5 ideas about a movie: A Quiet Place

Movie reviews

Hello!

I start every review of a horror movie by saying that I don’t watch horror movies, which is not only a paradox but a lie too. Anyways, this is A Quiet Place!

IMDb summary: A family is forced to live in silence while hiding from creatures that hunt by sound.

  1. A Quiet Place was written by Bryan Woods, Scott Beck, and John Krasinski, who also directed the picture. Krasinski has been acting, writing, producing, and directing films/TV shows in Hollywood for the past decade but this movie is definitely his biggest project to date and also a film that he has probably been the most invested in. I haven’t been really familiar with Krasinski’s previous work. I really liked him in 13 Hours but I have never (brace yourselves, people) seen a single episode of The Office. Yup, I know, you can throw virtual rocks at me, I’m ashamed too. Anyways, onto the review.
  2. The premise of this movie was absolutely genius and I’m so glad that it was also executed really well in the story. The rules of this world were clear enough, but the mystery element also always remained (e.g. the origin of the aliens). I also loved the fact that the story had real consequences and that not all the characters made it through – that added so much more weight to the narrative and required more emotional investment from the viewers. Lastly, I loved the ending and how it was kept small and intimate with only a hint at a bigger, over-the-top battle to come.
  3. While A Quiet Place is not a family movie, it is certainly a movie about family. The love within and the sacrifice for a family were beautifully portrayed on screen. The concept of blame also came up and was touched upon. The fact that movie had a serious thematic under structure elevated it from a simple horror movie somewhere closer to the levels of Get Out and smart genre filmmaking.
  4. The film was also not only well-written but well-directed too. The raw visuals made the movie seem grounded, while the close-ups helped it feel intimate, personal. The levels of intensity and suspense were also always pretty high. A Quiet Place also earned the right to use jump scares because they weren’t the typical visual jump scares (a couple of those were used too) but more of a sound scares which fit so well with the story. The design of monsters themselves wasn’t the most original but I loved the visualization of their main strength and weakness – hearing/the ear.
  5. John Krasinski and Emily Blunt (Edge of Tomorrow, Sicario, The Huntsman, The Girl on The Train) were the perfect leads. They had that quiet chemistry (obviously, they are, after all, married) and their individual performances were great too. I completely bought Krasinski as the grieving and loving father who would do anything for his family. I also loved Blunt’s almost sensual performance in the pregnancy scenes. The children were played by Millicent Simmonds and Noah Jupe (Wonder, Suburbicon). It was so nice to see some diversity and inclusivity with the casting of Simmonds (a deaf actress playing a deaf character), while Jupe’s performance was really powerful and realistic.

In short, A Quiet Place was scary, smart, and heartwarming. An unlikely combination but it works, I swear.

Rate: 4.5/5

Trailer: A Quiet Place trailer

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Movie review: Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle

Movie reviews

Hello!

Another reboot/sequel of a beloved childhood classic has hit theatres, but, this time around, it’s surprisingly good?! This is Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle! (That title is awful, though.)

IMDb summary: Four teenagers discover an old video game console and are literally drawn into the game’s jungle setting becoming the adult avatars they chose.

Only last year, a 1980s classic, Which was near and dear to a lot of people during their childhood, was remade and the Internet went nuts. However, that Ghostbusters debacle did not stop Hollywood from remaking/attempting to continue another classic property, this time around, from the 1990s. And it looks like the LA suits were right to try: I haven’t seen much hate (barely any) towards the 2017’s a Jumanji. Why is this reboot more acceptable than the Ghostbusters one? Is it the Rock? The Rock and Hart proven combo? The ‘correct’ genders of the characters (mixed cast rather than an all-something reboot)? Or maybe nobody liked Jumanji in the first place as much as I thought they did? I certainly remember the film quite fondly from my childhood.

Writing

Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle was written by Chris McKenna and Erik Sommers (the duo behind Spider-Man: Homecoming and The Lego Batman), the director Jake Kasdan, and Scott Rosenberg and Jeff Pinkner (the writers of the upcoming Venom movie which is currently being filmed). In general, I enjoyed quite a lot of elements of the writing of this film.

To begin with, I thought that the idea to update Jumanji from a board game to a video game was a clever one. However, the way the script went about doing that – just sort of allowing the game to morph by itself – was a bit weird. Also, if they were giving the game an update, why not do a completely contemporary take on it? Make it into a Nintendo Switch type of a thing rather than a very 90s cassette game. What I did like about the video game concept in relation to this film was the fact that the movie overtly and unapologetically used the video game tropes, like the cutscenes, the numbered lives, the strengths/weakness idea, and the different levels. Jumanji might actually be the best video game movie without technically being one

The new characters of Jumanji weren’t bad either. The teenagers/real-life characters got some brief but neat development during the setup, which was nicely built upon during the following adventure. The relationship moments that the characters shared actually provided the picture with some opportunities to explore the ideas of friendship and teamwork. Some nice messages about bravery, self-confidence as well as one’s ability to change were also expressed. The interactions between the characters also resulted in some great humorous moments. The flirting school and the peeing scene were stupid but also hilarious. The switch-ups with the bodies (the nerds becoming athletic and cool; the popular kids being degraded to sidekicks and the comic relief) was another source of jokes for the film.

My main and the only actual critique of the movie was its plot or the set up of it. The game narrative itself was fine and it worked well as an adventure story. However, the way it just came out of nowhere seemed a bit odd. That whole explanation about the stone, the villain, and the curse seemed a bit heavy-handed and too highly fabricated. At least the format of that explanation/set-up (the cutscene) was somewhat meta (explicit in its usage of a trope) and, thus, a bit more interesting.

Lastly, while this film appeared to have been a direct continuation of the original Jumanji with the game itself being found on the beach, where it was last seen, I question whether the people behind-the-scenes are planning to make any further sequels, in case this one is successful. The last scene, which showed the characters breaking the game, suggests that we won’t see any sequels, which is, quite frankly, a shocking thing in today’s mainstream filmmaking business.

Directing

2017’s Jumanji was directed by Jake Kasdan (his last two films were both mediocre Cameron Diaz comedies) and I thought that he crafted quite an entertaining action adventure flick that was so much better constructed that I thought it’d be. The action was inventive enough and energetic. The CGI of the animals could have been a bit better. The pacing was fine for the most part, though the film did slow down a bit towards the end of the second half. Lastly, I’ve noticed (or imagined) some callbacks to other movies in this feature, which seemed like quite neat additions to me: the creepy house and the yellow raincoat reminded me of It, while the biker gang inside the game seemed Mad Max-esque.

Acting

Jumanji’s two casts were both really good. The teenagers/young adult actors – Alex Wolf (Patriot’s Day), Ser’Darius BlainMorgan Turner, and Madison Iseman – were believable and relatable. However, the majority of the film was carried by the video game versions of these characters, played by Dwayne Johnson (Baywatch, FF8, Moana, San Andreas), Kevin Hart (The Secret Life of Pets), Karen Gillan (Guardians of the Galaxy 1 and 2, The Circle), and Jack Black, respectively. Johnson’s and Hart’s chemistry, which blossomed in Central Intelligence, was back in full force in this movie. All of the scenes with the Rock discovering his muscles were incredible and I also appreciated the fact that the film poked fun at his inherent charisma with that ‘smoldering look’ skill. Kevin Hart was amazing and funny too, while Karen Gillan was a complete badass (both as a character and as an actress). Jack Black also surprised me. I have never been much of a fan of his but I highly enjoy seeing him acting as the ‘it’ girl in this film.

A few other characters, worth the mention, were played by Nick Jonas and Bobby Cannavale (Ant-Man). Jonas was okay in the picture but his character was intended to be somewhat of a replacement for Robin Williams character of the original (a person who gets stuck in the game) and, no offense to Nick Jonas, but he could never replace Williams. Cannavale played the villain and he was the worst of the cast, in my mind. I think he went a bit too cartoonish with his performance – yes, there is such a thing as too cartoonish even in a live-action cartoon.

In short, Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle is a surprisingly entertaining adventure movie. It would be the perfect holiday film for the whole family if it wasn’t competing with Star Wars 8.

Rate: 4/5

Trailer: Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle trailer

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Movie review: The Glass Castle

Movie reviews, Uncategorized

Hello!

The Captain Fantastic-esque movie for this awards’ season – The Glass Castle – has reached theatres, so let’s see if it is as good as its predecessor.

IMDb summary: A young girl comes of age in a dysfunctional family of nonconformist nomads with a mother who’s an eccentric artist and an alcoholic father who would stir the children’s imagination with hope as a distraction to their poverty.

Writing

The Glass Castle’s script was written by the director of the picture Destin Daniel Cretton, Andrew Lanham (who wrote the 2017 religious pic The Shack), and Marti Noxon (writer on Buffy and To The Bone). It was based on the memoir of the same name by Jeannette Walls (who was played in the film by Brie Larson). The writing for the film was interesting – it had some great moments but a few flaws too. First, the narrative simultaneously unraveled in two temporal lines, past and present, and these two were connected well-enough. However, the story itself was a bit too long – there were differently quite a few moments which could have been cut and made the plot more tight and streamlined. Nevertheless, the fact that the story was so long and drawn out kinda helped to build a strong emotional core of the film.

The Glass Castle had the Interstellar syndrome of focusing on a single child’s relationship with the parents and kinda letting the other children fade into the background (but, I guess, since the movie was based on one person’s memoir, it’s okay for the film to also have a more centered focus). Thematically, the movie tackled a lot of issues. The most obvious one was the less-than-conventional lifestyle of the family (and this were the Captain Fantastic similarity came in, although, CF was more about living unconventionally, while this one was more about just living in poverty). It was depicted quite well and with enough detail. The second topic was the parent-child relationship. That discussion had the ultimate message that parents need to respect their children’s life choices, even if they might do something different in their place (at least that was my takeaway).

The third issue was the abuse in the family. This problem was depicted in both The Walls’ family and the father’s family. The first recreation of the issue (in The Walls family) was way more well-rounded, while the abuse in the father’s own family (abuse of the mother/grandma) was only just glanced at, which was the biggest flaw in the film. If that was definitely the case of pedophilia, the movie should have looked at it much more. If it wasn’t the case, all the speculations needed to be cleared out way more overtly. Lastly, The Glass Castle also presented an alcoholic character and had one of the best and most accurate representations of the issue. The withdrawal scene, as well as the irrational need for a drink, were very realistic inclusions.

While The Glass Castle did a fairly good job of presenting a variety of issues and topics, I wish it were more critical of them. I saw this being the main complaint in the reviews of the various critics and I completely agree with them. The end of the picture was mostly sugar-coated and very Hollywood-y. While forgiveness is a powerful tool to have, an ability to stand for one’s own beliefs and to cut toxic people from one’s life, no matter how close to them one used to be, are also important life lessons that I wish the film would have added.

Directing

Destin Daniel Cretton, who has previously mostly worked on short films and documentaries, directed The Glass Castle as his 3rd feature film. The pacing of the movie was really slow, and while the emotional connection between the viewer and the characters was quite successfully built, the narrative itself did drag and got too repetitive at times. The cinematography was good, very classic, drama-style one. The director also did a good job of working with the actors and pulling amazing performances out of them.

Acting

The two stand-outs from the cast were Brie Larson (Room, Kong, Free Fire) and Woody Harrelson (Triple 9, Now You See Me 1+2, War For The Planet Of The Apes). Larson has actually previously worked with this director and her involvement in his film post-Oscar win, kinda raised the movie’s profile. Anyway, Larson, once again, proved that she deserved that last Oscar that she won and I hope to see her standing on the Academy stage once more in the future. Harrelson also nailed his role. This time around his performance as an alcoholic was even more believable than in The Hunger Games. Other supporting cast members included Divergent’s Naomi Watts (she was amazing as the eccentric artist mother) and Sarah Shook (Steve Jobs), Josh Caras, and Brigette Lundy-Paine as Jeannette’s siblings. New Girls Max Greenfield also had a fun role, while Ella Anderson did a very good job as the younger version of Jeannette.

In short, The Glass Castle is an interesting biopic that should have analyzed rather than just depicted its source material. The acting is top-notch, though.

Rate: 3.5/5

Trailer: The Glass Castle trailer

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Movie review: Fast & Furious 8

Movie reviews

Hello!

The latest FF film – The Fate of the Furious or Fast & Furious 8 – has driven into theaters, so, let’s discuss it!

I can’t actually believe that I have never reviewed a Fast and Furious movie before as I have been a fan of them since I was a child. 2006’s Tokyo Drift was probably the first nonanimated movie that I saw at the cinema and have been hooked ever since. I and my dad would always watch these movies together and bond over the fast cars and the crazy action. And that’s what I have come to expect from these films: the amazing action and the funny jabs between the cast members (or a family, wink wink) that have real chemistry. I am not looking for Oscar-worthy performances or original stories. However, I have to give immense props to the 7th film for dealing with Paul Walker’s death in such a gracious and poised way. I don’t think anyone expected a Fast and Furious movie to show so much class but it did. Well, enough talking about the previous entries in the franchise, let’s see what the 8th picture can offer! Has anyone ever believed that this series would have eight installments with 9th and 10th ones already planned ???

IMDb summary: When a mysterious woman seduces Dom into the world of terrorism and a betrayal of those closest to him, the crew face trials that will test them as never before.

Writing

FF8‘s script was written by Chris Morgan, who penned all the previous films, except the first two. The narrative was exactly what one thinks it was: just a collection of expositional scenes to further the story and a sprinkling of funny jabs and interactions between the characters. The film’s plot referenced the events and the characters from the previous 3 films quite a lot too, which was really fun for longtime viewers of the franchise and not that surprising, knowing that all of the referenced entries were written by the same screenwriter. It was also nice that the said references didn’t seem pushed but happened quite organically. Thus, The Fate of the Furious seemed like a true continuation of the same story arc that more or less started with the 5th picture.

The interactions between the characters were brilliantly ridiculous as well. I wonder how much of that was written and how many jokes were just improvised on the spot by Dwayne Johnson and Jason Statham, Tyrese Gibson and Ludacris. The love triangle jokes were funny too. The attempt to give characters more development was also fine. The main theme of the series – family – was present in this film more than in any other entries before. Similarly to Dom having to make a choice between family and his criminal/car chasing past in this movie, the same choice now has to be made by this franchise when moving forward. And the picture did leave a few opportunities open for the same plotline to be continued.

Directing

Fast & Furious 8 was helmed by a newcomer director to the franchise – F. Gary Gray, best known for directing Straight Outta Compton. He did a good enough job with the movie and utilized the FF staples – the exotic locations and the butts. I appreciated the first, could have done without the second, but it looks like the two were a packaged deal. Speaking of the third staple of the series – the crazy action set pieces excecuted with the help of gorgeus and extremely expensve cars – they were not the best of the franchise but were still quite inventive and, most importantly, explosive, energetic, and entertaining. Yes, the technology was far-fetched and, yes, the explosions – unsurvivable and unbelievable. But you can’t argue that they didn’t look cool and absolutely kickass and that’s all I wanted. The visuals were nicely paired with a good soundtrack too, although I can’t pinpoint an iconic song that will be on the radio all summer, similarly how I See You Again was everywhere after the 7th film, We Own It after the 6th and Danza Kuduro after the 5th.

Acting

Fast and Furious was one of the first film series to have a truly diverse cast and the franchise is continuing the trend. While the 8th flick didn’t really introduce any new characters apart from revealing Charlize Theron (The Hunstman, Mad Max, Kubo) as the big bad behind the last few films, it had a ton of fun cameos and comebacks. Speaking of Theron – she was a great addition to the cast and a good villain, I would even dare to say the best of the franchise. I think her distinct look really helped her to stand out – those white dreads and V-neck T-shirts looked effortestly cool.

All of the familair faces, except Jordana Brewster, were back. Vin Diesel (Guardians), Michelle Rodriguez, Dwayne Johnson (San Andreas, Central Intelligence, Moana), Tyrese Gibson, Ludacris, and Nathaniel Emmanuel (Game of Thrones, The Maze Runner) appeared to be genuinely having fun on screen, both as their characters and as the actors themselves. The return of Jason Statham (Transporter films, Spy) was also actually appreciated by me, even though I have never been much of a fan of his. I never thought that I would want to see Dwayne Johnson and Jason Statham just absolutely dragging each other non-stop. Gibson’s, Ludacris’s and Emmanuel’s characters’ interactions were good too, I loved the rivalry and the shades of the love triangle. Gibson’s action moment was good too and a nice touch for the character, who usually ends up being a butt of a joke.

Kurt Russell (The Hateful Eight, Deepwater Horizon) also reprised his role and took Scott Eastwood along for a ride this time as his assistant/trainee. Eastwood’s character was a bit annoying at the beginning but he was supposed to be like that and actually turned out to be a not that bad addition to the cast. He certainly had more to do in this film than in a similar role in Suicide Squad.

In short, Fast and Furious 8 was exactly what I wanted it to be – a cheesy nonsensical fun. This franchise is certainly not done and still has some steam left.

Rate: 4/5

Trailer: Fast and Furious 8 trailer

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SPOILERS

The film unexpectedly had quite a few reveals and twists and turns in the story which I didn’t want to spoil in the main review but still wanted to mention. I expected the leverage that Cypher had on Dom to be Bryan’s and Mia’s child but the movie instead presented us with Dom’s and Elena’s (5th movie) son – a new family member for a character obsessed with having a family. The way the child was named at the end was also a cute and touching moment – I do love the fact that FF franchise remembers its roots and how much Paul Walker and his character Bryan did for the series.

The same topic of family was continued with the return of Jason Statham’s (7th film) character (that babysitting action scene was amazing), but this time around his mother made an apperance, played by Helen Mirren (Eye in the Sky, Collateral Beauty, Trumbo). Her inclusion was enjoyable and I loved the few scenes she was in. Staham’s character’s brother Owen (6th movie), played by Luke Evans, also cameod. Evans’s performance in Beauty and the Beast has really solidified me as a fan of his, so I was extremely happy to see his cameo.

Movie review: Logan

Movie reviews

Hello!

The last (supposedly) Hugh Jackman-lead X-Men movie – Logan – has hit theaters, so, let’s review it! The review is spoiler-free, for the most part. I have written down 8 points, full of spoilers, at the very end and included an additional warning.

IMDb summary: In the near future, a weary Logan cares for an ailing Professor X in a hide out on the Mexican border. But Logan’s attempts to hide from the world and his legacy are up-ended when a young mutant arrives, being pursued by dark forces.

The X-Men franchise has had its fair share of hits and misses. While the original movie and its sequel X2 were mostly well-accepted, everyone would rather forget X3. Looking at the newer prequel franchise, once again, the first two pictures were really good, especially, Days of Future Past, while the third one – X-Men: Apocalypse – was just kinda meh. The most successful X-Men film to date is the spinoff Deadpool, which came out just last year. Now, Logan is following the formula set by Deadpool – the R-rating + the faithfulness to the source material – and is hoping for a win. The previous two Wolverine movies didn’t impress anyone, and that’s putting it mildly. Maybe, third time’s a charm? Both this being the 3rd sub-trilogy within the X-Men series and the 3rd movie of it.

Writing

Logan was written by Scott Frank, the director James Mangold, and a TV writer Michael Green. Frank has written 2013’s The Wolverine and 2002’s Minority Report, while Green is the writer behind Green Lantern (that sounds worrying, however, Green is also listed as the screenwriter for a lot of big upcoming films, like Alien: Covenant, Blade Runner 2049and Murder on the Orient Express, so maybe his writing for Green Lantern was just an unfortunate accident that will never, hopefully, be repeated again?

Even though I had some worries about the writing for this film, I should not have, cause the narrative of Logan was just spectacular – cohesive yet varied and complex. I’m gonna go over all the different story points in the spoiler part, so here I’m just gonna mention some of the general stuff. To begin with, Logan had clever dialogue which provided the viewers with snippets of the overarching story, rather than explaining it through narration. Even the one explanatory scene was done in an interesting and modern way – through a video on a phone.

I also loved all the character moments that were written into the script: Caliban actually had some important stuff to do instead of just being an accessory, like in X-Men:Apocalypse; Professor X, even though he was old, has not lost his nurturing nature; X-23 was animalistic but intelligent (loved the moment when she sucked the bullets out of her hand): she did not say a word until the end of the second hour of the movie, and when she finally spoke, she did that in both Spanish and English, making her an even more of an authentic character; and, lastly, Logan himself has a variety of stunning moments that drove home the idea that he is not the Wolverine that we were used to seeing: this time around, he needed glasses and his claws did not pop out as easily as they used to. The moment from the trailer, where he holds up the comics was also great – it was so fun seeing a comic book character whining about the comics.

Thematically, Logan continued the tradition of all the X-Men films and looked at the staple topics of family and belonging, but not in any other movie have these two topics felt more relevant and emotional.

Directing

James Mangold is best known for directing The Wolverine and the awards’ nominated western remake 3:10 to Yuma (Logan was a kind of western too – set in a similar location but modernized). Mangold did an absolutely spectacular job directing the movie. The opening sequence was just wonderful – it set the tone for the film and explained the characters psychological and physical state with a single, quite short, action sequence. I also have to praise the director for using the various visual storytelling techniques – showing instead of telling. The overall action of Logan was also magnificent. If you thought that Deadpool was violent, then I can tell you that you haven’t seen nothing yet. Logan was 100 times bloodier and way more brutal – it was sometimes hard to watch. And yet, even though the picture’s themes and visuals were dark and brutal, the color pallet was not, meaning that one could actually see the action, instead of guessing what’s happening in the shadows.

Acting

Hugh Jackman was just absolutely wonderful. I’m so happy that he got a chance to finally play the type of Wolverine that he always wanted to play. I really am gonna miss him in this role. Jackman’s next project is a musical The Greatest Showman, which he is going to produce and star in. Patrick Stewart’s last outing as Professor Xavier was also excellent. I wasn’t expecting this many casual humor moments to come from him. His next gig is voicing the poop emoji in The Emoji Movie. Yup, this is the world we live in.

Richard E. Grant was amazing as Zander Rice. I loved his character’s look as well as behavior. Boyd Holbrook was good as Donald Pierce too. His character wasn’t the most interesting but I guess the movie had to have the ‘big bad’ – a mad scientist running things from above. Stephen Merchant replaced Tómas Lemarquis in the role of Caliban and did a much better job. Some of its due to better writing, but I also felt that Merchant delivered a more nuanced performance. Lastly, I have to mention how amazing was Dafne Keen as Laura/X-23. I really hope that this young lady has a bright future ahead of her, be it as the new lead of this franchise or working on other projects.

In short, Logan is a magnificent movie that pushes the boundaries of the comic book genre. It is well acted, has an emotional and interesting story, and spectacular action to top it off.

Rate: 4.7/5

Trailer: Logan trailer

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SPOILER PART

  1. I loved how Logan subverted the action genre tropes. For example, during their first escape, their car actually got stuck in the fence and couldn’t go through it, which usually happens in films. Also, when the bad guy was beginning to give his monolog, I loved that Logan just shot him and cut his speech short. Not only was this a great subversion of a classical action movie cliche, but this action left some gaps in the story, which the villain hadn’t had time to explain
  2. Namely, the biggest gap is the question of what has happened to the mutants that they basically went extinct? The character of Pierce seemed to be the one who was responsible, but Professor X also remembered something related to that incident. Was Xavier somehow responsible too or was he just feeling guilty for not being able to save them?
  3. Speaking about Professor X, while a lot of us predicted his death, it was still an emotional moment. I did shed a tear during his funeral when Logan was at a loss for words and X-23 just took his hand. I loved the scenes of Xavier’s seizures, though, they had such an interesting special effect.
  4. The X-23’s backstory was interesting and pretty faithful to the comics. We also got a bunch of others genetically conceived mutant kids, which I wish we knew more about, cause I wanted to care more for them during the final act. We did get a taste of their powers and I wonder whether they will be the ones to continue this franchise.
  5. Touching upon the third act, it was probably my least favorite part of the movie. I felt that the beginning of it dragged a bit and slowed down the movie too much. It also made the final product feel too long.
  6. The inclusion of the X-24 – an almost perfect killing machine and a double of Wolverine – was an interesting choice. At times, it felt like an afterthought, but I cannot fully argue against its inclusion, cause Hugh Jackman vs Hugh Jackman fights were astonishing.
  7. I have already mentioned how Wolverine was complaining about the comics, but I would also like to draw attention to the fact that the said comics weren’t just there to be an Easter Egg but acted as a driving force for the plot. This idea just blew my mind completely.
  8. And to finish off this spoiler-y part, we, of course, have to talk about the ending and the final send-off of the character. I absolutely loved Logan’s final arc and the mutual saving part of his relationship with X-23. Not only did he actually save her from the Transigen company but she also saved him from suicide. I thought that his death was worth the character’s life and his last moment with Laura, when she utters ‘Daddy’, was a complete tearjerker. The turning of the cross into an X was just a heartbreaking icing on a cake made of tears. I wasn’t completely surprised that they decided to allow this character to die. Hugh Jackman does not really want to do these movies anymore and what a better way to end one’s career as a specific character than to give him the ultimate send-off. It just adds to the legacy of Hugh Jackman as Wolverine.

Movie review: The Lego Batman Movie

Movie reviews

Hi!

With the DCEU films being critical nightmares, which do not earn as much as they should do, Ben Affleck stepping out as director of the Batman solo movie and The Flash film being completely rewritten, the Warner Bros desperately needs a win concerning its DC properties. Might The Lego Batman Movie be the win? Let’s find out!

IMDb summary: Bruce Wayne must not only deal with the criminals of Gotham City but also the responsibility of raising a boy he adopted.

Writing

The Lego Batman Movie was written by Seth Grahame-Smith (who wrote Dark Shadows, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, and the novel version of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies), Chris McKenna (a TV comedy writer), Erik Sommers (Spider-Man: Homecoming writer), Jared Stern (who provided additional story material for Wreck-It Ralph), and John Whittington (a newcomer writer who doesn’t have any significant credits on his IMDb page). The duo of writers/directors behind the uber-successful The Lego Movie – the film that started The Lego franchise – Phil Lord and Christopher Miller – helped to produce this spinoff flick as well. I, personally, absolutely loved the writing for this movie.

Let’s star with the on the nose humor as it was such a huge part of the picture. The Lego Batman was basically Deadpool for kids. Like Deadpool, this film didn’t waste its credits and began mocking the studios and the executives in the first few seconds of its runtime. It then moved on to making fun of the comic book movies cliches, such as ‘the unnecessarily complicated bombs’, ‘the villains who explain their plan aloud’ and other plot conveniences.  Plus, I laughed out loud several times when the characters would start making the shooting noise – ‘pew pew’. I also loved the funny inclusion of the comic book sound effect balloons which showed the origins of Batman. Lastly, the movie also poked fun at merchandise with that merch gun scene (I’m definitely guilty of owning some items myself – I was actually wearing my batman sweatshirt at the screening).

The narrative wise, The Lego Batman Movie didn’t bother with neither the setup nor the basic development and origins of the character and I’m actually really glad that they skipped all of that, cause everybody already knows Batman’s background. Nevertheless, the film still did some cool stuff with its main character, for example, portraying him more as an anti-hero and raising the questions of accountability and legitimacy (basically, Captain America: Civil War storyline). The movie also teased and parodied the Batman’s Rogues Gallery and also mocked his gadgets (while at the same time, showing them on screen just so that they could turn them into toys and merch, which they have also made fun of already).

In addition, this film attempted to do something with the Batman and Batgirl relationship, which was very similar to what The Killing Joke movie did. That development really angered the fans and The Killing Joke really suffered from that addition, so I was worried that this idea might damage The Lego Batman too. However, this film dragged the ship more than pushed it, so everything turned out fine in the end. On the other hand, I really liked the relationship that was created for Batman and The Joker. The were literally like an old married couple. The other little details, like Batman’s password (‘Iron Man sucks), the Hugh Hefner-like dressing gown, and his obsessions with romcoms (shout out to Jerry Maguire) were just amazing. I also loved the fact that they managed to include a Nightwing easter egg and actually used the fact that lego figurines can join together as a plot point in the film.

From the thematical standpoint, the movie explored relationships within a family and between friends as well as narcissism. It looked at the fear of human connection which arose from the possibility of being left alone. The final message of the film – that one has to let people in even if they might hurt you by leaving and disappearing – was a neat one.

Directing

Chris McKay, who worked as an animator and editor on The Lego Movie, directed The Lego Batman and did a spectacular job. I just loved the fact that he took the grimmest property from the dark and sophisticated DC and made it work as a comedy. The Lego Batman Movie was, truly, one of the best action comedies I’ve seen. It had the non-stop jokes and the fast action (the film was unbelievably energetic) but it still found time for quieter, more heartfelt moments (every animated movie needs ‘the feels’). The only few moments in the picture, which annoyed me a bit, were all the singing and rapping scenes. They juts seemed of a lower level of humor than all the wonderful meta-references and jokes.

Additionally, the animation was just striking. Every shot looked so densely animated and complex – you could just see how much work it has taken to bring this story to life in this format. The Lego Batman Movie was definitely a perfect match between the material and the format, cause I doubt that this narrative could have worked in live action. It would have just come across as stupid (mostly because of all the rapping), but now it blended the right amount of stupidity and cleverness and was, overall,  extremely fun and very enjoyable.

Speaking more about the visuals of the film, I loved seeing the recreations of all the previous Batman films in the lego form. I also really appreciated the lego versions of all the other DC and non-DC villains that cameoed in the film – crossover all the way! We got to see Voldemort, Sauron, King-Kong, The Wicked Witch, and Doctor Who’s Daleks – basically all properties that belong to WB.

I have also noticed, that the majority of DC films (both live-action and animated) are now team-ups. It also seems that one cannot have a Batman movie without Superman or the other Justice League members (that short scene was a neat surprise and maybe it was there to set-up a sort of solo Lego movies for other DC characters?).

Music

Lorne Balfe was responsible for the soundtrack and he picked some very appropriate, witty, and catchy songs for the film. While I didn’t really like the actual Batman song, I loved the updated version of ‘Man in the Mirror’ and felt that it was a more clever jab at Batman rather than the on the nose Batman song.

Voice Cast

The film had an amazing voice cast. Will Arnett (a long time voice actor and narrator) just killed it as Bruce Wayne / Batman, while Zach Galifianakis (who has also had some experience with voicing) was an equally amazing JokerMichael Cera (Sausage Party) brought a sense of innocence to Dick Grayson / Robin, while Rosario Dawson’s (who voices Wonder Woman in most of the direct to video JL films) voice really fit Barbara Gordon / Batgirl – she sounded as and actually was an efficient go-getter. Ralph Fiennes (Kubo and the Two Strings) oozed class as Alfred PennyworthJenny Slate (Zootopia, The Secret Life of Pets) was the voice of Harley Quinn. It might be the Margot Robbie effect, but I wanted Harley to sound sassier.  The filmmakers also managed to get the big name talent – Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill –  to record a few lines as Superman and Green Lantern, respectively (they voiced these characters in The Lego Movie), while Adam DeVine joined them as The Flash.

In short, The Lego Batman Movie was both a successful spin-off of The Lego Movie as well as a great parody of all the comic book movies. Extremely funny and highly enjoyable!

Rate: 4.7/5

Trailer: The Lego Batman trailer

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Extraordinary Cinema Review I (Son of Saul + Mustang)

Movie reviews

Hello!

Throughout the summer and the rest of 2016, movie audiences have expressed a general dissatisfaction with the quality of the mainstream films. The critics disagreed with the viewers on the same topic multiple times as well. Looking at the statistics, the box office numbers have also not been the greatest.

I have also heard a lot of people say that the best movies they have seen this year have all been indie releases. So, I have decided to tell you about the best independent movies that I have seen this year thus far. On top of being non-studio films, these pictures have also been produced outside of the English-speaking world, however, they should be fairly familiar to the Western audiences. Lastly, these films have not necessarily been made or released this year – it’s just that I got a chance to see them in 2016.

I don’t know if this post will spark a broader series of foreign reviews but I would really like if it did because I want to widen my horizons and want to help bring more foreign films to the forefront. I will review 2 pictures in this post and the other two tomorrow.

The first film that I’d like to mention is the Hungarian WW2/Auschwitz concentration camp drama Son of Saul. It was directed by László Nemes and stars Géza Röhrig as Saul. The film won a bunch of awards at various festivals last season and also received the Academy Award in the category of the Best Foreign film.

Son of Saul’s story was not easy to watch, even though I have seen quite a few films about concentration camps. Nevertheless, this picture showed the horror of the situation so vividly that you could almost feel like you were in the camp. A lot of that came from the extraordinary cinematography by Mátyás Erdély – the handheld long continuous close-up shots of Saul’s face made the viewer feel claustrophobic and scared. Because of the limited frame, the audiences couldn’t actually see much of the camp or the gas chambers. However, one didn’t actually need to see the broader mise-en-scene to imagine what was happening outside of the frame. The decision to have such a narrow point-of-view also reminded me something that Art Spiegelman stated about the visualization of the genocide (he is the author of the critically acclaimed graphic novel Maus which also deals with the events that happened at Auschwitz). Like the Son of Saul filmmakers, Spiegelman also chose not to show the inside of the gas chambers in his comic because no-one came out alive of these chambers, so no-one knows how they actually looked and it might be disrespectful to the people who lost their lives in there to fictionalize these rooms in one way or the other.

The lead of the film – Géza Röhrig – was spectacular. His face took up the bigger part of the frame throughout the whole film, so his emotions and face-acting were extremely important and he absolutely nailed his performance. Son of Saul didn’t really focus on the plot but explored the heartbreaking journey of a single character. In addition, the lack of music added a lot of realism to an already realistic movie, while the ambiguous ending was equal parts satisfying and horrifying.

Rate: 5/5

Trailer: Son of Saul trailer

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The second auteur feature that I want to talk about is the Turkish coming of age drama Mustang by the director Deniz Gamze Ergüven. It was nominated for a variety of awards during the festival season and also received the Best Foreign Film Oscar nomination but lost to the previously discussed picture.

Mustang revolves around 5 sisters, played by Güneş Şensoy, Doğa Doğuşlu, Elit İşcan, Tuğba Sunguroğlu and İlayda Akdoğan, who have reached puberty, thus, according to the traditions of Islam, they have to get married. The sisters’ parents are dead, they grew up with their uncle and grandmother. Their life so far has been quite independent: they went to school, socialized with boys and led quite a Western-style life. However, from the very beginning of the film the viewers and the sisters realize that everything has changed.

All films, which revolve around Islam and women’s place in this particular religion, spark dual feelings inside of me. On one hand, I’m angered that females around the world still have to suffer the oppression. The concept of arranged marriage simply infuriates me. However, as an anthropologist-in-training, I’ve to attempt to look at a different culture through the lenses of that culture. Nevertheless, I know enough about Islam (definitely not from the Western media) to tell you that the female subordination by males is not in the Quran. The theoretical religious concepts highly differ from the religious beliefs that are practiced in the Islamic world – they have been radicalized to the extreme.

Mustang is an independent but narrative film, so it can definitely appeal to the mainstream movie goers more than some other art cinema pictures. The 5 leading ladies are all amazing and the 5 sisters, though related, are all very unique and different. The picture also shows a variety of diverse consequences of arranged marriages: these outcomes range from happy and relieving to extremely sad and tragic.

Rate: 5/5

Trailer: Mustang trailer

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Movie review: Hell or High Water

Movie reviews

Hello!

Today, we are talking about one of the most critically acclaimed indie films of 2016. It’s the review of Hell or High Water.

IMDb summary: A divorced dad and his ex-con brother resort to a desperate scheme in order to save their family’s ranch in West Texas.

Writing

Actor-turned-screenwriter Taylor Sheridan wrote Hell or High Water’s script and did an amazing job. This screenplay was actually the winner of 2012’s Black List and I’m really happy that it was turned into a movie, even if 4 years later than it should have been. Sheridan also penned the script for last year’s Sicario – a standout movie of 2015. Both Sicario and Hell or High Water share some similarities: the two stories are both set in the southern states of the US and the particular setting has a role in the narrative. Also, both movies are quite slow – the plots are allowed to unravel by themselves, the films are never rushed and the important moments aren’t just montaged through.

Hell or High Water’s story is also really successful in its emotional appeal. It deals with the universal topic of family and explores the relationship between two brothers superbly. It also does a good job of making the viewers sympathize with all the characters. I, personally, wanted the brother to succeed, even though they were criminals, and I also wanted the two rangers to succeed in their quest.

These sympathies arose from the subtle character development, which was dispersed throughout the whole film. By listening to the dialogue and seemingly random banter we find out a lot about the characters: we discovered the reason for the heists and why the brothers seemed to have an estranged relationship. The friendly teasing between the rangers helped us to get a few hints into the history of the two law-enforcers – we uncovered the ancestry of one of them and the approaching retirement of the other.

Lastly, I really loved the way the ending of the film was written. I always enjoy this type of open-ending when it is done right. Sometimes, when the movie just ends abruptly, without answering any questions, the whole story falls flat but, when the film leaves you with just one or few unresolved issues, like Hell or High Water did, the narrative both finishes and is permitted to live on in the minds of those who witnessed it. Both the characters and the viewers will be haunted by this story.

Directing

A Scottish director David Mackenzie did a magnificent job directing Hell or High Water. He utilized the setting of Texas splendidly and showed the rural areas, the open spaces and the little beat-up towns in long and extremely long tracking shots. He also gave the story a lot of breathing room – although every scene was carefully and beautifully crafted, the movie seemed to flow very organically and naturally. The feature’s color plate was also really nice – warm tons filled the screen and made every shot look like an old vintage photograph.

I also loved all the shots were the modernity and the traditional old-school ways of life were juxtaposed. The setting of Texas, where people still live in old ranches and work with cattle and horses but also have modern gas pumps, was an appropriate location for this juxtaposition. To me, the scene in the gas station was amazing – not only did it have us that unexpected fight but we also got a frame with both a horse and a cowboy and a new sports car with two fake gangster youngsters. Lastly, the fact that everybody seemed to have a gun in the film was not only a funny aspect of the movie but also a very realistic one.

Music

Hell or High Water’s soundtrack by Nick Cave and Warren Ellis really added to the atmosphere of the film. Fitting to the setting of Texas, the film’s visuals were accompanied by cool country music. The picture also had this really nice instrumental theme to supplement the long tracking shots of the characters driving or moving through a frame in any other way.

Acting

  • Jeff Bridges as Marcus Hamilton, a Texas Ranger was amazing. The way he delivered the jokes and teased other characters was truly enjoyable to watch. It’s probably one of Bridges best performances out of the recent years because he did have a few flops lately, like The Giver or Seventh Son. I hope this role is the signal that he is back on track and I do hope that his contribution to Kingsman 2, coming out next year, will be worth the wait.
  • Chris Pine as Toby Howard was also really good. I’m starting to like Pine more and more in these rugged, less clean-cut and more challenging roles. Yes, he is also good in Hollywood blockbusters, like Star Trek and Into the Woods, but is more fun to see him try something different. A few recent smaller films of his that I suggest you watch are Z for Zachariah and The Finest Hours. Of course, let’s not forget to check out his blockbuster work too – Wonder Woman is only 10 months away.
  • Ben Foster as Tanner Howard was also really good. I’ve only recently started noticing him in films, the last one being The Program, in which he played the lead role of Lance Amstrong. In a few weeks, Foster will also play the main antagonist in Inferno, which I’m also looking forward too.
  • Gil Birmingham as Alberto Parker, Hamilton’s partner was also really good. I hope that the teases that his character received weren’t too offensive to both Mexicans and Native Americans. I really loved his speech about how the white colonialists took everything from his character’s people, only to lose the winnings of the pillage to the banks.

In short, Hell or High Water is one of the best films of the year so far. It’s masterfully crafted and slow, but immensely engaging. The acting is amazing, the writing is spectacular and the directing – excellent. A must watch for any fans of Westerns and heist movies.

Rate: 5/5

Trailer: Hell or High Water trailer

P.S. Weirdly, my next movie review will also be that of a Western – The Magnificient Seven.

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Movie review: Pete’s Dragon

Movie reviews

Hello!

Welcome to the last movie review of this summer! We close the blockbusters season with another live-action fairy tale from Disney – Pete’s Dragon!

IMDb summary: The adventures of an orphaned boy named Pete and his best friend Elliot, who just so happens to be a dragon.

Pete’s Dragon is quite an unusual film for Disney because it is quite small – both budget wise and story/scope wise. However, small doesn’t mean bad – it just another type of picture. It is actually quite refreshing to see Disney spending time and money on newer and lesser known projects. Of course, I have to mention that Pete’s Dragon is not an original film but a remake of a musical with the same name from the 70s. I haven’t seen the 1977’s picture and I doubt that I’ll watch it because it is not a timeless Disney classic and it doesn’t have that good of a rating. Moreover, the new Pete’s Dragon more than satisfied all my wishes.

Writing

The film was written by the director of the feature David Lowery and the screenwriter/producer Toby Halbrooks. Halbrooks has written a few shorts and is also writing a script for 2018’s Peter Pan for Disney to be directed by Lowery. In addition to having his next directing gig sorted out, Lowery will also be writing the script for a war film The Yellow Birds. 

I really enjoyed the story that the duo penned for Pete’s Dragon. It was simple, yet well-crafted. The ideas about family and finding a place where you belong were classic Disney themes but they did actually work because of their universality and wide appeal.

The character development was also quite pleasant. I loved how Pete and Bryce Dallas Howard’s character Grace felt connected through nature. I also enjoyed the father-daughter relationship between Grace and her father, played by Robert Redford. The friendship between the main character Pete and his pet dragon Elliot was also cute and reminded me of other great films where children befriend various animals/beings – Max and E.T. are just two of many.  The main antagonist of the film was a cliche character but he served his purpose well in this family adventure picture.

Lastly, I kinda thought that Pete’s Dragon was a spiritual succesor to another live-action fairy tale of 2016 – The Jungle Book. If at the end of Mowgli’s story, he would have been found by humans and Baloo would have gone looking for him, we would most likely have gotten a Pete’s Dragon type of a situation.

Directing

David Lowery, who has only recently started to dip his toes into the blockbuster business, did quite a nice job with the film. The action scenes were entertaining, the mise-en-scene (the forest and the mountains) – gorgeous and the movie’s direction good as well.

The character design of Elliot – the dragon – was a bit weird. He didn’t really look like a dragon, more like a furry dog or a soft teddy bear that could also fly. I heard that a lot of people hated that the dragon was fury and didn’t have any scales. Personally, this change didn’t bother me – I think that it actually helped Elliot to stand out as a different kind of dragon. Also, from the business standpoint, a furry dragon is way more marketable and more merchandise friendly – what kid doesn’t want another soft plushie toy to his/her collection?

I saw the film in 3D but, honestly, it didn’t add anything to it. The effect actually made the whole film darker and, since a lot of scenes were already happening during the night, the 3D only made it harder for me to see the human characters and Elliot.

Music

The 1977’s Pete’s Dragon was a musical, but the studio decided to remake it as a drama/adventure film and drop the songs. However, the 2016’s film still had an interesting soundtrack by Daniel Hart. It seemed to me that the flick had more of a country-music inspired soundtrack and vibe. It was quite refreshing to hear some deep voices and guitar sounds after a lot of EDM and pop music in all of the other films this summer.

Acting

The main character of the film – Pete – was played by Oakes Fegley. When did the child actors have gotten this good? He was excellent in the role – sweet, relatable to children but still able to display acting chops that some adult actors lack. He has a bright future ahead.

Jurrasic World’s Bryce Dallas Howard played the adult-lead Grace and did a nice job. Grace was very different from Dallas Howard’s Jurassic World’s persona – more motherly and way more nature-orientated. Going forward, the actress has a drama thriller Gold coming up. Also, funny fact, I only recently realized that she was the one playing Gwen Stacy in Spider-Man 3. I did not recognize her with the red hair.

Karl Urban played the main antagonist of the film and was okay. Since I’ve only seen him in Star Trek as the caring doctor Bones, it was quite strange to view him as this unlikeable douchebag. He will be one of the villains in Thor 3, so, I guess, I’d better get used to this.

The cast also included Wes Bentley (We Are Your Friends, Interstellar), Oona Laurence (Southpaw, Bad Moms) and Robert Redford (Captain America: The Winter Soldier) among others. Bentley didn’t have much to do – he mostly reacted to stuff that was happening around him. Laurence was good too, while Redford was also believable as loving but a bit weird grandpa/father.

All in all, Pete’s Dragon was a good movie from Disney. It was well-written and nicely crafted. The film was not groundbreaking or the most original but it still made for some pretty good time at the cinema.

Rate: 4/5

Trailer: Pete’s Dragon trailer

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Sightseeing: Treetop Walking Path, Anyksciai, Lithuania

Sightseeing

Hello!

Moving to a different country (Scotland) really made me appreciate my home country (Lithuania) more. So, this summer, I tried my best to see more of it – especially its nature.

Hence, on Saturday, I took some time to visit the newly established Treetop Walking Path near the town of Anyksciai. It is basically a path through the forest that is raised around 20 meters in the air. The whole path is 300 meters long. At the end of it, there is an approximately 34 meters high watchtower that slightly shakes and moves when the wind is strong. Other than that, the path is completely safe to walk and enjoyable even for those who have a fear of heights.

The scenery looked gorgeous: it was lovely to see all the greenery and the river from above. I imagine that the view should also be awesome during the autumn, when the leaves turn brown and orange, or during the winter, when everything is covered by snow.

Another object that people tend to visit when they come to Anyksciai is the boulder of Puntukas. It is the second largest rock in Lithuania and is located near the beginning of the Treetop Path. Both of these attractions are surrounded by forests which are worth a visit too.

I suggest that you definitely visit the Anyksciai Treetop Walking Path if you ever get a chance. It would probably be a good idea to go there on a weekday since it was packed on the weekend. There was a 2km traffic jam/parking line just to get there. Needless to say, I did not expect there to be so much interest in the place. 

Bellow, you will find some photos from the location. Enjoy!