci Code – probably the most famous book of the series that explored the topic of art v religion and had quite an open ending that I still don’t know if I liked it or hated it. Either way, I loved learning about Paris.
  • The Lost Symbol – the most philosophical book of the series that dealt with science and spirituality and even magic. I really liked that Brown moved the action to the new world instead of focusing on Europe once again.
  • Inferno – with this book, the writer moved the plot back to Italy, where everything started (Angels & Demons was also set in Italy). The mixture of themes such as literature, art, medicine, religion, and humanism was really cool. The amnesia aspect was a great story device to kick-start the narrative. The idea of The Consortium as an underground organization with a lot of power was impressive too.

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In general, as I’ve said, I loved all of the works by Dan Brown. This series is like a virtual tour of historical cities that I desire to visit in real life as well. My only gripes with the books were 1. the repetition of story devices and 2. a slight overdramatization. After reading all of the volumes of the series, I started noticing that all of the female characters were kinda similar – they all were either daughters/granddaughters/sisters/lovers of the other important characters of the books. All of the 4 leading ladies were also used as the love interests for the main character but they never resurfaced a second time. Robert Langdon’s position was also always pretty much the same – he would be sucked into the action by accident and would usually become a temporary outlaw. The villains tended to be people from the outskirts of society that don’t fully fit in – they were either the assassins, the crazy monks, the revengeful family members or the misunderstood geniuses. Lastly, the author really seemed to like his ending twists – all novels revealed a lot of stuff during the last 20 pages and these ‘exposures’ totally turned things around and changed the stories almost completely.

The 2nd and 3rd books shared an idea that ‘people are not ready to find out some historical truth’, while the 1st and 4th novels focused on some kind of modern technologies that were used in the attempted destruction of the world for religious reasons. The 1st book was my favorite, while the following 3 all shared the runner’s up position.

Ron Howard’s films

The Da Vinci Code was the first book to be adapted into the film in 2006. 3 years later, the big screen adaptation of Angels & Demons was released. I don’t know why they decided to switch the order of the first two books when adapting them, especially, since I felt that Angels & Demons was the stronger novel and might have been a better starting feature of the franchise. I also have no idea why they skipped the 3rd book and decided to adapt Inferno instead. Also, why wait 7 years to adapt the next movie? I think that the audiences might have already forgotten the character of Robert Langdon, particularly, in the market oversaturated with thrillers, adventure films, crime dramas and superhero movies (Ron Howard’s adaptations have various aspects in common with all of these genres).

I also don’t understand why the two films have been panned by critics this much. The few reasons that I can spot in common between all the reviews is the fact that the movies have a lot of narration and that they critique the church – all the reviewers seem to be personally offended by this commentary. I also can not comprehend how the Catholic Church feels threatened by a piece of fictional entertainment/commercial art. Is the church really this weak to see a slightly diverging idea as a serious menace to its thousand year old history and a thousand year long world domination?

A few ideas about the two movies purely from the cinematic perspective:

The Da Vinci Code: 

  • The movie had a smaller amount of explanations and less backstory than the book, Langdon seemed to break the codes way more easily and without the key, and the family relations were altered too.
  • Small moments, like difficulties with the code at the bank and the second cryptex, were cut, but, in general, the picture was quite true to the book.
  • The narrative was more straightforward and streamlined for the film, so as to make in easy to follow to viewers not familiar with the book.
  • The filmmakers added more action in the literal sense of the word, although, they kept the quite underwhelming ending – I expected the film to finish with some big original action sequence since it was made in Hollywood.
  • The movie also had a lot of dialogue in French which is quite unusual for a Hollywood picture, which is primarily aimed at the English-speaking audiences.
  • The visuals of the past/explanatory flashbacks were really nice and interesting. They also served as a nice visual explanation to accompany the narration.
  • The supporting cast was full of big name talent. Ian McKellen and Paul Bettany both were really good and the lesser know (at least to me) French actors Audrey Tautou and Jean Reno were great as well.

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Angels & Demons:

  • This film was less faithful to the book and it had a variety of changes and things being cut.
  • Changes: Vetra’s father was replaced with a different scientist. Olivetti was not part of the Swiss Guard and the Vatican contacted Langdon, not CERN. The last cardinal was saved in the film, while he died in the book. The assassin was way less sadistic and eccentric and died differently. Lastly, the final suicide was public in the novel, but it happened in private in the picture and Langdon also received a different ‘thank-you’ gift.
  • Cuts: the director of CERN didn’t appear in the film. Vittoria wasn’t kidnapped at all. The biological son plotline was left out and Robert also didn’t go into the helicopter in the film, while he did that in the book.
  • However, the film kept the main thematical idea of the book – the whole tradition vs. modernity discussion. It also retained the little details, like Langdon’s passion for water sports and his Mickey Mouse watch.
  • The feature also had a way faster set-up than the book – it took the novel at least a hundred pages to start on the quest of looking for the Path of Illumination, while the film started to look for it after the first 15-20 minutes.
  • A few cool shots that I particularly enjoyed were: the whole sequence in the particle accelerator and the shot of the cardinals leaving their cell phones behind when entering the conclave.
  • The film had a nice supporting cast, although, the characters could have been fleshed out more. Ewan McGregor’s character seemed shady from the start, while Stellan Skarsgård’s character was unlikeable and hostile without any real explanation. Ayelet Zurer’s character also needed a lot of screen time before she grew on me as a likable protagonist.

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I hope you enjoyed this review of a franchise that spans a few mediums, both the cinematic and the textual one. I would really like to do more post like these. My Inferno review will come out as soon as I get a chance to see the film!

Have a great day!

Volunteering at EHF Men’s 18 Handball Championship 2016

Sports

Good morning/day/weekend!

Around this time last year, I published my most successful non-movie related article on the topic of volunteering. Well, today, I’m continuing the tradition and writing about the behind-the-scenes inner workings of another sports event. As usual, the article will focus on my personal experience of the event and won’t be completely objective or universally truthful.

For the past week, I’ve been lucky enough to volunteer at EHF Men’s 18 Handball Championship in Lithuania. This was the first event of this kind for European Handball Federation since the new age group system has been introduced. The championship has been simultaneously held in 3 countries: Bulgaria, Georgia, and Lithuania. The winners of that part of the championship that was held in my country were the team from Israel, who won the final against Italy. The 3rd place went to Austria after they defeated the national youth handball team of The Netherlands.

After working as a team attaché for 2 weeks last year, I was quite sad to find out that I won’t be managing a team during this championship. Instead, I was supposed to be helping the officials of the EHF which seemed kinda sweet deal too. However, by the end of the first of the event, my job  became obsolete and I didn’t do much in terms of helping the local and foreign organizing committees.

Don’t get me wrong, I did enjoy the championship. I loved spending some quality time with my volunteer friends, which I only see a couple of times per year. However, in terms of the actual volunteering, I felt that I didn’t do much. I was really looking forward to the experience of working with sports professionals from an international federation, but instead, I was just kinda picking up the trash because I didn’t want to just sit there.

The main problem I had, concerning volunteering in this particular event, was the fact that there weren’t any clear lines of communication between the organizers and the volunteers and only a small portion of the volunteers actually did some meaningful work. A proper training session wasn’t held and I felt that the organizers were thinking that since all of the volunteers had previous volunteering experience, they will know what to do. I wish that they would have put more trust in us/me and actually given clearer orders. You can only do so much on your own intuition and I don’t really think that it is up to a subordinate to constantly seek for tasks. Then again, the volunteers, me definitely included, could have asked more questions. This was probably an obvious example of miscommunication and two parties not knowing what to do with each other. I will definitely learn from this whole unfortunate thing.

In the end, I can’t be that mad with the organizers because they did thank us for helping with the event and gave us commemorative gifts and Thank You notes/certificates. I did, however, felt that I didn’t really deserve any of it. Then again, I came to the championship every day and was always ready for work.

Speaking about handball as a sport – I wasn’t familiar with it at all. My background is in swimming and running, so handball was a completely new territory for me. I don’t know if I am completely sold on it as an enjoyable sport but I will definitely give it another shot – will either watch it or ask for one of my friends, who (I think) used to play handball, to teach me the basics.

Bellow, I will include some photos from the event, a picture of the volunteer’s T-shirt and the thank you gifts and any other random bits. In addition, here are the links to the pages of the European Handball Federation, the Lithuania Handball Federation, the actual event, and the Union of Sports’ Volunteers of Lithuania.

Have a great week!

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Sightseeing: The Old Town of Warsaw

Sightseeing

Hello!

A few weeks ago, I told you about my experience attending ANTI World Tour in Warsaw. While going to Rihanna’s concert was my main reason for traveling to the capital of Poland, it was not the only thing I did there. After partying with Riri on Friday and wasting the night watching the opening ceremony of the Rio Olympics, I spent the whole of Saturday walking around Warsaw’s Old Town.

With the help of Google Maps, I strolled by the Presidental Palace, the Royal Castle, the Old Market Place, the St. John’s Archcathedral, the barbican of Warsaw, the St. Anne’s Church, the Grand National Opera Theatre, the Palace of Culture and Science, the University of Warsaw, the Nicolaus Copernicus Monument, the Fryderyk Chopin Museum, the Carmelite Church, the Mermaid of Warsaw next to the Świętokrzyski Bridge and many other sights and buildings that I can’t name.

I also really wanted to visit the Copernicus Science Center, however, the queue was huge, I would have probably waited at least 3 or more hours just to get inside. Moreover, due to the overflow of people inside the building, they had temporarily suspended the sale of tickets, so I might have spent the whole day just waiting. Well, at least now I have a reason to come back to Warsaw.

For lunch, I went to this nice restaurant where instead of chairs they had swings next to the tables. To remember Warsaw, I bought 3 postcards to add to my collection and a few fridge magnets. One of the magnets has a picture of the stadium where the Rihanna’s concert took place.

The weather for my walk wasn’t the greatest – it rained occasionally, however, at least it wasn’t unbearably hot. I will take rain and fog instead of boiling hot sun any day.

Warsaw has almost 2 million inhabitants and it is also the capital of Poland. I could definitely tell that the city was alive and buzzing even on Saturday – while the streets were mainly filled with tourists in the early morning, after midday, the actual citizens of Warsaw started taking  to the streets. I saw some kind of protest as well as preparations for either a running or cycling marathon being carried out.

Bellow, I’ve included a few galleries with the photos from my walk. I love old European cities and I felt extremely lucky to have gotten a chance to see another one. The features of Warsaw that I especially liked were all the buildings with patterns and a few modern construction dispersed in between the old structures.

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Movie review: X-Men: Apocalypse

Movie reviews

Hello!

Welcome to the 4th comic book movie review of 2016! This time, we are discussing the latest entry into the X-Men franchise – Apocalypse.

IMDb summary: With the emergence of the world’s first mutant, Apocalypse, the X-Men must unite to defeat his extinction level plan.

Background

X-Men was probably the first superhero trilogy that I have ever watched, even though I wasn’t a big movie fan back then – and by ‘then’ I mean the early 2000s when I was still a kid. At about the same time, I also used to watch the reruns of the 1992-1997  X-Men Animated Series. In 2010, I started getting into movies a lot more and only a year later, First Class came out and I was hooked. The Wolverine’s spin-offs were kinda a hit and miss for me – I always preferred the team up movies. Days of Future Past was the biggest and most welcomed surprise of the 2014 summer movie season –  that film restarted, fixed, and reinvigorate the franchise. I have reviewed DOFP back in 2014 when it just came out and I also looked back at the whole franchise in greater detail – you can find that post here. Nowadays, I am also starting to get into comics – I picked up Marvel’s Mightiest Heroes Wolverine edition, which features Incredible Hulk #181 and Get Mystique! storylines, at my local second-hand bookshop. This edition seemed like a great way to star reading the X-Men comics because it featured a character that I was somewhat familiar with (that meant that I wouldn’t be completely lost in the lore while reading the story). It also provided me with a glimpse into the history of the comic books. The first story of the edition was originally published in 1974, while the second in 2008, so I was not only able to see how the character has changed throughout the years but how the stories and the art have progressed as well. Basically, I had a Crash Course on Wolverine in Comics. 

!SPOILER ALERT!

Writing and Story

The 9th X-Men film was written by Simon Kinberg, who has a mixed track record. Kinberg has previously written such great films as Mr. & Mrs. Smith and 2014’s Days of Future Past. However, he has also worked on X-Men: The Last Stand and last year’s Fantastic Four – two of the worst comic book movies of the decade. With Apocalypse, Kinberg succeeded for the most part. In general, writing was probably the strongest part of the movie.

To begin with, Apocalypse had this old school feeling, reminiscent of the first two X-Men films from the early 2000s. At the same time, the picture was new and fresh in that it continued the reboot/new timeline version of the franchise. This film made a lot of verbal references to The First Class and tied up the loose end of DOFP. The film’s buildup was also kinda slow, with a few small action scenes in between dialogue. The pace really picked up at the end of the 2nd act and during the final battle.

Apocalypse as a villain was also not a bad choice. I appreciated the religious undertones that he had, which were especially obvious in his motivation/purpose. The False God accusations reminded me of BvS a bit as well. His Survival of the Fittest way of thinking was very Darwinistic/Eugenics like. The scene, where Apocalypse was learning about the new world, was also an interesting setup and tied the franchise to the Cold War setting quite nicely. When Apocalypse was destroying those nukes and shouted No More Superpowers!, I felt that this was a partial verbal nod to the famous Scarlet Witch’s line – No More Mutants!. The way Apocalypse could transfer his consciousness but could keep the power of his previous hosts was an interesting idea and his mental battle with Xavier was also pretty neat.

X-Men: Apocalypse also continued the versus idea of this year’s comic book movie season, since, in this picture, the mutants were fighting their fellow mutants. Although, that has always been the basic idea of all X-Men movies – mutant friends becoming mutant enemies and either trying to protect humans or destroy them. Generally, X-Men: Apocalypse felt like a formulaic movie but a well written one. It was not as surprising as DOFP and definitely did not accomplish as much. Nevertheless, it fit into the timeline perfectly and made sense – and that’s the most important aspect that Kinberg should be praised for.

The film also had a few funny moments. The stand-outs to me were the scenes between Moira and Xavier. Seeing Professor X act as a teenage boy was both awkward and amazing. Another nice scene was that Star Wars discussion between Jean, Scott, Jubilee and Nightcrawler. I especially liked Jean’s line how the 3rrd one if always the worst. It was such an obvious jab at The Last Stand (the 3rd X-Men movie that butchered The Dark Phoenix Saga) but it was perfect.

Directing and Visuals

Bryan Singer, once again, directed the film and did a pretty nice job. The stakes felt high and the action was pretty sweet. The X-Men franchise is probably the craziest and the most comic-booky- comic book movie franchise of all time, so I just wish that they would fully embrace the comic book-y-iness and gives us some colorful costumes.

The opening credits sequence was a really cool way to open the movie and nicely showed the passing of time, from Ancient Egypt to the 1980s. Speaking about the 80s, the fashion and the style seemed pretty tame, especially after watching Linklater’s Everybody Wants Some!!. That film embraced the campiness of the 80s, while Apocalypse seemed to only be inspired by it.

The X-symbolism as well as the Phoenix shape teaser during the last battle were also nice visual references to the comics. The action scenes where the mutants combined their power were also pretty sweet. My favorite action sequences of the film were: 1. Magneto killing those soldier/guards with the necklace. 2.Quicksilver saving everyone (almost) from the fire. The song, featured in that sequence, was also excellent .

Actings and Characters

The film had a lot of characters and, while the majority of them were really nice additions to the story, others were kinda wasted.

The good:

  • James McAvoy as Charles Xavier / Professor X – McAvoy was really good in the role, once again. I liked him both as a teacher and the war leader. The scene, where he was transmitting Apocalypse’s message, was relly good and showcased McAvoy’s acting abilities nicely. If you want to see more of McAvoy, I really liked him in 2013’s Filth – a really dark and ironic look at mental illness.
  • Michael Fassbender as Erik Lehnsherr / Magneto. Fassbender also nicely portrayed the emotional damage of Erik. The Forest scene with Magneto’s family was amazing. I only wonder if his double crossing was true (‘I didn’t betray you, I betrayed them’). Magneto is known for switching sides, so I, if I was Xavier, I would keep an eye on him, even though it seems like they are friends at the end of the film. If you want to see more of Fassbender, may I suggest Inglourious Basterds, Prometheus, Frank or Steve Jobs
  • Jennifer Lawrence as Raven Darkhölme / Mystique. Lawrence was also amazing in the role, I especially liked that she led the new X-Men, being The First Class alumni herself. I only wish that we would have seen more of her in the blue form. I liked her line about the fact that the lack of war doesn’t mean peace. You have probably seen a lot of Lawrence’s movies (THG), but I suggest you check out her first breakthrough role in Winter’s Bone.
  • Nicholas Hoult as Hank McCoy / Beast. Hoult has always been one of my favorite actors and I am glad that the filmmakers found some space for Beast in this film. I loved his scene with Raven – ‘I love you!’. Hoult’s movie suggestion – Mad Max Fury Road, although I also want to check out Kill Your Friends
  • Evan Peters as Peter Maximoff / Quicksilver. Quicksilver was my favorite part of DOFP and I was so happy that they didn’t leave him at home in Apocalypse. He was my favorite character – the most efficient in action scenes, the funniest and the one with most potential – I would love to explore his and Magneto’s relationship. I haven’t seen any other films starring Peter, but if you want to check out more of him, I suggest American Horror Story.
  • The new successful additions to the cast in the familiar roles were Sophie Turner as Jean Grey / Phoenix and Kodi Smit-McPhee as Kurt Wagner / Nightcrawler. I’m so happy that Turner is getting more work because of Game of Thrones and I believe that she will be great as the Dark Phoenix. Smit-McPhee also played the Nightcrawler nicely and provided some great comedic relief. I wish we would have seen more of his adaptation to the capitalist world of the west.

The medium:

  • Oscar Isaac as En Sabah Nur / Apocalypse. When the look of Apocalypse was revealed, I did not really like it, and, after seeing the film, I still don’t fully understand the need to cast such a good looking and expressive actor, only to cover him underneath tons of makeup. Although, I, at least, appreciated the eye movements of Apocalypse, but those also felt CGI and not real. Issac’s film suggestions: Star Wars The Force Awakens, Inside Llewyn Davis and Ex-Machina.
  • Rose Byrne as Moira MacTaggert. Moira only had two roles in the film: exposition and being a love interest for Xavier. She succeded in both places, but I wanted her to be used more. Byrne is a comedic actress, so all of her movie suggestions are comedies: both Neighbors and its sequel, Bridesmaids and Spy.
  • Tye Sheridan (Mud) as Scott Summers / Cyclops, Olivia Munn (Mordecai) as Elizabeth Braddock / Psylocke, Alexandra Shipp (In Time, minor role) as Ororo Munroe / Storm, and Ben Hardy (EastEnders) as Warren Worthington III / Angel / Archangel were okay additions to the cast. Scott was more interesting in a few scenes before his brother’s death – he turned into a brodding, not-fun, James Marsden’s version of the character way too quickly. Psylocke and Angel were cool in the action scenes, but didn’t have much to do, except stand around Apocalypse. Storm at least had some extra development, with that saying that Mystique is her hero.

The bad (or wasted):

  • Lucas Till as Alex Summers / Havok. Till’s Havok had two purposes in the film – to destroy Cerebro and to die. I don’t really think he was needed at all.
  • Lana Condor as Jubilation Lee / Jubilee was the most wasted character of all. She didn’t even use her powers, so I don’t even know why she was included in the film.

Post-Credits and Future

It has been annouced that the next X-Men film will be set in the 90s and the X-Men team that was formed at the end of Apocalypse will probably be back. I do not know if the Proffesor X, Magneto or Raven will return, as the actors who play them might be working on other projects. Rumours have been floating around that Kinberg wants to try to make The Dark Phoenix Saga again and, after that jab at The Last Stand, I kinda believe this to be true.

Another future project, which is also set in X-Men universe, is the 3rd solo Wolverine movie. In Apocalypse, we found out that, after Stryker got Wolverine at the end of DOFP, he experimented on him. It seems that it is innevitable for Logan not to get the metal claws, even when the timeline changes. When Wolverine showed up, the only thing on my mid was: Well, you can’t make an X-Men movie without Hugh Jackman. I wonder if his solo movie will pick up where Apocalypse left off – with Logan running off into the woods. His and Jean Grey’s scene was kinda creepy and yet somewhat nice callbacks to their relationship in the original trilogy. The post-credits scene showed the Weapon X base being infiltrated by Essex Corpor., which has ties to Mister Sinister from the comics. I wonder will the Weapon X serum(?) have a role in Wolverine’s film or in the next X-Men film. I was kinda expecting the 3rd Wolverine’s standalone film to be an adaptation of the Old Man Logan story, so I don’t know how Essex corp. and Mister Sinister can figure into that.

All in all, X-Men: Apocalypse was a thourougly enjoyable film. It had a great story and a few nice actions scenes. Some characters could have been cut or could have received more development. The 9th installment of the longest running comic-book franchise was not its best entry but defintely not the worst either.

Rate:4/5

Trailer: X-Men: Apocalypse trailer

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Eurovision 2016!

Music

Hello, my dear readers!

Once a year, the whole of Europe and Australia (and even the US for the first time) turns on their TVs and witnesses one of the most bizarre international events – the Eurovision Song Contest! Eurovision is supposedly a musical contest and yet it has always been extremely political and biased. This year was no exception! Actually, 2016’s show might be the most political Eurovision ever.

To begin with, let’s focus on the bright side and talk about the positive aspects of the event. The 61st edition of the contest was held in Stockholm, Sweden thanks to Måns Zelmerlöw, who won in 2015 with the song Heroes. This wasn’t the first time that Sweden won the contest (it was actually the 6th – previous wins in  1974 (ABBA), 1984, 1991, 1999 and 2012 (Loreen)), so the Scandinavian country was/is an experienced host nation and I think that they did a fabulous job. The event was hosted by Zelmerlöw and the fan-favorite Petra Mede and they actually were pretty funny and worked well together. Of course, there were plenty of awkward and uncomfortable moments, but that’s just part of the Eurovision’s charm.

A few stand-out moments from the hosts and the guests of the show were: the dance/acting performance The Grey People in support of the refugees during the 1st Semi-Final, the dance performance Man v Machine during the 2nd Semi-Final, the satirical, tongue-in-cheek performance by Petra and Mans and the appearance of/interval act by Justin Timberlake during the grand final.

The actual songs were pretty good as well. This was probably the most even playing field I have ever seen in all my 12 years of watching the Eurovision. There was no clear winner before the show or even during the voting.

My favorite songs came from the following countries: Belgium, Hungary, Italy, Israel, Bulgaria, United Kingdom, Sweden, Germany, Australia, Latvia, Austria, and Russia (I feel ashamed to mention that last one). Ukraine was not one of my favorites – the song was not of my style or taste – but I appreciated it and was happy that they won.

I also did not hate my native country’s – Lithuania’s – song. We did pretty well this year, finishing in 9th place. That’s the 2nd best result for my country. This was the first year that I actually was able to vote for my native land as I no longer live there.

Now,  about the politics and the voting. This year, the jury’s and public’s votes were announced separately and this decision made for an even more intense watching experience. Stand out moments from the announcement of the votes:

  1. Australia took and early lead and won the jury’s votes. Everyone was expecting it to win and then Ukraine shockingly dethroned it.
  2. The juries were more biased than their respective nations. The professionals voted for their neighboring countries much more than the public did. I would have expected the public to be more biased, while the juries should have been way more objective.
  3. Ukraine and Russia were the last two countries to receive the public’s votes. Russia was the fan-favorite and could have won but it did not receive enough points. So, Ukraine had the best payback ever for the current political situation in Crimea. It gave Russia some hope and then crushed it completely. When you find out that a)Ukraine’s singer is of Crimean Tatar descent; b)her song was about the deportation of the Crimean Tatars during the 1940s by the Soviet Union and c) the song features Crimean Tatar’s language and cultural vocal styles, this revenge win is even more iconic. Layers upon layers of politics. 
  4. Germany’s jury gave 12 points to Israel. I guess the blame for WW2 is still on Germany’s jury’s minds.
  5. Poland received 7 points from the jury and 200+ points from the viewers. This was probably the biggest divide that the professionals and the public had ever had. I have a theory on why the viewers liked Poland’s performer – he looks like Weird Al Yankovic – internet-famous American parodist and singer.

All in all, I had a lovely time watching this year’s Eurovision. The show had enough pleasant surprises and a few listenable songs. Have you watched the show? Who were your favorites?

My posts on/about 2015‘s Eurovision here and 2014‘s Eurovision here.

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5 ideas about a movie: Bastille Day

Movie reviews

Hi!

While I eagerly await the Civil War film, I still go to the cinema to check out other new releases. This week, I watched an action and crime drama – Bastille Day – and I want to share a few thoughts about this picture. Let’s go!

IMDb summary: A young con artist and former CIA agent embark on an anti-terrorist mission in France

  1. To begin with, I’ve never thought about myself as a fan of crime action movies (I usually preferred sci-fi, fantasy or historical action films). However, after watching quite a few films of the crime genre and liking them a lot, I have to admit – I am actually a fan or at least I am becoming one. A couple of recent crime films that I have enjoyed were Triple 9, Sicario, Black Mass and Legend. In addition, not long ago, I watched or re-watched a few older crime thrillers – Scorcese’s Goodfellas, Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs and Fincher’s Seven – and would absolutely recommend all of them to everybody.
  2. Bastille Day was written by Andrew Baldwin, and, according to the IMDb, this is his first screenplay. He is writing scripts for 3 announced movies, including The Bourne Legacy sequel. I believe that Baldwin did quite a nice job with this film: the plot was not that linear and simple and the story was quite complex and interesting. I enjoyed the fact that the film was Europe Centric, however, I question the decision to set a terrorist story in a city of Paris, when the real-life attacks on the capital of France happened less than a year ago. Granted, the film’s attack and real-life attacks were carried out by different parties for different reasons (maybe(?)) but the two events might be too similar and could negatively affect the film.
  3. The movie explored such themes as the abusement of power and the role of social media in the modern, information-driven world. It also had some interesting things to say about chaos, but, sadly, like many films before it, Bastille Day used the cliche of the ‘criminals inside the organization or government’
  4. The motion picture was directed by James Watkins, who has previously directed only horror films. I liked his work on Bastille Day: the action was exciting and not to over the top. For example, the roof chase sequence looked realistic because both of the characters stumbled and even fell a couple of times. The film’s soundtrack (by Alex Heffes) was also nice – very funky and upbeat. Bastille Day had an R rating, although the film’s action looked kinda PG-13. I predict that they got an R rating because of the explicit nudity in the opening scene. Needless to say, the nudity wasn’t necessary and the film would have probably gotten a PG-13 rating, which would have allowed it to reach a wider audience and, in turn, earn more money.
  5. The film had a great cast. Idris Elba shined in the lead as douche-baggy yet still somewhat likable CIA agent. I’m really happy that Elba’s career is finally picking up, although I’m still sour about the fact that he didn’t get an Oscar nomination for Beasts of No Nation. I’m really excited to hear him in Finding Dory and see him in Star Trek Beyond later this summer. Until then, I suggest you check out Prometheus, Mandela: A Long Walk to Freedom, The Jungle Book, and MCU films, all starring Idris Elba.  Game of Thrones alumni Richard Madden was also really good and extremely charming in his role. I liked his line ‘It’s all about the distraction‘ as well as his tricks. Madden’s last big film was 2015’s Cinderella and he doesn’t have any big movies lined up, however, I’m sure that we will see more of him on the big screen in the near future. The last cast member that I’d like to mention is Charlotte Le Bon (The Hundred-Foot Journey and The Walk). She was quite good in her role and is slowly becoming Hollywood’s go-to French actress (although she is French Canadian).

In short, Bastille Day was an enjoyable film with an interesting yet a bit cliche plot, exciting action and good acting. It wasn’t groundbreaking but not bad either. Not a must-see but if you don’t have anything else to watch, Bastille Day might just be the perfect choice for you.

Rate: 3.7/5

Trailer: Bastille Day trailer

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Sightseeing: a museum day in Vilnius

Sightseeing

Hello!

I haven’t done a sightseeing post in a very long time but today is the day that I bring it back. Hope you’ll enjoy it!

Some of you may know that my favorite city in Lithuania (my native country) and one of my favorite cities in the world is Vilnius – the capital of Lithuania. I have already done a post about places I enjoy visiting while in Vilnius (find it here). Luckily, today, I had another chance to visit 3 of the capital’s biggest museums, which I can’t wait to tell you all about.

To begin with, me and my aunt visited a fashion exhibition at the Lithuanian Museum of Applied Art (museums site here). Here we saw an exhibition called “Three Centuries of Fashion“. All of the clothes and the accessories, dating back to 18th, 19th and 20th century, were from the collection of Alexandre Vassiliev. He is an internationally acclaimed French (though born in Russia) costume and set designer as well as a fashion historian. His collection truly conveys and reflects the words of the King of France Louis XIV that fashion is a “mirror of history”. 







My favorite pieces were the flapper/swing dresses from the 1920s (a la The Great Gatsby): 

Also, I really loved the puffy dresses and accessories from the 1960s (a la Hairspray):

There was also another exhibition consisting of pieces from slightly newer Vassiliev’s collection. This one was called a ‘Rebellion in a Boudoir‘. Clothes, which were presented, were from the era of the hippies – 1970s. Colorful dresses, crazy prints, punk jackets and grunge vests as well as sequined jumpsuits were all included. ABBA’s music was playing in the background. It felt like falling through a wormhole into my grandpa’s young adult days.







Next, we went to the Lithuanian National Museum (visit its site here) which houses a wide variety of exhibits. You can find a plethora of paintings, old books and statues, ethnographic clothes, swords and spears and many more things, which have one thing in common – they represent the history of Lithuania and its surrounding countries. Surprisingly, you can even find paintings from Japan, which were gifted to counts and dukes of Lithuania and ended up in a museum a few centuries later. There is also a massive reproduction of one of the biggest battles of the medieval Europe – the battle of Grunwald (wiki).

Lastly, we visited the The Museum of Money (link here), which, to my mind, is one of the best if not the best museum in Lithuania for the way it uses modern technologies. The admission to the museum is free but you can do so many things here and not just stare at blank walls. The museum presents the history of the Lithuania’s currencies as well as provides visitors with the information about the world currencies via interactive computer with 9 screens. You can also see a wide variety of international money in person. Plus, a bunch of computers invite you to test your knowledge of money and finance or challenge you to try to guess which country in Europe a certain euro coin belongs to. You can even get a few free souvenirs – one of them is a book mark, which you make by pressing a seal of a coin on a piece of metal in a special machine. Another attraction is a special weighting scale where you can get an official document, which pronounces your worth: you weight yourself and find out how much would you cost in dollars and euros if you were made from gold, silver or platinum.

 Amber as the first currency in trading.

 World currencies – this one is from Hong Kong.

The pyramid made from the smallest currency of Lithuania – a million of cents (pennies). True, these are the pennies of litas (a penny is a one hundredth of a litas) and my country has joined the Euro zone in January of 2015, so these coins have no worth anymore.

The receipt of my own personal worth and a handmade bookmark.

To sum up, I really liked spending a day in Vilnius once again. I love fashion, so, I highly enjoyed seeing the clothes from all the different eras. Moreover, I am a huge history buff, so visiting a national museum was a dream come true. Lastly, who doesn’t like money and doesn’t want to know more about it?

If you ever get a chance to visit the capital of my country, I suggest you check these places out. Sadly, both fashion exhibitions will only be open till the end of October, so don’t miss out. Have a great day! Bye!

Eurovision 2015

Music

Hello!

Some of you may know that I live in Europe, so this post shouldn’t come as a shocker, although, now you can live in Australia and be a part of Europe. Anyway, I am a huge Eurovision fan, I have always watched it as a kid, but I remember 2005 being the year that peaked my interest the most and that interest never diminished. You want proof – read last year’s coverage of Eurovision 2014.

To begin with, I believe that Eurovision allowed me to get to know so many artists that I wouldn’t have know otherwise,. I listen to pretty much only US and UK musicians, so Eurovision broadens my musical taste and cultural perspective.

This years contest, to my mind, was the best of the decade song wise. I have never had so many favorites. So, my top 7 songs were from:

  1. Sweden 
  2. Belgium
  3. Estonia
  4. Latvia
  5. Russia
  6. Denmark (they weren’t in the final)
  7. Australia

Other countries which had good songs were Romania, Georgia, The Netherlands, Greece, Belarus, Hungary, Austria, Norway, Israel, Azerbaijan, Cyprus, Poland. – I warned you, I had a lot of favorites:) This year also had a variety of different types of songs: some were really fun and happy while others spoke about serious issues.

The inclusion of Australia, in honor of this being the 60th Eurovision and because of the fact that Eurovision is very popular in Australia, was a very nice touch.

The winner was Sweden and that’s one of a few times when my favorite song wins. The last time this happened was in 2012 when Loreen won -also from Sweden.

My own country finished in the 18th place, despite quite an extensive media coverage on my country’s representatives. The 3 kisses didn’t help and they just sparked a lot of fights in the comment section of a variety of articles. However, our song This Time was definitely the best entry we ever had. I was really happy that other Baltic States did so well – Latvia and Estonia finished in 6th and 7th place respectively.

Austria  did a great job as a host country.The stage looked unbelievably great. I am just sad that they didn’t got any points and finished in the last place together with Germany. The motto Building Bridges was also a cool one.

Eurovision being a political contest as much as it is a musical contest, the voting didn’t surprise but infuriated me. When are we going to stop voting for our neighbors and when are we actually going to vote for the songs and not for the countries? With all the developments with Russia and Ukraine, I am shocked that Russia did so well. The song definitely deserved the 2nd place, but I have no idea how it got it.

To sum up, Eurovision Song Contest 2015 was a fairly good one. Nothing really surprised me, except the quality of the songs. I got a chance to add some new songs to my playlist, refreshing it before summer starts. Rate 4/5

Have a great week!