Movie review: Sicario: Day of the Soldado

Movie reviews

Hello!

And welcome to a review of a sequel that I did not think Hollywood would make but I’m so glad they did. This is Sicario 2 or Sicario: Day of the Soldado.

IMDb summary: The drug war on the U.S.-Mexico border has escalated as the cartels have begun trafficking terrorists across the US border. To fight the war, federal agent Matt Graver re-teams with the mercurial Alejandro.

Writing

Sicario 2 was written by Taylor Sheridan – the same screenwriter who wrote the first Sicario as well as such great pictures as Hell or High Water and Wind River. I thought that the writing for the sequel was quite spectacular for the most part. I highly appreciated how topical the movie was, tackling topics that one sees on the news daily. I also loved the ambiguity in the script: the film didn’t have the clear ‘good side’ and it also did not have a conclusion or a clear ‘winning side’. No real happy ending in the film as in life.

The narrative was a bit convoluted and murky at times but I thought that was an accurate representation of the modern warfare. Plans rarely go as planned, layers of authority make decisions impossible to make, and various actors have their own agendas I also really loved how the movie touched upon the ideas of performance within warfare. It was also interesting to see the movie trying to deal with more personal stuff within a context of war.

My only gripe with the film was that I did not think its 3rd act was as strong as the first two. The intensity dropped, the story stopped, and the movie finished a bit of an underwhelming fashion. It tried setting up a sequel which is never an easy way to finish a picture.

Directing

Stefano Sollima, an Italian director, took over the reins of the now-franchise from Denis Villeneuve and crafted an intense and cohesive film, definitely worthy of the first one. The sequel was violent but maybe not as shocking as the first picture. The intensity was still palpable, though. The instrumental score, full of deep and low sounds could be felt in one’s body (if your cinema has a good sound system). The cinematography was great too – static continuous shots of Mexico’s landscape made nature seem both gorgeous and threatening/mysterious.

Acting

Soldado’s cast consisted of Benicio del ToroJosh Brolin, and Jeffrey Donovan reprising their roles, with Isabela MonerManuel Garcia-Rulfo, Elijah Rodriguez and Catherine Keener joining the film. I feel kinda bad for Emily Blunt, as she was sort of the star of the previous film but didn’t/couldn’t return (wasn’t asked to return?) for the sequel. Del Toro killed it in the role again and Brolin (Only the Brave, Hail, Caesar!, Everest) was amazing too (I loved the last shot of him in the hellicopter and just that tiny hint of emotion in his eyes due to the loss of his comrade). I do love the range of the two actors – from The Collector/a smuggler in the Star Wars Universe and Thanos/Cable to the characters in Soldado! Moner was able to showcase her acting abilities so much better in this film than in Transformers 6. It was also nice to see the movie showcasing some Mexican talent – another group of performers that goes underappreciated and underexposed so often in Hollywood.

In short, Sicario 2: Day of the Soldado is a great-looking and smart sequel that will definitely keep you glued to the edge of your seat for at least 2/3 of the film.

Rate: 3.9/5

Trailer: Sicario: Day of the Soldado

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Movie review: Solo: A Star Wars Story

Movie reviews

Hello!

And welcome to a review of a movie that nobody really asked for and not a lot of people are going out to see. This is Solo: A Star Wars Story!

IMDb summary: During an adventure into the criminal underworld, Han Solo meets his future copilot Chewbacca and encounters Lando Calrissian years before joining the Rebellion.

Before going to see the film, I had my own reservations. I wasn’t a 100 percent on board with the casting choices. The behind-the-scenes drama and the changing directors also shook up my already weak confidence in this movie. And yet, I tried going in with an open mind and I’m glad to say that I did have fun with this movie, despite its flaws. Let’s discuss!

Writing

Solo was written by a father and son duo, Lawrence Kasdan (writer of Episodes 5,6, and 7) and Jonathan Kasdan (TV writer and actor). I have mixed feelings about the script that they penned for this movie. Solo was truly an origin film that showcased the origins of every single aspect relating to Han Solo. I wasn’t really sure whether we needed to see everything: how he got his name, blaster, costume, sidekick, favorite supporting character, taste in women, and a cynical attitude. And yet, every time the references came up, I geeked out internally. The Chewie and Lando meetings were some of the best scenes and I really loved seeing the beginning of those relationships. The taste in women part annoyed me a bit, mainly because I felt like Han’s relationship to Qi’ra undermined his later relationship with Leia and made it less special (there wasn’t a lot of difference between Qi’ra and Leia).

The cynical attitude of Han’s mostly formed during the 3rd act of this film. He did seem way more hopeful and sincere in the first two acts than I expected him to be. However, the multiple twists and turns and betrayals in the 3rd act, while not really working that well for the actual narrative of the film, did work well as steps of Han’s character development. Also, I did like how, despite all the hardships that he went through, the script underscored that he was a good guy, as that goes well with his choice of a side in the original trilogy.

Solo not only referenced the original trilogy but also tied itself to the prequels and the animated TV shows. That was quite an unexpected choice. Does that mean that they are gonna bring back some of the characters from this movie in the later projects? I feel like I preferred Rogue One’s type of an ending better – more standalone-ish rather than with a promise of a continuation.

Directing

Ron Howard (Inferno, In The Heart of The Sea) directed the film, while the original Solo’s directors – Philip A. Lord and Christopher Miller (of The Lego Movie and 21 Jump Street) got executive producer credits. I thought that Howard did a good job. The picture was certainly competently made and looked and felt appropriately grim, dirty and grounded. And yet, the Star Wars space opera feeling was also there, especially in the choice of locations and background characters (the movie was grounded but cosmic too). The pacing worked for me too – the movie was quite action-packed, so I don’t understand how the critics are saying that they had pacing issues. The movie also had an opening crawl but not in the typical style of Star Wars which seemed like an odd choice. If you have an opening crawl, why not make it like the rest?

Acting

Solo’s cast’s acting started off a bit shaky and wooden but got better as the movie progresses. Alden Ehrenreich (Hail, Caesar!) was my biggest question mark going into the film and he impressed me a lot. The character of Han had such an infectious excitement about just being Han and I feel like that was Alden’s own excitement about playing this role. Woody Harrelson (War of Apes, Three Billboards, The Glass Castle, Now You See Me, THG), Emilia Clarke (Terminator 5, Me Before You), and Donald Glover (Spider-Man: Homecoming, The Martian) especially were all also really good in the film. It was fun to see Westworld’s Thandie Newton (Gringoand Paul Bettany (Infinity War) too. Phoebe Waller-Bridge was an absolute scene stealer as Lando’s droid. Joonas Suotamo did a fine job as Chewbacca too.

In short, Solo: A Star Wars Story was a good space adventure that wasn’t necessary for the Star Wars Universe but did no damage to it either (well, except financially, probably).

Rate: 4/5

Trailer: Solo: A Star Wars Story trailer 

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5 ideas about a movie: Only The Brave

Movie reviews

Hello!

A touching cinematic ode to the fallen firefighters – Only The Brave – has reached theatres, so, let’s review it.

IMDb summary: Based on the true story of the Granite Mountain Hotshots, a group of elite firefighters risk everything to protect a town from a historic wildfire.

  1. I haven’t seen a lot of movies focusing on firefighters before. There have been a fair few films telling the stories of the police officers or the doctors, so it was only right that the firefighters and their important work should also be spotlighted. And that’s exactly what Only The Brave did. The picture was directed by Joseph Kosinski (director of Tron: Legacy and writer/director of Oblivion, who is also set to direct Top Gun 2) and written by Ken Nolan (Black Hawk Down, Transformers 5) and Eric Warren Singer (American Hustle). The script was based on a GQ article “No Exit” by Sean Flynn.
  2. In general, Only The Brave’s writing was good and ticked off all the boxes of the biographical drama to do list. The set-up and the character development was present, the narrative unraveled smoothly, and the emotional punch was strong. The film’s 3 acts had distinct qualities. The first act/the set-up acted as the ‘origin’ story of the Grand Mountain Hot Shots, the middle part showed their career highs and strengthened the connection between the viewer and the characters, while the last act revolved around a game-changing event. The conclusion of the movie used that aforementioned connection to make its viewers teary-eyed during the third act. In addition, I found that idea of nature as fuel for fire very interesting and unique – never seen nature from that perspective myself.
  3. The character development was mostly given to two characters – Miles Teller’s Donut and Josh Brolin’s Supe. We got to see their struggles and their family lives. Jeff Bridges’s character was there to push the plot forward, while Taylor Kitsch’s character was used as the comedic relief (‘2 dads and a baby’ moment was so funny). The other guys were there for the atmosphere. The said atmosphere started out quite unappealing, especially for me as a female viewer. I do get that guys talk like that (by that, I mean borderline sexist) in an all-male environment, but that doesn’t mean that I’d like to see it. What I did enjoy seeing was the training of the group as well as their growth from bullying each other to legitimately caring for one another.
  4. The directing of the film was quite good. The pacing was okay and the intensity of the action sequences was fine too – the movie did succeed in conveying the risks that these people were taking. The southern rural US setting was well-realized too. The burning bear visual was neat, while the other scenes of fire looked realistic. The nice dedication at the end of the film and the photos of the real-life counterparts of the characters were both nice touches.
  5. The cast of the film was quite extensive, but, as I have said, only a handful of characters were focused on. Josh Brolin (Hail, Caesar!, MCU) played Supe and was good, though I have already seen him in a comparable role (Everest and Sicario both come to mind). Similarly, Jeff Bridges also played a role he has played before (in Hell or High Water or even in Kingsman 2). Miles Teller (War Dogs, Allegiant, FF) was good too and I kinda feel that his character, at least during the first act, was basically the person that everyone images Teller to be in real life (he doesn’t have the greatest image in the media). Taylor Kitsch (American Assasin) was okay as well, but I wanted to see something more out of him. Jennifer Connelly (Noah, she was also the voice of Karen (the suit’s AI) in Spider-Man: Homecoming) played Supe’s wife and she actually had more to do than the characters of wifes or girlfriends usually do in films like these.

In short, Only The Brave was a well-made and a heartfelt biographical drama, worthy of a watch but not necessarily at the cinema.

Rate: 4/5

Trailer: Only The Brave trailer

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5 ideas about a movie: Suburbicon

Movie reviews

Hello!

Once a sure awards contender, now a rotten tomato, Suburbicon has landed in theatres. Let’s see what it has to offer.

IMDb summary: A home invasion rattles a quiet family town.

  1. Suburbicon was directed by George Clooney (this was his 6th directorial outing but the first time that he did not star in a film he directed) from a script by the Coen brothers (Hail, Caesar!, Bridge of Spies, Unbroken), George Clooney himself, and Grant Heslov (actor-turned-producer/writer). Just looking at the list of talent involved behind the camera, this movie should have been great. And while it was surprising in the fact that it was not what I expected thematically, it was also not what I expected quality-wise.
  2. Suburbicon appeared to have two separate storylines that had little to do with one another, except maybe were there to be contrasted. The film opened with the event of an African American family moving into an idyllic white neighborhood. The racist undertones of the community’s reaction to their new neighbors quickly evolved into a racist attack and a riot – things that we should have left in the 1960s but which feel very contemporary. Another, supposedly main storyline, involved Matt Damon’s character. That plotline came a bit out of nowhere – we didn’t even meet Damon’s character in the set-up. The idealized facade of his family was never believable – the secrets that were supposed to be hidden could very easily be predicted. Suburbicon wasn’t subtle, let’s just say that. The parent-child dynamics and the husband cheating with his wife’s twin sister were both interesting concepts to explore but that didn’t really happen.
  3. The whole writing of the film started off quite simplistic and, while it did get more complex and compelling as the narrative unraveled, it never really reached the level of quality that was desirable. The two storylines never connected in the movie itself, they could only be brought together by the viewer. I interpreted the decision to have these two family plotlines side by side as an attempt to make a statement on race and society. The perfect facade of a white family hid deep perversion underneath, while the loving African American family was seen as unacceptable. The truth and appearances didn’t add up and I took the film’s message to be a slight warning for today’s society. I didn’t anticipate any of that to be in the movie from its trailer – that’s what I meant when I said that Suburbicon was thematically unexpected.
  4. Visually, Suburbicon looked quite nice and neat. In general, I find the 1960s setting aesthetically pleasing, so it was cool to see it realized quite well in this picture. The opening sequence in a style of a fairytale book was also good. The slow pace was a bit of a drag. Suburbicon also felt like a weird mashup of an old-school crime drama and a modern thriller. Some of its scenes of violence were very conservatively left out of frame – filmed as a shadow or only focusing on the characters’ feet, while some other violent scenes were extremely graphic – like the scenes one would expect to see in an R-rated modern thriller.
  5. Suburbicon had a great cast that deserved better material to work with. Matt Damon (The Martian, Jason Bourne, The Great Wall, soon Downsizing – now his only film for the awards season) and Julianne Moore (Kingsman 2, Mockingjay) were both really good, but a standout to me was Oscar Isaac (Star Wars, X-Men, The Promise) – I loved his spunky and charismatic insurance investigator character. The child lead of the film – Noah Jupe – was also quite good. I swear the child actors, in general, have never been as good as they are now.

In short, Suburbicon was a mediocre film that was not thrilling enough to be a crime thriller or funny/ironical enough to be a black comedy or stylized enough to be seen as an art metaphor.

Rate: 2.9/5

Trailer: Suburbicon 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: Logan Lucky

Movie reviews

Hello!

Steven Soderbergh is back from retirement but the audiences don;t care much. This is Logan Lucky!

IMDb summary: Two brothers attempt to pull off a heist during a NASCAR race in North Carolina.

Writing

Logan Lucky was written by Rebecca Blunt – either a newcomer writer or somebody, working under a pseudonym. There has been speculation online that Blunt lives the UK, while some critics thought that Soderberg himself is hiding underneath that name (because he does that when crediting himself as a cinematographer (as Peter Andrews) and editor (as Mary Ann Bernard). Anyways, whoever this Blunt person is/was, they did a good job on the script. While the core narrative was quite familiar (Hell or High Water-esque – stealing for one’s family), its execution in details was brilliant.

The movie opened with a good set-up of the mundane lives of its characters and established them as people, whose lives did not turn out the way they planned (one of them peaked in high school, the other was suffering from the little brother inferiority complex).

Then, Logan Lucky moved on to showcasing the American culture (the kind that foreign people wouldn’t even dare to call culture), which consisted of children beauty pageants and rural county fairs. However, the star of the said culture and the film was NASCAR – a very American brand of motor-racing. The cherry on top was the prolonged anthem scene. Logan Lucky seemed to be driving home a message, that stuff like this, for better or for worse, happens only in the USA. This type of portrayal could have easily come across as annoying but the underlying sense of irony and satire made it work.

Speaking about the comedic side of Logan Lucky – it was great if not as extensive as I hoped, after watching the trailer. I loved the different pairings of the criminals (The Hitman’s Bodyguardesque) as well as the jokes that were central to the characters (one-handed bartender, the dumb brothers of Joe Bang). Logan Lucky also had a really funny sequence with Sebastian Stan’s driver character (who didn’t seem like he had much to do with the actual plot of the film). Another magnificent and hilarious sequence was the prison riot and the prisoners demanding all GRRM books, getting frustrated that ‘The Winds of Winter’ has yet to be released, and hating the fact that the TV show is going off books. The ‘explosive device’ sequence and the decision to stop midway and explain the chemistry were extremely funny too.

Logan Lucky also had a surprising and really heartfelt scene involving the main character’s daughter’s beauty pageant and the song ‘Take Me Home, Country Roads’ (by John Denver). That scene should have been the closing images of the picture. However, Logan Lucky did continue and had a concluding detective story that felt like an afterthought. The investigation itself was not that interesting or neccesary. However, that closing sequence did provide some revelations about the main character’s secret dealings and did have a nice ending (well, for now) with all of them sitting in a bar.

Directing

Steven Soderbergh (The Ocean’s trilogy, Magic Mike series, Haywire) did a good job with Logan Lucky but I don’t think that this was his best film. The pacing at the start was a bit slow, however, the movie did pick up its pace, when the action began. However, it started dragging again with that detective-story afterthought. What I appreciated the most about Logan Lucky (and the other films by Soderbergh) was that it felt real. Not necessarily realistic but real, grounded, self-aware, and sprinkled with irony. While the scripts that he directs (or even writes) are usually mainstream, Soderbergh addresses them with unique auteur/indie perspective.

This time around, Soderbergh also approached the distribution of the film uniquely and decided not to partner with any of the big studios. Well, that backfired. Big time. Logan Lucky didn’t win its weekend, nor it showed any staying power by dipping lower and lower in the TOP 10. I really want to know who/what is to blame. Are the audiences just not interested in Soderbergh’s work anymore? Was it the lack of advertisement? Where were all the NASCAR fans? Where were all the grown-up Pixar’s Cars fan (the ones who saw the 2006 film as children and are now adults)? Where were the fans of movies, involving cars, a la Baby Driver?

Acting

Logan Lucky had a really strong cast, lead by a new favorite of Soderbergh’sChanging Tatum (they worked together on Magic Mike, while the other recent Tatum’s films include Hail, Caesar!, The Hateful Eight, Jupiter Ascending, Jump Street). His brother was played by Adam Driver, who is constantly working on smaller, more art-house pictures in between his Star Wars gigs, like Midnight Special, Silence, and Paterson. Daniel Craig (Spectre) also had a very fun role in the film that he seemed to be having a blast while playing. He never appeared to enjoy being Bond that much and, yet, he still signed on to continue being the 007.

The supporting cast included Riley Keough (Mad Max), Katie HolmesKatherine Waterston (Fantastic Beasts), and Hilary Swank (would love to see her going back to the Million Dollar Baby type of projects and the level of success). The majority of them didn’t really play real characters but were used as devices for world-building or the lead’s character development. Seth MacFarlane (Ted, Sing) and Sebastian Stan (Marvel stuff, The Martian) also had cameo roles and their whole separate thing going on in the background.

In short, Logan Lucky was an enjoyable mixture of mainstream and indie, but it didn’t offer anything too special. Neither a disappointment nor really a win for Soderbergh.

Rate: 3.5/5

Trailer: Logan Lucky trailer

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Movie review: Okja

Movie reviews

Hello!

When the international release schedules fail me, Netflix provides. Let’s review their newest original picture Okja!

IMDb summary: Meet Mija, a young girl who risks everything to prevent a powerful, multi-national company from kidnapping her best friend – a fascinating animal named Okja.

Writing

Okja was written by the director of the film Bong Joon-ho and the author/journalist Jon Ronson. The narrative they crafted was just extraordinary. At a glance, the film appeared to be a live-action family adventure. However, in addition to being very entertaining all ages film, Okja was also unique, different, clever, innovative, and very topical. The premise, given in the opening, sounded insane but also sort or realistic (honestly, humans have come up with crazier solutions to the global problems). The familiar family film elements, like the child-animal bond (which sorta reminded me of The BFG), were mixed with the concepts of the corporate world, like bureaucracy, advertising, social media impact and public image, and GMOs – the ideas usually found in dystopian movies. On top of it, the distinct shades of the Korean culture, starting with the Korean language being used alongside English (I loved how the language barrier and translations were part of the plot), added another layer of uniqueness to the picture (it might not seem that out of the ordinary for anyone familiar with the cinema of the Far East).

Okja’s relationship with the vegetarian/vegan movement was super complex too. The film definitely placed the horrors of the mass meat production to the forefront and destroyed the barrier that the supermarkets have created between the production of meat and the consumer. The animal abuse was also hard to witness (tbh, now I am wondering whether animal rape is a thing) but it helped to prove a point that Okja was going for. The ideas expressed through the inclusion of the Animal Liberation Front were also fascinating. It is important to note that the screenwriters wanted to portray this group as peaceful yet still found ways to show its radicalness (beating one of their own for betrayal, starving to not leave a carbon footprint). I also appreciated the partially ambiguous ending of the film: while the personal win was achieved, the broader battle was lost. And yet, as the post-credits scene suggests – the fight continues.

Even though the movie was quite serious, it still had a few chuckle-worthy moments. I can’t believe I’m writing this, but the poop jokes in Okja were adorable rather than annoying. The company’s driver, who was completely done with his job, was also a hilarious addition.

Directing

The South Korean filmmaker Bong Joon-ho directed Okja and did an excellent job. He is probably the most well-known to Western audiences for Snowpiercer – another topical and unique film that is still accessible because of its cast of well-known Hollywood actors. While I liked Snowpiercera bit more, I still have plenty of good things to say about Okja. First, the tone – a weird mixture of satire, theater, and realism (a less kooky version of A Series of Unfortunate Events) – was great. Second, the action,especially the chase sequence through Seoul, was was both fun and entertaining yet still had a lot of heart to it. The score, which accompanied the said sequence, was also magnificent, from the trumpets in the instrumental score to the usage of the song ‘You Fill Up My Senses’. The design of the Okja animal was good too – she was a cross between a hippopotamus and pet pig. The CGI was okay too – not super photo realistic but good enough for the movie.

On a side note, the story of this film’s release is almost as fascinating as the film itself. Okja was first booed at the prestigious Cannes Film Festival for being a Netflix film and then received a standing ovation for being a movie of extreme quality. Not only do the festival goers can’t seem to make up their minds, they also appear to be living in the last century. The film release practices are changing and they should catch up to that or risk becoming irrelevant in their field.

Acting

The movie had an ensemble cast, lead by a young actress Ahn Seo-hyun, whose performance was so pure: full of innocence and wonder. The Hollywood heavyweights like Doctor Strange’s and Hail, Caesar!’sTilda Swinton (once again, completely transformed for the dual role) and Life’sand Nocturnal Animal’sJake Gyllenhaal (in an eccentric and cartoonish performance that still somehow worked) provided the support.Swiss Army Man’sPaul Dano also starred (he is always really good in non-mainstream/indie films), while Lilly Collins also had a small role – she is actually headlining the next Netflix original film – To The Bone.

In short, Okja is a delightfully smart and entertaining picture that you can watch from the comfort of your own home. The best Netflix film so far!

Rate: 4.2/5

Trailer: Okja trailer

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5 ideas about a movie: Rough Night 

Movie reviews

Hello!

After two weeks of back to back volunteering gigs at big sports events, I needed a simple and fun movie. I expected Rough Night to be just that. Let’s see if it were.

  1. Rough Night was written by the director of the film Lucia Aniello and Paul W. Downs (real-life and comedic partners, who both work on Comedy Central projects). The writing was mostly fine: I liked the topical humor, like the fact that Scarlet Johansson’s politician character looked like Hilary Clinton or that the film made fun of the selfie culture. The ending was a bit out-there but managed to get a few laughs from me, so that’s good. The typical (almost cliche) themes of the friend rivalry and the growing apart were also present.
  2. Aniello’s direction for the movie was okay, though it did seem a bit amateurish, with some neat moments dispersed throughout. The whole idea to set the film in Miami, unfortunately, reminded me of Snatched and how that film was just basically set in a more exotic location so that the actors could go on vacation. The pop soundtrack was fun and summery, though.
  3. The main 5 ladies were played by Scarlett Johansson (Marvel films (Rough Night’s low box office killed any possibilities of a Black Widow movie), The Jungle Book, Hail, Caesar!, Ghost in the Shell), Kate McKinnon (Ghostbusters), Jillian BellIlana Glazer, and Zoë Kravitz (Divergent, Mad Max, Fantastic Beasts). Although their characters seemed pretty varied, all of their performances were really similar. My favorite one was actually Kravitz, while McKinnon’s Australian-ness (the actress is American) seemed like a cheap joke that was pushed too far.
  4. The supporting cast of the film was way more fun than the main one. The groom and his friends at the wine tasting sequence (what melodrama were they from? doesn’t matter – it worked), as well as the slow-motion sequence at the shop, were hilarious. The screenwriter of the film Paul W. Downs actually played the part of the groom-to-be. The cameo appearances by Demi Moore and Ty Burrell also added a few laughs.
  5. The movie had two after/during credits scenes. The mid-credits one was a way too long joke involving McKinnon’s character, while the after-credits scene provided some extra revelations about the plot. I didn’t even wait for it, though.

In short, Rough Night (or Bridesmaids: the crime comedy) was an okay summer flick that served some laughs as well as some cringy moments.

Rate: 3/5

Trailer: Rough Night trailer

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Movie review: Their Finest 

Movie reviews

Hello!

The first movie of the year focused on the battle of Dunkirk – Their Finest – has reached theaters, so, let’s review it.

IMDb summary: A British film crew attempts to boost morale during World War II by making a propaganda film after the Blitzkrieg.

While Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk (premiering in July) will tackle and reproduce the actual battle and the evacuation, Lone Scherfig’s film Their Finest is a story about a war propaganda film, based on a fictional story related to the real-life events at Dunkirk, produced in order to raise the patriotism of the nation. The genres and tones of the 2 movies differ vastly: one looks like a grim and serious action drama, while another one is a lighter comedy drama with some romance thrown in as well.

On top of being one of the two films about Dunkirk, Their Finest interested me for 3 reasons: 1. I wanted to see the representation of the British propaganda and how it differed or was similar to the Soviet propaganda – the kind that I’m more familiar with from history classes and from just generally growing up in Eastern/Northern Europe. 2. I have always enjoyed films about filmmaking and as this one centered on screenwriters – an occupation that I would like to pursue – my interest was peaked. 3. The movie started Sam Claflin – an actor, whose career I’ve been following pretty closely. So, let’s see if Their Finest is as ‘fine’ of a picture as the title suggests!

Writing

Their Finest was written by a TV writer Gaby Chiappe, based on novel Their Finest Hour and a Half by Lissa Evans. From the technical standpoint, the writing for the film was very nice: the narrative was well structured and rich with ideas. Whether or not the ideas worked, is a very subjective question. I, personally, really liked some of the themes but was equally frustrated by the others.

To begin with, the picture focused a lot on the relationship between Gemma Arterton’s and Sam Claflin’s characters. I highly disliked the fact that their professional relationship had to be turned into a romantic one by the end of the film. I find that this happens in a lot of stories, even in the contemporary ones. For example, the way J.K.Rowling, writing under the pseudonym Robert Galbraith, is portraying the relationship between the two main characters in her Cormoran Strike Series irritates me a lot. And yet, going back to the relationship between the characters in Their Finest, if I considered the said relationship’s romantic aspect separately, I thought that it did work and was convincing. The two individuals seemed pretty evenly matched and their sparring was entertaining to watch. The sudden end to the relationship was also emotionally effective. At first, I deemed that the end might have been too sudden but I later I’ve realized that the scriptwriters intended it to be that way and to convey a message that one never knows what might happen in war.

The second big theme of the picture was Gemma Arterton’s character’s growth as an individual. Her personal story acted very much as a symbol for a lot of women’s stories during the war – how they have finally begun to transition from the domestic spaces into the public ones. Sadly, this process is still is progress, 70+ years later. I thought that the main character was developed quite nicely – I wish we would have found out more about her background and upbringing in Wales, but I really liked her subtle journey towards independence.

Thirdly, the movie explored the screenwriting and the filmmaking business. I really loved this particular aspect of the film and just loved the fact that Their Finest celebrated the movies and tried finding positive attributes of cinema even if it was political cinema. I simply loved Sam Claflin’s character’s enthusiasm about and love for the pictures, especially since his character otherwise seemed really pessimistic and ironic. I could identify with this type of depiction very closely. The way the movie played up the uber-poshness of the actors and of the British actors, to be specific, with Bill Nighy’s character was also really fun.

Lastly, Their Finest dealt with the propaganda filmmaking, not just simple filmmaking. Not only did this type of story provided a different perspective on war, but it also proved to me that the types of propaganda don’t vary much from country to country. Like the Soviet propaganda, some of the British propaganda was very obvious but some of it was something more, just like the-picture-within-the-picture in Their Finest or a real life example, such as Sergei Eisenstein’s Battleship Potemkin. And yet, since both Their Finest and The Nancy Starling (a-movie-within-a-movie) stressed the importance of optimism and happy endings, I can’t help but wonder where exactly did the cinematic propaganda end?

Directing

Their Finest was directed by Lone Scherfig. Although the director is Danish, I thought that she nailed the British feeling of the film. She has already done that earlier with The Riot Club – that movie has really made me question my adoration of the British culture quite a bit. So, Their Finest resembled the previous historic UK-based movies that I’ve reviewed, like SuffragetteTestament of Youthand Far From The Madding Crowd. The fact that the movie was executed with the classical stationary camera work and the steady frame, also added an appropriate old-school yet timeless feel to the picture. The pacing of the picture was also very even. 

Acting

Gemma Arterton played the lead in the film and did a really good job. I hope that this is a career-changing role for her, as so far she has been starring in mostly B-level pictures, like Clash of the TitansPrince of Persia: The Sands of Time, and Hansel & Gretel: Witch HuntersI really loved how subtle yet powerful her performance was. My favorite line of hers was the last words to the boyfriend: ‘You shouldn’t have painted me that small’. Her delivery was brilliant. I also though that Arterton’s chemistry with the co-star Sam Claflin was really good and believable. I loved Claflin’s character and the actor’s performance. It was so interesting to see a writer who can express oneself well enough of paper but struggles to do the same face to face. After starting his big screen career by acting the big action flicks, like Pirates of the Caribbean 4 and The Hunger Games franchise, Claflin has mostly stuck to dramas recently, including 2014’s Love, Rosie and 2016’s Me Before You. His next film is also a historical drama – My Cousin Rachel. He has also previously collaborated with the director of Their Finest on The Riot Club.

The supporting cast included established English actors Bill NighyHelen McCroryEddie Marsan, and Richard E. GranJack Huston (American Hustle, Hail, Caesar!and Ben-Hur) also had a minor role.

In short, Their Finest is a brilliant little movie, which, sadly, will be overlooked by the majority of movie-goers and buried by the blockbusters, including the one it shares the topic with. I highly recommend this film for all those interested in history and the art of filmmaking.

Rate: 4.3/5

Trailer: Their Finest trailer

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Movie review: La La Land

Movie reviews

Hello!

Today, I had a chance to see the current awards front-runner – the film La La Land – so let’s review it! I have read a lot of emotional (both positive and negative) tweets about it in my feed these past few weeks, but, as usual, I decided to make up my own mind by watching it.

IMDb summary: A jazz pianist falls for an aspiring actress in Los Angeles.

I would like to begin by saying that La La Land is very much an indie picture – it won’t please the majority of the mainstream audiences and it certainly didn’t appeal to the majority of the people at my screening, who were complaining throughout the whole runtime. Despite their actions, I took La La Land for what it was – a niche musical about Hollywood – and had a great time watching it.

Writing

La La Land was written by Damien Chazelle, who also directed the picture. Chazelle is best known for directing and writing 2014’s awards winner Whiplash, but he also wrote the recent 10 Cloverfield Lane. I, personally, found La La Land’s story to be interesting. It wasn’t the most original but it was executed quite well. I, as a fan of cinema, have always enjoyed movies set in LA and Hollywood. Musicals have also always been my guilty pleasure genre. La La Land combined both of these things in a more successful way than Hail, Caesar – another recent film about Hollywood that featured some musical numbers. Lastly, I loved all the homages in La La Land, especially, the Rebel Without a Cause recreation.

Thematically, the film was also quite good. The character development was great as well – the two leads appeared as fully rounded and real characters. I saw some complaints saying that the lead female character was really unlikeable. To my mind, firstly, the characters don’t necessarily have to be likable to interesting. Secondly, I thought that not only the female lead but the male lead had some qualities that made them unlikeable. Besides, real people aren’t always likable too, so why should then the movie characters be over-idealized versions of us? I though that the main pair’s relationship had its ups and downs and that both individuals involved were damaged as well as rewarded by it. She might not have gotten to fulfill her dreams without him but neither would he have reached his goals without her. Not surprisingly, one of my favorite scenes from the writing perspective was their argument over dinner – it had great timing and a lot of emotional weight. Overall, I did enjoy the message of the film, so dream big because somebody has to.

Directing

For the most part, I really enjoyed La La Land’s directing. I loved the mixture of the long tracking shots and the speedy montages. I liked the upbeat energy of it, the dreamy atmosphere, the colorful pallet as well as the beautiful settings and the whole mise-en-scene. However, I think that the picture’s pace was a bit uneven and that the film was a tiny bit too long.

My biggest problem with La La Land was the fact that the movie was confused about its genre. Maybe this was an intentional decision and if so, I don’t think that this particular blend of genres worked. La La Land, at times, was a realistic, grounded, quite modern film, close to a drama. However, a few scenes later, it would very much remind of a filmed theater performance – the levels of overdramatization would go through the roof. This would happen a lot during the musical numbers, which sometimes made the movie seem like a live TV special, like Grease: Live! and Hairspray: Live! I wish the filmmakers would have picked one direction and followed it: either make La La Land into a fully modern or a fully traditional musical.

So, even though La La Land didn’t reach the quality of Singing in the Rain, it still had some pretty enjoyable sequences. A couple of my favorites were all the times when Ryan Gosling’s character played the main theme of the film. I also really like Gosling’s and Stone’s interaction during the ‘I ran’ performance. The dream sequence was also lovely and looked visually stunning. I liked The Messengers’ gig scene too. However, my favorite sequence was the dance with the city’s skyline in the background. 

Music

Justin Hurwitz was responsible for the soundtrack and I think he did a neat job. Although I’m not the biggest fan of jazz, I did appreciate its tunes and all the nostalgia surrounding them in this film. Other songs were beautiful as well but not catchy in that pop-music kinda way. Nevertheless, City of Stars is a magnificent song.

Acting

Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone made for a great lead duo. Their chemistry was amazing as usual, as this was not the first time they worked together – they have also started in Crazy, Stupid, Love (one of my favorite romantic comedies) and a passable thriller Gangster Squad. Both of the actors did a good job with their singing – theirs were not the best singing performances I’ve seen in a film but they weren’t the worst either. I absolutely loved the dancing, though. I don’t know if the two of them are going to win any big awards in the acting category but I could definitely spot a few scenes that were included in their awards reels. For Gosling, it could have been any of the piano playing scenes, while for Stone it was most likely the audition storytelling/singing sequence.

A few of my favorite Stone’s film are Easy A, Magic in the Moonlight, Irrational Man, and Birdman. Going forward, she has a sport’s comedy Battle of the Sexes listed for next year. Gosling’s best film are Blue Valentine, Drive, The Big Shortand The Nice Guys. He will star in the Blade Runner sequel next year.

The film’s supporting cast didn’t have much to do in the film, but I’d like to mention two individuals who stood out. First one was, of course, well-known singer John Legend – has was great. The second one – J.K.Simmons – it was nice of him to cameo in a different movie by Chazelle as Whiplash earned Simmons an Academy Award and it was nice of Chazelle to include him in the film for the same reason.

To conclude, La La Land was a gorgeous looking film with a nice story, lovely performances, and great music. However, I can’t recommend it as a must-watch as I think that only a very open minded audience would enjoy it. With musicals, like this one, you just have to go with everything and do not find the random bursting out into song moments awkward or uncomfortable.

Rate: 4/5

Trailer: La La Land trailer

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