Movie review: Justice League

Movie reviews

Hello!

Welcome to the review of the most polarizing movie of the year. Is anyone even surprised that the said divisive film is just another entry into the DCEU? This is Justice League.

IMDb summary: Fueled by his restored faith in humanity and inspired by Superman’s selfless act, Bruce Wayne enlists the help of his newfound ally, Diana Prince, to face an even greater enemy.

Before moving on to the actual review, I wanted to give you my brief thoughts about the DCEU in general. When Man of Steel came out in 2013, I barely paid any attention to it because I wasn’t into comic book movies much (had watched some Marvel ones and enjoyed them but was still oblivious to the bigger universe). However, 3 years later (in 2016), I had already become a huge fan of MCU, had familiarized myself with the DC character on TV and had started to read comics regularly. Needless to say, I was looking forward to Batman v Superman and Suicide Squad. Both films left me sort of baffled. While I wasn’t a fan of the dark/grim atmosphere, I could understand it as a creative choice. What I couldn’t forgive was the messy and unfocused storytelling. Then Wonder Woman came along and was a breath of fresh air (with a meh third act). Now, Justice League is coming together for the first time on the big screen and I have mixed feelings even before I see it. I care about these characters, because I have been dazzled by them in the comics (I read way more of DC than I do Marvel), have caught up with them every week on TV (The Flash) or in animated films (DC animation used to be so good before it started going sideways with The Killing Joke debacle and Batman and Harley weirdness) and even though the movies themselves were flawed, I have enjoyed seeing these versions of Batman and Wonder Woman (somebody please fix Superman, though). I go into the screening hoping for the best while also worrying about the worst.

SPOILER ALERT

Writing

Justice League’s screenplay was written by Chris Terrio (the writer of Argoand BvS, while Zack Snyder helped out with the story. Joss Whedon (Avengers 1 and 2) also received a screenplay credit but it’s not really clear whether he got the credit because he actually changed some of the narrative of the film or just because he couldn’t get a co-directing credit together with Snyder. Anyways, I thought that the movie’s writing was a mixed bag.

Let’s start with the set-up. I highly enjoyed a lot of its elements but didn’t necessarily think that they all jelled well. The film’s set-up had two main goals: to introduce the new characters and the establish the team and to develop a villain for the story. The introductions of the new characters – Flash, Aquaman, and Cyborg – were brief but effective. Still, if these characters had solo movies prior to this film, I believe I’d have had a stronger connection to them. Since I already knew this universe’s version of Wonder Woman and Batman (BvS was basically his solo film), they were my favorites of the group.

The dynamics within the team were really neat. I liked the different pairings, the contrast between the rookies and the seniors, and the humor within the group. That last thing felt like an obvious influence of Joss Whedon. What I could have done without was all the sexual nods between Diana and all other members. I wouldn’t have minded a few of them, but the constant stream was not welcomed by me.

Speaking of the villain, Steppenwolf served his purpose but wasn’t amazing. What boggled me was the fact that the DCEU is or was supposed to be this realistic and sophisticated reimagining of the DC characters. And yet, all their villains have been super comic book-y and in no way fitting for the tonne of the franchise. The fact that the main villain had a disposable army, like in all the other comic book films, didn’t bode well for the picture either. Having said that, the army of parademons at least had a trait to make them more interesting – they were feeding on fear – and they also served a bigger purpose in the final act (a.k.a. took down Steppenwolf when he experienced fear).

Justice League also had a plethora of references to the future DCEU projects and I immensely enjoyed spotting them. The more into comics I get, the more Easter Eggs I recognize. I also love to research the references I didn’t spot. Honestly, a huge part of watching these films is reading/watching the coverage of them after the actual screening. Speaking about the future of the DCEU, Justice League had an ending that felt like an answer to the critique of the grimness of the franchise. The sense of hope for the future was established. Now, let’s just pray that the box office numbers allow the DCEU to deliver on their promise of course correction (the opening weekend’s numbers have not been great).

Directing

Zack Snyder (300, Watchmen, Sucker Punch) helmed the movie during the principal photography, while Joss Whedon directed the reshoots and was responsible for the final edit. The film that premiered in cinemas around the world was an amalgamation of the talents of both these filmmakers. Snyder’s input was evident in the actions scenes, while Whedon’s influence shined in the aforementioned humor of the feature.

Speaking of the action, the team had 3 big action scenes (the individual characters had some smaller action scenes in addition to the 3 team ones). The action sequence underneath the Gotham harbor was neat and a great first showcasing of the team’s powers together (I loved how the seniors Wonder Woman and Batman were doing the majority of the fighting, while the rookies Flash and Cyborg were more about helping the civilians). The Superman v League fight wasn’t bad either. The final action scene was entertaining but I wish it was more epic and more massive in scope. Well, at least they have some space to grow in the following pictures. They also have a lot of space for the improvement of the CGI: it should have been way more photorealistic. Overall, my favorite action scene did not even involve the Justice League themselves. It was the sequence on Themyscira that I found the most inventive and the most enjoyable.

The movie’s runtime has been cut short. What was supposed to be a 2.5 hours film, ended up being less than 2 hours. The set-up felt like it was missing some scenes and that’s why it might have felt choppy. However, the fact that the picture was shorter than expected, made it feel really quick and more fast-paced than it actually was/might have been. Nobody can say that it dragged.

The credits scenes

Justice League had a mid-credits scene consisting of the race between The Flash and Superman – an iconic moment from the comics that was replicated only recently on DCTV with Supergirl and The Flash. The post-credits scene was a hint for the future alliance of the villains and also introduced the viewers to Deathstroke (who just appeared on DCTV/Arrow last/this week).

Acting

The DCEU casting choices have been their best choices concerning the series. Let’s go over the main players as well as their supporting characters.

  • Ben Affleck (The Accountant, Gone Girl) was great as Bruce Wayne / Batman. I really enjoyed his speech about his lack of humanity. Jeremy Irons (High-Rise, Assasin’s Creed) was neat as Alfred Pennyworth, while J. K. Simmons (The Snowman, Renegades, Patriot’s Day, La La Land) had a couple of scenes as James Gordon. I really want that Batman solo film to materialize and see more of these actors in the iconic roles.
  • Henry Cavill (The Man from U.N.C.L.E., Sand Castle) appeared as Clark Kent / Superman, while Amy Adams (Arrival, Nocturnal Animals) reprised her role of Lois Lane (the big guns). Cavill’s infamous mustache was very noticeable and his face looked really wonky in half of the shots. Subsequently, a lot of Superman’s scenes were distracting. However, he didn’t have much of them in the film. He is the character that has appeared in the biggest numbers of movies in the franchise, so we have already been exposed to him a lot. What I did like about Cavill’s performance in Justice League particularly was the fact that he was allowed to be positive and happy to be alive (in contrast to moping and feeling sorry for oneself).
  • Gal Gadot came back as Diana Prince / Wonder Woman and was as perfect as ever. I really want to see her in more movies, outside this or Fast&Furiousfranchises. Connie Nielsen briefly appeared as Hippolyta. I loved that moment with the signal fire for Diana.
  • Ezra Miller (Fantastic Beasts) as Barry Allen / Flash was the standout of the new characters and that was mostly due to Miller’s comedic talents. His enthusiasm was infectious and his reaction faces just hilarious. His love interest Iris West was set to be played by Kiersey Clemons (Flatliners) but was cut from the final film. We did get an intro to Barry’s father Henry Allen played by Billy Crudup (Alien: Covenant), though. That The Flash solo movie might actually be really good and could compete with the TV show.
  • Jason Momoa played Arthur Curry / Aquasman. I loved Momoa in the role but wish he was given something more to do with it. I’m hopeful about his solo movie, though. Amber Heard (Magic Mike XXL, The Danish Girl), who was introduced as Mera, will also re-appear in it.
  • Ray Fisher starred as Victor Stone / Cyborg and was probably the character most integral to the plot of the film. I didn’t know much about Fisher prior to this movie but was really impressed by his performance. He brought heart and soul to Cyborg – qualities which only a good dramatic actor can portray well.
  • Ciarán Hinds (GOT’s King Beyond the Wall) did the motion capture of and provided the voice for Steppenwolf. He was good enough in the role but I do wish that the design of the character would have been more interesting.

In short, Justice League was the second best film in the DCEU (and while it’s not much, it’s something). It had some great character moments (both action and humor ones) but was still plagued by the wider problems of the whole series. Nevertheless, the future is hopeful.

Rate: 3.5/5

Trailer: Justice League 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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Movie review: Atomic Blonde

Movie reviews

Hello!

Accidentally, this week my blog has a theme – alternative (not DC or Marvel) comic book movies. On Tuesday, I reviewed Valerian (based on a French comic book) and today, we are talking about Atomic Blonde!

IMDb summary: An undercover MI6 agent is sent to Berlin during the Cold War to investigate the murder of a fellow agent and recover a missing list of double agents.

Writing

The movie Atomic Blonde is based on a 2012 graphic novel ‘The Coldest City’ by Antony Johnston and Sam Hart. The screenwriter Kurt Johnstad (writer of the 300 movies) was the one who adapted this property. It was actually quite refreshing to see a film written by a single person rather than a group of screenwriters of varying experiences. And yet, the writing was still a mixed bag. I loved the main narrative and its structure – the story was presented in a flashback with the verbal exposition being given in an interrogation room. So, the plot was both told and shown. The set-up for the story and the decision to start it from almost the very end also helped to establish the main character. In the first seconds of her appearance, we realized her occupation, her relationships, and her vulnerabilities.

The spy-world was also well realized, with some of its details being quite fascinating. I loved how the film spotlighted the way spies deal with their lives, both physically and emotionally (ice baths, drinking, smoking). The historical tie-ins – the TV announcements about the state of Berlin Wall – were cool too and help to ground the movie. The ideas of spies deceiving each other and always having multiple ulterior motives were quite neat as well.

My few gripes with the film were a single logical flaw and the conclusion of the story. The thing that didn’t make much sense was the fact that James McAvoy’s character was trusted by others when he was obviously acting shady. Plus, the picture’s motto was ‘Never Trust Anyone’, so the fact that the characters turned a blind eye to his deceptions was kinda dumb. Secondly, the film’s story had a lot of twists and turns at the end, which were really heavily piled one on top of another. I wish that these reveals would have been given earlier or handled in different a way because it felt like the movie had multiple endings and didn’t know when to stop.

Directing

The longtime stunt coordinator, stuntman, and fight choreographer who recently transitioned into directing – David Leitch – helmed Atomic Blonde. His previous directing credits include the first John Wick (with Chad Stahelski), while his upcoming project is the Deadpool sequel. Not surprisingly, Atomic Blonde has been nicknamed online as the female version of John Wick and, while the comparison is valid, Atomic Blonde is also very much its own thing. It has its own cool action scenes, which were choreographed superbly and showcased fighters using a lot of everyday props rather than guns. The way these fight scenes were modified for someone, who is physically weaker (a female body) was interesting too. I also loved the car chases with all the old, now vintage, cars (no yellow Fast&Furious Lamborghinis here). 

The overall tone of Atomic Blonde was also really cool. I’d describe it as gritty glamor. The gritty part comes from the bloody action and the truthful depiction of the life of spies. The glamor could be seen in the costumes and the hairstyle of its lead – Charlize Theron had an impeccable look with her long, classic coats and platinum blonde hair. The cool color pallet added to the glamor too. The punk influences of 1989/1990s Berlin (the combo of grit and glamor) were also felt in the movie, from the locations of the underground clubs to the visuals of the graffiti on the wall. The soundtrack of the picture also emerged up from this general feel and tone. The composer of John Wick and Guardians of the Galaxy films, Tyler Bates, did a great job on the Atomic Blonde score, by mixing together 90s English and German songs as well as their more modern reworkings.

The director Leitch also did a brilliant job of filming the action in a variety of angles. Every trick in the book was used – from long panning shots and zoom ins/outs to close-ups to handheld shots with and without the cuts. That continuous action sequence in the apartment building was especially amazing. Genre wise, Atomic Blonde certainly felt more like a drama/thriller rather than just an action film. Its pacing wasn’t super fast – the movie didn’t really drag (except maybe the ending) but it never got as exciting as it could have been.

All in all, though I had some problems with the directing of the film, I enjoyed it overall and I still think that Leitch can nail Deadpool 2. We all know that he can deliver a magnificent action sequence, I just wonder whether he can do humor and comedy.

Acting

Atomic Blonde had quite a stellar cast. Charlize Theron (The Huntsman, Mad Max, FF8, Kubo) was front and center, demanding all the attention for the best reasons. She was amazing in the role, especially in its physical aspects (she did lots of stunts herself). James McAvoy (X-Men) was cool and creepy in his role. His persona in this film felt like just another personality of his character in SplitSofia Boutella (The Mummy, Star Trek, Kingsman) was also good, though her performance was brief. John Goodman (Kong, Trumbo), Eddie Marsan (Their Finest), and Toby Jones rounded out of the cast.

In short, Atomic Blonde is a very entertaining thriller that has a lot of cool aspects but also some minor flaws. Not a perfect film but definitely worth a watch.

Rate: 3.7/5

Trailer: Atomic Blonde trailer

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Movie review: Logan

Movie reviews

Hello!

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

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

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

Writing

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

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

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

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

Directing

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

Acting

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

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

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

Rate: 4.7/5

Trailer: Logan trailer

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SPOILER PART

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

Extraordinary Cinema Review II (The Shows of Shows + Persepolis)

Movie reviews

Hello!

I’m continuing my series of indie foreign films that I’ve started yesterday. My previous post and the reasons behind me doing this review series are here.

The previous two films I discussed both belong to the narrative cinema genre, so they were fairly close the mainstream. However, these two are more outside the box: one of them is a stock footage documentary and the other – black and white 2D animated feature.

The first film I’m discussing today is The Show of Shows: 100 Years of Vaudeville, Circuses, and Carnivals. It’s an Icelandic director’s Benedikt Erlingsson’s musical documentary from 2015. The whole film is one giant found footage montage. Erlingsson just pieced together various National Fairground Archive clips of circus and carnival performances. The picture has no dialogue, no narrative – it just a spectacular combination of music and visuals and the upbeat tempo of the soundtrack really adds a lot of liveliness to the already spectacular video recording. The film is kinda divided into different sections – you get 10 minutes of dance acts at the start, then the movie spotlights the different animal performers, jugglers, gymnasts, clowns and all kinds of other circus personnel.  The Show of Shows ends with the sequence of people laughing and drives home the idea that circus wouldn’t exist without the spectators.

The feature is definitely amusing and entertaining (just like the carnival), though, the animal parts are quite hard to watch. The previously heard stories about animals being treated badly at the circus kinda ruined the enjoyment of the film for me just a bit.

Watching this film was not only a great experience because of its content – the location added some flavor to the mix too. I actually got to see this film outside during the night. During the summer, the Lithuanian international film festival Kino Pavasaris (eng. Cinema Spring) in partnership with the Kaunas’ Art Cinema Romuva put on a screening of this particular picture in the Old Town of Kaunas. The event attracted a lot of people and we all got a chance to spend a nice summer evening watching a movie underneath the stars.

Rate: 5/5

Trailer: The Show of Shows trailer

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The second film I want to mention was made in 2007 but skipped my attention until two days ago. It’s the animated feature Persepolis, directed by Marjane Satrapi and Vincent Paronnaud, based on Satrapi’s autobiographical graphic novel of the same name. I have read the novel – it was one of the first comics I have read – and absolutely loved it, so I decided to check out the movie as well.

To begin with, I loved the film because it was so close to graphic novel – the animated graphics looked exactly like the comic book panels. In addition, although all the characters were animated and lacked any coloring, they were so full of life and expressive.

I also appreciated the fact that the picture was respectful to the subject but also dared to make some jokes. The film revolves around a girl’s (Satrapi’s) life – how she lives through a war and through a revolution in Iran, how she eventually has to leave her native country and has to build a new home abroad. All of the facts are laid out neatly and clearly, the problems and horrors are showed unflinchingly, but the comic-relief and the everyday funny situations also find a place in the picture. In short, Persepolis is both heartwarming and anger-inducing. It kinda makes everyday problems of my own life seem unimportant.

One of the most interesting aspects of the film (and the original novel) was the concept of Westernization of Iran. It was interesting to see that Iranian people weren’t actually that different from people in the West – they liked the same music and films. It was also captivating to see the items of the Western world being sold as contraband on the streets – the situation was pretty similar in the Soviet block, where my parents grew up, so it was fascinating to see the same things happen in a different part of the world. I guess, for better or for worse, one cannot escape Westernization, be it a voluntary or involuntary process.

Rate: 5/5

Trailer: Persepolis trailer

persepolis

I hope you enjoyed this slight break from the mainstream films. I will return to reviewing them tomorrow with a post on Deepwater Horizon. In the meantime, let’s go back to binge-watching Luke Cage.

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

Zootopia-Poster.jpg

 

Movie review: The Boxtrolls (+The Equalizer)

Movie reviews

Hello!

First of all, I would like to apologize for not posting much this week. The reason why I did that is because my laptop crashed and it was being repaired for a whole week.  I don’t have a spare one and I could hardly prepare a proper post of my phone. Anyway, let’s get on with this week’s movie review.

On Wednesday, I have finally gone to see The Boxtrolls – newest stop motion animation distributed by Disney. The movie was directed by Graham Annable and Anthony Stacchiand and written by Irena Brignull and Adam Pava.

Summary: Everybody believes that little trolls living underground are monster and that they have stolen a baby a few years ago. An evil man who wants to satisfy his selfish needs tries to eliminate all the boxtrolls from the city but a boy opposes him and even manages to unite 2 different races while destroying the evil – written by myself.

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I went to see this film not because I was interested in the story but because stop-motion graphics amaze me. I appreciate all the hard work that is put into this type of animation. My favorite stop motion flick is Coraline (2009) by director Henry Selick produced by LAIKA studios (The Boxtrolls were also made by LAIKA). I also love Coraline because it is an animation for grown ups. It is pretty scary, dark and has a deep meaning.  What is more, I hate the fact that people think that animation movies are only for kids and Coraline helps to shed that myth away.

Having said that, I believe that The Boxtrolls movie was purely for young kids. I really wanted it to be smarter and a bit more serious. The graphics were nice but sometimes ugly and unpleasant to look at, however, interesting at the same time. It almost seemed like a piece of art and not a film for entertainment. I cannot discuss the voice work, because in my country all the voice overs had been done by different people in my own native language.

Although the movie was quite childish, it still had a few subtle undertones. It portrayed society obsessed with consumerism and people with no sentimental values perfectly. The Boxtrolls also showed altered (in a bad way) relationships between parents and kids. However, movie tackled not only sad issues but encouraged confidence and bravery as well. Outside doesn’t matter, you have to look deeper. The film is considered to be one of the contenders for the Oscar nomination in the category of Best Animation. While I think it might be nominated, I definitely don’t think that it’s going to win.

TrailerThe Boxtrolls trailer

Rate 3.5/5

The-Boxtrolls-poster

That same day, I also saw The Equalizer (I know I am late to the party) with Denzel Washington in the main role. I’m not going to review it because I don’t have much to say, I quite liked it but I wished they would have explained  Robert’s  background and why he was such a great fighter. Moreover, I believe that they could have made a movie at least half an hour shorter and since I was very tired that day and had and IETLS exam the next, I could not wait for the movie to end and for me to finally be able to go to sleep. Rate 3/5

downloadPhotos: Google Images

Movie review: The Lego Movie

Movie reviews

Hi!
This summer is a movie summer for me, so, without further ado, here is a review of The Lego Movie.

From the start of the movie, it had this cool dystopian vibe which we all know from series like The Hunger Games, Divergent, Delirium and which I really enjoy. The reason why this movie is so relatable and likeable is the fact that it shows us the problems that our society is dealing with – being part of grey mass, losing identity, worshiping a leader (dictator) even if he is crazy, following all the rules and listening to the instructions, not making decisions for ourselves and etc.

The motion picture has so many great, heartwarming messages for kids (adults too), but I think that nowadays not all children (or even mature grown-ups) will understand them. Let me explain why. Our society is overusing modern technologies, we are doing everything with them and, as a consequence, we lack real, face-to-face contact. This physical form of communication is crucial part in our development. Today, we are used to being alone by our laptop or phone from early childhood; we become narrow minded and closed to ourselves. When, as time goes by, we turn into vain and empty, cocky and stubborn things. Of course, I am not saying that everybody is like that, but let’s face it – all of us know at least one person with these personality traits. Also, majority of us have at least one of them inside of us but we are just too afraid and too proud of ourselves to admit our flaws.

Like I said earlier, the film had many great ideas: finding yourself and your place in the world, stressing the importance of working in a team as well as need of optimism; dealing with negativity (do not berry it deep inside, talk it out). What is more that cop character perfectly portrayed our inner fight because we all have a little bit of good cop and bad cop inside. Other problems which were dealt with included both believing in yourself and wanting to be special and remembered for your work. The animation even touched on topics like fake and real friendships and the meaning of sacrifice, the problem of jealousy.

I would also like to praise makers of the movie for their creative use of superheroes and famous people. It was a pleasant Easter egg for so many different fandoms from all the different franchises, sports, science, art and so forth.

Furthermore, the movie was really funny and witty without being vulgar. Nowadays comedies relay on dick jokes too much. In addition, the dialogue was interesting and well written.

From the production point of view – the computer-Lego graphics were awesome. This is a new and fresh idea in the animation business.

All in all, the Lego movie brought a nostalgic smile to my face, reminded me of my childhood and good old days spent playing with Lego’s, building houses and cities and all kinds of stuff. And I got to say: I want a double-deck couch!! Rate 5/5

P.S. The sequel to the movie is planned to be released in 2017.