5 ideas about a movie: Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool

Movie reviews

Hi!

Welcome to a review of a film with the best title ever. This is Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool.

IMDb summary: A romance sparks between a young actor and a Hollywood leading lady.

  1. Film Stars Don’t Die In Liverpool was written by Matt Greenhalgh (the British cinema writer). As the name suggests, this was a film about the movie business – a genre, that I, as a cinephile, am very partial too. However, the picture was also so much more than a love letter to cinema: it was also a survival story (not the best example on how to treat one’s cancer or any other serious illness), a faithful biography (it was based on the memoir by Peter TurnerJamie Bell’s character in the movie), and a timeless romance with a contemporary couple (these type of age dynamics in a couple – older woman/younger man – are still treated as an abnormal).
  2. The movie also explored the idea of growing old but staying old. It also mentioned bisexuality in the 1970s-1980s but didn’t dwell on that plot point. The film was set in the meeting point between the celebrity and the real world, which was an exciting boundary to consider. It also drew an interesting parallel between this real live romance and Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet. The narrative’s structure was also unusual: the movie’s story unfolded over the two time frames (past and present) and that allowed the story to have more an emotional impact, which stemmed from the contrast of the happy past and sad present.
  3. Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool was produced by Barbara Broccoli (longtime producer of the James Bond films) and directed by Paul McGuigan (he has directed some episode of Sherlock and Luke Cage as well as the movie Viktor Frankenstein). The visual transitions that McGuigan crafted between the aforementioned time frames, were quite beautiful and inventive. However, the CGI locations looked quite fake and took me out of the film more than once. The pacing was also really slow so the viewer had to be interested/invested in the story to keep watching. Lastly, I loved how the director replayed the same scene from two different perspectives and completely altered its meaning.
  4. Annette Bening (who has had a long and fairly successful career but only appeared on my radar last year with 20th Century Women) played the lead actress and was really great. Her actress character was portrayed as a bit of a stereotypical Hollywood celebrity – selfish, a bit aloof, and deeply insecure. This didn’t necessarily make her the most likable but certainly an interesting character. I loved the shots that focused on her makeup routine – they powerfully underscored the importance of the outer appearance of actors.
  5. Jamie Bell played the male lead of the film and was absolutely brilliant. I only remember seeing him in Fantastic Four where he didn’t have much to do, so I was quite blown away by his dramatic talents on display in this film. However, he has previously worked with Lars von Trier on Nymphomaniac and was also in Snowpiercer, so I think I should have known how good he was.

In short, Film Star Don’t Die in Liverpool was a lovely biographical drama with a real-life cinematic love story at its center.

Rate: 4/5

Trailer: Film Star Don’t Sie in Liverpool trailer

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Movie review: Girls Trip

Movie reviews

Hello!

It seems that nowadays, more and more Hollywood films break the boundaries of disposable entertainment and start to provide commentary on or revelations about the modern society. Girls Trip has accidentally become one of those kinds of films too. Let’s review it!

IMDb summary: When four lifelong friends travel to New Orleans for the annual Essence Festival, sisterhoods are rekindled, wild sides are rediscovered, and there’s enough dancing, drinking, brawling, and romancing to make the Big Easy blush.

For those not understanding my cryptic intro: Girls Trip is a female centric comedy about a group of friends reuniting after years of separation. Sounds familiar? That’s because you have already seen that movie this summer and I have also reviewed it for you. It was called Rough Night and it wasn’t that good. Things get interesting when you realize what is the difference between the two films. Rough Night had a predominantly ‘white’ cast, while Girls Trip has cast mostly ‘black’ actors. What surprised Hollywood the most was the fact that the ‘black’ version of the film did much better at the box office and with critics. I don’t even want to get into what this means for the business and for society. Is it a coincidence? A one time deal? A plea for more diversity? Or maybe Girls Trip is just a better and more entertaining film than Rough Night? Cause at the end of the day, Hollywood movies are still, first and foremost, pieces of entertainment, despite the extra baggage that they now carry.

Writing

Girls Trip was written by Kenya Barris (the creator of Black-ish who has also worked on ANTM), Tracy Oliver (a TV writer), and Erica Rivinoja (also a TV writer but she also penned the story for Trolls).

The initial opening and the set up for the story was short but effective. It quickly (but not in a rushed way) setup all 4 ladies as, more or less, 4 equal leads. The archetypes of a girl group were there (the mommy, the crazy one, the career-focused, the leader) but were also expanded upon as well as subverted. The script also had a lot of fun with the different pairings of the girls.

The script treatment of the concept of friendship was amazing because of how realistically this relationship was portrayed. There were moments of genuine sweetness (the inside jokes felt real as well as the majority of the dialogue) and fearless confrontation. While I really liked the relatably exaggerated moments of comedy (something along the lines of memes or FB post you would tag your bestie on), the heated scenes full of arguing were where the screenplay (and the actresses) shined the most. I loved how these disputes touched upon the influence of social media as well as the career v friendship discussion. These moments really added some drama and elevated the whole film from just being a comedy. Additionally, these scenes helped to bring home the message about true friends, who aren’t afraid to confront you for your own good. The second dual message of the movie was also wonderful. Both the surface idea that one can have it all was uplifting, as well as the deeper idea about being okay with not having it all. The final speech about discovering one’s own voice and embracing the loneliness was very lovely too.

Directing 

Girls Trip was directed by Malcolm D. Lee. I thought that he did a very good job realizing the modern setting of the film and pacing this story. The snappy moments of humor (like the tripping sequence and the dance off) were paired with slower sequences of the character (and the friendship) development, which were believably emotional. The style of filming was good too: varied but familiar.

Acting

The 4 actresses in the lead – Regina HallQueen LatifahJada Pinkett Smith, and Tiffany Haddish – did a wonderful job bringing these characters to life. They seemed like they had a lot of actual fun on the set – the chemistry was real. I really wish I knew more about their previous work, especially Hall’s and Haddish’s. Speaking about Haddish – she was really close to being too much (going into cartoon territory) and yet still, her antics somehow worked. What I loved even more was the other actresses’ reaction faces – they were priceless. Lastly, Hall’s and Queen Latifah’s characters’ competitive yet loving relationship was also very well portrayed, while it was fun to see Jada Pinkett Smith in a much more comedic and tonally lighter role than her the one she used to play on Gotham. She was also recently in two other comedies – Magic Mike XXL and Bad Moms.

The supporting cast, in addition to having a plethora of celebrity cameos, also included a few familiar faces from Netflix. Luke Cage’s Mike Colter had a small role, while Kate Walsh, from 13 Reasons Why, also starred.

In short, Girls Trip is an entertaining and relatable comedy. And yes, it is better than Rough Night cause it knows what it is and what it has to deliver.

Rate: 4/5

Trailer: Girls Trip trailer

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5 ideas about a movie: Moonlight 

Movie reviews

Hello!

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

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

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

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

Rate: 4.5/5

Trailer: Moonlight trailer

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Movie review: Hidden Figures

Movie reviews

Hello!

Welcome to a review of a movie that would have been on my Top 10 films of 2016 if I have seen it before the end of the year (when will the studios realize the benefits of the global day-in-day releases?). This is Hidden Figures!

IMDb summary: Based on a true story. A team of African-American women provide NASA with important mathematical data needed to launch the program’s first successful space missions.

Similarly to Loving and Fences, Hidden Figures is a different kind of movie that spotlights the African-American talent. It’s set during the civil rights movements but doesn’t directly relate to it, even if some of the movement’s ideas are addressed in the film in a really powerful way. This movie also stands out as one of the major female-driven films of the awards season. It has been praised by critics but most importantly it managed to debut at the top of the box office list in the US, meaning that a lot of mainstream moviegoers saw it!

Writing

Hidden Figures was written by Allison Schroeder and the director of the picture Theodore Melfi, based on the book of the same name by Margot Lee Shetterly. I absolutely adored the film’s story. I knew about Katherine Goble Johnson before seeing the film (thank you, SciShow on Youtube) but I loved getting to know more about her as well as other African-American women working at NASA. I immensely enjoyed seeing all the different parts of NASA (the 3 of them worked in different departments – calculations, engineering, and computing) and the space race through their distinct perspective. It was actually really interesting to finally see a Cold War movie that didn’t focus on the local conflicts in Vietnam, Korea or Berlin, but a one which looked at the more passive but no less interesting space race.

In addition, I liked that not only the professional but also the private lives of the 3 main characters were presented. This made them all into more well-rounded and realistic characters. Hidden Figures’ writing also focused a lot on the importance of education, portraying it as a key to a better life. I have always been a strong believer of this statement, so the film automatically appealed to me. It was also quite cool that the picture underlined the importance of mathematics, as it is usually the most hated subjects in school (I actually quite liked it). The film’s story, even though set in 1960s, was also contemporary and very topical, if you think about its possible relation to the Women in STEM program.

Lastly, Hidden Figures tackled all kinds of discrimination, mainly sexism and racism but also general discrimination in the work place. Even though half a century has passed, all of these types of bullying are still happening today and should be stopped. Hidden Figures contributes to this conversation by a lot. And even though the film deals with serious topics, it still ends on a positive note and has a very satisfying ending. Katherine, Dorothy, and Mary are not just heroes to all girls or African-Americans. They should be idols to all underdogs and, let’s be frank, we are all underdogs in one field or another.

Directing

Hidden Figures was directed by Theodore Melfi and he did a superb job with his 2nd feature (St.Vincent was his directorial debut). The movie was balanced and well-paced, both entertaining and intellectually engaging. It was compelling, suspenseful, and intense and these feelings were only strengthened by the fact that it told a real and not a fictional story. The picture had a few very powerful scenes, like Taraji P.Henson’s character’s speech about the bathroom discrimination as well as Janelle Monáe’s courtroom speech. The film also has a few more personal and touching moments to counteract the powerful and serious scenes, like Mahershala Ali’s character’s proposal to Taraji P. Henson character.

Hidden Figures also had a magnificent soundtrack by Hans Zimmer, Pharrell Williams (he also produced the film), and Benjamin Wallfisch. It was upbeat and fun and really helped to lighten up the serious mood of the picture. When watching the film, I didn’t know who composed the movie’s music, but now, seeing who was involved, I’m not at all surprised that I liked the soundtrack. I mean, Hans Zimmer and Pharrell Williams!? Such a great combo of class and pop!

Acting

The three leading ladies of the film were played by Taraji P.Henson (Empire), Octavia Spencer (The Help, Snowpiercer, Zootopia, Divergent) and the newcomer Janelle Monáe. I absolutely loved the individual performances of all the actresses as well as their chemistry in the group scenes. In my mind, the cast is the film’s strongest element so it is not surprising that the movie received a lot of SAG nominations. Octavia Spencer has been getting the majority of the recognition but I would have preferred if they would have spotlighted Taraji P. Henson in the lead actress category instead. Spencer already had her big win with The Help andmore importantly, I thought that Henson’s performance was stronger. If the voters wanted to only reward the film’s in the supporting actress category (like they are doing now),  Janelle Monáe should have received a nomination instead of Octavia Spencer. Monáe is a true breakout star of 2016, as she was also in Moonlight. Don’t get me wrong, Spencer was great too but it would have just been nice to reward the other two actresses as well or instead.

The picture also has a splendid array of secondary characters who were brought to life by great actors. Big Bang Theory’s Jim Parsons played a familiar role (he can’t seem to escape the nerdy scientist part) and did a great job. His character was the one that bullied Katherine the most, but I think that he would have been jealous of anyone. Sadly, Katherine’s gender and skin color made her an easy target. Kirsten Dunst (Midnight Special) also played a part in the film and had an amazing line that just summed up the movie perfectly. I, of course, mean her statement about how the USA are fast to space but slow when it comes to the progress on the ground. Mahershala Ali, who was in Moonlight too, also had a small role and did a nice job. The mainstream audiences know him best from Luke Cage, so his career, both the mainstream and the indie parts of it, are on the rise. Lastly, even Kevin Costner (Draft Day, McFarland, USAdelivered his best and the most interesting performance in years.

In short, Hidden Figures was an excellent film that told an important and fascinating story but did that in an entertaining way. The movie was really well-made behind the scenes and it also had the best on-screen ensemble I’ve seen in a couple of years.

Rate: 4.8/5

Trailer: Hidden Figures trailer

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5 ideas about a movie: Free State of Jones

Movie reviews

Hello!

Before 2016 comes to a close, I would like to catch up on smaller movies and their reviews. Some of the films that I’m going to talk about in the next two weeks might become awards contenders, so I’m basically kickstarting the reviews of the awards season early. First movie on my list – Free State of Jones.

IMDb summary: A disillusioned Confederate army deserter returns to Mississippi and leads a militia of fellow deserters, runaway slaves, and women in an uprising against the corrupt local Confederate government.

  1. Free State of Jones premiered in June and was supposed to be the summer movie season’s awards contender (there is always one film that gets released super early in the year and then pops up again during the awards season). However, the critics didn’t really like the film, so it faded into oblivion quickly. In addition, Free State of Jones was considered to be the ‘it’ American Civil War movie of the year, but it got quickly dethroned by The Birth on a Nation. Sadly, that movie fell off everyone’s radar too but because of its filmmaker’s past rather than the picture’s quality.
  2. I didn’t particularly enjoy Free State of Jones. Firstly, it is not the movie that one can enjoy in the true sense of the word – films like this usually make me really emotional, angry, and quite depressed. Secondly, from the technical filmmaking standpoint, I do not think that Free State of Jones was a well-made picture for a few reasons.
  3. Free State of Jones’s story was based on fascinating real life events. However, all the potential of this historical narrative was butchered on the big screen. The film felt unfocused and drawn out. It was slow and, frankly, bored me most of the time. The suspenseful and interesting moments would last a second and then we would get more funeral speeches, which were interesting at first but became repetitive really quickly.
  4. Gary Ross, who has received a few Oscar nominations for writing, both directed and wrote the film, so I was quite surprised that the story was one of the weakest points of the film. He is probably best known to the mainstream audiences for directing and writing the first Hunger Games movie, though. His directing of Free State of Jones was fine – the shots looked nice and I did appreciate the realism and the grit with which the Civil War was portrayed – it wasn’t a glamourized version of the war by any means. However, I think that he kinda ruined the film in the editing room – the picture felt like a collection of scattered scenes that didn’t flow together. The time jumps in the past as well as the occasional jump to scenes 85 years later didn’t make much sense either and made the film even more confusing.
  5. By far, the best aspect of Free State of Jones was the performances of the whole cast. Matthew McConaughey (Mud, Dallas Buyers Club, True Detective, Interstellar) was great in the lead. Mahershala Ali (who I loved on Luke Cage) was amazing too and showed a lot of acting range. Gugu Mbatha-Raw (Concussion) and Keri Russell (Dawn of the Planet of the Apes) were also stellar in their supporting roles.

In short, Free State of Jones was a forgettable movie that wasted its waste potential. The film’s only redeeming quality was the acting.

Rate: 2.75/5

Trailer: Free State of Jones trailer

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Extraordinary Cinema Review II (The Shows of Shows + Persepolis)

Movie reviews

Hello!

I’m continuing my series of indie foreign films that I’ve started yesterday. My previous post and the reasons behind me doing this review series are here.

The previous two films I discussed both belong to the narrative cinema genre, so they were fairly close the mainstream. However, these two are more outside the box: one of them is a stock footage documentary and the other – black and white 2D animated feature.

The first film I’m discussing today is The Show of Shows: 100 Years of Vaudeville, Circuses, and Carnivals. It’s an Icelandic director’s Benedikt Erlingsson’s musical documentary from 2015. The whole film is one giant found footage montage. Erlingsson just pieced together various National Fairground Archive clips of circus and carnival performances. The picture has no dialogue, no narrative – it just a spectacular combination of music and visuals and the upbeat tempo of the soundtrack really adds a lot of liveliness to the already spectacular video recording. The film is kinda divided into different sections – you get 10 minutes of dance acts at the start, then the movie spotlights the different animal performers, jugglers, gymnasts, clowns and all kinds of other circus personnel.  The Show of Shows ends with the sequence of people laughing and drives home the idea that circus wouldn’t exist without the spectators.

The feature is definitely amusing and entertaining (just like the carnival), though, the animal parts are quite hard to watch. The previously heard stories about animals being treated badly at the circus kinda ruined the enjoyment of the film for me just a bit.

Watching this film was not only a great experience because of its content – the location added some flavor to the mix too. I actually got to see this film outside during the night. During the summer, the Lithuanian international film festival Kino Pavasaris (eng. Cinema Spring) in partnership with the Kaunas’ Art Cinema Romuva put on a screening of this particular picture in the Old Town of Kaunas. The event attracted a lot of people and we all got a chance to spend a nice summer evening watching a movie underneath the stars.

Rate: 5/5

Trailer: The Show of Shows trailer

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The second film I want to mention was made in 2007 but skipped my attention until two days ago. It’s the animated feature Persepolis, directed by Marjane Satrapi and Vincent Paronnaud, based on Satrapi’s autobiographical graphic novel of the same name. I have read the novel – it was one of the first comics I have read – and absolutely loved it, so I decided to check out the movie as well.

To begin with, I loved the film because it was so close to graphic novel – the animated graphics looked exactly like the comic book panels. In addition, although all the characters were animated and lacked any coloring, they were so full of life and expressive.

I also appreciated the fact that the picture was respectful to the subject but also dared to make some jokes. The film revolves around a girl’s (Satrapi’s) life – how she lives through a war and through a revolution in Iran, how she eventually has to leave her native country and has to build a new home abroad. All of the facts are laid out neatly and clearly, the problems and horrors are showed unflinchingly, but the comic-relief and the everyday funny situations also find a place in the picture. In short, Persepolis is both heartwarming and anger-inducing. It kinda makes everyday problems of my own life seem unimportant.

One of the most interesting aspects of the film (and the original novel) was the concept of Westernization of Iran. It was interesting to see that Iranian people weren’t actually that different from people in the West – they liked the same music and films. It was also captivating to see the items of the Western world being sold as contraband on the streets – the situation was pretty similar in the Soviet block, where my parents grew up, so it was fascinating to see the same things happen in a different part of the world. I guess, for better or for worse, one cannot escape Westernization, be it a voluntary or involuntary process.

Rate: 5/5

Trailer: Persepolis trailer

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I hope you enjoyed this slight break from the mainstream films. I will return to reviewing them tomorrow with a post on Deepwater Horizon. In the meantime, let’s go back to binge-watching Luke Cage.