2017: 100 Book Challenge

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Hello!

Welcome to another 2017 round-up post. I’ve already done a post about my favorite and least favorite movies of the 2017 and now it is time for my list of book for this year. I don’ really post about books on this blog (I write short comments about them on Instagram as @sharingshelves) but since a lot of the books I’ve read are movie related (novels and comics that are adapted into films or non-fiction works about movies), I thought that some of you might be interested in my suggestions/recommendations. Also, I wasn’t planning on repeating the challenge but I managed to finish 100 books again this year (did the same in 2016). I have to promise myself that I’m not even going to attempt to read this many books next year, as when I have a certain numerical goal in mind, the reading experience does become more about quantity than quality.

Before I give you the list, here are a couple of general notes about it:
• From the 100 books this year, 10 were in Lithuanian (my native language) and 90 in English – I’m reading less and less in my native language every year.
• Most popular authors were Galbraith/Rowling for novels and Ennis, Bendis, and Snyder for comic books.
• I’ve read more graphic novels this year but fewer non-fiction books. My most often read comic book characters were Batman and Wonder Woman.
• I didn’t do an author break down by nationality but a general overview is this – I mostly read books by English-speakers. I didn’t even read a single book by a Lithuanian author (one by an author of Lithuanian descent was on the list, though).
• I’ve read mostly stand-alone books this year: if we’are not counting the comic book series, I’ve only read one full novel series.
• The 20th and 21st-century books were my most preferred for leisure reading, while for my English course, I’ve jumped around all time periods, but mostly focused on the literature of the 19th century.

Anyways, here is my list of books divided into the different genres. In every part, I’ve highlighted a couple of my favorites! I have also linked some movie reviews next to the relevant books. Enjoy!

Non-fiction:

  1. S. Cain – ‘Quiet: The Power of the Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking’
  2. W. Isaacson – ‘Steve Jobs’ (adapted to film)
  3. R. Roll – ‘Finding Ultra’
  4. P. Pfitzinger and S.Douglas – ‘Advanced Marathoning’
  5. F. Hufton – ‘Running: How To Get Started’

Fiction:

  1. D. Brown – ‘Digital Fortress’
  2. M. Zusak – ‘The Book Thief’
  3. W. Carther – ‘Death Comes For The Archbishop’
  4. Z. N. Hurston – ‘Their Eyes Were Watching God’
  5. N. Gaiman – ‘American Gods’
  6. N. Gaiman – ‘The Ocean at the End of the Lane’
  7. S. Meyer – ‘ The Chemist’
  8. A. Huxley – ‘Brave New World’
  9. A. Huxley – ‘Island: a novel’
  10. I. Welsh – ‘Trainspotting’ (adapted to film)
  11. J. Moyes – ‘ The Girl You Left Behind’
  12. L. Groff – ‘Fates and Furies’
  13. R. Galbraith – The Cuckoo’s Calling’
  14. R. Galbraith – ‘The Silkworm’
  15. R. Galbraith – ‘Career of Evil’
  16. L. Moriarty – ‘Big Little Lies’
  17. A. Burgess – ‘A Clockwork Orange’
  18. G. Orwell – ‘Animal Farm: a fairy story’
  19. G. Orwell – ‘1984′
  20. D. Eggers – ‘The Circle’ (adapted to film – review)
  21. J. le Carre – ‘The Night Manager’
  22. E. Morgenstern – ‘The Night Circus’
  23. L. Evans – ‘Their Finest’ (adapted to film – review)
  24. M. Bulgakov – ‘The Master and Margarita’
  25. D. O’Porter – ‘Goose’
  26. C. Palahniuk – ‘Fight Club’
  27. C. Bukowski – ‘Post Office’
  28. N. Larsen – ‘Passing’
  29. G.R.R. Martin and G. Dozois (as editors) – ‘Rogues’
  30. D. Gibbins – ‘Crusader Gold’
  31. R. Sepetys – ‘Between Shades of Gray’
  32. B. Ridgway – ‘The River of No Return’
  33. F. Molnar – ‘The Paul Street Boys’
  34. T. Parsons – ‘Starting Over’
  35. T. Capote – ‘Breakfast at Tiffany’s’
  36. A. Christie – ‘Murder on the Orient Express’ (adapted to film – review)
  37. A. Thomas – ‘The Hate U Give’
  38. P.K. Dick – ‘Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?’ (adapted to film – review)
  39. S. King – ‘It’ (adapted to film – review)

Cinema related books:

  1. G. Jenkins – ‘Empire Building’
  2. J. Luceno – ‘Catalyst: A Rogue One Novel’
  3. A. Freed – ‘Rogue One: A Star Wars Story’ novelization (film review)
  4. C. Fisher – ‘Postcards From The Edge’
  5. C. Fisher – ‘The Princess Diarist’
  6. C. Fisher – ‘Wishful Drinking’
  7. D. O’Neil – ‘The Dark Knight’ novelization
  8. C. Clark – ‘The Prince, The Showgirl and Me’
  9. C. Clark – ‘My Week with Marilyn’
  10. J.K. Rowling – ‘Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them’ script (film review)
  11. A. Kendrick – ‘Scrappy Little Nobody’
  12. S. Nathan and S. Roman – ‘Frozen’ novelization
  13. S. Bukatman – ‘Blade Runner – BFI Film Classics’

English 3rd year degree books:

  1. Aeschylus – ‘Prometheus Bound’
  2. C. Marlowe – ‘Doctor Faustus
  3. J. Milton – ‘Paradise Lost’
  4. M. Shelley – ‘Frankenstein; 1818 text’
  5. R. Henryson – ‘The Testament of Cresseid’
  6. D. Defoe – ‘Robinson Crusoe’
  7. N. Shephard – ‘The Quarry Wood’
  8. N. Larsen – ‘Quicksand’
  9. A. Carter – ‘The Bloody Chamber and other stories’
  10. C. Bronte – ‘Jane Eyre’
  11. E. Bronte – ‘Wuthering Heights’
  12. A. Bronte – ‘The Tenant of Wildfell Hall’
  13. G. Elliot – ‘The Lifted Veil’
  14. G. Elliot – ‘The Mill on The Floss’
  15. C. Dickens – ‘Great Expectations’
  16. H.G. Wells – ‘The Island of Dr. Moreau’
  17. B. Stoker – ‘Dracula’
  18. W. Collins – ‘The Woman in White’

Graphic novels:

  1. Various authors – ‘Marvel Platinum: The Definitive Doctor Strange’ (film review)
  2. D. Abnett – ‘Guardians of the Galaxy: Rocket Raccoon and Groot steal the galaxy’ (film review)
  3. G. Ennis and S. Dillon – ‘Preacher: Gone To Texas’
  4. G. Ennis and S. Dillon – ‘Preacher: Until The End Of The World’
  5. G. Ennis and S. Dillon – ‘Preacher: Proud Americans’
  6. G. Ennis and S. Dillon – ‘Preacher: Ancient History’
  7. G. Ennis and S. Dillon – ‘Preacher: Dixie Fried’
  8. B.M. Bendis and M. Gaydos – ‘Alias: Volume 1’
  9. B.M. Bendis and M. Gaydos – ‘Alias: Volume 2’
  10. B.M. Bendis and M. Gaydos – ‘Alias: Volume 3’
  11. B.M. Bendis and M. Gaydos – ‘Alias: Volume 4’
  12. G. Rucka – ‘Wonder Woman Rebirth: Volume 1 The Lies’ (film review)
  13. G. Rucka – ‘Wonder Woman Rebirth: Volume 2 Year One’
  14. G. Rucka – ‘Wonder Woman Rebirth: Volume 3 The Truth’
  15. M. Finch and D. Finch – ‘Wonder Woman: Resurrection’
  16. S. Snyder and G. Capullo – ‘Batman: The Court of Owls’
  17. S. Snyder and G. Capullo – ‘Batman: The Nights of Owls’
  18. S. Snyder and G. Capullo – ‘Batman: The City of Owls’
  19. S. Snyder and G. Capullo – ‘Batman: Endgame’
  20. J. Tyrion – ‘Batman Detective Comics Rebirth: Volume 1 Rise of the Batmen’
  21. G. Morrison and A. Kubert – ‘Batman and Son’
  22. T. S. Daniel – Batman: Battle for the Cowl’
  23. A. Conner and J. Palmiotti – ‘Harley Quinn Rebirth: Volume 3 Red Meat’
  24. J. Hickman and C. Pacheco – ‘Ultimate Thor: Volume 1’ (film review)
  25. M. Wagner – ‘Trinity’ (film review)

And that is it for the books I’ve read this year! What was your favorite book(s) of the year? What are you planning on/excited to read in 2017?

Leave a comment below and Have a Happy New Year!

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BEST, WORST, and MISSED movies of 2017

Movie previews, Movie reviews

Hello!!

Happy New Years Eve!

For most people, it’s a day/night of celebration: partying and drinking. Well, I’m also celebrating but in my own way – by posting my cinema round-up of the year. Like in 2015 and 2016, I’m providing you with my personal list of best and worst films (and I’m linking all of their reviews). A new development for this year is the fact that my top 5 list of obscure, small, ‘missed’ movies/honorable mentions is expanding into a 10 just because I’ve seen too many pictures this year that I want to bring to your attention once again! As always, please don’t bear any hard feelings if our lists don’t match! This post was written in the name of fun and I’m really looking forward to reading your picks in the comments!

BEST Movies:

  1. Logan
  2. Star Wars: The Last Jedi
  3. Wonder Woman
  4. Blade Runner 2049
  5. Thor: Ragnarok
  6. Beauty and the Beast
  7. Spider-Man: Homecoming
  8. War For The Planet Of The Apes
  9. Wind River
  10. It

Those who read my blog somewhat regularly probably aren’t surprised by the fact that my list contains 4 comic book movies. As much as I love the genre in general, what I loved about these particular films was the fact that they expanded the status quo: Logan brought the sophistication that we haven’t seen since The Dark Knight, while Wonder Woman was a game-changer for the female characters. Thor 3 fixed the weakest MCU trilogy, while Homecoming achieved what was deemed impossible – told the first good Spidey story in a decade. Joining the comic book films, are the three sci-fi juggernauts: Star Wars 8 (no surprise here, though, maybe it is a surprise as I seem to be one of the few who truly enjoyed the picture), Blade Runner sequel (visual and narrative masterpiece), and Apes 3 (an underappreciated finale of a great trilogy). The last 3 pictures bring some more variety genre-wise. Wind River represents drama (as well as my anthropological interests), Beauty and the Beast symbolizes my love for live-action fairytales (and my choice to remain a kid inside), while It is the biggest surprise of the year – the first horror movie that I’ve ever enjoyed.

WORST Movies:

  1. Snatched
  2. Transformers: The Last Knight
  3. Rough Night
  4. The Emoji Movie
  5. Geostorm
  6. Tulip Fever
  7. Suburbicon
  8. The Snowman
  9. American Assasin
  10. The Dark Tower

My worst list has it all: awful comedies (Snatched and Rough Night), confused dramas (Tulip Fever and Suburbicon), and underwhelming action thrillers (American Assasin and The Snowman). It also showcases a genre that should die (disaster films – Geostorm) and a franchise that should do the same (Transformers). The infamous cash grab for the millennials (The Emoji Movie) and the bad kind of Stephen King adaptation (The Dark Tower) finish of the list!

Honorable mentions/Movies you’ve MISSED:

I’ve decided not to number these and divide them into 3 levels of obscurity, from the least known to almost mainstream (or even actually mainstream) films.

To begin with, in the most obscure category, I’ve put The Death of Stalin, The Party, and Free Fire. First is a British adaptation of a French graphic novel, which itself is a reimagining of Russian history; second is more of a character piece than a movie with the shortest runtime of a feature film I’ve seen; and the third is an action movie that builds its story around the main action sequence that last the whole picture.

The second trio of more well known movies consist of The Killing of a Sacred Deer, Their Finest, and T2: Trainspotting. The first is an extraordinary revenge story from a proven director, the second – a romantic take on war and the movie business, and the last is everything I love about my adoptive country of Scotland!

Lastly, the 4 final movies that the majority of moviegoers have heard about and which couldn’t necessarily make my top 10 list but were so unique that they deserved to be mentioned are Paddington 2(a bundle of joy in these dark times), John Wick 2 (a successful sequel in a not that big of a franchise), mother!(the picture that was more fun to analyze than watch), and The Big Sick (a romantic comedy like no other).

And that is it for 2017 cinema! I hope you enjoyed reading my lists! Every year, its gets harder and harder to decide on my picks because of the sheer amount of new movies I’m able to see. Please don’t be mad if your favorite/least favorite movies were not on my lists! Also, if you missed some awards contenders in this post, they might have been excluded because I haven’t seen them yet or because I expect to talk about them a lot during the next two months. Hence, they will get enough praise then, it’s what I’m saying.

Anyways, have a happy 2018 in the cinema and in life!

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Movie review: Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle

Movie reviews

Hello!

Another reboot/sequel of a beloved childhood classic has hit theatres, but, this time around, it’s surprisingly good?! This is Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle! (That title is awful, though.)

IMDb summary: Four teenagers discover an old video game console and are literally drawn into the game’s jungle setting becoming the adult avatars they chose.

Only last year, a 1980s classic, Which was near and dear to a lot of people during their childhood, was remade and the Internet went nuts. However, that Ghostbusters debacle did not stop Hollywood from remaking/attempting to continue another classic property, this time around, from the 1990s. And it looks like the LA suits were right to try: I haven’t seen much hate (barely any) towards the 2017’s a Jumanji. Why is this reboot more acceptable than the Ghostbusters one? Is it the Rock? The Rock and Hart proven combo? The ‘correct’ genders of the characters (mixed cast rather than an all-something reboot)? Or maybe nobody liked Jumanji in the first place as much as I thought they did? I certainly remember the film quite fondly from my childhood.

Writing

Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle was written by Chris McKenna and Erik Sommers (the duo behind Spider-Man: Homecoming and The Lego Batman), the director Jake Kasdan, and Scott Rosenberg and Jeff Pinkner (the writers of the upcoming Venom movie which is currently being filmed). In general, I enjoyed quite a lot of elements of the writing of this film.

To begin with, I thought that the idea to update Jumanji from a board game to a video game was a clever one. However, the way the script went about doing that – just sort of allowing the game to morph by itself – was a bit weird. Also, if they were giving the game an update, why not do a completely contemporary take on it? Make it into a Nintendo Switch type of a thing rather than a very 90s cassette game. What I did like about the video game concept in relation to this film was the fact that the movie overtly and unapologetically used the video game tropes, like the cutscenes, the numbered lives, the strengths/weakness idea, and the different levels. Jumanji might actually be the best video game movie without technically being one

The new characters of Jumanji weren’t bad either. The teenagers/real-life characters got some brief but neat development during the setup, which was nicely built upon during the following adventure. The relationship moments that the characters shared actually provided the picture with some opportunities to explore the ideas of friendship and teamwork. Some nice messages about bravery, self-confidence as well as one’s ability to change were also expressed. The interactions between the characters also resulted in some great humorous moments. The flirting school and the peeing scene were stupid but also hilarious. The switch-ups with the bodies (the nerds becoming athletic and cool; the popular kids being degraded to sidekicks and the comic relief) was another source of jokes for the film.

My main and the only actual critique of the movie was its plot or the set up of it. The game narrative itself was fine and it worked well as an adventure story. However, the way it just came out of nowhere seemed a bit odd. That whole explanation about the stone, the villain, and the curse seemed a bit heavy-handed and too highly fabricated. At least the format of that explanation/set-up (the cutscene) was somewhat meta (explicit in its usage of a trope) and, thus, a bit more interesting.

Lastly, while this film appeared to have been a direct continuation of the original Jumanji with the game itself being found on the beach, where it was last seen, I question whether the people behind-the-scenes are planning to make any further sequels, in case this one is successful. The last scene, which showed the characters breaking the game, suggests that we won’t see any sequels, which is, quite frankly, a shocking thing in today’s mainstream filmmaking business.

Directing

2017’s Jumanji was directed by Jake Kasdan (his last two films were both mediocre Cameron Diaz comedies) and I thought that he crafted quite an entertaining action adventure flick that was so much better constructed that I thought it’d be. The action was inventive enough and energetic. The CGI of the animals could have been a bit better. The pacing was fine for the most part, though the film did slow down a bit towards the end of the second half. Lastly, I’ve noticed (or imagined) some callbacks to other movies in this feature, which seemed like quite neat additions to me: the creepy house and the yellow raincoat reminded me of It, while the biker gang inside the game seemed Mad Max-esque.

Acting

Jumanji’s two casts were both really good. The teenagers/young adult actors – Alex Wolf (Patriot’s Day), Ser’Darius BlainMorgan Turner, and Madison Iseman – were believable and relatable. However, the majority of the film was carried by the video game versions of these characters, played by Dwayne Johnson (Baywatch, FF8, Moana, San Andreas), Kevin Hart (The Secret Life of Pets), Karen Gillan (Guardians of the Galaxy 1 and 2, The Circle), and Jack Black, respectively. Johnson’s and Hart’s chemistry, which blossomed in Central Intelligence, was back in full force in this movie. All of the scenes with the Rock discovering his muscles were incredible and I also appreciated the fact that the film poked fun at his inherent charisma with that ‘smoldering look’ skill. Kevin Hart was amazing and funny too, while Karen Gillan was a complete badass (both as a character and as an actress). Jack Black also surprised me. I have never been much of a fan of his but I highly enjoy seeing him acting as the ‘it’ girl in this film.

A few other characters, worth the mention, were played by Nick Jonas and Bobby Cannavale (Ant-Man). Jonas was okay in the picture but his character was intended to be somewhat of a replacement for Robin Williams character of the original (a person who gets stuck in the game) and, no offense to Nick Jonas, but he could never replace Williams. Cannavale played the villain and he was the worst of the cast, in my mind. I think he went a bit too cartoonish with his performance – yes, there is such a thing as too cartoonish even in a live-action cartoon.

In short, Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle is a surprisingly entertaining adventure movie. It would be the perfect holiday film for the whole family if it wasn’t competing with Star Wars 8.

Rate: 4/5

Trailer: Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle trailer

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Movie review: Flatliners 

Movie reviews

Hello!

The 90s are back in theatres with the remake of Flatliners. Let’s see how dead this movie about the near-death experiences is. Disclaimer: I haven’t seen the original, so I’m giving this movie as fair of a shot as they get.

IMDb summary: Five medical students, obsessed by what lies beyond the confines of life, embark on a daring experiment: by stopping their hearts for short periods, each triggers a near-death experience – giving them a firsthand account of the afterlife.

Writing

2017’s Flatliners was written by Ben Ripley (a newcomer screenwriter) and he did a very good job for the first half of the film. I really liked the set-up of the med school and how the movie showcased the strains of it. The science (barely?) parts of the actual procedures that the characters undertook were interesting too (the question is, how accurate were they?).

Speaking of the characters – they were not the best. The 5 leads were just stereotypes: the lead, the smart one, the wannabe smart one, the party-boy, and the good girl. Their afterlife visions could be seen as an attempt to develop their characters more deeply, but then again, those sequences only added a single extra feature – a sin from the past – to embellish the pre-existing stereotype. The personal arcs of all the character ended exactly how they always do. The lead was the ‘inciting incident’ (twice), the competitive intellectuals realized they love each other, the good girl went rogue and the party-boy grew up. Also, on a side note, all of them were more or less damaged in some way because of their actions in the past and they all decided to become doctors? Why? To fix others as they are not able to fix themselves? I feel like I’m digging way deeper than the scriptwriter ever did.

Also, on a side note, all of them were more or less damaged in some way because of their actions in the past and they all decided to become doctors? Why? To fix others as they are not able to fix themselves? I feel like I’m digging way deeper than the scriptwriter ever did.

The second part of the film was where Flatliners fell flat. The supernatural/subconscious horror went unexplained and the movie never committed to an answer of who/what was happening to the characters. That whole borderline-magical second part also seemed jarring after the more sci-fi (and quite solid) opening. Additionally, that ‘inner demons’ concept, could be comparable to a similar idea in It (which, BTW, is gonna murder this film at the weekend box office). Lastly, the conclusion that one should forgive oneself and take up responsibility was a nice message but it was also an extremely typical one.

Directing

Niels Arden Oplev, a Danish TV director (he helmed Mr.Robot’s pilot episode), was responsible for the Flatliners remake and did an okay job. The set-up and the first part of the film (the sci-fi) one were well realized and exciting enough but the second half’s jump scares and the unexplained horror cheapened and undermined the overall product. The opening title sequence felt very 90s, which, I guess, was an appropriate choice for a remake of a 90s film (an homage?). The scenes of the students partying/having fun seemed like they belonged to The Hangover remake, though. Basically, the movie was fine and somewhat enjoyable. If it weren’t a remake and were an original property, I’d praise it.

Acting

The main reason why I went to see 2017’s Flatliners was its cast. I was really interested to see whether Diego Luna’s English-speaking career will go anywhere after Rogue One and I guess it is, even if it’s not soaring high as I wanted it to. He has a Woody Allen project lined up as well as that Scarface remake (bummer, that it is another remake).

Another actor who drew me into the cinema was Nina Dobrev. I watched her on The Vampire Diaries for years as a teenager and was a bit disappointed when she decided to leave the show to start a movie career, which did not get off the ground quickly or even at all. This was probably her best big-screen work to date, as her appearance on the third XXX movie was atrocious. Weirdly, her med-student character here reminded me a lot of her TVD’s Elena character, who wanted to be a doctor at one point of the show. Also, another side note, her character in this movie was supposed to be a swimmer (at least I got that impression) and, as somebody who practices this sport IRL, I could not take her seriously because of that super-sexy and not at all training appropriate swimming suit and that cap, that elderly women wear to the water aerobics.

Other cast members of the film were: Ellen Page (X-Men) – the biggest name-talent attached to this film, who also had the best performance; British TV actor James Norton, and Kiersey Clemons (DCEU’S Iris West). Kiefer Sutherland had a few scenes (he played the lead in the original), while Awkward’s Beau Mirchoff also cameoed as basically his character from that MTV show.

In short, Flatliners was fun but unexceptional film, that started out quite promising but fell apart in the end.

Rate: 3/5

Trailer: Flatliners trailer

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Movie review: mother!

Movie reviews

Hello!

While I’m definitely more of a mainstream pictures kinda cinephile, I’m not against more arty/experimental films. Darren Aronofsky represents both: while his style is very much unique, his name is well-known to even the most casual moviegoers. Let’s see what his latest movie – mother! – has to offer.

IMDb summary: A couple’s relationship is tested when uninvited guests arrive at their home, disrupting their tranquil existence.

Writing

mother! was written by Aronofsky himself. Now, going into the film, I knew what to expect and what not to expect. I didn’t think I was going to see a simple story – neither in its structure nor message. I was right: mother!’s narrative was quite complex (and looped) and it had an abundance of layers of meaning. While I think I understood some of the ideas the script was trying to portray, I’m sure a tonne of others just went completely over my head. Also, the meaning I got might not have been the meaning intended by the filmmaker or understood in the same way by the other viewers. This begs the question – if one makes a movie that is super hard to understand, isn’t he/she just being pretentious? Also, if one makes a movie that only a small percentage of audiences can understand, isn’t one damaging his/her career prospects (art films don’t pay much).

Anyways, let me tell you what mother! was about as explained by people smarter than me online (I’ll tell you my personal interpretation afterward). Supposedly, mother! was a metaphor of a film about the relationship between the mother nature (Lawrence’s mother character) and Judeo-Christian god (Bardem’s Him). The crowds symbolized Christians, while Adam, Eve, Cain, and Abel also appeared. Lawrence’s and Bardem’s child was a symbolic version of the baby Jesus. When put in relatively simple terms and while looking back at the picture, I do get that general idea and how it was portrayed. However, while watching the movie, only the Jesus similarly came to my mind. I’m not a religious person (actually, an opposite of that), so I don’t actively search for sacramental imagery or metaphors in the films I watch, so that’s probably why I missed it.

I, personally thought that mother! tried exploring the topics of inspiration and creation of both life and art. I also believed that its main concern was the differences between the female and the male creation (which kinda goes in line with the female mother nature and the masculine God portrayal).

Additionally, just looking on a surface level, I was quite frustrated with the main character of mother! because I perceived her to be a very much traditional (old-school) female figure. She was depicted as needy, dependent, and solely family orientated. If not for the later realization of the mother nature connection, I would have been (still kinda am) disappointed by this portrayal that didn’t achieve much in terms of moving the female characters forward. Why couldn’t mother nature be seen as strong and powerful and completely able to discipline its children a la humans?

Lastly, the commentary that I comprehend the most and was the most intrigued by was the one about fame, cult following, and celebrity worship. These things were portrayed as addictive and damaging: a cautionary tale. However, it looks like I misinterpreted the belief in god for the obsession with celebrities (and, honestly, they aren’t that much different). Besides, if one thinks of mother! as portraying celebrity culture, it’s interesting to note than Aronofsky would then be seen as being both cautious of and partaking in it by going to the film festivals and the premieres, by signing autographs or taking pictures.

Directing

I have highly enjoyed some of the previous films by Aronofsky (The Wrestler and Black Swan, specifically), respected others (Requiem for a Dream and The Fountain) and been angered by some too (Noah). Now, mother! encompassed all of the feelings mentioned.

I really loved the way the movie was filmed – by following the titular character and keeping the focus of the camera mostly on her.The handheld style and the mobile frame are generally very much indie/small budget films’ staples but here, they seemed refined, high-end, glamorous and expensive. mother! did not have a score, only diegetic sounds were heard. This added to the overall distinct ambiance of the film. The close-ups of eyes, the heart-imagery, and the fire/life effects were all interesting and disturbing visuals too. Lastly, there were quite a few tonal shifts in the film. In a heartbeat, mother! would go from low energy creepiness but almost normalcy to complete exaggeration and total escalation.

Acting

Jennifer Lawrence and Javier Bardem delivered stunning performances and basically carried this movie. It was so nice to see Bardem finally starring in a film worthy of his talents, instead of wasting them on Pirates 5. Lawrence was also really good. I loved her look – her grayish blonde hair both made her seem older, more sophisticated but also somewhat timeless/ageless too. I think she should just probably continue doing art/indie films (Joy) because she really doesn’t seem to enjoy the more mainstream work (The Hunger Games, X-Men, or Passengers). Ed Harris and Michelle Pfeiffer were also really good. I’m so happy that they too finally got a chance to showcase the full extent of their acting chops. Domhnall Gleeson (The Revenant, Star Wars, Brooklyn, Anna Karenina, Unbroken, American Made), his actual brother Brian Gleeson, and Kristen Wiig (The Martian, Ghostbusters) all had cameo appearances as well.

In short, mother! was a unique film that both frustrated and intrigued me with its metaphors. Just now, while finishing this review, I came across another potential symbol in the movie and I imagine that I’ll find new ones the longer I think about it. If that’s your forte, then mother! is for you. If you want an easier but no less smart scary thriller, watch It again or for the first time.

Rate: ?/5 (I can barely put this film into words, let alone a single number)

Trailer: mother! trailer

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Movie review: It

Movie reviews

Hello!

Let me start this review by saying that I don’t do horror films, especially at the cinema. BUT, since I wanted to christen my new unlimited cinema card and there were no other new releases, I decided to give It a chance. Plus, I have seen all the great reviews and didn’t want to miss out on the movie event of September if not the whole fall.

IMDb summary: A group of bullied kids band together when a monster, taking the appearance of a clown, begins hunting children.

Writing

It belongs to a wave of new smart horror movies (other members being Get Out and Split, both of which I watched – again, not a horror fan here, but I can make an exception for a great film). It owes its smartness to the source material – the beloved novel by Stephen King. And yet, the screenwriters Chase PalmerCary Fukunaga (True Detective, Beasts of No Nation), and Gary Dauberman (Annabelle films) should also be praised for taking a well-known property and adapting it to the big screen (other writers, who have adapted King’s works, proved that it doesn’t always turn out great). While I haven’t read the book, I knew some of the plot details and really liked the bold move of the scriptwriters to focus on just one time period. Before we see the adult side of the story in chapter 2, I will definitely read the book.

While It had stellar moments of horror (2 layers: the supernatural horror of Pennywise and the real-life horror of the abusive parents and the school bullies), the film ultimately was a story about this group of children ‘coming of age’. The movie did an absolutely brilliant job of setting them all up and there were 7 characters to set up! Some films can’t even make me care about their single lead, while, here, I was invested in the lives of a whole bunch of unfamiliar (to me, personally) characters. I also liked how the backstory of the plot (the exposition) was given as a part of the character development (those scenes told the viewer more about Derry as a town AND Ben as a person).

Speaking more about the children – I adored their dialogue and how unfiltered it was. A lot of the film’s jokes also steamed from it and landed most of the time. The preteen/teenage concepts, such as the first love (and the first jealousy), friendship, bullying, puberty, were neatly depicted and never wore too far into being cheesy rather than cute and relatable.  The depiction of fear as subjective and relating to one’s inner demons was so interesting too!

Directing

Andy Muschietti, who first rose to prominence with his directorial debut Mama, did a wonderful job with It. He paced the movie so well and masterfully built its suspense. He also made sure that It earned all of its jump scares. The visuals (cinematography by Chung-hoon Chung) and the music (soundtrack by Benjamin Wallfisch) worked amazingly together to create an uncomfortable yet super engaging sensory experience.

Muschietti should also be given props for directing a group of child actors so well. His decision – to keep Pennywise partially hidden or obscured for some of the runtime – also paid off: the clown was ten times scarier when you could only see his face or one eye. While his whole appearance made for a terrifying sight, the more of It one saw, the more he/she could have gotten used to it.

Acting

It had a brilliant cast of unknown and known child actors, whose performances were a pure delight to watch. Front and center was Jaeden Lieberher, who audiences might already know from Midnight Special or The Book of Henry. He did such an amazing job bringing the character of Bill to live and made that stutter seem believable and natural. Jeremy Ray Taylor (as Ben) and Molly Ringwald of this generation – Sophia Lillis (as Beverly) were also great. Stranger Things’ fans could spot Finn Wolfhard (as Richie) in the picture too. Here, he played the funny, talkative one – a contrasting role to one he plays on the Netflix show. Wyatt Oleff brought a slightly mysterious quality to Stan, Chosen Jacobs made for an extremely likable Mike, while Jack Dylan Grazer contributed to the comedy of the film as Eddie. His mom seemed to be suffering from Munchausen syndrome by proxy (Everything Everything looked at that illness already this year) or she might have just been way too overprotective.

Nicholas Hamilton also did a good job as the bully Henry Bowers, while the youngest member of the cast Jackson Robert Scott was great as the symbol of innocence (Georgie) during the opening of the picture. Lastly, how can I not mention Bill Skarsgård as It/Pennywise the Dancing Clown? While the costume and the makeup departments helped a lot to make Pennywise scary looking, Skarsgård’s performance was the most unsettling thing about the character. The actor was recently in Atomic Blonde, while his next project is also Stephen King related – its the web series Castle Rock.

In short, It was both terrifying and engaging. I, as a viewer, wanted to look away and couldn’t. The script was top-notch, the direction – amazing, while the performances of the cast just a huge cherry on top.

Rate: 4.5/5

Trailer: It trailer

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Movie review: Death Note

Movie reviews

Hello!

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

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

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

Writing

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

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

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

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

Directing

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

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

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

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

Acting

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

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

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

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

Rate: 3/5

Trailer: Death Note trailer 

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