Movie review: The Nutcracker and Four Realms

Movie reviews

Hello!

And welcome to a review of a first Christmas movie of the 2018 holiday season. If the whole season will be as rocky as its start, then we can just cancel Christmas. This is a quite negative (as you have probably already guessed) review of The Nutcracker and Four Realms.

IMDb summary: A young girl is transported into a magical world of gingerbread soldiers and an army of mice.

Writing

The Nutcracker and Four Realms – a mouthful of a title, huh – was written by Ashleigh Powell. It’s a remake/reimagining of a classic fairytale and a famous ballet. Disney has been making quite a few live-action fairytales. Some of them crashed, like Alice in Wonderland and its sequel. Some blossomed like Cinderella and Beauty and the Beast. The Nutcracker seems like it will be joining the first group. I feel like there is a general fatigue of live action fairytales and only the really special ones turn into something. The Nutcracker, being a niche and holiday-specific fairytale, is already a hard sell. The fact that it’s premiering so early in November also almost guarantees that it will have a small opening. Maybe it will play for a long time?

Anyways, speaking of the writing: it wasn’t bad but wasn’t original in any way, shape or form. The message on how to deal with grief was a neat one and the young woman’s journey into self-confidence was also a nice thing to spotlight. The actual adventure was sooo by the numbers. The twist could be seen from miles away. The characters were also just meh. The nutcracker especially was so unexceptional despite being the titular character. The dialogue was very simplistic. It just seemed that this whole film was aimed at a very young audience. And by young, I mean babies.

Directing

The Nutcracker was directed by Lasse Hallström (of The Hundred-Foot Journey and A Dog’s Purpose) and Joe Johnston (of Captain America: The First Avenger) – what a weird duo of directors. And even a weirder end product. They did a good job with the visuals – I cannot fault the film’s production value. The CGI could have been cleaner. The pacing was way off. At least the runtime was fairly decent. To end on a positive note: the ballet scenes and the ballet-inspired credits were nice touches. The score, which included the classic melodies, was good too.

Acting

The Nutcracker’s cast’s performances were a huge letdown. Mackenzie Foy and Jayden Fowora-Knight were both wooden. Hellen Mirren and Morgan Freeman were folding in their performances and were still the best just because they are true pros and can outact everyone in their sleep. Keira Knightley was killing her career with every minute of being on screen. She was both a cartoon and a parody: everything about her performance – from the look to the speech to the behavior – were just so cringe-y. Her work her kinda reminded me of Anne Hathaway in Alice in Wonderland (another unfortunate comparison between the two less than good Disney fairytales).

The actor who played the father – Matthew Macfadyen –  looked like off-brand Armie Hammer. The British comedian Jack Whitehall also had a cameo role – good on him for finally getting into a Disney movie (even if bad one) after being cut from Frozen.

In short, The Nutcracker and Four Realms was a boring film that won’t bring anyone any Christmas joy. A basic narrative, oversaturated visuals, and some cringe-y acting – that’s this picture in one sentence.

Rate: 2.4/5

Trailer: The Nutcracker and Four Realms trailer

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Movie review: Peter Rabbit

Movie reviews

Hello!

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

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

Writing

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

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

Directing

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

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

Acting

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

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

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

Rate: 4.2/5

Trailer: Peter Rabbit trailer

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Movie review: Paddington 2

Movie reviews

Hi!

A delightful bundle of joy has landed in theatres. It’s Paddington 2!

IMDb summary: Paddington, now happily settled with the Brown family and a popular member of the local community, picks up a series of odd jobs to buy the perfect present for his Aunt Lucy’s 100th birthday, only for the gift to be stolen.

Movie over Winnie-the-Pooh, there is a new bear in town! Christopher Robin and his bear first entered the pop culture in the 1920s (Goodbye Christopher Robin tells that story), while Paddington first debuted in Michael Bond’s children’s books in the late 1950s. In 2014, Paddington’s stories have been brought to life on the big screen for the first time (they have previously been adapted into TV movies throughout the second half of the 20th century). Due to the critical and commercial success of the first film, the sequel has been made and the world is just a tiny bit better because of it.

Writing

Paddington 2 was written by the director of the film Paul King (who also helmed the first film) and Simon Farnaby (actor-turned-writer). The writing for the picture was just great. The viewers got to see Paddington entering the workforce and coming face to face with the harsh realities of life, while never losing his optimism. Despite all challenges he had to face, the lovable bear remained an example of endless hope, understanding, and kindness – somebody that we should all strive to be a little more like. The innocent humor, which arose from the situations that Paddington put himself in, was so nice and a pleasant change from the fart jokes of the other children’s movies. The meta-humor – the joke about the actors being evil as they lie for a living – was appreciated too. The good side of the British culture, that was neatly spotlighted in the first film, was on display here too. I also liked the fact that the movie wasn’t afraid to poke fun at the poshness of Britishness too. Also, I loved the fact that the incentive for a story was a pop-up book – I used to love my fairytale garden pop up book as a child and it is still on the shelve in my old room at my parents’ house.

Not only did Paddington got a chance to go on a fun adventure in a sequel, but his family also got some nice screentime. The teenager problems, the middle-life crisis storyline for the dad, and the desire for adventure for the mother were all nice touches that expanded the plot. I also loved how tight the narrative was. Every detail that was introduced in the set-up came back again during the third act of the film. The son’s steam trains hobby, the dad’s yoga, the sticky toffee apples that Paddington ate during the fair, the judge character, the daughter’s newspaper, the mother’s painting and swimming abilities, Paddington’s folded ladder were all important plot-points, not just random ideas that the screenwriters had.

Directing

The director of the first film Paul King absolutely nailed the sequel. He kept the pure, innocent, and joyful atmosphere of the first movie that is so on-brand for Paddington. The picture’s setting was very well-realized: both the broad one (the feature was sort of a love letter to London) and the narrow one (the fair/carnival/circus setting was just adorable). The CGI animation that brought Paddington to life was impeccable too. The cinematography was amazing as well: the filmmakers used a lot of long and mobile shots that were so impressive.

Acting

Ben Whishaw (A Hologram for the King, In The Heart of The Sea, Spectre, The Danish Girl, Suffragette, The Lobster) was, once again, perfect as the optimistic, innocent, but determined voice behind Paddington. Hugh Bonneville (Breathe), Sally Hawkins (Godzilla), and Julie Walters (I can’t wait for Mamma Mia 2!) were great as the ‘adoptive’ family of Paddington, while Brendan Gleeson (Assasin’s Creed) had a lot of fun with the role of the prison cook. Hugh Grant (Florence Foster Jenkins) was wonderful as the over-the-top theatrical villain, while a plethora of great British actors (Jim Broadbent, Peter Capaldi, Ben Miller) also played some lovely minor roles.

In short, Paddington 2 provides an amazing opportunity for escapism and is both heartbreaking and heartwarming. It also will get you craving for marmalade!

Rate: 4.5/5

Trailer: Paddington 2 trailer

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Movie review: Kingsman: The Golden Circle

Movie reviews

Hello!

Kingsman: The Secret Service came out of nowhere and blew everyone away back in 2014. 3 years later and the expectations are high for the sequel. Can Kingsman: The Golden Circle deliver?

IMDb summary: When their headquarters are destroyed and the world is held hostage, the Kingsman’s journey leads them to the discovery of an allied spy organization in the US. These two elite secret organizations must band together to defeat a common enemy.

Writing

The Kingsman sequel was written by the same duo who wrote the first film – Jane Goldman and the director Matthew Vaughn, based the characters by the comic book royalty – Mark Millar and Dave Gibbons (the said screenwriting duo has also written Stardust, Kick-Ass, X-Men: First Class, and X-Men: DOFP together, while Goldman’s solo writing credits also include Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children). I thought that they did a great job on writing The Golden Circle. They ticked off all the necessary boxes for a sequel: took away everything familiar from the heroes (destroyed their home and comrades), made it personal (involved significant others and long lost friends), introduced new characters and locations (Statesman, Poppy’s Land), and had plenty of callbacks to the first film (returning characters, familiar scenes recreated with a twist).

The most interesting new addition was the aforementioned Statesman organization as well as the general feeling of Americana, especially potent in the villain’s layer. This expansion of the Kingsman world to the other side of the Atlantic really worked for me. I loved seeing the differences between UK and US expressed in a fun and comic-book-y way. The obviously American aura of the film also reminded me of Logan Lucky (who also shares a song – ‘Take Me Home, Country Roads’ and an actor – Channing Tatum with The Golden Circle). Lastly, I loved how, even though the American side of the story/ characters were introduced, the British roots were not forgotten either and remained the focus of the movie.

Speaking about those British roots, I appreciated all the commentary on honor and the right kind of masculinity that this picture had. Its attempt to say something about the drug usage, law, and innocence wasn’t bad either. The villain for this film was just as campy and just as appropriate tonally as Valentine was in/for the last one.

Directing

Matthew Vaughn was back in his element with Kingsman 2. While I have been disappointed by some of his producing efforts (Fantastic Four and Kick-Ass 2), he has never let me down, when he was in a role of the director. The action was just spectacular: highly stylized, explicit, campy, and not at all realistic but just so fun and entertaining! All the gadgets were magnificent and a great parody/homage of the 007/other spy films. The filming style (cinematography by George Richmond) – handheld and smooth rather than shaky with just the right amount of slow-mo – was highly appreciated too and so dynamic (it was so fun I could forgive some wonky CGI)! The British glamour, as well as American ruggedness, were both well realized too. The score (music by Henry Jackman and Matthew Margeson) was great as well, I especially loved the instrumental version of the already mentioned ‘Take Me Home, Country Roads’ song. The only criticism that I have for this highly entertaining live-action cartoon was the fact that it’s a bit long – over two hours. If it was chopped down to 2h, the narrative might have been tighter and the criticism would not exist.

Acting

Taron Egerton (Eddie The Eagle, Testament of Youth, Legend, Sing) was great as the lead Eggsy. He had both the coolness and the vulnerability needed for the character. Colin Firth (Magic in the Moonlight, Genius) also came back (wish that wasn’t spoiled in the trailer) – his performance seemed a bit off but his character also acted a bit off. Mark Strong had a lovely arc in the film and one of the best exists of the character I have seen in a while. Hanna Alström also came back as her character. I really did not expect her to stick around for a sequel but the filmmakers kinda took that explicit ending of the first film (and the introduction of her…character) and sort of made into a cute side plotline.

Newcomers included Channing Tatum (Logan Lucky, Hail, Caesar!, The Hateful Eight, Magic Mike XXL, Jupiter Ascending), who had some fun scenes but wasn’t in the movie much. However, the conclusion of The Golden Circle promised that we will see more of him in the 3rd picture. Pedro Pascal (The Great Wall) gave a wonderful performance too: he had the coolest weapon and an awesome death scene (on par with the one on GOT). Halle Berry (DOFP) played kinda a typical role of the behind-the-scenes/tech personnel but I’m excited to follow her journey further. Jeff Bridges (Hell or High Water) also had a very minor role in the picture. He was the only actor who just seemed to be included in order to raise the profile of the film rather than to actually have him do something cool. Lastly, Julianne Moore (Mockingjay) made for a great villain. It was so fun seeing her let loose in a role!

In short, I really enjoyed Kingsman: The Golden Circle. It was as good as The Secret Service, so if you liked the first one, the sequel should also please you. Plus, if you enjoy comic book movies that truly feel like a comic book that has come to life, Kingsman 2 is the film for you!

Rate: 4/5

Trailer: Kingsman: The Golden Circle 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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Movie review: Ghost in the Shell

Movie reviews

Hello!

Hollywood’s first big attempt at recreating a beloved anime property has hit theaters, so, let’s discuss it. This is the review of Ghost in the Shell.

To begin with, the 1995’s Ghost in the Shell movie was my introduction into the world of anime as an adult. During childhood, I would sometimes watch Dragon Ball Z after school, however, in later years, I got really into American and British films and TV series, so there wasn’t really enough time for the pop-culture of the Far East. Nowadays, as anime is becoming more and more popular and easily accessible, I’m tasting it bit by bit. What are some shows or pictures I should watch? I really loved the recent film Your Name and would have loved to review it but, sadly, I couldn’t find time to do that.

Anyway, back to the topic at hand. I thought that the original animated picture was really cool. I liked the visuals and the themes. It had an unexpected, interesting, and exciting ending and a unique soundtrack – nothing that I’ve ever heard before. I have yet to watch the sequels and the TV shows of this franchise or read the original manga but I’ll definitely put them on my infinite list of things to do.

IMDb summary: In the near future, Major is the first of her kind: A human saved from a terrible crash, who is cyber-enhanced to be a perfect soldier devoted to stopping the world’s most dangerous criminals.

SPOILER ALERT

Writing

2017’s Ghost in the Shell’s script was written by Jamie Moss (known for writing Street Kings), William Wheeler (wrote Queen of Katwe and contributed to the upcoming The Lego Ninjago Movie), and Ehren Kruger (wrote the last 3 Transformers films). It was inspired by/based on various different elements from the Ghost in the Shell franchise as a whole rather than just the 1995 movie. The writing for a film was a mixed bag. The narrative, during the first two acts, was pretty basic: the characters were just going from point A to B to C. The story did pick up in the last act and felt way more cohesive but also way more complex and interesting. And yet, for a plot set in such a futuristic world, it had a very traditional and very basic villain – an evil businessman.

Speaking more about the characters, their development was scarce. The supporting cast was just there to serve the story and to fill in space on the screen. The main character did not fair much better either. She was introduced as an individual without the past with only fragments of memories (which turned out to be false). Only in the third act, she and the viewer find out her true background, which was super problematic in itself by being connected to the whitewashing issue.

So, if Major’s real mother was portrayed as Asian, that means that the real Motoko was also an Asian young woman. On the other hand, the shell, built by Hanka Robotics, was that of a white person. So was this the filmmakers’ way of justifying casting Scarlett Johansson? If that’s the case, then it’s a very flimsy explanation. In general, everything in the screenplay appeared as flimsy and inconsistent. It might have worked conceptual, but fell flat in execution.

For example, the picture attempted to tackle big ideas, like humanity, AI, memories, and identity, but the treatment of these ideas was so convoluted and, one again, inconsistent. At the end of the film, Major embraced her identity by saying that her memories do not define her. And yet, she was only able to embrace her identity, when she find out her true past. Practice what you preach! In addition, the fact that Major even began to question her existence came out of nowhere and way too suddenly.

Directing

Ghost in the Shell was directed by Rupert Sanders. This was his only second feature film, the debut being 2012’s Snow White and the Huntsman, which did earn a sequel/prequel for which Sanders did not return. His work on Ghost in the Shell was of mixed quality. I didn’t think that he paced the movie that well, but he did have impeccable visuals, which were both gorgeous to glance at and interesting to analyze further. The whole mise-en-scene did look like it was ripped from animation. If I tried describing it in relation to other live-action films, I’d say it was most similar to Blade Runner’s world with some more color of The Fith Element’s world thrown in. Plus, the opening ‘creation’ sequence reminded me a lot of Westworld (the white liquid) – another great futuristic property.

And yet, while the mise-en-scene was really cool, it had a very much Asian/Japanese flavor. The soundtrack was also very much one from the Far East. Now, this was very good for a film trying to replicate an anime feel but this was not good for a movie who had a multinational cast. I didn’t think that it would take me out of the movie but it did. If they wanted to have the multinational cast, I felt that they should have brought more global elements into the setting as well. But then, the film wouldn’t be Ghost in the Shell, although I didn’t feel that it was Ghost in the Shell now either.

Acting

To discuss the cast of the movie is to get into the issue of whitewashing. I don’t feel too well versed on such a complex issue so I’m just gonna briefly state my opinion.  Since it is a Hollywood remake I didn’t really expect them to cast a Japanese actress in a lead. I also am a fan of Scarlett Johansson so I’m a biased in that I’m happy that she was the one who got the role. Then again, I do feel that the filmmakers should have stayed true the source material and focused more on the creative rather than the financial aspects of the project. Moreover, as I have already mentioned, the discrepancy between an obviously Asian/Japanese setting and a multi-national cast did take me out of the movie.

That last thing – the film’s multi-ethnic supporting cast – is another problem in itself. Was it a step forward, trying to present a multi-cultural/multi-nationalistic world? Or was it a step back and a failed opportunity to showcase Japanese or at least broadly Asian talent in a Western-made picture?

Speaking of the actual actors in this role, Scarlett Johansson was good but I did not think that she made the role totally her own and proved us that she was the only one, who could have played Major. Needless to say, I much prefer her as Black Widow or Lucy. The prominent Japanse actor Takeshi Kitano, who was supposed to be the saving grace of this film, did not have much to do and was basically wasted in the role. Michael Pitt played the most interesting character: I actually wish that the movie would have focused on him. Game of Thrones’s Pilou Asbæk was good and I did like his character’s look, but once again, there wasn’t much for him to do. Lastly, Juliette Binoche – a French art-cinema actress – was also underused in her role.

In short, Ghost in the Shell was an okay movie. If felt uneven, inconsistent, and convoluted. The whitewashing of the main character and the majority of supporting cast did actually ruin a lot of other elements of the film.

Rate: 2,5/5

Trailer: Ghost in the Shell trailer

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2016 Summer Movies RANKED

Movie reviews

Hello!

The summer movie season has come to a close, so, it’s time to rank the films that Hollywood offered us this year. The 2015’s summer movie list is here if you want to check it out.

Now, summer movie season doesn’t technically start until April or even May, but, since this is my blog, I will be including some pictures that came out in March because they were big summer-type blockbusters. Also, I will be diving the features into categories – these categories will mostly focus on the genre. While I haven’t seen all the movies that have been released, I’ve definitely watched and reviewed the majority of them so my list(s) will be quite extensive. Lastly, the previous rates that I’ve given these films don’t really count – I will take them into consideration and will also try to be as objective as possible, but my subjective feelings and likes/dislikes will also play a role. Either way, I hope you will enjoy this list and check out the reviews that you might have missed or that just simply interest you!

Comic-Book Movies:

  1. Captain America: Civil War
  2. Suicide Squad
  3. Batman: The Killing Joke
  4. X-Men: Apocalypse
  5. Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (theatrical cut)

Live-Action Fairytales:

  1. The Legend of Tarzan
  2. The Jungle Book
  3. The Huntsman: Winter’s War
  4. Pete’s Dragon
  5. Alice Through The Looking Glass
  6. The BFG

Sci-Fi/Action Movies:

  1. Star Trek Beyond
  2. Warcraft
  3. Ben-Hur
  4. Jason Bourne
  5. TMNT: Out of Shadows
  6. Now You See Me 2
  7. Independence Day: Resurgence

Thrillers:

  1. Nerve
  2. Eye in the Sky
  3. The Shallows
  4. Money Monster
  5. Bastille Day
  6. The Neon Demon

Dramas:

  1. Me Before You
  2. Florence Foster Jenkins
  3. Café Society
  4. Genius
  5. A Hologram for The King

Comedies:

  1. The Nice Guys
  2. Eddie The Eagle
  3. Sausage Party
  4. Central Intelligence
  5. Everybody Wants Some!!
  6. Ghostbusters
  7. Bad Moms
  8. War Dogs
  9. Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates

Animation:

  1. Finding Dory
  2. The Secret Life of Pets

Upcoming films

Autumn is usually a slow time for movies before the awards season really kicks in. However, I’m looking forward to a few cinematic adaptations of bestsellers, coming out this fall, including Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, Girl on a Train and Inferno. In addition, Marvel’s Magic Movie – Doctor Strange and Disney’s Moana will also reach theaters, while possible mainstream awards’ contenders like The Magnificient Seven, Sully, Snowden, and Arrival will also premiere. The Harry Potter world will be expanded with Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, while Tom Cruise will give as another solid action film – Jack Reacher: Never Go Back. I’m quite excited for all these pictures and you can definitely look forward to their reviews in the near future.

Also, I would like to thank all my followers for taking the time to click the ‘Follow’ button, for reading, liking and commenting on my posts. It means a lot to me and I can’t wait to continue writing and discussing movies with you! I also appreciate the fact that you do tolerate my other post – mainly sport and sightseeing ones! Thank You again!

Movie review: Pete’s Dragon

Movie reviews

Hello!

Welcome to the last movie review of this summer! We close the blockbusters season with another live-action fairy tale from Disney – Pete’s Dragon!

IMDb summary: The adventures of an orphaned boy named Pete and his best friend Elliot, who just so happens to be a dragon.

Pete’s Dragon is quite an unusual film for Disney because it is quite small – both budget wise and story/scope wise. However, small doesn’t mean bad – it just another type of picture. It is actually quite refreshing to see Disney spending time and money on newer and lesser known projects. Of course, I have to mention that Pete’s Dragon is not an original film but a remake of a musical with the same name from the 70s. I haven’t seen the 1977’s picture and I doubt that I’ll watch it because it is not a timeless Disney classic and it doesn’t have that good of a rating. Moreover, the new Pete’s Dragon more than satisfied all my wishes.

Writing

The film was written by the director of the feature David Lowery and the screenwriter/producer Toby Halbrooks. Halbrooks has written a few shorts and is also writing a script for 2018’s Peter Pan for Disney to be directed by Lowery. In addition to having his next directing gig sorted out, Lowery will also be writing the script for a war film The Yellow Birds. 

I really enjoyed the story that the duo penned for Pete’s Dragon. It was simple, yet well-crafted. The ideas about family and finding a place where you belong were classic Disney themes but they did actually work because of their universality and wide appeal.

The character development was also quite pleasant. I loved how Pete and Bryce Dallas Howard’s character Grace felt connected through nature. I also enjoyed the father-daughter relationship between Grace and her father, played by Robert Redford. The friendship between the main character Pete and his pet dragon Elliot was also cute and reminded me of other great films where children befriend various animals/beings – Max and E.T. are just two of many.  The main antagonist of the film was a cliche character but he served his purpose well in this family adventure picture.

Lastly, I kinda thought that Pete’s Dragon was a spiritual succesor to another live-action fairy tale of 2016 – The Jungle Book. If at the end of Mowgli’s story, he would have been found by humans and Baloo would have gone looking for him, we would most likely have gotten a Pete’s Dragon type of a situation.

Directing

David Lowery, who has only recently started to dip his toes into the blockbuster business, did quite a nice job with the film. The action scenes were entertaining, the mise-en-scene (the forest and the mountains) – gorgeous and the movie’s direction good as well.

The character design of Elliot – the dragon – was a bit weird. He didn’t really look like a dragon, more like a furry dog or a soft teddy bear that could also fly. I heard that a lot of people hated that the dragon was fury and didn’t have any scales. Personally, this change didn’t bother me – I think that it actually helped Elliot to stand out as a different kind of dragon. Also, from the business standpoint, a furry dragon is way more marketable and more merchandise friendly – what kid doesn’t want another soft plushie toy to his/her collection?

I saw the film in 3D but, honestly, it didn’t add anything to it. The effect actually made the whole film darker and, since a lot of scenes were already happening during the night, the 3D only made it harder for me to see the human characters and Elliot.

Music

The 1977’s Pete’s Dragon was a musical, but the studio decided to remake it as a drama/adventure film and drop the songs. However, the 2016’s film still had an interesting soundtrack by Daniel Hart. It seemed to me that the flick had more of a country-music inspired soundtrack and vibe. It was quite refreshing to hear some deep voices and guitar sounds after a lot of EDM and pop music in all of the other films this summer.

Acting

The main character of the film – Pete – was played by Oakes Fegley. When did the child actors have gotten this good? He was excellent in the role – sweet, relatable to children but still able to display acting chops that some adult actors lack. He has a bright future ahead.

Jurrasic World’s Bryce Dallas Howard played the adult-lead Grace and did a nice job. Grace was very different from Dallas Howard’s Jurassic World’s persona – more motherly and way more nature-orientated. Going forward, the actress has a drama thriller Gold coming up. Also, funny fact, I only recently realized that she was the one playing Gwen Stacy in Spider-Man 3. I did not recognize her with the red hair.

Karl Urban played the main antagonist of the film and was okay. Since I’ve only seen him in Star Trek as the caring doctor Bones, it was quite strange to view him as this unlikeable douchebag. He will be one of the villains in Thor 3, so, I guess, I’d better get used to this.

The cast also included Wes Bentley (We Are Your Friends, Interstellar), Oona Laurence (Southpaw, Bad Moms) and Robert Redford (Captain America: The Winter Soldier) among others. Bentley didn’t have much to do – he mostly reacted to stuff that was happening around him. Laurence was good too, while Redford was also believable as loving but a bit weird grandpa/father.

All in all, Pete’s Dragon was a good movie from Disney. It was well-written and nicely crafted. The film was not groundbreaking or the most original but it still made for some pretty good time at the cinema.

Rate: 4/5

Trailer: Pete’s Dragon trailer

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Movie review: Jason Bourne

Movie reviews

Hello!

Hollywood just resurrected one of its spy action franchises, so let’s discuss its latest entry – Jason Bourne.

IMDb summary: The most dangerous former operative of the CIA is drawn out of hiding to uncover hidden truths about his past.

I have told you numerous times that the two spy action series that I’ve followed closely are Mission Impossible and James Bond. I never really knew much about The Bourne franchise or other lesser-known spy projects like Jack Ryan or Jack Reacher. Before going to see Jason Bourne, I did my homework and checked out the original trilogy of the early 2000s as well as The Bourne Legacy spin-off (sort of) that didn’t stick with audiences, which kinda sucks since I’m a fan of Jeremy Renner (just give him his own franchise, don’t bring him in as a replacement). Speaking of the original films – Identity, Supremacy, and Ultimatum – I would summarize them as a collection of handheld and/or shaky camera cinematography, amnesia plotlines, old computers as props, white old men characters and the signature ‘Come Alone’ line of dialogue. Jokes aside, I did like all of the movies and appreciated their realism and ruggedness. The 3rd picture was my favorite because it was the most intense, had the best action sequences as well as a few subtle heartbreaking character moments.

Writing

The director Paul Greengrass and the editor Christopher Rouse wrote the script for Jason Bourne and did an okay job. I think if they would have brought another screenwriter, the narrative might have been better. Basically, I felt that the movie contained two stories: one was about Jason Bourne and his family, while the other revolved around the CIA and a new kind of spying platform – a social media site. The two plots didn’t have much in common until they were forced together in the 3rd act. Both of these narratives were really interesting separately – the Jason Bourne family secrets would have made for a great personal story, similar to the story of The Bourne Identity. The public safety v private rights story would have made for a great political and modern thriller, kinda like Captain America: The Winter Soldier.

The writing for the characters was much better that the actual story. I liked the fact that Bourne was a morally gray hero who has gotten his hands dirty numerous times. Alicia Vikander’s character was also impressive – she was an interesting blend of conservativism and liberal ideas: she did want to change the system but didn’t pick the best approach to do so. I also liked that, this time, the film had only one agent/asset hunting Bourne because by having only one supporting character of this kind, you can give him development and that’s exactly what they did – he wasn’t just some disposable tool of the villain but an actual character who had personal reasons to dislike Bourne.

Directing

Paul Greengrass, who did Supremacy and Ultimatum as well as Captain Phillips, did a good job directing Jason Bourne. The visual recap of the previous films set the tone and the universe nicely for the following movie. The setting of the Athens during all those protests made the film even more grounded and real-looking. The last car chase was absolutely crazy in a good way. The cinematography by Barry Ackroyd (The Hurt Locker) also worked – it did create an intense feeling of urgency and allowed the movie to have a non-stop pace. This type of handheld cinematography, reminiscent of documentary features, is not my favorite but I appreciate how unique it is in the market oversaturated with over-polished and too perfect looking Hollywood flicks. The Bourne films actually try to do something interesting and different with their visual storytelling, while the other Hollywood action movies are built in the way that an infant could follow and understand them .

Acting

  • Matt Damon as Jason Bourne. Damon has made the character of Bourne his own but I was actually surprised that he returned for this movie as he did sat the 4th film out, so I was thinking that he was done with this franchise, especially bearing in my mind that his career is currently blossoming – he just did the awards’ nominated The Martian. However, maybe coming back for Jason Bourne and its possible sequel was a good idea on Damon’s part as it looks like his next film will crash and burn – The Great Wall’s trailer got a lot of backlash for whitewashing. 
  • Tommy Lee Jones starred as Robert Dewey and was another white old male villain. I honestly don’t know if The Bourne franchise will ever have a different villain. I also don’t know if Lee Jones will ever play a different character than an older white male businessman/politician/doctor/general who is not that likable or good.
  • Alicia Vikander as Heather Lee was a standout member of the cast and I couldn’t be happier. She nailed her dialogue completely. In addition, I’m so proud of her for winning an Oscar for The Danish Girl and really want to see what will she do next. Her upcoming two films The Light Between Oceans and Tulip Fever are on my must-watch list and she has also been cast as the new Lara Kroft.
  • Vincent Cassel as the Asset was okay. He worked well in the action scenes.
  • Julia Stiles appeared, once again, as Nicky Parsons and was good. It was nice to see Stiles in a big film because I don’t think that she had a lot of substantial roles in the recent years. She had a supporting role in Silver Linings Playbook but that was back in 2012.
  • Riz Ahmed as Aaron Kalloor was also a nice addition to the cast. A few years back Ahmed was in Nightcrawler and later this year he will be in Rogue One.

All in all, Jason Bourne was a fun action film. Its narrative seemed confused and without a clear direction, but the action sequences did make up for it and made watching the film and overall entertaining experience.

Rate: 3.75/5

Trailer: Jason Bourne trailer

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Movie review: The Legend of Tarzan

Movie reviews

Hello!

The final live-action fairytale of the summer of 2016 – The Legend of Tarzan – has finally hit theaters, so let’s talk about it.

IMDb summary: Tarzan, having acclimated to life in London, is called back to his former home in the jungle to investigate the activities at a mining encampment.

When I was younger, I would always mix up Tarzan and Mowgli (although they are quite different if you think about it – Mowgli is the weaker one that ultimately chooses to live with the humans, while Tarzan is very strong and, being the king of the jungle, he stays to live in the jungle). This year, both of these characters appeared on the silver screen in a live-action, though in very different forms. The Jungle Book was a very child-friendly film, while The Legend of Tarzan was significantly more adult. In general, Mowgli is usually portrayed as a child, while Tarzan normally appears as an adult, so I do think that the 2016’s cinematic interpretations of the characters were appropriate.

The animated Tarzan movie from 1999 was/is one of my favorites. The opening montage set to Phil Collins’s Two Worlds is magnificent. In general, the whole soundtrack of the film is superb. The sequence, where Jane and Tarzan first meet, is beautiful and emotional. The scene, in which the gorillas are improvising and singing, is super funny and my kind of comedic relief. Overall, this particular animated film (like many others) manages to portray a range of human values and vices realistically and believably.

In addition to loving the animated picture during my childhood, I also used to play a Tarzan video game, where I had to jump around and pick bananas or something, so the character of Tarzan is very near and dear to my heart, because of that childhood connection.

So, I have given you some context and my general thoughts on Tarzan, but now let’s see if Warner Bros have finally managed to launch a successful live-action fairytale after crashing and burning with Pan. The critics were really harsh on this film, which, to my mind, was highly unnecessary.

!SPOILER ALERT!

Writing

The Legend of Tarzan was written by Adam Cozad and Craig Brewer – two quite unknown screenwriters. I really hope that they get a career boost because of this film because I really liked what they did with the script. It was partially based on various stories by the original creator of the character Edgar Rice.

To begin with, the idea to tie in the story of Tarzan with real historical facts was brilliant. The 19th-century setting and all the ideas about colonialism, slavery, the diamond and ivory business and the wars between tribes (there are actually lots of people who live in the jungle) made the movie more topical and much more serious. I also appreciated the fact that the writers sincerely asked the question what would happen if a person grew up outside of civilization. They treated the story in a realistic and respectful way and, although the movie was a bit dark, it was dark for a reason. I complained about the dark tone of BvS because I felt that it was dark just to be dark, while a more solemn tone of Tarzan was actually justified.

I also really enjoyed the writing for each of the characters. The attention to details and all the flashbacks really gave the characters some needed depth in a clear manner. We saw Tarzan’s parents dying in the jungle, we got glimpses of his life with the apes, we saw his first meeting with Jane and how he left the apes to live with the tribe. The detail about Tarzan’s hands whose bone structure has changed was also a nice touch. I also liked the fact that we saw Tarzan or John Clayton III in England. He was an educated and intelligent person – a complex character who was dealing with his human and animal sides like all of us – and not just someone who happened to grow up in a jungle. The backstory, involving the killed son and a lack of honor were also sophisticated and exceptional ideas. Jane’s backstory was also great – I liked the idea that she grew up near a tribe and didn’t just come to Africa as an adult. I also liked that they did not make her a damsel in distress. She did actually manage to escape from her captors but chose to come back so as to save the animals. Samuel L.Jackson’s character’s backstory with the civil war and the extension of the races were also interesting. Lastly, the writing for the villain played by Waltz was amazing (definitely better than writing for Waltz’s previous villain in Spectre). Rom’s weapon of choice – the cross necklace – was so unique. The little detail, like the shot where he was rearranging the knife and the fork, after Jane has finished eating, also showed his pendantic side in a perfect way.

Other little details of the narrative that I welcomed were the portrayal of the elephants as gentle, wise, and alsmost god-like creatures, like in many stories (e.g. The Jungle Book) and the usage of a different language to show the communication inside the tribe. The scenes were the members of the tribe were singing the traditional songs and dancing their folk dances were also excellent. It was also interesting to see more of the life in the jungle – how the different tribes interact and how some of them are hostile as well as how the people of the jungle are also killing animals like their western counterparts. Nevertheless, as per usual, the European colonialists (civilized savages) were the real bad guys of the film and deservedly so. Just look at history. If you don’t like to read history books, I suggest you check out a few novel about colonial Africa. Any book or novella by Joseph Conrad will give you a European perspective but if want to see how the natives felt about the invasion, read Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe.

Lastly, I loved the film’s ending. The birth of Tarzan’s and Jane’s baby was not only a nice callback to the beginning of the film, where they were mourning their dead child, but also a hopeful way to end the picture. I hope that WB will actually make a sequel, just maybe with a smaller budget – The Legend of Tarzan cost $180 million to make.

Directing

The Legend of Tarzan was directed by David Yates, who did the last 4 Harry Potter films and is also directing Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, coming out later this year. I thought that he did an excellent job with Tarzan. Firstly, the wide shots of nature, including the opening shot of the mountains in the fog, were absolutely beautiful and magnificent. In addition, all of the close-ups of the character’s faces and eyes were framed really neatly. The CGI of the animals was also amazing – realistic and detailed. The only CGI effect that wasn’t that great was the shot with the young Tarzan and Jane. It looked a bit fake. Nevertheless, all of the action scenes were exciting: my favorite ones were Tarzan swinging on the branches and lianas and the train fight sequence, which kinda reminded me of a similar scene in Snowpiercer. The 3rd act’s action piece with the running animals was also reminiscent of Spanish Corrida or running with the bulls/bullfighting. The film’s soundtrack by Rupert Gregson-Williams was good as well, especially the end credits song by Hozier.

Acting

  • Alexander Skarsgård as Tarzan / John Clayton III was astounding in the role. He was great in the action scenes as well as in the slower shots with the close-ups. His sad brooding face was awesome too. Skarsgård is mostly known for his small screen work – the TV series True Blood. He has had a few supporting roles in indie and small-budget films but hasn’t had any big screen hits yet. I hope that Tarzan is his game-changing role.
  • Margot Robbie as Jane Porter Clayton was really good as well. She even kinda sounded like Minnie Drive (the actress who voiced Jane in the animated picture). Robbie’s career is on fire right now. Since starring in the Wolf of Wall Street, Robbie appeared in well-received movies like Z for Zachariah, Focus and Whiskey Tango Foxtrot. She also had the Suicide Squad film coming up next month.
  • Samuel L. Jackson as George Washington Williams was also good. His reaction face was priceless, especially in the scene where Tarzan was greeting the tigers. I have no idea how does Samuel L. Jackson has time to appear in at least 3 films per year. I reviewed 3 of his movies from last year: Kingsman, Age of Ultron and The Hateful Eight. Later this year, he will be in Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children.
  • Christoph Waltz as Captain Léon Rom was a good villain. Waltz will probably always play a villain, I just wish that sometimes, a writing for his character would be better. Since his character in Tarzan had good writing, Waltz actually could do something interesting with it. However, I don’t think that he will ever be able to top up his Inglourious Basterds performances. Next year, Waltz will appear in Tulip Fever. 
  • Djimon Hounsou as Chief Mbonga was okay as well. The close-up of his face during the fight and that single tear in his eye and on his cheek made for a beautiful picture. Hounsou has appeared in movies like GladiatorGuardians of the Galaxy and Furious 7. He will also star in King Arthur: Legend of the Sword next year. 

To conclude, The Legend of Tarzan was probably my favorite live-action fairytale of this summer. It had a great narrative, good effects and exciting action and great acting. Don’t really see why the critics are destroying this film in their reviews.

Rate: 4/5

Trailer: The Legend of Tarzan trailer

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