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

kingsmanposter_0.jpg

Advertisements

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

MV5BMTYyODg0NDU1OV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNjcxMzU0MjI@._V1_.jpg

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 Snowpiercer a 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). Second, the action – 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!’s Tilda Swinton (once again, completely transformed for the dual role) and Life’s and Nocturnal Animal’s Jake Gyllenhaal (in an eccentric and cartoonish performance that still somehow worked) provided the support. Swiss Army Man’s Paul 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

18486350_1286934208069268_3997232685207402378_n.png

 

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

rough_night_ver12_xlg.jpg

 

 

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

Their-finest-Quad-poster.jpg

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

1.jpg

Movie review: Doctor Strange 

Movie reviews

Hello hello hello!

The newest Marvel film – Doctor Strange – has premiered in some places around the world, and since I’m lucky enough to live in one of the places that got the movie real early , I can already give you my thoughts on it! Since this review is ahead of the wide release of the film, some of it will be spoiler-free and then I’ll give a big spoiler warning for those who want and can continue to read further. Let’s go!

IMDb summary: A former neurosurgeon embarks on a journey of healing only to be drawn into the world of the mystic arts.

First, I will begin this review by stating that I’m a Marvel fangirl, so that could color my judgment (I would love to be a DC fangirl as well, it’s just that DC doesn’t allow me to be one yet – praying that Wonder Woman will be good). I have reviewed more than a couple of Marvel films already and gonna link them for those who are interested: Guardians of the Galaxy, Avengers 2, Ant-Man, Civil War.

Also, I would like to briefly mention that, once again, the screening that I attended had a predominately male audiences, like the majority of the comic book movie screening this past year. This kind of audience breakdown explains why Marvel doesn’t want to make a Black Widow movie but I do hope that Captain Marvel will bring more girls/women to the cinema.

I was really looking forward to Doctor Strange for quite a while, I was really excited to see magic being introduced into the MCU. I was also interested to see if Marvel Studios will be able to launch another successful franchise, which revolves around a weird character. So far, their gambles (Guardians and Ant-Man) have paid off, so Doctor Strange will probably follow suit, because, let me state this loud and clear – it is an amazing movie. I will go through the different aspect of the film in and give you an informative but a spoiler free overview. Then, I will give you a spoiler warning and talk about interesting story points. Lastly, although the first part of the review will be spoiler free (I’ll try my best), I would still advise you to read it at your own discretion. It’s gonna be a long post, so get some snacks or drinks.

Writing

A few people worked on the script as well as the story of the movie, including the director Scott DerricksonC. Robert Cargill (writer of the Sinister movies) and Jon Spaihts (wrote Prometheus and these upcoming pictures: PassengersThe Mummy and Pacific Rim: Maelstrom)I wasn’t that familiar with their previous work but they impressed me a lot with the story and dialogue of Doctor Strange. Although the movie’s narrative revolved around the origin story, it was executed really well, without making it cliche or stereotypical. The dialogue and the jokes were also marvelous. All of the comic relief worked and tied the movie to brand that is Marvel (in contrast to DC). The familiar types of jokes were a reassurance that one was watching a Marvel movie since the visuals were so unique, different and nothing I’ve seen before in a Marvel film, or in any film for that matter. The dialogue and the character interactions were snappy, emotional and clever. The seeds have also been sown for future sequels and the references to the wider universe (Avengers and Infinity Stones) were also present.

My only gripe with the writing was, and I cannot believe I’m saying this, the villains. AGAIN. Marvel, come on! Either cast more appropriate actors, or have better writing for your villains. Don’t get me wrong, they were not that bad, just not quite right and as high of a quality as the rest of the film.

Directing

Scott Derrickson, who has mostly worked on horror films, directed the movie and did a spectacular job. However, half of the praise should also go to the cinematographer Ben Davis (A Long Way DownGuardians, Age of UltronGenius), because the visuals of the movie were its strongest point. They are really hard to describe and deserve to be seen on the biggest screen possible.

Despite the visuals being indescribable, I will attempt to explain them somehow. Basically, all the warping and shaping of reality gives off feelings of madness and has a slight Mad Hater/Wonderland aura. All of the folding buildings do remind a bit of Inception, but I would also say that Doctor Strange takes this type of visuals to an extreme. The mirror effects, the kaleidoscopic folding, the clockwork-like structure and the domino-like movements really make the film a sight to behold and marvel at.

The variety of different locations were also really great – they added a global aspect to the film and even more flavor. I absolutely loved the fact that the Ancient One lived in Nepal – it kinda tied the sorcerers and magic to Buddhism and monks (at least that’s the connection I made in my mind). Doctor Strange was also one of the only films in which magic and the modern world worked well together because I usually enjoy fantasy films that are set in the past more, but this picture broke that tradition. The action was also great – the movie found a balance between physical and magical fights as well as their mixture.

Lastly, I loved all the costumes of all the characters, but especially Strange’s. His cape was wonderful – not only a costume but also a tool, a living tool – so cool! Other gadgets that he had were also neat and have a lot of merchandise potential (read the spoiler part to find out what I’m definitely buying).

On a separate note, Doctor Strange was the first movie to feature the new Marvel Studios logo. This one looks more cinematic than the last one and it also has a sense of nostalgia and grandeur – something along the lines of ‘oh, look how far we’ve come’.

Acting

  • Benedict Cumberbatch as Stephen Strange / Doctor Strange was AMAZING (probably have repeated this word like 100 times in this review). His American accent was believable and his whole portrayal of the character – impeccable. He made me both like and hate Strange at first. He was funny, funky, posh, annoying, charming and charismatic – such a well-rounded performance with layers. Another great casting on Marvel’s part, another great leading man. I also loved his purely physical acting – the hand movements. I liked how all the sorcerers were moving both their hands and arms. This makes their magic appear different from Scarlet Witch’s as she relies more on the finger movements. Also, I’ve mentioned that his character’s gadgets had a lot of merchandise potential. Well, for one, I want that dimensional travel ring since I wear a lot of nerdy jewelry. Also, his costume will probably be at the top of everyone’s cosplay list, while I can at least be happy that my winter coat is the same color as his cape. Recommended actor’s movies: Sherlock, The Imitation Game, Star Trek Into Darkness, Black Mass, The Fifth Estate, The Hobbit 2.
  • Tilda Swinton as the Ancient One was superb too. Some people were annoyed that they gender flipped the character, others had racial issues. I didn’t have any problems with Swinton being cast because I really admire her fluidity as an actress – she plays with masculine and feminine a lot and I think she could probably transform into a different ethnicity for art’s sake if that wasn’t so frowned upon these days. I’m not saying that Asian actors shouldn’t be cast in Asian roles, but I also cannot agree with those that are saying that creative liberties cannot be taken when adapting a comic book to the big screen. Recommended actor’s movies: We Need to Talk About Kevin, Only Lovers Left Alive, Snowpiercer, A Bigger Splash, Hail, Caesar!.
  • Rachel McAdams as Christine Palmer was excellent as well. I liked the fact that McAdams was finally cast as a franchise character because I’m a fan of her and would like to see more of her. I liked how she played probably the only normal person in the film and how she reacted to everything that was happening around her. She was both relatable and really funny. Recommended actor’s movies: Midnight in Paris, Southpaw, Spotlight.
  • Mads Mikkelsen as Kaecilius to me, sadly, was the weakest link in the cast. His performance seemed a bit off and I cannot pinpoint why. I’ve seen Mikkelsen play a wonderful and scary villain in Casino Royale, so I’m quite annoyed and devasted that he wasn’t as good in this picture as he could have been.Recommended actor’s movies: Casino Royale.
  • Chiwetel Ejiofor was exceptional as Karl Mordo. I loved how emotional his performance was, how it could go from extremely energetic to a very subtle in a heartbeat. Would love to see more of his character and cannot wait for him to be the villain in the sequel. Recommended actor’s movies: The Martian, 12 Years a Slave, Triple 9, Z for Zachariah.
  • Benedict Wong as Wong was really nice. I liked how funny he was but, at the same time, how he could hold his own against Cumberbatch’s Strange. I would love to see more of his character’s and Strange’s friendship because the two actors had great chemistry! Recommended actor’s movies: Prometheus, The Martian.

In short, Doctor Strange is another win for Marvel. The film successfully told an interesting origin story, introduced a bunch of characters and blew me away with the visuals. I’ll most likely see it again in a few weeks time.

Rate: 4.8/5

Trailer: Doctor Strange trailer

SPOILER DISCUSSION

In this part, I would like to talk about a few plot points as well as a few action sequences that really stuck a cord with me. To begin with, let’s look at the characters and their interactions. I loved the writing for Doctor Strange – he started as a super cocky yet efficient person and had an amazing story of hero’s growth. I really liked seeing him as a surgeon, just being in his element in contrast to him being completely lost and failing miserably during his magical training. Strange’s interactions with the other doctors as well as with Christine were also amazing: funny and kinda annoying but still enjoyable. I also thought that the love story worked and wasn’t forced. It seemed organic and was full of both bad times (the fight in the apartment – amazing back and forth dialogue) and nicer ones (Christine saving Strange’s life). I loved Strange’s relationship with his mentor – the Ancient One – too and I liked the pep-talk that she gave him before dying. I also enjoyed the ideas and lines that the scriptwriters wrote for her character, including ‘Not everything makes sense, not everything has to’. Strange’s and Mordo’s relationship was also interesting and had more than a few moments of foreshadowing. The biggest hint at what will happen in the future was, of course, the post-credits scene, in which Mordo was seen stealing powers from the other sorcerers. This probably means that he will be the main villain the sequel .

As I have said, the movie had plenty of jokes and quips. Some of the best ones came from Strange’s and Wong’s interactions: ‘Wang? Like Adele?…Or Aristotle?…Or Eminem?’; ‘Try me, Beyonce’, followed by a shot of Wang listening to the song Single Ladies; ‘People used to think I was funny. Did they work for you?’. The wifi moments from the trailer was still funny as well, despite the fact that I’ve seen it numerous times. The mid-credits scene’s self-refiling pint of beer was extremely entertaining too.

All of the action sequences were amazing and they were all also kinda distinct. Doctor Strange’s first encounter with the Astro plane was crazy – so cool and so mad.  That taster we got in Ant-Man was nothing compared to this. It got a bit creepy at times, though, especially with those tiny hands (Deadpool?!).  The fight in the Astro plane in the hospital was cool too and expanded on the idea that we are now dealing with multiple realities (that voltage and magic relation – great). Same with that mirror world – I liked the fact that we got to travel to it and through it quite a lot.

The time gem, which is the eye of Agamotto, really came into play in the last act of the film and was utilized well. I liked the turning back of time, the stopping time, the time loop and the breaking the laws of nature plot-points quite a bit.

The villains of the film were my biggest and only issue. The way that Dormammu was realized seemed a bit cliche and, for such a powerful being, he seemed to be defeated to easily. I hope he comes back in the sequel. The character of Kaecilius was only okay, while he could have been amazing. He had reasons to be angry and also had a kinda personal relationship to the Ancient One but he just didn’t seem to be used fully.

Moving forward, Doctor Strange will definitely show up in the Infinity War and his time gem will have to get stolen during the first part of the Avengers 3. The mid-credits scene with Thor might also be an indication Strange will show up in Thor Ragnarok – that would actually be really cool, would love to see Strange and Loki interacting!

So, that’s it for the spoiler part. I would love to hear what you liked and disliked about the movie in the comments!

Doctor-Strange-Poster.jpg

Movie review: War Dogs

Movie reviews

Hello!

Another buddy comedy has hit theaters, so let’s review it!

IMDb summary: Based on the true story of two young men, David Packouz and Efraim Diveroli, who won a $300 million contract from the Pentagon to arm America’s allies in Afghanistan.

War Dogs is kinda similar to the other to buddy comedies of this summer – The Nice Guys and Central Intelligence, in that they all have a contrasting duo in a lead. The film also shares some topical similarities (greed) with Pain & Gain and even The Wolf of Wall Street.

Writing

War Dogs was written by Stephen Chin, Todd Phillips, and Jason Smilovic, based on Guy Lawson’s book Arms and the Dudes, which was inspired by true events. The film’s narrative was fine – it had a few clever things to say about war, mainly, that was is an economy. It also explored the greed of people and portrayed it as the biggest flaw of humanity. Lastly, the movie touched upon the performative aspect of communication – War Dogs showed how specific individuals can read other people and modify their own manners and appearance to fit the vision that the others have of them.

The first act of the film felt a bit choppy – I couldn’t figure out where the story was going, but in the middle of the 2nd act, everything started to flow nicely. War Dogs also had a lot of narration and, while, to my mind, it worked well, to a lot of movie-goers it is a bad thing. The picture’s ending was a bit abrupt, though. I did not feel that there was a full resolution and I also thought that the two criminals got away way too easily.

Directing

Todd Phillips of The Hangover trilogy was at the helm of this picture and did a good job. War Dogs was quite a slow but really well made and entertaining film. I wanted to see a bit more action but I guess they decided to go the drama route and explore the relationship between the two characters. The intro montage set the stage for the upcoming story neatly and explained the premise clearly and concisely. I also liked the structure of the feature – how it was divided into a bunch of  vignette-like parts. The names of these vignettes, which were just random lines of dialogue, were also cool and perfectly summarized the main ideas of these specific pieces of the film. The soundtrack wasn’t bad either.

Acting

The two leads of the movie were played by Jonah Hill and Miles Teller. Their characters were both clever idiots, only Hill’s character was the more crazy and greedy one, while Teller’s character was presented as the protagonist, the everyday-man that the audiences are supposed to root for.

Hill was amazing as the selfish Efraim Diveroli, the only element of his performance that annoyed me slightly was that laugh. He played a similar character in the already mentioned The Wolf of Wall Street. In addition, Hill isn’t new to the buddy comedy genre – his big break was in Superbad (the teen comedy about two guys), while in the recent years he has returned to the genre with Changing Tatum and 21+22 Jump Street. Now, Hill replaced Tatum with Teller but, thankfully, Hill’s and Teller’s chemistry is as good if not better.

Miles Teller was also great in the role of David Packouz. I’ve told you numerous times that I’m a fan of his and was extremely soud after Fantastic Four turned out the way it did. I hope that Teller will start clicking with the audiences soon, because he is a really talented actor. If you don’t belive me, just watch Whiplash. He was also good in small comedies 21 and Over, Two Night Stand and That Awkward Moment. Going forward, Teller has a boxing movie coming up as well as a drama and an action flick. I don’t know if he will return to the Divergent franchise as the last installment of that series is still up in the air and will probably go to the TV.

An important supporting role was played by Bradley Cooper who also produced the picture. Cooper was fine in the movie but I was actually much more interested to find out that he produces basically all his big films like Silver Linings Playbook, American Hustle, and American Sniper. Going forward, he has a few voice roles for Marvel/Disney and Universal.

In short, War Dogs was a fine summer picture that had a great release date – if it would have come out earlier in the summer, it would have probably been burried underneath the big blockbusters. The film had okay directing and writing, while the standout feature of the movie were the performances of and the chemistry between the two leads.

Rate: 3,5/5

Trailer: War Dogs trailer

origin_bcb9266cc9db1e5baa1fbae054efc306.jpg

5 ideas about a movie: Cafe Society

Movie reviews

Hello!

The newest Woody Allen picture that hopes to be an awards’ contender has reached theatres, so let’s discuss it!

IMDb summary: In the 1930s, a young Bronx native moves to Hollywood where he falls in love with the secretary of his powerful uncle, an agent to the stars. After returning to New York, he is swept up in the vibrant world of high society nightclub life.

  1. Woody Allen’s filmography is extensive and impressive. I’ve mostly familiar with his latest European adventure films (Match Point, Scoop, Vicky Cristina Barcelona, Midnight in ParisYou Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger, To Rome With Love and Magic in the Moonlight which I reviewed when it came out in 2014) as well as his latest features set in The States (Blue Jasmine and Irrational Man which I’ve also reviewed). I also really want to watch some of his older classics, starting with Manhattan and Annie Hall. Speaking about his newest picture – Cafe Society – it is a Woody Allen film to the bone. In addition, if Hail, Caesar! was The Coen brothers’ love letter to Hollywood, then Cafe Society is Allen’s homage to the Golden Age of the movie capital as well as a subtle critique of it.
  2. Like always, Allen wrote the script for the movie himself. Once again, he explored his signature ideas, like love and romance, and asked the existential questions. He also invited the viewers to think what would have happened if the characters made different life choices. Looking at the format of the narrative, the film didn’t have a linear story. The plot consisted of character moments/scenes, which were connected with/through narration (done by Allen himself). Since the picture was partially set in Hollywood, it made a lot of movie references, which I, as a cinephile, appreciated. Cafe Society was kinda an absurd comedy but not a dark one – it was full of light, heartfelt satire. It also had an artsy and a dreamy aura about it with a touch of charm.
  3. Woody Allen used his signature camera movements and filming techniques to create this feature. Together with the famous Italian cinematographer Vittorio Storaro, Allen crafted beautiful steady shots that allowed the viewer to calmly appreciate the gorgeous mise-en-scene. The back and forth over the shoulder shots and wipe and fade away transitions brought a classical Hollywood narrative film feeling to the picture, while the tracking shots added some movement and energy. The framing of the picture was neat as well – I loved how the characters moved in and out of the frame and how the filmmakers played with on-and-off-screen spaces. My favorite scene of Cafe Society was Kristen Stewart’s and Steve Carell’s characters’ confrontation with interruptions – it was crafted magnificently and was not only entertaining and funny but emotional and meaningful. Lastly, the movie had Allen’s signature warm color palette and the lovely and quirky upbeat soundtrack.
  4. The two leads were played by Jesse Eisenberg and Kristen Stewart. This was their 3rd movie together (the first two were Adventureland and American Ultra). The pair had a very subtle chemistry which worked really well in a film like this. I enjoyed seeing Eisenberg in his usual role of an awkward yet adorable guy and did enjoy how he portrayed the character’s transition and growth. While I like Eisenberg the most in the roles likes this one and in films like The Social Network and Now You See Me, I also want to see him trying something different. I actually do want to see what will he do with the character of Lex Luthor as BvS ending was promising. Kristen Stewart was also really good in the film, she probably played her most feminine role yet which was quite interesting to observe. I was used to Stewart playing a rebel of some sorts like in Still Alice or Camp X-Ray.
  5. The supporting cast of the film did a great job as well. I was quite surprised to see Steve Carell (The Big Short) in the film but he was really good – he even made me, as a viewer, empathetic towards a kinda creepy character. Blake Lively was amazing in her small role too – her dazzling look and almost regal and sophisticated yet still flirty demeanor fit the setting of old Hollywood perfectly. I’m finally seeing her movie The Shallows next week. Jeannie Berlin was super funny – I loved how blunt her character was. Corey Stoll (Ant-Man, Black Mass) was also great and added some grunge to the overall glamorous picture. Anna Camp (Pitch Perfect) was also great with her laughing-through-tears scene.

In short, Cafe Society was another great film by Woody Allen. It is a must watch for all the fans of the auteur and I would also recommend it to all the fans of the Golden Age of Hollywood.

Rate: 4/5

Trailer: Cafe Society trailer

21-cafe-society.nocrop.w529.h835

5 ideas about a movie: Money Monster

Movie reviews

Hello!

Welcome to a review of one the smaller and more serious films of the summer – Money Monster.

IMDb summary: Financial TV host Lee Gates and his producer Patty are put in an extreme situation when an irate investor takes over their studio.

  1. Money Monter was written by a TV writer Alan Di Fiore, Jim Kouf, who has written a lot of independent films and Dear John’s writer Jamie Linden. This diverse group of screenwriters has crafted a really interesting narrative, full of amazing and intense dialogue. The story was simple enough to understand for those who don’t know anything about economics (me) and yet still complex, intense and exciting. The comic relief and the jokes were organic and not forced. The themes: ‘value of the human life’ (refusing to help Clooney by not buying the stocks), ‘the broken capitalism’ (‘business is just business’) and ‘life goes on’ (shot of the table football) were also interesting. The plot seemed to be of a very small scale,  but in truth, the overarching story was much bigger and broader. At the end of the film, it seemed that the notion that ‘the rich can get away with anything’ will be proved once again, but the inclusion of the online backlash really subverted this notion and made the movie more connected to the contemporary world.
  2. The film was directed by Jodie Foster, who went the Elizabeth Banks route – from acting to directing. But, to be fair, Foster started directing TV shows and movies way earlier than Banks – back in the 90s. However, then she took a couple of decades break from directing and only started getting behind the camera in the 2010s. She did a great job with Money Monster: the stakes felt high, the pace was fast and the visuals – colorful and unique. I also enjoyed the small time frame – the movies plot started and was resolved in a single day. In general, the film was well-constructed and a solid economic thriller – it actually felt like an action movie but made with dialogue instead of explosions. The end credits song – What Makes the World Go ‘Round (MONEY!) – was also really appropriate and a neat way to finish the film.
  3. I also really enjoyed seeing the behind the scenes or the production side of a TV program. I would like to be a producer or even a director one day and Money Monster showed how the professionals deal with difficult situations.
  4. Money Monster also had a great cast, full of accomplished actors: George Clooney (Hail, Caesar!, Tomorrowland), Julia Roberts, Jack O’Connell (Unbroken), Dominic West (Testament of Youth), Caitriona BalfeChristopher Denham, and Giancarlo Esposito (The Maze Runner). All of the actors performed their lines really well, especially Clooney, Roberts and O’Connell. O’Connell’s character acted believably desperate and Clooney’s and Robert’s snappy back-and-forth bickering was one of the best parts of the picture. The way Clooney’s character was trying to talk himself out of the situation was also pretty nice.
  5. If you  enjoyed Money Monster, a few films that I’d like to recommend are The Big Short – a really funny economic drama and The Ides of March – a political thriller, starring and directed by Clooney.

In short, Money Monster was interesting, intense, complex but easily understandable economic drama. The performances, as well as the directing, were both solid but the film’s writing was the best part of it.

Rate: 4/5

Trailer: Money Monster trailer

money-monster-poster.jpg