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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Movie review: The Big Sick

Movie reviews

Hello!

I had a chance to watch, probably, the most original film of the year and I really want to talk about it. It’s The Big Sick!

IMDb summary: Pakistan-born comedian Kumail Nanjiani and grad student Emily Gordon fall in love but struggle as their cultures clash. When Emily contracts a mysterious illness, Kumail finds himself forced to face her feisty parents, his family’s expectations, and his true feelings.

Writing

The Big Sick was written by Emily V. Gordon and Kumail Nanjiani. They based the script of their actual relationship and Nanjiani also portrayed a version of himself in the film. Gordon has mostly written for TV before, while Nanjiani has done a lot of acting and writing for TV too. The Big Sick was their biggest writing project to date.

The aspect of the film, which has been discussed the most, was its diversity or, more specifically, the ethnicity/race of the main character/actor as well as the cultural commentary provided by the movie. Everyone in the industry was super surprised that a movie with a Pakistani-American actor in the lead could succeed financially (critical success seemed more plausible) or that audiences were actually interested in a different culture.

On top of being interested in a different culture, audiences just usually look for a quality film to watch, and The Big Sick was exactly that. I thought that it had one of the best scripts of the recent romance films because the relationship was written in a realistic manner. The dialogue between the two people was fresh and actually sounded like an interaction between real people: it had moments of awkwardness and comfort, fun and absurdity but was also very sincere. The slight gendered bickering wasn’t out of place either and felt like a believable part of a modern relationship. The cinematic cliches (e.g. a guy listening to the girl’s voicemails after the breakup) didn’t look forced or cringy but actually seemed cute and natural. Lastly, the way Gordon and Nanjiani wrote the ending of the film was just absolutely brilliant. They didn’t go for a grand reveal and an instant fairy tale conclusion but crafted a realistic ending to a relationship – the kind that people have to work for.

Speaking about the portrayal of a different culture, I thought that The Big Sick was very successful in that aspect. I loved how the film presented a varied Pakistani-Muslim community, with some people keeping up with the traditions more and some less. It was also very thoughtful of the movie to showcase a successful arranged marriage (while it might not be for everyone, it can also bring happiness). In addition, I loved how the movie wasn’t afraid to not just present the culture but to critique it (or even joke about it). One of the best moments in the picture was the scene where Nanjiani’s character voiced his doubts about the culture (are the American lifestyle and the Muslim culture at all compatabile?). I loved how in that moment, he both remained respectful of the culture but also wasn’t blinded by it and underscored the importance of his own personal experience. The inclusion of Nanjiani’s career plot-line into the picture also helped to interrogate the culture from more than not just the romance angle, while it also made the story richer and elevated the whole movie.

Another unique part of the film was Nanjiani’s character’s bonding time with his girlfriend’s parents (I haven’t seen anything similar in recent times or maybe ever). Their conversations were really genuine but also fun. The scene of the mother character showing her daughter’s childhood pictures to the boyfriend was so true to life. The way the parent characters were written to behave at the hospital – writing everything down and googling the symptoms – added another layer of realism to the film too. My only slight gripe was the fact that I didn’t think that the inner problems of the parent’s relationship were necessary. However, their addition to the movie didn’t detract from the main relationship too much.

Directing

The Big Sick was directed by Michael Showalter whose previous picture was also a romantic comedy – Hello, My Name is Doris, which was as unique as The Big Sick. Both of these pictures focused on unconventional romantic pairings, be it because of the age or ethnicity of individuals in the relationship.

I thought that Showalter did a very good job directing The Big Sick. I liked the overall aura of the film: it had the authenticity of a documentary film but was approachable as a narrative film. Plus, although it was an indie picture, it had the continuity and flow of a mainstream romantic comedy.

Moreover, The Big Sick was very nicely paced: the story progressed slowly but never dragged, instead, the movie cleverly took its time to build an emotional core of the narrative. The reveals in the story also came organically and weren’t shocking just for the sake of being shocking. Alternatively, they were, again, more focused on the sentimental impact.

Acting

  • Kumail Nanjiani had a few minor roles on the big screen prior to this picture, though he was most well known for being on the main cast of Silicon Valley (a series that I have yet to watch). I wonder how was it for him to play a version of himself – whether it was easy or extremely difficult and whether he had to withhold or embellish his personality for the camera. Overall, I believe that he portrayed the character’s arc very concincigly and I hope that this film’s success can lead to more movie roles for him.
  • Zoe Kazan was also very good in the picture. Her and Nanjiani’s chemistry was amazing too. Holly Hunter and Ray Romano starred as the parent and did a nice job as well. It was delightful to see Hunter in a better film than her last one (BvS) and Romano actually appearing on the screen instead of just voicing the mammoth in the endless Ice Age movies. Lastly, the film’s cast was rounded out by a whole bunch of stand-up comedians, who all delivered excellent performances.

In brief, The Big Sick is one of the most unique romantic comedies I have ever seen. Not only does it have a fresh perspective and an original concept to explore, it is simply just a very well made movie.

Rate: 4.5/5

Trailer: The Big Sick trailer

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Movie review: Wind River

Movie reviews

Hello!

Let’s take a break from all the summer blockbusters of varying quality and give a chance to the dying genre of the regular movie. This is the review of Wind River.

IMDb summary: An FBI agent teams with a town’s veteran game tracker to investigate a murder that occurred on a Native American reservation.

Taylor Sheridan

Wind River is a thriller, written and directed by Taylor Sheridan. Sheridan’s name might be unfamiliar to a lot of people, but cinephiles should know him for writing two recent marvelous pictures that both had some awards potential – 2015’s Sicario and 2016’s Hell or High Water. While Sheridan didn’t direct any of his previous scripts (Sicario was done by Villeneuve, and Hell or High Water by Mckenzie), he does have some directing experience, having helmed 2011’s horror film, Vile. Wind River is being distributed by the awards whisperers The Weinstein Company. Their involvement combined with Sheridan’s previous track record might actually give Wind River a chance to make some ways during the proper awards season. More importantly, the film highly deserves that.

Writing

Sheridan, similarly to his previous movies, has written a story that’s both thrilling and entertaining but is also thematically clever. Wind River, a film inspired by true events, is set on a Native American reservoir and the first victim of a crime is a young Native American woman. The local police are not equipped to solve the mystery, while FBI is also not willing to pay a lot of attention. This fictionalized account goes very much in line with the real life events (so, ‘inspired by true events’ sentence is accurate). As an anthropology student, I have studied a few cases of Native American women going missing in the north of North America and the local authorities doing nothing to find them (in class, we mostly focused on cases in Canada but the film’s Wyoming’s case was very similar). Wind River’s story at least had a somewhat happy ending and some closure, however, that’s usually not the case in real life. So, it was really nice for a film to end with a sentence about the statistics of missing Native women –  a call to action, even if it will probably go unheard.

The depictions of the reservoir life seemed quite accurate. The problems within a Native American community – the drugs and substance abuse, poverty, the loss of identity and the marginalization – were all mentioned. The relationship between the white Americans and the Native Americans was represented in a variety of ways. The viewers saw both a friendly relationship of a white man being, more or less, a member of a community and an outsider white American being seen as a hostile stranger (at least in the beginning). Lastly, even though some of the ideas and relationships in the film could be seen as very specific and having a limited crossover, the overarching themes of the picture were survival and family – two extremely universal concepts that are understood across all cultures.

I have mentioned the historical facts as well as topics of the movie, let’s now turn our attention to the actual detective story. To begin with, I found it refreshing to see an FBI agent and a local hunter working together and listening to one another, rather than competing to reach the same goal. It was also nice to see a completely professional relationship without any pushed romance being depicted. The reveal of who the criminals were – 5 white, less than bright, drunk men from a working class background – was maybe a bit disappointing at first but, on a second viewing, very much grounded and realistic. Plus, the scene that followed the reveal – the rapid shoot-out – was unexpected in the best way possible and also oddly satisfying.

Directing

While Sheridan’s directing style wasn’t groundbreaking, it was still good in its subtlety. His direction for the picture was mostly elevated by his own amazing writing. Visually, the film looked nice – the sweeping shots of the mountains and snow were naturally gorgeous, while the sequence of the snowmobile action added an element of effortless coolness. The pacing was very good too – the film was constantly building to a crescendo and also delivered on it. Wind River was definitely a great effort from a sort of new director.

Acting

At the center of Wind River, two Marvel stars were reunited – Jeremy Renner and Elizabeth Olsen. They both did a magnificent job. It was nice to see Renner continuing his indie/awards career alongside his blockbuster-focused one (he was just recently in Arrival in addition to Civil War, MI5, and Age of Ultron). Elizabeth Olsen (Godzilla) has really come into her own as an actress and is probably now more famous (acting-wise) than her older sisters.

The supporting cast, thankfully, provided an opportunity for some Native American/First Nations talent to shine, like Gil Birmingham (he was also in Hell or High Water), Julia JonesGraham Greene, and Martin Sensmeier. Jon Bernthal (Baby Driver, The Accountant, We Are Your Friends) also appeared in the film, reuniting with Sheridan, after having worked on Sicario with him. 

In short, Wind River is an emotional, smart, and entertaining thriller that deserves more recognition that it will probably get.

Rate: 4.4/5

Trailer: Wind River trailer

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5 ideas about a movie: The Beguiled

Movie reviews

Hello!

A festival favorite and one of the strongest summer contenders for the awards season – The Beguiled – has premiered, so, let’s review it!

IMDb summary: The unexpected arrival of a wounded Union soldier at a girls’ school in Virginia during the American Civil War leads to jealousy and betrayal.

  1. The Beguiled was both written and directed by Sofia Coppola, latter of which was awarded at the Cannes Film Festival – she became the second woman ever to the Best Director Award. I’ve seen some of her films (The Bling Ring and Lost in Translation), but I’ve always had her other pictures on my ‘To watch’ list. I really need to do a movie marathon consisting of not just hers but of The Coppola’s family tree films.
  2. The movie’s script was based on a book A Painted Devil by Thomas P. Cullinan and the main topic being explored was the taboo issue of female sexuality and, especially, the repressed female sexuality and its dangers. Thus, all the character development mostly revolved around this issue, with not much attention being paid to anything else. The actions of the women did not make them into likable characters, while their choices at the end of the film were really quite shocking, which, I guess, was the intention. I did like the jab at the ‘Southern Comfort’, though – it’s the food that kills you. Literally.
  3. The writing for the lone male character was the best and he was the most well-rounded individual. His slay manipulations could really be seen in Colin Farrel’s (The Lobster, Fantastic Beasts) performance: he knew what each of the ladies wanted him to be and fulfilled that role. He was the older brother and an adult of the world to talk to, he was someone to impress and a potential suitor. Mostly, though, he was the personification of the budding sexual fantasies. These type of manipulations in his demeanor and the bursts of anger made me kinda see his demise as weirdly justified.
  4. Coppola’s directing was full of classical elements, like the steady camera, the old school ratio, and the long shots. These long shots really dictated the pacing of the film. The Beguiled was slow but carefully crafted, however, I did feel that, on a few occasions, some shots were lingering for too long without any intensity in them to make up for the lack of literal action. Nevertheless, I did enjoy the way Coppola realized the setting of the Civil War, with the noises of the battle going off in the background, but never allowed it to overpower the romantic drama happening within the house. The Beguiled wasn’t a Civil War film but a romantic thriller set during it. For the first hour, it was quite innocent (flirty and cute), while the last half hour was full of unforeseen cruelty and insane choices (all those repressed feelings were just bubbling over).
  5. I’ve already briefly touched upon Farrel’s smooth performance, so, now let’s look at the female cast. Nicole Kidman (Genius, Lion), Coppola’s usual partner Kirsten Dunst (Hidden Figures, Midnight Special), Elle Fanning (Trumbo, The Neon Demon), Angourie Rice (The Nice Guys, Spider-Man), and Oona Laurence (Southpaw, Bad Moms, Pete’s Dragon) all starred in the picture. The sexual tensions and frustrations were palpable in all of their performances with the exception of the youngest cast member Laurence.

In short, The Beguiled is a beautiful and slow art-house cinema offering that focuses on a theme that is still not as widely discussed as it should be, in the year 2017.

Rate: 4/5

Trailer: The Beguiled trailer

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Movie review: Okja

Movie reviews

Hello!

When the international release schedules fail me, Netflix provides. Let’s review their newest original picture Okja!

IMDb summary: Meet Mija, a young girl who risks everything to prevent a powerful, multi-national company from kidnapping her best friend – a fascinating animal named Okja.

Writing

Okja was written by the director of the film Bong Joon-ho and the author/journalist Jon Ronson. The narrative they crafted was just extraordinary. At a glance, the film appeared to be a live-action family adventure. However, in addition to being very entertaining all ages film, Okja was also unique, different, clever, innovative, and very topical. The premise, given in the opening, sounded insane but also sort or realistic (honestly, humans have come up with crazier solutions to the global problems). The familiar family film elements, like the child-animal bond (which sorta reminded me of The BFG), were mixed with the concepts of the corporate world, like bureaucracy, advertising, social media impact and public image, and GMOs – the ideas usually found in dystopian movies. On top of it, the distinct shades of the Korean culture, starting with the Korean language being used alongside English (I loved how the language barrier and translations were part of the plot), added another layer of uniqueness to the picture (it might not seem that out of the ordinary for anyone familiar with the cinema of the Far East).

Okja’s relationship with the vegetarian/vegan movement was super complex too. The film definitely placed the horrors of the mass meat production to the forefront and destroyed the barrier that the supermarkets have created between the production of meat and the consumer. The animal abuse was also hard to witness (tbh, now I am wondering whether animal rape is a thing) but it helped to prove a point that Okja was going for. The ideas expressed through the inclusion of the Animal Liberation Front were also fascinating. It is important to note that the screenwriters wanted to portray this group as peaceful yet still found ways to show its radicalness (beating one of their own for betrayal, starving to not leave a carbon footprint). I also appreciated the partially ambiguous ending of the film: while the personal win was achieved, the broader battle was lost. And yet, as the post-credits scene suggests – the fight continues.

Even though the movie was quite serious, it still had a few chuckle-worthy moments. I can’t believe I’m writing this, but the poop jokes in Okja were adorable rather than annoying. The company’s driver, who was completely done with his job, was also a hilarious addition.

Directing

The South Korean filmmaker Bong Joon-ho directed Okja and did an excellent job. He is probably the most well-known to Western audiences for Snowpiercer – another topical and unique film that is still accessible because of its cast of well-known Hollywood actors. While I liked Snowpiercer a bit more, I still have plenty of good things to say about Okja. First, the tone – a weird mixture of satire, theater, and realism ( a less kooky version of A Series of Unfortunate Events). Second, the action – the chase sequence through Seoul was was both fun and entertaining yet still had a lot of heart to it. The score, which accompanied the said sequence, was also magnificent, from the trumpets in the instrumental score to the usage of the song ‘You Fill Up My Senses’. The design of the Okja animal was good too – she was a cross between a hippopotamus and pet pig. The CGI was okay too – not super photo realistic but good enough for the movie.

On a side note, the story of this film’s release is almost as fascinating as the film itself. Okja was first booed at the prestigious Cannes Film Festival for being a Netflix film and then received a standing ovation for being a movie of extreme quality. Not only do the festival goers can’t seem to make up their minds, they also appear to be living in the last century. The film release practices are changing and they should catch up to that or risk becoming irrelevant in their field.

Acting

The movie had an ensemble cast, lead by a young actress Ahn Seo-hyun, whose performance was so pure: full of innocence and wonder. The Hollywood heavyweights like Doctor Strange’s and Hail, Caesar!’s Tilda Swinton (once again, completely transformed for the dual role) and Life’s and Nocturnal Animal’s Jake Gyllenhaal (in an eccentric and cartoonish performance that still somehow worked) provided the support. Swiss Army Man’s Paul Dano also starred (he is always really good in non-mainstream/indie films), while Lilly Collins also had a small role – she is actually headlining the next Netflix original film – To The Bone.

In short, Okja is a delightfully smart and entertaining picture that you can watch from the comfort of your own home. The best Netflix film so far!

Rate: 4.2/5

Trailer: Okja trailer

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Movie review: Baby Driver

Movie reviews

Hello!

An original movie, in this day and age, is a rarity, and that makes Baby Driver ten times more special than it already is. Let see whether the film can live up to the hype, whether it can prove the worth of original material, and whether it can act as the comeback of Edgar Wright! Plus, can it just be a fun and enjoyable summer movie?

IMDb summary: After being coerced into working for a crime boss, a young getaway driver finds himself taking part in a heist doomed to fail.

Edgar Wright

Baby Driver was both written and directed by the coveted auteur Edgar Wright (one of the few auteurs working in Hollywood). Wright is best known for creating The Three Flavours Cornetto trilogy and cult classic Scott Pilgrim vs. The World. He also worked on the Marvel project Ant-Man before parting ways with the studio. Even though he left Disney/Marvel, he did live to make another movie and Baby Driver very much proves that his career is far from over. So, on a side note, Lord and Miller situation (them being fired from the Han Solo movie) might also turn out fine.

Writing

I very much enjoyed the writing for Baby Driver. The story was tight and simple, but yet also complex and unique. Let’s begin with the main character of Baby – I don’t think I can name another recent character that was so extraordinary. His love for music and driving, his sense of style (those glasses – brilliant), his relationships with his mother, girlfriend, and the deaf foster dad, and a good heart made him not only a relatable but extremely likable lead. And yet, he also had unexpected qualities (like the idea for that brutal kill or just bravery enough to kill). Also, the fact that the movie acknowledged that there are different ways to enjoy music (by hearing AND feeling it) was so great.

The romantic plotline also actually worked, which it rarely does in an action film. I loved the ending shot in black and white: they looked like a couple of criminals from a 60s movie. All the main criminal characters were amazing too and I loved the fact that all of their arcs had a definitive ending and that they weren’t dropped halfway through the runtime. My only gripe was that I didn’t think that Kevin Spacey’s character’s change of heart fully worked. The film also had wonderful humor, some of my favorite parts were the kid in the post office and the butchery metaphor. Lastly, I loved how Wright paid dues to other movies, by either giving them a shout-out or just showing a clip from them on TV. Baby Driver was, truly, a film written by a movie lover for movie lovers.

Directing

From the trailers, Baby Driver seemed like a super fun movie but I didn’t feel that it had the signature flavor of Wright. I was kinda right – Baby Driver was his lowest energy project yet (although it did dial everything up for the finale) and his most mainstream film so far and that is not really a bad thing. It was basically something different yet familiar. I loved all the action sequences and enjoyed the irony of Baby also having to run rather than drive in one of them. I was also impressed by the long takes, especially the one that followed the opening car chase. The signature close-ups were also neat.

Plus, I liked the fact that they used normal looking cars, not super expensive and super fast ones. Thus, Baby Driver was a celebration of driving – a thing that The Fast and The Furious used to have but lost completely in the later installments. Lastly, I cannot write a review for Baby Driver without mentioning the editing and the soundtrack. This is how you edit the visuals into the music. King Arthur and Suicide Squad should watch and learn.

Acting

Baby Driver’s cast was marvelous: it consisted of both proven actors and some up-and-comers. Ansel Elgort (TFIOS, Divergent) was spectacular, they way he acted into the music/with the music was just thrilling to watch. Lily James (Cinderella) was good as his girlfriend: they looked cute together and had chemistry. The cinema veterans Kevin Spacey (House of Cards), Jon Hamm (Keeping Up With The Joneses was actually not bad), Jamie Foxx (Sleepless was the best movie of this January – not much but something), and Jon Bernthal (The Accountant) all brought their A-game and appeared to be having a ton of fun with this picture. Lastly, an unknown (to me) Mexican actress Eiza González was an amazing badass to watch as well.

In short, Baby Driver is the best version of Drive meets American Grafitti. It has great action, funny jokes, cool editing, spectatcular soundtrack and it’s Edgar Wright at his best, even if that ‘best’ is a bit different than we are used to.

Rate: 4.5/5

Trailer: Baby Driver trailer

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5 ideas about a movie: The Promise 

Movie reviews

Hello!

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

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

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

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

Rate: 4.25/5

Trailer: The Promise trailer 

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Movie review: Wonder Woman

Movie reviews

Hello!

Let me begin by saying that I don’t think I can name another recent movie that had so many external things riding on it. Wonder Woman has at least 3: 1. It has to save DCEU and finally unite the fans and the critics; 2. It has to prove that female-lead (behind and in front of the camera) superhero films and action pictures, in general, can be both of high quality and profitable; 3. It just has to be a good movie on its own.

IMDb summary: Before she was Wonder Woman she was Diana, Princess of the Amazons, trained warrior. When a pilot crashes and tells of conflict in the outside world, she leaves home to fight a war to end all wars, discovering her full powers and true destiny.

SPOILER ALERT

Writing

The first big screen adaptation of the Wonder Woman comics was written by a TV and comic book writer Allan Heinberg, who previously tried bringing Wonder Woman to the small screen in 2011-2012. Batman v Superman’s Zack Snyder and a quite unknown writer Jason Fuchs also contributed to the story.

I really enjoyed the narrative that they crafted for this film and the character development that they managed to interweave into it. I loved how the story started in the modern day with Diana looking at the picture from WW1. The said image was actually one of the first pieces of the promotional material released for this film. The flashback to her childhood and younger years on Themyscira were also fascinating. I appreciated that the film did include both of her origin stories from the comics – the clay one and the one where Zeus is her father.

The whole explanation of the backstory for the Amazons and Aries from the Greek mythology was a bit overwhelming but informative and interesting too. The set-up of the world outside of Themyscyra also worked – the scene where Steve told the Amazons about The Great War not only set up the main conflict but also showcased one of the main tools of WW in action – The Lasso of Truth. In general, a lot of my favorite moments in the movie involved the lasso.

On top having a lot of great story elements from the comics and history, Wonder Woman’s script also had a plethora of comic relief moments which did actually work. While the culture shock, which kickstarted all the funny banter, was a bit cringy at times, it was also equally cute, and, most importantly, quite realistic.

All the comedy, as well as the more dramatic moments, worked because of the characters involved. We not only got to learn Diana’s whole backstory, but we also got to witness an amazing character arc of Steve Trevor. I was really afraid that he would be relegated to the background in this movie, but he was, thankfully, front and center – an equal of Diana’s. It was really nice to see him being efficient at his jobs as a spy and his journey from dismissing to believing Diana was also awesome. Plus, I really liked the fact that both he and Diana had separate things to accomplish in the third act. Their interactions – from comedic to romantic ones – worked too and didn’t seem like they were pushed. I was quite sad to see Trevor go, especially since he is such a crucial part of Wonder Woman’s mythos. Having said that, I still think that they did an amazing job with the character in this film. Other characters in the movie were also really interesting, especially Trevor’s friends. That was one weird group of characters you don’t see together on film often.

Thematically, Wonder Woman provided the commentary on humanity and her whole emotional arc was learning to take humans for what they are, flaws and all. And yet, her signature idea of fighting prejudice on all fronts was still present in the movie. Diana’s final realization – that love is the one thing that can save this world – wasn’t campy at all and actually quite emotional. I felt that the movie earned this type of a conclusion. The big reveal of the film – who was Aries – was actually surprising (for those who did not spoil it to themselves while researching the movie). I really liked how Ares attempt at an armistice was only a ploy for more war as well.

Lastly, Wonder Woman’s story ended the way it began – in a modern day with her writing a thank-you reply to Bruce Wayne for sending her the photo. I loved how this small scene gave a feeling of a bigger universe – DCEU – existing beyond this film. I thought that the scene of her sending the email was much more organic than the video attachments from the BvS.

Directing

Patty Jenkins, whose debut film was also her last one for over a decade, directed Wonder Woman and did a spectacular job. She didn’t lose an ounce of skill that she showcased with the fascinating 2003’s picture Monster, which I only watched yesterday for the first time and was absolutely blown away. Jenkins definitely should have received more praise for it in addition to Charlize Theron, instead of the latter just getting the majority of it. Anyways, after a series of failed movie projects and some highly-regarded and successful TV ones, Jenkins agreed to direct Wonder Woman and we all should be extremely happy and thankful that she did.

First of all, she succeeded in striking a balance of tone for the movie. While BvS was too dark and Suicide Squad was trying too hard to be funny, Wonder Woman had the right amount of seriousness, comedy, and romance. More importantly, this mixture was elevated by sophistication and a level of class. The movie was also edited in a way that was cohesive – the story flowed organically rather than the film just being a collection of sequences of no relation to one another.

Visually, the film was also stunning. The way that Themyscira was realized with a distinctly Greek feeling (architecture, costumes) was just absolutely amazing.  The shots of the island and the ocean were wonderful as well. In contrast to the glamourous yet strong Themyscira, the WW1 Europe was realized as broken and dirty – very realistic. The film had a number of amazing looking shots, like the one of Diana standing on the crashed plane from Steve’s POV from underneath the water or those few shots of Diana looking up at the sky in different locations.

The action was also astounding. The style of fighting of the Amazons – a lot of flips in mid-air while holding a bow and arrow (my weapon of choice alway and forever) – was super cool. Jenkins also used a lot of slow motion but actually did it tastefully and in a way that it enhanced the action. Another epic sequence was Wonder Woman fighting in the no-man’s-land and later on in the village. She looked absolutely brilliant while doing it and I also loved how Trevor and the other characters collaborated with her by making a ramp for her to jump on. The final action sequence was also amazing. My only gripe was that I wish Ares CGI costume would have had a different design, something more inventive. Nevertheless, I loved how in that fight (and in many others), Diana used the Lasso as a weapon and it wasn’t just a tool for truth-telling. Having said that, the way Trevor took the lasso and wrapped in around his hand to make her believe that he was taking her to the front was such a clever idea!

And the last note on the visuals of the film – now I get why all the posters for the film had an orange background – it was meant to symbolize the orange mustard gas. I actually haven’t realized that prior to seeing the movie. Nevertheless, it was nice to see a continuity between the ads and the final product. The soundtrack of the picture wasn’t bad either. I love the Wonder Woman theme and it was used several times. Sia’s song ‘To be human’ played during the credits and made me ask the question: is Sia’s music going to play over the credits of all the summer movies like it did last year? Probably.

Acting  

  • Gal Gadot as Diana Prince / Wonder Woman. Gadot was absolutely amazing in the role. Firstly, she looked like the character – the right mixture of model and fitness athlete. More importantly, she did not look oversexualized. Gadot was also not only marvelous in the action scenes but handled both the dramatic and the comedic moments very well. I can’t wait to see whether this role will give her career a boost. She first rose to prominence with the Fast and the Furious films, while last year she had minor roles in thrillers Triple 9 and Criminal in addition to appearing in BvS. She also showcased her comedic chops in the 2016’s action comedy Keeping Up With The Joneses. The youngest version of Diana was played by a child actress Lilly Aspel. She was also amazing in the few scenes she was in – both cute and fierce.
  • Chris Pine as Steve Trevor is an amazing casting if I ever saw one. Pine was charming yet efficient in the role. His chemistry with Gadot was also believable. While I’m sad that Pine won’t be able to continue playing this character, I hope that we can at least watch him on Star Trek for years to come.
  • Robin Wright delivered a short but powerful performance as General Antiope. I really should watch House of CardsConnie Nielsen also worked as Queen Hippolyta.
  • Danny Huston as General Erich Ludendorff and Elena Anaya as Doctor Isabel Maru / Doctor Poison were also well cast. Huston was threatening as the General (he is probably used to this type of a role), while it was nice to see Anaya playing a character from the comics that somehow really fit into the WW1 scenario.
  • David Thewlis as Ares. The only casting choice that I wish was different. Don’t get me wrong, I though that Thewlis did a good job in the role but I wish they would have done something more interesting with the role than having it played by an older white male.
  • Some ethnic diversity was brought to the movie by a band of Trevor’s friends, played by Saïd Taghmaoui, Trainspotting’s Ewen Bremner (Scottish sniper/singer – amazing), and Eugene Brave Rock. Lucy Davis was also good as the comedic relief secretary of Trevor’s.

In short, Wonder Woman is one the best comic book origin movies, the best female lead superhero film, the best DCEU movie, and one of my favorite pictures of this year already! I highly suggest you see it before continuing to follow Diana’s story in the Justice League. Moreover, if you are interested in the behind-the-scenes backstory of the character, the biographical drama about her creator is currently in the works, titled Professor Marston & the Wonder Women.

Rate: 4.5/5

Trailer: Wonder Woman trailer

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5 ideas about a movie: Sand Castle

Movie reviews

Hello!

Since no new movies that interest me are premiering this week in the UK, I decided to seek out other new films that did not reach cinemas. The first one that I could find was Sand Castle.

IMDb summary: Set during the occupation of Iraq, a squad of U.S. soldiers try to protect a small village.

  1. Sand Castle is a Netflix original film. While the beloved streaming platform is known for having amazing TV shows (Orange is the New Black, Stranger Things, House of Cards, 13 Reason Why just to name a few), their movie game has not been that strong. Some of the pictures received more attention than others, but the majority of them did not leave a lasting impact. A few of the Netflix movies that I’ve seen were perfectly fine, including Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: Sword of DestinyThe Fundamentals of Caring, XOXO, ARQ, The Siege of Jadotville. Let’s see whether Sand Castle is the film that turns things around and is more than just fine.
  2. The movie’s screenplay was written by Chris Roessner and this was his first feature length script. For a debut work, it’s certainly not bad. I appreciated all the thematic concepts that the picture attempted to explore, like masculinity, patriotism (or even chauvinism) and the American culture in general. The moral questions, including why does an individual choose to join the military, were appropriately asked as well. However, although the various ideas were introduced, they didn’t go anywhere and were basically forgotten by the 2nd act, which was the weakest part of the film. The third act and the conclusion were fine, even though an attempt to go back to the film’s message in the last few scenes seemed like an afterthought.
  3. Sand Castle was directed by a Brazilian filmmaker Fernando Coimbra. He succeeded at crafting gorgeous visuals of the surroundings and the long continuous shots during the action sequences were impressive. However, the random jumps in time and the uneven pacing did damage the final product. I also thought that the idea to always keep the camera on the American soldiers, rather than to go back and forth between them and the terrorists, was an interesting, even if a bit one-sided, decision.
  4. The lead of the movie was played by Nicholas Hoult and he did a good job portraying a soldier, affected by the horrors of the war. Hoult is one of my favorite actors, so I try to follow his career pretty closely. Most people know him from the X-Men movies or Mad Max: Fury Road. I’d also suggest you check out his smaller films: Dark Places, Equals, and especially Kill Your Friends.
  5. The supporting cast included Henry Cavill (The Man from U.N.C.L.E.), Logan Marshall-Green (soon will appear in Spider-Man: Homecoming), and Glen Powell (Everybody Wants Some!!, Hidden Figures). Cavill had a pretty small role but he seemed to have more fun with it than he ever had with the role of Superman. It’s quite sad to see that his involvement with the DCEU did not result in more high-brow roles. Well, he is appearing in Mission Impossible 6, so that’s something. Marshall-Green and Powell also delivered fine performances.

In short, Sand Castle was an okay war drama that could have been so much better if it just explored the themes it introduced. It’s not the most original film about war and I probably would not have gone to see it at the cinema, but if you already have a Netflix account, it is definitely worth a watch.

Rate: 3/5

Trailer: Sand Castle trailer

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5 ideas about a movie: Moonlight 

Movie reviews

Hello!

Welcome to probably the last review of the awards season. Today, we are discussing the frontrunner Moonlight!

IMDb summary: A timeless story of human self-discovery and connection, the film chronicles the life of a young black man from childhood to adulthood as he struggles to find his place in the world while growing up in a rough neighborhood of Miami.

  1. Moonlight was written and directed by Barry Jenkins, based on a play ‘In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue’ by Tarell Alvin McCraney. Jenkins made his directorial debut in 2008, with the critically acclaimed indie romantic drama Medicine for Melancholy. Moonlight is only his second feature film.
  2. At its core, Moonlight is a coming of age story. However, it is a coming of age story like no other because it focuses on an individual that the mainstream media would rather forget – a poor black gay boy/teenager/man. And yet, even if a viewer’s identity falls on the other side of the spectrum, the movie still has universal appeal. The family problems, bullying, finding a life path for oneself, dealing with emotions, learning to forgive and reconnect – these are all topics of widespread appeal. The more personal issues of sexual identity and masculinity are also present. The picture paints a complex picture – it asserts that only an individual can decide who he/she wants to be, but also undermines this statement by showing a stereotypical outcome for the character of this background. Lastly, the film provides interesting commentary on the LGBTQ+ position within the black community.
  3. For such a progressive and modern movie, Moonlight has a very striking traditional structure – the film is divided into vignettes, like some movies from the past. Jenkins manages to create a deeply personal almost documentary-like feeling for the film. The long slow takes in the first part of the movie allow this story to unfold at its own pace, while the shaky and fast closeups in the other parts of the picture create a sense of disorientation and intimacy. Some pretty standard techniques, like the over the shoulder shots for the dialogue, are also implemented.
  4. In the first part of the film, the main character of Chiron, played by Alex Hibbert, takes on a passive role in order for Mahershala Ali’s Juan – the drug dealer mentor of Chiron – to shine. Juan is even the first characters that the viewer is introduced to. Ali has been getting a lot of recognition for his work in this film and that’s happening for a reason. Although he only appears in a handful of scenes, both his characters and the actor himself leave a striking mark on the picture. Juan, the drug dealer, seems to be the only positive influence on Chiron and they form a student/mentor type of relationship. The scene in which Juan teaches Chirton to swim is just beautiful. The question arises why would a Juan care for this child? Maybe because he saw a part of himself in the little boy?
  5. The teenager Chiron is portrayed by Ashton Sanders, while the adult Chiron is played by Trevante Rhodes. Rhodes does an absolutely incredible job in the third part of the film and I wish that his performance would have been rewarded much more. Nevertheless, this film really helped him to breakthrough into the business, as he was just cast in a mainstream movie – 2018’s The Predator. Janelle Monáe also appears in the film as the truth mother figure for Chiron. Her career has also kicked off to a good start – she starred in not one but two awards contenders in 2016, other being Hidden Figures. Naomie Harris also plays a small role of the actual birth mother of Chiron. Although the role is a bit stereotypical, Harris does a brilliant job. She has also probably hoped to be in 2 awards contender this year. She also recently acted in Collateral Beauty, which was supposed to be an awards movie, but that film did not materialize at all.

In short, Moonlight is a well-written and nicely directed personal story that takes the framework of a coming of age narrative and tells a unique story about an individual who has been relegated to the fringes of society for too long.

Rate: 4.5/5

Trailer: Moonlight trailer

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