Movie review: Guardians of the Galaxy Vol.2

Movie reviews

Hello!

The 15th MCU movie and a sequel to the 2014’s Marvel gamble – Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 2 – has premiered on my side of the world, so, I’m going to talk about it!

IMDb summary: Set to the backdrop of Awesome Mixtape #2, ‘Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2’ continues the team’s adventures as they unravel the mystery of Peter Quill’s true parentage.

Before I review the actual film, here are the links to my previous Marvel reviews, starting with GOTG Vol.1Doctor Strange, Civil War, Avengers 2, Ant-Man, Captain America 1 + 2.

SPOILER WARNING

Writing

The writer and director of the first film – James Gunn – also penned the screenplay for the sequel. Overall, I very much enjoyed seeing the continuation of the Guardians story but I did feel that the first act of the film was a bit wonky. I thought that the set-up involving The Sovereign was choppy. In addition, The Sovereign were not utilized in a useful way throughout the rest of the movie (they just popped up in the third act because the film needed to have an even bigger space battle – they were basically the sequel’s Nova Corps). Plus, the fact that Aysha was interested in Peter’s heritage and, in the very next scene, Peter’s dad Ego suddenly appeared seemed as just too much of a coincidence.

The jokes and the banter at the beginning also seemed a bit forced. They were the bad kind of cheesy. However, as the picture progressed, the humor got way better and the narrative also found its footing and started to unfold quite cohesively. GOTG 2 just needed those first 30 minutes to get going and it could afford that, being a 2h+ movie.

I also really liked the character development in the film. I loved learning more about Peter, his past, and his dad. Ego was a wonderful addition to the cast and I also really enjoyed the fact that they turned him into a villain. And he actually was a good Marvel villain – menacing and threatening! I liked the fact that his and Yondu’s backstories fit together quite organically as well. I’m just worried that the filmmakers might have overpowered Ego – I can’t imagine what will Thanos be like?

A character which surprised me a lot was Yondu – I did not think much about him in the first film but the reveal of his backstory and true feelings towards Peter made him into a wonderful character. Sucks that he met his end as soon as I started to like him. The other new addition to the Guardians (well, sort of) was Nebula – I did enjoy learning more about her and thought that her and Gamora’s relationship progressed nicely. The definite newcomer – Mantis – was also a fun new inclusion. I loved the duo she and Drax made.

Lastly, I loved the thematical core of the film – the Guardians coming to terms with the fact that they care about each other and are a family. Yes, the family angle is cheesy and overdone (Fast and Furious in space) but it still works and has a universal appeal.

Directing

James Gunn, once again, directed the movie (and he also just recently announced that he will be back to helm Vol. 3). I believe that he did a great job. The visual design was just extraordinary, especially the visual realization of Ego in his various forms. I loved the landscapes of his planet as well as his appearance as a human. The visual sequence of Ego rebuilding his human body from a skeleton to being Kurt Russell was really impressive. The fact that they actually put a face on a planet was also really cool and a neat nod to the character’s representation in the comics. Another great visual sequence was Yondu’s ‘Ravager’s funeral’: it was so colorful and actually emotional. An extremely funny visual was the space travel facial distortion – it was such an unexpected but really brilliant gag.

The ‘money shot’ – the round shot of all the Guardians standing together was also just glorious. The camera work, in general, was very vibrant and elaborate – and it made the action look amazing. The opening shot was really great too – the focus on the Baby Groot with the action happening in the background was a really inventive and funny way to kickstart the film. Generally, Baby Groot was a complete scene-stealer. Huge props to the CGI department for realizing an animated (basically) character and adding so much personality (much more than the adult Groot had) to his movements and facial expressions. I also loved the fact that his size was an asset to the team and that Baby Groot was part of a final solution, not just the cuteness relief (a cute version of comic relief). Lastly, I loved the two visual gags and how they were both part of the story and fun references to the real life – I, of course, am talking about the cameos by David Hasselhoff and Pac-Man.

Music

The film’s soundtrack was also really good – equal to the soundtrack of its predecessor. Tyler Bates was responsible for the music but I think Gunn also had a hand in picking the songs. I also appreciated the fact that the music was half-diegetic and a part of the story.

Acting/Favorite Character Moments

  • Chris Pratt (Passengers, Jurassic World, The Magnificent Seven, The Lego Movie) as Peter Quill / Star-Lord. Pratt was really good in the role – he has that infinite charm of a leading man and I can’t wait for him to appear on screen with other MCU leading men, like Robert Downey Jr. I also though that Pratt’s and Kurt Russell’s/Ego’s (The Hateful Eight) chemistry was believable. I bought them as father and son for a while and that scene with the ball was really touching and a nice callback to Peter missing out on this type of activity during childhood because of a lack of father figure.
  • Zoe Saldana (Star Trek Beyond) was also good as Gamora, my favorite shot with her was when she picked up that oversized gun. Her and Karen Gillan’s/Nebula’s (The Big Short, The Circle (premiering this weekend in the US as well)) chemistry was good and the banter – really enjoyable.
  • Dave Bautista as Drax the Destroyer. Bautista’s acting abilities have improved since the first film and his unapologetic and unironic comic relief was amazing. His budding relationship with Pom Klementieff’s Mantis was also lovely. Their scene on the steps was really moving. Klementieff was a nice addition to the cast and her performance was appropriate for the character.
  • Michael Rooker as Yondu Udonta. The scene-stealer of the film. I loved the sequence where he used the arrow to escape from the Ravagers. It was just spectacular. I would have loved to see more of Rooker’s performance in subsequent films, but, oh well.
  • Vin Diesel (Fast&Furious) as the voice of Baby Groot  I have no idea why Diesel returned to voice Groot when Baby Groot sounds nothing like Vin Diesel. Well, at least they can put his name on the adverts and posters and that will get them a lot of money in China. 
  • Bradley Cooper (War Dogs, Joy) as the voice of Rocket. Cooper’s voice somehow fits Rocket’s appearance and behavior. I loved how the actor depicted the character’s dry sense of humor.
  • Elizabeth Debicki (The Man from U.N.C.L.E.) as Aysha. While Debicki did look cool with all that gold make-up on, I don’t think she took the role seriously enough. Her acting seemed a bit cheesy but I am excited to see where her character’s story goes next, cause my favorite moment with her, performance-wise, was her delivery of a few lines during the mid-credits scene. In that scene, she sounded way more ominous and authenticate than she did in before.
  • Sean Gunn as Kraglin. I really liked the fact that we got to see more of Sean Gunn’s on-screen character during the sequel. If you didn’t know, he also does the motion capture for Rocket.

5 CREDITS SCENES

As James Gunn promised, the film had 5 scenes during the credits (that has to be some kind of record). 2 scenes played before the credits, 2 in the middle and 1 after. They were very well dispersed and the credits themselves did not feel long at all. The scenes were mostly related to the predeceasing film but they also set up some minor but long awaited stuff.

  1. The first pre-credits scene depicted Sean Gunn’s character Kraglin learning to work with Yondu’s arrow and failing at it. It was both funny and developed the story further.
  2. The second pre-credits scene showed Sylvester Stallone’s (Creed) character reforming the Ravagers out of the characters who were the original Guardians of the Galaxy in the comics. Their inclusion during the credits probably means that they will have a role to play in MCU or at least in GOTG Vol.3. It was also nice to see another scene with Stallone as he only appeared in a handful of them during the main runtime of the movie. It was basically just a cameo and if the role would not have been played by a big name talent like Stallone, no one would talk about it.
  3. The first mid-credits scene was a conclusion to The Sovereign’s plotline and a potential set up for the arrival of the long anticipated character – Adam Warlock! I really hope he finally shows up in the next film!
  4. The second mid-credits scene was probably my favorite out of all of them: it showed the teenager Groot acting as a typical teenager, while Peter attempted to be the Dad. Groot is kinda the child of the Guardians. What a dysfunctional yet lovable family.
  5. The last scene which came at the end of the credits was another Stan Lee cameo. He had a cameo in the main part of the film but it was also nice to see him again. I read online that they film a lot more scenes with Lee than they actually use, so it was quite neat that they found a place to use some more of that material.

Rate: 4.5/5

Trailer: Guardians of the Galaxy Vol.2

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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: Hunt for the Wilderpeople

Movie reviews

Good day, my dear readers!

Welcome to another film review written in an airport. This time, we are discussing a New Zeland’s flick Hunt for the Wilderpeople.

IMDb summary: A national manhunt is ordered for a rebellious kid and his foster uncle who go missing in the wild New Zealand bush.

  1. Hunt for the Wilderpoeple was the first picture from New Zealand that I have seen (Lord of the Rings does not count), so it acted as my introduction to the whole cinema scene of the country. And, let me tell you, as introductions go, this one was not bad, not bad at all. The film was written and directed by Taika Waititi, who has made a couple of critically acclaimed movies and who has been getting a lot of media attention for being chosen to direct the 3rd Thor film for Marvel. He has also been having a lot of fun with this gig on twitter, posting photos and funny bits from the set, thus, earning the love of fans as well.
  2. Waititi’s writing for Hunt for the Wilderpeople was quite nice. I loved how he approached the format of a coming of age story: he managed to make it simultaneously very traditional looking (with the chapter structure) and also very modern (with the ideas on family, how it can be chosen instead or being born into). I also enjoyed the fact that this movie was very down to earth: the drama, as well as the comedy, arose from the daily lives of the rural people. The idea to use haikus to express the characters’ feelings was excellent and unique too. The main character’s references to various films, like Scarface and Terminator, were welcomed too. Lastly, the heartwarming ending was just such a nice way to close this story.
  3. Waititi’s directing was also great. His filmmaking style involved a lot of visual comedy, similar to Edgar Wright’s style. The comedy was very snappy and quick but also kinda violent. I also liked the fact that Waititi managed to portray a single concept from a few different angles with drastically different outcomes. For example, the first montage with a boar was a pure comedy (even if a bit disturbing), while the second one was much more brutal and drama-like. There were also quite a few other montages, which were used both for comedy purposes and to show the passage of time in the narrative.
  4. Hunt for the Wilderpoeple’s forest and bush survival parts were reminiscent of two other recent pictures – Captain Fantastic and The Lobster (might want to check them out if you liked this one). However, only Hunt had the amazing sweeping shots of the New Zealand’s forests – they were an amazing sight to behold and felt like refreshing breaks in a film, jam-packed with fast-paced montages. In addition, Waititi’s magnificent visuals were accompanied by a superb soundtrack by Lukasz Buda, Samuel Scott, and Conrad Wedde. I loved all the combinations of the visuals and the sounds, like the sacral tunes and rural views and the almost Hollywood-like action film chase sequence supplemented with techno music.
  5. Hunt for the Wilderpeople had a very talented cast as well: Sam Neill (who I didn’t recognize even though Jurassic Park is my favorite film) starred as the grumpy uncle Hec and did a neat job. Rima Te Wiata as the aunt Bella made an impact even if she only had a few scenes, while Rachel House’s Paula, a child welfare worker, was brilliantly funny. Julian Dennison was also amazing as Ricky. He made the somewhat annoying character into an actually likable and well-rounded person.

In short, Hunt for the Wilderpeople was a great endearing and quirky picture from New Zealand. It had a unique story, amazing directing from a future Marvel star (hopefully), and an excellent soundtrack.

Rate: 4.25/5

Trailer: Hunt for the Wilderpeople trailer

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2016: 100 Book Challenge

Uncategorized

Hello!

The end of the year usually means a lot of looking-back/reflection/summary posts. This one is no exception. Also, if you ever needed more proof that I am a gigantic nerd, this is it.

At the beginning of the year, I raised myself a challenge – to read 100 books and to keep track of them. I mainly did that because 1. I wanted to read more – I used to read a lot during childhood but couldn’t find time for books in later years, due to watching a lot of films and 2. since I read/watch/hear so many stories, I wanted to have a list of them so that I would not start reading a book which I have read before.

I’m glad to announce that I did achieve my goal and did finish 100 books in 12 months. I covered a variety of genres, authors, and languages.

Some statistics before I give you the list: out of the 100 books:

  • 23 were in my native Lithuanian language and 77 were in English.
  • 20 of them were for study purposes, 80 – for leisure.
  • 60 authors were covered: I read only one book by 44 authors and a few books by 16 authors. W. Shakespeare came in first with 8 repeats, T. Morrison followed second with 6 and J.K.Rowling with 5. D. Brown had 4, while A. Moore, R. Riggs, M. Strandberg and S.B. Elfrgen and Sir A. Conan Doyle all had 3. Lastly, I read 2 books by each of the following authors: A. Miller, H. Ibsen, A. Spiegelman, S. Plath, J. Conrad, J. Moyes, G. Flynn, and H. Lee.
  • 30 writers were American, 15British, 5French, 2 (each) were Lithuanian, Irish, Japanese, and Scandinavian and 1 (each) – Russian, Polish, Nigerian, and Pakistani.
  • 72 were stand-alone books, while 28 belonged to 11 series.
  • 53 were modern books, while 47 were classics.
  • 56 were prose and 2poetry books. 15 were plays, 18graphic novels, and 9memoirs.
  • 8 was my monthly average.

Before I give you the long list by genre, here is my TOP 10 in no particular order:

  • A. Spiegelman – ‘Maus’
  • A.Moore and D.Gibbons – ‘Watchmen’
  • J.K.Rowling – ‘Harry Potter and the Cursed Child’
  • S. Plath – ‘The Bell Jar’
  • H. Lee – ‘Go Set a Watchman’
  • A. Weir – ‘The Martian’
  • G. Flynn – ‘Sharp Objects’
  • E. Cline – ‘Ready Player One’
  • L. Wacquant – ‘Body and Soul: The Notebooks of an Apprentice Boxer’
  • C. McDougall – ‘Born to Run’

Now the actual list by genre:

Prose:

  1. E. A. Poe – collection of short stories titled ‘The Gold-Bug’
  2. A. de Saint-Exupéry – two storiesSouthern Mail’ and ‘Night Flight’ in one novel.
  3. M. Shelley – ‘Frankenstein’
  4. J.M.Barie – ‘Peter Pan’
  5. W. Golding – ‘Lord of the Flies’
  6. V. Nabokov – ‘Lolita’
  7. K. Ishiguro – ‘Never Let Me Go’
  8. S. Plath – ‘The Bell Jar’
  9. J. Conrad – ‘Hearth of Darkness’
  10. J. Conrad – a trio of short stories ‘An Outpost of Progress’, ‘Karan’, ‘Youth’.
  11. J. Baldwin –  ‘Giovanni’s Room’
  12. C. Achebe – ‘Things Fall Apart’
  13. T. Morrison – ‘Beloved’
  14. T. Morrison – ‘Sula’
  15. T. Morrison – ‘Song of Solomon’
  16. T. Morrison – ‘A Mercy’
  17. T. Morrison – ‘The Bluest Eye’
  18. T. Morrison – ‘Home’
  19. M. Mauss – ‘The Gift’
  20. H. Melville – ‘Moby Dick’
  21. J. Austen – ‘Sense and Sensibility’
  22. J. Moyes – ‘Me Before You’
  23. J. Moyes – ‘After You’
  24. H. Lee – ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’
  25. H. Lee – ‘Go Set a Watchman’
  26. A. Weir – ‘The Martian’
  27. G. Flynn – ‘Sharp Objects’
  28. G. Flynn – ‘Dark Places’
  29. M. Strandberg and S.B.Elfgren – ‘The Circle’
  30. M. Strandberg and S.B.Elfgren – ‘Fire’
  31. M. Strandberg and S.B.Elfgren – ‘The Key’
  32. K. Vonnegut – ‘The Breakfast of Champions’
  33. I. Fleming – ‘Casino Royale’
  34. D. Brown – ‘Angels and Demons’
  35. D. Brown – ‘The Da Vinci Code’
  36. D. Brown – ‘The Lost Symbol’
  37. D. Brown – ‘Inferno’
  38. G. DeWeese – ‘Into the Nebula (Star Trek: The Next Generation #36)’
  39. R. Riggs – ‘Miss Peregrine’s Home for the Peculiar Children’
  40. R. Riggs – ‘Hollow City’
  41. R. Riggs – ‘The Library of Souls’
  42. E. Blyton – ‘The Famous Five: Five Go Down to the Sea’
  43. E. Blyton – ‘The Famous Five: Five Go to Mystery Moor’
  44. E. Blyton – ‘The Famous Five: Five Have Plenty of Fun’
  45. E. Blyton – ‘The Famous Five: Five on a Secret Trail’
  46. K. Keplinger – ‘The Duff’
  47. P. Hawkins – ‘The Girl on the Train’
  48. J.K.Rowling – ‘The Casual Vacancy’
  49. J.K.Rowling – ‘Fantastic Beast and Where To Find Them’
  50. J.K.Rowling – ‘Quidditch Through The Ages’
  51. J.K.Rowling – ‘Tale of Beedle The Bard’
  52. Sir A. Conan Doyle – ‘The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes’
  53. Sir A. Conan Doyle – ‘The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes’
  54. Sir A. Conan Doyle – ‘The Return of Sherlock Holmes’
  55. E. Cline – ‘Ready Player One’
  56. G.R.R.Martin – ‘The World of Ice and Fire’
  57. D.Grayson – ‘Doctor Strange: The Fate of Dreams’

Poetry:

  1. S. Heaney – ‘North’
  2. S. Plath – ‘Ariel’

Plays:

  1. J.M.Synge – ‘The Playboy of the Western World’
  2. A. Miller – ‘The Crucible’
  3. A. Miller – ‘Death of a Salesman’
  4. H. Ibsen – ‘A Doll’s House’
  5. H. Ibsen – ‘Hedda Gabler’
  6. J. Lyly – ‘Galatea’
  7. W. Shakespeare – ‘The Taming of the Shrew’
  8. W. Shakespeare – ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’
  9. W. Shakespeare – ‘Twelfth Night’
  10. W. Shakespeare – ‘The Merchant ofVenice’
  11. W. Shakespeare – ‘The Tempest’
  12. W. Shakespeare – ‘Coriolanus’
  13. W. Shakespeare – ‘Hamlet’
  14. W. Shakespeare – ‘Troilus and Cressida’
  15. J.K.Rowling – ‘Harry Potter and the Cursed Child’

Graphic Novels:

  1. A. Spiegelman – ‘Maus’
  2. A. Spiegelman – ‘In The Shadow of No Towers’
  3. M. Satrapi – ‘Persepolis’
  4. J. Maroh – ‘Blue is the Warmest Colour’
  5. C. Burns – ‘Black Hole’
  6. M.Millar and S.McNiven – ‘Civil War’
  7. Various authors – ‘Marvel’s Mightiest Heroes: Wolverine’
  8. A.Moore and D.Gibbons – ‘Watchmen’
  9. A.Moore and D.Lloyd – ‘V for Vendetta’
  10. A.Moore and B.Bolland – ‘Batman: The Killing Joke’
  11. M.Anusauskaite and G.Jord – ’10 litu’
  12. Various authors – ‘The Greatest Batman Stories Ever Told’
  13. Various authors – ‘Marvel Platinum: The Definitive Iron Man’
  14. J. Sacco – ‘Palestine’
  15. C.Thompson – ‘Blankets’
  16. M.Wolfman and G.Perez – ‘Crisis on Infinite Earths’
  17. E. Brubaker – ‘The Death of Captain America’

Memoirs:

  1. D. Howell and P. Lester – ‘The Amazing Book Is Not On Fire’
  2. T. Oakley – ‘Binge’
  3. C. Franta – ‘A Work in Progress’
  4. G. Helbig – ‘Grace’s Guide: The Art of Pretending to be a Grown-Up’
  5. L. Wacquant – ‘Body and Soul: The Notebooks of an Apprentice Boxer’
  6. M.Youafzai and C.Lamb – ‘I am Malala’
  7. I.Staskevicius – ‘Maratono laukas’ (‘Marathon running’)
  8. H. Murakami – ‘What I talk about when I talk about running’
  9. C.McDougall – ‘Born to Run’

I hope you enjoyed flicking through my 2016 reading list. I really want to start writing more book-centric posts next year, so this was like a taster-post. Have a great New Year and tell me in the comments your favorite book from last year!

A snapshot of my collection

BEST, WORST, and MISSED movies of 2016!

Movie previews, Movie reviews

Hello!

Yes, it’s that time of the year again for me to list my favorite and least favorite pictures. Like last year, I will also give you a top 5 of the films that you might have missed because of various reasons but which are worth a watch. 2015’s lists are here.

A short warning before we start: I have not seen all the pictures released this year, especially the majority of the awards contenders, so do not expect to find a lot of them here. Also, this is not an objective ranking of films – these are my subjective personal preferences. That means that the movie you hated might have been one of my favorites and vice versa. Similarly, a film that the critics bashed or a movie that bombed at the box office might also find itself on my best list. Without further ado, let’s begin:

Best:

  1. Captain America: Civil War
  2. Deadpool
  3. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
  4. Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them
  5. Doctor Strange
  6. Hell or High Water
  7. Sully
  8. Arrival
  9. Zootopia
  10. Hacksaw Ridge

The first 5 places on my list are all occupied by big blockbusters. Not surprisingly, two Marvel movies managed to squeeze into the list at number 1 and 5, respectively. The fact that a Harry Potter and a Star Wars film made the list at 4th and 3rd place isn’t unexpected either. The biggest shocker of this year and the first half of my list finds itself at number 2. I was extremely worried about Deadpool but it totally blew my mind. Even though it came out back in February, I still cannot forget it and that’s why it is a runner-up on my favorite movie list.

The second half on the Top 10 spotlights a few ‘regular’ movies. Here we have my favorite indie picture at number 6, my favorite drama at number 7 and the best sci-fi I’ve seen in years at number 8. The list closes with my favorite animation of the year from none other than Disney at 9th place (it was so hard to pick the best animated picture – we had a few good ones in 2016) and the best historical film of the year at 10th place.

Worst:

  1. Jack Reacher: Never Go Back
  2. The Divergent Series: Allegiant
  3. Independence Day: Resurgence
  4. Assasin’s Creed
  5. Jason Bourne
  6. Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates
  7. Alice Through The Looking Glass
  8. Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children
  9. The BFG
  10. The Girl on the Train

I wouldn’t necessarily state that these films are the worst that I have seen this year but rather the most disappointing. The problem that I had with the majority of them was the fact that they wasted their potential and were extremely generic.

This list has a few sequels that nobody asked for (1st, 3rd, 7th). It also has a couple of YA adaptations that should not have been made the way they were at number 2 and number 8. It has a film that was basically destined to be bad at number 4. Plus, the list has my biggest disappointment of the year at number 5. Lastly, at the 6th place, we find a generic comedy that was not that funny; at number 9 – the worst Spielberg movie possibly ever and, in the last place, we have another bland thriller that was not that thrilling.

Missed Movies:

  1. Everybody Wants Some!! – the latest coming of age drama from Richard Linklater and the spiritual successor to Dazed and Confused, Everybody Want Some!! was a great film that not a lot of people saw. It came out in spring and had a neat story, nice directing, and great performances from a whole cast.
  2. Eye in the Sky – a modern and very topical thriller about contemporary warfare. It was suspenseful and intriguing. The film also featured the last on-screen performance by Alan Rickman.
  3. Eddie the Eagle – the feel-good film of the year. It had an inspiring story about a loveable underdog played by Taron Egerton. Wolverine himself provided the support.
  4. Nocturnal Animals – the second feature from the designer Tom Ford that had one of the most inventive and exciting narratives this year. The film was engaging, it asked questions, and was visually stunning.
  5. The Nice Guys – an actually funny comedy from this summer that nobody saw! It had both style and substance! The lead duo – Ryan Gosling and Russell Crowe – were amazing too!

So, these are my lists for the year! What movies did you love or hate in 2016? What is a film that you think I should watch that came out this year? Leave the answers in the comments bellow! I am looking forward to reviewing and discussing movies with you in 2017!

Bye!

My dorm room’s wardrobe

Movie review: Arrival

Movie reviews

Hello, my dear readers!

An original sci-fi flick – Arrival – has landed in cinemas, so let’s review it! Since I hadn’t seen an inventive science fiction film in theaters for quite some time (I did, however, only recently watched an original sci-fi movie on Netflix, called ARQ – it was quite entertaining), I was super excited to see Arrival. Plus, I’ve also really enjoyed the previous work of the director as well as the cast.

SPOILER ALERT

IMDb summary: A linguist is recruited by the military to assist in translating alien communications.

Writing

Eric Heisserer, who has mostly written horror films, penned Arrival’s script and did an absolutely spectacular job. This movie’s narrative was so refreshing – it never went where I expected it to go.

To begin with, I appreciated the fact that this movie focused on a linguist and on the subject of languages and communication. Sci-fi films usually tend to have scientists or military personnel front and center, but this time, these types of characters were relocated to the supporting positions. As someone who studies art and humanities, I was extremely happy to see these subjects as useful in a sci-fi scenario, since usually after watching a science fiction movie, I would regret not studying physics or biology. But now, I can imagine that my language and anthropology skills can also be useful.

On the topic of anthropology, last year, in my symbolic anthropology class we studied the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis that this movie took and made true. The hypothesis states that one’s language determines one’s culture, behavior, and thinking and Amy Adams’s characters mind was heavily impacted by the alien language. On the topic, of Adams’s character – I loved how the plot played up her backstory. Those ‘flashbacks’ were not only a story-telling technique but a part of the actual story. That was amazing and mindblowing.

Like other science fiction films, Arrival explored the topic of humanity. Some of the ideas and dialogue lines sounded a bit ironic and skeptical, especially in the post-Brexit and post-U.S. election context. The notions that the world needs to work together and that peaceful communication come first rather than violent attack/defense are wonderful ideas, but I highly doubt their real-life application. The plot-points about protecting humanity by not talking to other humans seemed like a more realistic outcome of the situation. The media’s role in all of this mess was also a great and topical inclusion for the modern context. Lastly, showcasing the panic as the biggest threat to humanity was also good writing! These thematical parts of the film frustrated me quite a bit, but then again, these kinds of things frustrate me IRL, so I guess the movie just represented the contemporary world and explored its negative aspects and shortcomings really well.

Arrival, like a lot of other sci-fi films, started as a grounded science movie but then quickly escalated into the fiction territory. It asked questions and didn’t answer some of them. With these type of movies, there is always a debate going on whether there was some kind of deeper meaning and I was just too stupid to notice it or whether the film was just badly written and didn’t make much sense. Having said that, I think this debate is part of the beauty of making and writing about motion pictures – they always mean something different to different people. I also believe that Arrival is a brilliant and intriguing film to watch and discuss.

Directing

Denis Villeneuve, who is best known for making 2013’s Prisoners and last year’s Sicario, directed the film and did a wonderful job. The visuals were spectacular: the design of the ships – so simple yet so cool and the long tracking shots – awe inspiring. At first, I wasn’t completely sure about the design of the aliens, but when we got to see them whole, I was pleasantly surprised. The way the communication aspect was visualized was super cool too. I also liked all the inventive and innovative camera angles. On a personal note, I loved Amy Adams’s character’s home – would love to have a house with such a stunning view myself.

I also really liked the pacing of the film – it was slow and suspenseful and did not need some big and over-the-top 3rd act action piece to be memorable and entertaining. The music choices (by Jóhann Jóhannsson) were great as well and really helped to build thrilling, frightening and yet curious type of atmosphere.

Acting

  • Amy Adams as Dr. Louise Banks, a linguist was at the center of the film and delivered a really subtle performance. I do believe that these smaller, more indie-like films showcase her talent much more than big blockbusters (BvS). So, I suggest you check out Amy in Nocturnal Animals, American Hustle, and Big Eyes.
  • Jeremy Renner as Ian Donnelly was also great in his role of a scientist. Renner is also one of those actors that is on everyone’s radar and is constantly working but is not a complete A-lister which he should be. He is equally enjoyable to watch in popcorn flicks like Marvel movies and Mission Impossible films and in more serious pictures like The Hurt Locker, The Town, and Kill The Messenger.
  • Forest Whitaker as Colonel Weber and Michael Stuhlbarg as Agent Halpern provided great support and presented a more stereotypical government perspective to the movie. Whitaker still has Rogue One to be released in a month, while Stuhlbarg just had a small role in the recently released Doctor Strange.

In short, Arrival was a visually stunning picture, with an extremely clever and interesting story and some nice thematical concepts and great acting. It is a great conversation starter of a movie.

Rate: 4.5/5

Trailer: Arrival trailer

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Movie review: Doctor Strange 

Movie reviews

Hello hello hello!

The newest Marvel film – Doctor Strange – has premiered in some places around the world, and since I’m lucky enough to live in one of the places that got the movie real early , I can already give you my thoughts on it! Since this review is ahead of the wide release of the film, some of it will be spoiler-free and then I’ll give a big spoiler warning for those who want and can continue to read further. Let’s go!

IMDb summary: A former neurosurgeon embarks on a journey of healing only to be drawn into the world of the mystic arts.

First, I will begin this review by stating that I’m a Marvel fangirl, so that could color my judgment (I would love to be a DC fangirl as well, it’s just that DC doesn’t allow me to be one yet – praying that Wonder Woman will be good). I have reviewed more than a couple of Marvel films already and gonna link them for those who are interested: Guardians of the Galaxy, Avengers 2, Ant-Man, Civil War.

Also, I would like to briefly mention that, once again, the screening that I attended had a predominately male audiences, like the majority of the comic book movie screening this past year. This kind of audience breakdown explains why Marvel doesn’t want to make a Black Widow movie but I do hope that Captain Marvel will bring more girls/women to the cinema.

I was really looking forward to Doctor Strange for quite a while, I was really excited to see magic being introduced into the MCU. I was also interested to see if Marvel Studios will be able to launch another successful franchise, which revolves around a weird character. So far, their gambles (Guardians and Ant-Man) have paid off, so Doctor Strange will probably follow suit, because, let me state this loud and clear – it is an amazing movie. I will go through the different aspect of the film in and give you an informative but a spoiler free overview. Then, I will give you a spoiler warning and talk about interesting story points. Lastly, although the first part of the review will be spoiler free (I’ll try my best), I would still advise you to read it at your own discretion. It’s gonna be a long post, so get some snacks or drinks.

Writing

A few people worked on the script as well as the story of the movie, including the director Scott DerricksonC. Robert Cargill (writer of the Sinister movies) and Jon Spaihts (wrote Prometheus and these upcoming pictures: PassengersThe Mummy and Pacific Rim: Maelstrom)I wasn’t that familiar with their previous work but they impressed me a lot with the story and dialogue of Doctor Strange. Although the movie’s narrative revolved around the origin story, it was executed really well, without making it cliche or stereotypical. The dialogue and the jokes were also marvelous. All of the comic relief worked and tied the movie to brand that is Marvel (in contrast to DC). The familiar types of jokes were a reassurance that one was watching a Marvel movie since the visuals were so unique, different and nothing I’ve seen before in a Marvel film, or in any film for that matter. The dialogue and the character interactions were snappy, emotional and clever. The seeds have also been sown for future sequels and the references to the wider universe (Avengers and Infinity Stones) were also present.

My only gripe with the writing was, and I cannot believe I’m saying this, the villains. AGAIN. Marvel, come on! Either cast more appropriate actors, or have better writing for your villains. Don’t get me wrong, they were not that bad, just not quite right and as high of a quality as the rest of the film.

Directing

Scott Derrickson, who has mostly worked on horror films, directed the movie and did a spectacular job. However, half of the praise should also go to the cinematographer Ben Davis (A Long Way DownGuardians, Age of UltronGenius), because the visuals of the movie were its strongest point. They are really hard to describe and deserve to be seen on the biggest screen possible.

Despite the visuals being indescribable, I will attempt to explain them somehow. Basically, all the warping and shaping of reality gives off feelings of madness and has a slight Mad Hater/Wonderland aura. All of the folding buildings do remind a bit of Inception, but I would also say that Doctor Strange takes this type of visuals to an extreme. The mirror effects, the kaleidoscopic folding, the clockwork-like structure and the domino-like movements really make the film a sight to behold and marvel at.

The variety of different locations were also really great – they added a global aspect to the film and even more flavor. I absolutely loved the fact that the Ancient One lived in Nepal – it kinda tied the sorcerers and magic to Buddhism and monks (at least that’s the connection I made in my mind). Doctor Strange was also one of the only films in which magic and the modern world worked well together because I usually enjoy fantasy films that are set in the past more, but this picture broke that tradition. The action was also great – the movie found a balance between physical and magical fights as well as their mixture.

Lastly, I loved all the costumes of all the characters, but especially Strange’s. His cape was wonderful – not only a costume but also a tool, a living tool – so cool! Other gadgets that he had were also neat and have a lot of merchandise potential (read the spoiler part to find out what I’m definitely buying).

On a separate note, Doctor Strange was the first movie to feature the new Marvel Studios logo. This one looks more cinematic than the last one and it also has a sense of nostalgia and grandeur – something along the lines of ‘oh, look how far we’ve come’.

Acting

  • Benedict Cumberbatch as Stephen Strange / Doctor Strange was AMAZING (probably have repeated this word like 100 times in this review). His American accent was believable and his whole portrayal of the character – impeccable. He made me both like and hate Strange at first. He was funny, funky, posh, annoying, charming and charismatic – such a well-rounded performance with layers. Another great casting on Marvel’s part, another great leading man. I also loved his purely physical acting – the hand movements. I liked how all the sorcerers were moving both their hands and arms. This makes their magic appear different from Scarlet Witch’s as she relies more on the finger movements. Also, I’ve mentioned that his character’s gadgets had a lot of merchandise potential. Well, for one, I want that dimensional travel ring since I wear a lot of nerdy jewelry. Also, his costume will probably be at the top of everyone’s cosplay list, while I can at least be happy that my winter coat is the same color as his cape. Recommended actor’s movies: Sherlock, The Imitation Game, Star Trek Into Darkness, Black Mass, The Fifth Estate, The Hobbit 2.
  • Tilda Swinton as the Ancient One was superb too. Some people were annoyed that they gender flipped the character, others had racial issues. I didn’t have any problems with Swinton being cast because I really admire her fluidity as an actress – she plays with masculine and feminine a lot and I think she could probably transform into a different ethnicity for art’s sake if that wasn’t so frowned upon these days. I’m not saying that Asian actors shouldn’t be cast in Asian roles, but I also cannot agree with those that are saying that creative liberties cannot be taken when adapting a comic book to the big screen. Recommended actor’s movies: We Need to Talk About Kevin, Only Lovers Left Alive, Snowpiercer, A Bigger Splash, Hail, Caesar!.
  • Rachel McAdams as Christine Palmer was excellent as well. I liked the fact that McAdams was finally cast as a franchise character because I’m a fan of her and would like to see more of her. I liked how she played probably the only normal person in the film and how she reacted to everything that was happening around her. She was both relatable and really funny. Recommended actor’s movies: Midnight in Paris, Southpaw, Spotlight.
  • Mads Mikkelsen as Kaecilius to me, sadly, was the weakest link in the cast. His performance seemed a bit off and I cannot pinpoint why. I’ve seen Mikkelsen play a wonderful and scary villain in Casino Royale, so I’m quite annoyed and devasted that he wasn’t as good in this picture as he could have been.Recommended actor’s movies: Casino Royale.
  • Chiwetel Ejiofor was exceptional as Karl Mordo. I loved how emotional his performance was, how it could go from extremely energetic to a very subtle in a heartbeat. Would love to see more of his character and cannot wait for him to be the villain in the sequel. Recommended actor’s movies: The Martian, 12 Years a Slave, Triple 9, Z for Zachariah.
  • Benedict Wong as Wong was really nice. I liked how funny he was but, at the same time, how he could hold his own against Cumberbatch’s Strange. I would love to see more of his character’s and Strange’s friendship because the two actors had great chemistry! Recommended actor’s movies: Prometheus, The Martian.

In short, Doctor Strange is another win for Marvel. The film successfully told an interesting origin story, introduced a bunch of characters and blew me away with the visuals. I’ll most likely see it again in a few weeks time.

Rate: 4.8/5

Trailer: Doctor Strange trailer

SPOILER DISCUSSION

In this part, I would like to talk about a few plot points as well as a few action sequences that really stuck a cord with me. To begin with, let’s look at the characters and their interactions. I loved the writing for Doctor Strange – he started as a super cocky yet efficient person and had an amazing story of hero’s growth. I really liked seeing him as a surgeon, just being in his element in contrast to him being completely lost and failing miserably during his magical training. Strange’s interactions with the other doctors as well as with Christine were also amazing: funny and kinda annoying but still enjoyable. I also thought that the love story worked and wasn’t forced. It seemed organic and was full of both bad times (the fight in the apartment – amazing back and forth dialogue) and nicer ones (Christine saving Strange’s life). I loved Strange’s relationship with his mentor – the Ancient One – too and I liked the pep-talk that she gave him before dying. I also enjoyed the ideas and lines that the scriptwriters wrote for her character, including ‘Not everything makes sense, not everything has to’. Strange’s and Mordo’s relationship was also interesting and had more than a few moments of foreshadowing. The biggest hint at what will happen in the future was, of course, the post-credits scene, in which Mordo was seen stealing powers from the other sorcerers. This probably means that he will be the main villain the sequel .

As I have said, the movie had plenty of jokes and quips. Some of the best ones came from Strange’s and Wong’s interactions: ‘Wang? Like Adele?…Or Aristotle?…Or Eminem?’; ‘Try me, Beyonce’, followed by a shot of Wang listening to the song Single Ladies; ‘People used to think I was funny. Did they work for you?’. The wifi moments from the trailer was still funny as well, despite the fact that I’ve seen it numerous times. The mid-credits scene’s self-refiling pint of beer was extremely entertaining too.

All of the action sequences were amazing and they were all also kinda distinct. Doctor Strange’s first encounter with the Astro plane was crazy – so cool and so mad.  That taster we got in Ant-Man was nothing compared to this. It got a bit creepy at times, though, especially with those tiny hands (Deadpool?!).  The fight in the Astro plane in the hospital was cool too and expanded on the idea that we are now dealing with multiple realities (that voltage and magic relation – great). Same with that mirror world – I liked the fact that we got to travel to it and through it quite a lot.

The time gem, which is the eye of Agamotto, really came into play in the last act of the film and was utilized well. I liked the turning back of time, the stopping time, the time loop and the breaking the laws of nature plot-points quite a bit.

The villains of the film were my biggest and only issue. The way that Dormammu was realized seemed a bit cliche and, for such a powerful being, he seemed to be defeated to easily. I hope he comes back in the sequel. The character of Kaecilius was only okay, while he could have been amazing. He had reasons to be angry and also had a kinda personal relationship to the Ancient One but he just didn’t seem to be used fully.

Moving forward, Doctor Strange will definitely show up in the Infinity War and his time gem will have to get stolen during the first part of the Avengers 3. The mid-credits scene with Thor might also be an indication Strange will show up in Thor Ragnarok – that would actually be really cool, would love to see Strange and Loki interacting!

So, that’s it for the spoiler part. I would love to hear what you liked and disliked about the movie in the comments!

Doctor-Strange-Poster.jpg

Movie review: Jack Reacher: Never Go Back

Movie reviews

Hello!

The latest film in that other Tom Cruise action-spy franchise has landed in theaters, so, let’s talk about it! This is the review of Jack Reacher: Never Go Back.

IMDb summary: Jack Reacher must uncover the truth behind a major government conspiracy in order to clear his name. On the run as a fugitive from the law, Reacher uncovers a potential secret from his past that could change his life forever.

While I’ve closely followed Cruise and his Mission: Impossible movies, I managed to somehow miss the first Jack Reacher picture when it was first released in 2012. However, I did my homework and watched it before going to see the sequel. I really enjoyed the narrative of the film: the story was a bit different from the usual action movie plot. It had more of the actual investigation and an interesting dialogue rather just a ton of physical fights. But, when the action did happen, it was quite cool too – it was more rugged and down to earth than the spectacular and over the top action sequences in MI. Jack Reacher’s action reminded me of the action in Jason Bourne films, just with less shaky cam. The characters were fine as well, although the film was mostly a Tom Cruise show.

While the first film was a delightful surprise, the second one was just another uninspired and cliche sequel. I didn’t really have any expectations going into this film and I was right to not expect anything because Jack Reacher: Never Go Back was just an average action movie at best.

Writing

Richard Wenk (The Mechanic, The Equalizer, The Magnificient Seven), the director Edward Zwick and Zwick’s long-time collaborator Marshall Herskovitz wrote the screenplay for the film, adapting Lee Child’s 18th book of the Jack Reacher series. I had a lot of problems with the story. For one, the whole set-up seemed forced and rushed. It took two phone calls for Reacher to want to help Turner, while in the first film, more than 30 minutes had to be spent to actually get Reacher into the action. That whole thing with Turner being wrongly accused seemed like a recycled idea from the first movie as well. And don’t even get me started on that plot-line concerning his maybe-daughter – she was super annoying and was a huge liability to both the characters and the film’s narrative. She had one smart scheme, which we didn’t even see her carrying out – we were just told about it, and a ton of stupid ideas. And why even include her if she turns out to not be his daughter after all? Only to have that cheesy goodbye that didn’t add anything to the picture?

The villain showed up in maybe like 3 or 4 scenes in the whole movie. If you want to see a much better movie about the government contracts and arms’ dealers, then just check out War Dogs. Lastly, while the first film was slow but had a somewhat interesting dialogue about the investigation to fill in the time between the action, its sequel had a ton of small talk that didn’t get the movie anywhere. When it tried to foreshadow or set-up something, it did that in the most obvious way possible. From a thematical standpoint, I did like the overarching military v civilian life debate, however, what I didn’t appreciate was that whole male/female bickering. That plotline was irrelevant and felt out of place even more than the father/daughter storyline.

Directing

Edward Zwick, who has previously worked with Cruise on The Last Samurai and has also directed such films as the biopic Pawn Sacrifice, the war drama Defiance, and the comedy Love & Other Drugs, helmed Jack Reacher: Never Go Back and did an okay job. He opened the film with the sequence from the trailer, which I have seen multiple times before even watching the movie since I go to the cinema a lot. Wish they would have either chose a different scene for the trailer or changed it up a bit for the movie. The overall action was fine but nothing too striking or worth mentioning. I liked the gray colored shots of Reacher visualizing the escape or the past events, but the movie kinda dropped this idea halfway through.

Acting

  • Tom Cruise was good as Jack Reacher but I have come to expect this from him a long time ago. It’s nice to see him doing his own stunts, though – makes the movie a bit more realistic. Cruise also produced this film, like the majority of his action movies, but I’m actually quite interested to see if he will ever direct one. His upcoming pictures are a biographical crime thriller American Made and The Mummy reboot.
  • Cobie Smulders as Susan Turner was quite good too. I was happy to see her getting some work, because since How I Met Your Mother has ended, I haven’t seen much of her, well except in the MCU films, although her role in those is really small. I liked hers and Cruise’s chemistry in this movie and I also thought that she was good in the action scenes.
  • Danika Yarosh as Samantha Dayton a.k.a. the daughter. I don’t want to be angry with the big screen newcomer Yarosh because she was fine in the role, but, as I have already mentioned, her character was written terribly and didn’t even have a place in the film. Yarosh has been mostly acting in various TV shows and I do hope that this mediocre film and a bit cringe-y performance won’t stop her from being cast in more movies.
  • The supporting cast also included a lot of quite unknown (to me) actors, like Aldis HodgePatrick HeusingerHolt McCallany, and Austin Hebert. No one really stood much but they also haven’t been really given a chance to do so.

 In short, Jack Reacher: Never Go Back is an average sequel that basically advises its potential viewers to skip it. The story is awful, the directing is okay and while the acting is good, the cast is not given enough solid material to work with. I advise you to Never Go Back to the Jack Reacher films.

Rate: 2.5/5

Trailer: Jack Reacher: Never Go Back trailer

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Movie review: Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children

Movie reviews

Good morning/day/evening!

Another YA adaptation from a once visionary director has hit theaters, so, let’s take it apart! This is the review of Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children!

IMDb summary: When Jacob discovers clues to a mystery that stretches across time, he finds Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. But the danger deepens after he gets to know the residents and learns about their special powers.

Allow me to begin by saying that I think that this movie (and the book) has one of the coolest names ever. Yes, it is quite long, weird, and hard to remember, but that’s what makes it special. Just the name alone tells you a lot about the story, but, at the same time, doesn’t give anything away. I wanted to start this review with a compliment because I imagine I will be quite hard on the film in the following paragraphs since I had a number of problem with it.

SPOILERS AHEAD

The narrative: the book, the changes, and the screenplay

The trilogy of books by Ransom Riggs that inspired this film was one of the two YA series that I checked out this year, other being the Engelsfors series by M.Strandberg and S.Bergmark Elfgren. I have always been a fan of fantasy, so I knew that I would enjoy the novels. I also really liked the role that the old vintage photographs played in the making of the books and how they were used in the final product. Those pictures really made the series stand out from the other numerous YA franchises out there.

However, before going to see this film, I questioned whether it can become a successful cinematic trilogy since YA adaptations have been going down both in quality and in the box office numbers. Mockingjay Part 2 was a disappointing finale that didn’t earn as much as expected, Allegiant absolutely crashed and burn – didn’t even earn enough to get the final entry in the franchise made into a film and the release of The Maze Runner‘s final movie had to be postponed due to Dylan O’Brien’s injury on set. Will the audiences still want to see The Death Cure a year later? Will they show up to support an altogether new franchise? I guess, we’ll have to wait and see.

The film’s script was written by Jane Goldman – a long time co-writing partner of Matthew Vaughn. Together, they have worked on movies such as Kingsmen: The Secret Service, X-Men: First Class, Stardust and Kick-Ass. Miss Peregrine Home for Peculiar Children was her second solo writing project, first being the period horror picture The Woman in Black.

As usual, when adapting a piece of literature to the big screen, some (or a lot) of details of the narrative are changed. Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children was no exception. For the first two acts, the film followed the book pretty closely but it did create a completely new and different 3rd act. Concerning the smaller alterations, I’ll try to list as much of them as I could spot:

  1. Emma’s and Olive’s abilities were switched. Emma had the power of air instead of fire, while Olive controlled fire rather than being able to float.
  2. Bronwyn was aged down, while Olive aged up. I understand why they did this: Regarding Bronwyn –  it is more striking to see a little girl lift huge weight rather than a teenager, whereas Olive had to be a teenager for them to have a second romantic couple in the film.
  3. The underwater ship scene went down a different way in the book. They probably wanted to make it more visually interesting in the film and I also think that this scene was the reason they switched Emma’s and Olive’s peculiarities.
  4. Miss Avocet’s involvement in the main narrative was altered.
  5. Jacob’s only normal human friend was cut from the beginning of the story and, in general, in the picture, Jacob was made into an even more of a social outcast than he was in the book.
  6. The hollows were eating the eyes of the peculiars instead of their souls. Since eyes are the window to the soul, this might have been the filmmakers’ attempt to visualize a soul as something material.
  7. Miss Peregrine’s kidnapping was altered and basically, all the 3rd act, which followed the kidnapping, went completely away from the book. The film’s final act had different locations than the book’s (the action happened in the house, on a big ship and in the circus, rather than on a small boat on a sea) and it was also more action-y in the cliche Hollywood way. The decision to use the ship allowed Emma to do more stuff and was a cool effect, but everything that happened after that fell flat. Personally, I think that the modern setting and fantasy don’t mix well, so the whole sequence in the circus in 2016 just seemed ridiculous. It might have looked cool and clever on paper but it appeared childish and stupid on screen. I also get why some people complain that the plot was hard to follow during the 3rd act because it actually was a jumbled mess.

A few other points on the script of the feature. To begin with, the film had an awful amount of obvious exposition. The characters would just sit around listening to each other tell important points of the backstory. Half of that exposition could have been incorporated more organically. Secondly, the writing for Jacob was quite awful – he mostly stood around asking questions or reacting to stuff. He was quite a useless hero – it there will be a sequel, I want him to take charge of his situation much more. Actually, he kinda did that at the end of the film, although we didn’t see it because they just montaged through his individual travels. Thirdly, the writing for Jacob’s parents was paper-thin. They were super one dimensional – their one character trait was the fact that they don’t really care about their son. Lastly, gonna end on a positive note and praise the picture for adding a couple of interesting moments to the story: one, Peregrine shooting the hollow was a cool scene and, two, young Abraham’s call was a nice emotional detail.

Although I try my best to always allow the movie to stand on its own, this time, I’m just gonna come out and say that I liked the book’s story better. I’d love to see a sequel that is closer to the second book’s (Hollow City) plot but I doubt it’s possible since the narrative has gone into a way different direction.

Directing

Tim Burton used to be an imaginary and fantastic director but he seems to have run out of steam lately. I have even done a separate post on his filmography before Alice 2 came out earlier this year. Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children and Tim Burton seemed like a match made in heaven between the source material and the director, however, the movie was just fine. Nothing spectacular or special. The visuals were great, I liked how the film opened with the photos and the letters – it was a nice optical callback to the photographs in the book. The CGI and the design of the monsters were cool too. The slight steampunk vibes were also appreciated. However, the decision to allow (or make) the actors overdramatize some line and scenes, the awkward and choppy editing and the pacing problems (rushing through the setup, dragging in the middle, rushing in the end) were just a few of the flaws of the flick that Burton should have fixed.

Acting

  • Eva Green (Casino Royale, Dark Shadows, 300: Rise of an Empire) as Miss Peregrine. Green is a fabulous actress and she should have been great as Peregrine but her whole performance seemed a bit off to me. She was younger than I imagined Peregrine to be in the book and she also portrayed the character more as a quirky but cool aunt, rather than strict but caring grandma. Nevertheless, she did seem more friendly and open in the movie, which I liked, though, her shaky introduction and the signature Tim Burton crazy/dead eyes weren’t great.
  • Asa Butterfield (Ender’s Game, Hugo, X+Y) as JacobButterfield is one of the most promising young actors working today but his performance here was a bit stiff and low energy. The writing for Jacob was problematic and the performance didn’t save the character either.
  • Ella Purnell (Maleficient) as Emma was good. She and Butterfield did have some chemistry, although, I still think that their love story was creepy and forced. Grandad and grandchild having the same girlfriend. Really!? It is kinda a Twilight type of a coupling, just with switched genders.
  • Lauren McCrostie as Olive was good. She didn’t have much to do, but I’d like to see more of her. Since they aged up the character, they should’ve used her more.
  • Finlay MacMillan as Enoch. Enoch was one of my favorite parts of the books. He could have been such a cool sarcastic character on screen but the actor just portrayed him as super annoying, which was a disappointment.
  • Samuel L. Jackson (Kingsman, The Hateful Eight, Marvel) as Mr. Barron. Jackson is a great actor but here he was kinda a caricature. He was funny and his portrayal of the character did work for the film, but, on its own, the performance would be considered a complete parody.

In summary, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children was promising but didn’t really fulfill any of the promises as much as it could have. The story started out good but fell flat in the 3rd act, the directing was disjointed and the acting – only so-so.

Rate: 2.7/5

Trailer: Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children 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.