Movie review: Coco

Movie reviews

Hello!

The latest Pixar film has finally landed in my local theatres. This is Coco!

IMDb summary: Aspiring musician Miguel, confronted with his family’s ancestral ban on music, enters the Land of the Dead to find his great-great-grandfather, a legendary singer.

Just before we start, here are the links to my other Pixar reviews: Cars 3, Finding Dory, Inside Out.

Writing

Coco was written by Adrian Molina (worked on Monsters University, Toy Story 3, The Good Dinosaur, Ratatouille) and Matthew Aldrich (who doesn’t have much on his IMDb). Disney/Pixar have been dipping their toes into different cultures more and more (just recently with Moana) and have been attempting to showcase these certain cultures without appropriating them. I think that they succeed at this with Coco. On a side note, Coco is not the first animated film to have explored the day of the dead – 4 years ago, 20th Century Fox animation studios made The Book of Life to little or no fanfare. This only goes to show the importance of the attachment of a big name to any project – people trust Pixar, similarly how they trust Marvel or up until recently, Lucasfilm.

Anyways, back to Coco. So, Molina and Aldrich took the rituals and the beliefs of Dia de Los Muertos and turned them into a mythology of the film. To my mind, they were respectful of the culture and did a very good job of explaining it/informing others about it. I’ve always been interested in this particular celebration (even wrote a paper on it in my first year of uni), however, I only had a limited knowledge of it and Pixar’s Coco expanded it. I loved how they also included other iconic elements/people from the Mexican culture (loved the recurring Frida Kahlo gag). I also liked how the move took something culture-specific, like the idea that people decorate altars with photos, candles, and their ancestors’ favorite things, and used it in a very universal, familiar way, a.k.a in the shrine that Miguel dedicates to his favorite singer. While not all of us have made shrines for our favorite things, I’m certain that everybody who reads this blog has at least one movie poster on their wall. I can tell you that I’ve made many movie shrines in my days.

From the structural point of view, I thought that Coco was a well-written and fun adventure. It had some unexpected twists and turns. Thematically, the movie explored the idea of a family v. individual, though, the true conflict of the film was secrets within a family. In addition, while the Dia de Los Muertos setting of the picture already made it a bit dark, some reveals in the third act made it even darker. The Dia de Los Muertos focus of the film also allowed Coco to stress the importance of remembering one’s ancestors – that was such a nice message to spread. Lastly, in the usual Pixar fashion, all the heartstrings were pulled by Coco too.

Directing

Lee Unkrich (director of Toy Story 3, who has also worked on other Pixar films in various roles since the creation of the beloved studio) directed Coco and did a magnificent job. To begin with, the whole animation department at Pixar should get raises or a standing ovation every morning because Coco was the most beautiful animated picture I have ever seen. The amount of detail that went into the design, the vibrancy of the colors, the lighting – everything was just perfect. A lot of these praises are based just on the original visual appeal of Dia de Los Muertos but I do think that the animators deserve recognition for their work of translating this real-world visual appeal into an animated form. I loved the opening sequence with the backstory given through papercuts – it was both original and a culturally-appropriate way to do exposition.  In addition, I loved the aural cultural aspects that were included – mainly the music and how it was both there to embellish the story and be an important part of the story. ‘Remember Me’ was such a great song and, while it might not be the catchiest one, it carried so much sentimental weight. Lastly, the film was paced very well too. It had a good mix of funny moments, entertaining action, educational information, and heart-wrenching emotions.

Voice work

Anthony Gonzalez voiced Miguel and did such a brilliant job. He had such an expressive and strong voice that was just perfect for the lead in an animated film. Gael García Bernal voiced Héctor, while Benjamin Bratt (he does quite a lot of voice work and was recently in Doctor Strange) was Ernesto. I also really loved the brief but important work of Renée Victor (as Abuelita Elena) and Ana Ofelia Murguía (as Mamá Coco) in the movie. One brought such energy to the character, while the other – such love and affection to her respective character.

In short, Coco was a beautiful story brought to life by gorgeous animation and majestic voice work. This is one of those reviews, where any positive synonym of the word ‘beautiful’ works. And the film is very much worthy of all praise.

Rate: 4.8/5 (I’m taking a few points off not because of the movie but because of its messed up international release date)

Trailer: Coco trailer

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Movie review: The Dark Tower

Movie reviews

Hello!

Recently, there has been a resurgence in the popularity of westerns with both remakes (The Magnificient Seven) and reinventions of the genre (Westworld) hitting the big and the small screens alike. Let’s see whether The Dark Tower can continue the trend.

IMDb summary: The last Gunslinger, Roland Deschain, has been locked in an eternal battle with Walter O’Dim, also known as the Man in Black, determined to prevent him from toppling the Dark Tower, which holds the universe together. With the fate of the worlds at stake, good and evil will collide in the ultimate battle as only Roland can defend the Tower from the Man in Black.

Writing

The Dark Tower film is both an adaptation and a continuation of the Stephen King’s book series by the same name. Sony has tasked Akiva GoldsmanJeff PinknerAnders Thomas Jensen, and the director of the picture Nikolaj Arcel with the honor and the burden of crafting the narrative that can equal as well as complement King’s. And, as most of you already know if you read any of the earlier reviews, this group of screenwriters utterly failed. However, I can’t say I’m that surprised. Goldsman has written a lot of bad movies in his day (Batman&Robin, Insurgent, Transformers 5) and the only reasons why he is still working is the fact that he has an Oscar for A Beautiful Mind. Pinkner has already murdered one franchise before it even started by writing The Amazing Spider-Man 2 and, for some reason, he is writing the Venom solo film too. I don’t know much about Jensen’s work because he has mostly worked on Danish films before now. Arcel is also a Danish filmmaker, however, he might actually be known to the English speaking audiences more for a film A Royal Affair, which stars Alicia Vikander and Mads Mikkelsen – two Danish actors who have fully transitioned into Hollywood.

Speaking of the writing for The Dark Tower, I don’t even know where to begin. The whole screenplay just seemed so lazy and uninspired. There was no interesting set-up for a story or any attempt to build an engaging and fascinating world. Maybe the scriptwriters were hoping that all movie goers have read King’s novels and would already know all the mythology so they didn’t bother putting it in the film. The plot itself was so basic. The characters acted in a certain way just because the screenwriters wanted them to and neither their reasons nor motivations could be found in the picture. The character development wasn’t the best either. The gunslinger was reduced to a stereotypical tired hero, back from retirement for one last fight, while the child lead was a walking cliche too – a tragic figure with a heart of gold (the film even had the super overdone cliche of the parents not trusting their child). The villain – the man in black – was fine but he also could have been so much better: more ominous or well explained or explored.

Directing

Nikolaj Arcel didn’t impress anyone, I included, with his directing. The visuals were boring: there was zero originality in the location design – a couple of industrial warehouses, a bunch of disposable huts, and some fake looking and grim CGI exteriors. The action itself wasn’t that exciting either. For one, there wasn’t enough of it. The man in black should have been allowed to do more with his immense powers, while the gunslinger should have shot stuff more. Also, when you have a character whose main trait is his gun shotting skills, create some inventive and fresh gun action scenes rather than just doing the same thing that every movie does. The only cool parts involving the gunslinger were the shots of him reloading the gun as well as the final diversion bullet thing. I wanted to see more of that! The other part of the film that I can sort of compliment was/were the costumes – they looked neat but mostly because they were worn by good looking Hollywood A-listers than can pull off an outfit consisting of both a low-V shirt and a vest. Lastly, the pacing of the movie was super problematic too. The Dark Tower was only around 90 minutes long – one of the shortest blockbusters in recent years – but it dragged all the time and still felt like it was too long.

Acting

I kinda feel bad for Idris Elba (Zootopia, The Jungle Book, Bastille Day, Star Trek Beyond, Finding Dory, Beasts of No Nation) and Matthew McConaughey (Interstellar, Free State of Jones, Kubo and The Two Strings, Sing): they deserve to act in a better movie than this – but I also don’t think that they delivered their best performances that might have saved the film. McConaughey was cool as the man in black. As I have said, he looked good, he was charismatic but his energy was at an all time low. Elba was fine too but he didn’t make a big impression. Tom Taylor played the young boy and did an okay job but he wasn’t a revelation.

In short, The Dark Tower was a huge disappointment that bored me to the death. I really doubt that this franchise will continue, neither on the silver screen nor at everyone’s homes.

Rate: 2.5/5

Trailer: The Dark Tower 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: Lion

Movie reviews

Good day!

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

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

Writing

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

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

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

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

Directing

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

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

Acting

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

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

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

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

Rate: 4/5

Trailer: Lion trailer

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5 ideas about a movie: Kubo and The Two Strings

Movie reviews

Hello!

Let’s review a possible Best Animated Feature nominee that came out a few months ago – Kubo and The Two Strings.

IMDb summary: A young boy named Kubo must locate a magical suit of armor worn by his late father in order to defeat a vengeful spirit from the past.

  1. 2016 has been a strong year for animation, especially financially: Zootopia and Finding Dory both earned over a million dollars, while The Secret Life of Pets came super close. Kubo might not have been as big of a financial hit as the other animated pictures but it definitely appealed to the critics and the cinephiles.
  2. Kubo and The Two Strings is the latest stop-motion picture from Laika. I’ve always been a fan of this type of animation and of this particular studio and their product. Coraline is still one of my favorite animated films of all time and I also enjoyed 2014’s The Boxtrolls. Kubo is their least financially successful but the best (quality-wise) film. It differs from the other pictures with its Japanese setting. Kubo feels like a blend of Western and Eastern animation – the anime of the West.
  3. Kubo was written by Marc Haimes and Chris Butler. I loved the adventure story that they crafted for the film. The feeling of the deeper underlying mythology was present and enriched the narrative nicely. The themes discussed were serious and universal, like family, love, and memories. I also loved the writing for the main character (his powers were so cool and unique) and the writing for the supporting cast (the choice of animals for the secondary roles was really extraordinary- haven’t seen many beetle and monkey team-ups before). The dialogue was good too: the heartfelt emotional moments mixed well with the funny bickering (and flirting). The super positive ending was also lovely.
  4. The film was directed by Travis Knight, who has worked as an animator on a bunch of stop-motion animated pictures. I loved the atmosphere and the overall look of Kubo: it was eerie and scary but also adorable and really beautiful. The character design was magnificent too:  I loved that the main character appeared to be of ambiguous gender and that the character’s look corresponded with the character’s traits (e.g. the ability to fly came from the kimono top). Kubo actually reminded me a lot of Mulan (and yes, I know one comes from Japan and the other from China). Lastly, touching more on the animation – I loved how origami (the next level origami, while I don’t even remember how to make a swan) – a distinctly Japanese art of folding that is popular globally – was used in a stop-motion animation setting. It was truly a great combination of tecniques and ideas.
  5. The film featured great performances from the A-list voice cast, which included Charlize TheronMatthew McConaughey (Sing), Ralph Fiennes (will voice Alfred in The Lego Batman), and Rooney MaraArt Parkinson (GOT’s Rickon) was great as the titular lead character as well. The movie’s soundtrack by Dario Marianelli was spectacular too.

In short, Kubo and The Two Strings is another great animation of 2016. However, this one is the most unique because of its style, setting, and characters.

Rate: 4,5/5

Trailer: Kubo and The Two Strings trailer

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Movie review: Moana

Movie reviews

Hello!

The long awaited and newest Disney Princess movie – Moana – has reached theaters, so, let’s talk about it!

IMDb summary: In Ancient Polynesia, when a terrible curse incurred by Maui reaches an impetuous Chieftain’s daughter’s island, she answers the Ocean’s call to seek out the demigod to set things right.

Moana is, technically, a 13th Disney Princess film. It has been truly amazing to see how this brand evolved in the past 80 years. I feel that the biggest changes started with 2010’s Tangled and all the films following it have been adapting their stories and characters to fit the contemporary world and I’m excited to see what will Disney do next.

Moana is also Disney’s return to musicals, since Frozen 3 years ago. Can Moana’s soundtrack replicate the success of Frozen’s soundtrack? It is gonna be a bit harder for Moana, as this year, we already had one fairly successful animated musical – Trolls – and we also have another one coming up – Sing.

Lastly, Moana is Disney’s attempt at presenting an indigenous – Polynesian culture – to the global market. Thier last attempt at this with Pocahontas wasn’t the most successful, but I think that Disney learned from their mistakes. They went an extra mile to cast voice actors from appropriate backgrounds and also employed anthropologists to help portray Polynesian culture as accurately as possible. As a student of anthropology and a lover of films, I found that fascinating – maybe this can be my job in the future?

Moana’s story also appealed to me on two personal levels. First of all, I, as a longtime professional(-ish) swimmer, sometimes do feel better in the water than on land, so I loved seeing Moana’s connection to the ocean. Secondly, Moana reminded me of two different books that I read as a kid that both revolved around islands and island culture. One of them was Whale Rider (1987) by Witi Ihimaera about a Maori girl and her journey to becoming her clan’s chief. The other was called Island of the Blue Dolphins (1960) by Scott O’Dell about a Native American girl who gets stranded on an island near California. Both books have been turned into movies, in 2002 and 1964 respectively.

Writing and Story

Jared Bush, who has previously worked on Big Hero 6 and also co-wrote and co-directed Zootopia, wrote the screenplay of Moana but a lot of people got the credits for the story, including the directors of this film Ron Clements and John MuskerBig Hero 6’s directors Chris Williams and Don HallWreck-It Ralph 2’s writer Pamela Ribon, and twin Hawaiian screenwriters Aaron and Jordan Kandell.

For the most part, I really enjoyed the writing for Moana. I loved that the movie opened with a lesson in Polynesian mythology. In general, I thought that this specific culture was represented with respect but it was still made fun. The writing for the two main characters was also great. Where the movie’s magic kinda broke down was in the actual narrative of the film. The first act felt a bit drawn out – I wanted to get onto the adventure part quicker. I felt that the movie was just basically checking things off a list in during the set-up: Moana had Disney staples such as the dead relative/teacher, the overprotective parents, and the idea that everyone should stay in their place. The ending was also a bit predictable and I wish they would have done without the cliches like failing at first try and leaving and coming back in the heat of the battle. Nevertheless, a few narrative ideas that I thought were great was the fact that Moana didn’t have or need a love interest. Also, the final confrontation was female-centric, similarly to Frozen, and I would have had a problem with that if Moana didn’t have strong and cool male character – Maui – as well.

Directing and Animation

Ron Clements and John Musker, who have made such Disney classic as The Little MermaidAlladinHercules, and Princess and the Frog, directed the film and did a wonderful job. The pacing of the film could have been better but I absolutely adored the visuals and the animation. All the environment, especially the ocean, were brought to life just magnificently – the water looked both realistic and magical – so much better than another recent water based animation Finding Dory. The character design was also super cool. Moana actually looked like a real person, with realistic body proportions! Maui looked super cool too – I liked that his tattoos were not only a visual prop but a part of the plot. Moana’s sidekicks were good too. The chicken was mostly used for comic relief which was neither a hit or a miss for me. I wish, however, that they would have brought the piggy along for the ride, as he was super cute. The baby Moana was also so adorable. You couldn’t not fall in love with her. Lastly, one of my favorite parts of the film was the good old training montage for both Moana and Maui.

Music

Tarzan’s composer Mark MancinaHamilton’s Lin-Manuel Miranda, and a member of Oceanic music group Te Vaka – Opetaia Foa’i – all worked on the soundtrack and did an amazing job. To being with, I loved hearing some of the songs in Tokelauan language – it added more authenticity to the film’s atmosphere. The more mainstream pop-songy numbers were also great. I see a lot of potential in one song especially in finally making the world let go of Let it Go – I’m talking about the main song of MoanaHow Far I’ll Go. I liked the version sung by Cravalho much more than Alessia Cara’s credits version. Even though I love Cara and her lyrics, I felt that Cravalho voice just had more emotion and fit the song better. But I can see why Disney wanted a more well-known singer to record a version of the song. Let it Go was also recorded by Idina Menzel and a more mainstream choice Demi Lovato.

Other two songs that I’d like to name are You’re Welcome by Dwayne Johnson. I was super impressed with Johnson’s voice – is there anything he can’t do? The song itself kinda reminded me of another Disney tune whose name I don’t remember, but it just sounded so familiar. The last song I’m gonna mention was the one sung by the crab – that was the only part of the score that I didn’t feel on board with.

Voice cast

  • Auli’i Cravalho was amazing as Moana. Her voice just had so much emotion and fit the character perfectly. I think she has a long career ahead of her, at least I hope so.
  • Dwayne Johnson as Maui was great too. He just had so much charisma in his voice alone. This was only his second voice role. Next year, he has 3 big movies coming up – Fast 8Baywatch, and Jumanji.

In short, Moana was another great picture from Disney. It had spectacular characters, nice thematical ideas and gorgeous animated visuals. I only wish they would have made the story a bit more original.

Rate: 4/5

Trailer: Moana trailer

P.S. Before Moana, a new Disney short called, Inner Workings, was screened. It was kinda the Inside Out of the body rather than the mind. It was both funny and cute as well as sad and depressing (like Pixar levels sad). Loved the main message – treat yourself, escape the routine and enjoy life!

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2016 Summer Movies RANKED

Movie reviews

Hello!

The summer movie season has come to a close, so, it’s time to rank the films that Hollywood offered us this year. The 2015’s summer movie list is here if you want to check it out.

Now, summer movie season doesn’t technically start until April or even May, but, since this is my blog, I will be including some pictures that came out in March because they were big summer-type blockbusters. Also, I will be diving the features into categories – these categories will mostly focus on the genre. While I haven’t seen all the movies that have been released, I’ve definitely watched and reviewed the majority of them so my list(s) will be quite extensive. Lastly, the previous rates that I’ve given these films don’t really count – I will take them into consideration and will also try to be as objective as possible, but my subjective feelings and likes/dislikes will also play a role. Either way, I hope you will enjoy this list and check out the reviews that you might have missed or that just simply interest you!

Comic-Book Movies:

  1. Captain America: Civil War
  2. Suicide Squad
  3. Batman: The Killing Joke
  4. X-Men: Apocalypse
  5. Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (theatrical cut)

Live-Action Fairytales:

  1. The Legend of Tarzan
  2. The Jungle Book
  3. The Huntsman: Winter’s War
  4. Pete’s Dragon
  5. Alice Through The Looking Glass
  6. The BFG

Sci-Fi/Action Movies:

  1. Star Trek Beyond
  2. Warcraft
  3. Ben-Hur
  4. Jason Bourne
  5. TMNT: Out of Shadows
  6. Now You See Me 2
  7. Independence Day: Resurgence

Thrillers:

  1. Nerve
  2. Eye in the Sky
  3. The Shallows
  4. Money Monster
  5. Bastille Day
  6. The Neon Demon

Dramas:

  1. Me Before You
  2. Florence Foster Jenkins
  3. Café Society
  4. Genius
  5. A Hologram for The King

Comedies:

  1. The Nice Guys
  2. Eddie The Eagle
  3. Sausage Party
  4. Central Intelligence
  5. Everybody Wants Some!!
  6. Ghostbusters
  7. Bad Moms
  8. War Dogs
  9. Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates

Animation:

  1. Finding Dory
  2. The Secret Life of Pets

Upcoming films

Autumn is usually a slow time for movies before the awards season really kicks in. However, I’m looking forward to a few cinematic adaptations of bestsellers, coming out this fall, including Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, Girl on a Train and Inferno. In addition, Marvel’s Magic Movie – Doctor Strange and Disney’s Moana will also reach theaters, while possible mainstream awards’ contenders like The Magnificient Seven, Sully, Snowden, and Arrival will also premiere. The Harry Potter world will be expanded with Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, while Tom Cruise will give as another solid action film – Jack Reacher: Never Go Back. I’m quite excited for all these pictures and you can definitely look forward to their reviews in the near future.

Also, I would like to thank all my followers for taking the time to click the ‘Follow’ button, for reading, liking and commenting on my posts. It means a lot to me and I can’t wait to continue writing and discussing movies with you! I also appreciate the fact that you do tolerate my other post – mainly sport and sightseeing ones! Thank You again!

Movie review: Finding Dory

Movie reviews

Hello!

The summer is coming to an end but the summer movie season is not over yet, thus, allow me to review another movie. This time, it’s Finding Dory!

IMDb summary: The friendly but forgetful blue tang fish begins a search for her long-lost parents, and everyone learns a few things about the real meaning of family along the way.

I’m a huge Pixar fan (who isn’t?). I have seen all Pixar feature film multiple times and enjoyed the viewing experience immensely, time and time again. Growing up, I would constantly rewatch Monsters, Inc., The Incredibles, and Finding Nemo and these 3 movies are still at the top of ‘My Favorite Animated Pictures of All Time’ list. I was really happy when Monsters Inc got a prequel in 2013 and wasn’t disappointed by it and I also cannot wait for 2019’s The Incredibles 2. I have been waiting for the Finding Nemo sequel for more than a decade, so I was more than excited to see it. Sadly, due to the awful international release schedules, I had to wait 2 months more than the rest of the world. But, the wait is over, so let’s go and find Dory!

The screening of the picture that I attended mostly had kids in the audience. The majority of them weren’t even born when Finding Nemo came out. Needless to say, this kinda made me feel old.

Piper

Before I talk about Finding Dory, I want to briefly touch upon the animated short Piper that they showed before the feature. It was made by Alan Barillaro and was absolutely amazing. The animation looked extremely realistic. The actual plot of the short film was really cute and sweet but still had an important message – it encouraged the viewers to be brave and step out of their comfort zones.

Writing

Finding Dory’s screenplay was written by the director of the film Andrew Stanton and TV writer Victoria Strouse. Stanton wrote and directed Finding Nemo, A Bug’s Life, and WALL-E and has also helped out with the scripts of  Monster’s Inc. and all 3 Toy Story pictures. He is also set to co-write Toy Story 4, while Strouse will be penning the live-action Tinkerbell’s screenplay. I really enjoyed the narrative that they created for this film. The story was both simple and clever, funny and genuine. The character development was never forced but came out organically during the dialogue. The set up for the big adventure was a both obvious and logical. As usual, Pixar also pulled on its viewers’ hearts strings. The jokes worked too even if they got kind dark at times (that bucket of dead fish).

Finding Dory also did a good job of introducing new characters, while also giving some screen time to the old favorites. We did get Dory’s full backstory (prequel) as well as a Finding Nemo sequel (the next adventure). We also find out what happened to the dentist office’s tank gang from the first film in the post-credits scene. Of the new characters, Hank, the octopus, Destiny, the whale shark and Bailey, the beluga whale, were the most interesting and useful to the story. Through Destiny’s character, we found out how Dory learned to speak whale. Hank allowed the movie to move (literally – the octopus was the only one who could go on land), while Bailey was super helpful in the last act. I also really liked the fact that the majority of the new characters had disabilities, so, Dory wasn’t just the only one who was different. In addition, all 3 new supporting fish received small resolutions to their own stories, which tied up the movie nicely.

The overarching theme that was carried out from Finding Nemo was, of course, family. The main focus was shifted from Nemo’s to Dory’s family, but the message of the film remained the same or at least similar. The 2 ideas – that ‘parents have to let their kids go’ and that ‘friends can also become family members’ – were realized and portrayed carefully and cleverly. The ‘just keep swimming’ line (I still have it on my inspiration board, as I’m a competitive swimmer – it is both my motto for life and for swimming) as well as Dory’s philosophy to just kinda live spontaneously and without a plan were also great parts of the movie. Lastly, Finding Dory had a strong anti-captivity message. I wonder if they did that so that the clown fish and the regal blue tang population would not suffer, as this has happened in 2003 after the first flick came out and all the children wanted to have their own Nemo and Dory.

Directing

For the director Andrew Stanton, Finding Dory was his 4th Pixar film and only 5th picture altogether.  I think he did a great job with this project. To begin with, the actual animation of the picture was realized beautifully: the settings of the ocean and all the different aquariums were just absolutely gorgeous, while the character design was the right amount of cartoon mixed with realism. The young Dory was an extremely cute character – those huge eyes were adorable. I also really liked the fact that the movie knew that it was really cute and used to their own advantage – that moment with otters distracting the drivers with their cuteness was a bit meta.

Going back to the animated visuals – the movements of the octopus were so fluid and so real looking too. I also appreciated the fact that they showed so many different locations and even had a lot of action on land. That ending, though, was a bit much and too cartoonish. I know we are talking about a movie with talking fish, but that ‘jumping out of a truck with the slow-mo and that cheesy song’ type of an ending was a bit too out there.

One other criticism of the film was the fact that it did repeat more than a few ideas from Finding Nemo, while slightly repackaging them: once again, we got a lot of action in the aquarium, only this time, the tank stood in the oceanology institute rather than in the dentist’s office. The character traveled in the current with the turtles again. The bird was used for transport for the 2nd time too.

Lastly, guess whose song was playing during the credits? If you though Sia’s, you were correct. This time, it was the song Unforgettable, written especially for this film. Her songs have also been featured in The Shallows and The Neon Demon recently.

Voice work

Since animated movies are dubbed in my home country, I wasn’t able to hear Ellen DeGeneres as Dory, but I’m sure that she was great, like the rest of the cast. I also have to give props to the people who voiced the characters in the Lithuanian version of the film – they did a much better job than the people who dubbed the characters in The BFG film. Spielberg’s live-action fairytale was awful to listen to, while Finding Dory’s dubbing didn’t bother me much or even at all. Nonetheless, I still can not wait to get back to the UK, so that I would be able to enjoy the original English versions of the animated films.

In short, Finding Dory was another great film by Pixar. It wasn’t Finding Nemo, or as original and fresh as Inside Out but way better than the last Pixar feature – The Good Dinosaur. Only one question remains, where do they go now? Will there be a 3rd Finding picture since Pixar has started to dip their toes into the sequel business? Or is this the end for the fishy franchise?

Rate: 4.25/5

Trailer: Finding Dory trailer

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Movie review: Zootopia

Movie reviews

Hello!

Welcome to my last post in the series ‘Movie Reviews of the 2016’s films I’ve missed’. I have already discussed Hardcore Henry and Midnight Special. Today, I will be giving you my thoughts on Zootopia – that Pixar film made by Disney.

IMDb summary: In a city of anthropomorphic animals, a rookie bunny cop and a cynical con artist fox must work together to uncover a conspiracy.

Writing and Themes

Zootopia’s screenplay was written by Jared Bush (has worked on Big Hero 6 and Moana) and Phil Johnston (wrote Wreck-It Ralph), however, a bunch of people have contributed to the story, including Zootopia’s directors, former The Simpson’s director Jim Reardon and even Frozen’s Jennifer Lee among others. Thankfully, this was not the case of ‘too many cooks in the kitchen make a horrible meal’ but a complete opposite. Zootopia’s story was simple yet sophisticated and the concepts that were discussed in this supposedly kids’ movie – very adult and nuanced. The film reminded me a bit of Inside Out – that children’s movie also tackled big and serious issues.

Zootopia had a strong message about the importance of tolerance, knowledge and open-mind and showed the true awfulness of prejudice, bullying, violence, racism, and sexism. It also tackled the question of biological divide through the prey vs. predator metaphor. Zootopia portrayed the consequences of letting the biological divide become a social one and provided nice commentary on issues such as genders norms, racial, financial and religious differences. Other opposing ideas that were touched upon were conservativism vs. liberalism, idealism vs. reality, nature vs. nurture and us vs. them. The line ‘we might have evolved but we are still animals’ was an extremely telling and truthful commentary on the animalistic side of humans – I’m really happy that Zootopia’s creators were not afraid to be so blunt. In additiom., the film also encouraged its viewers to believe in themselves, to fight the self-doubt, to dream and to work towards their goals, to learn from their mistakes, to never quit and prove the nay-sayers wrong. Moreover, Zootopia showed that revenge is never an answer. Lastly, the film had a nice conclusion and wrapped up nicely – the final message that life is complicated and messy but still beautiful was a really good way to end the picture.

Zootopia also had a very strong writing for all its characters. The different species represented different types of people and the choices of species were simultaneously stereotypical and subversive. The two main characters were also very relatable. I could relate to Officer Judy Hopps on a personal level, like, I’m sure, many millennials with big dreams could, but I also understood and appreciated the sarcasm and the irony of Nick Wilde, the fox.

The picture also had amazing jokes and references. ‘Don’t call a bunny cute’ line was perfect and the extended scene with The Godfather was unbelievable. Breaking Bad reference was neat too.  The joke with the sloths was also nice as well as that moment with Nick and Assistant Mayor, a.k.a. the sheep. In general, Zootopia had a lot of funny situations that were organic. The jokes were never pushed too far but happened naturally.

Zootopia, the movie, reminded me of my favorite childhood book What do people do all day?by Richard Scarry. It’s a picture book with some lines of dialogue – probably closest to a comic but not fully a comic. Anyway, What do people do all day? shows simple activities being carried out by various animals. That book is used to introduce kids to different careers and it used to be favorite read from ages 5 till 10. I still like to flick through it when I’m feeling nostalgic.

Directing and Animation

Zootopia was directed by Byron Howard (directed Bolt and Tangled, animated Mulan, Brother Bear and Lilo&Stitch) and Rich Moore (directed Wreck-It Ralph). The two directors, as well as all the Disney’s animators, did a wonderful job. The graphics of the landscapes and the character design were marvelous and realistic. The action – exciting and that montage of Hopps arriving in Zootopia – a perfect locational step up. The attention to detail was also spectacular. For example, Hopps was using her iPhone’s (iCarrot’s) flashlight like so many people do nowadays – this little detail made the film even more realistic and contemporary. I also enjoyed the usage of Shakira’s song Try Everything. It was fun and fit the film perfectly. Basically, I feel like Zootopia transcended the animation genre and was really good buddy-cop comedy and a crime drama that just happened to be animated.

I am really happy that this film was financially and critically successful. Critical success means that it will probably be awarded an Oscar or at least nominated for it. Financial success means that a lot of people saw the film, thus, a lot of people can learn from it – ‘Change starts with all of us’.

Voice Work

All of the members of the cast did a magnificent job. The voices fit the characters perfectly. The leads, Ginnifer Goodwin and Jason Bateman, had really good chemistry. Idris Elba as Chief Bogo was also really good – I could instantly tell that that was him. Lately, Elba has been doing a lot of voice work: he voiced characters in The Jungle Book and Finding Dory. The other standout was Nate Torrence as Officer Benjamin Clawhauser, an obese cheetah. I really liked his performance and the character in general.

In short, Zootopia was an amazing film that was gorgeous to look at, but also engaged the viewers intellectually by discussing important and serious, real-world topics. The voice work was also stellar. In general, it was such a cute film (although, never call a bunny cute if you’re a not bunny!)

Rate: 5/5

Trailer: Zootopia trailer

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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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