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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Movie review: Bridge of Spies

Movie reviews

Hello!

Welcome to another movie review! This time, it’s a review of another Oscar contender! I have actually seen this film almost two weeks ago, but, due to the revision for the exams, I had no time to review it. Anyway, I found a spare minute, so, let’s talk about Bridge of Spies!

IMDb summary: During the Cold War, an American lawyer is recruited to defend an arrested Soviet spy in court, and then help the CIA facilitate an exchange of the spy for the Soviet captured American U2 spy plane pilot, Francis Gary Powers.

Tone

This year, I have seen way too many films about spies and special agents. Some of them were really nice (Rogue Nation), others (Hitman) – not really. It’s a good thing that Bridge of Spies falls into the first category. The film is set during the cold word and its narrative is inspired by real life events. We have already seen a spy film set in the cold war years in  2015 – The Man from U.N.C.L.E. However, that film was a remake of a TV show and had a more fun, upbeat tone and was a popcorn flick/action film. Bridge  of Spies, although set in the same era, approaches the USA vs USSR conflict in a more serious manner – it’s definitely not an action film, but suspenseful thriller/drama.

Directing

The film was directed by the famous Steven Spielberg. Spielberg is probably the first director that I have ever been interested in, even before I became really invested in films and cinema and was just a casual viewer. I couldn’t even pick my favorite movie of his, because he has directed so many films, that are now considered classics. I really love his movies from 1993 – Jurassic Park and Schindler’s List. Saving Private Ryan, E.T., Jaws and Indiana Jones films are all wonderful as well.  Moreover, did you know that Spielberg was in talk to direct a Star Wars film? Sadly, that didn’t happen, but if it had happened, it would have been amazing.

Spielberg, not surprisingly, did a great job with this film as well. All the shots were beautiful and suspenseful. I especially loved the train/wall shot. It had an emotional impact and was beautifully done.

Writing

Bridge of Spies script was written by Matt Charman, Ethan Coen, and Joel Coen. Charman has previously only written one film – a WW2 drama – Suite Française, while the Coen brothers have written numerous critically acclaimed and Oscar-winning films, their last one being Jolie’s Unbroken.

Speaking about this film’s narrative and screenplay – I liked how, although made in the US and by American filmmakers, it did not offer any judgment and presented or at least tried to present both sides of the story and not just the American view on the Cold War.

In addition, I found it interesting how this film had two different stories. Th 1st act of the film was the story of the court case while the 2nd part was the exchange in East Berlin. There wasn’t really the 3rd act in the film, although, a few scenes at the end (the resolution/the aftermath) could be considered to be the 3rd act.

This film also had amazing dialogue and a lot of lines worth quoting. The character development was also quite good.

Themes

The film explored lots of serious themes and asked a few historical questions, which are highly debated in the scientific circles as well. I am actually writing this review the night before my history exam, so my head is buzzing with various names of historians and their arguments on the different controversial topics. One thing I have definitely learned from this course (Uni of Aberdeen’s Europe in the 20th century) is that history is not set. It’s not an objective subject, it’s not just set facts and dates – I have never thought that history has so much subjectivity and debate. However, let me end this paragraph the same way I ended my history essay – with a C. Hitchen’s quote: “Time spent arguing is, oddly enough, almost never wasted.”

So, the few themes and questions touched upon in this film were:

  1. Humanity: people are still people, even in war.
  2. The hypocrisy of rights: American values of liberty and equality are universal, but only to the privileged and the Western. (Read S.Huntington’s Clash of Civilizations for an interesting take on the universality of the Western values).
  3. Who actually won the Cold War? I personally would say that USSR definitely lost the war, but I am not sure that the USA won anything. Americans tend to think that they helped the USSR to fall, but, I have a different opinion since I grew up in Eastern Europe – the most common view there is that the Cold War ended because of the actions of the oppressed people and not because of the questionable help from the West. But that’s a debate for a different conversation. (Found more info about it in M. Sarotte’s book The Collapse.)
  4. The Berlin wall and its symbolic meaning. I was born 7-8 years after the wall fell and when I was 13, I visited Berlin and saw the remains of it that are now turned into a memorial. It’s a very strong and heartbreaking image that rallies up lots of emotions, whenever I remember it. Also, on a lighter note, I have that cliche magnet with a piece of the Berlin Wall on my fridge.
  5. Nation vs individual. Are nation states even a good thing for organizing people into groups? Plus, Hank’s character presented as a silent hero – not just an American one, but a hero of humanity.
  6. The names of the countries. I have always been annoyed by people who call countries by the wrong names. Living in Scotland, it annoys me immensely when people say the UK and have only England in mind. I had the same problem with the film – characters usually said Russia when meaning the Soviet Union, which was a UNION of countries. It’s true that Russia was the leading country and occupied a lot of its neighbors and kept them in the union against their will (my country – Lithuania – included). However, when acknowledging that USSR was a union of countries, we at least acknowledge the existence and uniqueness of other Eastern European countries – they were not Russia and will never be Russia. I feel very annoyed about this issue, because these past few months, I have been meeting lots of people from all over the world and not a lot of them actually know where Lithuania is. They think that the territory of Lithuania belongs to either Poland or Russia. The ignorance reaches the highest level, when, for some people, Europe ends with Germany and the maps in their minds are missing all of the Baltic countries, Belarus, Ukraine and other central/eastern/former Yugoslavian countries.

Acting

  • Tom Hanks as James B. Donovan was the leading man of the film. This was the 4th or 5th time that Hanks collaborated with Spielberg. He did an amazing job with his dialogue and I also loved how you could see a mix of emotions on his face during the intense scenes. His character was also really likable the same way that Hanks is one of the most likable actors ever. It’s hard for me to pick my favorite Hank’s performance. I really enjoyed his later work in Cloud Atlas, Saving Mr. Banks, and Captain Phillips as well as his earlier work in Forrest Gump and The Green Mile.
  • Mark Rylance as Rudolf Abel/the soviet spy. I am not familiar with Rylance’s work but I have really enjoyed his performance in this film. I liked how emotionless he was. The line: ‘Would it help?’ was funny and showed the true horribleness of that situation.
  • Austin Stowell as Francis Gary Powers/the American pilot. I am also not familiar with his work, although, he starred in one of my favorite films from last year – Whiplash. He was okay in this film as well, nothing about his performance stood out to me that much.
  • Jesse Plemons as Murphy played a friend of Powers and Plemons performance stood out to me more, maybe because I am more familiar with him as an actor. The same day, I have also watched another movie of his – Black Mass (review coming next). He was also in 2012’s Battleship, which I and my dad enjoyed while critics destroyed it. Anyway, speaking about Plemons, to me he looks like a very charismatic actor, who for some reason just attracts all the attention when he appears on the screen. Good for him and not so good for other actors, placed near him in a shot.

That’s basically all the actors that played the main roles in the narrative or had the best performances. The full list of actors is on the IMDb page right here.

All in all, I really enjoyed Bridge Of Spies. I loved Hank’s performance as well as Spielberg’s directing, although, the writing to me seemed like the strongest part of the film and I really hope that all the scriptwriters will get an Oscar nominations. I am sorry that this review was more a contextual and conceptual one while my other reviews are usually more formal and deal with the actual film and not so much with its themes. I just wanted to try something new and use my new found knowledge on the historical debates.

Have a great rest of the week!

Rate: 4/5

Trailer: Bridge of Spies trailer

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Sightseeing: Edinburgh to Aberdeen

Sightseeing

Hello,

I’m keeping my promise – this is not a movie review! It’s a post of the photos that I have recently taken on my iPhone. I’m not a photographer, but when you see the scenery that I saw during my travels to UK (Scotland, to be precise) and the view that I’m still seeing in the city of Aberdeen every day, you cannot not take photos!  The first 3 photos were taken on an early morning train ride from Edinburgh to Aberdeen. Other pictures represent the nature and the historical architecture of Aberdeen. I’ll be spending the next 4 years in this town and I couldn’t be happier. I fall in love with it more and more every day. I will stop rambling now and will just let you enjoy the photos. I’ll do a textual post about my experience studying and living in the UK in a near future, so be on a lookout for that! Bye!


  
  
  
  
  
 My Instagram: @luknexx