Movie review: Widows

Movie reviews

Hello!

And welcome to a review of another awards’ hopeful that didn’t look like an awards’ movie from the trailer but is one because of who is involved with it in front and behind the camera. This is Widows.

IMDb summary: Set in contemporary Chicago, amid a time of turmoil, four women with nothing in common except a debt left behind by their dead husbands’ criminal activities, take fate into their own hands, and conspire to forge a future on their own terms.

Writing

Gillian Flynn, best known as a novelist (Gone Girl) rather than scriptwriter, and the director Steve McQueen wrote the screenplay of Windows. The script was based on a TV show. And that could be felt while watching the film because the movie’s narrative was oversaturated with ideas and plotlines. The movie also felt a bit like a book-adaptation by how dense it was – or that may just be Flynn’s writing style.

I really liked how unique the characters were and how they felt like real, well-rounded people rather than cliches or archetypes. I also appreciated how all the plotlines were handled: the film was complex and clear at the same time. It was also engaging, though I wasn’t completely convinced by the twist. Thematically, the movie didn’t really focus on just a couple of concepts but rather it put a mirror to the contemporary world and portrayed an interplay of issues, including women’s position in society, betrayal, criminality, politics, family, marriage, relationships, and race among others.

Directing

Steve McQueen of 12 Years a Slave directed Widows and did a good job. I appreciated his visual style, the extreme close-ups and how he played with the frame (what was in or outside of it) and depth (front v back). I’m still not entirely sure whether the film was awarded’ material. It was definitely a solid film but was it revolutionary in any way? I don’t think so. I also think it was more thriller-y than drama-y, and the Academy still values dramas above everything else.

Acting

Widows had a diverse cast, and by diverse, I mean diverse in identities that were represented and in the quality or status of actors. Viola Davis (Fences), Daniel Kaluuya (Get Out) and Colin Farrell (The Beguiled) were there to boost the awards chances of the film. Elizabeth Debicki and Michele Rodriguez are both great actresses but they are still closer to the B than the A-list (they are not main stars of their respective franchises, Marvel and FF, respectively). Liam Neeson is an action star that usually has his movies come out in January (a.k.a. the worst month?), like The Commuter. Some quality TV actors were also part of the cast, and even though they were great, they are still associated more with the small rather than the silver screen, and while that isn’t a bad thing for the audiences, it might be a hard sell when it comes to awards?

In short, Widows was a solid thriller with an engaging story and great execution of it by both the director and the actors.

Rate: 4/5

Trailer: Widows trailer

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5 ideas about a movie: Roman J. Israel, Esq.

Movie reviews

Hello!

This is an awards’ film (barely) with Denzel Washington and he is the only nominee. Well, that never happens (*cough, cough*)…This is Roman J. Israel, Esq.

IMDb summary: Roman J. Israel, Esq., a driven, idealistic defense attorney, finds himself in a tumultuous series of events that lead to a crisis and the necessity for extreme action.

  1. Roman J. Israel, Esq. was written and directed by Dan Gilroy (he debuted as a director in 2014 with Nightcrawler and also wrote the recent Kong: Skull Island). While he didn’t do a bad job per say, I wouldn’t say that the film was successful either. At best, it was okay, at worst: so-so.
  2. From the writing standpoint, Roman J. Israel, Esq. was super dense. The law jargon was confusing and was not presented in an interesting way (it seems that ‘show, don’t tell’ rule was unheard of by the filmmakers). The only interesting visual with the legal paperwork was the opening sequence of a typed text –  I wanted to see more of that or other types of visualizations of the law. The movie was also quite slow and long – the plot dragged in more than a few places. In addition, the big twist – Roman’s decision to acquire some money through shady means – seemed far-fetched as the character did not seem to be so desperate as to commit such an act. The act could be believable if the movie was attempting to showcase the fragility of idealism when materialism comes calling. That’s one depressing message.
  3. Despite the flaws in the script, some neat dualities could be found in the writing. For one, Roman’s personal character and the requirements of his job were at odds – he was antisocial and introverted in nature but had to present a certain flashier business image of himself (extrovert in a suit with sleek rather than ethnic hair). His personal beliefs were also challenged by the modern times: his outlook was fairly old school and he didn’t seem to be able to adapt to the changes (the scene where he is lecturing the activists, as well as his exchange with the two women about the line between chivalry and sexism, come to mind).
  4. If my cryptic intro was too cryptic, what I meant by it was the fact that Denzel Washington has been nominated in the acting categories a plethora of times throughout his career, however, the films, in whole, have not faired great. Fences was completely shut down just last year (except for the Viola Davis’s win, which was more of a career win rather than a reward for that specific movie) and Flight did not do any better in the 2012/2013 season. Washington’s last big win was in 2002/2003 with Training Day. Here, he was good as Roman J. Israel and also acted as the only reason for me to watch this film. However, the performance wasn’t special – it was neither showy nor subtly powerful. Just good. And yet, if not for Denzel’s involvement with this film, we wouldn’t be even talking about it: another recent law drama/biography Marshall didn’t get any nominations because it didn’t have an awards’ voters favorite in the lead (that one did have a Black Panther, though).
  5. While the film was mostly a Denzel-centric show, the other members of the cast were good too. Colin Farrell (The Killing of a Sacred Deer, The Beguiled, Fantastic Beasts, The Lobster) didn’t have much to do but he did fit the role of a high profile lawyer very well. Carmen Ejogo (Fantastic Beasts, Alien: Covenant) was good as an activist too.

In short, Roman J. Israel, Esq. fades as a movie, while Denzel Washinton peaks as per usual.

Rate: 3/5

Trailer: Roman J. Israel, Esq. trailer

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5 ideas about a movie: The Party 

Movie reviews

Hello!

It’s nice to sometimes take a break from the mainstream cinema and see something super unique and very obviously indie. This is The Party.

IMDb summary: A comedy wrapped around a tragedy. It starts as a celebration and ends with blood on the floor.

  1. The Party was written and directed by Sally Potter, whose previous movies have all been indies/experimental or art films in the short or the feature-length format. So, The Party – a real-time, black and white, just over an hour long picture was very much a continuation of her style. What a brilliant film it was, though.
  2. The Party’s narrative unfolded over a single hour. Its story was full of major personal dramas for each of the characters. All the issues that were touched upon were all directly related to the domestic space, and, while I’ve never been particularly interested in those types of topics, I was extremely into The Party. The film explored the concepts like politics, marriage, friendship, love, family, money, life, and death. It also had an extremely smart dialogue: the most intelligent small talk ever put to film. It was also full of real-life situational humor.
  3. The Party’s 7 characters made for a weird bunch. An idealist politician, a cynic and ironic best friend, a spiritualist life coach, a cheating and ill husband, a money-driven capitalist druggie, and a lesbian couple, consisting of an academic and a pregnant-with-triplets woman all found themselves present at the same party. The whole plot was all about them so there was plenty of character development. Also, that title – The Party – had a double meaning of both a political party and a social gathering. Thus, I’ve seen the picture interpreted as a metaphor for the modern Britain – a country in turmoil, incapable of reconciling its differences.
  4. The movie was filmed in black and white (don’t think I’ve ever seen a movie in B&W in a cinema), so the play between the shadows and the light was super important and interesting to notice. The real-time setting of the plot was exciting and extraordinary. The mobile frame and the handheld shots were authentically indie. All these features also made the movie seem a bit like a play. I guess the closest film I’ve ever seen to this one is Fences, which also felt like a filmed stage production (cause it was based on a play).
  5. The Party had a stellar international cast and was a brilliant display of acting. Emily MortimerCillian Murphy (Dunkirk, Free Fire, In The Heart of The Sea), Kristin Scott ThomasCherry JonesTimothy SpallPatricia Clarkson (The Maze Runner), and Bruno Ganz put on incredible dramatic (both tragic and comedic) performances. Murphy and Clarkson were my favorite.

In short, The Party is a great film about a really bad party. Short, smart, sophisticated and satisfying.

Rate: 4,5/5

Trailer: The Party trailer

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The Awards Season Round-Up 2017

Movie previews, Movie reviews

Hello!

With the Oscars happening tomorrow and the 2017 awards season coming to a close, I decided to do my own annual awards round-up type of a post.

Like I did last year (2016 round-up), I have combined the nominees from the various awards shows. Although the Oscar nominees make up the basis for all the categories, I have also added nominees from the Golden Globes, the Critics Choice Awards, the BAFTAs and the various guild awards (SAG, DGA, PGA, WGA) that the Academy overlooked. I allowed myself up to 10 nominees in every category except the best picture one – it was expanded to 12. I have not only noted my personal winners in each category but I also ranked all the runner-ups. Below, I have also written down my guesses of who will actually win an Academy Award in each category, because my subjective preferences not necessarily fit my more objective picks. Lastly, all the full reviews of the movies have also been linked.

Best Picture:

  1. Hidden Figures
  2. Arrival
  3. Hacksaw Ridge
  4. La La Land
  5. Hell or High Water
  6. Manchester by the Sea
  7. Moonlight
  8. The Lobster
  9. Nocturnal Animals
  10. Fences
  11. Lion
  12. Sully

The objective pick: While I’d be very happy if any of my top 3 films win the big award of the night, neither of them will. Best Picture will probably go to La La Land. Moonlight is my other guess.

Best Lead Actor:

  1. Andrew Garfield – Hacksaw Ridge
  2. Denzel Washington – Fences
  3. Casey Affleck – Manchester by the Sea
  4. Collin Farrel – The Lobster
  5. Ryan Gosling – La La Land
  6. Chris Pine – Hell or High Water
  7. Viggo Mortensen – Captain Fantastic
  8. Joel Edgerton – Loving
  9. Tom Hanks – Sully

The objective pick: the top three frontrunners for the award are Affleck, Gosling, and Washington. Gosling would be my choice because of the wide variety of skills required for his particular role (playing piano, dancing, and singing on top of acting).

Best Lead Actress:

  1. Isabelle Huppert – Elle
  2. Taraji P. Henson – Hidden Figures
  3. Ruth Negga – Loving
  4. Natalie Portman – Jackie
  5. Emma Stone – La La Land
  6. Amy Adamas – Arrival/Nocturnal Animals
  7. Meryl Streep – Florence Foster Jenkins
  8. Emily Blunt – The Girl on the Train

The objective pick: My personal winners – Huppert, Portman, and Stone – are the frontrunners for the Oscar. Stone will most likely take it even though Huppert does have a chance of stealing it. Portman deserves the win as well but she already has an Oscar.

Best Supporting Actor:

  1. Mahershala Ali – Moonlight
  2. Jeff Bridges – Hell or High Water
  3. Aaron Taylor-Johnson – Nocturnal Animals
  4. Lucas Hedges – Manchester by the Sea
  5. Dev Patel – Lion
  6. Michael Shannon – Nocturnal Animals
  7. Simon Helberg – Florence Foster Jenkins
  8. Hugh Grant – Florence Foster Jenkins

The objective pick: Ali should win this one. Patel, coming off of BAFTA win, might prove to be a legit competitor. Bridges or Hedges could also possibly steal the win.

Best Supporting Actress:

  1. Viola Davis – Fences
  2. Janelle Monae – Hidden Figures
  3. Naomie Harris – Moonlight
  4. Octavia Spencer – Hidden Figures
  5. Michelle Williams – Manchester by the Sea
  6. Nicole Kidman – Lion

The objective pick: this is one of the two categories, where my subjective and objective choices are one and the same. Davis has won all the important awards up until now and it is obviously her time to finally get an Oscar.

Best Director:

  1. Damien Chazelle – La La Land
  2. Denis Villeneuve – Arrival
  3. Mel Gibson – Hacksaw Ridge
  4. Barry Jenkins – Moonlight
  5. Tom Ford – Nocturnal Animals
  6. Kenneth Lonergan – Manchester by the Sea
  7. David Mackenzie – Hell or High Water
  8. Denzel Washington – Fences
  9. Garth Davis – Lion

The objective pick: the other category, where the objective and subjective winners coincide. Chazelle did a great job directing La La Land and, even if the film wasn’t my favorite of the year, his excellent work should be rewarded.

Best Original Screenplay:

  1. Yorgos Lanthimos and Efthimis Filippou – The Lobster
  2. Taylor Sheridan – Hell or High Water
  3. Kenneth Lonergan – Manchester by the Sea
  4. Damien Chazelle – La La Land
  5. John Carney – Sing Street

The objective pick: La La Land has won a few screenwriting awards but, if it wins the Academy Award, I will be furious. The story was the weakest part of the film and I’ll, genuinely, be happy if any other picture wins.

Best Adapted Screenplay:

  1. Eric Heisserer – Arrival
  2. Allison Schroeder and Theodore Melfi – Hidden Figures
  3. August Wilson – Fences
  4. Tom Ford – Nocturnal Animals
  5. Jeff Nichols – Loving
  6. Luke Davies – Lion
  7. Barry Jenkins and Tarell Alvin McCraney – Moonlight
  8. Todd Komarnicki – Sully

The objective pick: This category has the most equal race. Honestly, any nominated film deserves it. The Academy might give this win to Hidden Figures as they probably not gonna give it any other awards.

Best Animated Feature: 

  1. Zootopia
  2. Kubo and the Two Strings
  3. Moana
  4. Sing
  5. Finding Dory
  6. Trolls

The objective pick: I haven’t seen the 2 indie picture that were nominated but, that doesn’t really matter because Zootopia will take the win, as it should.

I hope you enjoyed flicking through my list of winners. Are you planning on watching the big show tomorrow or are you just gonna check who wins online, like I’m planning to do?

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Movie review: Fences

Movie reviews

Hello!

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

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

Writing

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

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

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

Directing

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

Acting

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

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

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

Rate: 4/5

Trailer: Fences trailer

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Movie review: Hidden Figures

Movie reviews

Hello!

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

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

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

Writing

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

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

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

Directing

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

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

Acting

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

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

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

Rate: 4.8/5

Trailer: Hidden Figures trailer

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