5 ideas about a movie: Ghost Stories

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Hello!

I started last week with some American horror, so it’s only right that I start this one with some British horror. This is Ghost Stories!

IMDb summary: Arch sceptic Professor Phillip Goodman embarks upon a terror-filled quest when he stumbles across a long-lost file containing details of three cases of inexplicable ‘hauntings’.

  1. Ghost Stories was written and directed by Andy Nyman (who also played the lead) and Jeremy Dyson. Nyman has worked quite a lot alongside psychological illusionist Derren Brown and that collaboration has influenced a lot of projects, including Ghost Stories, which actually started as a play on West End (co-written by both Nyman and Dyson) and was adapted to film this year.
  2. For the first 70minutes of the movie, I thought that the writing for it was good but not particularly original. The psychic detective character was an interesting one to focus on and his family’s background was also quite fascinating and obviously important. The three cases themselves had some nice themes within (violence, psychosis, family drama) but they seemed quite typical for a horror movie. However, the reveals which occurred in the last 20 minutes completely changed my mind on the wiring: the rapid-fire reveals and explanations made the whole script way more genius than it seemed before. Basically, Ghost Stories had great ‘bigger picture’ writing with some good and some just okay details.
  3. Thematically, Ghost Stories asked whether the supernatural was real and I sort of think that it answered the question by saying that the psychological is the supernatural – inner demons result in outer ones. The second big thematic idea was the statement that things are not what they always seem and that was both true within each individual case and for a whole movie overall, as its story was not what it seemed at first. The finale with the main character being trapt in his own mind was the spookiest idea of the whole film.
  4. The direction of the movie was good too. The documentary-like style opening was cool and I wish that the whole picture continued to be filmed like that. The horror sequences were scary, disturbing and intense but not something one hasn’t seen (especially if you watch a lot of horror movies – I only see a few horror movies per year and I still didn’t found the horror in this one to be particularly original). I feel that the sequences were scarier when the actual supernatural figure wasn’t directly seen: I, personally, fear the unseen way more.
  5. Ghost Stories’ cast consisted of a writer/director Andy Nyman (with whose previous work I was unfamiliar with seeing this movie), Black Mirror’s and The End of a F***ing World’s Alex Lawther (he is amazing at playing characters on the cusp of a mental breakdown, like the ones in the aforementioned TV shows and this film), Martin Freeman (also known as a Tolkien white guy on Black Panther and my main drawn to this film), and Paul Whitehouse (The Death of Stalin). No female characters were present in the film.

In short, Ghost Stories is a spooky ride with some original packaging of familair (but still cool) ideas.

Rate: 3.7/5

Trailer: Ghost Stories

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Movie review: Thoroughbreds

Movie reviews

Hello!

And welcome to a review of a movie that enthralled me just with its name. This is Thoroughbreds.

IMDb summary: Two upper-class teenage girls in suburban Connecticut rekindle their unlikely friendship after years of growing apart. Together, they hatch a plan to solve both of their problems-no matter what the cost.

Writing

Thoroughbreds was written by the director Cory Finley. I have seen this movie described as an ‘update on the teen thriller genre’. Even though that sounds like a positive description, I would like to completely bypass the teen genre denomination, as, while the movie is about two teens, its writing is so much more than the writing for just a teen movie. It’s entirely something else.

Thoroughbreds plot revolves around two girls that set off on a mission. But these girls are not just random teenagers: they come from a privileged background that has damaged them. One of them has no emotions, the other controls hers until she doesn’t. And their mission is not a fun adventure but a quest that showcases human capacity and will for violence. It really doesn’t paint the best picture of humanity, especially the supposed best of the best of humanity, also known as the rich upper class. It also doesn’t paint the best picture of people’s understanding of human emotion, as lack of it is always seen as an issue, a deficiency, a mental illness. On the other hand, it does portray the idea of sympathy as a rare phenomenon in modern society very accurately.

Hints (or more than just hints) to the characters being psychopaths are also in the film, as they don’t seem to process human relationships in a healthy way. While the stepfather does appear abusive and not the nicest man, the killing of him is far from justified. It’s only justified in the character’s mind as the reclaiming of control. Finley’s script doesn’t need to reclaim controls as it never lets it go. The narrative is tight and doesn’t have any unnecessary details, while no line of the dialogue feels out of place. All the statements are sharp and to the point but still somewhat natural and realistic sounding. And that name, the thing that first peaked my interest, is perfect. Not only does it captures the privileged nature of the characters (horseriding is a stereotypically popular activity among the upper class), but also showcases how that privilege damages them (children are bred like animals rather than cared for through human connection).

Directing

Thoroughbreds was a directorial debut by Cory Finley and want a brilliant one it was. He took the idea of control from the script and applied it to the whole story, making it tight and controlled. It was brought to life through forceful but contained visuals and cinematography. Restrain was, most likely, encouraged in the actors’ performances too. One part of the movie that is allowed to be a bit less controlled but is still incredibly focused and powerful is the score. It’s unsettling and keeps the tension and suspension all throughout the runtime. Finley’s debut thriller-drama was just so damn good. I have no idea why it is being billed as comedy as there is nothing particularly funny about it, maybe only in ‘this is so morbid, I have to laugh’ kinda way.

Acting

Olivia Cooke (Ready Player One) and Anya Taylor-Joy (Split, soon The New Mutants) were absolutely brilliant in the picture. Their performances were top notch and extremely strong in a subtle way. Cooke’s character’s emotionlessness and Taylor-Joy’s characters privilege and porcelain-like stature were portrayed with such sophistication. Can’t wait to see more from them!

This movie also featured one of the final performances by Anton Yelchin (Star Trek Beyond). Seeing him on screen was a bittersweet moment. It’s such a shame that we have lost an incredibly talented actor at such a young age. His role here was really interesting: his drug dealer character unexpectedly became the one nice person in the film, who received all of the viewers, at least all of my, sympathy.

In short, Thoroughbreds is a fantastic thriller about control (the concept permeates all aspects of the film) and an incredibly promising directorial debut from a new voice in Tinseltown.

Rate: 4.25/5

Trailer: Thoroughbreds trailer

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5 ideas about a movie: Isle of Dogs

Movie reviews

Hello!

And welcome to a review of one peculiar little picture. This is Isle of Dogs.

IMDb summary: Set in Japan, Isle of Dogs follows a boy’s odyssey in search of his lost dog.

  1. Isle of Dogs was written and directed By Wes Anderson and was undeniably his picture. His style of filmmaking is just so unique and different that it is impossible to confuse his films with anyone else’s. While Anderson did write the screenplay himself, the story credits went to Roman Coppola, Jason Schwartzman (two of Anderson’s frequent collaborators), and Kunichi Nomura (a Japanse actor/writer who was also one of the two casting directors for this film).
  2. I have seen a lot of articles and comments online about Isle of Dogs in relation to the appropriation of Japanese culture. I certainly had a similar thought when watching the movie. I wasn’t entirely sure why the setting had to be Japan, though I found the interplay between the languages – English and Japanese – quite an interesting choice for the film. I also wouldn’t like to state that the filmmaker was definitely appropriating something as I believe that cultures should be shared. And yet, where is the line between respectful homage and appreciation versus malevolent appropriation?
  3. In my mind, Isle of Dogs’ story unfolded on two plains: the surface and the hidden one. The surface story was an elaborate but clear adventure narrative about some dogs and a boy fighting an evil empire. That story was a bit slow but the humor was still snappy (the comedic timing was quite impeccable). The deeper meaning that I took from the picture was the commentary on the modern society, which enjoys nothing more than othering and excluding people that it finds unsuitable for a whole number of reasons (a lot of which relate to the person’s identity).
  4. I highly enjoyed the format of Isle of Dogs. I have always been a fan of the stop-motion animation and I sill find it just so captivating. The amount of work that goes into this style of animation blows my mind every time I see a new film using it. The design of the animals was also great – real but not really. Every shot felt just so material: saturated with objects, colors, and textures. The symmetrical steady shots also felt very Anderson. The film was also very musical in that its score had an underlying beat, constantly ringing in the background, which provided a sort of rhythmic backdrop for the story. The animation, art, and music departments should get as much recognition for this movie as Anderson himself does.
  5. Isle of Dogs’ voice cast was full of Hollywood’s most recognizable and expressive voices that added so much to the picture. Bryan Cranston (Trumbo, Power Rangers), Edward Norton (Collateral Beauty), Bill Murray (The Jungle Book), Jeff Goldblum (ID2, Thor 3), Bob BalabanGreta Gerwig (Lady Bird), Frances McDormand (Three Billboards), Scarlett Johansson (Ghost in the Shell, MCU), and Tilda Swinton (Okja, Doctor Strange) all had roles of varying sizes.  On the Japanese front, Koyu Rankin, Kunichi Nomura, Akira Takayama and even Yoko Ono lent their voices to some characters.

In brief, Isle of Dogs was a bizarre and fascinating Wes Anderson-y ride that might or might not have been culturally insensitive.

Rate: 3.5/5

Trailer: Isle of Dogs trailer

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Movie review: Unsane

Movie reviews

Hello!

Welcome to a review of a horror movie by a horror hater (also known as a scary cat). This is Unsane!

IMDb summary: A young woman is involuntarily committed to a mental institution, where she is confronted by her greatest fear–but is it real or a product of her delusion?

Writing

Unsane was written by Jonathan Bernstein (journalist) and James Greer (novelist and critic) and I thought that their script was really interesting. First of all, I loved how much information the movie provided about its characters and the story, and yet, how nothing was clear. It sprung the main topic of the film on the viewer in the first few scenes without any preparation. That main question, whether the character was actually insane or not, didn’t actually end up being answered but the ambiguity of it was so intriguing that I wasn’t even mad for not getting concrete answers. I also don’t feel that concrete answers are appropriate when looking at mental illness – a very complex, personal, and still not-fully-understood field.

The main character, aside from her existing (or not) psychological issues, was also super interesting. Her personality and actions weren’t the most sympathetic and yet, the viewer wanted to root for her. It was quite a confusing and frustrating state that the viewer was put in. I also got personally annoyed with the character because of her incapability to work the situation that she was in. That inability might be due to the mental illness? But did it start because of the stalking? Or was there an issue before? Was she ever telling the truth? Why would she play/provoke him? What about that ending? I really didn’t expect the movie to go there but I am sort of fascinated by the fact that it did.

Lastly, the setting of the movie was incredible too. That asylum was both old-school (because it reminded me of a mental institution one might see in old horror movies) but was also super contemporary (because it was just a front for insurance fraud (yey, capitalism?)).

Directing

Unsane was directed by Steven Soderbergh (Magic Mike XXL), who was also the cinematographer and the editor of the film. His involvement with this movie was the main reason while I actually subjected myself to watching a horror movie. And it wasn’t really a typical horror movie, but a very fascinating and creepy psychological thriller (and I’m somehow very into that genre, even though it is so closely related to the horror one).

Anyways, Soderbergh has made some bold chances, like breaking away from the big studios and handling the marketing himself with his last film Logan Lucky. He went one step further with Unsane by not even using any of the traditional filmmaking methods – the picture was shot entirely on an iPhone (Tangerinewas also shot on an iPhone, so Unsane isn’t the first ‘bigger’ movie to do that). Thus, the aspect ration of the movie was unusual. The cinematography was super unique too: the viewers had a very direct relationship with the image and seemed to be so close to it. The angles from which the film was shot also differed from the usual ones. That lack of distance between the viewer and the picture kinda made it feel like a documentary movie too. The not-perfect quality of the visuals also added to that feeling of realism. Since it appears that Soderbergh pretty much did everything himself on this picture, the credits of it were surprisingly short. I was halfway down the stairs in the screen and they were already over.

Acting

Unsane was mostly a one-woman show: Claire Foy (Breathe) played the lead and was really incredible. Love the fact that Netflix’s The Crown led to more cinematic roles for her. Joshua Leonard played the stalker and was uncomfortable to watch, both because of what type of character he was playing and because the actual performance was a bit stiff. SNL’s Jay Pharoah was one strand of positivity in the film and I did appreciate the breather/reassurance that the character provided both for the main character and the viewers. Juno Temple (Wonder Wheel) also had a small but quite explosive role. There is also a fun cameo by a big movie star, who has been popping up in all kinds of different projects, lately.

Unsane was an unhinged psychological thriller that left me with more questions than answers, like any good psycho-thriller should do.

Rate: 4/5

Trailer: Unsane trailer 

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5 ideas about a movie: You Were Never Really Here

Movie reviews

Hello!

And welcome to a review of a movie I knew nothing about prior to seeing it. Can’t say I know much more having now seen it. This is You Were Never Really Here.

IMDb summary: A traumatized veteran, unafraid of violence, tracks down missing girls for a living. When a job spins out of control, Joe’s nightmares overtake him as a conspiracy is uncovered leading to what may be his death trip or his awakening.

  1. You Were Never Really Here was written and directed by Lynne Ramsay. Her previous feature – We Need To Talk About Kevin – has been on my ‘to watch’ list for years and I have yet to get to it. Thus, I went into this movie not only not knowing anything about the actual picture but also without any expectations. And I still don’t know how I feel about this movie, even though it’s been 3 weeks since I’ve seen it.
  2. The film won the ‘Best Screenplay’ at the 70th Cannes Film Festival and, at first, I wasn’t sure why, as I didn’t really think this movie had a story. It had a plot and stuff happening but I didn’t see the narrative. Then, I sort of realized that that was an intentional choice. There was barely any dialogue, let alone narration. It was up to a viewer to fill in the blanks and figure out the story. I think that one’s enjoyment of this film solely depends on one’s ability to fill in the gaps themselves or one’s willingness to be content with not knowing.
  3. While the movie never gave enough information neither in the opening nor throughout the rest of the plot, what it did present was intriguing as much as disturbing. These feelings are certainly appropriate for the themes that the movie was exploring: it looked at the concept of one’s inner demons and also showcased abuse (I thought that it questioned whether the main character was a victim or perpetrator of abuse or both? What is the relationship between the two?). What I liked most about this movie was its undeniable focus on the human. The happy ending was also nice but I didn’t trust the movie enough to actually believe it.
  4. The unsettling topics weren’t expressed verbally but they were perfectly showcased visually through a lot of uncomfortable close-ups. The movie was also really slow and that slowness of pace did not allow the viewer to escape from the creepiness of the movie’s world for but a second. Since I cannot see a movie and not automatically connect it with a different movie, I thought that the underwater shots in this film looked like creepier and more realistic takes on The Shape of Water’ water scenes.
  5. The lead in the movie was played by Joaquin Phoenix (Irrational Man) and he was really good. Both sort of scary yet sympathetic. He was my only draw to this picture and I should have known what kinda film I was signing up for, as Phoenix doesn’t really do mainstream (or close to the mainstream) projects. I, personally, was quite lost and confused when watching the movie and I don’t know if it is accessible to the mainstream audiences. My problem with movies like this one is that they don’t encourage me to research them and to potentially get smarter: they just make me feel dumber and angry about it.

Rate: 3/5

Trailer: You Were Never Really Here

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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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5 ideas about a movie: Finding Your Feet

Movie reviews

Hello!

It seems that lately, I’ve been reviewing quite a few small and unknown British films. This post is no exception. This is Finding Your Feet.

IMDb summary: On the eve of retirement a middle class, judgmental snob discovers her husband has been having an affair with her best friend and is forced into exile with her bohemian sister who lives on an impoverished inner-city council estate.

  1. Finding Your Feet was written by Nick Moorcroft and Meg Leonard and directed by Richard Loncraine. This film was my introduction to all of these filmmakers and it certainly wasn’t a bad first impression on their part. Even though I, a university student, certainly wasn’t the target demographic for this movie, I still found it quite enjoyable. The other cinemagoers in my screening (all of whom were at least 20 years older than me) were really into this movie: I heard quite a few laughs as well as emotional snivels.
  2. Thematically, the movie was both inspiring and cliche. The inspiring parts were the messages about living at any age and having a life outside of marriage. The cliches were mostly all related to the ending of the romantic arc of the film – the arc itself was cute and did have another nice message of giving love a second chance. This feel-good film was also quite funny, especially when it poked fun at British upper-class identity (though, it was still very much rooted in British culture, both in the setting and slang).
  3. From the structural point of view, some of the writing elements were somewhat mediocre. One portion of the movie was set in Italy and it didn’t really have to be. Also, the second act took place during the Christmas season: those extended sequences, plus, the whole feeling and tonne of the picture made it seem a bit like a holiday movie, which begs the question: why didn’t it come in December (instead of February)? Also, the movie took a tiny bit too long to wrap up after its big emotional scene had already played out.
  4. From the directing point of view, Finding Your Feet was a fine film. It was slow but not too slow (not counting the ending). The comedic timing was fine, while the cinematography was that of a typical narrative drama film. The picture also had some adorably amateurish dance sequences, which were fun enough.
  5. Finding Your Feet has assembled a great cast of seasoned British actors. Imelda StauntonTimothy Spall (The Party), and Celia Imrie (her character’s name was Elizabeth, shortened to Bif – never heard that abbreviation before) played the three main characters and were a pure delight to watch. Staunton was especially great, though I didn’t particularly appreciate her anti-blockbuster comments during the promotion of this movie. They sounded especially ironic knowing that she herself is best known to worldwide audiences because of a blockbuster franchise – she played none other that Umbridge in HP films. Her co-star in this film – T.Spall – has also starred in that series as Peter Pettigrew.

In short, Finding Your Feet was equal parts heartfelt and cheesy dramedy that will delight your grandparents/parents. You might enjoy it too!

Rate: 3.2/5

Trailer: Finding Your Feet 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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Movie review: The Mercy

Movie reviews

Hello,

Welcome to a review of a small British film that you haven’t seen. This is The Mercy.

IMDb summary: The incredible story of amateur sailor Donald Crowhurst and his solo attempt to circumnavigate the globe. The struggles he confronted on the journey while his family awaited his return is one of the most enduring mysteries of recent times.

Writing

The Mercy was written by Scott Z. Burns (writer of Bourne 3 among other thrillers), based on the real-life events of 1968. I thought that the structure of the writing was fine but I had a lot of problems with its content. If the movie had a more critical rather than a celebratory approach towards its lead, I would have enjoyed The Mercy vastly more.

To begin with, the movie opened with quite a weird set-up. Instead of starting with the development of the main character, the viewer first found out about the actual sailing challenge and the navigation technology. Only then, was the main character and his family somewhat established. Since the movie did not persuade me to like the character in its first act, I cared little to none about him during the subsequent acts, where the viewer’s emotional connection to/understanding of the character were the only things holding the film together.

After half an hour of wonky set-up. the movie really began when Crowhurst set out for his journey. Quickly, a few things were revealed: he was really unprepared and he didn’t really know what he was doing. While his whole journey and this movie were pitched as an inspiring quest of a single man, in truth, his decision for the voyage was an attempt to prove his worth and best other men. Additionally, he wasn’t really looking to inspire others but rather to drive revenue into his business – it was a marketing/publicity stunt more than anything else. When his true intentions came to the surface, it became easier to understand why he was prepared to lie and cheat his way to the finish.

His whole ‘inspirational quest’ was just one giant attempt to cover up a failure and the movie celebratory view of its main character was completely wrong. How could one celebrate a man who would rather die than lose? Who would rather die than return to his family? I do get that the voyage did damage his psychology and that he wasn’t thinking clearly in the end. However, even though the fact that he committed suicide was an unfortunate event that should not have happened, it’s not a good enough excuse or a justification for his earlier actions, the ones prior to the mental illness he suffered onboard. Unless he was mentally ill before he even set out for the journey? Or was he just a sad little man, who believed in the tropes of classical masculinity?

Lastly, the concluding scenes with the wife’s decision to blame everyone else seemed like a cheap trick. Ultimately, it was his decision to sail away! Moreover, he was the one who created the circumstances that would push him to sail away! It was all on him!

Directing

The Mercy was directed by James Marsh (of The Theory of Everything). I don’t think he nailed the direction for this film. As evident in the previous section, I had lots of problems with the writing and this movie’s perspective on this story. A lot of that came from Marsh’s directing. Also, the movie was incredibly slow and not intense enough to make up for the lacking pace. The scenes of being stranded at sea were few and far between and they were not constructed in a particularly compelling manner – this was no In The Heart Of The Sea (didn’t have the same visuals) and wasn’t deep and thoughtful enough to succeed without them.

Acting

Colin Firth (Kingsman 1, Kingsman 2, Genius, Magic in the Moonlight) played the lead of Donald Crowhurst, and while he was okay, I didn’t think his performance was powerful enough. He certainly did not make me like or even understand Crowhurst’s motives and actions. Rachel Weisz (The Lobster) was fine as Clare Crowhurst but it was quite sad to see her relegated to the ‘wife at home’ role. David Thewlis (Wonder Woman) was good as the journalist/publicist Rodney Hallworth – his character was the only truly interesting part of the film.

In short, The Mercy wasn’t a great film as you can tell from my ‘less than merciful’ review of it.

Rate: 2.5/5

Trailer: The Mercy trailer

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Movie review: Phantom Thread

Movie reviews

Hello!

Welcome to one the last awards’ movie reviews. This time around, we are discussing Phantom Thread!

IMDb summary: Set in 1950’s London, Reynolds Woodcock is a renowned dressmaker whose fastidious life is disrupted by a young, strong-willed woman, Alma, who becomes his muse and lover.

Paul Thomas Anderson

Phantom Thread was written and directed by Paul Thomas Anderson, known for such films as Magnolia, Boogie Nights, Inherent Vice (which I’ve finally watched and was confused by) and There Will Be Blood (my favorite picture of his). His direction for Phantom Thread was very particular (and, in a way, quite spectacular). The writing was also very specific and, while I, personally, found a lot of problems with its content, I could also see how other people might have been fascinated by it. Let’s begin!

Writing

Phantom Thread’s narrative was, at its core, a love story, albeit a twisted and toxic one. The portrayal of such a love story was my main problem with the film. I have seen this movie described as a true representation of what it is like being in a relationship with an artist. To me, this looked like a situation, in which the film’s supposed authenticity of representation was used as a poor justification for the toxic relationship of the characters. Also, the assertion of authenticity raised another problem in my mind: according to this film, artists are borderline divine deities, to be sheltered and protected. In my worldview, artists are humans: flawed individuals rather than godlike figures to be privileged and raised above everyone else.

Going back to the love story, I couldn’t buy its progression. The female character stared the film as timid and quiet and seemed to be perfectly happy to be in an abusive and strict relationship. However, then she changed into a femme fatale (went from 0 (every second word from her mouth in the first half was ‘yes’) to Christian Grey levels) and attempted to reassert some power/or even take full control of the relationship by using quite deadly means. Where did that change come from? I did not see any hints at it at the beginning of the film! Also, if deciding to play-up the female character as this quiet but deadly individual, why not have the whole tonne of the movie be a bit more cynical and sinister rather than romantical? The changes in tonne would have made the whole shift seem a bit more possible. Also, was her goal to lower his defense mechanism really the only thing driving her forward? Or did she just want to weasel herself into his business and was basically a gold digger?

The male character was equally awful. He was privileged, pedantic, ridden with mommy issues (which were never really explored, just mentioned), demanding, superior without any good reason, obsessive, pretentious and controlling workaholic. Was he like that because of a mental illness or was he just an awful human being? Did his eccentricities really make him remarkable? I found that assertion quite questionable. Also, what did he see in the female character? A person to love, a prize to desire or a great model for his clothes/a real life dressmaker’s dummy?

The two ideas of writing that I liked the most (or the only two I liked at all) were the assertions that clothing is powerful and transformative and the character of the sister. Her jealousy of the new girlfriend/wife was a bit weird but I did like the fact that she was done with her brother by the end of the film and experienced growth – escaped the cycle that the other two characters remained stuck in.

Directing

Phantom Thread looked like a 1950s movie with its blurry and grainy visuals and soft colors. The designs themselves were beautiful but they also seemed very much of their own time – old rather than classical (time-transcending). The picture was also really slow, and since the story was either angering or extremely unengaging for me, I felt that it dragged more than a few times.

Acting

The two lead actors – Daniel Day-Lewis and Vicky Krieps – did a good enough job portraying the character. But, as I found their characters atrocious, I couldn’t really enjoy the actors’ performances. The chemistry between the two actors was interesting. I didn’t see it as positive but rather more confrontational and sometimes awkward, uncomfortable to watch. I don’t think this was Day-Lewis best performance and I certainly don’t think he should retire after it. For Krieps, this was her English-language debut (or one of the first few roles in English) and it was not necessarily the most successful one.

 

 

In short, Phantom Thread was a beautifully shot film, whose writing left me confused and annoyed. Might just be a personal thing, though, as a lot of critics seemed to have loved it.

Rate: 3/5

Trailer: Phantom Thread trailer

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