5 ideas about a movie: The Beguiled

Movie reviews

Hello!

A festival favorite and one of the strongest summer contenders for the awards season – The Beguiled – has premiered, so, let’s review it!

IMDb summary: The unexpected arrival of a wounded Union soldier at a girls’ school in Virginia during the American Civil War leads to jealousy and betrayal.

  1. The Beguiled was both written and directed by Sofia Coppola, latter of which was awarded at the Cannes Film Festival – she became the second woman ever to the Best Director Award. I’ve seen some of her films (The Bling Ring and Lost in Translation), but I’ve always had her other pictures on my ‘To watch’ list. I really need to do a movie marathon consisting of not just hers but of The Coppola’s family tree films.
  2. The movie’s script was based on a book A Painted Devil by Thomas P. Cullinan and the main topic being explored was the taboo issue of female sexuality and, especially, the repressed female sexuality and its dangers. Thus, all the character development mostly revolved around this issue, with not much attention being paid to anything else. The actions of the women did not make them into likable characters, while their choices at the end of the film were really quite shocking, which, I guess, was the intention. I did like the jab at the ‘Southern Comfort’, though – it’s the food that kills you. Literally.
  3. The writing for the lone male character was the best and he was the most well-rounded individual. His slay manipulations could really be seen in Colin Farrel’s (The Lobster, Fantastic Beasts) performance: he knew what each of the ladies wanted him to be and fulfilled that role. He was the older brother and an adult of the world to talk to, he was someone to impress and a potential suitor. Mostly, though, he was the personification of the budding sexual fantasies. These type of manipulations in his demeanor and the bursts of anger made me kinda see his demise as weirdly justified.
  4. Coppola’s directing was full of classical elements, like the steady camera, the old school ratio, and the long shots. These long shots really dictated the pacing of the film. The Beguiled was slow but carefully crafted, however, I did feel that, on a few occasions, some shots were lingering for too long without any intensity in them to make up for the lack of literal action. Nevertheless, I did enjoy the way Coppola realized the setting of the Civil War, with the noises of the battle going off in the background, but never allowed it to overpower the romantic drama happening within the house. The Beguiled wasn’t a Civil War film but a romantic thriller set during it. For the first hour, it was quite innocent (flirty and cute), while the last half hour was full of unforeseen cruelty and insane choices (all those repressed feelings were just bubbling over).
  5. I’ve already briefly touched upon Farrel’s smooth performance, so, now let’s look at the female cast. Nicole Kidman (Genius, Lion), Coppola’s usual partner Kirsten Dunst (Hidden Figures, Midnight Special), Elle Fanning (Trumbo, The Neon Demon), Angourie Rice (The Nice Guys, Spider-Man), and Oona Laurence (Southpaw, Bad Moms, Pete’s Dragon) all starred in the picture. The sexual tensions and frustrations were palpable in all of their performances with the exception of the youngest cast member Laurence.

In short, The Beguiled is a beautiful and slow art-house cinema offering that focuses on a theme that is still not as widely discussed as it should be, in the year 2017.

Rate: 4/5

Trailer: The Beguiled 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: Loving

Movie reviews

Hi!

Welcome to a review of a film that started the trend of a different kind of ‘race’ movie being nominated for the big awards. No longer are the films about slavery or the civil rights moments the only ones that the African-American talent can get nominated for. This is a review of Loving.

IMDb summary: The story of Richard and Mildred Loving, an interracial couple, whose challenge of their anti-miscegenation arrest for their marriage in Virginia led to a legal battle that would end at the US Supreme Court.

  1. Loving was written and directed by Jeff Nichols, whose films have always received critical praise but never really got any recognition during the awards season. Loving is his 5th feature. The previous 3 of his films (haven’t seen his debut film Shotgun Stories) all really impressed me with their unique and very personal stories. Take Shelter and Mud were both really good but the original sci-fi picture Midnight Special (his other film from 2016) was like a breath of fresh air in the summer of disappointing sequels and reboots.
  2. In my intro, I mentioned that Loving is not a film about the civil rights moment but it actually kinda is. However, its approach and its focus on the civil rights movement are very different. Loving is not about the big events of the movement that one learns in a history class. It is a personal story about two people who just wanted to live their lives and create a family but were forced to first fight for those rights. And even though The Lovings‘ case was argued and won in the supreme court, the film focused more on the family rather than their court case. The movie almost made the court case and the couple separate from each other. While the court case became something extraordinary, Richard and Mildred remained an ordinary couple. This type of portrayal not only strengthen the argument for their case (that they are just two people who love each and have a right to be married) but also made sure that the viewers would understand that The Lovings aren’t just another name on paper but that they are, indeed, real people.
  3. Like I’ve mentioned already, Loving’s narrative is personal and particular. This goes in line with Jeff Nichols’s previous pictures, which are mostly character studies rather than narrative films. And yet, like Midnight Special or Take Shelter, Loving has a feeling of a wider context and of something bigger and greater being located in the offscreen space. From the narrative structure viewpoint, the film is more or less divided into two parts: The Lovings’ life before the case and the court case + its aftermath. Both parts are equally compelling. Visually, the film is also stunning. Seemingly insignificant shots seem to breathe life.
  4. Ruth Negga stars as Mildred Loving. Mildred was actually the one who started all the court proceedings, so it was really nice to see a female character/a real woman portrayed as an active individual. Negga’s performance was really great and I’m happy to see that she got a few nominations for it. Her career has been on the rise lately. From playing a supporting character on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and having a minor role on Warcraft to starring on Preacher and being a Golden Globe and an Oscar nominee.
  5. Joel Edgerton, who previously worked with Jeff Nichols on Midnight Special, played the role of Richard Loving. His performance was of low energy and quite passive but historically accurate, as Richard has been described as a ‘quiet hero’. Edgerton has received some praised for his previous work on Animal Kingdom, Black Mass, and The Gift, but he also had a few flops with Exodus and Jane Got a Gun. Loving is definitely his best movie yet and I hope that it could be a start of a very positive streak. His 2017 films – Bright (David Ayer’s sci-fi co-starring Will Smith), American Express (Egerton’s brother’s Nash Edgerton’s (longtime stuntman) action flick) and Red Sparrow (Francis Lawrence’s spy thriller) – all have the potential to be great.

In short, Loving tells a different kind of story set during the civil rights movements. It’s slow, personal but universally hopeful. The film also has a lovely cameo from Michael Shannon – a long-time Jeff Nichols’s collaborator.

Rate: 4.5/5

Trailer: Loving trailer

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Movie review: Zootopia

Movie reviews

Hello!

Welcome to my last post in the series ‘Movie Reviews of the 2016’s films I’ve missed’. I have already discussed Hardcore Henry and Midnight Special. Today, I will be giving you my thoughts on Zootopia – that Pixar film made by Disney.

IMDb summary: In a city of anthropomorphic animals, a rookie bunny cop and a cynical con artist fox must work together to uncover a conspiracy.

Writing and Themes

Zootopia’s screenplay was written by Jared Bush (has worked on Big Hero 6 and Moana) and Phil Johnston (wrote Wreck-It Ralph), however, a bunch of people have contributed to the story, including Zootopia’s directors, former The Simpson’s director Jim Reardon and even Frozen’s Jennifer Lee among others. Thankfully, this was not the case of ‘too many cooks in the kitchen make a horrible meal’ but a complete opposite. Zootopia’s story was simple yet sophisticated and the concepts that were discussed in this supposedly kids’ movie – very adult and nuanced. The film reminded me a bit of Inside Out – that children’s movie also tackled big and serious issues.

Zootopia had a strong message about the importance of tolerance, knowledge and open-mind and showed the true awfulness of prejudice, bullying, violence, racism, and sexism. It also tackled the question of biological divide through the prey vs. predator metaphor. Zootopia portrayed the consequences of letting the biological divide become a social one and provided nice commentary on issues such as genders norms, racial, financial and religious differences. Other opposing ideas that were touched upon were conservativism vs. liberalism, idealism vs. reality, nature vs. nurture and us vs. them. The line ‘we might have evolved but we are still animals’ was an extremely telling and truthful commentary on the animalistic side of humans – I’m really happy that Zootopia’s creators were not afraid to be so blunt. In additiom., the film also encouraged its viewers to believe in themselves, to fight the self-doubt, to dream and to work towards their goals, to learn from their mistakes, to never quit and prove the nay-sayers wrong. Moreover, Zootopia showed that revenge is never an answer. Lastly, the film had a nice conclusion and wrapped up nicely – the final message that life is complicated and messy but still beautiful was a really good way to end the picture.

Zootopia also had a very strong writing for all its characters. The different species represented different types of people and the choices of species were simultaneously stereotypical and subversive. The two main characters were also very relatable. I could relate to Officer Judy Hopps on a personal level, like, I’m sure, many millennials with big dreams could, but I also understood and appreciated the sarcasm and the irony of Nick Wilde, the fox.

The picture also had amazing jokes and references. ‘Don’t call a bunny cute’ line was perfect and the extended scene with The Godfather was unbelievable. Breaking Bad reference was neat too.  The joke with the sloths was also nice as well as that moment with Nick and Assistant Mayor, a.k.a. the sheep. In general, Zootopia had a lot of funny situations that were organic. The jokes were never pushed too far but happened naturally.

Zootopia, the movie, reminded me of my favorite childhood book What do people do all day?by Richard Scarry. It’s a picture book with some lines of dialogue – probably closest to a comic but not fully a comic. Anyway, What do people do all day? shows simple activities being carried out by various animals. That book is used to introduce kids to different careers and it used to be favorite read from ages 5 till 10. I still like to flick through it when I’m feeling nostalgic.

Directing and Animation

Zootopia was directed by Byron Howard (directed Bolt and Tangled, animated Mulan, Brother Bear and Lilo&Stitch) and Rich Moore (directed Wreck-It Ralph). The two directors, as well as all the Disney’s animators, did a wonderful job. The graphics of the landscapes and the character design were marvelous and realistic. The action – exciting and that montage of Hopps arriving in Zootopia – a perfect locational step up. The attention to detail was also spectacular. For example, Hopps was using her iPhone’s (iCarrot’s) flashlight like so many people do nowadays – this little detail made the film even more realistic and contemporary. I also enjoyed the usage of Shakira’s song Try Everything. It was fun and fit the film perfectly. Basically, I feel like Zootopia transcended the animation genre and was really good buddy-cop comedy and a crime drama that just happened to be animated.

I am really happy that this film was financially and critically successful. Critical success means that it will probably be awarded an Oscar or at least nominated for it. Financial success means that a lot of people saw the film, thus, a lot of people can learn from it – ‘Change starts with all of us’.

Voice Work

All of the members of the cast did a magnificent job. The voices fit the characters perfectly. The leads, Ginnifer Goodwin and Jason Bateman, had really good chemistry. Idris Elba as Chief Bogo was also really good – I could instantly tell that that was him. Lately, Elba has been doing a lot of voice work: he voiced characters in The Jungle Book and Finding Dory. The other standout was Nate Torrence as Officer Benjamin Clawhauser, an obese cheetah. I really liked his performance and the character in general.

In short, Zootopia was an amazing film that was gorgeous to look at, but also engaged the viewers intellectually by discussing important and serious, real-world topics. The voice work was also stellar. In general, it was such a cute film (although, never call a bunny cute if you’re a not bunny!)

Rate: 5/5

Trailer: Zootopia trailer

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Movie review: Midnight Special

Movie reviews

Hi!

Since there will be no new releases for a few weeks in the country that I’m currently staying (no big foreign releases – the distributors are pushing a domestic film that I have zero interest in) , I have decided to review a few films that I missed at the beginning of 2016 – Zootopia, Hardcore Henry, and Midnight Special. In this post, I will be taking about the last one on that list.

IMDb summary: A father and son go on the run, pursued by the government and a cult drawn to the child’s special powers.

Midnight Special is an original sci-fi drama. It is not an adaptation, a reboot or a sequel/spin-off. Original movies are unheard of in today’s Hollywood and even a few original films that we do get are usually not that great. However, Midnight Special is an exception – on top of being an original property, the picture is also interesting, intelligent and provides interesting commentary on faith, the people’s need for something to believe in, and the cult mentality. Sadly, despite having a tiny budget, it still did not earn it back.

The film was written and directed by Jeff Nichols who has previously done films like Mud and Take Shelter. This was his first studio production but it still felt like an independent picture.

Writing: The Narrative

The film’s story was kinda vague. It raised more questions than it answered. It didn’t even seem that the filmmaker knew the answers to the questions they were asking, but that also meant that the viewer could be more engaged – when there is no right answer, everyone can participate and be both right and wrong. The fact that nothing was explained fully also gave the film a scary and intense feeling/aura.

The themes explored in the film were the religion (why do we believe or don’t believe? what is the thing that we believe in? what is the power of our belief/disbelief?), home (why do we need to belong somewhere? do we find or create our homes? can you feel at home if you are different?) and family (what is the importance of the father-son relationship? can parents ever let their children go?). The film also explored various ways how people deal with stuff they don’t understand – by worshiping it, dismissing it or seeing it as a threat – fearing the unknown. The film also kinda disproved the notion that seeing is believing, because, at the end of the film, a lot of people saw that other world, but chose to disregard the information that their eyes received. The religious cult ideas also reminded me a bit of True Detective Season 1, which I started watching today.

Writing : The Characters + Acting

  • Michael Shannon as Roy Tomlin. This is the third collaboration for Shannon and Nichols. I did enjoy the conflict inside Roy – which force is stronger – his love for his son or his belief in smth greater? While Shannon did a good job playing a loving father, from the outside, he did come across as quite an unlikeable character. I wonder if a more likable, charismatic actor would have been a better choice. Recently, Shannon had a cameo in BvS.
  • Joel Edgerton as Lucas. The character of Lucas was a bit strange. I always wondered whether he had an ulterior motive or was he just along for a ride. He ended up being just a really good friend. His transition into the believer was also interesting and hopeful. Edgerton was recently in Black Mass and his next film is also a Jeff Nichols’s picture Loving.

I also liked the juxtaposition of Lucas and Roy. One was rational, another believed in supernatural. One followed science (‘he’s sick’), the other – faith (‘he’s meant for smth else’).

  • Kirsten Dunst as Sarah Tomlin. She was okay. She didn’t do much but just reacted to the events happening around her.
  • Adam Driver as Paul Sevier. He was excellent in the film. I’m so happy that he is Kylo Ren. In Midnight Special, he showed even more of his acting abilities and I loved his character arc. He went from a disbeliever to a believer, from being lost and out of his element to being basically an expert. On top of being in Star Wars, Driver will also start in Scorcese’s Silence.
  • Scott Haze as Levi. He did a good job. He wasn’t as great as Jacob Tremblay in Room, but still much better than other child actors I’ve seen. He had a really difficult job – to portray a child that is also a god-like figure. His demure look and an innocent way of acting were really appropriate choices.

Directing

I really appreciated the film’s visuals. The cinematography (by Adam Stone) was simple but refined. The color palette – similar to Gone Girl’s – interesting: cool blue, black and white tones with yellowed and golden details, shadowy or bright with white lights shots. The ambient music (by David Wingo) was also really effective. The pace of the film was also great – Nichols managed to create a slow picture that explores various themes but never drags or becomes boring. The subtle camera movements to reveal something were also great (especially the shot of the meteors falling behind the boy’s head).

The CGI was also pretty neat. It didn’t always look good – the meteor shower looked kinda fake, however, the otherworldly architecture was spectacular. Both realistic and majestic. It was not only visually pleasing but visually interesting – I noticed a lot of circular and round shapes and bent lines. With this kind of a budget, the CGI definitely looked better than I expected.

In short, Midnight Special was an impressive sci-fi film that was overlooked by the majority of cinema goers. It explored engaging topics and asked questions in a simple yet visually pleasing and interesting way.

Rate: 4/5

Trailer: Midnight Special trailer

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