Movie review: Peter Rabbit

Movie reviews

Hello!

And welcome to a review of another vaguely Easter-themed movie that is not really about Easter and has been out for almost a month. This is Peter Rabbit!

IMDb summary: Feature adaptation of Beatrix Potter’s classic tale of a rebellious rabbit trying to sneak into a farmer’s vegetable garden.

Writing

Peter Rabbit was written by Rob Lieber (the writer of Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day) and the director Will Gluck. The film’s script was based on the characters and tales by Beatrix Potter. I haven’t come across Potter’s stories before so this movie was my introduction to them. And I absolutely loved the experience of watching the movie, even though I certainly wasn’t its target demographic.

The adorable nature of the whole thing was just undeniable. I feel like Peter Rabbit did the same thing with rabbits as Paddington did with bears: made them cute and British. I also loved the self-referential writing of the film and how the story wasn’t afraid of owning its cliches (the character flaws, ulterior motives said out loud, journey reduced to highlights). I also loved the cheeky humor. The film had a lot of simplistic physical humor but it also had a plethora of more adult snippets, poking fun at British nature, salads, and human contact (what a group). It also had a sweet rural romance and an overall nice message to share the love. That might sound cheesy and not particularly original, but when it is executed well, I can’t complain much and can only enjoy.

Directing

Will Gluck (the director of some of my favorite comedies, like Friends with Benefits and Easy A, as well as the Annie reboot from a few years ago) directed Peter Rabbit and crafted an energetic and infectious all-ages film. The live-action and animation combination was seamless. All the woodland creatures were both realistic and cutely cartoonish – there was just a perfect balance in their design. The main rabbits were goddamn adorable. Just look at those ears!

The paintings, which were included in the film as part of the story, were a stellar nod to the origins of the tales in illustrated children’s books. The credits, drawn in a similar fashion, were neat too. Speaking about the credits, there were quite a few scenes dispersed throughout them, so make sure you don’t leave as soon as the film ends. Peter Rabbit also had an amazing soundtrack, full of older and newer pop songs that made for some great cinematic moments.

Acting

Domhnall Gleeson played the human lead in the film and was an absolute delight to watch. He is one of the few constantly working actors, who stars in everything: experimental art pictures (mother!), mainstream franchises (Star Wars 7 and 8), indies (Unbroken), biographies of various genres (American Made, Goodbye Christopher Robin), and awards films (The Revenant, Brooklyn). His co-star Rose Byrne (X-Men: Apocalypse) was also good: very relatable and sympathetic. Sam Neill (Hunt for the Wilderpeople, The Commuter) also had a fun and unexpected cameo.

On the voice front, James Corden was just brilliant as Peter Rabbit. His three sisters were voiced by three equally brilliant actresses: Daisy Ridley (Star Wars 7+8, Murder on The Orient Express), Elizabeth Debicki (Guardians of the Galaxy 2, The Man from U.N.C.L.E.), Margot Robbie (Suicide Squad, I, Tonya, Goodbye Christopher Robin, The Legend of Tarzan). A TV actor Colin Moody was also fun to listen to in the role of the cousin rabbit.

In short, Peter Rabbit was a great kids movie that I, as an adult, enjoyed immensely! Maybe a bit too much. But that’s a conversation for a different time and a different platform.

Rate: 4.2/5

Trailer: Peter Rabbit trailer

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The Awards Season Round-Up 2018

Movie previews, Movie reviews

Hello!

Welcome to the end of the 2018 awards’ season. With the big night – the Academy Awards – just around the corner, I thought it was high time for me to decide on my personal winners. I have done similar posts for 2016 and 2017 awards seasons and linked them accordingly.

This year, I’m switching up the format and instead of listing my favorite to the least favorite filmmakers/films in each category, I’m just gonna be announcing a single personal (subjective) winner out of the nominees. I’ll also write down my objective winner – somebody who I think (when factoring in the previous wins, the critical acclaim, even the box office numbers) will actually get the Oscar. My subjective and objective winners might not always coincide. I’ll also include some of the snubs – people or movies that should have been included in the prestigious top 5 (or top 10 for Best Picture) but didn’t get an invite. Here we go! Don’t forget to tell me your personal winners (who should win and who will win) in the comments!

Lead Actor:

Timothée Chalamet – Call Me by Your Name
Daniel Day-Lewis – Phantom Thread
Daniel Kaluuya – Get Out
Gary Oldman – Darkest Hour
Denzel Washington – Roman J. Israel, Esq.

Snubs: Tom Hanks – The Post; James Franco – The Disaster Artist; Jamie Bell – Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool

  • Objective Winer: Gary OldmanDarkest Hour (he won every major award until this point).
  • Subjective Winners: Timothée ChalametCall Me by Your Name or Daniel Kaluuya Get Out (two incredible actors, both at the beginning of their career – the nominations themselves already solidified them as valuable commodity in Hollywood and the wins, though unlikely, would kickstart their career on even a higher note)

Lead Actress:

Sally Hawkins – The Shape of Water
Frances McDormand – Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Margot Robbie – I, Tonya
Saoirse Ronan – Lady Bird
Meryl Streep – The Post

Snubs: Jessica Chastain – Molly’s Game; Michelle Williams – All The Money In The World; Emma Stone – Battle of the Sexes

  • Objective Winer: Frances McDormandThree Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (again, she has won every major acting award this season)
  • Subjective Winner: Sally HawkinsThe Shape of Water (there was something so special about her performance that I just have to give it to her)

Supporting Actor:

Willem Dafoe – The Florida Project
Woody Harrelson – Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Richard Jenkins – The Shape of Water
Christopher Plummer – All the Money in the World
Sam Rockwell – Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Snubs: Armie Hammer – Call Me by Your Name

  • Objective Winer: Sam Rockwell Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (won every major award this season)
  • Subjective Winners: Sam Rockwell Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (made an awful caricature into an understandable character – brilliant)

Supporting Actress:

Mary J. Blige – Mudbound
Allison Janney – I, Tonya
Lesley Manville – Phantom Thread
Laurie Metcalf – Lady Bird
Octavia Spencer – The Shape of Water

Snubs: Hong Chau – Downsizing; Holly Hunter – The Big Sick; Kristin Scott Thomas – Darkest Hour

  • Objective Winer: Allison JanneyI, Tonya (won every major award – I’m getting tired of repeating this line but there really hasn’t been a lot of surprises this awards season)
  • Subjective Winners: Allison Janney I, Tonya (while all the nominees were good, she was amazing and on a different level altogether)

Director:

Christopher Nolan – Dunkirk
Jordan Peele – Get Out
Greta Gerwig – Lady Bird
Paul Thomas Anderson – Phantom Thread
Guillermo del Toro – The Shape of Water

Snubs: Martin McDonagh – Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri; Ridley Scott – All the Money in the World; Steven Spielberg – The Post; Sean Baker – The Florida Project; Denis Villeneuve – Blade Runner 2049

  • Objective Winer: Guillermo del ToroThe Shape of Water (the major winner this season who is also a longtime working director that deserves an Oscar)
  • Subjective Winners: Greta GerwigLady Bird (while I didn’t think her movie was as praiseworthy as everyone said, I do think that her directing abilities made it into something more special than a simple YA coming of age tale).

Adapted Screenplay:

James Ivory – Call Me by Your Name
Scott Neustadter & Michael H. Weber – The Disaster Artist
Scott Frank, James Mangold & Michael Green – Logan
Aaron Sorkin – Molly’s Game
Virgil Williams & Dee Rees – Mudbound

Snubs:  Armando Iannucci, Ian Martin & David Schneider – The Death of Stalin;  Hampton Fancher & Michael Green – Blade Runner 2049 (not sure whether it counts as original or adapted)

  • Objective Winer: Aaron Sorkin Molly’s Game (I think that Sorkin’s name will be enough to persuade the voters)
  • Subjective Winners: Scott Frank, James Mangold & Michael Green Logan (no surprise here, if you read my blog: as much as I like typical awards movies, seeing a mainstream comic book movie winning an Oscar would be absolutely amazing)

Original Screenplay:

Emily V. Gordon & Kumail Nanjiani – The Big Sick
Jordan Peele – Get Out
Greta Gerwig – Lady Bird
Guillermo del Toro & Vanessa Taylor – The Shape of Water
Martin McDonagh – Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Snubs: Sean Baker & Chris Bergoch – The Florida Project;  Steven Rogers – I, Tonya

  • Objective Winner: Martin McDonaghThree Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.
  • Subjective Winners: Emily V. Gordon & Kumail NanjianiThe Big Sick or Jordan PeeleGet Out (again, two more mainstream-esque movies that did something new and unique with familiar genres)

Best Picture:

Call Me by Your Name
Darkest Hour
Dunkirk
Get Out
Lady Bird
Phantom Thread
The Post
The Shape of Water
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Snubs: The Disaster ArtistThe Big Sick; Molly’s Game; The Florida Project

  • Objective Winner: Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (the winner up to this point). Or The Shape of Water (the big nominee that could steal the thunder)
  • Subjective Winners: I would love to see either of my objective winners actually winning. The third subjective pick would be Call Me by Your Name.

And that is is for the 2018th Awards Season! Onto March a.k.a. the warm-up for the summer movie season (A Wrinkle In Time; Red Sparrow; Tomb Raider; Pacific Rim 2; Love, Simon; Ready Player One…this month is going to be big!)

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Movie review: Lady Bird

Movie reviews

Hello!

Welcome to the review of the best tomato (once) in the movie business. This is Lady Bird.

IMDb summary: In 2002, an artistically inclined seventeen-year-old girl comes of age in Sacramento, California.

Greta Gerwig

Lady Bird was written and directed by Greta Gerwig – an actress-turned-writer, now also a director (this film was her directorial debut). The ‘tomato’ line in the opening of this review, of course, refers to the fact that this movie was once the best-reviewed movie on Rotten Tomatoes (it has now fallen to 99% from the initial 100%). While it was certainly a great film, I, personally, didn’t think that it was as unique or out of the ordinary as everyone hailed it to be (spoiler alert: I think I change my mind by the end of this review).

Writing

Lady Bird’s story was a personal coming of age tale. While some of the details of the plot were very interesting and quite extraordinary, at its core, the movie’s plot was quite conventional. And there is nothing wrong with that! Nowadays, very rarely do we see completely original films. Likewise, movies that take something familiar and update it (like Lady Bird did) are rare too and should be celebrated! Still, I don’t think that they should be over-complimented just to make a statement.

Anyways, by being a coming of age tale, Lady Bird mostly focused on the perils of growing up and maturing. It looked at high-school drama but not in a cheesy way: the school/friend/boyfriend problems were treated with utmost importance, as they would be regarded from a teenage girl’s perspective when one’s whole life is high school. Those scenes felt really heartfelt rather than cheap and shallow, even if some of them were intended to be humorous (like, the theatre activities that were so fun to watch). I also appreciated how real the scenes looked – Lady Bird’s reaction to her first kiss was just perfect and highly relatable. A few of the scenes were a bit cringe-y as well but that was also very true to a life of a teenager.

Thematically, the movie: hinted at exploration of sexuality; looked at the experience of having a crush on a teacher; explored ideas relating to one’s identity (rebelling, trying to get in with the ‘cool kids’, realizing who you really are, etc.); examined friendship and relationships (first steps into dating), and suggested ideas relating to potential mental illnesses. Basically, the movie covered all the grounds of teenage experience through either the main or the supporting characters.

A crucial part of coming of age for everyone has always been one’s relationship with their parents. Lady Bird mostly centered on the mother-daughter relationship and explored it quite successfully. However, I have seen this movie celebrated for showing the mother’s perspective – I, personally, didn’t think that the mother character had nearly enough scenes, especially, solo ones, to truly say that this movie treated her POV as equal to her daughter’s POV. Anyways, I still believe that the relationship itself (when not arguing about the POVs) was portrayed extremely well: as both passive aggressive but, ultimately, loving. Essentially, a mirror image of me and my mom 7-8 years ago. I also really loved the film’s message that love is attention – that was quite a heartwarming takeaway for the viewers.

The movie also explored the importance of a location of one’s youth. For Gerwig herself and for Christine that was Sacramento. A lovely but maybe overtly idyllic place, which certainly was far from the worst place in America, but, I guess to each their own. The film, ultimately, was either intentional or unintentional love letter to Sacramento, California. Another autobiographical aspect of Lady Bird’s story was the character’s somewhat religious upbringing. The whole idea of a Catholic school seemed quite bizarre to me but I did appreciate the fact that the movie noted that religion is not something one can be forced into but, rather, something that a person has to discover by themselves (as Christine rediscovered it in college, when she had the freedom of choice).

Directing

I highly enjoyed the visualization of the teenage experience in this film, which mostly occurred through the costumes and the set design. The uniqueness of the main character was perfectly portrayed through her hair and the changes she made to the uniform. I also loved the thrifting scenes: they not only showed her unique style but captured her family’s station in life too (and stressed the importance of keeping up the image even in poverty). I also loved Lady Bird’s room: it looked so eclectic and really reminded me of my bedroom as a teenager. The scenes of her painting over all the things on her walls really signaled her growth. I’m older than Lady Bird was supposed to be in this film and I’m definitely not even close to that stage in life, as my bedroom walls’ look even messier and more confused than they did when I was a teen. Another signal of the character’s growth was her decision to change her name back to Christine. And yet, the movie also ended ambiguously and noted that she still has a lot of work to do on her identity, as she still lied about where she was from and wasn’t yet fully comfortable with who she is/was. Are we ever really are?

On a final note, Lady Bird was a fairly slow movie but it was also really short – one of the shortest awards movies for sure. I sometimes really appreciate films that manage to tell tight stories and to say everything they need to say in 90 minutes without making the pictures themselves feel rushed. And Lady Bird definitely did that!

Acting

Saoirse Ronan was delightful to watch in the film and I completely bought her as a teenager. Her American accent was also extremely convincing. I also loved the overall deep emotional quality of her performance: she didn’t have a lot of flashy scenes but she didn’t need them to be absolutely brilliant in the picture. Her involvement in this movie also made me recall another coming of age tale of hers – Brooklyn– through the character in that picture was completely different (Ronan certainly has the range).

Laurie Metcalf played Christine’s mother and did a great job. Her performance was ‘quietly good’ rather than super explosive, like Janney’s one in I, Tonya. I believe that Metcalf will be unfairly overlooked in the supporting actress category due to the quietness or the subtlety of her performance, when being evaluated against more ‘out there’ performances like Janney’s, a.k.a. I don’t think her nomination will lead to a win.

On the supporting front, the two love interests of the titular character were played by two young actors, who are already awards’ voters’ favorites (and deservedly so). Lucas Hedges (from Manchester by the Sea last year and Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri this year) had a small role in this film, while Timothee Chalamet (the breakout star from Call Me By Your Name) was also on the cast list and proved that he can play a heterosexual romantic lead as well as a homosexual one.

In short, I started this review with a statement that I didn’t think that Lady Bird was that exceptional but I do think that I fell in love with this movie all over again by writing the paragraphs that followed the said statement. And I’m not going to change the intro declaration because this review, like Lady Bird’s and all our lives, are all works in progress.

Rate: 4.5/5

Trailer: Lady Bird trailer

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Movie review: I, Tonya

Movie reviews

Hello!

Just in time for Winter Olympics 2018 in PyeongChang, I got a chance to see a biopic of a former Olympic figure skater. This is I, Tonya!

IMDb summary: Competitive ice skater Tonya Harding rises amongst the ranks at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships, but her future in the activity is thrown into doubt when her ex-husband intervenes.

Writing

I, Tonya was written by Steven Rogers – a writer of mostly romantic comedies and dramas. I thought that he did quite an excellent job with a new kind of story for him – a biographical black comedy. Of course, a lot of the appeal of the writing came from the peculiar and fascinating subject matter itself – Tonya Harding’s life. I really liked the structure of the film: the 4th wall breaking interviews + flashbacks. This type of structure didn’t make the movie feel choppy at all but added a layer of almost documentary-like authenticity. I also liked how the first’s part of the movie explored Tonya’s life prior to the event and only the second part focused on the event and its aftermath. By not making the whole movie about the incident with Nancy Kerrigan (who, btw, only showed up briefly – this picture was, truly, Tonya’s story and I’ve seen some supporters of Nancy complain about that online), the filmmakers really made this movie into a well-rounded biography of Tonya’s rather than just a retelling of a single event in her life. I also found the themes that the movie explored very interesting: the two major concepts that the picture looked at were family and sport – both of which intersected in Tonya Harding’s life.

Lately, ‘sport’ movies have been about so much more than just sport (like, Battle of the Sexes, in addition to I, Tonya). Gone are the days of basic inspirational sports movies of underdogs succeeding. Now, the underdogs don’t always win and the hurdles in their way are even higher and more complicated (less black and white too). Also, a recurring topic that I’ve noticed in the latest ‘sports’ movies was elitism in sport, which was explored here through the need of a ‘wholesome American family’ for a world-class skater and in Borg Vs. McEnroe through a need to come from a certain class (the higher the better) to be able to play tennis.

Looking for parallels with the other movies further, interestingly, Tonya Harding wasn’t the only real-life movie heroine this awards’ season who was told all her life that she wasn’t good enough (Molly from Molly’s Game was too). There is no question that her mother was a horrible and abusive parent. However, did that abuse really made Tonya tougher and a champion, as her mom asserted? I’d disagree, as it seems that Tonya went from one abusive family to create an abusive and dysfunctional family of her own. And yet, was she only a product of her upbringing and circumstances? Or whether some of it was completely on her? Was she inherently violent or did she learn violence? Either way, while the movie raised a lot of questions for me (as evident in this paragraph), it did provide me with one clear answer: Tonya deserved better. Also, I do believe that Tonya wasn’t to blame as much as she was blamed (she wasn’t completely blameless either). However, it seems that the skating world really could not past up an opportunity to avenge themselves not only for the incident but for her whole attitude towards them.

But, this is only my takeaway from the film. Other viewers might have understood the message differently and that’s okay because, as the movie itself stated at the very beginning: there are different versions of the truth. However, I do believe that there is a consensus among the viewers about who was the most despicable character in the film. If you didn’t think it was the bodyguard, then you really shouldn’t read this review further. I absolutely hated his character not only for his final actions that damned everyone else but just how he weaseled himself into that situation in the first place. He was truly an idiot, and that special kind of idiot, that, I’m sad to say, only seems to come in the US. Another very American aspect of the movie was the public’s reaction to the incident: Americans are a special nation who love to love celebrities as much as they love to hate them. Though it looks like this trend (of love and hate) is spreading to other parts of the world now too, mostly because of the social media.

Directing

Craig Gillespie (of The Finest Hours and Million Dollar Arm) directed I, Tonya and did a stellar job. He paced and edited the movie really well. The cinematography was great too – I loved how close and intimate the camera was during the skating sequences. The head replacement effect was noticeable in some of those sequences but not as much as to take the viewer out of the movie. The setting of the period was realized spot-on. The breaking of the 4th wall not only during the interview sequences but during the flashbacks was great too and fit the black comedy/’so crazy it has to be true’ tonne of the film. The picture was also incredibly funny but in that ‘I feel horrible for laughing’ kind of a way. I loved its irony and that satirical feeling.  The mirrored visuals in the ending, with Harding twirling on ice vs falling in a boxing, were amazing and quite sad as well.

Acting

Margot Robbie (Goodbye Christopher Robin, Tarzan, The Big Short), who has been steadily increasing her mainstream fanbase with every movie she has starred in, especially Suicide Squad, did an absolutely stellar job as the titular character. She not only acted in the film but also produced it. This role of hers reminded me of Charlize Theron’s performance in Monster, as both actresses got really de-glamourized in order to portray their respective characters. I also loved how Robbie was able to portray Tonya as a graceful dancer who wasn’t girly but rather more masculine. I thought that Robbie’s best scenes in the film (the ones that were definitely in her awards reel) were: 1)her just looking at the mirror before the 1994 Olympics and 2)her reaction to the sentence of the trial. Fun fact: the girl who played young Tonya was Mckenna Grace. In addition to playing the younger version of an actress who is Harley Quinn, she has also starred in Gifted alongside Captain America, a.k.a Chris Evans.

Allison Janney (Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, The Girl on the Train) was also incredible in the film and is deservedly getting a lot of awards recognition for it. I wish that Sebastian Stan, who played Tonya’s husband, would have also gotten some awards nods because he too was excellent in the film. Stan has been steadily building quite a successful career for himself too, like Robbie, by starring in the supporting roles in smaller/awards films (The Martian, Logan Lucky) and by portraying a fan favorite character in a big franchise, a.k.a. Bucky in MCU (who was last seen in Civil War plus, a certain post-credits scene in a certain movie.

In short, I, Tonya was a great film with a fascinating subject matter and a stellar execution.

Rate: 4.5/5

Trailer: I, Tonya trailer

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