Movie review: Moana

Movie reviews

Hello!

The long awaited and newest Disney Princess movie – Moana – has reached theaters, so, let’s talk about it!

IMDb summary: In Ancient Polynesia, when a terrible curse incurred by Maui reaches an impetuous Chieftain’s daughter’s island, she answers the Ocean’s call to seek out the demigod to set things right.

Moana is, technically, a 13th Disney Princess film. It has been truly amazing to see how this brand evolved in the past 80 years. I feel that the biggest changes started with 2010’s Tangled and all the films following it have been adapting their stories and characters to fit the contemporary world and I’m excited to see what will Disney do next.

Moana is also Disney’s return to musicals, since Frozen 3 years ago. Can Moana’s soundtrack replicate the success of Frozen’s soundtrack? It is gonna be a bit harder for Moana, as this year, we already had one fairly successful animated musical – Trolls – and we also have another one coming up – Sing.

Lastly, Moana is Disney’s attempt at presenting an indigenous – Polynesian culture – to the global market. Thier last attempt at this with Pocahontas wasn’t the most successful, but I think that Disney learned from their mistakes. They went an extra mile to cast voice actors from appropriate backgrounds and also employed anthropologists to help portray Polynesian culture as accurately as possible. As a student of anthropology and a lover of films, I found that fascinating – maybe this can be my job in the future?

Moana’s story also appealed to me on two personal levels. First of all, I, as a longtime professional(-ish) swimmer, sometimes do feel better in the water than on land, so I loved seeing Moana’s connection to the ocean. Secondly, Moana reminded me of two different books that I read as a kid that both revolved around islands and island culture. One of them was Whale Rider (1987) by Witi Ihimaera about a Maori girl and her journey to becoming her clan’s chief. The other was called Island of the Blue Dolphins (1960) by Scott O’Dell about a Native American girl who gets stranded on an island near California. Both books have been turned into movies, in 2002 and 1964 respectively.

Writing and Story

Jared Bush, who has previously worked on Big Hero 6 and also co-wrote and co-directed Zootopia, wrote the screenplay of Moana but a lot of people got the credits for the story, including the directors of this film Ron Clements and John MuskerBig Hero 6’s directors Chris Williams and Don HallWreck-It Ralph 2’s writer Pamela Ribon, and twin Hawaiian screenwriters Aaron and Jordan Kandell.

For the most part, I really enjoyed the writing for Moana. I loved that the movie opened with a lesson in Polynesian mythology. In general, I thought that this specific culture was represented with respect but it was still made fun. The writing for the two main characters was also great. Where the movie’s magic kinda broke down was in the actual narrative of the film. The first act felt a bit drawn out – I wanted to get onto the adventure part quicker. I felt that the movie was just basically checking things off a list in during the set-up: Moana had Disney staples such as the dead relative/teacher, the overprotective parents, and the idea that everyone should stay in their place. The ending was also a bit predictable and I wish they would have done without the cliches like failing at first try and leaving and coming back in the heat of the battle. Nevertheless, a few narrative ideas that I thought were great was the fact that Moana didn’t have or need a love interest. Also, the final confrontation was female-centric, similarly to Frozen, and I would have had a problem with that if Moana didn’t have strong and cool male character – Maui – as well.

Directing and Animation

Ron Clements and John Musker, who have made such Disney classic as The Little MermaidAlladinHercules, and Princess and the Frog, directed the film and did a wonderful job. The pacing of the film could have been better but I absolutely adored the visuals and the animation. All the environment, especially the ocean, were brought to life just magnificently – the water looked both realistic and magical – so much better than another recent water based animation Finding Dory. The character design was also super cool. Moana actually looked like a real person, with realistic body proportions! Maui looked super cool too – I liked that his tattoos were not only a visual prop but a part of the plot. Moana’s sidekicks were good too. The chicken was mostly used for comic relief which was neither a hit or a miss for me. I wish, however, that they would have brought the piggy along for the ride, as he was super cute. The baby Moana was also so adorable. You couldn’t not fall in love with her. Lastly, one of my favorite parts of the film was the good old training montage for both Moana and Maui.

Music

Tarzan’s composer Mark MancinaHamilton’s Lin-Manuel Miranda, and a member of Oceanic music group Te Vaka – Opetaia Foa’i – all worked on the soundtrack and did an amazing job. To being with, I loved hearing some of the songs in Tokelauan language – it added more authenticity to the film’s atmosphere. The more mainstream pop-songy numbers were also great. I see a lot of potential in one song especially in finally making the world let go of Let it Go – I’m talking about the main song of MoanaHow Far I’ll Go. I liked the version sung by Cravalho much more than Alessia Cara’s credits version. Even though I love Cara and her lyrics, I felt that Cravalho voice just had more emotion and fit the song better. But I can see why Disney wanted a more well-known singer to record a version of the song. Let it Go was also recorded by Idina Menzel and a more mainstream choice Demi Lovato.

Other two songs that I’d like to name are You’re Welcome by Dwayne Johnson. I was super impressed with Johnson’s voice – is there anything he can’t do? The song itself kinda reminded me of another Disney tune whose name I don’t remember, but it just sounded so familiar. The last song I’m gonna mention was the one sung by the crab – that was the only part of the score that I didn’t feel on board with.

Voice cast

  • Auli’i Cravalho was amazing as Moana. Her voice just had so much emotion and fit the character perfectly. I think she has a long career ahead of her, at least I hope so.
  • Dwayne Johnson as Maui was great too. He just had so much charisma in his voice alone. This was only his second voice role. Next year, he has 3 big movies coming up – Fast 8Baywatch, and Jumanji.

In short, Moana was another great picture from Disney. It had spectacular characters, nice thematical ideas and gorgeous animated visuals. I only wish they would have made the story a bit more original.

Rate: 4/5

Trailer: Moana trailer

P.S. Before Moana, a new Disney short called, Inner Workings, was screened. It was kinda the Inside Out of the body rather than the mind. It was both funny and cute as well as sad and depressing (like Pixar levels sad). Loved the main message – treat yourself, escape the routine and enjoy life!

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Movie review: Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation + a look back

Movie reviews

Hello!

The latest sequel of the beloved 90s franchise rolls into theaters this weekend, so I’ve decided to spend my Thursday re-watching the first four entries of the series, despite the fact that Mission: Impossible films aren’t known for being very connective to each other. The only things they have in common are the same main character and very subtle references to past events.

1996 ‘s Brian De Palma’s Mission: Impossible was the film that turned Tom Cruise into an action movie start. Although, the movie is a year older than me, it still holds up today. The suspense is mind blowing and the CIA infiltration scene is one of the best action movie scenes I have ever seen.

2000’s John Woo’s MI-2 is my least favorite film in the series. It turned careful and clever agent Ethan Hunt in cocky- carefree-James Bond wannabee. The action wasn’t that great either, because they exchanged the suspense of the first film into slow motion parkour extravaganza with guns.

In 2006, J.J.Abrams had his directorial debut on the big screen with MI-3 and injected much-needed suspense and energy into the franchise. The series was back on track. Even the, now infamous, lens flares worked really well. I am a huge Abrams fan (Star Trek and Star Wars, are you kidding me?), so I am really happy that he stayed as a producer on the later films. MI3 also had one of my favorite supporting casts. Philip Seymour Hoffman (may he rest in peace) played a great villain and I wish they would find a way to bring back Jonathan Rhys Meyers’s character. This film also introduced us to Simon Pegg’s Benji, but I’m going to talk more about him in the MI5’s review because he is back for the fifth entry.

Ving Rhames’s Luther is also back for the fifth entry, after sitting the 4th one out and only cameo-ing at the end. Can’t wait to see his and Simon Pegg’s character having a hacker dual.

2011’s Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol is my favorite MI movie to date. Brad Bird did an amazing job (I’m really sad that I hated his last movie – Tomorrowland). MI4 also was the film that added Jeremy Renner into the cast. I was really happy about it, because I believe that Renner doesn’t get enough credit for his work. Plus, his character William Brandt was weaved into the series very organically. Anyway, I can’t wait to see him in Rogue Nation as well.

In short, although I’m not a huge fan of crime dramas or spy movies (or action movie that take place in the present day and urban setup in general), I’ve always made an exception for two franchises – Mission: Impossible being one of them (James Bond – the other). Moreover, I have always applauded the fact that MI films have a truly worldwide appeal because of their international setting and diverse cast. Lastly, I feel like Mission: Impossible films are actually getting better with each entry in the franchise (except maybe MI2). I hope that this trend continues and that MI franchise stays a rare exception of a series, whose quality goes upwards and not downwards.

My review of the latest entry in the franchise – Rogue Nation – is down bellow, should you choose to read it.

IMDb summary: Ethan and team take on their most impossible mission yet, eradicating the Syndicate – an International rogue organization as highly skilled as they are, committed to destroying the IMF.

Now, after finally seeing the film, I can assure you that the trend continues and Mission: Impossible movies show no signs of stopping.

SPOILERS AHEAD

Directing and Writing

Rogue Nation was directed by Christopher McQuarrie. This was only his 3rd time directing a motion picture but his 2nd time teaming up with Tom Cruise. They have previously worked on Jack Reacher together. McQuarrie was also one of the writers on the latest Cruise’s film – Edge of Tomorrow (review)Moreover, McQuarrie co-wrote Rogue Nation’s script with Drew Pearce, who was one of the writers on Iron Man 3. As you can see, all the people behind the camera are quite well acquainted with the summer blockbuster genre. And they definitely delivered.

The actions scenes looked amazing, especially the underwater one. It was extremely suspenseful. The car chase scene which turned into the motorcycle chase scene has also been done impeccability. Story-wise, this movie must have had a script consisting of a ton of pages, because a lot of things happen in the film. We have a variety of different locations, proving once more that MI is a global franchise. There is also a plethora of espionage and a bunch of spy gadgets, which, for me, are a few of the most interesting parts of any movie. Moreover, twist and turns did not disappoint. The usage of glass chambers and masks was also cool. The movie’s run time is quite long, but it never drags or slows down.

References and Product Placement

This movie calls back to previous MI films much more than other MI films have ever done. The rabbit’s foot had a nice cameo. The twist with the mission’s message was really cool too. The signature Mission: Impossible theme with a slight moderation was, of course, used in the film as well. Also, when they mentioned Great Britain’s MI6, all I could think about was that the meeting between James Bond and Ethan Hunt would be a-ma-zing! However, this film didn’t have a scene where Hunt is horizontally hanging from a rope. They had a few scenes involving ropes, but none of them were similar to the famous shot from the other 4 films. Nevertheless, the money shot – Cruise on a motorcycle – was in the Rogue Nation.

Now, moving on to my least favorite part of the film – the product placement. They must have tried out all of the models of BMW in this film. And not just BMW cars, but motorcycles as well. In addition, I’m looking for a new laptop to buy and the Rogue Nation really wants me to purchase a DELL computer.

Acting

  • Tom Cruise as Ethan Hunt. There isn’t much to say about Cruise in this role. He has made it his own a long time ago and now he just proves everybody – the fans and the studio – that he is irreplaceable to this franchise (at one point, Fox wanted to fire Cruise from the project because of his personal life). The fact that he is 53 years old (!!!!) and still looks great and does his own stunts is mind boggling and deserves a standing ovation.
  • Jeremy Renner as William Brandt was also really great. As I have mentioned, I am really happy that Renner is a part of this franchise. His court scenes were amazing and the twist/betrayal was really good as well.
  • Simon Pegg as Benji Dunn was the scene stealer of the film. I was really happy that he had such a big role in Rogue Nation. His comedic timing was also perfect and a nice addition to the 5th installment.
  • Rebecca Ferguson as Ilsa Faust was the most bad-ass and my favorite leading lady of Mission: Impossible films. MI4’s Paula Patton was also a bad-ass, but Ferguson was even better in every aspect. I loved the fact that she didn’t have a romantic relationship with Ethan (where is his wife, BTW?). Also, her double or even triple agent story line made her into one of the most interesting characters in the whole film. I haven’t seen other movies she is in (except Hercules, but we all should forget that that film ever happened), but I really want to watch the TV show she starred in – The White Queen. I had that series on my radar for a long time because Max Irons is in it but still haven’t found time to check it out. Because of Ferguson’s performance in Rogue Nation, The White Queen definitely moved up a few places on my list of TV shows I want to watch.
  • Ving Rhames as Luther Stickell. It was really nice to see him back. And the way they handled Luther’s and Ethan’s friendship (Luther being his oldest friend) was perfect.
  • Sean Harris as Solomon Lane was quite a good villain. Not as good as Phillip Seymour Hoffman’s Owen in MI3 but definitely better than most action movie villains of this summer in general. Actually, he kinda reminded me of a comic book character. His long coat and slightly crazy eyes added to comic book-y appearance.
  • Alec Baldwin as Alan Hunley was also a great addition to the cast. I am so happy that we will probably get to see more of him in the sixth film. Because I surely feel that they are going to make more of MI films.
  • Tom Hollander as the Prime Minister. He had a small role and I wasn’t expecting Hollander to be in the film. However, when he was introduced as a Prime Minister, I completely believed it, because I have this image in my mind of Hollander always being the politician or the leader of an organization. This image probably comes from my childhood/early teen years when Hollander played a chairman of East India Trading Company in the Pirates of the Caribbean films.

To sum up, I really loved the film. The third and final 90s franchise didn’t disappoint. The story was interesting, the action – exciting and the acting – superb. I really really really want to see more Mission: Impossible films. They make me feel like I am a 9 year old once more.

Sadly (or luckily), this review will NOT self destruct in 5 seconds, so read it as many times as you want.

Rate: 4.9/5 (-0.1 for product placement)

Trailer: Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation trailer

P.S. You can find the reviews of this summer’s sequels of the other 90s franchises here: Jurassic World review / Terminator Genisys review.

Movie review: San Andreas 

Movie reviews

Hello!

I’ve finally found time to watch the newest disaster movie and this is going to be my review. I know that I am more than 3 weeks late but better late than never. Let’s go!

IMDb summary: In the aftermath of a massive earthquake in California, a rescue-chopper pilot makes a dangerous journey across the state in order to rescue his daughter.

Directing and Visuals

The film is directed by Brad Peyton. I practically know nothing about him but his work in San Andreas impressed me. The action pieces were really cool and a definite treat for one’s eyes. The CGI was a bit wonky at first, but it got much better as the movie progressed. The falling buildings, cracks, opening on the surface of the Earth, and the tsunami – all looked amazingly real. I also have to give a shout-out to the masses of extras that contributed to this film – they really made me think that the Earth was literately collapsing.

Story

Since this is a disaster movie, one shouldn’t hope for much of a plot. Though, I liked how they portrayed the family dynamics between characters as well as made all the characters relevant. None of them seemed out of place, well maybe just a few of them (more on that latter). The movie also ensured me that the thing, which I should be scared of the most during the time of crisis, is other people. My worst kind of fear (as well as my dad’s, who I watched this movie with) is to be crushed underneath a running crowd.

Character by character

  • Dwayne Johnson as Chief Raymond “Ray” Gaines – no matter what kind of character Dwayne Johnson plays, he is so dam likable. His smile is so heartwarming and while it looks strange on that big body of his, this weird combination turns him into a special kind of a movie star. So, he was definitely the star of this film and I am really happy that he finally shined in a leading role. He was always good as a supporting character (especially in The Fast and The Furious for me personally), but I never really liked him in a lead (last year’s Hercules was a total disaster). Also, speaking about his character – I liked that they made him into helicopter-rescue pilot in this film, because that explained why he could do all the things that he did while looking for his daughter. What I am trying to say is that it all made sense.
  • Carla Gugino as Emma Gaines – I am not familiar with this actress’s work, but I really liked her in the role. Hers and The Rock’s character’s chemistry was also really good. However, I think that the plot-line, concerning their daughter who drowned a few years ago, could have been cut out, because it slowed the movie down. However, it did pay off in the end, when their other daughter was caught in a similar situation.
  • Alexandra Daddario as Blake Gaines – I have only seen Daddario in Percy Jackson movies and she was okay in them. I really enjoyed her performance in this film. I liked her character’s relationship with her father and I also loved the fact that she knew how to survive and what to do in critical situations because of her dad. I have a very special bond with my father too, so I really appreciated that story-ark.
  • Hugo Johnstone-Burt as Ben Taylor – was a nice addition to the cast. I loved his and Daddario’s character’s first encounter. However, I don’t believe that he would have ran to save her after one brief encounter IRL. But this is a movie after all.
  • Art Parkinson as Ollie Taylor – was such a fun character. His comedy relief was organic, fitting, and a nice relief from the action.
  • Ioan Gruffudd as Daniel Riddick – he was the most unlikable character in the film. I couldn’t wait for him to die. He was such a coward too. I have been a fan of Ioan Gruffudd since that King Arthur movie, so I was happy seeing him still getting work. Nowadays, he is more often seen on the small screen rather than on a silver one.
  • Archie Panjabi as Serena Johnson and Paul Giamatti as Dr. Lawrence Hayes served as a really great B story line. I love when movies give scientific explanations (even the fake ones) and Giamatti’s character did exactly that. His monologues were extremely compelling. Panjabi played the reporter who helped Giamatti’s character address the people and I believe that she did a nice job and brought some diversity to the cast.
  • Will Yun Lee as Dr. Kim Park – was another actor which was used mainly for commercial purposes (diversity once again). Sadly, he didn’t had much time to shine.
  • Colton Haynes as Joby – I have no idea why Colton Haynes was in this movie. He had like 5 lines of dialogue and one action scene which wasn’t even that interesting. And he left Arrow for this? His movie career is suppose to be taking off, but he doesn’t have any movies slated for next year. Maybe he is going back to Teen Wolf – another project he left.
  • Kylie Minogue as Susan Riddick – she had a short cameo in the film and, while I love her as singer (concert coverage), I don’t believe she contributed anything to this film.

All in all, this movie had its problems but good acting (for the most part) and exciting action turned this film into a perfect summer blockbuster. This is definitely my favorite disaster movie in a few years. I wasn’t expecting to like it as much as I did for sure. Moreover, I cannot wait to see more films staring Dwayne Johnson in the lead role at last.

Rate: 4/5

Trailer: San Andreas trailer