Movie review: Breathe

Movie reviews

Hello!

Yesterday, I had a chance to attend a preview screening of Breathe as part of the BFI London Film Festival. Thus, my review of the film is coming out early. Hope you enjoy it!

IMDb summary: The inspiring true love story of Robin and Diana Cavendish, an adventurous couple who refuse to give up in the face of a devastating disease.

Writing

The novelist and awards’ nominated screenwriter William Nicholson (who wrote or co-wrote such movies as Elizabeth: The Golden AgeLes MisérablesMandela: Long Walk to FreedomUnbroken, and Everestpenned the script for Breathe and did a great job. The film’s story had to cover quite a wide time frame, so the movie mostly focused on the major events in the lead duos life and had quite a few time jumps. The opening sequence of Robin and Diana meeting and falling in love was very quick: with lesser actors in these roles, the romance would have seemed rushed, but, in the case of Breathe, I thought that the set-up was written and later realized on film effectively enough. That sequence also established the lifestyle that Robin and Diane led: adventurous, exciting, and active. It also neatly set-up their caste (middle/upper) and their friend group – both factors came into play in the plot a bit later.

Thematically, Breathe touched upon a variety of concepts, like the most unversal one of them all – love, but also sacrifice, survival, and bravery. It was also interesting to see how the family’s social class informed Robin’s survival (amongst other things). For one, his better than a lot of people’s financial situation allowed him to be relocated to a more convenient house and to have the funds for the medical machinery (the historical medicine was very well-realized in the picture). However, it was also really heartwarming and uplifting to see Robin taking his personal goal (to survive) and expanding it into a communal goal for the betterment of the whole community of the disabled.

Two other related concepts in Breathe were friendship and humour. Robin’s and Diana’s friends helped them a lot, both physically and emotionally. It was also just remarkable to see that, even though Robin had a condition that was a hinder to his life, that did not change the way his friends communicated with him: they were still joking around, partying, drinking. It was a different life, not a ‘normal’ one (whatever that means), but it was as valid as the life of any individual. Robin, Diana, their son, and their friends took the difficulties and made life into an adventure, with moments of both weakness and triumph. And Breathe not only told this story, but convinced its viewers of its remarkability and had a lovely message that life is always worth living, no matter the circumstances.

While the film generally was quite emotional (alongside being funny – tears would be replaced by a smile and vice versa), its ending was the peek emotional time. The jokes kind diminished it the last 15 minutes of Breathe and were replaced with a sense of sophistication. The last moments of romance were so pure and simple, which resulted in the line that defined this film – ‘My Love, My Life’. Lastly, the choice to die on one’s own terms was presented as a dignified and powerful action (I can hear all those against euthanasia scoffing while reading this sentence). It was A middle finger to faith and determinism rather than life itself.

Directing 

Breathe was directed by the king of motion capture Andy Serkis. This was his directorial debut and not a film one would expect him to direct, knowing his achievements with the CGI and motion capture technology (Serkis has already directed a film that is more in line with what he usually does: he has his own version of Jungle Book, but it keeps being pushed back in the release schedule so as to escape from Disney’s The Jungle Book’s shadow). I though that he did an incredible job with Breathe. The film was shot beautifully and the jumping around in time was handled as good as it could have been. I wish, however, that he would have made the film longer. Some of the scenes, especially at the beginning, felt like they were cut off too quickly, while the snapshot focus on the major events of the characters’ lives had a sense of urgency. Basically, I wanted Breathe to be allowed to breathe more (no pun intended or was it?). Having said that, the movie did slow down a bit as it was progressing: the shots were allowed to linger longer and the camera did not cut away as quickly.

Acting

Breathe has assembled a brilliant cast and it got especially lucky with its two leads, who had realistic and very sweet chemistry.

Andrew Garfield has become a new awards front runner, with last year’s Hacksaw Ridge and Silence (who knew that being replaced as Spider-Man will be the best thing that has happened to his career?). I’m positive that he will get a nomination this year, for that monologue at the conference alone. Maybe he even be rewarded to his technical difficulties of acting as a disabled person, similarly how Eddie Redmayne won for his transformative role of Stephen Hawking in The Theory of Everything.

Clare Foy has made the jump from the small screen to the silver one very successfully. Although, I don’t know if Netflix’s The Crown can really be seen as a TV show, knowing its production quality, budget, and amazing storytelling. I’d love if she got a few nominations for her performance too, I could definitely spot a few key scenes which can certainly be included in her awards’ reel.

The supporting cast of the film was good too. Tom Hollander (Tulip Fever, The Promise), in twin roles, was the most obvious comedic relief. Downton Abbey’s Hugh Bonneville starred as the inventor Teddy Hall, whose talents were crucial to the survival of Robin and I wish we would have seen more of him. Dean-Charles Chapman (GOT’s Tommen) and Ed Speelers (another Downton Abbey alumni) had small roles as well.

In short, Breathe was a great film that told an extraordinary, touching, and humorous real-life story, which was brought to life by a wonderful group of actors and a competent first-time director. Definitely a picture worth to be screened at the Opening Night Gala of the BFI London Film Festival

Rate: 4.2/5

Trailer: Breathe trailer

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Movie review: Kingsman: The Golden Circle

Movie reviews

Hello!

Kingsman: The Secret Service came out of nowhere and blew everyone away back in 2014. 3 years later and the expectations are high for the sequel. Can Kingsman: The Golden Circle deliver?

IMDb summary: When their headquarters are destroyed and the world is held hostage, the Kingsman’s journey leads them to the discovery of an allied spy organization in the US. These two elite secret organizations must band together to defeat a common enemy.

Writing

The Kingsman sequel was written by the same duo who wrote the first film – Jane Goldman and the director Matthew Vaughn, based the characters by the comic book royalty – Mark Millar and Dave Gibbons (the said screenwriting duo has also written Stardust, Kick-Ass, X-Men: First Class, and X-Men: DOFP together, while Goldman’s solo writing credits also include Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children). I thought that they did a great job on writing The Golden Circle. They ticked off all the necessary boxes for a sequel: took away everything familiar from the heroes (destroyed their home and comrades), made it personal (involved significant others and long lost friends), introduced new characters and locations (Statesman, Poppy’s Land), and had plenty of callbacks to the first film (returning characters, familiar scenes recreated with a twist).

The most interesting new addition was the aforementioned Statesman organization as well as the general feeling of Americana, especially potent in the villain’s layer. This expansion of the Kingsman world to the other side of the Atlantic really worked for me. I loved seeing the differences between UK and US expressed in a fun and comic-book-y way. The obviously American aura of the film also reminded me of Logan Lucky (who also shares a song – ‘Take Me Home, Country Roads’ and an actor – Channing Tatum with The Golden Circle). Lastly, I loved how, even though the American side of the story/ characters were introduced, the British roots were not forgotten either and remained the focus of the movie.

Speaking about those British roots, I appreciated all the commentary on honor and the right kind of masculinity that this picture had. Its attempt to say something about the drug usage, law, and innocence wasn’t bad either. The villain for this film was just as campy and just as appropriate tonally as Valentine was in/for the last one.

Directing

Matthew Vaughn was back in his element with Kingsman 2. While I have been disappointed by some of his producing efforts (Fantastic Four and Kick-Ass 2), he has never let me down, when he was in a role of the director. The action was just spectacular: highly stylized, explicit, campy, and not at all realistic but just so fun and entertaining! All the gadgets were magnificent and a great parody/homage of the 007/other spy films. The filming style (cinematography by George Richmond) – handheld and smooth rather than shaky with just the right amount of slow-mo – was highly appreciated too and so dynamic (it was so fun I could forgive some wonky CGI)! The British glamour, as well as American ruggedness, were both well realized too. The score (music by Henry Jackman and Matthew Margeson) was great as well, I especially loved the instrumental version of the already mentioned ‘Take Me Home, Country Roads’ song. The only criticism that I have for this highly entertaining live-action cartoon was the fact that it’s a bit long – over two hours. If it was chopped down to 2h, the narrative might have been tighter and the criticism would not exist.

Acting

Taron Egerton (Eddie The Eagle, Testament of Youth, Legend, Sing) was great as the lead Eggsy. He had both the coolness and the vulnerability needed for the character. Colin Firth (Magic in the Moonlight, Genius) also came back (wish that wasn’t spoiled in the trailer) – his performance seemed a bit off but his character also acted a bit off. Mark Strong had a lovely arc in the film and one of the best exists of the character I have seen in a while. Hanna Alström also came back as her character. I really did not expect her to stick around for a sequel but the filmmakers kinda took that explicit ending of the first film (and the introduction of her…character) and sort of made into a cute side plotline.

Newcomers included Channing Tatum (Logan Lucky, Hail, Caesar!, The Hateful Eight, Magic Mike XXL, Jupiter Ascending), who had some fun scenes but wasn’t in the movie much. However, the conclusion of The Golden Circle promised that we will see more of him in the 3rd picture. Pedro Pascal (The Great Wall) gave a wonderful performance too: he had the coolest weapon and an awesome death scene (on par with the one on GOT). Halle Berry (DOFP) played kinda a typical role of the behind-the-scenes/tech personnel but I’m excited to follow her journey further. Jeff Bridges (Hell or High Water) also had a very minor role in the picture. He was the only actor who just seemed to be included in order to raise the profile of the film rather than to actually have him do something cool. Lastly, Julianne Moore (Mockingjay) made for a great villain. It was so fun seeing her let loose in a role!

In short, I really enjoyed Kingsman: The Golden Circle. It was as good as The Secret Service, so if you liked the first one, the sequel should also please you. Plus, if you enjoy comic book movies that truly feel like a comic book that has come to life, Kingsman 2 is the film for you!

Rate: 4/5

Trailer: Kingsman: The Golden Circle trailer

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5 ideas about a movie: Detroit

Movie reviews

Hello!

The race issue has always been a prominent theme for the awards’ season. Nowadays, this problem has re-established itself as a contemporary issue and, with the street riots and the public displays of violence back in the news, Kathryn Bigelow’s cinematic return – Detroit – is more topical than ever.

IMDb summary: Fact-based drama set during the 1967 Detroit riots in which a group of rogue police officers responds to a complaint with retribution rather than justice on their minds.

  1. Detroit was written (and produced) by Mark Boal, who has also written Bigelow’s two previous features. The script was based on real events, while the characters were also inspired by real people. The film opened with a 2D animated sequence, which gave a brief history of the larger issue. However, the picture itself focused on the specific events in Detroit and on a group of people, in various positions, who got caught up in the event. This limited focus helped to go deep into the matter, while the inclusion of a wide variety of characters presented multiple sides of it. The film didn’t paint one said as inherently bad or good. Both of them seem to be operating in a gray area. For one, not all the police officers were abusive. Similarly, not all the rioters were actually fighting for anyone’s rights – they just looted and spread chaos for the sake of it.
  2. I really appreciated the human perspective on the riots, meaning that the personal lives of the characters took the front seat, while the riots were only the background setting. These two layers came together in the middle of the film, for the main sequence in the hotel, which was really hard to watch because of the blatant police brutality as well as stupidity (e.g. not even knowing how intimidation tactics work). One of the most despicable moments in the picture was a police officer tampering with the crime scene to spin the story in a positive light for him. It was also interesting to see how those police officers weren’t necessarily painted as racist but just simply awful people in general.
  3. It was also fascinating to see the differences in the portrayal of the local vs the state police vs the national guard and made me question the training and the background checks of the lowest tier of the police officers. There were some policeman in the film (from all levels) who actually attempted to help the people and I wish that there was maybe more of that type of representation for a more balanced view to be formed (unless there weren’t actually many police officers helping IRL instead of doing the damage). And the damage has been done in excess: by taking lives or ruining them; by making incorrect assumptions; by painting the innocent as the enemy because of their skin color; and by distorting and perverting justice. The ending of Detroit drove home the point that, while life goes on, the consequences – both physical and psychological scars – remain.
  4. Although Kathryn Bigelow hasn’t made a movie since 2012’s Zero Dark Thirty (and 2008’s The Hurt Locker before that), she has not lost an ounce of her style. Detroit’s visuals had her signature mobile frame and quicks zoom ins/outs – basically, a narrative picture’s interpretation of the documentary style. The structure of the film was good too – I liked how she relocated the main event from its usual 3rd act into the middle of the film.
  5. Detroit had a great cast full or both familiar and fresh faces. John Boyega (Star Wars VII, The Circle) was really good as the intermediator between the two sides, while Will Poulter (The Maze Runner, The Revenant, War Machine) was absolutely stellar – while Poulter has already played bullies, I have never hated him as much as I did in this film. The singers Algee Smith and Jacob Latimore (Collateral Beauty) had small roles, while Jason MitchellHannah Murray (GOT’s Gilly), and Kaitlyn Dever also co-starred. Jack Reynor appeared as well: he has been doing quite good, career-wise, by booking pictures like Sing Street and Free Fire – that Transformers 4 gig, thankfully, hasn’t done a lot of damage. Lastly, Anthony Mackie (Marvel, Triple 9) had a borderline cameo role too, he has previously worked with Bigelow on The Hurt Locker.

In short, Detroit was a great crime drama and also a great biographical picture, that told both the personal stories of the people and the communal facts of the event. The watching experience itself was quite heavy on a heart but incredibly engaging to the mind.

Rate: 4.2/5

Trailer: Detroit trailer

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Movie review: Dunkirk

Movie reviews

Hello!

A movie, that needs no introduction, has reached theaters, so let’s talk about it. This is the review of Dunkirk.

IMDb summary: Allied soldiers from Belgium, the British Empire, and France are surrounded by the German army and evacuated during a fierce battle in World War II.

Before we start discussing the film, I’d like to remind you that there already is a picture about Dunkirk, released in 2017 – Their Finest. It’s a completely different but as interesting take on the ‘event that shaped the Western world’. Also, my previous review of a Nolan film is the one for Interstellar.

Christopher Nolan

Both written and directed by Nolan, Dunkirk is the highly acclaimed director’s 10th feature film. It has already been labeled as his best film as well as a ‘masterpiece’ of modern cinema. With all of these accolades in mind, my expectations have also been really high. And while I certainly wasn’t let down, I haven’t been blown away either.

Writing

Dunkirk’s writing is unique (as should be expected from Nolan – the master storyteller) in that the film doesn’t tell a story of the evacuation but rather recreates the evacuation. The staples of the narrative, like the extensive dialogue or the character development, are mostly absent from the movie and the glimpses of the personal stories are scarcely dispersed throughout the intense action scenes. I believe that the lack of the character development actually serves the movie right because that makes the viewer see the characters as nobodies – a faceless mass of interchangeable soldiers – which is what they actually were. I did miss Nolan’s great dialogue, though, even if this film’s setting didn’t really call for it.

Even though, the picture doesn’t have much in terms of narrative, the plot that is in the film is told in a non-linear way (again, as it should be expected from Nolan). However, there isn’t too much of jumping around (Dunkirk is no Memento). The three main plot threads – the land, the air, and the sea – provide different and interesting perspectives on the evacuation but I wish that these viewpoints were wider within themselves. For example, I wanted to see the faiths of more than a few soldiers, or more than two planes, or more than just one civilian boat.

Another interesting choice that is made in the script is the decision to never call out the nationality of the enemy. Never once in the picture, do we hear the words ‘Germans’ or ‘Nazis’. It’s always ‘the enemy’. Is that the political correctness of today bleeding into a WW2 film or is the eternal shame and guilt of the German nation is slowly coming to an end?

Directing

Christopher Nolan has always been amazing at visuals and he proves that again with Dunkirk. The whole film feels, more or less, like the expanded version of the Saving Private Ryan opening beach sequence, with the levels of dread, fear, and destruction, never dipping below the maximum. The intensity is palpable, while the emotions – heart-wrenching. From a purely aesthetic view, the shots are masterfully composed, both in the air, on land, or in the water. To my mind, Dunkirk might not be his best film, but it is certainly a great-looking one.

Music

An element of Dunkirk that sometimes rivals the visuals as its best part, is the soundtrack by Hans Zimmer (a longtime creative partner of Nolan’s). The master composer (I feel like I used the word ‘master’ too much already) surpasses the sky high expectations and delivers an emotional, eerie, thrilling, and haunting score. The sounds of the bombs are so crisp and clear that one can definitely hear if their cinema’s sound system is lacking in quality (I’m not pointing any fingers).

Acting

Dunkirk has an extensive ensemble cast, full of newcomers as well as seasoned A-listers. All of them deliver excellent if brief performances. On land, we follow Fionn Whitehead (in his first film role), Aneurin Barnard (a Welshman playing a Frenchman disguised as an Englishman) and an ex-1D member and a successful solo artist Harry Styles. Nolan has claimed to not have known about Styles’ fame before casting him in the film. I find that doubtful because Nolan has a teenage daughter who might (must) have known who he was. Also, even if she (or he) wasn’t a fan, the 1D craze a few years back far exceed the limits of the fandom and was absolutely everywhere, so Nolan should have definitely at least have heard about him. Anyways, for whatever reason Styles was cast in the picture, he did act as a somewhat box office draw, as evident by a mother-daughter duo, who sat next to me in the cinema and could not shut up when his face showed up on screen. On a side note, I didn’t see anyone complaining about his involvement in the film or that his ‘famous face’ took the viewer out of the movie, but, somehow, Ed Sheeran signing three lines on Game of Thrones is a disaster that breaks the fictional world’s continuum?

Back to the cast I was discussing in the first place, the ‘land’ portion of the plot also had Kenneth Branagh (director of Cinderella and the upcoming Murder on the Orient Express) and James D’Arcy (Agent Carter) as two officers of exposition and trailer one liners. The ‘on the sea’ perspective had Mark Rylance (whose career really took off only in 2015 with Bridge of Spies, then The BFG, and soon Ready Player One), accompanied by a screen newcomer Tom Glynn-Carney and a bit more experienced Barry Keoghan. A longtime creative partner of Nolan’s  Cillian (Free Fire) also appeared in the film, in the probably the most fleshed out role. The ‘air’ part of the plot was acted out by Jack Lowden and another of Nolan’s usuals – Tom Hardy (Mad Max, Legend, The Revenant) with his face half-obscured as always.

In short, while I might not think that Dunkirk is a masterpiece, I unquestionably agree that it is a great film. The visuals are stellar, the acting is effective, and the writing – full of bold choices that I might not like but can and do appreciate.

Rate: 4,3/5

Trailer: Dunkirk trailer

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Movie review: King Arthur: Legend of the Sword 

Movie reviews

Hello!

I’m still playing catch up with the summer movies, so let’s review a picture that some people (small numbers of them as it tanked at the box office) saw last month. It’s King Arthur: The Legend of the Sword.

IMDb summary: Robbed of his birthright, Arthur comes up the hard way in the back alleys of the city. But once he pulls the sword from the stone, he is forced to acknowledge his true legacy – whether he likes it or not.

A few general thoughts on the background of the movie: 1. I’m actually a fan of the 2004’s version of King Arthur. It used to be one of my favorite nonanimated childhood movies and the archery sequence on the lake combined with Lord of the Rings: Two Towers final battle were two reasons why I took up archery. 2. While the trailers for the film looked fine, I never expected it to succeed at the box office or to turn a big profit. Neither the two leads are big box office draws, nor is the mythology that the film is based on a hot property. So, bearing that in mind, who, the hell, approved a $175 million budget for this picture?

Writing

2017’s King Arthur’s screenplay was credited to the director Guy Ritchie, producer of HP films Lionel Wigram, and, the writer of the new Robin Hood and The Flash movies, Joby Harold. The Judge’s director David Dobkin contributed to the story as well. In general, the writing was of mixed quality. I thought that the narrative (broadly speaking) was fairly straightforward (an hour of Arthur being called into action, and another hour of him attempting to defeat Jude Law’s character), however, the details within the story were really convoluted and even confused (there was too much happening at once).

Thematically, the concepts of egoism and power were suitably touched upon. The ending teases of the round table and all the knights were also pleasant. Other than that, since I don’t know much of King Arthur mythology from the legends, I can’t comment on the stuff they did or didn’t use.

The script also made a lot of interesting choices with the characters. For example, Arthur was written as a witty, talkative and borderline cocky individual – all these ideas are in opposition to the Arthur I’ve alway imagined – serious, reserved, yet quietly proud (basically, the 2004’s movie’s version). Still, overall, I was quite pleased with a different take on a character. I have also seen a lot of complaints online about the female characters of this film, mostly the lack of them. I can definitely see where these people are coming from – a few female characters that are introduced are either sacrificed, portrayed as obese or sexualized tentacled mermaids or are used for decoration purposes. And yet, the main mage character was also a female and she did shine in the movie and displayed her powers (really vaguely defined ones) in a spectacular fashion. The informant female character did not have much to do but at least she was present. Hers and Jude Law’s characters interactions were actually quite neat.

Directing, Editing and the Soundtrack

The Man from U.N.C.L.E.’s and RDJ’s Sherlock Holmes’s director Guy Ritchie helmed King Arthur and did an okay job. The high fantasy medieval setting (which I’m a fan of) was realized quite well (I’m a sucker for the combination of good historical costumes, sword fights, archery, and magic). The epic scope of the film was also worthy of praise. However, the mediocre CGI was quite infuriating, especially in the movie that cost this much to produce. The action scenes – filmed in a video game-like close-ups and slow motion – could have been better too.

The elements of the film, which are the most discussion worthy, were editing and sound design/mixing. The soundtrack on its own (by Daniel Pemberton) was really good and it was, at times, inventively paired with the visuals. However, some combos of image and music did not work. However, even in the bad combos, the song choices weren’t as unfitting as they were in Suicide Squad. A lot of these combination sequences were edited in a music video style – a lot of jump cuts, short snippets of dialogue, and a fast pace. On their own, these sequences seemed quite unique and entertaining (their explosive energy was amazing). However, when these quick sequences were followed by long, drawn-out scenes of people sitting and talking, the final effect turned out to be quite jarring and the whole film – uneven.

 

Acting

  • The two leads of the film were played by Sons of Anarchy’s Charlie Hunnam and Jude Law. I really liked Hunnam in the titular role and would love to see him getting more cinematic roles but I doubt that that will happen, due to the poor box office of this picture. He previously played the lead in the Pacific Rim and a supporting part in Crimson Peak. The Lost City of Z is his other 2017 release. Jude Law’s (The Grand Budapest Hotel, Genius, Anna Karenina) performance, to my mind, was the best part of this film. He looked good (his armor was basically the silver version of Dominic Cooper’s armor in Warcraft) and he seemed menacing. In the final battle, I would have rather seen him fighting in the said armor rather than a generic CGI monster (his evil form). I also thought that the announcement of Law as the Young Dumbledore in Fantastic Beasts sequel will give this movie a boost and some free promo but it doesn’t seem like the said casting news helped much or at all.
  • The two female characters were played by theFrenchh-Spanish actress Àstrid Bergès-Frisbey from Pirates 4 and by The Mummy’s Annabelle Wallis. I really enjoyed the cool and collected performance of Bergès-Frisbey.
  • King Arthur also employed the talents of two GOT actors that can’t seem to espace the middle ages – Aidan Gillen (Baelish) and Michael McElhatton (Bolton). Gillen (who was also recently in Sing Street) did a good job and I could see shades of Baelish in his performance, while McElhatton’s role was just slightly bigger than a cameo.
  • Another two actors, whose involvememnt is worthy of mention, were Djimon Hounsou (Guardians, The Legend of Tarzan) and Eric Bana (The Finest Hours). They both did a fine job with their limited screeentime.

In short, King Arthur: The Legend of the Sword was, to my mind, not as bad as everyone said. The filmmakers made some weird choices with the editing and music (at least they tried something different) and did overcomplicate the plot which lacked (sort of) female characters, and yet, I was still pretty entertained by the final product.

Rate: 3.5/5

Trailer: King Arthur: The Legend of the Sword

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Movie review: Fast & Furious 8

Movie reviews

Hello!

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

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

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

Writing

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

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

Directing

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

Acting

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

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

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

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

Rate: 4/5

Trailer: Fast and Furious 8 trailer

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SPOILERS

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

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

5 ideas about a movie: Free Fire

Movie reviews

Hello!

Welcome to a review of a new British indie movie Free Fire that acted as a great counter-programming to the awful Ghost in the Shell.

IMDb summary: Set in Boston in 1978, a meeting in a deserted warehouse between two gangs turns into a shootout and a game of survival.

  1. Long time readers of my blog will know that I’m a fan of British contemporary cinema. Even before I lived in the UK, I would try to watch all smaller British films that reached my then hometown’s movie theater. It’s pretty sad that the majority of these films do no interest non-European audiences. It’s especially heartbreaking that an amazing film, like Free Fire, will probably go unacknowledged by many global cinema-goers as well. I first found out about the picture in an article in an Empire magazine. The publishing focused on the logistics of the big shoot-out sequence and made me really interested to see the final product.
  2. Free Fire was written and directed by Ben Wheatley, in collaboration with the long-time creative partner – writer and editor Amy Jump. I’m very much a newcomer to Wheatley’s work. The first film of his that I saw was last year’s High-Rise. The dystopian drama was both puzzling and intriguing. It also had a magnificent cast –  Wheatley continued this trend in his next movie too.
  3. The writing for the movie was quite nice. There was no obvious narrative or a story, but the way the character interactions were included within the action was really cool. The attempts at flirting were especially inappropriate in the circumstances of the movie, and, thus, hilarious. In general, the movie was full of actually funny jokes. I laughed out loud multiple times. This group of characters with their various levels of stupidity and all the in-fighting was also super entertaining to watch on screen. Lastly, the decision to loosely tie in the film’s plot to the real historical events in Ireland/Northern Ireland in the 1970s was an interesting choice.
  4.  I also loved the visuals of the film. The big action set-piece was seamlessly executed. The visual craziness was neatly paired with quieter moments full of amazing verbal jabs. Plus, even before everything had escalated, Wheatley succeeded at building tension between the characters, so the start of the shoot-out was somewhat believable even if extremely sudden. The action itself was captured with a mixture of close-ups and wider shots and, while the said action was gritty, bloody, and brutal, it was not literally dark, so one could actually see what was happening on screen. In fact, the color palette was pretty warm – a lot of browns and yellows – a perfect match for the 1970s setting and the tacky costumes. I’m so happy that shoulder pads are no longer in style. What I’m sad about is that this film’s soundtrack and the similar style of music are no longer on the radio.
  5. The film had an amazing cast, full of accomplished and well-known actors. This time around, their ‘acting’ included playing kindergarten-like children in adult bodies and crawling around a lot. The cast’ included big name talent like Brie Larson (Room, Kong), Sharlto Copley (Blomkamp’s films, Hardcore Henry), Armie Hammer (The Man from U.N.C.L.E.The Birth of a Nation, Nocturnal Animals), Cillian Murphy (In the Heart of the Sea, Anthropoid, soon Dunkirk), and Jack Reynor (Sing Street). I loved Larson’s character as well as her interactions with Murphy’s character – they had this subtle chemistry which really worked. I also liked seeing Hammer actually having fun with the role and loosen up a bit. Reynor has been popping on my radar a lot lately, maybe that he is that one actor whose involvement in the Transformers franchise actually led to some good work? The film’s cast was rounded out by a lot of great but less well-known actors: Babou Ceesay (Eye in the Sky), Enzo Cilenti (small role on GOT), Sam Riley (Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, Maleficient), Michael Smiley (Black Mirror’s White Bear episode), Noah Taylor (small role on GOT too), Patrick Bergin (Irish screen actor), and Tom Davis and Mark Monero (TV actors).

In short, Free Fire is a super enjoyable action-comedy that works both as an action movie (the craftmanship of the big action sequence is amazing) an as a comedy (the visual jokes as well as small funny moments of dialogue pair off nicely).

Rate: 4.5/5

Trailer: Free Fire trailer

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Movie review: Ghost in the Shell

Movie reviews

Hello!

Hollywood’s first big attempt at recreating a beloved anime property has hit theaters, so, let’s discuss it. This is the review of Ghost in the Shell.

To begin with, the 1995’s Ghost in the Shell movie was my introduction into the world of anime as an adult. During childhood, I would sometimes watch Dragon Ball Z after school, however, in later years, I got really into American and British films and TV series, so there wasn’t really enough time for the pop-culture of the Far East. Nowadays, as anime is becoming more and more popular and easily accessible, I’m tasting it bit by bit. What are some shows or pictures I should watch? I really loved the recent film Your Name and would have loved to review it but, sadly, I couldn’t find time to do that.

Anyway, back to the topic at hand. I thought that the original animated picture was really cool. I liked the visuals and the themes. It had an unexpected, interesting, and exciting ending and a unique soundtrack – nothing that I’ve ever heard before. I have yet to watch the sequels and the TV shows of this franchise or read the original manga but I’ll definitely put them on my infinite list of things to do.

IMDb summary: In the near future, Major is the first of her kind: A human saved from a terrible crash, who is cyber-enhanced to be a perfect soldier devoted to stopping the world’s most dangerous criminals.

SPOILER ALERT

Writing

2017’s Ghost in the Shell’s script was written by Jamie Moss (known for writing Street Kings), William Wheeler (wrote Queen of Katwe and contributed to the upcoming The Lego Ninjago Movie), and Ehren Kruger (wrote the last 3 Transformers films). It was inspired by/based on various different elements from the Ghost in the Shell franchise as a whole rather than just the 1995 movie. The writing for a film was a mixed bag. The narrative, during the first two acts, was pretty basic: the characters were just going from point A to B to C. The story did pick up in the last act and felt way more cohesive but also way more complex and interesting. And yet, for a plot set in such a futuristic world, it had a very traditional and very basic villain – an evil businessman.

Speaking more about the characters, their development was scarce. The supporting cast was just there to serve the story and to fill in space on the screen. The main character did not fair much better either. She was introduced as an individual without the past with only fragments of memories (which turned out to be false). Only in the third act, she and the viewer find out her true background, which was super problematic in itself by being connected to the whitewashing issue.

So, if Major’s real mother was portrayed as Asian, that means that the real Motoko was also an Asian young woman. On the other hand, the shell, built by Hanka Robotics, was that of a white person. So was this the filmmakers’ way of justifying casting Scarlett Johansson? If that’s the case, then it’s a very flimsy explanation. In general, everything in the screenplay appeared as flimsy and inconsistent. It might have worked conceptual, but fell flat in execution.

For example, the picture attempted to tackle big ideas, like humanity, AI, memories, and identity, but the treatment of these ideas was so convoluted and, one again, inconsistent. At the end of the film, Major embraced her identity by saying that her memories do not define her. And yet, she was only able to embrace her identity, when she find out her true past. Practice what you preach! In addition, the fact that Major even began to question her existence came out of nowhere and way too suddenly.

Directing

Ghost in the Shell was directed by Rupert Sanders. This was his only second feature film, the debut being 2012’s Snow White and the Huntsman, which did earn a sequel/prequel for which Sanders did not return. His work on Ghost in the Shell was of mixed quality. I didn’t think that he paced the movie that well, but he did have impeccable visuals, which were both gorgeous to glance at and interesting to analyze further. The whole mise-en-scene did look like it was ripped from animation. If I tried describing it in relation to other live-action films, I’d say it was most similar to Blade Runner’s world with some more color of The Fith Element’s world thrown in. Plus, the opening ‘creation’ sequence reminded me a lot of Westworld (the white liquid) – another great futuristic property.

And yet, while the mise-en-scene was really cool, it had a very much Asian/Japanese flavor. The soundtrack was also very much one from the Far East. Now, this was very good for a film trying to replicate an anime feel but this was not good for a movie who had a multinational cast. I didn’t think that it would take me out of the movie but it did. If they wanted to have the multinational cast, I felt that they should have brought more global elements into the setting as well. But then, the film wouldn’t be Ghost in the Shell, although I didn’t feel that it was Ghost in the Shell now either.

Acting

To discuss the cast of the movie is to get into the issue of whitewashing. I don’t feel too well versed on such a complex issue so I’m just gonna briefly state my opinion.  Since it is a Hollywood remake I didn’t really expect them to cast a Japanese actress in a lead. I also am a fan of Scarlett Johansson so I’m a biased in that I’m happy that she was the one who got the role. Then again, I do feel that the filmmakers should have stayed true the source material and focused more on the creative rather than the financial aspects of the project. Moreover, as I have already mentioned, the discrepancy between an obviously Asian/Japanese setting and a multi-national cast did take me out of the movie.

That last thing – the film’s multi-ethnic supporting cast – is another problem in itself. Was it a step forward, trying to present a multi-cultural/multi-nationalistic world? Or was it a step back and a failed opportunity to showcase Japanese or at least broadly Asian talent in a Western-made picture?

Speaking of the actual actors in this role, Scarlett Johansson was good but I did not think that she made the role totally her own and proved us that she was the only one, who could have played Major. Needless to say, I much prefer her as Black Widow or Lucy. The prominent Japanse actor Takeshi Kitano, who was supposed to be the saving grace of this film, did not have much to do and was basically wasted in the role. Michael Pitt played the most interesting character: I actually wish that the movie would have focused on him. Game of Thrones’s Pilou Asbæk was good and I did like his character’s look, but once again, there wasn’t much for him to do. Lastly, Juliette Binoche – a French art-cinema actress – was also underused in her role.

In short, Ghost in the Shell was an okay movie. If felt uneven, inconsistent, and convoluted. The whitewashing of the main character and the majority of supporting cast did actually ruin a lot of other elements of the film.

Rate: 2,5/5

Trailer: Ghost in the Shell trailer

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Movie review: The Great Wall

Movie reviews

Hello!

Welcome to a review of the movie that is either groundbreaking or just a continuation of the oldest Holywood tradition. It’s The Great Wall!

IMDb summary: European mercenaries searching for black powder become embroiled in the defense of the Great Wall of China against a horde of monstrous creatures.

My introductory point about this film possibly being groundbreaking has to do with the circumstances of its creation. The Great Wall is the first major co-production between US and China (Kung Fu Panda 3 was also a co-production and came before this movie, but it was an animated project rather than a live-action one). And yet, this movie has also been accused of whitewashing – the old trend for Hollywood, which only recently started receiving some backlash. So, can this film be a start of something new or is just the same old thing?

Writing

The picture’s script was written by Carlo Bernard and Doug Miro (writers of the Prince of Persia movie), and Tony Gilroy (writer of the first 4 Bourne films and Rogue One). The combined previous filmography of these screenwriters is of mixed quality and the writing for The Great Wall is also kinda mixed, mostly leaning towards mediocre.

To begin with, the whole decision to have a white lead was not explained that well during the runtime of the picture. It made sense to have a white lead and a supporting cast, full of Chinese actors, from the business standpoint, but it didn’t make much sense story-wise. The film, at least, stated that Matt Damon was not supposed to be playing a Chinese character but a European explorer, who is looking for gunpowder, so Damon’s casting cannot necessarily be called whitewashing. However, the decision to focus on a European hero, who saves China, brought up the whole ‘white savior’ debate. The fact the character’s arc begun with him wanting to steal the gunpowder didn’t paint the best picture either. Is the film, then, only reaffirming colonial thinking or is trying to tell a historical story accurately?  In short, I, personally, didn’t think that the picture gave a good enough explanation for having a European lead (played by an American) in a foreign setting. Even the film The Last Samurai came up with a better reason.

Speaking about the other aspects of the writing – I did enjoy quite a few of them. I liked the world-building and the mythology that the film was inspired by. I loved the idea to have a variety of specialized parts of the army. I liked that the lead character was written as an archer, because of my personal fondness of archery. I appreciated the fact that two languages were used in the film – it made the movie seem more as a co-production in contrast to it appearing as if Hollywood just hijacked another foreign story. I also loved that so many female warrior characters were written into the story. I don’t actually know if that is historically accurate, but I didn’t care much, in the moment of watching the movie. The picture’s attempt to have an underlying important theme – the opposition between paid participation and the true loyalty – was also commendable. While this debate wasn’t really treated as fully as it should have been, I like the fact that the film at least tried to be something more than it ended up to as.

And that final something is the fact that the film’s story was just kinda meh. The narrative was simple and straightforward – nothing one hasn’t seen before. It had two obvious plotlines – the first about fighting the monster and the other about stealing the gunpowder – which converged in the end. The main character’s change of heart during the finale was predictable and cliche. Basically, for a movie that did something very different with its financing and production, The Great Wall should have also done something new and interesting with its story.

Directing

The Great Wall was directed by Zhang Yimou. The majority of his films act as Chinese submissions for the Academy Awards in the Best Foreign Language category, so he is an accomplished director. His direction for this movie was quite nice too and I do think he did the best he could with the given material.  The action scenes looked cool and I liked the massive scope of them. The film had some impressive long takes too. The historical setting, as well as the different sections of the army, were also realized well enough. Plus, the design of the monsters was varied and quite interestng (they kinda reminded me of the zombies from World War Z because of their movement and the sounds they emitted). However, the CGI definitely could have been more photorealistic, especially in this day and age.

My favorite action sequence was the first battle, mostly because it was reminiscent of the final battle from The Lord Of The Rings: The Two Towers, although not as good. I also really liked the smaller corrida-type (Spanish bull-fighting) fight scene, in which Pedro Pascal’s character was luring the monster and Matt Damon’s character was trying to shoot it with an arrow. I also loved that the battle scenes had a diegetic beat – the drumming within a story provided a rhythm for both the characters, who were fighting, and the viewers, who were just enjoying the soundtrack. Lastly, the scene with the Chinese lanterns also looked lovely but, as weird as this sounds, it didn’t felt unique. These lanterns are now used all over the world for various celebrations (or in movies, like Tangled), so their usage in an actual Chinese setting didn’t seem as unique as it should have.

Acting

Matt Damon played the lead and did as good a job as he could have. Honestly, he has never been my first choice for a historical movie but he did make the role work. Even with all the whitewashing backlash, Damon will be fine, as his career has been going great. While his return to the role of Jason Bourne wasn’t as positive as it could have been, his work on The Martian is still on everyone’s minds. Besides, in addition to acting, Damon’s producing work has been going great, as the film he recently produced – Manchester by the Sea – is a big awards nominee this season.

Pedro Pascal played a supporting role and brought a tiny bit of a different kind of diversity into the picture. Pascal impressed everyone on a single season of Game of Thrones and I am kinda surprised that his work on GOT didn’t lead to more roles for him. Nevertheless, I really liked his The Great Wall’s character’s sass – it pleasantly reminded me of Oberyn.

Willem Dafoe also appeared in the movie and didn’t have much to do, while the Chinese part of the cast delivered great performances. Jing Tian was amazing as the female lead, while Andy Lau and Zhang Hanyu did a good enough job with what they were given as well. I really wish that I knew more about these actors and their previous filmography.

In brief, The Great Wall was a film, whose behind the scenes story was more interesting than its on-screen plot. While it might have broken grounds from the business standpoint, it was nothing more than average from the creative one.

Rate: 3/5

Trailer: The Great Wall 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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