Movie review: The Mummy

Movie reviews, Music

Hello!

Welcome to another movie review of a film that literally could have come out at any time in the last two decades – The Mummy!

IMDb summary: An ancient princess is awakened from her crypt beneath the desert, bringing with her malevolence grown over millennia, and terrors that defy human comprehension.

The Mummy is the official beginning of the rebooted Universal Monsters franchise, now titled Dark Universe. The first attempt to revive this classical (1920s-1950s) series happened in 2014 with the release of Dracula Untold, however, since the film underperformed, it was later made non-canon. And yet, I still feel like it might be reinstated into the franchise, as The Mummy is not fairing much better, neither critically nor financially. One last note – Universal’s Monster Dark Universe should NOT be confused with Legendary’s MonsterVerse, which has Godzilla and King Kong instead of The Invisible Man, Frankenstein, and The Mummy.

Writing

The 14th The Mummy film was written by David Koepp (who has worked on some of my favorite pictures – Jurassic Park, Mission Impossible, Panic Room; some stinkers like Indy 4 and Mortdecai; and some who were somewhere in between, like Inferno and Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit; he is also writing Indy 5), Christopher McQuarrie (who worked on The Usual Suspects and a trifecta of Tom Cruise films: Jack Reacher, Edge of Tomorrow, and MI 5; he is next both scripting and directing MI 6) and the actor Dylan Kussman (the least accomplished screenwriter on the project – this is only his 3rd project as a writer). The story credits were also given to Jon Spaihts (Prometheus, Doctor Strange, Passengers), the actress Jenny Lumet (she wrote Rachel Getting Married), and the director of the film.

I actually quite enjoyed the writing for The Mummy – it was definitely better than the writing for a few blockbusters that I’ve seen this summer movie season already. The film started on a really solid footing – the set up was good and interesting enough even if a bit heavy-handed and dense (I always liked the mixture of history and fantasy, so maybe that’s why I liked that ancient Egypt sequence)  – but the promising script fizzled out in the 3rd act (the love story and the solution to defeating The Mummy were both predictable). Also, the set-up story was repeated too many times. The viewers did not need to hear the same exposition 3 or more times.

The characters were great though – I liked the fact that we got to see the narrative through the ‘everyman’s’ perspective (even if Tom Cruise isn’t really an ‘everyman’). What I liked the most about his characters was the fact that he was a genuine idiot – let me explain – his character was a thief and not even a very good one, so the stupid actions that he had to make during the plot actually sorta made sense. It would have been illogical if a super smart person acted that certain way that action movie narratives require. I also liked the contrast between the two leads, how she was a scientist and he was totally clueless about most of the stuff except how much everything is worth on the black market. The duo of the two military partners was also good – I liked how one was an adventurer and the other wanted nothing more than not to be there. These contrasts between the characters gave rise to some funny moments. Actually, The Mummy was a way funnier movie in general than I expected it to be. A lot of the funny moments stemed from the awkward encounters or involved characters reacting to stuff – nothing too original but at least these scenes weren’t cringe-y.

Looking to the future of the series, the two main things should be kept in mind. First, Russel Crowe’s double identity (Jekyll and Hyde, good and evil) will probably come into play in the next film. He, as the head of Prodigium, is the connecting tissue for the Dark Universe, so his involvement in all the films is all but guaranteed. Second, Tom Cruise’s character’s double identity, acuired in the final act, will probably be also explored further, maybe in other Dark Universe films or perhaps in The Mummy 2, when or if that movie materializes (the future is unclear due to lukewarm reception from critics and moviegoers alike).

Directing

The Mummy was directed by the screenwriter Alex Kurtzman – this was only his second directorial attempt and it wasn’t a bad one for sure. The pacing was fine and the action sequences were serviceable too. The design of The Mummy was really cool looking as well and her powers were realized well (even if they were really vague). I especially liked that reanimation effect – it lookes appropriatelly disgusting. The world building/the visualization of mythology was fine too. The design for The Mummy’s victims-turned-zombies could have been better though – they looked like they were in/from World War Z. Overall, a good directing effort – not groundbreaking but nothing to be ashamed of either.

Acting

The Mummy had a pretty well-known cast. The biggest name was, of course, Tom Cruise, in the lead role Nick Morton. Say what you want about him as a person, but I still belive that Cruise is a good actor, especially when he is in his element – an action movie. He is good at physical stunts and charming AF. This time around, he also got a chance to show off his comedic skills – haven’t seen those in a while. His next film is Doug Liman’s American MadeAnnabelle Wallis (quite an unknow actress to me) starred as Jennifer Halsey and was good too. This was defintely her biggest role to date. She also had a small part in the new King Arthur film, which I’m finally seeing in a couple of days.

Sofia Boutella played Princess Ahmanet. She has made a name for herself by performing physically interesting or challenging roles in pictures like Kingsman and Star Trek Beyond. Those skills really helped her embody The Mummy as well. Her next film is Atomic BlondeRussell Crowe (Noah, The Nice Guys) was also good as Dr. Henry Jekyll. I like the fact that they were able to get a serious actor into this franchise – maybe that will give it more gravitas?

The comedian/actor Jake Johnson (21 Jump Street, Neighbors, Mike and Dave Need Weding Dates) starred as the sidekick to Tom Cruise’s character and did a good job being the comic relief. Lastly, Marwan Kenzari, who I just saw in The Promise a handful of days ago, played a security officer. I knew he looked familiar and I was rocking my brain, trying to remembering who he was, everytime he appeared on screen. 

In short, while The Mummy is a rocky start to Universal’s Dark Universe, it is a perfectly fine summer action movie. It doesn’t have any deeper themes, but it is also not convoluted, offensive or boring.

Rate: 3.5/5

Trailer: The Mummy trailer

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5 ideas about a movie: The Promise 

Movie reviews

Hello!

During the busy summer blockbuster season, I like to make time for the ‘regular’ movies too. The picture that I’m reviewing today – The Promise – falls exactly into this category.

IMDb summary: Set during the last days of the Ottoman Empire, The Promise follows a love triangle between Michael, a brilliant medical student, the beautiful and sophisticated Ana, and Chris – a renowned American journalist based in Paris.

  1. A few months ago, I raised a general question to my dad (who watches lots of movies with me): when will we run out of war stories? Well, I pretty much got my answer while watching The Promise and the short version is – never. Not only do we have lots of modern/current wars to tell stories about, but we still have a ton of untold tales from the past wars. The Promise focuses on the Armenian Genocide inside the Ottoman Empire during the First World War – not a topic that World War I movies have previously touched upon.
  2. The reason why The Promise decided to tell this particular story was because of the film’s source of funding. The entire budget was donated by an American businessman that has Armenian roots – Kirk Kerkorian – and his sole wish was to bring this story into the mainstream consciousness rather than earn money. Sadly, this film didn’t succeed at either – it was a box office bomb, which means that not a lot of people had a chance to witness this narrative.
  3. The Promise was directed by Terry George, from the script by the director himself and the screenwriter Robin Swicord. I thought that the directing was quite solid even if the film was a bit long and dragged at times. However, at the same time, I don’t think that they should have cut anything from the story – I applaud the writers for not oversimplifying the journey that these characters had to take. I would also like to praise them for creating 3 interesting leads who seemed both realistic and believable enough and were also cinematically engaging. It was also nice to see a level of objectivity in a war movie – I believe that it was really important to include a character on the Turkish side who was actually a good person rather than just to paint that whole nation as the villains.
  4. The emotional core of the film was also effective. This real-life story is tragic in itself and the dramatic love triangle (which worked and wasn’t too tearful or cliche) only added extra emotions to the script. A few of especially heart-wrenching moments were the sequence where Oscar Isaac’s character finds his village’s people slaughtered by the river and the shots of the makeshift red-cross flag, placed on the side of the mountain.
  5. The Promise had a stellar cast, full of gifted actors who delivered spectacular dramatic performances. Sadly, not a lot of them were of Armenian descent – I think it would have been nice to spotlight some lesser known Armenian talent. Oscar Isaac was absolutely wonderful – these are the types of roles that I’d like to see more of him in rather than the awful supporting roles in failed blockbusters (X-Men: Apocalypse). Having said that, I would also like to see him continuing to star in more successful big-budget pictures, like Star Wars. Christian Bale (The Big Short) was also really good, although it was quite unusual, seeing him in a role which did not require a lot of physical change. Charlotte Le Bon (The Walk, The Hundred-Foot Journey, Bastille Day) was also amazing. Probably the most well-known Armenian actress on the cast was Westworld’s Angela Sarafyan – she played a small but important role. Other non-American and non-English actors were also included (which seems better than just having Americans and Brits playing Armenians): Mexican Daniel Giménez Cacho, Iranian Shohreh Aghdashloo, Croatian Rade Sherbedgia, Dutch-Tunisian Marwan Kenzari, and Israeli actor Yigal Naor all had supporting roles in the picture.

In short, The Promise is a well-made historical drama that might not sound super original but is, nonetheless, very important, as it tells a forgotten story of the marginalized people.

Rate: 4.25/5

Trailer: The Promise trailer 

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Movie review: Their Finest 

Movie reviews

Hello!

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

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

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

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

Writing

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

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

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

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

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

Directing

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

Acting

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

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

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

Rate: 4.3/5

Trailer: Their Finest trailer

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Movie review: The Great Wall

Movie reviews

Hello!

Welcome to a review of the movie that is either groundbreaking or just a continuation of the oldest Holywood tradition. It’s The Great Wall!

IMDb summary: European mercenaries searching for black powder become embroiled in the defense of the Great Wall of China against a horde of monstrous creatures.

My introductory point about this film possibly being groundbreaking has to do with the circumstances of its creation. The Great Wall is the first major co-production between US and China (Kung Fu Panda 3 was also a co-production and came before this movie, but it was an animated project rather than a live-action one). And yet, this movie has also been accused of whitewashing – the old trend for Hollywood, which only recently started receiving some backlash. So, can this film be a start of something new or is just the same old thing?

Writing

The picture’s script was written by Carlo Bernard and Doug Miro (writers of the Prince of Persia movie), and Tony Gilroy (writer of the first 4 Bourne films and Rogue One). The combined previous filmography of these screenwriters is of mixed quality and the writing for The Great Wall is also kinda mixed, mostly leaning towards mediocre.

To begin with, the whole decision to have a white lead was not explained that well during the runtime of the picture. It made sense to have a white lead and a supporting cast, full of Chinese actors, from the business standpoint, but it didn’t make much sense story-wise. The film, at least, stated that Matt Damon was not supposed to be playing a Chinese character but a European explorer, who is looking for gunpowder, so Damon’s casting cannot necessarily be called whitewashing. However, the decision to focus on a European hero, who saves China, brought up the whole ‘white savior’ debate. The fact the character’s arc begun with him wanting to steal the gunpowder didn’t paint the best picture either. Is the film, then, only reaffirming colonial thinking or is trying to tell a historical story accurately?  In short, I, personally, didn’t think that the picture gave a good enough explanation for having a European lead (played by an American) in a foreign setting. Even the film The Last Samurai came up with a better reason.

Speaking about the other aspects of the writing – I did enjoy quite a few of them. I liked the world-building and the mythology that the film was inspired by. I loved the idea to have a variety of specialized parts of the army. I liked that the lead character was written as an archer, because of my personal fondness of archery. I appreciated the fact that two languages were used in the film – it made the movie seem more as a co-production in contrast to it appearing as if Hollywood just hijacked another foreign story. I also loved that so many female warrior characters were written into the story. I don’t actually know if that is historically accurate, but I didn’t care much, in the moment of watching the movie. The picture’s attempt to have an underlying important theme – the opposition between paid participation and the true loyalty – was also commendable. While this debate wasn’t really treated as fully as it should have been, I like the fact that the film at least tried to be something more than it ended up to as.

And that final something is the fact that the film’s story was just kinda meh. The narrative was simple and straightforward – nothing one hasn’t seen before. It had two obvious plotlines – the first about fighting the monster and the other about stealing the gunpowder – which converged in the end. The main character’s change of heart during the finale was predictable and cliche. Basically, for a movie that did something very different with its financing and production, The Great Wall should have also done something new and interesting with its story.

Directing

The Great Wall was directed by Zhang Yimou. The majority of his films act as Chinese submissions for the Academy Awards in the Best Foreign Language category, so he is an accomplished director. His direction for this movie was quite nice too and I do think he did the best he could with the given material.  The action scenes looked cool and I liked the massive scope of them. The film had some impressive long takes too. The historical setting, as well as the different sections of the army, were also realized well enough. Plus, the design of the monsters was varied and quite interestng (they kinda reminded me of the zombies from World War Z because of their movement and the sounds they emitted). However, the CGI definitely could have been more photorealistic, especially in this day and age.

My favorite action sequence was the first battle, mostly because it was reminiscent of the final battle from The Lord Of The Rings: The Two Towers, although not as good. I also really liked the smaller corrida-type (Spanish bull-fighting) fight scene, in which Pedro Pascal’s character was luring the monster and Matt Damon’s character was trying to shoot it with an arrow. I also loved that the battle scenes had a diegetic beat – the drumming within a story provided a rhythm for both the characters, who were fighting, and the viewers, who were just enjoying the soundtrack. Lastly, the scene with the Chinese lanterns also looked lovely but, as weird as this sounds, it didn’t felt unique. These lanterns are now used all over the world for various celebrations (or in movies, like Tangled), so their usage in an actual Chinese setting didn’t seem as unique as it should have.

Acting

Matt Damon played the lead and did as good a job as he could have. Honestly, he has never been my first choice for a historical movie but he did make the role work. Even with all the whitewashing backlash, Damon will be fine, as his career has been going great. While his return to the role of Jason Bourne wasn’t as positive as it could have been, his work on The Martian is still on everyone’s minds. Besides, in addition to acting, Damon’s producing work has been going great, as the film he recently produced – Manchester by the Sea – is a big awards nominee this season.

Pedro Pascal played a supporting role and brought a tiny bit of a different kind of diversity into the picture. Pascal impressed everyone on a single season of Game of Thrones and I am kinda surprised that his work on GOT didn’t lead to more roles for him. Nevertheless, I really liked his The Great Wall’s character’s sass – it pleasantly reminded me of Oberyn.

Willem Dafoe also appeared in the movie and didn’t have much to do, while the Chinese part of the cast delivered great performances. Jing Tian was amazing as the female lead, while Andy Lau and Zhang Hanyu did a good enough job with what they were given as well. I really wish that I knew more about these actors and their previous filmography.

In brief, The Great Wall was a film, whose behind the scenes story was more interesting than its on-screen plot. While it might have broken grounds from the business standpoint, it was nothing more than average from the creative one.

Rate: 3/5

Trailer: The Great Wall trailer

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Movie review: The Birth of a Nation

Movie reviews

Hello!

After a long thought process whether to even see and support this movie, I decided to separate the picture from the filmmaker (as hard as it was to do, as the aforementioned person wrote, directed, produced, and starred in the film). I was also super curious to see whether this movie was worth all the hype that it generated before it crashed and burned. So, let’s allow the art to speak for itself and review The Birth of a Nation.

IMDb summary: Nat Turner, a literate slave and preacher in the antebellum South, orchestrates an uprising.

If you are not familiar with the scandal that surrounded the release of this movie, I suggest you just google the name of its filmmaker  – Nate Parker – and make your own impressions of him. I have my own thoughts and I don’t really want to state them her or repeat the controversial tale and also, as I said, I’m trying to judge the film by itself, so let’s get on with the review.

Writing

The Birth of a Nation, even though it shares its name with the infamous movie from 1915, tells a different story from that film. 2016’s picture’s plot revolves around the life of Nat Turner, who led a bloody and grueling slave rebellion in 1831. The majority of the film depicts his life before the rebellion and notes the important events that led him to the decision of rebelling. As all movies on the issues of slavery, the film angered me a lot. The blatantly racist moments were hard to watch, but I do think that Turner’s story was an important one and had to be told. I also appreciated the lighter scenes in the film, that showed the tiny specs of happiness that the slaves had a chance to feel. I would also like to note that this movie’s story was as much a story of religion as of slavery.

The actual rebellion was hard to watch and I, personally, had mixed feelings on it. On one hand, I wanted to root for the slaves, finally getting their revenge. On the other, I understood that I was rooting for murder. From the narrative structure point of view, I felt that the movie was a bit too long and I did feel that it dragged at times. I caught myself losing focus from the story a couple of times, and I think that if the pacing was a bit faster, the picture might have been even more compelling.

Directing

As a director, Parker did impress me. The film was visually interesting and the graphic content was not just there to be shocking – I felt that it was included to prove a point and to show the real cruelty and the real violence of those years. The film indeed was the most brutal movie on slavery I have seen (even the 12 Years a Slave lashing scene was nothing compared to this) and some scenes were extremely hard to watch. In addition, the opening of the film, as well as other forest sequences, were unusual and exciting additions. The historical events were well dramatized, the emotional weight was there, and the story came across clearly and neatly for the most part. Whether you see Turner as a hero or a criminal, I glad that his story was told. Having said that, I don’t think that the movie lived up to all the hype it created. To me, it did not seem like the perfect movie that deserved the guaranteed Oscar wins and the huge festival deals.

Acting

All the cast did a really good job with their roles. Parker delivered a stunning performance – I would even argue that he was a better actor than the director. Armie Hammer provided great support, but I do think that he should start portraying different characters since I have seen him as a rich white businessman/owner type of a character a bunch of times already. Other standouts from the cast included Aja Naomi King and Gabrielle Union. I really hope that their career won’t be hindered because of their involvement in this film and the unfortunate events that surrounded it.

In short, The Birth of a Nation was a well-made film that was heavy to watch. However, it was not a groundbreaking movie and I don’t think it was necessarily better than other films on the same topic, like 12 Years a Slave or The Butler.

Rate: 3.5/5

Trailer: The Birth of a Nation trailer

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5 ideas about a movie: Love and Friendship

Movie reviews

Hello!

Today, we are reviewing the most surprisingly successful (both critically and financially) film of the year – Love & Friendship.

IMDb summary: Lady Susan Vernon takes up temporary residence at her in-laws’ estate and, while there, is determined to be a matchmaker for her daughter Frederica — and herself too, naturally.

  1. Love & Friendship’s script was written by Whit Stillman, who also directed the picture. The film’s narrative was an adaptation of Lady Susan by Jane Austen. I have read a few of Austen’s novels (will probably read more in the near future, as I study English Literature) and also seen a couple of cinematic adaptations. Most of the time, I did enjoy the stories but didn’t think of them as anything special, so I was extremely surprised to see that this movie did so well both with the critics and the mainstream audiences.
  2. Made for just $3 million – a tiny budget for a historical picture – Love & Friendship had great mise-en-scene: I really did not expect the sets or the costumes to look this good and to be historically appropriate. Stylewise, the film did, however, reminded of a TV movie, with all those character introductions. Genre-wise, it seemed to be both a parody and homage to Hallmark-type movies too.
  3. Love & Friendship was an entertaining film with the right amount of overdramatization and pretentious. It had a kind of Downton Abbey season 1 vibe. The aristocratic intrigues, which were explored in the film, were both cringe-y and annoying as well as interesting and exciting. The film was basically walking a line between charm and hilariousness. The treatment of women was also well-realized in the film: the strong female characters were not made into feministic cliches as usually tends to happen.
  4. For the most part, smaller and unknown actors brought these iconic characters of literature to life, however, the lead titular character was played by Kate Beckinsale – probably the biggest name of the whole cast. Beckinsale did a great job in the role – she made Lady Susan into a well-rounded character that would appear naive and ignorant in once scene and smart and scheming in another. She was also both venomous and kind, which is not a complimentary union.
  5. Chloë Sevigny and Stephen Fry played supporting roles in the movie and did a great job. However, my favorite actor (and character) from the supporting cast was Xavier Samuel as Reginald DeCource. His character seemed to be too innocent to exist in that world and was the only truly likable character. I knew that Samuel seemed familiar, as I have seen him in a Twilight movie (I was a teenager too:D), Fury, and Frankenstein.

In brief, Love & Friendship was a solid historical dramedy. It didn’t seem as anything particularly special to me personally, but I’m happy for its success.

Rate: 3.75/5

Trailer: Love & Friendship trailer

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5 ideas about a movie: Free State of Jones

Movie reviews

Hello!

Before 2016 comes to a close, I would like to catch up on smaller movies and their reviews. Some of the films that I’m going to talk about in the next two weeks might become awards contenders, so I’m basically kickstarting the reviews of the awards season early. First movie on my list – Free State of Jones.

IMDb summary: A disillusioned Confederate army deserter returns to Mississippi and leads a militia of fellow deserters, runaway slaves, and women in an uprising against the corrupt local Confederate government.

  1. Free State of Jones premiered in June and was supposed to be the summer movie season’s awards contender (there is always one film that gets released super early in the year and then pops up again during the awards season). However, the critics didn’t really like the film, so it faded into oblivion quickly. In addition, Free State of Jones was considered to be the ‘it’ American Civil War movie of the year, but it got quickly dethroned by The Birth on a Nation. Sadly, that movie fell off everyone’s radar too but because of its filmmaker’s past rather than the picture’s quality.
  2. I didn’t particularly enjoy Free State of Jones. Firstly, it is not the movie that one can enjoy in the true sense of the word – films like this usually make me really emotional, angry, and quite depressed. Secondly, from the technical filmmaking standpoint, I do not think that Free State of Jones was a well-made picture for a few reasons.
  3. Free State of Jones’s story was based on fascinating real life events. However, all the potential of this historical narrative was butchered on the big screen. The film felt unfocused and drawn out. It was slow and, frankly, bored me most of the time. The suspenseful and interesting moments would last a second and then we would get more funeral speeches, which were interesting at first but became repetitive really quickly.
  4. Gary Ross, who has received a few Oscar nominations for writing, both directed and wrote the film, so I was quite surprised that the story was one of the weakest points of the film. He is probably best known to the mainstream audiences for directing and writing the first Hunger Games movie, though. His directing of Free State of Jones was fine – the shots looked nice and I did appreciate the realism and the grit with which the Civil War was portrayed – it wasn’t a glamourized version of the war by any means. However, I think that he kinda ruined the film in the editing room – the picture felt like a collection of scattered scenes that didn’t flow together. The time jumps in the past as well as the occasional jump to scenes 85 years later didn’t make much sense either and made the film even more confusing.
  5. By far, the best aspect of Free State of Jones was the performances of the whole cast. Matthew McConaughey (Mud, Dallas Buyers Club, True Detective, Interstellar) was great in the lead. Mahershala Ali (who I loved on Luke Cage) was amazing too and showed a lot of acting range. Gugu Mbatha-Raw (Concussion) and Keri Russell (Dawn of the Planet of the Apes) were also stellar in their supporting roles.

In short, Free State of Jones was a forgettable movie that wasted its waste potential. The film’s only redeeming quality was the acting.

Rate: 2.75/5

Trailer: Free State of Jones trailer

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Day Trip to Loch Ness

Sightseeing

Hello!

Welcome to another short post of the sightseeing variety. On Saturday, I went to probably the most famous tourist attraction in Scotland – the Loch Ness lake. I didn’t find the Loch Ness Monster (also affectionately known as Nessie) but I did manage to have a great time on this one day trip.

I, and the group of students from my university’s International Society, set off from Aberdeen at around 8am in the morning. On our way to Loch Ness, we stopped at Inverness for food and other supplies. Before noon, we reached the lake itself and paused to take pictures of its northern side, where River Ness flows into Loch Ness.

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The first proper attraction on our list was Urquhart Castle or the ruins of it. Situated on the shores of the lake, this castle was a perfect stronghold for various Scottish lords and clans, until it was destroyed at the end of 17th century. Nowadays, the ruins are an excellent place for historical sightseeing – they are massive and it takes at least and hour to walk around the remains of the castle and check out all nooks and corners of it. There is also a cafe, a gift shop, and a film theater, which screens a short movie on the history of the castle, nearby.

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Next stop of the trip was the tiny village/settlement of Fort Augustus, located at the southernmost point of the Loch Ness lake. Not only does this tiny town is super cute to walk around and has an amazing view of the lake, it also the place of the Caledonian Canal – a massive structure of locks, bridges, and aqueducts used to regulate the water levels in the surrounding lochs. Speaking abut the stunning views – during our visit to the town, it started to rain a bit and the sun was also shining quite brightly (it was starting to set), so, we managed to catch a glimpse of a full rainbow above the Loch Ness lake. I don’t remember the last time I’ve seen a full rainbow, especially in such an open and unobstructed place. The sight was magical and I couldn’t stop taking photos. Fort Augustus also had a gift shop, in which I treated myself and my family to some souvenirs.

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The following photos are of the postcards and other gifts that I purchased. I got a variety of cards to add to my collection as well as few to send to my aunt and a friend. Also, I got a fridge magnet for my parents and a plushie of Nessie, because it is the stupidest and the cutest thing ever and I couldn’t just not buy it.

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I highly recommend you visit this superb place if you get a chance. The more of Scotland I see, the more I fall in love with its nature. Last spring, I went to the Isle of Skye and Glencoe Valley and blogged about it, if that interests you.

Have a great week!

Movie review: Inferno

Movie reviews

Hello, my dear readers!

The latest Dan Brown/Ron Howard/Tom Hanks collaboration – Inferno – has reached cinemas, so, let’s review it!

IMDb summary: When Robert Langdon wakes up in an Italian hospital with amnesia, he teams up with Dr. Sienna Brooks, and together they must race across Europe against the clock to foil a deadly global plot.

I have done a preview post for this film where I talked about all the books as well as the previous films of the franchise (you can find it here). As usual, I’ll try to list as many book-to-movie changes as I could spot, although it has been a few months since I’ve read the novel, so I might not have noticed everything. Once again, the critics are ripping this movie apart (like the earlier movies of the series), so I’ll also try to defend it from a fan’s perspective.

SPOILERS AHEAD

Writing

The screenwriter David Koepp adapted Dan Brown’s novel to the big screen and did a fairly good job. Koepp’s track record has been mixed. Although the movies he has written have been very financially profitable, not all of them were liked by the movie goers or the critics. He has contributed to such successes as Jurassic ParkMission: Impossible and Panic Room. However, he also co-wrote the horrible Indiana Jones 4 and directed one of the worst films of Johnny Depp’s career – Mordecai. Koepp has also written the second film of the Robert Landon franchise – Angels & Demons – it used to be my favorite, but I think Inferno has taken its place.

For the bigger part of the movie, narrative alterations have been minimal. Even the third act and the finale went down in a similar way in the book, however, the final end-game of the story was changed completely.

To begin with, the book started with Langdon already in the hospital, while the movie added an explanatory set-up (and yet ‘Would you press a button’ idea came from the book). The picture immersed the viewers into the film’s world first and then dropped Langdon in it, while the book used Langdon as the reader’s lens into the world of the story. The screenwriter also modernized the narrative by showing Zobrist giving a Ted talk like presentation and by using a drone to look for Langdon and Sienna.

The scriptwriter also added some shared history for Sienna and Langdon (met when she was a kid), introduced an idea that Langdon might be a carrier of the virus, and also added a new character of Christoph Bouchard – the inclusion of him allowed the film to explore the plot-line of a virus possibly being stolen and sold. Furthermore, Koepp cut Sinskey’s personal background and added some shared backstory for her and Langdon. He also streamlined the story and made it more linear, as usual for book-to-movie adaptations.

The film’s finale happened in the same location as did the book’s. The premise was also similar – Langdon + W.H.O. and Sienna were separately looking for the bag. However, that’s where the similarities ended. In the film, Sienna had mini bombs to break the bag – she didn’t have them in the book. However, the biggest change was the fact that the virus was actually contained in the movie, while the book explained that the bag has dissolved a week ago and that the virus was already out in the world. The film only talked about the virus killing half of the population, while, in the book, this was only a false facade to hide the fact that the virus would sterilize a third of world’s population. The book also had Sienna’s character surviving the whole thing and she even ends up working for World Health Organization to research the virus, though the book also made it explicit that the sterilization of some humans might be a good thing. The movie cut this kinda controversial ending and finished the picture with the good guys winning and Sienna dying for basically nothing. I wish the filmmakers would have had the courage to keep the novel’s ending.

The film had a lot of expositional dialogue and monolog – some of it worked well and seemed organic, some appeared forced and out-of-place. The character development through dialogue was good: e.g. Sienna mentioning her childhood and Langdon saying that he had a fear of tight spaces and a bad past relationship. However, before the 3rd act of the film began and all the characters had to get on the same page, that part of the exposition was a bit cliche and an extremely obvious plot device.

Directing

Ron Howard (Rush, In The Heart of The Sea) directed the picture, like the two previous features of the franchise and did a solid job. The pacing was really good for the majority of the film, but the movie did slow down during the Sienna/Zobrist flashback and before the 3rd act. The dream montages were effective and quite scary and Langdon’s disorientation was also portrayed well through the shaky cam, close-ups, and quick cuts. I also liked how the classical music was incorporated into the finale – it wasn’t just an outside soundtrack but an actual diegetic musical score. I also found it amusing that the 3rd act’s action happened in the water – fitting for Langdon’s swimming/water polo background.

Acting

  • Tom Hanks as Robert Langdon was good as always. I’m one of a few people who actually like Hanks as this character and I also cannot ever find anything wrong with his acting abilities – in my opinion, he is one of the best and most reliable actors (quality-wise) of today. I don’t think that I would be able to pick my favorite movie of his because I have seen so many and all of them have been great, so I’m just gonna list his latest and upcoming performances. Hanks recently starred in Bridge of Spies, A Hologram for the King, and Sully (which will only premiere in the UK in December – so annoying). Going forward, he will star and produce The Circle and will also come back to voicing Woody in Toy Story 4
  • Felicity Jones as Dr. Sienna Brooks was great as well. Since I knew the big twist of her character, I think I noticed a few hints at it in Jones’s performance. She had a weird look here and a strange expression there, so I was expecting the reveal and was mostly sure that it wouldn’t be cut. I was first introduced to Jones in The Theory of Everything, since then she has moved to way bigger things. On top of being in Inferno and another possible awards’ contender for this year – A Monster Calls – she will also play the lead in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story.
  • Ben Foster as Bertrand Zobrist was good. He didn’t get a lot of screen-time – he actually mostly appeared in flashbacks or in videos. Nevertheless, he played a solid mad genius. Foster’s recent performances include The ProgramThe Finest HoursWarcraft and one of my favorite movies from this year Hell or High Water.
  • Omar Sy (The IntouchablesJurassic Worldas Christoph BouchardSidse Babett Knudsen (A Hologram for the King) as Elizabeth Sinskey and Irrfan Khan (Life of Pi, Jurassic World, The Jungle Book Hindi version) as Harry Sims were also great in their supporting roles. Khan probably stood out the most out of the three of them just because his character was so interesting – wish we could have explored his backstory and his company more.

In short, Inferno was a solid action adventure film with some art history sprinkled on top. It had an okay writing, good directing and nice performances. It wasn’t a special or groundbreaking movie, but I still had fun with it and definitely do not understand why critics hate it so much.

Rate: 3.5/5

Trailer: Inferno trailer

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Movie review: X-Men: Apocalypse

Movie reviews

Hello!

Welcome to the 4th comic book movie review of 2016! This time, we are discussing the latest entry into the X-Men franchise – Apocalypse.

IMDb summary: With the emergence of the world’s first mutant, Apocalypse, the X-Men must unite to defeat his extinction level plan.

Background

X-Men was probably the first superhero trilogy that I have ever watched, even though I wasn’t a big movie fan back then – and by ‘then’ I mean the early 2000s when I was still a kid. At about the same time, I also used to watch the reruns of the 1992-1997  X-Men Animated Series. In 2010, I started getting into movies a lot more and only a year later, First Class came out and I was hooked. The Wolverine’s spin-offs were kinda a hit and miss for me – I always preferred the team up movies. Days of Future Past was the biggest and most welcomed surprise of the 2014 summer movie season –  that film restarted, fixed, and reinvigorate the franchise. I have reviewed DOFP back in 2014 when it just came out and I also looked back at the whole franchise in greater detail – you can find that post here. Nowadays, I am also starting to get into comics – I picked up Marvel’s Mightiest Heroes Wolverine edition, which features Incredible Hulk #181 and Get Mystique! storylines, at my local second-hand bookshop. This edition seemed like a great way to star reading the X-Men comics because it featured a character that I was somewhat familiar with (that meant that I wouldn’t be completely lost in the lore while reading the story). It also provided me with a glimpse into the history of the comic books. The first story of the edition was originally published in 1974, while the second in 2008, so I was not only able to see how the character has changed throughout the years but how the stories and the art have progressed as well. Basically, I had a Crash Course on Wolverine in Comics. 

!SPOILER ALERT!

Writing and Story

The 9th X-Men film was written by Simon Kinberg, who has a mixed track record. Kinberg has previously written such great films as Mr. & Mrs. Smith and 2014’s Days of Future Past. However, he has also worked on X-Men: The Last Stand and last year’s Fantastic Four – two of the worst comic book movies of the decade. With Apocalypse, Kinberg succeeded for the most part. In general, writing was probably the strongest part of the movie.

To begin with, Apocalypse had this old school feeling, reminiscent of the first two X-Men films from the early 2000s. At the same time, the picture was new and fresh in that it continued the reboot/new timeline version of the franchise. This film made a lot of verbal references to The First Class and tied up the loose end of DOFP. The film’s buildup was also kinda slow, with a few small action scenes in between dialogue. The pace really picked up at the end of the 2nd act and during the final battle.

Apocalypse as a villain was also not a bad choice. I appreciated the religious undertones that he had, which were especially obvious in his motivation/purpose. The False God accusations reminded me of BvS a bit as well. His Survival of the Fittest way of thinking was very Darwinistic/Eugenics like. The scene, where Apocalypse was learning about the new world, was also an interesting setup and tied the franchise to the Cold War setting quite nicely. When Apocalypse was destroying those nukes and shouted No More Superpowers!, I felt that this was a partial verbal nod to the famous Scarlet Witch’s line – No More Mutants!. The way Apocalypse could transfer his consciousness but could keep the power of his previous hosts was an interesting idea and his mental battle with Xavier was also pretty neat.

X-Men: Apocalypse also continued the versus idea of this year’s comic book movie season, since, in this picture, the mutants were fighting their fellow mutants. Although, that has always been the basic idea of all X-Men movies – mutant friends becoming mutant enemies and either trying to protect humans or destroy them. Generally, X-Men: Apocalypse felt like a formulaic movie but a well written one. It was not as surprising as DOFP and definitely did not accomplish as much. Nevertheless, it fit into the timeline perfectly and made sense – and that’s the most important aspect that Kinberg should be praised for.

The film also had a few funny moments. The stand-outs to me were the scenes between Moira and Xavier. Seeing Professor X act as a teenage boy was both awkward and amazing. Another nice scene was that Star Wars discussion between Jean, Scott, Jubilee and Nightcrawler. I especially liked Jean’s line how the 3rrd one if always the worst. It was such an obvious jab at The Last Stand (the 3rd X-Men movie that butchered The Dark Phoenix Saga) but it was perfect.

Directing and Visuals

Bryan Singer, once again, directed the film and did a pretty nice job. The stakes felt high and the action was pretty sweet. The X-Men franchise is probably the craziest and the most comic-booky- comic book movie franchise of all time, so I just wish that they would fully embrace the comic book-y-iness and gives us some colorful costumes.

The opening credits sequence was a really cool way to open the movie and nicely showed the passing of time, from Ancient Egypt to the 1980s. Speaking about the 80s, the fashion and the style seemed pretty tame, especially after watching Linklater’s Everybody Wants Some!!. That film embraced the campiness of the 80s, while Apocalypse seemed to only be inspired by it.

The X-symbolism as well as the Phoenix shape teaser during the last battle were also nice visual references to the comics. The action scenes where the mutants combined their power were also pretty sweet. My favorite action sequences of the film were: 1. Magneto killing those soldier/guards with the necklace. 2.Quicksilver saving everyone (almost) from the fire. The song, featured in that sequence, was also excellent .

Actings and Characters

The film had a lot of characters and, while the majority of them were really nice additions to the story, others were kinda wasted.

The good:

  • James McAvoy as Charles Xavier / Professor X – McAvoy was really good in the role, once again. I liked him both as a teacher and the war leader. The scene, where he was transmitting Apocalypse’s message, was relly good and showcased McAvoy’s acting abilities nicely. If you want to see more of McAvoy, I really liked him in 2013’s Filth – a really dark and ironic look at mental illness.
  • Michael Fassbender as Erik Lehnsherr / Magneto. Fassbender also nicely portrayed the emotional damage of Erik. The Forest scene with Magneto’s family was amazing. I only wonder if his double crossing was true (‘I didn’t betray you, I betrayed them’). Magneto is known for switching sides, so I, if I was Xavier, I would keep an eye on him, even though it seems like they are friends at the end of the film. If you want to see more of Fassbender, may I suggest Inglourious Basterds, Prometheus, Frank or Steve Jobs
  • Jennifer Lawrence as Raven Darkhölme / Mystique. Lawrence was also amazing in the role, I especially liked that she led the new X-Men, being The First Class alumni herself. I only wish that we would have seen more of her in the blue form. I liked her line about the fact that the lack of war doesn’t mean peace. You have probably seen a lot of Lawrence’s movies (THG), but I suggest you check out her first breakthrough role in Winter’s Bone.
  • Nicholas Hoult as Hank McCoy / Beast. Hoult has always been one of my favorite actors and I am glad that the filmmakers found some space for Beast in this film. I loved his scene with Raven – ‘I love you!’. Hoult’s movie suggestion – Mad Max Fury Road, although I also want to check out Kill Your Friends
  • Evan Peters as Peter Maximoff / Quicksilver. Quicksilver was my favorite part of DOFP and I was so happy that they didn’t leave him at home in Apocalypse. He was my favorite character – the most efficient in action scenes, the funniest and the one with most potential – I would love to explore his and Magneto’s relationship. I haven’t seen any other films starring Peter, but if you want to check out more of him, I suggest American Horror Story.
  • The new successful additions to the cast in the familiar roles were Sophie Turner as Jean Grey / Phoenix and Kodi Smit-McPhee as Kurt Wagner / Nightcrawler. I’m so happy that Turner is getting more work because of Game of Thrones and I believe that she will be great as the Dark Phoenix. Smit-McPhee also played the Nightcrawler nicely and provided some great comedic relief. I wish we would have seen more of his adaptation to the capitalist world of the west.

The medium:

  • Oscar Isaac as En Sabah Nur / Apocalypse. When the look of Apocalypse was revealed, I did not really like it, and, after seeing the film, I still don’t fully understand the need to cast such a good looking and expressive actor, only to cover him underneath tons of makeup. Although, I, at least, appreciated the eye movements of Apocalypse, but those also felt CGI and not real. Issac’s film suggestions: Star Wars The Force Awakens, Inside Llewyn Davis and Ex-Machina.
  • Rose Byrne as Moira MacTaggert. Moira only had two roles in the film: exposition and being a love interest for Xavier. She succeded in both places, but I wanted her to be used more. Byrne is a comedic actress, so all of her movie suggestions are comedies: both Neighbors and its sequel, Bridesmaids and Spy.
  • Tye Sheridan (Mud) as Scott Summers / Cyclops, Olivia Munn (Mordecai) as Elizabeth Braddock / Psylocke, Alexandra Shipp (In Time, minor role) as Ororo Munroe / Storm, and Ben Hardy (EastEnders) as Warren Worthington III / Angel / Archangel were okay additions to the cast. Scott was more interesting in a few scenes before his brother’s death – he turned into a brodding, not-fun, James Marsden’s version of the character way too quickly. Psylocke and Angel were cool in the action scenes, but didn’t have much to do, except stand around Apocalypse. Storm at least had some extra development, with that saying that Mystique is her hero.

The bad (or wasted):

  • Lucas Till as Alex Summers / Havok. Till’s Havok had two purposes in the film – to destroy Cerebro and to die. I don’t really think he was needed at all.
  • Lana Condor as Jubilation Lee / Jubilee was the most wasted character of all. She didn’t even use her powers, so I don’t even know why she was included in the film.

Post-Credits and Future

It has been annouced that the next X-Men film will be set in the 90s and the X-Men team that was formed at the end of Apocalypse will probably be back. I do not know if the Proffesor X, Magneto or Raven will return, as the actors who play them might be working on other projects. Rumours have been floating around that Kinberg wants to try to make The Dark Phoenix Saga again and, after that jab at The Last Stand, I kinda believe this to be true.

Another future project, which is also set in X-Men universe, is the 3rd solo Wolverine movie. In Apocalypse, we found out that, after Stryker got Wolverine at the end of DOFP, he experimented on him. It seems that it is innevitable for Logan not to get the metal claws, even when the timeline changes. When Wolverine showed up, the only thing on my mid was: Well, you can’t make an X-Men movie without Hugh Jackman. I wonder if his solo movie will pick up where Apocalypse left off – with Logan running off into the woods. His and Jean Grey’s scene was kinda creepy and yet somewhat nice callbacks to their relationship in the original trilogy. The post-credits scene showed the Weapon X base being infiltrated by Essex Corpor., which has ties to Mister Sinister from the comics. I wonder will the Weapon X serum(?) have a role in Wolverine’s film or in the next X-Men film. I was kinda expecting the 3rd Wolverine’s standalone film to be an adaptation of the Old Man Logan story, so I don’t know how Essex corp. and Mister Sinister can figure into that.

All in all, X-Men: Apocalypse was a thourougly enjoyable film. It had a great story and a few nice actions scenes. Some characters could have been cut or could have received more development. The 9th installment of the longest running comic-book franchise was not its best entry but defintely not the worst either.

Rate:4/5

Trailer: X-Men: Apocalypse trailer

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