Movie review: The Nutcracker and Four Realms

Movie reviews

Hello!

And welcome to a review of a first Christmas movie of the 2018 holiday season. If the whole season will be as rocky as its start, then we can just cancel Christmas. This is a quite negative (as you have probably already guessed) review of The Nutcracker and Four Realms.

IMDb summary: A young girl is transported into a magical world of gingerbread soldiers and an army of mice.

Writing

The Nutcracker and Four Realms – a mouthful of a title, huh – was written by Ashleigh Powell. It’s a remake/reimagining of a classic fairytale and a famous ballet. Disney has been making quite a few live-action fairytales. Some of them crashed, like Alice in Wonderland and its sequel. Some blossomed like Cinderella and Beauty and the Beast. The Nutcracker seems like it will be joining the first group. I feel like there is a general fatigue of live action fairytales and only the really special ones turn into something. The Nutcracker, being a niche and holiday-specific fairytale, is already a hard sell. The fact that it’s premiering so early in November also almost guarantees that it will have a small opening. Maybe it will play for a long time?

Anyways, speaking of the writing: it wasn’t bad but wasn’t original in any way, shape or form. The message on how to deal with grief was a neat one and the young woman’s journey into self-confidence was also a nice thing to spotlight. The actual adventure was sooo by the numbers. The twist could be seen from miles away. The characters were also just meh. The nutcracker especially was so unexceptional despite being the titular character. The dialogue was very simplistic. It just seemed that this whole film was aimed at a very young audience. And by young, I mean babies.

Directing

The Nutcracker was directed by Lasse Hallström (of The Hundred-Foot Journey and A Dog’s Purpose) and Joe Johnston (of Captain America: The First Avenger) – what a weird duo of directors. And even a weirder end product. They did a good job with the visuals – I cannot fault the film’s production value. The CGI could have been cleaner. The pacing was way off. At least the runtime was fairly decent. To end on a positive note: the ballet scenes and the ballet-inspired credits were nice touches. The score, which included the classic melodies, was good too.

Acting

The Nutcracker’s cast’s performances were a huge letdown. Mackenzie Foy and Jayden Fowora-Knight were both wooden. Hellen Mirren and Morgan Freeman were folding in their performances and were still the best just because they are true pros and can outact everyone in their sleep. Keira Knightley was killing her career with every minute of being on screen. She was both a cartoon and a parody: everything about her performance – from the look to the speech to the behavior – were just so cringe-y. Her work her kinda reminded me of Anne Hathaway in Alice in Wonderland (another unfortunate comparison between the two less than good Disney fairytales).

The actor who played the father – Matthew Macfadyen –  looked like off-brand Armie Hammer. The British comedian Jack Whitehall also had a cameo role – good on him for finally getting into a Disney movie (even if bad one) after being cut from Frozen.

In short, The Nutcracker and Four Realms was a boring film that won’t bring anyone any Christmas joy. A basic narrative, oversaturated visuals, and some cringe-y acting – that’s this picture in one sentence.

Rate: 2.4/5

Trailer: The Nutcracker and Four Realms trailer

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Movie review: Ben-Hur

Movie reviews

Hello!

Welcome to one of the last movie reviews of this summer. This time, we are discussing a film that was mostly panned by critics and was almost completely forgotten by the audiences – Ben-Hur.

IMDb summary: Judah Ben-Hur, a prince falsely accused of treason by his adopted brother, an officer in the Roman army, returns to his homeland after years at sea to seek revenge but finds redemption.

2016’s Ben-Hur is the 5th Ben-Hur picture in the last 100 years. This story is quite old, both literately and figuratively. Not only is the plot set in the ancient times, but the original source material – a book by Lew Wallace titled Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ – has been published at the end of 19th century. While I usually enjoy epic and historical movies, their religious aspects tend to be a hit and miss for me. I wasn’t the biggest fan of Noah and, while Exodus seemed like a fun action adventure, its casting had a lot of problems. Don’t even get me started on Gods of Egypt. The mosts successful religious movie to date is probably The Passion of The Christ, but other than that, religious action features are a hard sell for Hollywood. I’ve also personally noticed that I more interested in movies about pagans rather than any monotheistic religions.

Speaking about Ben-Hur – it is not as bad as everyone is telling you. It has problems, like any other film, but it also a fun adventure with some religious ideas that sometimes stick and sometimes don’t. I wish that the audiences wouldn’t have given up on it without even giving it a chance. At this point, I should also probably note that I haven’t seen any other Ben-Hur pictures because I wanted to allow this movie to stand on its own. I haven’t read the book either, but I’m strongly considering doing that, as I did enjoy the film overall.

Writing

Ben-Hur’s screenplay was penned by Keith Clarke and John Ridley. Ridley has an Academy Award for writing 12 Years a Slave, while Clarke is not that accomplished – he has mostly worked on documentaries until now. For the most part, I really liked the writing for this film. I thought they did a good job with the development and likeability of the two leads – you could actually understand both of their arguments. The supporting characters could have received a few more scenes, but the lack of development for them didn’t bother me much. The dialogue, the catchphrases as well as the repeatable lines that the characters would spit out to each other were all cool and worked well in the picture.

My biggest problems with the story were all related to the set- up also known as the first act. Messala’s decision to leave seemed a bit rushed – I would have like to see more of him and Judah as kids or teenagers. The parts of the story leading up to the big betrayal/accusation were also wonky – the film was going all over the place and seemed to be both rushing and dragging at the same time. However, with the beginning of the second act, which I thought was that sequence with Judah on the ship, the movie really found its footing. It had a clear direction and a cohesive, simple but interesting main storyline.

Ben-Hur also had nice topical ideas. It cleverly contrasted the ideology of Rome ‘let’s spread civilization through violence’ with the teachings of Jesus, which were all about the compassion, peace, and solidarity. The whole biblical ending seemed a bit weird and out of place, especially after that big action sequence, however, I do understand why it had to be there – they wanted to end the film with a positive message of forgiveness instead of the celebration of revenge. It was a truly happy ending in a classical Hollywood fashion.

Directing

Timur Bekmambetov, the director of Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter and the producer of Hardcore Henry, directed Ben-Hur and did quite a nice job. Yes, some scenes were a bit overdramatized, but the ship sequence, as well as the final race, were both awesome. The whole setting and vibe of the film reminded me of HBO’s Rome, while the chariot race gave me flashbacks to a similar sequence in a French family film – Asterix at the Olympic Games. Ben-Hur’s CGI was also quite good – I have seen worse effects in the movie that cost even more to make. The credits of the film were also quite cool – those graphics were interesting and fit the movie perfectly.

Acting

The film didn’t have any really big name talent involved, so maybe that’s why the audiences passed it by. The most prominent name actor of the cast was probably Morgan Freeman (Now You See Me)  – he looked ridiculous with those dreads but worked well in the role of the mentor.

The two leads were played by Jack Huston as Judah Ben-Hur and Toby Kebbell as Messala. The two of them were great in the roles, both in the dramatic and action sequences. Their chemistry was also believable. Huston is mostly known for starring in Boardwalk Empire, but he also had roles in American Hustle and Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. Kebbell has started in a few big films but without showing his face – he played Koba in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, starred as Doctor Doom or at least Fox’s version of that character in Fantastic Four and was the actor behind the main Orc character in the Warcraft movie. Coming up, he has Kong: Skull Island.

The supporting cast consisted of Iranian actress Nazanin Boniadi as Esther, Ben-Hur’s love interest; Brazilian actor Rodrigo Santoro as Jesus; and Israeli actress Ayelet Zurer as Naomi, Ben-Hur’s mother. I love the fact that the casting director at least tried to make the movie more international and introduced me and other Western viewers to some new talent, although, Zurer should be quite familiar to us all – she plays Kingpin’s love interest on Daredevil. Two Americans – Sofia Black D’Elia as Tirzah and Moisés Arias (who is still stuck in the Hannah Montana times in my mind) as Gestas – rounded up the cast and also did a good job.

In short, Ben-Hur was a solid picture that exceeded my expectations. It needed some time to get into the right path but when it did – it was great! The story was interesting, the two leads were complex characters, brought to life by two amazing actors and the action didn’t suck either.

Rate: 3.5/5

Trailer: Ben-Hur trailer

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Movie review: Now You See Me 2

Movie reviews

Hello!

Welcome to another movie review of this summer. This time, it’s another sequel – Now You See Me 2 also known as Now You See Me: The Second Act.

IMDb summary: The Four Horsemen resurface and are forcibly recruited by a tech genius to pull off their most impossible heist yet.

2013’s NYSM was a surprising and vastly entertaining film, but if Hollywood would not be so focused on franchises, the movie would not have gotten a sequel. Before going to see the sequel, I actually rewatched the first film, because I’ve heard that NYSM 2 relied heavily on the plot of the first picture and, now having seen the movie, I can confirm that. If you want to really enjoy The Second Act you have to have The First One on your mind. Usually, Hollywood tends to make more of  standalone sequels that do not require homework or any preparation, so I don’t understand why they made an exception this time.

SPOILERS FOR BOTH FILMS

Writing

NYSM 2 was written by the same screenwriter as the first film – Ed Solomon. While I really enjoyed the story that he crafted in 2013, I had quite a few problems with its 2016 continuation.

Firstly, as I have already mentioned, the film’s big reveals relied too heavily on the plot developments of the first film:

  1. The movie made the big deal out of the fact that Dave Franco’s character was alive, but we, as the viewers, find that out at the end of the first film.
  2. The reveal that Morgan Freeman was behind all of the events of the sequel (at least, it looked like it) was meaningless if you did not know what role he played in the first film.
  3.  Ruffalo’s character motivation, as well as his father’s story, were given even more screen time but, once again, the crucial info was only told in the first film.
  4. Michael Caine’s character’s involvement in this film can also only be explained by the events of the first movie.
  5. The EYE was once again present in the film and didn’t do anything useful. The big reveals – who was the EYE’s members and that ending involving the EYE – were also kinda underwhelming.
  6. The 2nd film mentioned why Isla Fisher’s character left (in truth, the actress got pregnant and couldn’t participate in the filming), so I appreciate the fact they at least addressed this development in an appropriate to the story way.
  7. The first film had a quick pace and a straight forward plot, but this one had a really slow setup and a really convoluted yet predictable plot.
  8. The sequel kinda recapped the events of the first film and set up the revenge plot in that opening montage with the voiceover by Freeman, but I don’t really think that that was enough.

A few things that I did enjoy where the pairing-ups of the characters. I liked that Dave Franco’s character was the one with the love interest this time, instead of Jesse Eisenberg. Caplan and Franco had great chemistry, although I did not appreciate the fact that they emphasized a few times that Caplan was the only female horseman.In the first film,  Isla Fisher  was just one of the members of the group, not THE ONLY female member. The other pairs were the Prison Break with Mark Ruffalo’s character and Morgan Freeman’s character as well as the competition for the leadership between Ruffalo and Eisenberg. I also liked the mentor/student relationship between Woody Harrelson’s characters and Dave Franco’s character.

The overarching theme of the two films was the revenge of the sons, so I wonder who will be avenging who in the 3rd film, as they will probably make it.

Directing

The film was directed by Step Up’s Jon M. Chu, whose latest film- Jem and the Holograms was one of the biggest financial and critical flops recent years. He did an okay-ish job this time. I didn’t see the need to set half of the movie in Macau, except to please the Chinese audiences and get their money. Also, if you have to set-up a film Macau, why not use it? We only saw Macau in a few shots of the lights and billboards  and those shots were only used tot transition between the scenes.

Also, this film lacked magic. NYSM had 3 big and somewhat realistic magic shows, while NYSM 2 had a few small performances/moments and a few big-ish ones that were completely unbelievable. To begin with, this time, hypnosis seemed like an easy thing that really everybody could do. The passing of the card/chip trick was cool to look at but completely over-the-top. The water/rain trick was also nice and pleasing visually, but, once again, unbelievable and unrealistic. The final act was pretty cool though and did wrap up the story nicely, so I can at least give the director that. However, the finale did leave a lot of questions unanswered and even the horseman realized that. I wonder if they will address any of the questions in the sequel if they make one.

Acting

Firs of all, let me just say that this film had way too many characters, a few of whom were really unnecessary.

  • Jesse Eisenberg as Danny Atlas – was okay and I finally liked his hair in the film, after suffering through his bad hairstyles in BvS and American Ultra. He was believable as an egoistic illusionist and I did like him in the role. Now, I just hope that I can learn to like him as Lex in Justice League.
  • Mark Ruffalo as Dylan Rhodes was also fine. I enjoyed the fact that we finally got to see him doing a few tricks and I also liked the fact that he took up his right place as the 5th horseman in the end. I don’t think that I’ve ever watched a movie with Ruffalo that I did not enjoy, so any film of his is a good bet, but if you don’t know where to start, just check out his most recent work  with Marvel and in Spotlight.
  • Woody Harrelson as Merritt McKinney/Chase McKinney was good and annoying. I liked the character of Merritt but could not understand the need to include Chase as his twin brother, especially when he was this annoying. I sill haven’t finished watching Harrelson on True Detective, although, I’ve really liked him on THG films. He will also be in War for the Planet of the Apes
  • Dave Franco as Jack Wilder was also good. He is really charming and has a great screen presence. He has mostly done comedic work, in 21/22 Jump Street and Neighbors films. He will also be in Nerve later this year.
  • Daniel Radcliffe as Walter Mabry was good but slightly creepy. I’m happy to see Radcliffe getting some mainstream work in this film as well as in Victor Frankenstein, but none of his post-Harry Potter films were able to reach the level of HP success. I wonder if that is even possible
  • Lizzy Caplan as Lula May was a great addition to the cast. I liked her awkward humour and the line ‘He’s cute, let’s kill him’. I don’t know why Caplan does not get more roles in bigger films, as she is so good. My favorite film from Caplan’s filmography is Bachelorette, in which she starts alongside the former NYSM female lead – Isla Fisher.
  • Jay Chou as Li was only there to add ‘diversity’ and appeal to the Asian audiences.
  • Michael Caine as Arthur Tressler and Morgan Freeman as Thaddeus Bradley were both fine but I am getting angry with both of them. They used to be respectable actors and now they are just doing all the films, the majority of which are paycheck gigs. I would love to see them in more serious films and in more challenging roles.

All in all, Now You See Me 2 was an okay film. It was worse than the seqeul, had an uninspired and messy plot and really unrealistic ‘magic’. Defintely not a must watch, but if you do choose to see it, make sure to re-watch NYSM 1 or at least read its plot online.

Rate: 2.8/5

Trailer: Now You See Me 2 trailer

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Movie review: Ted 2

Movie reviews

Hello!

Last night, I and a few of my friends went to see Ted 2. Personally, I don’t really consider myself to be a type of person who likes comedies, especially contemporary ones. I think that nowadays comedic movies rely too much on sexual jokes, which lack tastefulness. Nonetheless, I still went to this film, although I knew that it has a lot of sexual jokes. Two main reasons that have driven me to the cinema that night was the fact that I was going with friends – I’ll never say no to them – and secondly, I wanted to see if this was the end of Seth MacFarlane’s career.

IMDb summary: Newlywed couple Ted and Tami-Lynn want to have a baby, but in order to qualify to be a parent, Ted will have to prove he’s a person in a court of law.

To begin with, let’s talk about the first film. I didn’t particularly liked the 2012 Ted. I thought that the premise was interesting but the execution and the overall final product – not so much. I probably liked the 2nd Ted film more than the first.

Seth MacFarlane

This was definitely better tan MacFarlane’s last year’s comedy A Million Ways to Die in a West. While I wanted to cry while watching that one, I laughed quite a lot during this one. Also, I believe that Seth Macfarlane does amazing job a a voice actor. He really brought Ted to life once more. In addition, this film focused a lot on Ted and his own life rather than on his relationship with John as in the first film. However, I still prefer Family Guy over any MacFarlane’s film. 

Story

The movie’s plot was a bit jumbled up. You had a story of Ted getting married, then fighting for his rights, then he needed to go to NY for no real reason and there was also that story-line with Donny and Hasbro. The opening credits sequence was also impressively but way too long. Lastly, the film had a lot of advertising…way TOO much of advertising. 

Adds

Half the time, I felt like I was watching a Hasbro commercial. But they really didn’t paint themselves as a nice company. Plus, that whole NY Comic Con action was a nice advert for San Diego Convention which is coming up. Comic Con footage also allowed them a chance to include a lot of Easter Eggs of different properties.

Easter Eggs

The movie referenced other movies a lot. You could spot call-backs to Jurassic Park, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Star Wars, Star Trek, Rocky, Lord of the Rings, and DC comics to name a few. There were also a plethora of references to controversial events. I believe that some of these jokes worked but some felt really flat. Furthermore, not a lot of people could understand all the references because they might have not seen that particular movie or heard anything about that particular event. References were also mainly US based, so there could be some problems with foreign audiences. My friends aren’t really that interested in pop culture or are as gigantic nerds as I am, so they didn’t understand half the jokes.

Jokes

Other half of jokes were aimed at 10 years olds. Poop jokes!? Really? There were also way too much of sexual and racist banter that, while it was funny sometimes, it made me feel bad that I laughed at such stupidity. The finale of the film also played out the same way as it did in the first film. Nothing new there.

Acting

The cast did a nice job. Mark Wahlberg was good, but his character had a smaller role this time. Amanda Seyfried was a nice addition, she replaced Mila Kunis. Since I am a fan of Amanda, I’ve enjoyed her performance and her chemistry with Wahlberg. Jessica Barth was a functional stereotypical blonde and Giovanni Ribisi – cartoon-ish crazy person. 

The film had a lot cameos as well. Morgan Freeman had a small part (the joke about his voice was funny and surprisingly truthful). Liam Neeson showed up – I guess you have to pay your bills somehow. Tom Brady was also there for some reason.

All in all, the movie was a bit of a hot mess but it came through a few times. It’s a great comedy for pop culture fans and a great one for fans of stupid jokes. These two sides really didn’t fit together, so that’s why the movie turned out as it did – with no clear direction.

Rate 3.5/5

Trailer: Ted 2 trailer

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Movie review: Lucy

Movie reviews

Hello!

This is yet another Friday movie review and this time it’s a science-fiction thriller Lucy,

Summary: A woman, accidentally caught in a dark deal, turns the tables on her captors and transforms into a merciless warrior evolved beyond human logic.

I was extremely happy to finally see a movie about a powerful woman because there was a huge lack of strong female characters on the big screen this summer (except maybe Maleficent with Angelina Jolie who was supposed to play the main character in Lucy as well but dropped out prior filming). And who better to play a super smart, intelligent and powerful woman than Scarlet Johansson a.k.a one of my favorite actresses. Other notable actor in the movie was Morgan Freeman, he was good as always.

I liked the idea of the movie, the interesting plot, the thought behind it. I loved that they have tackled the serious issue of drug abuse and drug smuggling because these problems are very common in today’s world. What is more, I liked the whole effect of these drugs that they enhanced our minds and power – I love scientific stuff like that.

From cinematography point, I loved wide shots of Scarlet’s eyes and all the different pupils as well as shots from inside her body; I enjoyed seeing how the drug works biologically. Plus, that driving scene looked super crazy but really fun too. Also, metaphorical scenes of wild animals and wild life flowed really amazingly with the main story of the movie.

All in all, I would rate the movie 4.5/5. I didn’t give it a solid 5 because the ending was sort of strange to me. That whole travelling through time and space ability kinda reminded me of Doctor Who. However, I liked the fact that the first Lucy and this super Lucy met at the end. 

So remember, knowledge is power which you have to pass on to future generations. Have a great weekend! Bye

Trailer: Lucy trailer

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Movie review: Transendence

Movie reviews

Hello everybody!

I am back with another movie review. This time it is Transcendence – a film me and my aunt watched this week.

Summary: The movie follows the creation of the artificial intelligence. When one of the researchers of this project (Dr. Will Caster played by Johnny Depp) is shot with a radioactive bullet by gang of people who are fighting against new technologies, his wife (Evelyn Caster played by Rebecca Hall) and science partner (Max Waters played by Paul Bettany) decide to transfer his mind into an artificial intelligence. The thing they have created becomes so powerful, that it is threatening all of humanity. In the end, while believing that the thing they created is not actually Will – their friend and lover, they destroy it by uploading virus into the machine. However, I believe that they should have let it be, because he/it didn’t do anything bad, he/it just wanted to help people (treat blindness, cancer and other illnesses or injuries). The machine or the thing (whatever you want to call it), as it’s dying, explains to Evelyn that he truly is Will, saying he did what he did for her because saving the planet and helping people were her wishes. Still, we have to mention, that while helping them, he turned them into hybrids which were connected to him, so he might have been creating an army of followers. We will never know what his true intentions were.

The movie’s closing shot shows us that, while both Will and Evelyn died, their consciousness is still alive with the help of nano-particles. This means, that the world has one more chance of recreating the artificial intelligence. This also means that we may get a sequel.

Transcendence is directed by cinematographer Wally Pfister in his directorial debut. Because the director is cinematographer the movie is brilliantly shot and there are couple of scenes that are breathtaking.

The movie raised the question for me: Am I self-aware? How can we find an answer to this question? I know that I am aware of the situation I am in, I know who I am, where I am, who is surrounding me, but am I sure that everything I think I know is actually true.? What is more, would someone be so kind and explained to me what the difference between self-consciousness and self-awareness is?

I definitely recommend this movie for all sci-fi fans that love science and especially nanotechnologies. We know so little of them, so I am starting to believe that we can actually achieve things that were shown in this movie in the future. The only criticism I have is that I believe they could have wrapped everything up in a shorter period of time. Let us say in one and a half hour time instead of two hours. After the uploading of Will consciousness into the computer, the action really slows down and you are getting bored a little bit. However, the final scenes make up for the slow middle part. Rate 4.5/5

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VCTen3-B8GU

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