5 ideas about a movie: Gringo

Movie reviews

Hello!

Welcome to a review of a film that looked fun but disposable from the trailers and turned out to be exactly that. In fact, it was so disposable that I forgot to write its review for two weeks. This is Gringo!

IMDb summary: GRINGO, a dark comedy mixed with white-knuckle action and dramatic intrigue, explores the battle of survival for businessman Harold Soyinka when he finds himself crossing the line from a law-abiding citizen to a wanted criminal.

  1. Gringo was written by Anthony Tambakis (the writer of Warrior and Jane Got a Gun and the future Suicide Squad 2) and Matthew Stone (a writer of some fairly small and unknown comedies). The writing for the movie was really disappointing because the film was both convoluted (an actual clusterfu*k) and not that interesting (which is an ever worse quality that being messy). The movie also tried having some profound message but it just ended up having way too many metaphorical monologues about animals (gorillas and bears) that made absolutely no sense.
  2. It also tried preaching the idea of remaining a good person but didn’t deliver on that message at all. I mean, at least practice what you preach. Speaking of fun – this movie, being part comedy, had no real humor or any jokes that were actually funny. It was just so bland and stale.
  3. Gringo was directed by stuntman-turned-director Nash Edgerton (yes, he is the brother of Joel Edgerton, the actor). I was fairly disappointed with his second solo directorial outing. For an action comedy movie, the movie really lacked action. It only really turned up the excitement in the last 20 minutes and then quickly lost it. Also, the film tried going for craziness but the problem is that that craziness lacked any entertainment value.
  4. The end of the movie was also super bizarre. Gringo tried going for a cheeky 4th wall break and ended up falling flat on its face as that nod to the audience made no sense in the context of the movie. Moreover, by that point in the runtime, the viewers were already so checked out that they didn’t care at all what the movie was doing. Basically, Gringo was definitely not worthy of a cinema screen and I wouldn’t even recommend it as a rental/streaming movie. It was a B movie at best. More like an F, though.
  5. Gringo assembled a great and unworthy cast full of talent way too big for this movie. But, I guess everyone needs to pay bills (can you hear the chorus sing the words *paycheck gig* in the distance?). David Oyelowo and Joel Edgerton (Red Sparrow, Bright, Loving, Midnight Special, Black Mass) were both fine, though, their characters were really unappealing. Charlize Theron (Mad Max, The Huntsman, FF8, Atomic Blonde) was stuck playing a very old-school female character (oversexualized for the wrong reasons), while Amanda Seyfried had little to nothing to do in the film. Wait, scratch that, Westworld’s Thandie Newton was the one who had absolutely nothing to do in the movie. Lastly, Sharlto Copley (Free Fire, Hardcore Henry) played his usual type of character – kooky and quirky.

In brief, Gringo was an action comedy with no action or humor.

Rate: 2.2/5

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Movie review: Red Sparrow

Movie reviews

Hello!

Welcome to March – the new ‘it’ month for high-profile movie releases. And it opens with Red Sparrow!

IMDb summary: Ballerina Dominika Egorova is recruited to ‘Sparrow School,’ a Russian intelligence service where she is forced to use her body as a weapon. Her first mission, targeting a C.I.A. agent, threatens to unravel the security of both nations.

Writing

Red Sparrow was written by Justin Haythe (who wrote two previous Gore Verbinski’s films The Lone Rangerand A Cure For Wellness), based on the book of the same name by Jason Matthews. I found the writing to be quite uneven and I’m going to unpack my ideas more broadly by discussing the narrative and the themes. The film had two parts, each about an hour long. The first hour acted as an extensive set-up and developed the main character quite a lot. The viewers got to follow her life as an everyday citizen (though she was never just an everyday person – she was always special, first as a ballerina and later as a sparrow), then to witness the inciting incident and its consequences: the extensive training to be a tool of the state (more on that in the second part on themes). The set-up was quite long but it did work: the main character’s capacity for the horrific actions that she was going to commit as a sparrow was always present in the set-up.

In the second hour of the film (+20minutes), Red Sparrow’s actual plot unraveled, and sadly, it was quite uneven. The writers really tried crafting a complex and layered story, full of characters with constantly shifting allegiances. And while that sounds all good – actually it is quite fascinating – the mysterious and the secretive nature of the plot was not always realized compellingly. Also, looking back to the plot – not all the dots necessarily connect and make sense. Still, I have to applaud the ending of the story. For a while, it seemed like the movie was headings towards a typical romantic conclusion but then it broke away from all of that and delivered and strong finale with some great double-crosses and twists. Though, the reveal of the mole was a bit heavy-handed and surprising it a bad way a.k.a.it came out of nowhere.

Thematically, I’d like to touch upon two major things: the usage of sex in the film as well as the Russia vs. US standoff. Before going to see the film, I got the impression that the main weapon of the sparrow will be psychological manipulation but I feel like the ads and trailers lied to me. Red Sparrow, in my mind, was missing its promised psychological manipulation and was all about the pure physical manipulation a.k.a. manipulation through sex. And while physical and psychological manipulations are certainly connected, I really wish that the movie would have looked at that actual connection or the psychological side quite a lot more. Also, the usage of sex by a specifically female heroine of the film raised even more questions about the position of female sexuality on film. While it can certainly be seen/used as a strong creative choice, it has also been reduced to a cheap trick quite a few times. Also, there is but a fine line between female sexuality as a form of empowerment or a tool of exploitation. To my mind, Red Sparrow was leaning more towards the second option, as the female sparrows were taught and made to use sex as a weapon by a patriarchal system rather than having chosen it as a weapon out of their own agency.

On the US v Russia front, the picture was certainly successful at establishing the askew nationalistic ideas that were/are so prevalent in Russia and portraying the brainwashing politics accurately. Still, it had an overall message of American heroism as the better/ the winning option. The weird US/Russia antagonism also made the movie’s temporal setting feel rather vague: it could have been set during the Cold War, the early aftermath of it in the late 90s/early 2000s or even just last year.

Directing

Francis Lawrence (the director of the 3 last The Hunger Games films, including my two favorites – Catching Fire and Mockingjay 1) directed Red Sparrow and did an okay job. I highly appreciated the style of the picture: the raw and indie feeling of it as well as the cold and cool tone. However, the slowness of the pace and the length of the movie really minimized the enjoyment of the film. Moreover, the plot (the substance) wasn’t good enough to make up for the lacking pace. The graphic violence and graphic nudity were both present in Red Sparrow and I don’t really know whether they served the plot or were they just there for shock value. During the scenes of violence, Red Sparrow did feel like a more contemporary version of its predecessor Atomic Blonde, while the scenes of creepy nudity were more plentiful than in the whole Fifty Shades franchise.

Acting

Jennifer Lawrence (reunited with F. Lawrence after THG) played the lead of the film and did a good job but she wasn’t great or irreplaceable. Her Russian accent was fine, though, at times, she did sound like she was speaking with a clogged noise (as if she had a cold). Her decision to play this role is probably more interesting than the performance itself. The actress has vocally expressed how uncomfortable she was with the skin tight costume of Mystique in the X-Men movies and yet she was somehow fine with complete nudity in this film? Was this an act of bravery and growth as a performer or a desperate attempt to reclaim some fame? Her fan circle has been decreasing: The Hunger Gamesfinished a with whimper rather than a bang, she annoyed a lot of Marvel/X-Men fans because of her lack of enthusiasm about that series, her various comments on talk shows have also been reacted to quite badly online, and even her last two more serious awards films failed to connect with the audiences or the critics (Joyat least got her another Oscar nomination, while mother! turned out to be a complete disaster).

Some big-name talent was also involved with this film on the supporting front. Joel Edgerton (Bright, Midnight Special, Loving, Black Mass) and Matthias Schoenaerts (Far From The Madding Crowd, The Danish Girl) had two best-developed and most interesting male roles in the film. Jeremy Irons (BvS, High-Rise) and Game of Thrones’ Ciaran Hinds (Justice League) also both appeared but in much smaller, cameo-sized roles. Charlotte Rampling (45 Years, Assasin’s Creed) played the matriarch of the school of the sparrows and it was quite unexpected seeing her in a film with a, supposedly, strong female lead after her sort of anti-women comments a few awards seasons ago (that ran along the lines of ‘women in the West don’t have anything to complain about’).

In short, Red Sparrow was a mediocre thriller that betrayed its message and overstayed its welcome.

Rate: 3/5

Trailer: Red Sparrow trailer

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Movie review: 12 Strong

Movie reviews

Hello!

Welcome to a review of another January release. This time around, it’s 12 Strong!

IMDb summary: 12 Strong tells the story of the first Special Forces team deployed to Afghanistan after 9/11; under the leadership of a new captain, the team must work with an Afghan warlord to take down for the Taliban.

Writing

12 Strong – a biographical action drama – was written by Ted Tally (adapted The Silence of the Lambs all those years ago) and Peter Craig (wrote both parts of Mockingjay and the upcoming Robin Hood and Top Gun 2), based on the non-fiction book ‘Horse Soldiers’ by a journalist Doug Stanton. Overall, the film’s script was very much ‘by the books’ but it also had a couple of original and unique ideas.

The movie’s set-up was typical. It included: a reminder that 9/11 happened (and simultaneously situated this film in a the war on terrorism timeline), a couple of scenes with the family members of the soldiers (and no other character development, except maybe a few bonding scenes with the other soldiers), and a single scene to introduce the villain (and honestly, his actions in the said scene were so despicable that that one scene was enough).

The ideas, which I found original, were few but present. I really liked the warlord’s speech about the difference between a warrior and a soldier. I’ve always thought about these two words as synonyms that meant the same, but, now, I see that they do slightly differ in the reasons for fighting (whether for survival or as a job). The warlord’s (whose beliefs were presented as very Western – was that an authentic feature or did the filmmakers wanted to make him more sympathetic to the Western audiences?) concluding statement, about the US becoming just another tribe in the Middle East rung very true, knowing the events that followed the ones of depicted in this picture. I really wish that the movie had more of a ‘looking back’ perspective like the one expressed in that monologue. Lastly, some questions that this movie (like all the others of this genre) raised but didn’t necessarily answer, for me personally, were: how do the followers of Islam balance their own culture and the human rights (that’s mostly a women right’s question that is interpreted wrongly by some Muslims)? And how can the West help that region achieve freedom and peace without imposing Westernization upon them?

Directing

12 Strong was directed by Nicolai Fuglsig – Danish filmmaker and photojournalist. This was his American film debut and he certainly didn’t do a bad job. Action/terrorism movies are a hard sell and they only really capture the audiences’ atention when they have some awards backing (e.g. The Hurt Locker or, more recently, American Sniper). Fuglsig’s picture didn’t have any big names attached (Hemsworth is only a draw if he is Thor) and it’s coming out in an unfortunate month. Still, the film was quite okay. The shoot-outs were well constructed and intense. The movie aslo did a good job of visualizing the new kind of warfare by showing the choppers in the clouds and the combat on horseback combat.

 

Acting

12 Strong assembled a cast, full of quite well-known actors. Leading them was Chris Hemsworth (Thor 3, The Huntsman, Ghostbusters, In The Heart of The Sea, Avengers 2). He was joined by Michael Shannon (Midnight Special, Nocturnal Animals), another Marvel family member Michael Peña (Ant-Man, The Martian, Collateral Beauty, The Lego Ninjago, Murder on the Orient Express), and the up-and-coming Trevante Rhodes (who got everytbody’s attention with Moonlight and will soon appear in The Predator). A bunch of other actors played the other 8 (of the titular 12) soldiers but, as they didn’t really have a character arc, I don’t see the neccesity to mention them. Navid Negahban played the warlord ally of the American troops: he has played a similar role before multiple times. His next project is a bit different, though – he will be the Sultant in next year’s live-action Alladin.

In short, 12 Strong was a mediocre and by-the-numbers action/drama with some good performances and a few intersting ideas.

Rate: 3/5

Trailer: 12 Strong trailer

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Movie review: Bright

Movie reviews

Hello!

A Netflix Christmas offering – Bright – has landed on the beloved streaming platform. Let’s see whether it will make Christmas better or worse.

IMDb summary: Set in a world where mystical creatures live side by side with humans. A human cop is forced to work with an Orc to find a weapon everyone is prepared to kill for.

Writing

Bright was written by Max Landis – a screenwriter who is known for being ‘promising’ rather than for actually delivering quality work. In fact, only his debut Chronicle was worthy of attention, while the follow-ups American Ultra and Viktor Frankenstein were lackluster. Sadly, Bright is joining that list of disappointments.

Bright’s script had a lot of interesting layers, however, not all of the layers meshed together. To begin with, I appreciated the fact that Landis attempted to marry fantasy and modernism – two concepts that rarely work together, at least in my opinion. He also did a good enough job of building the world of his story, though, at times, the movie’s mythology seemed to have been made up as the story went along. The magic wand idea was silly but worked as a plot device. The idea of a bright or basically, a wizard, was an example of an old concept given a new name. The orcs and elves were cool additions, though I wanted to find out more about them – also, I’d have loved if they differed from humans more than just in their appearance.

Speaking about orcs, elves, human, and faeries – these different species provided the movie with some commentary on race and/or caste. Separate human racial comments also seemed to have been present in the film (a few lines about Mexicans being blamed for something suggested to me that there are separations not only between species but within human race itself too). The fact that elves were the top and orcs – the bottom castes made Bright seem a bit like Lord of the Rings in the modern era. Since the antagonism between the species appeared to have been rooted in history, one could theorize that Lords of the Rings is an imaginary prequel to Bright.

At its basic, Bright was a crime thriller with two cops (a rookie and a seasoned one – a Training Day pair) at its center. The focus on police officers allowed the movie to explore real problems within the force – discrimination, corruption, and coverups – in a fictional story. However, the movie’s narrow focus on its two leads was also a hindrance as all of the other characters were painted as one-dimensional villains to the two ‘heroes’. Bright had a tone of supporting characters with their own agendas and their sidelines did not jell well in the film but just sort of converged accidentally and resulted in a messy narrative.

Directing

David Ayer directed the film and did an okay job. He used to be a highly acclaimed critical director (the aforementioned Training Day, End of Watch, and even Fury were all critical hits), however, his career started going downhill with Suicide Squad and is not gonna fair any better after Bright (it has been deemed rotten, plus, the fact that Netflix is distributing it automatically makes it a lesser film to a lot of traditional people in the business). It’s a shame that Ayer wasn’t able to make Bright work as well as he could have as this movie was his safe space – a crime thriller – a genre he has worked and succeeded in before.

I loved the beginning of the visual world building – the opening sequence with the graffiti. However, I wanted Bright to have more unique settings throughout the rest of the picture. The action was good too, though it was mostly just typical gunfights. The pacing of the film wasn’t bad – Bright didn’t drag much.

Acting

The two leads of the film were played by Will Smith (Collateral Beauty), who I have already seen in this role many times, and Joel Edgerton (Midnight Special, Loving), who was the standout despite all that heavy make-up and prosthetics. The multiple villainous characters were played by Noomi Rapace (What Happened To Monday), who barely had any lines and was just mostly fighting – wonder how much of that was done by her and how much by the stunt double; Édgar Ramírez (Point Break, The Girl on The Train), who looked great – a real dapper elf – but didn’t have much to do; Lucy Fry, who had a somewhat redeeming role; Ike Barinholtz (he co-wrote Central Intelligence), whose character was absolutely repugnant, and Alex Meraz, who played a interesting gang leader, who seemed like the most unique chracter in the film.

In short, Bright was an okay picture at best that set out to accomplish a lot of things but felt short with most of them.

Rate: 3/5

Trailer: Bright trailer

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Movie review: Star Wars: The Last Jedi!

Movie reviews

Hello, my dear readers!

A film that needs no introduction has finally arrived. It’s the nerds’ Christmas also known as Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi!!!

IMDb summary: Having taken her first steps into the Jedi world, Rey joins Luke Skywalker on an adventure with Leia, Finn, and Poe that unlocks mysteries of the Force and secrets of the past.

Just before we get into the review, I have done a few Star Wars related posts and I’ll link them all here, in case you want to check them out: my general thoughts on Star Wars, The Force Awakens review, Rogue One review.

Also, the majority of my review will be spoiler-free, while some spoiler-y ideas will be included down below (after the rating and the poster). However, I advise you to proceed with caution as the things that I deem unspoiler-y, might seem spoiler-y to you if you are trying to go into the film completely clueless.

Rian Johnson

Star Wars 8 was written and directed by Rian Johnson. The filmmakers previous writing and directing credits include Looper, The Brothers Bloom, Brick(his indie directorial debut) and some of the best episodes of Breaking Bad. While Johnson’s credits list is not extensive, its qualitative worth cannot be disputed. Moreover, Kathleen Kennedy and other producers at Lucasfilms seem to believe in his filmmaking talents, as it was recently announced that Johnson will be creating a new Star Wars trilogy. Anyways, let’s talk about the writing and the directing of The Last Jedi – both of which were excellent.

Writing: the story and the reveals

To begin with, I loved how the writing for The Last Jedi went for more: more humour (this was honestly the funniest Star Wars movie out of all of them), higher emotional stakes (I have never cared for the nameless background characters more in my movie watching experience), and more action (literal action and just stuff happening plot-wise). Speaking about the plot, it was quite saturated with twists and turns: the picture had 4 storylines all interwoven very nicely (the villains, Rey/Luke, Poe/Leia/Resistance, and Finn/Rose). Nevertheless, while I enjoyed all the points of the narrative, I’m not entirely sure whether the reveals of The Last Jedi will be impactful in the long run – more on that in spoilers.

Thematically, The Last Jedi, more than all Star Wars movies before it (again with the idea of ‘more is more’) traversed the line between the darkness and the light. It also had a varied portrayal of heroism which was quite refreshing. It also presented a never before seen side of the galaxy – the glamours one (Casino Royale in space), and, through it, The Last Jedi was able to explore the concepts of privilege and war benefit. I also liked the film’s idea that wars can be won ideologically as well as physically (more on it in spoilers). Lastly, while The Force Awakens was a narrative rehash of A New Hope, The Last Jedi was somewhat similar to The Empire Strikes Back thematically, in that, both the Resistance and the Rebels have taken heavy losses in their respective stories. However, Episode V did not even come close to the having a hopeful ending of Episode VIII. Although The Last Jedi was about loss, grief, and sacrifice, it also carried within itself an undying spark of hope.

Directing: the action and the visuals

The Last Jedi’s action was vastly entertaining and exciting. It was also varied: the epic space battles (at least 3) were accompanied by amazing hand-to-hand fights (at least 3 as well). The visuals of the settings as well as the designs of the new characters/animals were gorgeous and unique. Luke’s island and the white/red plane of Hoth, which both could be glimpsed at in the trailers, were magnificent to look at. Porges (or the pigeons of the Star Wars universe) were cute and not annoying (that was my worry).

The pacing was also very good – the movie was a bit long but it never dragged or got boring, again, mostly because so much was constantly happening. Lastly, John Williams’s score was as impactful as it has always been. My conclusion after watching The Last Jedi is that I completely trust in Rian Johnson to continue expanding the Star Wars canon with that new trilogy of his.

Acting

  • Mark Hamill delivered the best performance of his career as Luke Skywalker. I highly enjoyed the complex portrayal of the character. It was a bittersweet feeling seeing Carrie Fisher as General Leia Organa. She didn’t have the biggest role in the film but her presence was felt throughout it. Also, she had one incredible scene that made up for the lack of quantity of scenes with her. The dedication to her at the end of the picture was heartbreaking.
  • Adam Driver (Midnight Special, Logan Lucky) was absolutely brilliant as Kylo Ren – he owned the role and was a pure joy to watch. Daisy Ridley (Murder on the Orient Express) was equally brilliant as Rey – I feel like she grew more confident in her acting abilities and that definitely shined through in the character. Her personal confidence also fit the character’s arc really well as Rey herself has also grown bolder and braver.
  • John Boyega (The Circle, Detroit) reprised his role as Finn and was amazing. He got a chance to show off his comedic talents. I also loved his chemistry with the newcomer Rose, played by  Kelly Marie Tran (she has played a handful of minor characters on TV and in films before but hasn’t done anything even close to the scale of this franchise).
  • Oscar Isaac (The Promise, Suburbicon, X-Men: Apocalypse) was wonderful as Poe Dameron – a.k.a. a bundle of charisma. His and BB-8’s interactions were just great. Laura Dern (recently appeared in a limited TV series Big Little Lies for which she is receiving a lot of awards’ nominations) played quite an unexpected and a very unique character. Her character’s and Poe’s standoffs very superb.
  • Andy Serkis (War For The Planet Of The Apes, Avengers 2, directed Breathe) did his thing motion capturing Supreme Leader Snoke, while Domhnall Gleeson (Goodbye Christopher Robin, mother!, American Made, The Revenant, Brooklyn, Anna Karenina) was a bit caricaturish as General Hux but still somehow fitting – probably mostly because the characters around him were aware of his cartoonishness and enjoyed slapping him around.
  • Gwendoline Christie (Game of Thrones) appeared as Captain Phasma and, while she did have a great fight with Finn, I still think that the actress was wasted in this role. Lastly, Benicio del Toro (Sicario, soon the sequel Soldado) had a little but a very interesting role in the film – would love to see more of his character in the future.

In short, Star Wars: The Last Jedi was an immensely satisfying addition to the Star Wars franchise. May it continue for many years!…and May The Force Be With You!!!!

Rate: 4.7/5

Trailer: Star Wars: The Last Jedi trailer

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SPOILERS

Throughout my review, I mentioned a few times that I don’t know if The Last Jedi’s reveals will be impactful. Let’s go through them and I’ll explain what I mean.

  1. To begin with, the most speculated thing of the past two years – Rey’s parentage – was somewhat revealed. Kylo stated that she is a nobody and that her parents were nobodies and, even though Rey keeps looking for father figures in Han and Luke, she is definitely not related to either of them. I have few reservations about this: first of all, is Kylo a trustworthy source? Also, what about that idea that the main three trilogies are Skywalker-centric – how could one of them have a lead character who isn’t a Skywalker? And yet, I also sort of love the idea that Rey is a nobody – it’s quite an inspirational message to spread that everyone can become a hero.
  2. The trailers have been toying with the viewers, making it seem like Rey was turning to the dark side. However, Kylo is the one who ends up turning…but not really. His character’s arc is just brilliant – I feel like these past two movies have been his growth as a villain rather than redemption as a hero. I immensely enjoyed his and Rey’s back-to-back fight against the imperial guards – it was certainly my favorite smaller scale action scene of the film.
  3. Another great hand-to-hand dual occurred between Luke and Kylo. It wasn’t as visually pleasing as the Kylo/Rey one but it was highly enjoyable because of its meaning for the characters’ shared backstory – Kylo’s darkness scaring Luke into a shameful and regretful act.
  4. The aforementioned fight also resulted in a very interesting goodbye to one of the characters of the old cast – Luke. His way of passing – with peace and purpose – was just so deserved and fitting for the character. However, I don’t think that this film was the last time that we see Luke – I expect him to reappear in the next feature as a force ghost (like Yoda in this one – his cameo was a lovely surprise).
  5. The dual between Kylo and Luke was not only important for Luke but also significant for Kylo, who got a double defeat – physically and, more importantly, ideologically. Kylo has been on a quest to defeat the past, however, as The Last Jedi’s ending proved – the past cannot ever be defeated. It will be reborn and repeat itself, as evident in the closing shots with the force sensitive child.
  6. You know who else’s force sensitivity was finally shown on screen explicitly? Leia’s! It took this series a while to give Leia a great force related scene but the one in this picture was worth the wait. The bait-and-switch aspect of it only added to the emotional turmoil of watching that scene.
  7. Another significant death in the movie was that of Supreme Leader’s. The fans have been speculating online about who he actually was but we didn’t get a chance to find that out before his demise. It seems a bit cruel to play with the fans like that – hint at something in Episode 7 and not deliver on it in 8. I wonder whether he will somehow come back in 9 or whether he was truly just a stepping stone/a development point for Kylo?
  8. Lastly, I don’t know if I was reading into the characters’ interactions too much but I think we will get a love triangle in the next film. There appears to be something brewing between Finn and Rose; Finn and Rey also have a connection; and Poe, having finally met Rey, also seems to like her (I mean, who wouldn’t, she is awesome!).

Movie review: It

Movie reviews

Hello!

Let me start this review by saying that I don’t do horror films, especially at the cinema. BUT, since I wanted to christen my new unlimited cinema card and there were no other new releases, I decided to give It a chance. Plus, I have seen all the great reviews and didn’t want to miss out on the movie event of September if not the whole fall.

IMDb summary: A group of bullied kids band together when a monster, taking the appearance of a clown, begins hunting children.

Writing

It belongs to a wave of new smart horror movies (other members being Get Out and Split, both of which I watched – again, not a horror fan here, but I can make an exception for a great film). It owes its smartness to the source material – the beloved novel by Stephen King. And yet, the screenwriters Chase PalmerCary Fukunaga (True Detective, Beasts of No Nation), and Gary Dauberman (Annabelle films) should also be praised for taking a well-known property and adapting it to the big screen (other writers, who have adapted King’s works, proved that it doesn’t always turn out great). While I haven’t read the book, I knew some of the plot details and really liked the bold move of the scriptwriters to focus on just one time period. Before we see the adult side of the story in chapter 2, I will definitely read the book.

While It had stellar moments of horror (2 layers: the supernatural horror of Pennywise and the real-life horror of the abusive parents and the school bullies), the film ultimately was a story about this group of children ‘coming of age’. The movie did an absolutely brilliant job of setting them all up and there were 7 characters to set up! Some films can’t even make me care about their single lead, while, here, I was invested in the lives of a whole bunch of unfamiliar (to me, personally) characters. I also liked how the backstory of the plot (the exposition) was given as a part of the character development (those scenes told the viewer more about Derry as a town AND Ben as a person).

Speaking more about the children – I adored their dialogue and how unfiltered it was. A lot of the film’s jokes also steamed from it and landed most of the time. The preteen/teenage concepts, such as the first love (and the first jealousy), friendship, bullying, puberty, were neatly depicted and never wore too far into being cheesy rather than cute and relatable.  The depiction of fear as subjective and relating to one’s inner demons was so interesting too!

Directing

Andy Muschietti, who first rose to prominence with his directorial debut Mama, did a wonderful job with It. He paced the movie so well and masterfully built its suspense. He also made sure that It earned all of its jump scares. The visuals (cinematography by Chung-hoon Chung) and the music (soundtrack by Benjamin Wallfisch) worked amazingly together to create an uncomfortable yet super engaging sensory experience.

Muschietti should also be given props for directing a group of child actors so well. His decision – to keep Pennywise partially hidden or obscured for some of the runtime – also paid off: the clown was ten times scarier when you could only see his face or one eye. While his whole appearance made for a terrifying sight, the more of It one saw, the more he/she could have gotten used to it.

Acting

It had a brilliant cast of unknown and known child actors, whose performances were a pure delight to watch. Front and center was Jaeden Lieberher, who audiences might already know from Midnight Special or The Book of Henry. He did such an amazing job bringing the character of Bill to live and made that stutter seem believable and natural. Jeremy Ray Taylor (as Ben) and Molly Ringwald of this generation – Sophia Lillis (as Beverly) were also great. Stranger Things’ fans could spot Finn Wolfhard (as Richie) in the picture too. Here, he played the funny, talkative one – a contrasting role to one he plays on the Netflix show. Wyatt Oleff brought a slightly mysterious quality to Stan, Chosen Jacobs made for an extremely likable Mike, while Jack Dylan Grazer contributed to the comedy of the film as Eddie. His mom seemed to be suffering from Munchausen syndrome by proxy (Everything Everything looked at that illness already this year) or she might have just been way too overprotective.

Nicholas Hamilton also did a good job as the bully Henry Bowers, while the youngest member of the cast Jackson Robert Scott was great as the symbol of innocence (Georgie) during the opening of the picture. Lastly, how can I not mention Bill Skarsgård as It/Pennywise the Dancing Clown? While the costume and the makeup departments helped a lot to make Pennywise scary looking, Skarsgård’s performance was the most unsettling thing about the character. The actor was recently in Atomic Blonde, while his next project is also Stephen King related – its the web series Castle Rock.

In short, It was both terrifying and engaging. I, as a viewer, wanted to look away and couldn’t. The script was top-notch, the direction – amazing, while the performances of the cast just a huge cherry on top.

Rate: 4.5/5

Trailer: It trailer

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Movie review: Logan Lucky

Movie reviews

Hello!

Steven Soderbergh is back from retirement but the audiences don;t care much. This is Logan Lucky!

IMDb summary: Two brothers attempt to pull off a heist during a NASCAR race in North Carolina.

Writing

Logan Lucky was written by Rebecca Blunt – either a newcomer writer or somebody, working under a pseudonym. There has been speculation online that Blunt lives the UK, while some critics thought that Soderberg himself is hiding underneath that name (because he does that when crediting himself as a cinematographer (as Peter Andrews) and editor (as Mary Ann Bernard). Anyways, whoever this Blunt person is/was, they did a good job on the script. While the core narrative was quite familiar (Hell or High Water-esque – stealing for one’s family), its execution in details was brilliant.

The movie opened with a good set-up of the mundane lives of its characters and established them as people, whose lives did not turn out the way they planned (one of them peaked in high school, the other was suffering from the little brother inferiority complex).

Then, Logan Lucky moved on to showcasing the American culture (the kind that foreign people wouldn’t even dare to call culture), which consisted of children beauty pageants and rural county fairs. However, the star of the said culture and the film was NASCAR – a very American brand of motor-racing. The cherry on top was the prolonged anthem scene. Logan Lucky seemed to be driving home a message, that stuff like this, for better or for worse, happens only in the USA. This type of portrayal could have easily come across as annoying but the underlying sense of irony and satire made it work.

Speaking about the comedic side of Logan Lucky – it was great if not as extensive as I hoped, after watching the trailer. I loved the different pairings of the criminals (The Hitman’s Bodyguardesque) as well as the jokes that were central to the characters (one-handed bartender, the dumb brothers of Joe Bang). Logan Lucky also had a really funny sequence with Sebastian Stan’s driver character (who didn’t seem like he had much to do with the actual plot of the film). Another magnificent and hilarious sequence was the prison riot and the prisoners demanding all GRRM books, getting frustrated that ‘The Winds of Winter’ has yet to be released, and hating the fact that the TV show is going off books. The ‘explosive device’ sequence and the decision to stop midway and explain the chemistry were extremely funny too.

Logan Lucky also had a surprising and really heartfelt scene involving the main character’s daughter’s beauty pageant and the song ‘Take Me Home, Country Roads’ (by John Denver). That scene should have been the closing images of the picture. However, Logan Lucky did continue and had a concluding detective story that felt like an afterthought. The investigation itself was not that interesting or neccesary. However, that closing sequence did provide some revelations about the main character’s secret dealings and did have a nice ending (well, for now) with all of them sitting in a bar.

Directing

Steven Soderbergh (The Ocean’s trilogy, Magic Mike series, Haywire) did a good job with Logan Lucky but I don’t think that this was his best film. The pacing at the start was a bit slow, however, the movie did pick up its pace, when the action began. However, it started dragging again with that detective-story afterthought. What I appreciated the most about Logan Lucky (and the other films by Soderbergh) was that it felt real. Not necessarily realistic but real, grounded, self-aware, and sprinkled with irony. While the scripts that he directs (or even writes) are usually mainstream, Soderbergh addresses them with unique auteur/indie perspective.

This time around, Soderbergh also approached the distribution of the film uniquely and decided not to partner with any of the big studios. Well, that backfired. Big time. Logan Lucky didn’t win its weekend, nor it showed any staying power by dipping lower and lower in the TOP 10. I really want to know who/what is to blame. Are the audiences just not interested in Soderbergh’s work anymore? Was it the lack of advertisement? Where were all the NASCAR fans? Where were all the grown-up Pixar’s Cars fan (the ones who saw the 2006 film as children and are now adults)? Where were the fans of movies, involving cars, a la Baby Driver?

Acting

Logan Lucky had a really strong cast, lead by a new favorite of Soderbergh’sChanging Tatum (they worked together on Magic Mike, while the other recent Tatum’s films include Hail, Caesar!, The Hateful Eight, Jupiter Ascending, Jump Street). His brother was played by Adam Driver, who is constantly working on smaller, more art-house pictures in between his Star Wars gigs, like Midnight Special, Silence, and Paterson. Daniel Craig (Spectre) also had a very fun role in the film that he seemed to be having a blast while playing. He never appeared to enjoy being Bond that much and, yet, he still signed on to continue being the 007.

The supporting cast included Riley Keough (Mad Max), Katie HolmesKatherine Waterston (Fantastic Beasts), and Hilary Swank (would love to see her going back to the Million Dollar Baby type of projects and the level of success). The majority of them didn’t really play real characters but were used as devices for world-building or the lead’s character development. Seth MacFarlane (Ted, Sing) and Sebastian Stan (Marvel stuff, The Martian) also had cameo roles and their whole separate thing going on in the background.

In short, Logan Lucky was an enjoyable mixture of mainstream and indie, but it didn’t offer anything too special. Neither a disappointment nor really a win for Soderbergh.

Rate: 3.5/5

Trailer: Logan Lucky trailer

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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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