5 ideas about a movie: Gringo

Movie reviews

Hello!

Welcome to a review of a film that looked fun but disposable from the trailers and turned out to be exactly that. In fact, it was so disposable that I forgot to write its review for two weeks. This is Gringo!

IMDb summary: GRINGO, a dark comedy mixed with white-knuckle action and dramatic intrigue, explores the battle of survival for businessman Harold Soyinka when he finds himself crossing the line from a law-abiding citizen to a wanted criminal.

  1. Gringo was written by Anthony Tambakis (the writer of Warrior and Jane Got a Gun and the future Suicide Squad 2) and Matthew Stone (a writer of some fairly small and unknown comedies). The writing for the movie was really disappointing because the film was both convoluted (an actual clusterfu*k) and not that interesting (which is an ever worse quality that being messy). The movie also tried having some profound message but it just ended up having way too many metaphorical monologues about animals (gorillas and bears) that made absolutely no sense.
  2. It also tried preaching the idea of remaining a good person but didn’t deliver on that message at all. I mean, at least practice what you preach. Speaking of fun – this movie, being part comedy, had no real humor or any jokes that were actually funny. It was just so bland and stale.
  3. Gringo was directed by stuntman-turned-director Nash Edgerton (yes, he is the brother of Joel Edgerton, the actor). I was fairly disappointed with his second solo directorial outing. For an action comedy movie, the movie really lacked action. It only really turned up the excitement in the last 20 minutes and then quickly lost it. Also, the film tried going for craziness but the problem is that that craziness lacked any entertainment value.
  4. The end of the movie was also super bizarre. Gringo tried going for a cheeky 4th wall break and ended up falling flat on its face as that nod to the audience made no sense in the context of the movie. Moreover, by that point in the runtime, the viewers were already so checked out that they didn’t care at all what the movie was doing. Basically, Gringo was definitely not worthy of a cinema screen and I wouldn’t even recommend it as a rental/streaming movie. It was a B movie at best. More like an F, though.
  5. Gringo assembled a great and unworthy cast full of talent way too big for this movie. But, I guess everyone needs to pay bills (can you hear the chorus sing the words *paycheck gig* in the distance?). David Oyelowo and Joel Edgerton (Red Sparrow, Bright, Loving, Midnight Special, Black Mass) were both fine, though, their characters were really unappealing. Charlize Theron (Mad Max, The Huntsman, FF8, Atomic Blonde) was stuck playing a very old-school female character (oversexualized for the wrong reasons), while Amanda Seyfried had little to nothing to do in the film. Wait, scratch that, Westworld’s Thandie Newton was the one who had absolutely nothing to do in the movie. Lastly, Sharlto Copley (Free Fire, Hardcore Henry) played his usual type of character – kooky and quirky.

In brief, Gringo was an action comedy with no action or humor.

Rate: 2.2/5

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5 ideas about a movie: Free Fire

Movie reviews

Hello!

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

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

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

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

Rate: 4.5/5

Trailer: Free Fire trailer

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Movie review: The Girl on The Train

Movie reviews, Uncategorized

Hello!

The highly awaited adaptation of the best-selling thriller has finally reached cinemas, so let’s talk about it! This is the review of The Girl on The Train.

IMDb summary: A divorcee becomes entangled in a missing person’s investigation that promises to send shockwaves throughout her life.

The Girl on The Train is an adaptation of the book with the same name, written by journalist-turned-writer Paula Hawkins and published in January of 2015. It has taken Hollywood only around a year and a half to come up with the cinematic version of the same story. The book has been compared to Gone Girl – famous novel by Gillian Flynn (another former journalist, now a published author), but I would also suggest you check out the other two Flynn’s books – Sharp Objects and Dark Places – if you liked The Girl on The Train. J.K.Rowling’s first adult novel – The Casual Vacancy – might also be of some interest to you, as it explores similar topics to The Girl on The Train, namely the idea of the domestic affairs and the concept of the outside image. Another analogous book about a dysfunctional family that is on my to-read list is The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo and all its sequels.

To me, the dichotomy of private and public life was one of the most interesting aspects of the source material. The novel also appealed to my inner stalker – I, as the main character Rachel, like to watch strangers around me and imagine their lives or imagine myself in their place. I guess that tells you something about my less-than-stable mental state. I promise I’m not a drunk, though.

Last year, both Gone Girl and Dark Places have been adapted to films and The Girl with The Dragon Tattoo has been turned into a couple of movies (both in Sweden and the US) and I’m sure that the adaptation of The Girl on The Train will be compared to all of them. Some will even go as far as to compare it to Hitchcock’s classics, which isn’t really fair, in my opinion. But, enough of the introduction, let’s get into the actual review of the picture.

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!SPOILER ALERT!

Writing

The Girl on The Train’s script was written by Erin Cressida Wilson. She penned last year’s Men, Women & Children – the only recent film with Adam Sandler that I didn’t hate – I actually even enjoyed it. As per usual, some of the details of the story were changed when adapting the narrative. To begin with, the action was relocated from London to New York for no obvious  creative reason, other than to appeal more to the American audiences. I would have preferred it to be set in England – the gloomy and rainy London would have fit the story more than the city who never sleeps – NY. The screenwriter also cut a few of the creepier details that were in the book, namely a couple of messed up sex scenes. She also gave more traits to some characters: Rachel liked to draw and we actually saw her go to an AA meeting and Megan liked to go on runs. Cathy’s character was altered a bit too, while the character of Martha was an original creation for the picture. The role that the media played in the murder mystery was also diminished in the film.

Other than that, the characters pretty much stayed the same – they were all damaged people, some for a reason, others – without explanation. Then again, some people just are the way they are and there is no deeper tale behind their personality. Rachel basically was digging a hole for herself throughout the film, Megan was playing with fire and got burnt, and don’t even get me started on Anna – she was so willing to turn a blind eye to everything that she kinda made me sick. The 2 male character got a bit less of development but they were both kinda similar – abusive in one way or the other to some extent. Inspector Riley’s character was actually better in the film than in the book – she was super annoying in the novel and actually quite efficient and clever in the film, though she still went after a wrong person.

The narrative was more compressed in the movie than in the book, but all the main themes stayed the same: the desire to create a family was still the most driving plot point of the story (so stereotypical and one that I cannot understand or agree with, then again, I’ve never been family-orientated and this story only reassured my beliefs) and the private life and the public exterior were juxtaposed. The characters looked at each other for an ideal example and lived in a past way too much. The movie also showed the complexity and the dark side of relationships and love and looked at a very important aspect of the modern life – mental problems and depression.

Directing

Tate Taylor, whose previous films include The Help and Get on Up, directed The Girl on The Train and did a fine job. The camera was a bit static, but the visuals of the train in the background of various shots were nice. All the close-ups also worked to make the movie a bit more intimate experience. And yet, the film was quite slow and the numerous flashbacks didn’t really allow the story to go forward – it seemed like something was holding the movie back. The levels of intensity were also low and the buildup to the big twist was basically non-existent. Nevertheless, I did enjoy the big reveal even if I knew it beforehand. I wish that particular sequence would have been longer, though – the picture wrapped up really quickly when the real killer was announced to the audience and the characters. Overall, the directing was a bit flat and I wish Taylor would have done more with the material.

Music

The movie’s soundtrack by Danny Elfman wasn’t really noticeable (which sometimes is a good thing). I liked the instrumental score but wished they used more actual songs. For one, I really liked the trailer’s song Heartless and that comes from a person who highly dislikes Kanye West.

Acting

  • Emily Blunt (Edge of Tomorrow, Into the WoodsSicarioThe Huntsman) as Rachel Watson was absolutely amazing. She played such a believable drunk person – her performance was never over-the-top or too cartoonish. She basically carried this whole movie by herself and I really wish that her work in this film would be recognized with at least a Golden Globe nomination. Her 2 upcoming film are both animated but I’m sure that we will soon get a few announcements about her being cast in some live-action flicks.
  • Haley Bennett (Hardcore Henry) as Megan Hipwell was also really good. She reminded me a bit of both Jennifer Lawrence and Rosamund Pike. Furthermore, Bennett’s acting range is amazing – the character of Megan was completely different from her last cinematic character in The Magnificient Seven. Would love to seem more of her work.
  • Rebecca Ferguson (MI5, Florence Foster Jenkins) as Anna Watson was also great. While reading the book, I really disliked Anna and thought she acted a bit creepy and Ferguson portrayed that well.
  • Justin Theroux as Tom Watson. Theroux played a good villain – that of the worst kind. He seemed to be a good husband and father on the outside, but deep down was a manipulative liar, who managed to believe his own lies, and had no regard for other people’s mental or physical lives. While reading the book, I guessed that he was the killer when I still had around 50 pages left to the big reveal. He just seemed too normal to be a character in the book full of broken people. Going forward, Theroux will be voicing a lord in The Lego Ninjago Movie
  • Luke Evans (The Hobbit trilogy, Dracula Untold, High-Rise) as Scott Hipwell was fine in the role. I kinda feel like he was used as an eye candy for the first half of the film, though. He only said his first line in the 45th minute of the film (I checked). Nonetheless, his few emotional scenes with Blunt were my favorite parts of the movie. His next film is the live-action remake of Beauty and the Beast, which I’m super excited about!
  • Allison Janney as Detective Sgt. Riley was really good. Janney’s performance made me like the character of Riley much more than I did in the book. Coincidentally, I only just saw another film with her – she had a small role in Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children.
  • Édgar Ramírez (Joy, Point Break) as Dr. Kamal Abdic was fine. He was clearly not Bosnian (that was a big deal in the book) but they still tried to mention his ethnicity in the film which didn’t work. In the book, he was the survivor/refugee of the Yugoslavian wars and this impacted the media’s perception of him as the supposed killer. In the film, they just had Rachel throw the line ‘Where are you from?’ as a possible nod to his background in the book, but that didn’t really work.

In short, The Girl on The Train was an okay movie. The strongest part of it was the acting, while the directing and the writing had to take the back seat. It is not a must watch, but the fans of the book, as well as those who like character/actor-driven films, should check it out.

Rate: 3.5/5

Trailer: The Girl on The Train trailer

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Movie review: The Magnificent Seven

Movie reviews

Hello!

After reviewing a contemporary Western last week (Hell or High Water), today, I turn my attention to the one set in the past – 19th century’s Wild West, to be specific. Let’s discuss The Magnificent Seven.

IMDb summary: Seven gunmen in the old west gradually come together to help a poor  village against savage thieves.

Antoine Fuqua’s The Magnificent Seven, in terms of both the name and the plot, reminds me of a different recent Western from another accomplished director – of course, I’m talking about Tarantino’s The Hateful EightSadly, that awful Adam Sandler movie The Ridiculous Six also sneaks into my mind. What is up with these names, Hollywood?

2016’s The Magnificient Seven is a remake of the 1960s movie with the same (which, in turn, was a remake of a 1954 Japanese picture Seven Samurai – haven’t seen either of them but plan on watching both). Weirdly, it is not getting almost any hate in comparison to the recent Ben-Hur movie, which was also a remake of the 60s classic. Maybe who is involved in front and behind the camera has something to do with it – Seven has a lot more big name talent attached to it than Ben-Hur.

SPOILER WARNING

Writing: story and character development

The Magnificent Seven’s screenplay was written by an interesting duo: Nic Pizzolatto – the creator of True Detective – and Richard Wenk – writer of such mediocre-ish films like The Expendables 2 and The Mechanic and some better flicks, like his previous collaboration with FuquaThe Equalizer (he is writing that film’s sequel as well). Wenk has also penned Jack Reacher: Never Go Back script – that picture is coming out next month.

I quite enjoyed the story they created for this movie. The narrative was a bit by-the-numbers and predictable – Westerns all tend to have a similar plot – but it was executed quite well. The set-up was clear and efficient and the unfolding resolution worked as well. The movie was a bit uneven in that it had some filler material in between the action pieces. Some of that material was interesting, other – less so, but it was worth to sit through because the action sequences were amazing. I also liked the fact that the story had real consequences and not everyone lived happily ever after when it was all said and done.

The character development was also sufficient. I feared that due to a big number of characters, The Magnificent Seven would suffer from the same thing that undercut Suicide Squad’s success, however, I felt that Pizzolatto and Wenk provided all the characters with a lot more moments of personal development than Ayer did for DC anti-heroes. Some characters could have been developed more – there is always room for improvement – but I felt that the things we did get worked better than I expected them too. In general, all the main heroes of the film were not good people but the screenwriters did make them likable and did made believe that these 7 people could bond in a fairly short amount of time.

Denzel Washington’s and Chris Pratt’s characters received the most scenes. Denzel’s character was nicely set-up as the leader and his personal agenda was quite a neat surprise at the end. Pratt’s character’s role as the prankster of the group was cool – his jokes and comic relief helped to ease the tension. The two characters that were the most compelling to me were played by Ethan Hawke and Byung-hun Lee – I liked their comradeship and backstory and I also felt that they had the best dialogues. Hawke’s character’s paranoia and war guilt was really fascinating part of the film, although, his actions at the end (leaving and coming back) were quite predictable, but I guess this type of character arc (fighting one’s inner guilt) has to end in that particular way.  Vincent D’Onofrio’sManuel Garcia-Rulfo’s and Martin Sensmeier’s characters were a bit one-dimensional (the weird outcast, the Mexican, and the Native American) but they did serve their purpose and nicely rounded up the group.

The writing for the main villain of the film was good too – I liked the fact that he was a corrupt businessman, who took the ideas of capitalism a bit too close to heart. The main (and only, really) female character also had a nice story of revenge/righteousness and I especially liked the detail that she was an active member of the fight, not just a damsel in distress.

Directing: visuals and action

Antoine Fuqua is an accomplished director in Hollywood, though he hasn’t made than many films. The Magnificent Seven is his 11th feature film (though other prominent Hollywood directors have made even less – Tarantino have only released 8, while Nolan – 9 pictures, so I guess quality and talent are way more important than quantity when it comes to directing). My favorite Fuqua’s films are King Arthur and Southpaw, while The Magnificent Seven is taking the 3rd spot. I really liked all the action – both the shoot-outs on the ground and on the horses (really want to ride a horse after watching the picture). I admire all the beautiful locations, the wild nature, and the empty valleys. The camera work (cinematography by Mauro Fiore) was excellent too: the close-ups really helped with the suspense, while the long tracking shots of people riding through frames (in color or in the shadow) were neatly used for transition. In addition, I enjoyed how the final stand-off of the film happened in the same place where everything had started – the church and its yard. The religious symbolism was also fitting, especially for the setting of 19th century US. Lastly, the instrumental score (music by James Horner and Simon Franglen) was excellent, while the credits rounded up the film beautifully.

Acting

  • Denzel Washington as Sam Chisolm was quite good. This wasn’t his best performance, but he worked well in the role. I liked how his character was introduced – we saw his guns before we saw his face. After working with Fuqua on 3 films already, Washington will re-team with the director for The Equalizer’s sequel – filming is supposed to start next year.
  • Chris Pratt as Josh Farraday was also great – he was really charismatic and pulled off the jokes and the teases nicely. This was his follow-up to the uber successful Jurassic World and he did not disappoint me. I cannot wait for his upcoming films as well – Passengers just debuted its trailer and will be released during Christmas, while Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 will roll into theaters next summer.
  • Ethan Hawke as Goodnight Robicheaux was amazing too. I liked seeing Hawke, together with Denzel, in a Fuqua movie – reminded me of the Training Day days. Goodnight was kinda the voice of reason/rationality in the group – and Hawke just really knows how to nail this type of role. I’ve seen a lot of his films but my favorite still remains the Before trilogy. He will star in Luc Besson’s Valerian next year.
  • Vincent D’Onofrio as Jack Horne was interesting and weird. The harsh outside look of his character really came into contrast with his inner softness and that squeaky-ish voice. I needed some time to get used to the voice, actually. I enjoyed seeing D’Onofrio in big Hollywood picture and I also think that he deserves to get a lot more prominent roles in mainstream films because he is a very good actor – if you need proof, watch Daredevil.
  • Byung-hun Lee as Billy Rocks and Manuel Garcia-Rulfo as Vasquez were also great. I liked how one was very calm and collected and the other kinda a hot-head. I am not really familiar with their previous work but would love to see more of them. 
  • Martin Sensmeier as Red Harvest was my favorite supporting character/actor. I loved his look and the fact that he had a traditional bow in a gunfight. I would really like to see some more films about/involving Native Americans, any suggestions?
  • Peter Sarsgaard played Bartholomew Bogue – the villain of the film. I liked how both menacing and cowardly he was. The actor also did a very good job of showing his character’s fear with his eyes. Recently, Sarsgaard had roles in films like Blue Jasmine, Pawn Sacrifice, and Black Mass. He will also be in the awards’ contender Jackie later this year.
  • Haley Bennett as Emma Cullen was also really good. I have only seen her in Hardcore Henry, where she didn’t have much to do, so I was pleasantly surprised by her performance in this film. She pulled off her action scenes and the emotional sequences really well and will also star in The Girl on The Train in a few weeks.
  • Matt Bomer (Magic Mike, The Nice Guys) and Luke Grimes (American Sniper, Fifty Shades) also had small roles and did a fine job. In was nice to see Bomer in another flick – don’t know why he doesn’t get more role as he is really good at what he does. Grimes has two Fifty Shades movies coming up but I don’t think that hs character will get much to do in them.

In short, The Magnificent Seven was a well-made and nicely-acted typical Western. It was entertaining and intense and had an amazing and diverse cast. However, the narrative did lack originality.

Rate: 3.75/5

Trailer: The Magnificent Seven trailer

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Movie review: Ben-Hur

Movie reviews

Hello!

Welcome to one of the last movie reviews of this summer. This time, we are discussing a film that was mostly panned by critics and was almost completely forgotten by the audiences – Ben-Hur.

IMDb summary: Judah Ben-Hur, a prince falsely accused of treason by his adopted brother, an officer in the Roman army, returns to his homeland after years at sea to seek revenge but finds redemption.

2016’s Ben-Hur is the 5th Ben-Hur picture in the last 100 years. This story is quite old, both literately and figuratively. Not only is the plot set in the ancient times, but the original source material – a book by Lew Wallace titled Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ – has been published at the end of 19th century. While I usually enjoy epic and historical movies, their religious aspects tend to be a hit and miss for me. I wasn’t the biggest fan of Noah and, while Exodus seemed like a fun action adventure, its casting had a lot of problems. Don’t even get me started on Gods of Egypt. The mosts successful religious movie to date is probably The Passion of The Christ, but other than that, religious action features are a hard sell for Hollywood. I’ve also personally noticed that I more interested in movies about pagans rather than any monotheistic religions.

Speaking about Ben-Hur – it is not as bad as everyone is telling you. It has problems, like any other film, but it also a fun adventure with some religious ideas that sometimes stick and sometimes don’t. I wish that the audiences wouldn’t have given up on it without even giving it a chance. At this point, I should also probably note that I haven’t seen any other Ben-Hur pictures because I wanted to allow this movie to stand on its own. I haven’t read the book either, but I’m strongly considering doing that, as I did enjoy the film overall.

Writing

Ben-Hur’s screenplay was penned by Keith Clarke and John Ridley. Ridley has an Academy Award for writing 12 Years a Slave, while Clarke is not that accomplished – he has mostly worked on documentaries until now. For the most part, I really liked the writing for this film. I thought they did a good job with the development and likeability of the two leads – you could actually understand both of their arguments. The supporting characters could have received a few more scenes, but the lack of development for them didn’t bother me much. The dialogue, the catchphrases as well as the repeatable lines that the characters would spit out to each other were all cool and worked well in the picture.

My biggest problems with the story were all related to the set- up also known as the first act. Messala’s decision to leave seemed a bit rushed – I would have like to see more of him and Judah as kids or teenagers. The parts of the story leading up to the big betrayal/accusation were also wonky – the film was going all over the place and seemed to be both rushing and dragging at the same time. However, with the beginning of the second act, which I thought was that sequence with Judah on the ship, the movie really found its footing. It had a clear direction and a cohesive, simple but interesting main storyline.

Ben-Hur also had nice topical ideas. It cleverly contrasted the ideology of Rome ‘let’s spread civilization through violence’ with the teachings of Jesus, which were all about the compassion, peace, and solidarity. The whole biblical ending seemed a bit weird and out of place, especially after that big action sequence, however, I do understand why it had to be there – they wanted to end the film with a positive message of forgiveness instead of the celebration of revenge. It was a truly happy ending in a classical Hollywood fashion.

Directing

Timur Bekmambetov, the director of Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter and the producer of Hardcore Henry, directed Ben-Hur and did quite a nice job. Yes, some scenes were a bit overdramatized, but the ship sequence, as well as the final race, were both awesome. The whole setting and vibe of the film reminded me of HBO’s Rome, while the chariot race gave me flashbacks to a similar sequence in a French family film – Asterix at the Olympic Games. Ben-Hur’s CGI was also quite good – I have seen worse effects in the movie that cost even more to make. The credits of the film were also quite cool – those graphics were interesting and fit the movie perfectly.

Acting

The film didn’t have any really big name talent involved, so maybe that’s why the audiences passed it by. The most prominent name actor of the cast was probably Morgan Freeman (Now You See Me)  – he looked ridiculous with those dreads but worked well in the role of the mentor.

The two leads were played by Jack Huston as Judah Ben-Hur and Toby Kebbell as Messala. The two of them were great in the roles, both in the dramatic and action sequences. Their chemistry was also believable. Huston is mostly known for starring in Boardwalk Empire, but he also had roles in American Hustle and Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. Kebbell has started in a few big films but without showing his face – he played Koba in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, starred as Doctor Doom or at least Fox’s version of that character in Fantastic Four and was the actor behind the main Orc character in the Warcraft movie. Coming up, he has Kong: Skull Island.

The supporting cast consisted of Iranian actress Nazanin Boniadi as Esther, Ben-Hur’s love interest; Brazilian actor Rodrigo Santoro as Jesus; and Israeli actress Ayelet Zurer as Naomi, Ben-Hur’s mother. I love the fact that the casting director at least tried to make the movie more international and introduced me and other Western viewers to some new talent, although, Zurer should be quite familiar to us all – she plays Kingpin’s love interest on Daredevil. Two Americans – Sofia Black D’Elia as Tirzah and Moisés Arias (who is still stuck in the Hannah Montana times in my mind) as Gestas – rounded up the cast and also did a good job.

In short, Ben-Hur was a solid picture that exceeded my expectations. It needed some time to get into the right path but when it did – it was great! The story was interesting, the two leads were complex characters, brought to life by two amazing actors and the action didn’t suck either.

Rate: 3.5/5

Trailer: Ben-Hur trailer

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Movie review: Zootopia

Movie reviews

Hello!

Welcome to my last post in the series ‘Movie Reviews of the 2016’s films I’ve missed’. I have already discussed Hardcore Henry and Midnight Special. Today, I will be giving you my thoughts on Zootopia – that Pixar film made by Disney.

IMDb summary: In a city of anthropomorphic animals, a rookie bunny cop and a cynical con artist fox must work together to uncover a conspiracy.

Writing and Themes

Zootopia’s screenplay was written by Jared Bush (has worked on Big Hero 6 and Moana) and Phil Johnston (wrote Wreck-It Ralph), however, a bunch of people have contributed to the story, including Zootopia’s directors, former The Simpson’s director Jim Reardon and even Frozen’s Jennifer Lee among others. Thankfully, this was not the case of ‘too many cooks in the kitchen make a horrible meal’ but a complete opposite. Zootopia’s story was simple yet sophisticated and the concepts that were discussed in this supposedly kids’ movie – very adult and nuanced. The film reminded me a bit of Inside Out – that children’s movie also tackled big and serious issues.

Zootopia had a strong message about the importance of tolerance, knowledge and open-mind and showed the true awfulness of prejudice, bullying, violence, racism, and sexism. It also tackled the question of biological divide through the prey vs. predator metaphor. Zootopia portrayed the consequences of letting the biological divide become a social one and provided nice commentary on issues such as genders norms, racial, financial and religious differences. Other opposing ideas that were touched upon were conservativism vs. liberalism, idealism vs. reality, nature vs. nurture and us vs. them. The line ‘we might have evolved but we are still animals’ was an extremely telling and truthful commentary on the animalistic side of humans – I’m really happy that Zootopia’s creators were not afraid to be so blunt. In additiom., the film also encouraged its viewers to believe in themselves, to fight the self-doubt, to dream and to work towards their goals, to learn from their mistakes, to never quit and prove the nay-sayers wrong. Moreover, Zootopia showed that revenge is never an answer. Lastly, the film had a nice conclusion and wrapped up nicely – the final message that life is complicated and messy but still beautiful was a really good way to end the picture.

Zootopia also had a very strong writing for all its characters. The different species represented different types of people and the choices of species were simultaneously stereotypical and subversive. The two main characters were also very relatable. I could relate to Officer Judy Hopps on a personal level, like, I’m sure, many millennials with big dreams could, but I also understood and appreciated the sarcasm and the irony of Nick Wilde, the fox.

The picture also had amazing jokes and references. ‘Don’t call a bunny cute’ line was perfect and the extended scene with The Godfather was unbelievable. Breaking Bad reference was neat too.  The joke with the sloths was also nice as well as that moment with Nick and Assistant Mayor, a.k.a. the sheep. In general, Zootopia had a lot of funny situations that were organic. The jokes were never pushed too far but happened naturally.

Zootopia, the movie, reminded me of my favorite childhood book What do people do all day?by Richard Scarry. It’s a picture book with some lines of dialogue – probably closest to a comic but not fully a comic. Anyway, What do people do all day? shows simple activities being carried out by various animals. That book is used to introduce kids to different careers and it used to be favorite read from ages 5 till 10. I still like to flick through it when I’m feeling nostalgic.

Directing and Animation

Zootopia was directed by Byron Howard (directed Bolt and Tangled, animated Mulan, Brother Bear and Lilo&Stitch) and Rich Moore (directed Wreck-It Ralph). The two directors, as well as all the Disney’s animators, did a wonderful job. The graphics of the landscapes and the character design were marvelous and realistic. The action – exciting and that montage of Hopps arriving in Zootopia – a perfect locational step up. The attention to detail was also spectacular. For example, Hopps was using her iPhone’s (iCarrot’s) flashlight like so many people do nowadays – this little detail made the film even more realistic and contemporary. I also enjoyed the usage of Shakira’s song Try Everything. It was fun and fit the film perfectly. Basically, I feel like Zootopia transcended the animation genre and was really good buddy-cop comedy and a crime drama that just happened to be animated.

I am really happy that this film was financially and critically successful. Critical success means that it will probably be awarded an Oscar or at least nominated for it. Financial success means that a lot of people saw the film, thus, a lot of people can learn from it – ‘Change starts with all of us’.

Voice Work

All of the members of the cast did a magnificent job. The voices fit the characters perfectly. The leads, Ginnifer Goodwin and Jason Bateman, had really good chemistry. Idris Elba as Chief Bogo was also really good – I could instantly tell that that was him. Lately, Elba has been doing a lot of voice work: he voiced characters in The Jungle Book and Finding Dory. The other standout was Nate Torrence as Officer Benjamin Clawhauser, an obese cheetah. I really liked his performance and the character in general.

In short, Zootopia was an amazing film that was gorgeous to look at, but also engaged the viewers intellectually by discussing important and serious, real-world topics. The voice work was also stellar. In general, it was such a cute film (although, never call a bunny cute if you’re a not bunny!)

Rate: 5/5

Trailer: Zootopia trailer

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Movie review: Hardcore Henry

Movie reviews

Hello!

I’m continuing my series of reviews of the 2016 films that I’ve missed and, this time, I’m giving you my thoughts on Hardcore Henry!

IDMb summary: Henry is resurrected from death with no memory, and he must save his wife from a telekinetic warlord with a plan to bio-engineer soldiers.

Throughout the years, Hollywood has adapted/used a lot of video game narratives (the latest example being the Warcraft film). However, Hardcore Henry is the first (as far as I know) feature film adaptation of the video game cinematography. Hardcore Henry was also made by two opposing countries – Russia and the US. I guess the foreign financial and creative influences on Hollywood come from more than just China.

Writing and Directing

The film was written and directed by a Russian filmmaker Ilya Naishuller. While he did manage to create a visually interesting and exciting product, plot-wise it was kinda boring.

The story and the characters

The film had a lot of exposition and a lack of information. The viewers were never told anything useful and I, personally, felt lost in the story. Henry was basically going from point A to B just because – like on a video game type of a mission. The narrative was confusing for Henry and for the viewer alike. The film also had a very stereotypical Russian aura/feeling. It was set in Russia and featured a lot of stereotypically Russian characters in the background – I don’t know why a Russian filmmaker would use these stereotypes to represent his country and Russian cinema to the world, but, then again, some Russian people are weirdly proud of their negative stereotype.

My favorite line in the film was spoken by the villain and it involved the subversion on US favorite pastime. The saying that in Russia, a lot of bats but no baseballs are sold was spot-on and really funny.

The film had a lot of weird characters. To begin with, Henry had a limited amount/no backstory. His metal arm (and leg) kinda reminded me of Marvel’s Winter Soldier. The fact that he needed re-charging was an interesting idea. The villain of the movie – Akan – was super weird. He had unexplained telekinesis powers and wanted an army of the super soldier just because. Another weirdo – Jimmy – felt like a caricature – his clones/multiple personalities seemed really strange and borderline stupid and the explanation didn’t satisfy me either. That musical number felt out of place and didn’t make much sense as well. Lastly, the wife reveal was not that great – I didn’t care enough about the characters to feel surprised or betrayed.

The visuals and the action

Hardcore Henry is really unique in that it was shot entirely from Henry’s POV (except for a single scene with the kids at the beginning that is repeated a few times). This type of cinematography is, of course, very reminiscent of video game gameplay. It also has similarities with the found footage films and their cinematography. While it was really cool to see a film shot entirely from a single perspective, it was also kinda disorientating. It worked at times – at the beginning, when Henry was waking up with no sound and disorientating visuals, the viewers felt like he/she was waking up in the film’s world as well. Nevertheless, an hour into the film, POV cinematography stopped being interesting and felt like a gimmick – nausea inducing gimmick.

The fact that the film only had  a single perspective, also meant that its frame was narrow and limited – if Henry was not looking at stuff, the viewers could not see it either. I also felt that the film was unnecessarily graphic, in its usage of both sexual and violent content.

A few positive things on the topic of directing: the opening red slow-mo visuals did look nice. The upbeat music during the fights was also fun. The last fight’s song – Queen’s Don’t Stop Me Now – was an appropriate and funky choice. Lastly, this whole film was shot with GoPros. The modern technologies continue to amaze me – the video quality of even the simplest contemporary cameras is unbelievable.

Acting

  • The cinematographers Sergey Valyaev and Andrei Dementiev, and the director Ilya Naishuller all played Henry. I would like to praise all of them for acting without showing their face – Hollywood actors would never do that (except Tom HardyBane, Mad Max) – they would like their face to be fully on-screen.
  • Sharlto Copley as Jimmy had a too over-the-top performance and made this parody of a character even more annoying.
  • Danila Kozlovsky as Akan was also too much like a cartoon character. He also kinda looked like Viserys from Game of Thrones S1. I have seen only one other film starring KozlovskyThe Vampire Academy – that picture was not great but better than the trailers advertised.
  • Haley Bennett as Estelle acted like a damsel in distress – a living prop. The only interesting scenes with her was the science stuff when Henry woke up.

In short, Hardcore Henry had style but lacked substance. If that is not a problem for you, you might enjoy the movie, but I wanted something more.

Rate: 2.7/5

Trailer: Hardcore Henry trailer

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Movie review: Midnight Special

Movie reviews

Hi!

Since there will be no new releases for a few weeks in the country that I’m currently staying (no big foreign releases – the distributors are pushing a domestic film that I have zero interest in) , I have decided to review a few films that I missed at the beginning of 2016 – Zootopia, Hardcore Henry, and Midnight Special. In this post, I will be taking about the last one on that list.

IMDb summary: A father and son go on the run, pursued by the government and a cult drawn to the child’s special powers.

Midnight Special is an original sci-fi drama. It is not an adaptation, a reboot or a sequel/spin-off. Original movies are unheard of in today’s Hollywood and even a few original films that we do get are usually not that great. However, Midnight Special is an exception – on top of being an original property, the picture is also interesting, intelligent and provides interesting commentary on faith, the people’s need for something to believe in, and the cult mentality. Sadly, despite having a tiny budget, it still did not earn it back.

The film was written and directed by Jeff Nichols who has previously done films like Mud and Take Shelter. This was his first studio production but it still felt like an independent picture.

Writing: The Narrative

The film’s story was kinda vague. It raised more questions than it answered. It didn’t even seem that the filmmaker knew the answers to the questions they were asking, but that also meant that the viewer could be more engaged – when there is no right answer, everyone can participate and be both right and wrong. The fact that nothing was explained fully also gave the film a scary and intense feeling/aura.

The themes explored in the film were the religion (why do we believe or don’t believe? what is the thing that we believe in? what is the power of our belief/disbelief?), home (why do we need to belong somewhere? do we find or create our homes? can you feel at home if you are different?) and family (what is the importance of the father-son relationship? can parents ever let their children go?). The film also explored various ways how people deal with stuff they don’t understand – by worshiping it, dismissing it or seeing it as a threat – fearing the unknown. The film also kinda disproved the notion that seeing is believing, because, at the end of the film, a lot of people saw that other world, but chose to disregard the information that their eyes received. The religious cult ideas also reminded me a bit of True Detective Season 1, which I started watching today.

Writing : The Characters + Acting

  • Michael Shannon as Roy Tomlin. This is the third collaboration for Shannon and Nichols. I did enjoy the conflict inside Roy – which force is stronger – his love for his son or his belief in smth greater? While Shannon did a good job playing a loving father, from the outside, he did come across as quite an unlikeable character. I wonder if a more likable, charismatic actor would have been a better choice. Recently, Shannon had a cameo in BvS.
  • Joel Edgerton as Lucas. The character of Lucas was a bit strange. I always wondered whether he had an ulterior motive or was he just along for a ride. He ended up being just a really good friend. His transition into the believer was also interesting and hopeful. Edgerton was recently in Black Mass and his next film is also a Jeff Nichols’s picture Loving.

I also liked the juxtaposition of Lucas and Roy. One was rational, another believed in supernatural. One followed science (‘he’s sick’), the other – faith (‘he’s meant for smth else’).

  • Kirsten Dunst as Sarah Tomlin. She was okay. She didn’t do much but just reacted to the events happening around her.
  • Adam Driver as Paul Sevier. He was excellent in the film. I’m so happy that he is Kylo Ren. In Midnight Special, he showed even more of his acting abilities and I loved his character arc. He went from a disbeliever to a believer, from being lost and out of his element to being basically an expert. On top of being in Star Wars, Driver will also start in Scorcese’s Silence.
  • Scott Haze as Levi. He did a good job. He wasn’t as great as Jacob Tremblay in Room, but still much better than other child actors I’ve seen. He had a really difficult job – to portray a child that is also a god-like figure. His demure look and an innocent way of acting were really appropriate choices.

Directing

I really appreciated the film’s visuals. The cinematography (by Adam Stone) was simple but refined. The color palette – similar to Gone Girl’s – interesting: cool blue, black and white tones with yellowed and golden details, shadowy or bright with white lights shots. The ambient music (by David Wingo) was also really effective. The pace of the film was also great – Nichols managed to create a slow picture that explores various themes but never drags or becomes boring. The subtle camera movements to reveal something were also great (especially the shot of the meteors falling behind the boy’s head).

The CGI was also pretty neat. It didn’t always look good – the meteor shower looked kinda fake, however, the otherworldly architecture was spectacular. Both realistic and majestic. It was not only visually pleasing but visually interesting – I noticed a lot of circular and round shapes and bent lines. With this kind of a budget, the CGI definitely looked better than I expected.

In short, Midnight Special was an impressive sci-fi film that was overlooked by the majority of cinema goers. It explored engaging topics and asked questions in a simple yet visually pleasing and interesting way.

Rate: 4/5

Trailer: Midnight Special trailer

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