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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