Movie review: The Disaster Artist

Movie reviews

Hello!

I just saw a great movie about an awful movie. This is The Disaster Artist.

IMDb summary: When Greg Sestero, an aspiring film actor, meets the weird and mysterious Tommy Wiseau in an acting class, they form a unique friendship and travel to Hollywood to make their dreams come true.

Disclaimer: prior to seeing The Disaster Artist, I wanted to watch The Room – the film whose behind-the-scenes story is the subject of this movie. However, then I thought that I already have a never-ending list of past quality pictures that I need to watch but don’t have time for. So, The Room fell off the list without even making on it. But, maybe if I truly love The Disaster Artist, I’ll give The Room a chance too.

Writing

The Disaster Artist was written by Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber (the duo has previously adapted two John Green’s book to the big screen – TFIOS and Paper Towns, they are also writing the New Mutants film for the Marvel Fox division), based on the book The Disaster Artist: My Life Inside The Room, the Greatest Bad Film Ever Made by Greg Sestero (Dave Franco played him in the movie) and a journalist and a critic Tom Bissell. I enjoyed the writing for this picture very much. First of all, as a cinephile, I love all things related to movies, so a film about a different film is right up my alley. Moreover, I adore movies that celebrate other films and The Disaster Artist did just that. It wasn’t making fun of The Room or Wiseau but showed a certain kind of appreciation of and respect to it and him. Also, the fact that the movie didn’t go for the easy jokes, made The Disaster Artist so much better and funnier in its own kind of way.

The writing for Tommy Wiseau as a character for this movie was intriguing. I don’t know how accurate it was but it certainly worked for the film. The fact that Wiseau was trying really hard to make something he believed in and loved came across very clearly. His personal quirks (that have now become infamous) were present in the film too. However, the movie did not single them out more than necessary. What The Disaster Artist seemed to be more focused on were Wiseau’s insecurities and feelings behind the quirks. I drew a conclusion that he was somebody who wanted approval of others but on his own terms (basically, he wanted a friend who would understand him and it’s a good thing that he found one in Sestero. It’s cute that they still talk every day, if the text at the end of The Disaster Artist is to be believed).

Lastly, Wiseau, The Room, and now The Disaster Artist also expressed some neat ideas about cinema and human behavior (how one is the expression of the other). My main takeaway from the 2017’s biopic was the idea that the making of The Room was therapy for Wiseau. In addition, the watching of The Room seems to bring a feeling of catharsis for the viewers too (otherwise, why would they be watching it?).

Directing

James Franco directed The Disaster Artist and did an impeccable job (this film was actually my first introduction to him as a director). Not only did he recreate the scenes from The Room spot on (as evident in the credits side-by-side comparison) but he managed to balance out the film – keep it respectful but also funny. The opening interview montage, full of celebrity cameos, added a slight documentary feel to the movie, while the handled cinematography made it undeniably indie. The late 1990s/early 2000s soundtrack was fun (especially for somebody who grew up on that bad pop music). The funniest sequences of the feature, in my opinion, were the audition montage and the nude scene shoot. Lastly, the shots of the audience laughing while watching The Room felt very meta, as the actions of those moviegoers were mirrored by the audience of The Disaster Artist.

Acting

The Disaster Artist had a display of some bad acting from some great actors. James Franco not only directed the film but played the lead Tommy Wiseau (real Wiseau cameos during the end credits scene that nobody waits to see). I have enjoyed a lot of Franco’s dramatic roles before (like the one in 127 Hours) and I have liked some of his comedic work (he was hilarious in both Sausage Party and This is the End). I feel like, in this film, he combined all of his talents and delivered a brilliant dramatic and comedic performance. He nailed Tommy’s laugh and the vaguely Eastern European accent (though I’m not sure that Wiseau’s own accent is truly Eastern European – this comes from somebody who has spent years trying to lose her accent from the same region, so I think I’d recognize that particular accent in another person).

Dave Franco (Nerve, Now You See Me, The Lego Ninjago, Jump Street) played Greg Sestero and was really good too. He brought innocence and excitement to the role of the young Sestero (he was barely 20 or in his early twenties when shooting The Room). The Disaster Artist marked the first time that both Franco brothers appeared on screen together. Would love to see them collaborate on future projects!

Seth Rogen (Steve Jobs), in addition to producing the film, also had a role as Sandy Schklair, the script supervisor on the production of The Room. He was delightful to watch on screen: his scene about the check going through received a lot of laughs from the audience in my screening. Alison Brie starred as Amber, Sesteros’ girlfriend, while Ari Graynor played the actress who portrayed Lisa (yup, the same one that’s tearing Wiseau apart) in The RoomJosh Hutcherson (Mockingjay) and Zac Efron (BaywatchMike and Dave, We Are Your Friends) also both appeared as the members of The Room’s cast. They got a chance to recreate an incredible scene from The Room (that literally does not connect to anything else in that film) in The Disaster Artist.

In short, The Disaster Artist was an amazing movie that should be highly appreciated by any cinephile out there. Though it still did not fully convince me to watch The Room.

Rate: 4.5/5

Trailer: The Disaster Artist trailer

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5 ideas about a movie: Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool

Movie reviews

Hi!

Welcome to a review of a film with the best title ever. This is Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool.

IMDb summary: A romance sparks between a young actor and a Hollywood leading lady.

  1. Film Stars Don’t Die In Liverpool was written by Matt Greenhalgh (the British cinema writer). As the name suggests, this was a film about the movie business – a genre, that I, as a cinephile, am very partial too. However, the picture was also so much more than a love letter to cinema: it was also a survival story (not the best example on how to treat one’s cancer or any other serious illness), a faithful biography (it was based on the memoir by Peter TurnerJamie Bell’s character in the movie), and a timeless romance with a contemporary couple (these type of age dynamics in a couple – older woman/younger man – are still treated as an abnormal).
  2. The movie also explored the idea of growing old but staying old. It also mentioned bisexuality in the 1970s-1980s but didn’t dwell on that plot point. The film was set in the meeting point between the celebrity and the real world, which was an exciting boundary to consider. It also drew an interesting parallel between this real live romance and Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet. The narrative’s structure was also unusual: the movie’s story unfolded over the two time frames (past and present) and that allowed the story to have more an emotional impact, which stemmed from the contrast of the happy past and sad present.
  3. Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool was produced by Barbara Broccoli (longtime producer of the James Bond films) and directed by Paul McGuigan (he has directed some episode of Sherlock and Luke Cage as well as the movie Viktor Frankenstein). The visual transitions that McGuigan crafted between the aforementioned time frames, were quite beautiful and inventive. However, the CGI locations looked quite fake and took me out of the film more than once. The pacing was also really slow so the viewer had to be interested/invested in the story to keep watching. Lastly, I loved how the director replayed the same scene from two different perspectives and completely altered its meaning.
  4. Annette Bening (who has had a long and fairly successful career but only appeared on my radar last year with 20th Century Women) played the lead actress and was really great. Her actress character was portrayed as a bit of a stereotypical Hollywood celebrity – selfish, a bit aloof, and deeply insecure. This didn’t necessarily make her the most likable but certainly an interesting character. I loved the shots that focused on her makeup routine – they powerfully underscored the importance of the outer appearance of actors.
  5. Jamie Bell played the male lead of the film and was absolutely brilliant. I only remember seeing him in Fantastic Four where he didn’t have much to do, so I was quite blown away by his dramatic talents on display in this film. However, he has previously worked with Lars von Trier on Nymphomaniac and was also in Snowpiercer, so I think I should have known how good he was.

In short, Film Star Don’t Die in Liverpool was a lovely biographical drama with a real-life cinematic love story at its center.

Rate: 4/5

Trailer: Film Star Don’t Sie in Liverpool trailer

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Movie review: Death Note

Movie reviews

Hello!

The latest of Netflix’s original films (and, arguably, the most interesting one) is streaming worldwide, so, let’s talk about it. This is the review of Death Note.

IMDb summary: Light Turner, a bright student, stumbles across a mystical notebook that has the power to kill any person whose name he writes in it. Light decides to launch a secret crusade to rid the streets of criminals. Soon, the student-turned-vigilante finds himself pursued by a famous detective known only by the alias L.

2017’s Death Note is a live-action adaptation of a beloved anime/manga franchise. The Netflix’s version of this IP has been called the ‘American adaptation’ with the hopes of stopping or minimizing the criticism on the topic of whitewashing. Weirdly, I haven’t seen the same argument being used to defend Ghost in the Shell. Also, I find it strange that, in this day and age, somebody would make a movie purely for the American audience, when it is definitely gonna be seen all over the globe.

Writing

Death Note’s script was written by Charles Parlapanides and Vlas Parlapanides (the duo behind 2011’s Immortals – a Henry Cavill pre-Superman film), and Jeremy Slater (who wrote, oh no, 2015’s Fantastic Four). Going in line with the idea of Americanization, the screenwriters efficiently grounded the film’s story in an American life by opening the movie with the sequence set in a stereotypical American high-school. This was a first and a very obvious change from the original material. As I’m not familiar with neither the original Death Note anime or manga, I’d be interested to find out what other changes occurred? How were the characters different (excluding the race switch)? How much of the original plot-points were retained? Were the changes made because of the Americanization or for some other reason? The picture still did have some Japanese elements (mainly two: the word ‘Kira’ and its meaning remained and a few minor Japanese characters were involved in the narrative).

Speaking about the fantasy part of the story – I found it very fascinating and now I get why every anime fan loves Death Note. I thought that the film set up the mystical side of its story very well, although Light’s transition into being the full-on Kira figure was a bit sudden. Nevertheless, I did like that the movie raised questions about the vigilante justice (on a massive scale) and questioned the limits that some people might be willing to push past. Other, more real-world-related topics, which were touched upon in the film, were bullying, anti-socialness, and the unproductive parent-child relationships.

As the narrative is usually made or broken by its characters, let’s discuss them. I very much enjoyed the writing for Light. I loved how smart he was and, yet, how he still made stupid mistakes appropriate for his age (like telling his girlfriend about the book, although, I’m quite happy that the scriptwriters allowed him to ‘show and tell’ rather than act like Iron Fist, who only tells his story without any proof and expects others to believe him). Light’s opposite and equal – L – was also quite nicely realized. I loved the fact that the stand-off between these two was happening on a whole other level of brilliance. Their genius-ness could be seen in 1)L’s initial detective skills and 2)Light’s ability to avoid culpability in the end. I also liked how the main difference – one’s readiness to kill and other’s refusal to, was highlighted in the movie.

Another important character in the film was Mia, Light’s girlfriend. The writing for her was the worst, mostly because the secrets and the reveals, related to her, were fairly obvious. However, I noticed an interesting parallel between Death Note’s notebook having an influence over Mia similarly to how Tom Ridley’s diary had a hold on Ginny in HP2.

Directing

Adam Wingard directed the 2017’s Death Note and did a good job. His previous work mostly belongs to the horror genre and it looks like he brought elements of it to Death Note too and turned the psychological thriller/detective thriller into more of a horror film. He did that by using plenty of jump scares and really gruesome and gory violence. The graphic content didn’t detract from the plot but it didn’t add to it either. The final product also definitely had a feeling of a Hollywood film, due to its soundtrack (by Atticus Ross and Leopold Ross) and all the slow motion (so the Americanization of the property continued from the script into the visuals and the sounds).

The character design of Ryuk was quite good. He looked terrifying enough and kinda reminded me of the clown in the new IT film. I applaud the filmmakers for using mostly practical effects – puppets and costumes -to bring this character to life (CGI was only used for the face). I’ll comment on the look of the other characters in the acting category.

Lastly, the 3rd act of the film was quite strong. The final chase (L going after Light) was neatly paced and I liked its instrumental score and the urban setting. The ferry’s wheel sequence was also exciting and entertainingly crazy, especially when all the characters came clean.

The director’s next project is Godzilla vs. Kong for Legendary’s MonsterVerse.

Acting

Nat Wolff was really good in the lead role of L. He played the lead character as a psychotic but vulnerable genius.Wolff is slowly building his career, he first popped on everyone’s radar with a small part in The Fault in Our Stars and later starred in the John Green follow-up movie Paper Towns.

L was played by Lakeith Stanfield. The actor had previous small roles in Selma, Straight Outta Compton and Get Out (which I’m going to review in a couple of days). The idea to cast an African American actor in the role added some diversity and accuracy for a US-based film. Still, I don’t think that this type of diversity can work as an apology for not casting Asian talent in any of the lead roles. And yet, while the character did not retain neither its original race nor the iconic hair, his sitting position remained the same, which was a nice. Also, if we take the character’s look on its own and don’t compare him to anyone else, I have to admit – L did look very cool .

Mia was played by Margaret Qualley (The Nice Guys). I thought that she was the weakest of the cast. Her character’s shadiness was very obvious, presumably because the actress performance lacked subtlety. Willem Dafoe voiced and did the facial expressions for Ryuk. His voice fit the character neatly and the facial expressions were sinister enough.

In brief, Death Note was an okay adaptation of a beloved anime (but honestly, the bar has been set pretty low by Ghost in the Shell). Whitewashing aside, the film had a couple of writing problems, but, in general, was enjoyable.

Rate: 3/5

Trailer: Death Note trailer 

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Movie review: The Dark Tower

Movie reviews

Hello!

Recently, there has been a resurgence in the popularity of westerns with both remakes (The Magnificient Seven) and reinventions of the genre (Westworld) hitting the big and the small screens alike. Let’s see whether The Dark Tower can continue the trend.

IMDb summary: The last Gunslinger, Roland Deschain, has been locked in an eternal battle with Walter O’Dim, also known as the Man in Black, determined to prevent him from toppling the Dark Tower, which holds the universe together. With the fate of the worlds at stake, good and evil will collide in the ultimate battle as only Roland can defend the Tower from the Man in Black.

Writing

The Dark Tower film is both an adaptation and a continuation of the Stephen King’s book series by the same name. Sony has tasked Akiva GoldsmanJeff PinknerAnders Thomas Jensen, and the director of the picture Nikolaj Arcel with the honor and the burden of crafting the narrative that can equal as well as complement King’s. And, as most of you already know if you read any of the earlier reviews, this group of screenwriters utterly failed. However, I can’t say I’m that surprised. Goldsman has written a lot of bad movies in his day (Batman&Robin, Insurgent, Transformers 5) and the only reasons why he is still working is the fact that he has an Oscar for A Beautiful Mind. Pinkner has already murdered one franchise before it even started by writing The Amazing Spider-Man 2 and, for some reason, he is writing the Venom solo film too. I don’t know much about Jensen’s work because he has mostly worked on Danish films before now. Arcel is also a Danish filmmaker, however, he might actually be known to the English speaking audiences more for a film A Royal Affair, which stars Alicia Vikander and Mads Mikkelsen – two Danish actors who have fully transitioned into Hollywood.

Speaking of the writing for The Dark Tower, I don’t even know where to begin. The whole screenplay just seemed so lazy and uninspired. There was no interesting set-up for a story or any attempt to build an engaging and fascinating world. Maybe the scriptwriters were hoping that all movie goers have read King’s novels and would already know all the mythology so they didn’t bother putting it in the film. The plot itself was so basic. The characters acted in a certain way just because the screenwriters wanted them to and neither their reasons nor motivations could be found in the picture. The character development wasn’t the best either. The gunslinger was reduced to a stereotypical tired hero, back from retirement for one last fight, while the child lead was a walking cliche too – a tragic figure with a heart of gold (the film even had the super overdone cliche of the parents not trusting their child). The villain – the man in black – was fine but he also could have been so much better: more ominous or well explained or explored.

Directing

Nikolaj Arcel didn’t impress anyone, I included, with his directing. The visuals were boring: there was zero originality in the location design – a couple of industrial warehouses, a bunch of disposable huts, and some fake looking and grim CGI exteriors. The action itself wasn’t that exciting either. For one, there wasn’t enough of it. The man in black should have been allowed to do more with his immense powers, while the gunslinger should have shot stuff more. Also, when you have a character whose main trait is his gun shotting skills, create some inventive and fresh gun action scenes rather than just doing the same thing that every movie does. The only cool parts involving the gunslinger were the shots of him reloading the gun as well as the final diversion bullet thing. I wanted to see more of that! The other part of the film that I can sort of compliment was/were the costumes – they looked neat but mostly because they were worn by good looking Hollywood A-listers than can pull off an outfit consisting of both a low-V shirt and a vest. Lastly, the pacing of the movie was super problematic too. The Dark Tower was only around 90 minutes long – one of the shortest blockbusters in recent years – but it dragged all the time and still felt like it was too long.

Acting

I kinda feel bad for Idris Elba (Zootopia, The Jungle Book, Bastille Day, Star Trek Beyond, Finding Dory, Beasts of No Nation) and Matthew McConaughey (Interstellar, Free State of Jones, Kubo and The Two Strings, Sing): they deserve to act in a better movie than this – but I also don’t think that they delivered their best performances that might have saved the film. McConaughey was cool as the man in black. As I have said, he looked good, he was charismatic but his energy was at an all time low. Elba was fine too but he didn’t make a big impression. Tom Taylor played the young boy and did an okay job but he wasn’t a revelation.

In short, The Dark Tower was a huge disappointment that bored me to the death. I really doubt that this franchise will continue, neither on the silver screen nor at everyone’s homes.

Rate: 2.5/5

Trailer: The Dark Tower trailer

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Movie review: Girls Trip

Movie reviews

Hello!

It seems that nowadays, more and more Hollywood films break the boundaries of disposable entertainment and start to provide commentary on or revelations about the modern society. Girls Trip has accidentally become one of those kinds of films too. Let’s review it!

IMDb summary: When four lifelong friends travel to New Orleans for the annual Essence Festival, sisterhoods are rekindled, wild sides are rediscovered, and there’s enough dancing, drinking, brawling, and romancing to make the Big Easy blush.

For those not understanding my cryptic intro: Girls Trip is a female centric comedy about a group of friends reuniting after years of separation. Sounds familiar? That’s because you have already seen that movie this summer and I have also reviewed it for you. It was called Rough Night and it wasn’t that good. Things get interesting when you realize what is the difference between the two films. Rough Night had a predominantly ‘white’ cast, while Girls Trip has cast mostly ‘black’ actors. What surprised Hollywood the most was the fact that the ‘black’ version of the film did much better at the box office and with critics. I don’t even want to get into what this means for the business and for society. Is it a coincidence? A one time deal? A plea for more diversity? Or maybe Girls Trip is just a better and more entertaining film than Rough Night? Cause at the end of the day, Hollywood movies are still, first and foremost, pieces of entertainment, despite the extra baggage that they now carry.

Writing

Girls Trip was written by Kenya Barris (the creator of Black-ish who has also worked on ANTM), Tracy Oliver (a TV writer), and Erica Rivinoja (also a TV writer but she also penned the story for Trolls).

The initial opening and the set up for the story was short but effective. It quickly (but not in a rushed way) setup all 4 ladies as, more or less, 4 equal leads. The archetypes of a girl group were there (the mommy, the crazy one, the career-focused, the leader) but were also expanded upon as well as subverted. The script also had a lot of fun with the different pairings of the girls.

The script treatment of the concept of friendship was amazing because of how realistically this relationship was portrayed. There were moments of genuine sweetness (the inside jokes felt real as well as the majority of the dialogue) and fearless confrontation. While I really liked the relatably exaggerated moments of comedy (something along the lines of memes or FB post you would tag your bestie on), the heated scenes full of arguing were where the screenplay (and the actresses) shined the most. I loved how these disputes touched upon the influence of social media as well as the career v friendship discussion. These moments really added some drama and elevated the whole film from just being a comedy. Additionally, these scenes helped to bring home the message about true friends, who aren’t afraid to confront you for your own good. The second dual message of the movie was also wonderful. Both the surface idea that one can have it all was uplifting, as well as the deeper idea about being okay with not having it all. The final speech about discovering one’s own voice and embracing the loneliness was very lovely too.

Directing 

Girls Trip was directed by Malcolm D. Lee. I thought that he did a very good job realizing the modern setting of the film and pacing this story. The snappy moments of humor (like the tripping sequence and the dance off) were paired with slower sequences of the character (and the friendship) development, which were believably emotional. The style of filming was good too: varied but familiar.

Acting

The 4 actresses in the lead – Regina HallQueen LatifahJada Pinkett Smith, and Tiffany Haddish – did a wonderful job bringing these characters to life. They seemed like they had a lot of actual fun on the set – the chemistry was real. I really wish I knew more about their previous work, especially Hall’s and Haddish’s. Speaking about Haddish – she was really close to being too much (going into cartoon territory) and yet still, her antics somehow worked. What I loved even more was the other actresses’ reaction faces – they were priceless. Lastly, Hall’s and Queen Latifah’s characters’ competitive yet loving relationship was also very well portrayed, while it was fun to see Jada Pinkett Smith in a much more comedic and tonally lighter role than her the one she used to play on Gotham. She was also recently in two other comedies – Magic Mike XXL and Bad Moms.

The supporting cast, in addition to having a plethora of celebrity cameos, also included a few familiar faces from Netflix. Luke Cage’s Mike Colter had a small role, while Kate Walsh, from 13 Reasons Why, also starred.

In short, Girls Trip is an entertaining and relatable comedy. And yes, it is better than Rough Night cause it knows what it is and what it has to deliver.

Rate: 4/5

Trailer: Girls Trip trailer

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5 ideas about a movie: The Emoji Movie

Movie reviews

Hello, my dear readers!

Yup, I did it. Didn’t much want to but did it. Let’s just get this over it. This is the review of *sigh* The Emoji Movie!

IMDb summary: Gene, a multi-expressional emoji, sets out on a journey to become a normal emoji.

Before I sink my teeth into that trainwreck of a film, I’d like to praise the animated short that preceded the main feature. The Emoji Movie was accompanied by Puppy!, a Hotel Transylvania short directed by Genndy Tartakovsky. The short picture was cute and relatable and once again proved to me that Hotel Transylvania franchise is the only Sony Pictures Animation series that is worth something. Now, onto the main attraction.

  1. The Emoji Movie was directed by Tony Leondis (he has worked for all the big animation studios before, but only on their lesser known projects), from a script written by Leondis himself, Eric Siegel, and Mike White. The film has already been compared to Inside Out (cause of the focus on emotions), Wreck-it Ralph (cause both films revolve around technology based characters), and The Lego Movie (cause of the obvious corporate advertisement aspect). However, even though The Emoji Movie might be topically similar to these pictures, it vastly differs from them in quality.
  2. If we take the movie’s concept on its own – the emoji culture – it sort of sounds like a good idea. Nevertheless, if we just dig a tiny bit deeper, we soon realize that there is literally no inspiration for a story – an actual narrative – to be created out of the concept. That’s the main problem of this film – the narrative was simply worthless and just a collection of cliches. The conflict of the plot was super artificial too. The film attempted to have an emotional core but did not succeed at all.  Actually, when the emoji characters tried to display or withhold emotions, they seemed borderline psychotic rather than fun or relatable.
  3. The Emoji Movie seems to have been made by filmmakers (or a board of executives) that have zero understanding of their audience. It appears that they were trying to make a movie for a stereotypical millennial who doesn’t really exist. This could be obviously seen in the humor of the film. While half of the jokes were plain bad, the other half was an obvious example of the writers trying too hard and attempting to be cool and ‘in-with-the-kids’. Plus, the tongue-in-cheek jabs at social media culture didn’t really have a place in the film either. One cannot both perpetuate the culture and critique it in the same film.
  4. Despite generally hating the movie, I still found a few positive things in its script. Mostly, these were the spot-on inclusions of the phone related stuff. For example, I liked the fact that the film acknowledged the smiley emoji as being the OG emoticon and how the favorites section was turned into a VIP club.  The realization of the whole phone world wasn’t bad, actually. I liked the inclusion of the spam emails, the viruses, the cloud, Instagram, CandyCrush, Dropbox, Firewall, JustDance (even if the addition of apps was just for promotional/financial purposes) and the viral videos. The 3D animation style was good too but it always is nowadays.
  5. The voice cast of the film consisted of: Deadpool’s T. J. Miller (he was a good choice for such an ”out-there” project, I just wish that the film would have been crazy in a good way and worth his talents), James Corden (he was trying his best and his voice was instantly recognizable), Anna Faris (she was fine), and Logan’s Sir Patrick Stewart (he had like 5 lines in the film and, honestly, the only reason he was cast was so that this  film could have an honor of being the movie that turned a respectable actor into literal poop).

In short, The Emoji Movie was a mess, not even worth the ‘meh’ emoji.

Rate: 2/5

Trailer: The Emoji Movie trailer

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5 ideas about a movie: Rough Night 

Movie reviews

Hello!

After two weeks of back to back volunteering gigs at big sports events, I needed a simple and fun movie. I expected Rough Night to be just that. Let’s see if it were.

  1. Rough Night was written by the director of the film Lucia Aniello and Paul W. Downs (real-life and comedic partners, who both work on Comedy Central projects). The writing was mostly fine: I liked the topical humor, like the fact that Scarlet Johansson’s politician character looked like Hilary Clinton or that the film made fun of the selfie culture. The ending was a bit out-there but managed to get a few laughs from me, so that’s good. The typical (almost cliche) themes of the friend rivalry and the growing apart were also present.
  2. Aniello’s direction for the movie was okay, though it did seem a bit amateurish, with some neat moments dispersed throughout. The whole idea to set the film in Miami, unfortunately, reminded me of Snatched and how that film was just basically set in a more exotic location so that the actors could go on vacation. The pop soundtrack was fun and summery, though.
  3. The main 5 ladies were played by Scarlett Johansson (Marvel films (Rough Night’s low box office killed any possibilities of a Black Widow movie), The Jungle Book, Hail, Caesar!, Ghost in the Shell), Kate McKinnon (Ghostbusters), Jillian BellIlana Glazer, and Zoë Kravitz (Divergent, Mad Max, Fantastic Beasts). Although their characters seemed pretty varied, all of their performances were really similar. My favorite one was actually Kravitz, while McKinnon’s Australian-ness (the actress is American) seemed like a cheap joke that was pushed too far.
  4. The supporting cast of the film was way more fun than the main one. The groom and his friends at the wine tasting sequence (what melodrama were they from? doesn’t matter – it worked), as well as the slow-motion sequence at the shop, were hilarious. The screenwriter of the film Paul W. Downs actually played the part of the groom-to-be. The cameo appearances by Demi Moore and Ty Burrell also added a few laughs.
  5. The movie had two after/during credits scenes. The mid-credits one was a way too long joke involving McKinnon’s character, while the after-credits scene provided some extra revelations about the plot. I didn’t even wait for it, though.

In short, Rough Night (or Bridesmaids: the crime comedy) was an okay summer flick that served some laughs as well as some cringy moments.

Rate: 3/5

Trailer: Rough Night trailer

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Movie review: Despicable Me 3 

Movie reviews

Hello!

Illumination Entertainment has replaced DreamWorks as the other ‘it’ animation studio in Hollywood (first being the Disney/Pixar conglomerate). Let’s see whether their latest offering – Despicable Me 3 – is worthy of praise.

IMDb summary: Gru meets his long-lost charming, cheerful, and more successful twin brother Dru who wants to team up with him for one last criminal heist.

I, personally, really enjoyed the first two Despicable Me films (and other recent Illumination movies, like Sing and The Secret Life of Pets) but I vastly despised the Minions spinoff. I hoped that the minions’ meme would have died down by now but is still as strong as ever. Thus, the interest in this movie is, most likely, big. Minions have been definitely used more in the marketing than when advertising the previous pictures of the main series. While their role in the movie is smaller than I expected (thankfully), two of them actually appear on the screen first, a few seconds before Gru – the supposed star of the franchise.

Writing

The writing duo Cinco Paul and Ken Daurio wrote the third film in the Despicable Me series (they also penned the original and the first sequel). Overall, the script was a mixed bag of stuff. Story-wise, a lot of things were happening and multiple plotlines were being developed (with varying amounts of attention and screentime). The biggest ones were Gru’s and his brother’s story, the Mother-Daughter bonding idea, the new villain’s Baltazar’s plotline, and the Minion shenanigans (that had little to do with anything else in the movie). The daughter characters also had their small side quests (unicorn and engagement). While I don’t really think that all these lines necessarily worked together, I would at least like to compliment the scriptwriters for trying to do something with the story and the characters.

Speaking of the characters – I loved the new villain Baltazar. I loved his 80s look (shoulder pads!) and affinity for music and dance. He really reminded me of Baby from Baby Driver – stealing into the beat of the music similarly to driving into the beat of the music. I also loved his Guardians of the Galaxy-like dance-off idea. Agnes character – the most adorable of the daughters – was also delightful to watch and I very much enjoyed her ‘hunt’ for the unicorn (definitely more than everything related to the Minions).

Thematically, Despicable Me 3 tackled adult themes and paired them with childish humor. The grown-up characters were dealing with being fired and finding a new life path, while also coming to terms with failed dreams of their youth; they were attempting to reconnect with long lost siblings and were worrying about being good parents. Things, like gambling online, sexual innuendos, and baldness were also mentioned. On the completely opposite end of the spectrum was the film’s humor – it was mostly childish. The Minions comic relief side quest could have been cut out of the movie and nothing would have changed. The Minions were actually sort of replaced by pigs. The new brother character, who failed at being a villain, got annoying really quick too.

Lastly, one meta idea that I immensely enjoyed about Despicable Me 3 was the fact that the movie’s villain was attempting to take down Hollywood, while the film itself was very much a product of Hollywood. Oh, the sweet irony.

Directing

Pierre Coffin and Kyle Balda, who directed all the previous pictures of the series, helmed Despicable Me 3 and did an okay job. The animation was good, as it always is. The pacing was also fine and I liked the fact that the movie was quite short and not too overindulgent in itself. The score (by Heitor Pereira and Pharrell Williams) was catchy too. While the film was surely my least favorite in the franchise (it went downhill as so many series do), I think that the kids would definitely enjoy it. I wonder if they will attempt to continue the franchise – is the final scene of Dru teaming up with the Minions an indication that the next film might be Dru vs. Gru. And we all know that ‘versus’ stories are popular now.

Voice work

Steve Carell performed a double duty and voiced both Gru and Dru. I liked his work here as much as in the previous films and appreciated the subtle differences in the voices of the two brothers. Kristen Wiig was also good, while the co-creator of South-Park Trey Parker was a neat choice for a villain.

In short, Despicable Me 3 is a perfectly servicable kids’ movie that doesn’t offer anything too special but is, overall, entertaining, if one can stomach the Minions.

Rate: 3.5/5

Trailer: Despicable Me 3 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: Elle

Movie reviews

Hello!

The awards season is usually dominated by American and British films, while the non-English language pictures tend to be relegated to the Best Foreign Film Category. However, sometimes a movie escapes this section and gets wider recognition. The French language films (or pictures made by the French) are the ones that succeed at this the most often (The Artist, Amour) and 2016’s Elle is hoping to one of them.

IMDb summary: A successful businesswoman gets caught up in a game of cat and mouse as she tracks down the unknown man who raped her.

Writing and Acting: The main character and the lead actress

Elle is getting the most recognition for the performance of the lead actress – Isabelle Huppert. The film’s story revolves solely around her as the titular character. At first glance, the movie appears to be just another rape victim story that so often gets reduced to just being the awards bait for great actresses (like Downton Abbey’s rape plotline for Joanne Froggatt’s character). However, the character of Elle is so much more than a rape victim: she is complex and multifaceted and so much more than just the victim of her incident. The great Isabelle Huppert meticulously maneuvers this labyrinth of character traits and delivers a mesmerizing performance. And even though I would love for the Academy, the various guilds, and the Hollywood Foreign Press Association to recognize actresses that play more contemporary strong female characters, I cannot be that mad at them for rewarding Huppert, as she both conforms to the needs of this traditional role and also confronts them.

Now, let’s go over the writing for the main character in more detail. The script was penned by David Birke, based on the novel ‘Oh…’ by Philippe Djian. While I did not necessarily agree with all of their ideas, the film’s writing certainly raised questions.

  1. The fact that the female character is reluctant to speak out and treats the whole situation almost nonchalantly does not set the best example. The romanticization of the rape (Stockholme Syndrome) could also be seen as a problematic or at least a controversial choice.
  2. And yet, I applaud the film for being open about women’s sexual lives. This topic is becoming less and less of a taboo, especially, when films like Fifty Shades of Grey are being made, are seen by many, and then are discussed online (even if not in the most productive way).
  3. While the role of a rape victim might appear as a very traditional female role, the film’s complex commentary on rape and consent is really contemporary and extremely relevant.
  4. The background writing for the main character is super unique too because the female lead is portrayed as working in the field of video games. I don’t think I can name another film with a female character working in such a stereotypically male field.
  5. The personal background of the main character is super rich too. All the different relationships are super complex and interesting separately but the interconnectivity of them is the thing that makes them realistic and even more interesting. The father-daughter relationship affects mother-daughter relationship, while the friendship between the two co-workers suffers because of the cheating.
  6. The fact that the main female character is open to the idea of having multiple lovers and at least a dozen of admirers (employees) was not only a fresh development in the portrayal of female characters but also makes it more believable that this silence and nonchalance would be the way for her to deal with the incident (even if I don’t personally agree with her decisions).
  7. The fact that her father was a murderer and that she might also have violent tendencies adds another interesting layer to the character. Her jealousy and selfishness that would sometimes result in despicable and frankly creepy actions made it hard to see her as a victim but I also think that this might have been a conscious choice. This might show that bad things happen to bad people too or that the victimization or the sainthood of the victims are fickle facades that might not actually be true.

Directing

A well known Dutch filmmaker Paul Verhoeven, best known to the mainstream audiences as the man behind such films, like Total Recall and Showgirls, directed Elle and did a magnificent job. He unfolds this story brilliantly: the viewer is dropped into the film’s world straight up, without any set-up. The rape is showed in the first sequence and later on revisited and showed from different perspective and angles to not only enhance its effect but also to show the different outcomes of it. The whole ‘cat and mouse’ game is also realized neatly: it is slow but suspenseful and intense. The film is truly a psychological thriller with some elements of a great scary movie. It reminds me of Gone Girl, The Girl with a Dragon Tattoo, and Panic Room. And yet, it differs from these American films in its atmosphere: European films always seem realistically glamorous instead of being cinematically glamorous. The level of sophistication is also much higher.

Supporting Cast

The film has an extensive supporting cast full of European talent. The secondary roles are filled by Christian BerkelAnne ConsignyVirginie EfiraLaurent LafitteCharles Berling, Alice IsaazJudith Magre, Jonas Bloquet, Vimala Pons and Lucas Prisor and all of them do a fabulous job.

To conclude, Elle is either empowering or subversive and either traditional or contemporary (or both in both cases) film with a complex female lead who is brought to life by the astonishing Isabelle Huppert whose performance is subtle and restrained but still extremely powerful.

Rate: 4.5/5

Trailer: Elle trailer

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