5 ideas about a movie: First Man

Movie reviews

Hello!

And welcome to a review of a potential Oscar contender! This is First Man.

IMDb summary: A look at the life of the astronaut, Neil Armstrong, and the legendary space mission that led him to become the first man to walk on the Moon on July 20, 1969.

  1. First Man was written by Josh Singer (writer of two Oscar winners/contenders The Post and Spotlight), based on a biography by James R. Hansen. The narrative spanned quite a long period of time and had a lot of time jumps (other movies could be made to fill in the gaps – that’s how rich this story is). And yet, even with all the jumping, the plot was still clear and cohesive. The film was also truly an Amstrong biopic because 1) it showcased both his personal life and professional career and 2) it didn’t paint Buzz Aldrin in any favorable light.
  2. First Man was directed by Damien Chazelle of Whiplash and La La Land. Going in to see this film, I wondered whether Chazelle will be able to make a quality non-music related film. And I think he showcased that he is, in fact, very much able to craft a film around any subject with First Man. Even though I knew the ending of the story, I was highly interested and emotionally invested in the progression of the said story. The pacing was also good for the most part – I just wish the film was a tad bit shorter.
  3. Visually, First Man was stunning. The intimate close-ups, especially of the eyes, were very effective. The shaky camera and the constantly mobile frame also made the viewer feel like they were in the cockpit with the astronauts. It’s not a pleasant viewing experience but it served a purpose.
  4. Ryan Gosling (Blade Runner 2049) played the lead in the film and did a great job. I smell another Oscar nomination for him but I don’t know if he’s necessarily worthy of a win. Maybe the Academy will decide that it is his time after all. Nevertheless, his performance was incredibly compelling in a subtle and subdued manner.
  5. The supporting cast of First Man consisted of The Crown’s Claire Foy, who has been popping on the big screen more and more (in Breathe and Unsane and soon in The Girl in a Spider’s Web), Jason Clarke (Terminator 5, Everest), Kyle Chandler (Manchester by the Sea, Game Night), and Corey Stoll (Ant-Man).

In short, First Man is a bit long but a compelling film from a director who still has a long career ahead of him. It’s 3/3 for Chazelle.

Rate: 4.2/5

Trailer: First Man trailer

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Movie review: The Shape of Water

Movie reviews

Hello!

Welcome to a review of another awards movie. This is The Shape of Water!

IMDb summary: At a top secret research facility in the 1960s, a lonely janitor forms a unique relationship with an amphibious creature that is being held in captivity.

Writing

The Shape of Water was written by the director Guillermo del Toro and Vanessa Taylor (who wrote Divergent and the upcoming live-action Alladin and has also worked on Game of Thrones). I thought that the duo crafted a unique yet familiar love story. The characters – the mute woman and the creature – were the two things that made the conventional plot into an unconventional (subverted) and extraordinary one. It was interesting to see how Elisa’s disability made her more empathetic towards other individuals who were shunned by society (not only the creature but the (?)gay (he is never labeled in the movie) neighbor but the black co-worker). Her specific disability (being mute) and her gender (female) also had an interesting correlation with the idea of women being silenced/having no voice in that period (the 1960s – prior to the sexual revolution and the overt women’s rights movements).

The hints at the fact that the amphibian man was the one who hurt her as a child made for some fascinating implications in their relationship too. For one, that possibility (of him maybe having hurt her) and some of his other actions in the film made him seem as a creature in which goodness and destruction coexist (sort of like in humanity: Hawkins‘ character symbolizing the kindness and Shannon’s – the violence). The whole romantic relationship between the two characters was just so pure, even adorable and yet still slightly creepy. The picture didn’t shy away from the more questionable parts of the relationship (Beauty and the Beast never raised those kinds of questions) which was quite brave, in my mind, mostly in risking alienating the audience. The film’s ending was quite unexpected, to me, personally. I was assuming that the script will go the melancholic route – ‘if you love, let go’ – but The Shape of Water chose the hopeful/happy fairytale conclusion and finished on the note of love and unity. That was quite an escapist ending but it did fit the surreal quality of the film.

A few other notes on the writing. First, I loved this movie’s appreciation for cinema and creative arts in general (painting, drawing). I’ve always loved films which love (like me) and pay homage to other motion pictures (I’d love to live above the movie theatre). The second interesting point of writing that was somewhat divorced from the main love story was Michael Shannon’s arc and his character’s relation to the ideas of the male success and the expectations for such success. Failure was not an option for him and it is still not seen as a legitimate or appropriate part of the construction of masculinity, especially the white privileged form of masculinity.

Directing

Guillermo del Toro directed The Shape of Water and succeeded in crafting almost a spiritual sequel (an adult one) to Pan’s Labyrinth (while I have liked his more action-driven works like Hellboy and its sequel and Pacific Rim, his weirder creations (fantasy realism or realistic fantasies) were always more fascinating to me and that includes Crimson Peak). Anyways, speaking about this picture, I adored its mixed tonne. The Shape of Water was both a genre movie and a typical awards movie. It was an old-school monster thriller/horror movie (think the original Universal Monsters Universe, Creature from the Black Lagoon) as well as an old-school romantic drama with some shades of the theatrical musical or more than just shades in one particular sequence (think Singin’ in the Rain, An American in Paris, just recently La La Land). The adult tone that I’ve mentioned in the opening sentence was that fact that the film had sexual and sensual undertones that one would not find in a more family-friendly film, like Pan’s Labyrinth (though, both that movie and The Shape of Water were rated R, so maybe Pan’s Labyrinth isn’t that all-ages appropriate as I remember).

Visually, the film looked stunning. The 1960s world of science was well realized (stellar production design) and the underwater sequences at the beginning and the end of the film were amazing (top-notch cinematography). The movie’s and the main character’s relationship to water was realized so cleverly and beautifully too. The costume design and the makeup were impeccable as well: the monster looked incredibly real.

Acting

Sally Hawkins (Paddington 2) delivered a brilliant performance that shined through the limited means of expression, a.k.a., she was amazing, even though, she barely said any lines. She seemed so endearing and had such a complex interplay innocence and maturity about her. And, although she was so great in the film, part of me wishes that the role would have been given to am an actually mute actress – I’d love to see more opportunities being extended to actors with disabilities (or special abilities). The TV show Switched at Birth has taught me that there are quite a few mute and deaf actors working in the business.

Doug Jones (a longtime collaborator of del Toro, currently part of the main cast of Star Trek: Discoveryor the Andy Serkis of practical costumes/effects was great as the creature and was definitely more than able to act through all that rubber. Michael Shannon (12 Strong, Nocturnal Animals, Loving) was also fascinating to watch even when though he played a very despicable character. Octavia Spencer (Hidden Figures, Allegiant) also had some fun scenes, while Richard Jenkins was amazing as the neighbor. Michael Stuhlbarg also had a small role in the film (and applause go to him and his agent for having three awards movie this season – The Shape of Water, Call Me By Your Name, and The Post – that join numerous other awards movies in his filmography, including the recent ones: Steve Jobs, Trumbo, and Arrival).

In short, The Shape of Water was one of those movies that made me go ‘huh?!’ and made me unsure what to feel (or think) in the best way possible.

Rate: 4,8/5

Trailer: The Shape of Water trailer

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Movie review: The Greatest Showman

Movie reviews

Hello!

What you get when you take the songwriters of La La Land and add them to a retired Wolverine? This is The Greatest Showman!

IMDb summary: inspired by the imagination of P.T. Barnum, The Greatest Showman is an original musical that celebrates the birth of show business and tells of a visionary who rose from nothing to create a spectacle that became a worldwide sensation.

Writing

The Greatest Showman, written by Jenny Bicks (one of the writers on Sex and the City) and Bill Condon (directed Beauty and the Beast, wrote Chicago, did both on Dreamgirls), is the story of P.T. Barnum. Being a mainstream musical that values entertainment value over accuracy, The Greatest Showman puts a fictional and quite an optimistic spin on a really dark and depressing real-life story. Barnum’s circus was not the safe haven for the different and marginalized, it was a prison for the so-called ‘freaks’ who neither the society nor Barnum himself actually cared for. And while there are some hints in the film for Barnum’s darker side (him turning away from his performers, and following the money and the high society’s acceptance instead), the overall final product can hardly be called a biography. Nevertheless, if one divorces the movie from its source material and takes it as a fictional story, then The Greatest Showman can absolutely be enjoyable (that’s how I enjoyed the movie – by treating it as a fictional musical rather than a biography).

Thematically, the picture explored ideas of hope and celebrated imagination and tolerance (again, take it as a fictional story, not a biography). It also expressed some ideas about hoaxes as lies for a good purpose (felt iffy about that message). The Greatest Showman also attempted to be a celebration of difference, however, it didn’t end up doing much else than just showcasing the difference – what I mean by this is that the script lacked character development for the majority of the performers. P.T. Barum received the most development, him being the lead and all, but even his personal arc was rushed at the beginning.

Directing

A visual effects supervisor Michael Gracey debuted as a director with The Greatest Showman and did quite a good job. Of course, he did get a lot of help from the aforementioned songwriters Benj Pasek and Justin Paul (their other credits include Dear Evan Hansen – a new and beloved Broadway musical as well as ‘Runnin’ Home To You’ – the song from The Flash musical episode) and composers John Debney and John Trapanese. The choreographer Ashley Wallen is also responsible for the success of the film’s musical numbers. And the musical numbers were plentiful. While on the first hearing, all of the songs somewhat blended together for me, upon a second listen, I started to appreciate them all separately. While ‘This is Me’ was certainly a great song and deserves the awards recognition it is getting, my favorite track was actually ‘Never Enough’. That song might be a bit too depressing and too real for the academy/other awards voters. What I wish that The Greatest Showman had less of was the reprisals of its songs. There were a lot of them and maybe a bit too many for a less than a 2-hour movie.

I’ve seen a few complaints online about the fact that this old school musical had a modern soundtrack – I actually loved the combo of old and new, but, then again, I liked how The Great Gatsby used modern music and I just love easy pop songs in general. I also loved how the movie realized its setting of a carnival/circus – I always thought that circus was a rich and realistically magical setting that is open to a lot of possibilities. In fact, The Greatest Showman’s circus numbers reminded me a bit of one short carnival sequence in the remake of Fame which I have always adored (linked it here).

Acting

Hugh Jackman (X-Men, Eddie The Eagle) starred in the lead of the film and did a good job. There was a reason why he so desperately wanted to make this movie – he knew he would be very good in it. It took me a few songs to get used to him not singing opera-like classics – I have only really heard him singing in Les Miserables before.

Zac Efron (The Disaster ArtistBaywatch, Mike and Dave, We Are Your Friends) was also really good in the picture and it was fun to see him coming back to his roots – a genre that made him well known in the first place (yes, I did grew up watching him in HSM, don’t judge me). Zendaya (Spider-Man) also delivered a wonderful performance, made even more amazing by the fact that she was actually the one doing the trapeze stunts. Michelle Williams (Manchester By the Sea) was also great in the film and in a less depressing role than she usually plays.

Rebecca Ferguson (The Snowman, MI5) delivered a great performance too – I loved the scene of her and Hugh Jackman just looking at each other. However, the most notable scene of Ferguson’s wasn’t even notable because of Ferguson herself – the aforementioned song ‘Never Enough’ was sung by her character but not by the actress herself. She was only lip syncing to the vocals of  Loren Allred. Lastly, Keala Settle rounded out the cast and was superb.

In short, The Greatest Showman was a great musical with delightful performances that was a bit let down by its mediocre writing

Rate: 4/5

Trailer: The Greatest Showman trailer

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Movie review: Justice League

Movie reviews

Hello!

Welcome to the review of the most polarizing movie of the year. Is anyone even surprised that the said divisive film is just another entry into the DCEU? This is Justice League.

IMDb summary: Fueled by his restored faith in humanity and inspired by Superman’s selfless act, Bruce Wayne enlists the help of his newfound ally, Diana Prince, to face an even greater enemy.

Before moving on to the actual review, I wanted to give you my brief thoughts about the DCEU in general. When Man of Steel came out in 2013, I barely paid any attention to it because I wasn’t into comic book movies much (had watched some Marvel ones and enjoyed them but was still oblivious to the bigger universe). However, 3 years later (in 2016), I had already become a huge fan of MCU, had familiarized myself with the DC character on TV and had started to read comics regularly. Needless to say, I was looking forward to Batman v Superman and Suicide Squad. Both films left me sort of baffled. While I wasn’t a fan of the dark/grim atmosphere, I could understand it as a creative choice. What I couldn’t forgive was the messy and unfocused storytelling. Then Wonder Woman came along and was a breath of fresh air (with a meh third act). Now, Justice League is coming together for the first time on the big screen and I have mixed feelings even before I see it. I care about these characters, because I have been dazzled by them in the comics (I read way more of DC than I do Marvel), have caught up with them every week on TV (The Flash) or in animated films (DC animation used to be so good before it started going sideways with The Killing Joke debacle and Batman and Harley weirdness) and even though the movies themselves were flawed, I have enjoyed seeing these versions of Batman and Wonder Woman (somebody please fix Superman, though). I go into the screening hoping for the best while also worrying about the worst.

SPOILER ALERT

Writing

Justice League’s screenplay was written by Chris Terrio (the writer of Argoand BvS, while Zack Snyder helped out with the story. Joss Whedon (Avengers 1 and 2) also received a screenplay credit but it’s not really clear whether he got the credit because he actually changed some of the narrative of the film or just because he couldn’t get a co-directing credit together with Snyder. Anyways, I thought that the movie’s writing was a mixed bag.

Let’s start with the set-up. I highly enjoyed a lot of its elements but didn’t necessarily think that they all jelled well. The film’s set-up had two main goals: to introduce the new characters and the establish the team and to develop a villain for the story. The introductions of the new characters – Flash, Aquaman, and Cyborg – were brief but effective. Still, if these characters had solo movies prior to this film, I believe I’d have had a stronger connection to them. Since I already knew this universe’s version of Wonder Woman and Batman (BvS was basically his solo film), they were my favorites of the group.

The dynamics within the team were really neat. I liked the different pairings, the contrast between the rookies and the seniors, and the humor within the group. That last thing felt like an obvious influence of Joss Whedon. What I could have done without was all the sexual nods between Diana and all other members. I wouldn’t have minded a few of them, but the constant stream was not welcomed by me.

Speaking of the villain, Steppenwolf served his purpose but wasn’t amazing. What boggled me was the fact that the DCEU is or was supposed to be this realistic and sophisticated reimagining of the DC characters. And yet, all their villains have been super comic book-y and in no way fitting for the tonne of the franchise. The fact that the main villain had a disposable army, like in all the other comic book films, didn’t bode well for the picture either. Having said that, the army of parademons at least had a trait to make them more interesting – they were feeding on fear – and they also served a bigger purpose in the final act (a.k.a. took down Steppenwolf when he experienced fear).

Justice League also had a plethora of references to the future DCEU projects and I immensely enjoyed spotting them. The more into comics I get, the more Easter Eggs I recognize. I also love to research the references I didn’t spot. Honestly, a huge part of watching these films is reading/watching the coverage of them after the actual screening. Speaking about the future of the DCEU, Justice League had an ending that felt like an answer to the critique of the grimness of the franchise. The sense of hope for the future was established. Now, let’s just pray that the box office numbers allow the DCEU to deliver on their promise of course correction (the opening weekend’s numbers have not been great).

Directing

Zack Snyder (300, Watchmen, Sucker Punch) helmed the movie during the principal photography, while Joss Whedon directed the reshoots and was responsible for the final edit. The film that premiered in cinemas around the world was an amalgamation of the talents of both these filmmakers. Snyder’s input was evident in the actions scenes, while Whedon’s influence shined in the aforementioned humor of the feature.

Speaking of the action, the team had 3 big action scenes (the individual characters had some smaller action scenes in addition to the 3 team ones). The action sequence underneath the Gotham harbor was neat and a great first showcasing of the team’s powers together (I loved how the seniors Wonder Woman and Batman were doing the majority of the fighting, while the rookies Flash and Cyborg were more about helping the civilians). The Superman v League fight wasn’t bad either. The final action scene was entertaining but I wish it was more epic and more massive in scope. Well, at least they have some space to grow in the following pictures. They also have a lot of space for the improvement of the CGI: it should have been way more photorealistic. Overall, my favorite action scene did not even involve the Justice League themselves. It was the sequence on Themyscira that I found the most inventive and the most enjoyable.

The movie’s runtime has been cut short. What was supposed to be a 2.5 hours film, ended up being less than 2 hours. The set-up felt like it was missing some scenes and that’s why it might have felt choppy. However, the fact that the picture was shorter than expected, made it feel really quick and more fast-paced than it actually was/might have been. Nobody can say that it dragged.

The credits scenes

Justice League had a mid-credits scene consisting of the race between The Flash and Superman – an iconic moment from the comics that was replicated only recently on DCTV with Supergirl and The Flash. The post-credits scene was a hint for the future alliance of the villains and also introduced the viewers to Deathstroke (who just appeared on DCTV/Arrow last/this week).

Acting

The DCEU casting choices have been their best choices concerning the series. Let’s go over the main players as well as their supporting characters.

  • Ben Affleck (The Accountant, Gone Girl) was great as Bruce Wayne / Batman. I really enjoyed his speech about his lack of humanity. Jeremy Irons (High-Rise, Assasin’s Creed) was neat as Alfred Pennyworth, while J. K. Simmons (The Snowman, Renegades, Patriot’s Day, La La Land) had a couple of scenes as James Gordon. I really want that Batman solo film to materialize and see more of these actors in the iconic roles.
  • Henry Cavill (The Man from U.N.C.L.E., Sand Castle) appeared as Clark Kent / Superman, while Amy Adams (Arrival, Nocturnal Animals) reprised her role of Lois Lane (the big guns). Cavill’s infamous mustache was very noticeable and his face looked really wonky in half of the shots. Subsequently, a lot of Superman’s scenes were distracting. However, he didn’t have much of them in the film. He is the character that has appeared in the biggest numbers of movies in the franchise, so we have already been exposed to him a lot. What I did like about Cavill’s performance in Justice League particularly was the fact that he was allowed to be positive and happy to be alive (in contrast to moping and feeling sorry for oneself).
  • Gal Gadot came back as Diana Prince / Wonder Woman and was as perfect as ever. I really want to see her in more movies, outside this or Fast&Furiousfranchises. Connie Nielsen briefly appeared as Hippolyta. I loved that moment with the signal fire for Diana.
  • Ezra Miller (Fantastic Beasts) as Barry Allen / Flash was the standout of the new characters and that was mostly due to Miller’s comedic talents. His enthusiasm was infectious and his reaction faces just hilarious. His love interest Iris West was set to be played by Kiersey Clemons (Flatliners) but was cut from the final film. We did get an intro to Barry’s father Henry Allen played by Billy Crudup (Alien: Covenant), though. That The Flash solo movie might actually be really good and could compete with the TV show.
  • Jason Momoa played Arthur Curry / Aquasman. I loved Momoa in the role but wish he was given something more to do with it. I’m hopeful about his solo movie, though. Amber Heard (Magic Mike XXL, The Danish Girl), who was introduced as Mera, will also re-appear in it.
  • Ray Fisher starred as Victor Stone / Cyborg and was probably the character most integral to the plot of the film. I didn’t know much about Fisher prior to this movie but was really impressed by his performance. He brought heart and soul to Cyborg – qualities which only a good dramatic actor can portray well.
  • Ciarán Hinds (GOT’s King Beyond the Wall) did the motion capture of and provided the voice for Steppenwolf. He was good enough in the role but I do wish that the design of the character would have been more interesting.

In short, Justice League was the second best film in the DCEU (and while it’s not much, it’s something). It had some great character moments (both action and humor ones) but was still plagued by the wider problems of the whole series. Nevertheless, the future is hopeful.

Rate: 3.5/5

Trailer: Justice League trailer

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Movie review: Battle of the Sexes

Movie reviews

Good evening,

My BFI London Film Festival series of reviews (it opened with Breathe) continues with Battle of the Sexes – another potential awards contender for the year!

IMDb summary: The true story of the 1973 tennis match between World number one Billie Jean King and ex-champ and serial hustler Bobby Riggs.

As a side note, before the actual review begins, I just wanted to tell you about a different tennis movie that already came out this year and left me pleasantly surprised. It’s Borg vs. McEnroe and I suggest you check it out! Onto Battle of the Sexes!

Writing

Battle of the Sexes was written by Simon Beaufoy (who is known for writing such movies as Slumdog Millionaire127 HoursSalmon Fishing in the YemenThe Hunger Games: Catching Fire, and Everest) and the film’s script was inspired/based on real events.

Battle of the Sexes tackled/portrayed two big concepts – the LGBTQ+ identity and the feminism/women’s rights. Sadly, both of these thematical spheres are still highly controversial and not discussed enough (or if they are debated, then only really unproductively, with zero chances of reaching a consensus between the opposing sides). Some might say that both of these issues are more topical in today’s socio-political climate than they were in the 1970s.

The movie approached these topics head-on (feminism way more than the LGBTQ+ side) and had a strong overall message. Personally, I loved it, but then again, I am a woman, a feminist, and a liberal. The general audiences, full of individuals of different genders/ideologies/beliefs, might turn on this movie because of its strong message of social justice. There was one short scene in the movie, where Emma Stone’s character confronted a journalist and clearly declared that she was not fighting to be seen as better, she just wanted to be treated equally. I wanted that idea – one of equality – to be more overtly stated in the movie because I worry that a takeaway for some audience members might be the fact that women want to be on top, rather than by side with the other genders. It is a bummer that, for some, being pro-female ultimately translates into an anti-male stance and I would hate if the cinema-goers interpreted Battle of the Sexes in such a way.

Now, let’s discuss some aspects of the writing in more detail. I thought that the presentation of Steve Carell’s character was captivating: his personal background and problems very clearly affected his actions of the tennis court. The way his gambling addiction and his work – tennis – were combined was super interesting too. It was also fascinating to see how he embellished his toxic masculinity for the public eye. The whole commentary on tennis as an activity in the middle of the spectacle v sports dichotomy was brilliant. In addition, the conflicting position of Carell’s character’s wife, played by Elisabeth Shue, was just amazing to watch: she rooted for her husband because he was her love but she also seemed to be cheering for Billie Jean and her cause.

Lastly, Battle of the Sexes also toyed with the concept of the gentlemanliness/sexism line (where one ends and the other begins). It also showcased sport as the factor that triumphed any relationship in the character’s life. The picture also did a very good job of combining feminity with feminism (which are often presented as polar opposites, which they aren’t). Oh, and the jokes were good too!

Directing

Battle of the Sexes was directed by a duo of filmmakers – Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris – who are responsible for directing one of my all-time favorite pictures Little Miss Sunshine. They did a great job with this film and its nuances and layers. Battle of the Sexes was a great biographical drama, a good sports drama, and an amazing romantic drama. The extreme close-ups of the characters made the movie seem intimate, real, and raw. The 1970s setting was well-realized, from the retro logos to the colorful vintage tracksuits. The sequences of the actual tennis play were good too, the final one was especially intense. The body doubles were hardly noticeable, so props to the directors, the cinematographer, and the camera crew for cleverly shooting around them.

Acting

Emma Stone (Magic in the MoonlightIrrational Man) and Steve Carell (The Big Short, Cafe Society) played the two lead roles. Both of these actors had quite similar careers – they started in comedy and then tried to transition to more serious roles, with varying levels of success. For Stone, this performance is her follow-up to the Oscar win for La La Land and a strong contender for at least a nomination this year. For Carrel, the involvement in Battle of the Sexes might bring him another nomination too. Emma was extremely lovable in the role and exuded both strength and relatable vulnerability. Steve was really good too – he looked exactly like the real person and also made the guy into a somewhat likable human being, even if he was sprouting nonsense most of the time.

The supporting cast was also really good. I loved Sarah Silverman as the bossy manager, she was perfectly cast. Andrea Riseborough (Nocturnal Animals) was brilliant as Billie Jean’s lover, while Austin Stowell (Bridge of Spies) brought a lot of heart to his role of Billie’s husband. Finally, I loved to hate Bill Pullman (ID: Resurgence) in his role and adored Elisabeth Shue in hers!

In short, Battle of the Sexes was a great drama about equality, freedom, and fighting. Undoubtfully, it was well executed, but whether you will agree with its message, will entirely depend on who you are as a person.

Rate: 4.3/5

Trailer: Battle of the Sexes trailer

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Movie review: Blade Runner 2049

Movie reviews

Hello!

The long-awaited (by some) sequel to another 1980s hit – Blade Runner 2049 – has reached theaters, so, let’s see whether it was worth the wait and all the hype.

IMDb summary: A young blade runner’s discovery of a long-buried secret leads him to track down former blade runner Rick Deckard, who’s been missing for thirty years.

The original Blade Runner has been a cult classic for years but I’ve never expected it to get a sequel 3 decades later because of the lack of mainstream success. Undoubtedly, it has aged well: the story is still solid and is open to as many different interpretations as there are versions of the film. The pacing is a bit slow but that can be seen as a feature of the time. The effects are great too even if you can tell that they have that particular 1980s futuristic style. Even though I did like the original film, I wouldn’t have been as excited about its sequel if they hadn’t gotten Dennis Villeneuve to direct it. His attachment to the project was the factor that immensely increased my interest the movie! Besides, the marketing shorts, which filled in the 30-year-old gap between the two feature films – the anime Black Out 2022, and the live action shorts 2036: Nexus Dawn and 2048: Nowhere to Run – have acted as great tasters for the sequel and doubled the hype as well!

SPOILER ALERT

Writing

Blade Runner 2049 was written by Hampton Fancher (the writer of the original) and Michael Green (the writer of Logan, Alien: Covenant, and the upcoming Murder on the Orient Express, the co-creator of American Gods). This duo of scriptwriters did an amazing job: they paid homage to the original (both the plot and the thematic concepts) and expanded upon it/them extremely successfully.

The first two acts of the sequel were structured as a mystery: a smart yet straightforward one man’s quest for answers. The third act upped the complexity: it had a tonne of exciting reveals and a bunch of sidelines converging with the main one. The writing for the lead character was just brilliant too. Every act of the film had some kind of twist relating to him: either the fact that he was a replicant at the beginning, a potential offspring of a replicant in the second act and just a decoy for the actual child in the end. It was amazing to see a character go from not knowing who he was to finding actual answers but quickly realizing that he was asking the wrong questions in the first place. He both found and lost an identity before our eyes in the time span of two hours. It was such a great and different character arc.

Two huge thematic concepts that 2049 introduced were the virtual/holographic humans and the procreation ability of the replicants. These two ideas pushed the question of ‘what is humanity ?’ so much farther than I ever dream it could go. I still can’t wrap my head around these two concepts.

Directing

Denis Villeneuve, who has quickly become one of the most critically acclaimed directors of our time with films like Prisoners, Sicario, and especially last year’s Arrival, directed the Blade Runner sequel and did a spectacular job. To begin with, he stayed faithful to the original with the pacing and the style of the visuals. Having said that, Villeneuve also built upon what was already there. 2049 was a really long and quite a slow film, however, it never dragged. It was always intense, intriguing, and exciting – way more than the original ever was.

When it comes to visuals, they were just breathtaking. The set design (by Alessandra Querzola + production design by Dennis Gassner), the costume design (by Renée April), the lighting and the cinematography (by Roger Deakins) – all these different departments just brought their A-game and created such a cohesive masterpiece. The scope was epic and awe-inspiring. The shots were composed so beautifully, you could just freeze them and frame every single image. The colors were so vibrant and just popped off the screen. The shots also lingered a lot (that’s why the movie was so long) but the combination of the visuals and the amazing score made them so impactful, powerful, and effective. In general, the soundtrack (by Benjamin Wallfisch and none other than Hans Zimmer) was so cool and that new instrumental theme was so heart wrenching.

A lot of films have tried to emulate a similar style but none of them have come close to Blade Runner 2049 (Ghost in the Shell looked good but wasted the visuals on an awful story). A few of noteworthy sequences in this picture were: 1. the interplay between the shadows and the light in the pyramid; 2. the memory-construction scene – such a brilliant example of storytelling within a bigger story; 3. the zoom/enhance effect carried over from the first film; 4. a very unique sex scene (not an adjective I’ve ever thought I’d use to describe a sex scene; and 5. an impeccable looking de-aging moment – that technology has never looked better.

Acting

Blade Runner 2049 had quite an extensive cast, full of fan-favorite actors in roles of varying sizes. At the centre of it was Ryan Gosling, who has lent his talents to a variety of genres throughout his career, including but not limited to musicals (La La Land), art films (Only God Forgives), indies with mainstream appeal (Drive), mainstream romantic dramas (The Notebook), arty romantic dramas (Blue Valentine), comedies (Crazy,Stupid,Love), political dramas (The Ides of March), action comedies (The Nice Guys), biopics (The Big Short), and crime dramas (Gangster Squad). Finally, he has added sci-fi to this extensive list with the lead role in Blade Runner 2049, which he was just absolutely brilliant in: powerful, vulnerable, dramatic, emotional. Totally marvelous.

Harrison Ford has come back to another role from his younger days. He has already retired Han Solo and will be back as Indiana Jones in 2020. In Blade Runner 2049, he only appeared in the third act but that was enough to make an impression.

The film also had quite a few female characters. Ana de Armas (War Dogs) was amazing as the virtual girlfriend, Sylvia Hoeks (Renegades) was wonderful as the warrior replicant, Robin Wright (Wonder Woman) was a badass police chief,
Mackenzie Davis (Black Mirror’s ‘San Junipero’ episode) had a fun appearance and, lastly, Carla Juri had a surprisingly important role. Guardians of the Galaxy’s Dave Bautista appeared in a short but the most dramatically challenging role of his career so far, while Captain Phillips’s and Eye in the Sky’s Barkhad Abdi also had a cameo (wish he got more roles). Lastly, Jared Leto (Suicide Squad) played the main antagonist and, although his role was unsettling and quite creepy, it seemed quite normal by Leto’s standards. He was great in it, though.

In short, Blade Runner 2049 was one of those wow pictures that stays with you, long after you are done watching it. Gorgeously looking, carefully written, brilliantly acted sequel that is *gasp* better than the original.

Rate: 4.8/5

Trailer: Blade Runner 2049

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5 ideas about a movie: Renegades

Movie reviews

Hello!

Welcome to a review of a film that I had no intentions of seeing but somehow ended up actually entertained by. This is the review of Renegades!

IMDb summary: A team of Navy SEALs discover an underwater treasure in a Bosnian lake.

  1. If you have never heard about this movie, I’m not surprised. It comes from the Luc Besson’s EuropaCorp company that has been struggling a lot with the release of its films, both in its native Europe but especially in the US (Renegades has even been taken off the release schedule in the USA, but it did already premiere in some European countries and will expand the market throughout September). Not only has this film been made by Besson’s company but he actually produced it and penned its script, together with Richard Wenk (who wrote The Expendables 2, The Equalizer, Jack Reacher 2, and The Magnificient Seven). Besson has already lost a ton of money on Valerian and I don’t really see Renegades being super profitable either.
  2. In general, the writing for the film wasn’t bad: it also wasn’t the most original, smart or believable but it was still somewhat entertaining. The jokes and the funny banter between the soldiers were funny, while the details of their plan to get the gold out of the lake were actually quite interesting. I also liked how the movie incorporated the idea that some people, during the times of war, would rather destroy their home than see it fall into the enemy’s hands. Lastly, Renegades also had a surprising philanthropic message, although, it was advertised as, more or less, a selfish robbery story.
  3. Steven Quale directed Renegades and did an okay job. This might actually be his best movie to date, as his previous films include Final Destination 5 and Into the Storm. Before his solo directing projects, he was a second unit director on James Cameron’s pictures. The pacing of Renegades was fine, while the action – okay too. The underwater sequences were a bit hard to follow, though.
  4. The 5 leads of the movie were played by mostly unknown actors. They were basically The Expendables without the years of glory, consisting of: Sullivan Stapleton (300: Rise of an Empire is probably his best known previous film), Charlie Bewley (has worked on mostly young adult TV shows and movies), Diarmaid Murtagh (TV actor), Joshua Henry (Broadway actor), and Dimitri Leonidas (a few small roles in indie films). They had good enough chemistry and were believable as crazy Americans, wrecking havoc in Europe (though the majority of them are not actually Americans).
  5. The supporting cast of the picture had a few recognizable stars, like J.K. Simmons (La La Land, Patriot’s Day, The Accountant, Terminator Genisys), whose reaction faces were hilarious (still, I’m not sure how he wandered onto the set of this movie), and Ewen Bremmer, who played a combined version of his two previous characters from Trainspotting 2 and Wonder Woman. A Dutch actress Sylvia Hoeks was the lone female in the film and she did a good job. Still, since she played a Bosnian local, I’d have loved to see a native of the region taking on the role and being exposed to a wider audience. Hoeks’s career is also on a rise, as she is next appearing in Blade Runner 2049

In short, Renegades is a perfectly forgettable and expendable actioner that isn’t worth the full cinema ticket price but is absolutely serviceable as a rental or a TV rerun.

Rate: 2.75/5

Trailer: Renegades trailer

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The Awards Season Round-Up 2017

Movie previews, Movie reviews

Hello!

With the Oscars happening tomorrow and the 2017 awards season coming to a close, I decided to do my own annual awards round-up type of a post.

Like I did last year (2016 round-up), I have combined the nominees from the various awards shows. Although the Oscar nominees make up the basis for all the categories, I have also added nominees from the Golden Globes, the Critics Choice Awards, the BAFTAs and the various guild awards (SAG, DGA, PGA, WGA) that the Academy overlooked. I allowed myself up to 10 nominees in every category except the best picture one – it was expanded to 12. I have not only noted my personal winners in each category but I also ranked all the runner-ups. Below, I have also written down my guesses of who will actually win an Academy Award in each category, because my subjective preferences not necessarily fit my more objective picks. Lastly, all the full reviews of the movies have also been linked.

Best Picture:

  1. Hidden Figures
  2. Arrival
  3. Hacksaw Ridge
  4. La La Land
  5. Hell or High Water
  6. Manchester by the Sea
  7. Moonlight
  8. The Lobster
  9. Nocturnal Animals
  10. Fences
  11. Lion
  12. Sully

The objective pick: While I’d be very happy if any of my top 3 films win the big award of the night, neither of them will. Best Picture will probably go to La La Land. Moonlight is my other guess.

Best Lead Actor:

  1. Andrew Garfield – Hacksaw Ridge
  2. Denzel Washington – Fences
  3. Casey Affleck – Manchester by the Sea
  4. Collin Farrel – The Lobster
  5. Ryan Gosling – La La Land
  6. Chris Pine – Hell or High Water
  7. Viggo Mortensen – Captain Fantastic
  8. Joel Edgerton – Loving
  9. Tom Hanks – Sully

The objective pick: the top three frontrunners for the award are Affleck, Gosling, and Washington. Gosling would be my choice because of the wide variety of skills required for his particular role (playing piano, dancing, and singing on top of acting).

Best Lead Actress:

  1. Isabelle Huppert – Elle
  2. Taraji P. Henson – Hidden Figures
  3. Ruth Negga – Loving
  4. Natalie Portman – Jackie
  5. Emma Stone – La La Land
  6. Amy Adamas – Arrival/Nocturnal Animals
  7. Meryl Streep – Florence Foster Jenkins
  8. Emily Blunt – The Girl on the Train

The objective pick: My personal winners – Huppert, Portman, and Stone – are the frontrunners for the Oscar. Stone will most likely take it even though Huppert does have a chance of stealing it. Portman deserves the win as well but she already has an Oscar.

Best Supporting Actor:

  1. Mahershala Ali – Moonlight
  2. Jeff Bridges – Hell or High Water
  3. Aaron Taylor-Johnson – Nocturnal Animals
  4. Lucas Hedges – Manchester by the Sea
  5. Dev Patel – Lion
  6. Michael Shannon – Nocturnal Animals
  7. Simon Helberg – Florence Foster Jenkins
  8. Hugh Grant – Florence Foster Jenkins

The objective pick: Ali should win this one. Patel, coming off of BAFTA win, might prove to be a legit competitor. Bridges or Hedges could also possibly steal the win.

Best Supporting Actress:

  1. Viola Davis – Fences
  2. Janelle Monae – Hidden Figures
  3. Naomie Harris – Moonlight
  4. Octavia Spencer – Hidden Figures
  5. Michelle Williams – Manchester by the Sea
  6. Nicole Kidman – Lion

The objective pick: this is one of the two categories, where my subjective and objective choices are one and the same. Davis has won all the important awards up until now and it is obviously her time to finally get an Oscar.

Best Director:

  1. Damien Chazelle – La La Land
  2. Denis Villeneuve – Arrival
  3. Mel Gibson – Hacksaw Ridge
  4. Barry Jenkins – Moonlight
  5. Tom Ford – Nocturnal Animals
  6. Kenneth Lonergan – Manchester by the Sea
  7. David Mackenzie – Hell or High Water
  8. Denzel Washington – Fences
  9. Garth Davis – Lion

The objective pick: the other category, where the objective and subjective winners coincide. Chazelle did a great job directing La La Land and, even if the film wasn’t my favorite of the year, his excellent work should be rewarded.

Best Original Screenplay:

  1. Yorgos Lanthimos and Efthimis Filippou – The Lobster
  2. Taylor Sheridan – Hell or High Water
  3. Kenneth Lonergan – Manchester by the Sea
  4. Damien Chazelle – La La Land
  5. John Carney – Sing Street

The objective pick: La La Land has won a few screenwriting awards but, if it wins the Academy Award, I will be furious. The story was the weakest part of the film and I’ll, genuinely, be happy if any other picture wins.

Best Adapted Screenplay:

  1. Eric Heisserer – Arrival
  2. Allison Schroeder and Theodore Melfi – Hidden Figures
  3. August Wilson – Fences
  4. Tom Ford – Nocturnal Animals
  5. Jeff Nichols – Loving
  6. Luke Davies – Lion
  7. Barry Jenkins and Tarell Alvin McCraney – Moonlight
  8. Todd Komarnicki – Sully

The objective pick: This category has the most equal race. Honestly, any nominated film deserves it. The Academy might give this win to Hidden Figures as they probably not gonna give it any other awards.

Best Animated Feature: 

  1. Zootopia
  2. Kubo and the Two Strings
  3. Moana
  4. Sing
  5. Finding Dory
  6. Trolls

The objective pick: I haven’t seen the 2 indie picture that were nominated but, that doesn’t really matter because Zootopia will take the win, as it should.

I hope you enjoyed flicking through my list of winners. Are you planning on watching the big show tomorrow or are you just gonna check who wins online, like I’m planning to do?

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5 ideas about a movie: Patriot’s Day 

Movie reviews

Hello!

Welcome to a review of a film which is based on the very recent real-life events. This is the review of Patriot’s Day.

IMDb summary: An account of Boston Police Commissioner Ed Davis’s actions in the events leading up to the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing and the aftermath, which includes the city-wide manhunt to find the terrorists behind it.

  1. Up until this point, the majority of movies, inspired by true events, would act as my first encounters with the said events. However, Patriot’s Day recounts the 2013 Boston Marathon bombings, which I followed extremely closely. I distinctly remember watching CNN and BBC and being completely horrified. The worst part was that that same week, I was planning on participating in a running event. Even though I was sure that nothing would happen, as my native country is too small of a target, I was still a bit scared to be in the crowd, full of runners, spectators and etc.
  2. Patriot’s Day is the 3rd collaboration between the director Peter Berg and the actor Mark Walhberg. Just a few months ago, their previous project Deepwater Horizon (also inspired by true events) came out. 2013’s Lone Survivor (also based on real life events) was their first picture together.
  3. The film’s screenplay was written by the director Peter Berg, Matt Cook, and Joshua Zetumer. I think that they managed to respectfully retell such a well known (and fresh in people’ minds) story. It had the usual great set-up/development to make the viewers care about these characters/real people. It also succeeded at showing the bombings and their aftermath from a variety of perspectives.  I was especially interested in the film’s ideas on the concept of survivor’s guilt.
  4. Peter Berg did a great job with the direction of this film. The set-up was effective, the recreation of the actual bombings – super realistic, while the investigation – suspenseful and intense. Overall, the film did have a strong emotional impact. The feels really hit home while listening to the accounts of the real individuals, who lived through the terror attack, during the credits.
  5. Although the film was advertised with Mark Wahlberg (Ted, Transformers) in the lead, I think that it was more ensemble based. And what great ensemble cast it had: John Goodman (Trumbo), J. K. Simmons (La La Land, The Accountant, Zootopia, Whiplash), Michelle Monaghan (Pixels), and Kevin Bacon (Black Mass) all starred in the picture. The casting choices for the terrorists (who weren’t even good at being terrorists) were interesting: the relative newcomers Alex Wolff and Themo Melikidze played the two bombers, while Melissa Benoist, who is most well known for being Supergirl, played the role of a terrorist’s wife. It was so interesting and unusual to see Benoist in such a contrasting role to her usual one.

In short, Patriot’s Day was a well directed and an emotional retelling of the 2013 Boston Marathon bombings. In addition, the film’s extensive cast delivered great performances.

Rate: 4.5/5

Trailer: Patriot’s Day trailer

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Movie review: La La Land

Movie reviews

Hello!

Today, I had a chance to see the current awards front-runner – the film La La Land – so let’s review it! I have read a lot of emotional (both positive and negative) tweets about it in my feed these past few weeks, but, as usual, I decided to make up my own mind by watching it.

IMDb summary: A jazz pianist falls for an aspiring actress in Los Angeles.

I would like to begin by saying that La La Land is very much an indie picture – it won’t please the majority of the mainstream audiences and it certainly didn’t appeal to the majority of the people at my screening, who were complaining throughout the whole runtime. Despite their actions, I took La La Land for what it was – a niche musical about Hollywood – and had a great time watching it.

Writing

La La Land was written by Damien Chazelle, who also directed the picture. Chazelle is best known for directing and writing 2014’s awards winner Whiplash, but he also wrote the recent 10 Cloverfield Lane. I, personally, found La La Land’s story to be interesting. It wasn’t the most original but it was executed quite well. I, as a fan of cinema, have always enjoyed movies set in LA and Hollywood. Musicals have also always been my guilty pleasure genre. La La Land combined both of these things in a more successful way than Hail, Caesar – another recent film about Hollywood that featured some musical numbers. Lastly, I loved all the homages in La La Land, especially, the Rebel Without a Cause recreation.

Thematically, the film was also quite good. The character development was great as well – the two leads appeared as fully rounded and real characters. I saw some complaints saying that the lead female character was really unlikeable. To my mind, firstly, the characters don’t necessarily have to be likable to interesting. Secondly, I thought that not only the female lead but the male lead had some qualities that made them unlikeable. Besides, real people aren’t always likable too, so why should then the movie characters be over-idealized versions of us? I though that the main pair’s relationship had its ups and downs and that both individuals involved were damaged as well as rewarded by it. She might not have gotten to fulfill her dreams without him but neither would he have reached his goals without her. Not surprisingly, one of my favorite scenes from the writing perspective was their argument over dinner – it had great timing and a lot of emotional weight. Overall, I did enjoy the message of the film, so dream big because somebody has to.

Directing

For the most part, I really enjoyed La La Land’s directing. I loved the mixture of the long tracking shots and the speedy montages. I liked the upbeat energy of it, the dreamy atmosphere, the colorful pallet as well as the beautiful settings and the whole mise-en-scene. However, I think that the picture’s pace was a bit uneven and that the film was a tiny bit too long.

My biggest problem with La La Land was the fact that the movie was confused about its genre. Maybe this was an intentional decision and if so, I don’t think that this particular blend of genres worked. La La Land, at times, was a realistic, grounded, quite modern film, close to a drama. However, a few scenes later, it would very much remind of a filmed theater performance – the levels of overdramatization would go through the roof. This would happen a lot during the musical numbers, which sometimes made the movie seem like a live TV special, like Grease: Live! and Hairspray: Live! I wish the filmmakers would have picked one direction and followed it: either make La La Land into a fully modern or a fully traditional musical.

So, even though La La Land didn’t reach the quality of Singing in the Rain, it still had some pretty enjoyable sequences. A couple of my favorites were all the times when Ryan Gosling’s character played the main theme of the film. I also really like Gosling’s and Stone’s interaction during the ‘I ran’ performance. The dream sequence was also lovely and looked visually stunning. I liked The Messengers’ gig scene too. However, my favorite sequence was the dance with the city’s skyline in the background. 

Music

Justin Hurwitz was responsible for the soundtrack and I think he did a neat job. Although I’m not the biggest fan of jazz, I did appreciate its tunes and all the nostalgia surrounding them in this film. Other songs were beautiful as well but not catchy in that pop-music kinda way. Nevertheless, City of Stars is a magnificent song.

Acting

Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone made for a great lead duo. Their chemistry was amazing as usual, as this was not the first time they worked together – they have also started in Crazy, Stupid, Love (one of my favorite romantic comedies) and a passable thriller Gangster Squad. Both of the actors did a good job with their singing – theirs were not the best singing performances I’ve seen in a film but they weren’t the worst either. I absolutely loved the dancing, though. I don’t know if the two of them are going to win any big awards in the acting category but I could definitely spot a few scenes that were included in their awards reels. For Gosling, it could have been any of the piano playing scenes, while for Stone it was most likely the audition storytelling/singing sequence.

A few of my favorite Stone’s film are Easy A, Magic in the Moonlight, Irrational Man, and Birdman. Going forward, she has a sport’s comedy Battle of the Sexes listed for next year. Gosling’s best film are Blue Valentine, Drive, The Big Shortand The Nice Guys. He will star in the Blade Runner sequel next year.

The film’s supporting cast didn’t have much to do in the film, but I’d like to mention two individuals who stood out. First one was, of course, well-known singer John Legend – has was great. The second one – J.K.Simmons – it was nice of him to cameo in a different movie by Chazelle as Whiplash earned Simmons an Academy Award and it was nice of Chazelle to include him in the film for the same reason.

To conclude, La La Land was a gorgeous looking film with a nice story, lovely performances, and great music. However, I can’t recommend it as a must-watch as I think that only a very open minded audience would enjoy it. With musicals, like this one, you just have to go with everything and do not find the random bursting out into song moments awkward or uncomfortable.

Rate: 4/5

Trailer: La La Land trailer

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