Movie review: A Wrinkle in Time

Movie reviews

Hello!

Welcome to A Wrinkle in Time review overflowing with disappointment, written by a very sad Disney fangirl.

IMDb summary:  After the disappearance of her scientist father, three peculiar beings send Meg, her brother, and her friend to space in order to find him.

Writing

2018’s A Wrinkle in Time is a cinematic adaptation of a beloved children’s book by the same name by Madeleine L’Engle. I have never read the book myself so the script by Frozen’s Jennifer Lee and a TV writer Jeff Stockwell was my first introduction to the story. And what a disappointment it was (I already would like to apologize for using the word ‘disappointment’ a lot in this review).

The movie started with an incredibly heavy-handed set-up that still failed to tell anything substantial about the world of this story. The whole first act was just a complete mess, full of hints to and half-assed attempts to explain the mythology of the world. Nothing made any sense: this was probably the movie with the vaguest rules of magic. Also, while I did appreciate its attempt to connect magic and science, that whole concept didn’t really end up going anywhere.

The actual story wasn’t great either because it was so choppy. The characters would move from one stage to another in their adventure without any cohesion or continuity. Speaking about the characters: they were not the best either: the three magical ladies were…well, magical and somehow connected to the universe and possessing some vaguely defined powers. The father character was fine but quite unsympathetic. The three children characters were okay: the main girl had the arc of a hesitant hero combined with the struggles of a preteen girl; her brother was an interesting character but the twists relating to his arc weren’t handled well; while their friend didn’t really have anything to do with the story – he was just there to be teased as a love interest.

The movie’s message, all relating to love, family, and being who you are, was nice but handled in both a confused and simplistic fashion. There was no clarity, sophistication, or originality in the story for that type of a typical message to be elevated. I also don’t think that the movie handled the idea of loss very well: it didn’t really show the family as going through the process of acceptance and healing but rather portrayed them as being underwhelmed and incapacitated by their loss. A Wrinkle in Time also tied the faults of humanity to an unknown evil entity, which was a questionable decision.

Lastly, to finish off the writing part, this movie reminded me of Interstellar of all things in two aspects. First, the idea that love is the key to the universe and how it extends through time and space. The second thing was the fact that a father-daughter relationship completely overpowered the father-son one. I guess favoritism in the case of multiple children is very true.

Directing

Ava DuVernay, a celebrated director of Selma and documentary 13th (soon New Gods movie too) had a lot riding on this movie and a lot to accomplish with it. She famously changed the race of the lead character, presented an interracial family and became the first female director of color to be trusted with such a gigantic budget. And, I, sadly, think that all these outside concerns kinda overtook the movie and the actual film turned out to be of a fairly poor quality. While the movie’s runtime was short, the picture itself felt incredibly long due to its slow pace. It also felt choppy and disjointed (mostly due to the faulty screenplay). The budget was probably mostly spent on the CGI which did look great: the colors were vibrant, the designs of the costumes and the sets – really beautiful (except that flying cabbage). The credits were also gorgeous. Overall, the movie looked imaginative. However, it is not enough for a movie to be pretty: if some of those millions of the budget were spent on better writers, the final product would have been much better. A Wrinkle in Time did have a nice pop soundtrack though, so that’s something.

Acting

A Wrinkle in Time featured three child actors in the lead and, while I don’t want to be harsh on them, I also don’t want to sugarcoat my thoughts. Basically, the young actors – Storm Reid, Levi Miller (he was Pan in the failed Pan reboot), and Deric McCabe  – weren’t bad but they did lack diversity in their facial expressions or general energy in their performances. Oprah WinfreyReese Witherspoon (Sing, Home Again), and Mindy Kaling were good, bit cartoonish but that fit their roles. Chris Pine (The Finest Hours, Wonder Woman, Hell or High Water, Star Trek Beyond) and Gugu Mbatha-Raw (Beauty and the Beast) had small roles too and were really great. Lastly, Zach Galifianakis (Tulip Fever) and Michael Peña (Ant-Man, The Martian, 12 Strong, Collateral Beauty) also cameoed and got to wear some weird costumes.

In short, A Wrinkle in Time tries to accomplish a lot of things both behind and in front of the camera but I don’t know whether it manages to succeed in either of its quests.

Rate: 2.7/5

Trailer: A Wrinkle in Time trailer

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Movie review: Murder on the Orient Express 

Movie reviews

Hello!

A glamorous whodunit has landed in theatres. This is Murder on the Orient Express.

IMDb summary: A lavish train ride unfolds into a stylish & suspenseful mystery. From the novel by Agatha Christie, Murder on the Orient Express tells of thirteen stranded strangers & one man’s race to solve the puzzle before the murderer strikes again.

Prior to seeing the film, I had some knowledge about Hercule Poirot: I and my aunt used to play a Poirot video game, where you had to either assist the detective in solving a mystery or you were playing as the detective. In addition, while I haven’t seen any of the previous adaptations of this book, I did go straight to the source and read an original novel by Agatha Christie. I would love to read more of her writings about Poirot but that extensive list is a bit overwhelming.

Writing

Agatha Christie’s detective novel Murder on the Orient Express was adapted to the screenplay format by Michael Green (the writer of 3 (not counting this one) big movies of 2017: Logan, Alien: Covenant, and Blade Runner 2049). I thought that he did a fairly competent job. Since I have read the book only recently, I noticed a few changes in the story, mostly in the set-up, the locations, and the character traits. Other than these small details, the narrative stayed the same and the ending, which I was a bit disappointed by while reading the book, also stayed the same. In the film form, I did not mind the ending that much. I’m just wondering whether that complex reveal and its various tie-ins were explained well enough for a viewer, who wasn’t familiar with the story in the first place, to grasp.

I quite enjoyed the character development that Poirot received. I don’t think these particular details of his past were in the original book but I’m sure they were taken from one of the other Christie’s books of the same series. The emotional vulnerability that the character exhibited in the film made me believe his final decision (the one that came from the heart) more believable. The other characters did not receive much character development unless it was directly related to the case. Since the plot also involved a lot of performative elements, even the character development that was given could not be fully trusted.

Last few points on the script: I feel like it had a more overtly political tone than the book had, or at least elements relating to race, nationality, and governance, were more noticeable in the film. Murder on the Orient Express also had a fair few of chucklesome moments and a surprisingly big amount of sexual innuendos.

Directing

Murder on the Orient Express was directed by Kenneth Branagh, who has quite a lot of experience directing adaptations of classical books (mostly Shakespeare). He has also worked with the fantasy, action, and fairytale genres with Thor, Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit, and Cinderella. Overall, I thought he did a great job with this movie. I believe that the glamour of the setting was well realized, while the limits of it were used for the benefit of the film. The picture had quite a few impressive looking long tracking shots and also a couple of very unique looking straight-overhead/from the top shots. A couple of scenes of more obvious action-y nature were added to keep up the pace of the film, while the extensive interviews of the book were placed in various inventive locations around the train to make them more interesting. The black and white flashback sequences were a nice touch. My only gripe with the visuals of the film was the fact that some wide exterior shots looked really fake and too obviously CGI.

Acting

Kenneth Branagh was quite spectacular as Hercule Poirot. When a director plays the lead in his own film, I always get a bit worried, but I think Branagh handled the challenge well. I think he portrayed the character eccentrically enough but didn’t go into the cartoon territory (which was my worry). Poirot actually seemed like a serious and real person with some unique quirks.

The supporting cast of the film was quite extensive and full of big-name talent. The actors all delivered good enough performances with their limited screen time. Johnny Depp (Pirates 5, Fantastic Beasts, Black Mass, Alice 2) had his most ‘normal’ performance, so maybe the audience members, who have been turning away from him and his over the top roles, will come back? It was also really nice to see Daisy Ridley in a non-Star Wars role and Josh Gad (Beauty and the Beast, Pixels) in another live-action rather than voice role. It was also interesting to spot Michelle Pfeiffer and Judi Dench (Tulip Fever, Spectre) doing something more mainstream after mother! and Victoria&Abdul, respectively.

Penélope CruzWillem Dafoe (Death Note, What Happened To Monday, The Great Wall, TFIOS), Hamilton’s Leslie Odom Jr.Derek JacobiMarwan Kenzari (The Mummy, The Promise, Ben-Hur), Olivia Colman (The Lobster + she is taking over the role of the queen on The Crown), Lucy Boynton (Sing Street), Manuel Garcia-Rulfo (The Magnificent Seven), Sergei Polunin (he is a ballet dancer, so the count’s jumping kicks were legit), and Tom Bateman all starred in the roles, ranging from small to tiny, but the limited size of their roles did not limit the quality of their performances.

In short, Murder on the Orient Express was quite an enjoyable old-school thriller.

Rate: 3.75/5

Trailer: Murder on the Orient Express trailer

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5 ideas about a movie: A Bad Moms Christmas

Movie reviews

Hello!

Welcome to the start of the Christmas Season (yup, Halloween was yesterday)! We are opening it with a festive female comedy sequel – A Bad Moms Christmas!

IMDb summary:  A Bad Moms Christmas follows our three under-appreciated and over-burdened women as they rebel against the challenges and expectations of the Super Bowl for moms: Christmas.

  1. 2016’s Bad Moms was a delightfully surprising comedy that was made super cheaply and earned a lot of money. Thus, STX Entertainment rushed out a themed sequel in just over a year. Interestingly, in a few weeks, we will get another Christmas comedy sequel – Daddy’s Home 2. Who would have thought that 2017 is gonna be the year of gendered and parental Christmas comedies?
  2. A Bad Moms Christmas was written and directed by the duo responsible for the first film as well as The Hangover movies – Scott Moore and Jon Lucas. I enjoyed the writing for the film quite a lot. It did have a lot of the same elements as the first film only in a different – now a Christmas – setting. However, the addition of the moms’ moms was great and made for some amazing moments of humor, especially in the varied messed up relationships between the older moms and their daughters/moms.
  3. The jokes, in general, were not the most sophisticated but, honestly, they didn’t have to be. The heightened reality/far-fetched cartoonish situations are what make makes movies like this one enjoyable. And A Bad Moms Christmas was definitely fun and entertaining. While it could not really be seen as a regular Christmas movie (aka one that’s appropriate for the whole family), the picture still had some traditional Christmasy heart and warmth to it. It also had a lovely message of compromise.
  4. The directing was also great. I wonder how much of the situational humor was directed and how much improvised, though. The editing was spectacular too. I loved the western parody sequence in the trampoline park and the cheesy usage of the slow-mo. The inclusion of Christmas music was also tonally and seasonally appropriate. The credits sequence was also cute and cheesy.
  5. A Bad Moms Christmas assembled a fun cast. Mila Kunis (Jupiter Ascending), Kristen Bell, and Kathryn Hahn were great once again, but, this time around, they were a bit outshined by ‘their moms’: Christine Baranski (I adored her character and also loved that she had a singing scene – it reminded me of her Mamma Mia! role and also made me even more excited for the sequel to my guilty pleasure movie musical); Cheryl Hines (cutely creepy); and Susan Sarandon (unapologetically crazy).

To summarise: was this film a revelation? No. Was it entertaining and helped me to get into a Christmas spirit way too early? Absolutely. I had a chill and chucklesome time at the cinema and listened to the Michael Buble Christmas album for the first time this year on my way home.

Rate: 3.25/5

Trailer: A Bad Moms Christmas trailer

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Movie review: Beauty and the Beast

Movie reviews

Hello!

The Disney’s juggernaut Beauty and the Beast has landed in theaters, so, let’s review it!

On a personal note, Belle was always the character I most closely identify with, in that we were both more interested in books than the real world. Also, weirdly enough, Disney fairytales seem to be the only romances I can stomach because l seem to prefer love stories set in a fantasy world rather than real one.

Disney has made quite a fair few of the live-action fairytales: Alice and its sequel, Oz The Great and Powerful, Maleficient, Into The Woods, Cinderella, The Jungle Book, The BFG, and Pete’s Dragon. The re-tellings started dark (almost as a comeback to the original print version of the tales) and have gotten lighter and more faithful to the Disney animated versions. The new Beauty and the Beast film is the most faithful to its animated predecessor out of all of them because the live action movie will also be a musical. While all the other live-action adaptations have featured some variations of the traditional songs neither of the previous movies have been full-on musicals.

Writing

2017’s Beauty and the Beast’s script was written by Stephen Chbosky (The Perks of Being a Wallflower) and Evan Spiliotopoulos (The Huntsman: Winter’s War). I thought that the duo of writers crafted a beautiful and faithful adaptation that was inspired by both the Disney animated version and the original French fairytale (which I, sadly, haven’t read in its original form but have definitely read a few re-tellings). I didn’t notice any big changes from the animated film but I highly appreciated all the additions. I really liked that they expanded Gaston’s character: gave him a war background and made him more cruel and villainous not just empty. I also enjoyed seeing Agatha or The Enchantress taking on a more active role in the story. Similarly, both Belle and the Prince received more development – their family backgrounds were incorporated into the narrative. That really helped The Beast’s character – his vainness was justified by his upbringing and, thus, made him more likable.

Speaking more about the writing for Belle – I really loved the fact that this time around Belle tried escaping from the very beginning and that it was explicitly stated that she find out about the curse. Moreover, I loved that they added the idea that both Belle and The Beast were outsiders and that that helped them reach a common ground.

Finally, to address the issue that a lot of people pointlessly made a big deal of – LeFou being gay or having a ‘gay moment’ in the movie (wtf that even means?). Personally, I loved all the subtle progressive additions to the plot: I absolutely loved the moment with the three musketeers being dressed in the lady’s outfits and one of the giving a positive reaction. The way that moment came into play later, during the final dance with that musketeer and LeFou briefly meeting was also nice. Even though the idea that feminity and homosexuality go hand-in-hand is bit stereotypical, it was still a nice moment and a definite step (even if a tiny one) forward. Additionally, the fact that LeFou realized that he was too good for Gaston was so important! In general, I really enjoyed what they did with the character. I applaud the filmmakers for seeing an opportunity to make a modern and sophisticated alterations/enhancement and taking it. Moreover, the screenwriters still managed to keep the comic relief aspect of the character and even made his jokes more mature and commentary-like instead of the slapstick cartoonish humor of the animation.

Directing and Visuals

Bill Condon, who has a diverse list of movies in his filmography, ranging from Twilight 3 and 4 to The Fifth Estate and Mr. Holmes, directed the picture and did a brilliant job. From the opening shot of the film, the visual were just plain gorgeous. The CGI characters and the backgrounds and the actual physical props blended seamlessly (hats off to both the production design and the special effects teams). The opulent opening sequence acted as an amazing visual set-up and explained the Prince’s greed and vainness effectively. The Sound of Music reference with Belle singing on the hill was also nice. The final action sequence appeared to be elongated and was definitely more suspenseful than the one in the animated version – I can easily see why they did that – even fairytales have to have a big 3rd act action sequence in Hollywood’s mind. My only criticism for the movie was that the second hour before the 3rd act felt a bit slow. And yet, I still understand why they had to slow down – they needed to show Belle and The Beast falling in love. In fact, I actually appreciated that the falling in love montage was longer, and, hence, more believable. In general, the picture had all the right feels – from the heartbreaking sadness to the Disney staple of eternal romance. Lastly, the animated character credits and the French translations for the credits were neat finishing touches.

Musical Numbers

Alan Menken was responsible for the music of the picture and did an amazing job. I felt that all of the musical numbers lasted for a longer time (the movie is half an hour longer than the animated picture) and I also loved the huge scope of them – they had way more extras and dancers than I expected. All the theatricality and drama of the performances was just great as well. All the old songs sounded familiar and yet brand new. I loved all the classics – Belle, Gaston, Be Our Guest, and, of course, Beauty and the Beast. The new songs – How Does a Moment Last Forever, Evermore, and Days in the Sun were also great and fit the old soundtrack well. The fact that the filmmakers got Celine Dion to sing one of the new songs during the credits was also great and a nice reference to her work on the animated film. I also really liked the Ariane Grande/John Legend version of Beauty and the Beast.

Acting

Emma Watson as Belle. Watson is always going to be Hermione in the majority of people’s minds but I hope that she will also get remember as Belle as she was stunning in the role: sweet but also tough enough. I also thought that she did a good job with the singing. Next step for her career is to star in an awards movie and maybe even snag a nomination for it.Some of her recent films include Noah, Colonia, and the upcoming The Circle.

Dan Stevens as The Beast. He was amazing. I could actually see him through all the motion capture CGI and his singing was also excellent. Steven’s career has had its ups and downs. He first got on everyone’s radar through Downton Abbey, but then he made a decision to leave the show just after a couple of seasons in order to star his movie career Well, that didn’t happen as soon as he probably planned. The role of The Beast is his most high-profile role to date but his performance 2014’s The Guest has also been positively accepted. Interestingly, Stevens also made a decision to go back to TV – be it in a very different role than the Cousin Matthew one – this time playing the titular mutant on Legion.

Luke Evans as Gaston. A perfect casting if I have ever seen one. Evans was just oozing charm as Gaston and even though I wanted to completely despise the character, I just couldn’t. Evans got his big break with The Hobbit movies and Dracula Untold and he was also recently in an indie experimental film High-Rise and The Girl on The Train big screen adaptation.

Josh Gad as LeFou was also brilliant. I really liked actually seeing him on screen after only listening to him in Frozen (he was Olaf for those not in the know).

My favorite voice actors were Emma Thompson as Mrs. Potts and Ewan McGregor as Lumière. Thompson just has a motherly sounding voice that was perfect for Mrs. Potts, while McGregor was super funny as Lumière. I can’t really comment on McGregor’s French accent or lack of it, cause I don’t speak French but I know that he had some difficulties with it. Well, I didn’t mind and actually liked how he sounded. It was also nice to hear McGregor singing cause I think that the last movie I heard him singing in was Moulin Rouge more than 15 years ago. The fact that he went from Trainspotting 2 straight to a Disney fairytale is also pretty funny.

Other cast member included Kevin Kline as MauriceIan McKellen as CogsworthAudra McDonald as Madame de GarderobeGugu Mbatha-Raw as Plumette, and Nathan Mack as Chip. All of them did a fine job. Lastly, Stanley Tucci played an original character – Maestro Cadenza. I didn’t really think that the picture needed a new character but his presence didn’t hurt the movie either. That final gag with the teeth and the piano keys was actually quite funny.

In short, Beauty and the Beast is an amazing adaptation of a beloved classic. It’s immensely entertaining and provides a great opportunity for some quality escapism into a fairytale world.

Rate: 4.8/5

Trailer: Beauty and the Beast 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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5 ideas about a movie: Bad Moms

Movie reviews

Hello!

This summer, I have been watching a lot of newly released comedies and reviewing them. This is a bit unusual to me, as I would usually check them out on streaming without bothering to write any reviews. However, I have changed my way, so let’s talk about Bad Moms.  

IMDb summary: When three overworked and under-appreciated moms are pushed beyond their limits, they ditch their conventional responsibilities for a jolt of long overdue freedom, fun, and comedic self-indulgence.

 

  1. Bad Moms was a typical Hollywood comedy. And that’s not a bad thing. Yes, it was cheesy, predictable, full of cliches and some cringy moments. But it was also funny and entertaining. It made me laugh more than a couple of times. It was directed and written by the duo, who wrote the first The Hangover movie and had their directorial debut in 2013 with 21 & Over (loved this one).
  2. Bad Moms’ story proved one thing – I will never have kids. They can literally destroy lives. I don’t think that this was the intended message of the filmmakers, though. I feel that they tried to show how the role of the mother can be challenging, hard but rewarding and still worth it. The montage during the end credits with all the actresses and their mothers portrayed this idea nicely and was a sweet ending touch. I also appreciated the fact that Bad Moms showed that modern moms can have it all.
  3. My favorite part of the film was the supermarket montage. It was fast paced, funny, had the perfect amount of cheesines and a catchy soundtrack. I also enjoyed seeing SuperWoman a.k.a. Lily Singh in the film. She is a famous Youtuber that has an amazing comedy channel. Lily had like 30 seconds of screentime, but I hope that this cameo will help her get more work on the big screen because she is super funny and relatable.
  4. The lead of the movie was played by Mila Kunis, who nailed her role. She has always been good at both comedy (just watch Friends with Benefits) and drama (Black Swan comes to mind). Like any other actress working in Hollywood, she had a few missteps (Jupiter Ascending) but, on the whole, her career has been fairly successful. The two main supporting characters were played by Kristen Bell (Frozen) and Kathryn Hahn (She’s Funny That Way). Bell was great as the quiet, hard-working mom (she just played a similar character in The Boss), while Hahn played a completely opposite and crazy mother well. By the end of the film, these two characters kinda exchanged a couple of personality traits and that was a fine resolution to their personal plotlines.
  5. Other members of the cast included Christina Applegate, whose character was extremely annoying but served the purpose of the picture well. Jada Pinkett Smith (Magic Mike XXL) also had a small role, which, to my mind could have been played by anyone and I don’t know what Pinkett Smith was doing there. She is worth better roles and I also hope that she will return to Gotham as a series regular. The writer of Bridesmaids and Joy – Annie Mumolo – had a small and very stereotypical role too. I think that Mumolo is better off writing comedies rather than starring in them. Lastly, the compulsory love interest for the leading lady was played by Jay Hernandez, who was just in Suicide Squad as El Diablo (the standout character of that feature). I didn’t even recognize him!

All in all, Bad Moms was an entertaining comedy with good performances, solid writing and directing, and a few nice moments. It wasn’t unique or inventive, so I can’t really recommend it to everyone as a must watch.

Rate: 3.25/5

Trailer: Bad Moms 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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Movie review: The Huntsman: Winter’s War

Movie reviews

Hello!

I just came back from watching The Huntsman: Winter’s War film, so without further ado, let’s talk about it!

To begin with, I was (and still am) surprised that this movie even exists. The first movie was financially profitable, but I didn’t think that it earned enough money to establish a franchise. The critical reception was also so-so (48% on Rotten Tomatoes). Also, that scandal with Kristen Stewart and the director of Snow White and the Huntsman – Rupert Sanders – really overshadowed the movie itself. Basically, I did not expect to see a sequel/prequel and, moreover, I don’t really think that anybody asked for one.

I have the same problem (the fact that they are not needed or asked for) with all the retellings of the fairy-tale movies. In addition, I still question the choice to retell them in such a dark and grim fashion, when the majority of cinema goers are more familiar with and are fans of the children-friendly Disney versions. Having said that, I do applaud the filmmakers for following their artistic vision and for putting a new spin on a well-known property. Also, a lot of these stories are very adult and dark at their core – just read the original versions of all the popular fairytales (we actually even studied them in English literature class during the last term at university), so portraying them in a darker tone is in line with the original tone of the stories. However, when going to see a fairy-tale based/inspired film, I usually want to escape the grim reality of life. Let’s be honest – we have enough of dark and inhumane stuff happening in the real world, we don’t need more of it in movies. So, on the whole, I have very mixed feelings about these fairy-tale movie remakes.

In addition, Snow-White’s story is a tale, which I have a strong personal connection with because I grew up reading it . I still have the actual copy of the book that I used to read the story from – it is on a shelve in my room, in my parent’s house back in Lithuania with all my other most prized possessions a.k.a. other books. On that same shelve, one would be able to find a book entitled Princesses’ Fairytales by Nicola Baxter – basically, I was a hardcore fan of stories about princesses even before I ever saw my first movie, be it a film about princesses or just a random animated feature

Speaking about other films, based on fairy tales, here is my review of 2015’s live-action Cinderella (that post is more of a personal study of feminism). Later this year, a few other fairy-tale inspired live-action films will hit cinemas: one sequel  – Alice Through The Looking Glass and two new remakes – The Jungle Book and The Legend of Tarzan. 

Lastly, before I went to see this film, I did not rewatch neither the 2012’s Snow White and the Huntsman nor the Mirror Mirror version from the same year. However, I revisited the original animated picture Snow White and the Seven Dwarves from 1937 (the first feature length animated picture by Disney), and I gotta say, it still holds up. The hand painted 2D animation is refreshing and nostalgia-inducing in a world of 3D computer generated graphics. The songs are still pleasant (but a bit annoying, though), while the story is just a right balance of silly and sweet to be enjoyable. A must watch for any fans of animation from any generation.

So, I have given you a lot of context for this movie (maybe too much). Nevertheless, I will try my best to treat The Hunstman: Winter’s War as a separate entity and to judge it on its own. Let’s try that!

SPOILER ALERT

IMDb summary:  As two evil sisters prepare to conquer the land; two renegades – Eric the Huntsman – who previously aided Snow White in defeating Ravenna, and his forbidden lover, Sara set out to stop them.

Writing

The film’s script was written by a quite unusual duo of screenwriters: Craig Mazin and Evan Spiliotopoulos. Mazin has written scripts for movies like Scary Movie (3 and 4) and The Hangover (Part 2 and 3)Spiliotopoulos has mainly worked on Disney’s direct-to-video animated features, but he has also written 2014’s Hercules (not the best film) and is writing a screenplay for 2017’s live-action Beauty and the Beast. So, The Huntsman was a union of raunchy comedy (by Mazin) and more traditional animated storytelling (by Spiliotopoulos). The question is: was this ‘union’ successful? Somewhat, yes and no. 

First of all, the film was both a prequel and a sequel. It opened with  a short recap of the first film – really good idea because I don’t think that a lot of people remember what happened in the first film. The opening also kinda set up The Huntsman to be a total prequel – ‘a story that happened long before the happily ever after’. However, the prequel plot ended after the first 25 minutes. Then, the movie time jumped 7 years and told us that the events that happened in Snow White and the Huntsman occurred in that 7 years span. The rest 1 hour and 20 minutes were a continuation and an expansion of that story – a sequel.

  • Continuation

The Hunstman had two storylines/ideas that were very reminiscent of the first film:

  1. In the 2012’s Snow White, the Huntsman was mourning his dead wife – this film shows how they met and how she ‘died’.
  2. In the first film, Queen Ravenna feared that Snow White will grow up to be more beautiful than she. In this film, she was fearful of her sister’s daughter for the same reason.
  3. A few people from the first film also cameoed in the sequel: most notably, Sam Claflin as King William, Snow White’s husband and Snow White herself – at least her back – played by someone who was definitely not Kristen Stewart.
  • Expansion

The world of this series was expanded quite a bit. The film gave us the backstory of the Huntsman and added a few new characters, including a new villain/anti-hero –  Ravenna’s sister Freya, the Ice Queen with the frozen heart (literally). Her whole power set was very similar to that of Elsa’s in Frozen. The sibling relationship between sisters was also another aspect, which made this film seem like a live-action Frozen remake. However, the ‘end-game’ of the sisterly relationship in The Huntsman was completely different from the loving reconciliation between Anna and Elsa in Frozen.

Writing: – | + | –

The film was mostly predictable. It was easy to guess that the death of the Huntsman’s wife was only an illusion and that Freya’s baby daughter was killed by her sister/the baby’s aunt. The only thing that I didn’t predict but should have was that whole supposed betrayal by the wife. However, in the end, it turned out to be double-crossing and not a true betrayal (that part I did predict once again).

The movie’s narrative appealed to me because I am a fan of high fantasy worlds and adventure stories that happen in these worlds, like Lord of The Rings or Game of Thrones. I also can’t help but notice that all fantastical stories are usually set in medieval/historic times. Well, I guess medieval history is a bit mysterious, and the leap from mystery to magic is relatively small.

On the other hand, the film annoyed me a few times. First with the addition of the dwarves, who sounded very Scottish by the way. The comic relief that these characters provided was stupid and unnecessary. Also, that whole thing with competing genders wasn’t pleasant either. Lastly, that whole pairing up of the characters was also a cheap conclusion. Nevertheless, the overarching theme of the film was love (the most overdone topic of all), so maybe the pairing up did work. Maybe I just hate love. Am I secretly Freya, or even worse – her sister Ravenna? Honestly, I wouldn’t be surprised.

Directing 

Because of the aforementioned scandal, Sanders did not return to direct the sequel/prequel film. He was replaced by Cedric Nicolas-Troyan – the visual effects supervisor of the first film, who was also the director of the second unit. He also was the second unit director on Maleficient.  So, The Huntsman was the French director’s directorial debut (well, full one). I think that he did quite a good job with the film. The fighting scenes were exciting and interesting. The slower ‘talking’ scenes were also nice. Sanders combined close-ups of the actors’ faces with quite wide establishing and scenic shots. The sets, which were showed in those wider shots, were absolutely gorgeous – both the physical and the CGI ones. The costumes were also wonderful – the character design was impeccable and all actors, especially the two queens, looks breathtaking from head to toe. The liquid gold of the mirror was my favorite visual from the first film and it continued to be my favorite visual in the second film as well. The end credits were also very beautiful, paired nicely with the main theme song  – Castle by Halsey .

Acting

Winter’s War had a very start studded cast, led by the four(!) leads in the main roles:

  • Chris Hemsworth as Eric, the Huntsman. Hemsworth was really good in the role, especially in the fight scenes. I kinda feel that Snow White and The Huntsman is a backup franchise for Hemsworth if MCU doesn’t work out (small chance of that happening). Nevertheless, Hemsworth also stars in other pictures – I recently watched 2013’s Rush, in which he was really good. I also have reviewed his In The Heart of The Sea a few months ago. His other 2015 film Blackhat is also a not bad B picture and he was also in the first 10 minutes of 2009’s Star Trek. Going forward, later this year, Chris will be in Ghostbusters.
  • Jessica Chastain  was also really good in her role of  Sara, the Warrior. I loved the fact that she was an archer (who never misses) because I enjoy archery in my free time. Her back and forth bickering with Hemsworth was also good – they definitely had chemistry. I have only seen the most recent Chastain’s films, like Interstellar, The Martian and Crimson Peak. I also want to watch Zero Dark Thirty and A Most Violent Year, in which she stars.
  • Emily Blunt as Freya, the Ice Queen was a believable villain (well, sort of a villain). Her backstory was a bit cliche, but Blunt embraced the flawed writing and gave a great performance. She first appeared on my radar with 2006’s The Devil Wears Prada, but her best roles have come in the past few years, namely in Edge if Tomorrow, Sicario and my ultimate guilty pleasure film – Into The Woods. I am really excited to continue following her career in the near and far future.
  • Charlize Theron as Ravenna, the Evil Queen. Theron did not have that big of a role in this film. She mainly appeared in the first and last acts of the picture. Theron did a nice job, but her character’s power (tar tentacles?) was a bit weird. If you want to see a different film, in which Theron plays a bad-ass, just watch Mad Max Fury Road. I also recently checked out Prometheus (because I will be traveling to the filming locations of that picture’s opening sequence – Isle of Skye) – she is great in that film as well. Lastly, Theron is listed to be in next year’s Fast 8 – that should be interesting.
  • Other cast members included Nick Frost, Rob Brydon, Alexandra Roach and Sheridan Smith as the dwarves who annoyed me. Sam Claflin (Mockingjay Part 1 and Part 2; Love, Rosie) also had a cameo. BTW, I am really excited for Claflin’s next film Me Before You. In addition, Testament of Youth’s Colin Morgan had a minor role as well.

To sum up, The Huntsman: Winter’s War was a perfectly enjoyable fantasy and adventure picture. The story was a bit cliche and predictable, but it nicely expanded the original narrative of the first film. The visuals were breathtaking while the acting was also believable. It is not a must-see for the majority of cinema goers, but casual fans of the high-fantasy genre should enjoy it. However, really die-hard fantasy fans might find it too generic. Lastly, I kinda feel that if this film is even slightly profitable, Universal will make another, so you might want to watch this one so as to prepare for the future movies.

Rate: 3.75/5

Trailer: The Hunstman: Winter’s War trailer

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Movie review: Pixels

Movie reviews

Hello!

I hope you are ready to travel back to the 1980s because this is the review of the Pixels. Enjoy!

To begin with, I think that this movie wasn’t as bad as I was led to believe by a lot of reviews from my most trustworthy critics. It wasn’t a flawless film but it definitely wasn’t the worst Sandler film and that’s saying something. Well, not really. Let’s just continue with the review.

Even before reading and watching the reviews of Pixels, I had my own doubts. One of them is the fact that Pixels is a Sony film, and, with the recent developments within the inside of that company and a track record of terrible films (if you mess Spider Man up for the 3rd time, the nerds won’t allow the 4th time to happen), I was worried how this movie will turn out. The other doubt inspiring thing is the the main start of the motion picture – Adam Sandler. His movies have been getting worse and worse, almost all of them were financial flops and didn’t earn any praises from the critics and fans alike. Personalty, my favorite Sandler’s films are Bedtime Stories and the Grown Ups. Both of them were also panned by the critics, though, I found them enjoyable as a 12 year old. However, 6 years later I can’t say the same about Pixels.

IMDb summary: When aliens misinterpret video feeds of classic arcade games as a declaration of war, they attack the Earth in the form of the video games. Pixels feature film is actually based on a French animated short film with the same name by Patrick Jean. 

Premise 

The premise of the film was genius and had a lot of potential. We have seen films based on video games, but never have these movies actually acknowledge that the games are real and alive. For example, if you take the Need for Speed film (review), you can see that they never talk about any games; they just set their movie in the same world that the game’s action takes place or maybe they borrow some characters and stories from the game. But Pixels goes full on gaming mode and includes a plethora of old games (Centipede, Donkey Kong, Tetris, Pac-Man). They were definetely trying to make the old arcaders feel nostalgia. However, I do believe that they were also trying to appeal to the current gaming community. Gaming channel are huge on YouTube – just look at PewDiePie.

The fact that the movie includes a wide variety of different games begs for me to mention the product placement portion of the film. A few times, I really felt like I was watching a commercial. They should have been more careful with the commercial and merchandise side of the film.

Personally, I’m not a huge gamer. I remember playing Super Mario on an old Terminator 2 console (also know as Nintendo with yellow cartridges) in the early 2000s. Terminator 2 was the Eastern European version Nintendo Famicom. Yes, even when the Cold War ended, life was still hard for people, living in post-Soviet Union countries. On a side note, even though 25 years have passed, I still feel the division between the west and the east today. However, the Internet helps to remove the differences, which I am extremely happy about. But back to the film.

Story

The scrip and the story of the film were quite clever. The cheating twist was interesting and very realistic. However, I didn’t felt like I was watching a comedy, because I didn’t really laugh much.

Also, a few scenes in the film took place in India for the sole purpose of making this film more appealing to Asian audiences. Get that damn Asian money, Sony!

Acting and Cameos

  • Adam Sandler was okay in the film. I quite liked his romantic comedy scenes with Michelle Monaghan’s character. However, her chracater didn’t have anything to do, except be the love interest.
  • Kevin James was also in the film, as usual with Sandler films. His part was the most unbelievable one.
  • Josh Gad tried to be the funny one but ended up being the stupid one. I really do prefer Gad as a voice actor.
  • Peter Dinklage was the coolest part of the film and one of the reasons that I was excited about the movie (Game of Thrones, duh). His physical appearance was also great.
  • Ashley Benson was another reason I wanted to see this film, because I am a Pretty Little Liars fan. However, I was really dispapointed. I waited the whole film for her to show up and she had only 3 scenes at the end. She didn’t even said a word, just stood there looking pretty.
  • Denis Akiyama played Toru Iwatani, the creator of Pac-Man. I wish they would have let the actual creator of Pac-Man play himself because we do see him in the film. The real Tory Iwatani cameos as an Electric Dream Factory repairman.
  • Sean Bean was also in the film for no reason whatsoever.
  • Serena Williams and Martha Stewart make cameo appearances as themselves. Their cameos were the only ones that worked.
  • Also, the film had a plethora of 80s stars appearing in alien messages That made the film seem more grounded, so good job.

Visuals

The visuals effect of the film looked really amazing. The way the video game figures moved and dissolved into tiny pixelated cubes was a wonderful feast for the eyes. The end credits design and the GAME OVER at the end of the film were also really appropriate additions to the overall theme of the film.

Directing 

The film was directed by Chris Columbus. I have seen a number of his films. He directed the Mrs. Doubtifre, the first two Home Alones and the first two Harry Potters as well as produced the Night at the Museum films as well as 2011’s Oscar nominated drama The Help. This probably won’t be his best movie (I mean, look at what he’s done), but I still believe that Pixels won’t be a stain on his resume, because the directing aspect of the film was really good. The action scenes looked exciting and interesting. Moreover, they looked realistic and that’s really hard to do while working with the green screen. And this movie needed a lot of green screen, I suppose.

All in all, Pixels was a fun film that exceeded my expectations, which, to be fair, were quite low to begin with. However, if you love video games and if you are a fan of the staring actors or if you just want to see whether Sandler still has what it takes to make a good comedy, go see this film. Bye!

Rate: 3.25/5

Trailer: Pixels trailer

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