Movie review: Ant-Man and the Wasp

Movie reviews

Hello!

And welcome to a review of a film that is supposed to sustain MCU fans till Avengers 4. This is Ant-Man and the Wasp!

IMDb summary: As Scott Lang balances being both a Super Hero and a father, Hope van Dyne and Dr. Hank Pym present an urgent new mission that finds the Ant-Man fighting alongside The Wasp to uncover secrets from their past.

As per usual, just before we start, these are my previous MCU reviews: Black Panther, Thor: Ragnarok, Spider-Man: Homecoming, Civil War, Doctor Strange, The Winter Soldier, Age of Ultron, Guardians 1and 2, Infinity War, and, of course, the original Ant-Man.

Writing

Ant-Man and the Wasp was written by a whole bunch of writers: Chris McKenna and Erik Sommers (who both have worked on The Lego Batman, Spider-Man and Jumanji before), the star of the film – Paul Rudd, and Andrew Barrer and Gabriel Ferrari (another writing duo that doesn’t have a lot of credits on IMDb yet ). I thought that they did a good job with the script. The film had a good opening to catch the viewer up on the previous events and this film’s place in the timeline. It was also rooted in MCU lore but accessible enough for the newcomers. It was also a good sequel as it took Scott Lang’s story further and forwards.

It was also nice to see a female character getting at least half of a solo movie in MCU (finally!). The superhero-couple idea was also neat and was probably the best romantic plotline in MCU (Hulk/Black Widow didn’t really work, Gamora/Starlord always felt rushed, and only Vision/Wanda is/was a neat pairing, just wish it had more screen time). It was also nice to see the idea of the generations of superheroes in the film and the passing of the mantle between the heroes – that happens in the comics all the time but hasn’t really been touched upon in the movies before. The picture’s villain wasn’t the best but also wasn’t bad. Her intentions seemed valid and believable. The movie was also quite chucklesome if not laugh out loud funny. Overall, while I didn’t think that Ant-Man and the Wasp was one of the staple/must-watch MCU films, it was thoroughly enjoyable and a well-written summer actioner.

Directing

Peyton Reed, who directed some amount of the first film (remember that Edgar Wright debacle?), helmed the second film and did a neat job. The pacing was good and the narrative was translated to the screen cohesively. The shrinking action was also inventive and fun to watch.

Mid/Post-credits scenes

The film had two scenes at the end. The mid-credits scene acted as a follow-up to Avengers: Infinity Warand was a continuation of that heartbreak. It also raised some questions about the character’s potential comeback in the 4th Avengersfilm. The post-credits scene was fun but kinda a let-down and not really necessary.

Acting

Paul Rudd as Scott Lang / Ant-Man and Evangeline Lilly as Hope van Dyne / Wasp were both great – likable and believable. Their chemistry worked too. Michael Peña (The Martian, Collateral Beauty, 12 Strong, A Wrinkle in Time) had a couple of great scenes that have become signature of his character’s Luis. Walton Goggins (The Death Cure, The Hateful Eight, Tomb Raider) was good as another slightly off-putting and potentially crazy villain Sonny BurchHannah John-Kamen was also good as Ava Starr / Ghost. It was nice to see Michelle Pfeiffer (mother!) as Janet van Dyne, though she wasn’t in the movie much. Laurence Fishburne (John Wick 2) jumped shipped from DCEU to MCU to portray Bill Foster, a former colleague of Hank Pym’s, played superbly, once again, by Michael Douglas.

In short, Ant-Man and the Wasp was a tasty treat for all MCU fans, broken after Infinity War.

Rate: 4.3/5

Trailer: Ant-Man and the Wasp trailer

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Movie review: Peter Rabbit

Movie reviews

Hello!

And welcome to a review of another vaguely Easter-themed movie that is not really about Easter and has been out for almost a month. This is Peter Rabbit!

IMDb summary: Feature adaptation of Beatrix Potter’s classic tale of a rebellious rabbit trying to sneak into a farmer’s vegetable garden.

Writing

Peter Rabbit was written by Rob Lieber (the writer of Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day) and the director Will Gluck. The film’s script was based on the characters and tales by Beatrix Potter. I haven’t come across Potter’s stories before so this movie was my introduction to them. And I absolutely loved the experience of watching the movie, even though I certainly wasn’t its target demographic.

The adorable nature of the whole thing was just undeniable. I feel like Peter Rabbit did the same thing with rabbits as Paddington did with bears: made them cute and British. I also loved the self-referential writing of the film and how the story wasn’t afraid of owning its cliches (the character flaws, ulterior motives said out loud, journey reduced to highlights). I also loved the cheeky humor. The film had a lot of simplistic physical humor but it also had a plethora of more adult snippets, poking fun at British nature, salads, and human contact (what a group). It also had a sweet rural romance and an overall nice message to share the love. That might sound cheesy and not particularly original, but when it is executed well, I can’t complain much and can only enjoy.

Directing

Will Gluck (the director of some of my favorite comedies, like Friends with Benefits and Easy A, as well as the Annie reboot from a few years ago) directed Peter Rabbit and crafted an energetic and infectious all-ages film. The live-action and animation combination was seamless. All the woodland creatures were both realistic and cutely cartoonish – there was just a perfect balance in their design. The main rabbits were goddamn adorable. Just look at those ears!

The paintings, which were included in the film as part of the story, were a stellar nod to the origins of the tales in illustrated children’s books. The credits, drawn in a similar fashion, were neat too. Speaking about the credits, there were quite a few scenes dispersed throughout them, so make sure you don’t leave as soon as the film ends. Peter Rabbit also had an amazing soundtrack, full of older and newer pop songs that made for some great cinematic moments.

Acting

Domhnall Gleeson played the human lead in the film and was an absolute delight to watch. He is one of the few constantly working actors, who stars in everything: experimental art pictures (mother!), mainstream franchises (Star Wars 7 and 8), indies (Unbroken), biographies of various genres (American Made, Goodbye Christopher Robin), and awards films (The Revenant, Brooklyn). His co-star Rose Byrne (X-Men: Apocalypse) was also good: very relatable and sympathetic. Sam Neill (Hunt for the Wilderpeople, The Commuter) also had a fun and unexpected cameo.

On the voice front, James Corden was just brilliant as Peter Rabbit. His three sisters were voiced by three equally brilliant actresses: Daisy Ridley (Star Wars 7+8, Murder on The Orient Express), Elizabeth Debicki (Guardians of the Galaxy 2, The Man from U.N.C.L.E.), Margot Robbie (Suicide Squad, I, Tonya, Goodbye Christopher Robin, The Legend of Tarzan). A TV actor Colin Moody was also fun to listen to in the role of the cousin rabbit.

In short, Peter Rabbit was a great kids movie that I, as an adult, enjoyed immensely! Maybe a bit too much. But that’s a conversation for a different time and a different platform.

Rate: 4.2/5

Trailer: Peter Rabbit trailer

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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: Lady Bird

Movie reviews

Hello!

Welcome to the review of the best tomato (once) in the movie business. This is Lady Bird.

IMDb summary: In 2002, an artistically inclined seventeen-year-old girl comes of age in Sacramento, California.

Greta Gerwig

Lady Bird was written and directed by Greta Gerwig – an actress-turned-writer, now also a director (this film was her directorial debut). The ‘tomato’ line in the opening of this review, of course, refers to the fact that this movie was once the best-reviewed movie on Rotten Tomatoes (it has now fallen to 99% from the initial 100%). While it was certainly a great film, I, personally, didn’t think that it was as unique or out of the ordinary as everyone hailed it to be (spoiler alert: I think I change my mind by the end of this review).

Writing

Lady Bird’s story was a personal coming of age tale. While some of the details of the plot were very interesting and quite extraordinary, at its core, the movie’s plot was quite conventional. And there is nothing wrong with that! Nowadays, very rarely do we see completely original films. Likewise, movies that take something familiar and update it (like Lady Bird did) are rare too and should be celebrated! Still, I don’t think that they should be over-complimented just to make a statement.

Anyways, by being a coming of age tale, Lady Bird mostly focused on the perils of growing up and maturing. It looked at high-school drama but not in a cheesy way: the school/friend/boyfriend problems were treated with utmost importance, as they would be regarded from a teenage girl’s perspective when one’s whole life is high school. Those scenes felt really heartfelt rather than cheap and shallow, even if some of them were intended to be humorous (like, the theatre activities that were so fun to watch). I also appreciated how real the scenes looked – Lady Bird’s reaction to her first kiss was just perfect and highly relatable. A few of the scenes were a bit cringe-y as well but that was also very true to a life of a teenager.

Thematically, the movie: hinted at exploration of sexuality; looked at the experience of having a crush on a teacher; explored ideas relating to one’s identity (rebelling, trying to get in with the ‘cool kids’, realizing who you really are, etc.); examined friendship and relationships (first steps into dating), and suggested ideas relating to potential mental illnesses. Basically, the movie covered all the grounds of teenage experience through either the main or the supporting characters.

A crucial part of coming of age for everyone has always been one’s relationship with their parents. Lady Bird mostly centered on the mother-daughter relationship and explored it quite successfully. However, I have seen this movie celebrated for showing the mother’s perspective – I, personally, didn’t think that the mother character had nearly enough scenes, especially, solo ones, to truly say that this movie treated her POV as equal to her daughter’s POV. Anyways, I still believe that the relationship itself (when not arguing about the POVs) was portrayed extremely well: as both passive aggressive but, ultimately, loving. Essentially, a mirror image of me and my mom 7-8 years ago. I also really loved the film’s message that love is attention – that was quite a heartwarming takeaway for the viewers.

The movie also explored the importance of a location of one’s youth. For Gerwig herself and for Christine that was Sacramento. A lovely but maybe overtly idyllic place, which certainly was far from the worst place in America, but, I guess to each their own. The film, ultimately, was either intentional or unintentional love letter to Sacramento, California. Another autobiographical aspect of Lady Bird’s story was the character’s somewhat religious upbringing. The whole idea of a Catholic school seemed quite bizarre to me but I did appreciate the fact that the movie noted that religion is not something one can be forced into but, rather, something that a person has to discover by themselves (as Christine rediscovered it in college, when she had the freedom of choice).

Directing

I highly enjoyed the visualization of the teenage experience in this film, which mostly occurred through the costumes and the set design. The uniqueness of the main character was perfectly portrayed through her hair and the changes she made to the uniform. I also loved the thrifting scenes: they not only showed her unique style but captured her family’s station in life too (and stressed the importance of keeping up the image even in poverty). I also loved Lady Bird’s room: it looked so eclectic and really reminded me of my bedroom as a teenager. The scenes of her painting over all the things on her walls really signaled her growth. I’m older than Lady Bird was supposed to be in this film and I’m definitely not even close to that stage in life, as my bedroom walls’ look even messier and more confused than they did when I was a teen. Another signal of the character’s growth was her decision to change her name back to Christine. And yet, the movie also ended ambiguously and noted that she still has a lot of work to do on her identity, as she still lied about where she was from and wasn’t yet fully comfortable with who she is/was. Are we ever really are?

On a final note, Lady Bird was a fairly slow movie but it was also really short – one of the shortest awards movies for sure. I sometimes really appreciate films that manage to tell tight stories and to say everything they need to say in 90 minutes without making the pictures themselves feel rushed. And Lady Bird definitely did that!

Acting

Saoirse Ronan was delightful to watch in the film and I completely bought her as a teenager. Her American accent was also extremely convincing. I also loved the overall deep emotional quality of her performance: she didn’t have a lot of flashy scenes but she didn’t need them to be absolutely brilliant in the picture. Her involvement in this movie also made me recall another coming of age tale of hers – Brooklyn– through the character in that picture was completely different (Ronan certainly has the range).

Laurie Metcalf played Christine’s mother and did a great job. Her performance was ‘quietly good’ rather than super explosive, like Janney’s one in I, Tonya. I believe that Metcalf will be unfairly overlooked in the supporting actress category due to the quietness or the subtlety of her performance, when being evaluated against more ‘out there’ performances like Janney’s, a.k.a. I don’t think her nomination will lead to a win.

On the supporting front, the two love interests of the titular character were played by two young actors, who are already awards’ voters’ favorites (and deservedly so). Lucas Hedges (from Manchester by the Sea last year and Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri this year) had a small role in this film, while Timothee Chalamet (the breakout star from Call Me By Your Name) was also on the cast list and proved that he can play a heterosexual romantic lead as well as a homosexual one.

In short, I started this review with a statement that I didn’t think that Lady Bird was that exceptional but I do think that I fell in love with this movie all over again by writing the paragraphs that followed the said statement. And I’m not going to change the intro declaration because this review, like Lady Bird’s and all our lives, are all works in progress.

Rate: 4.5/5

Trailer: Lady Bird trailer

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5 ideas about a movie: Downsizing

Movie reviews

Hello!

Welcome to January – the month of great awards movies and awful mainstream ones. I don’t know how many reviews of the latter I’m going to be posting but you can be sure that the awards’ film reviews will be plentiful. For example, you are reading one now – this is Downsizing.

IMDb summary: A social satire in which a man realizes he would have a better life if he were to shrink himself to five inches tall, allowing him to live in wealth and splendor.

  1. Downsizing was written and directed by Alexander Payne (of The Descendants and Nebraska). Payne’s long-time collaborator Jim Taylor was also credited as a writer and a producer. To begin with, I thought that these two filmmakers had a genius premise for a movie. I haven’t really seen a social satire that tackled overpopulation as the main problem and definitely haven’t seen a film that had such a cheeky yet somehow believable solution to the problem. The opening sequence of the film was really good – it effectively set up the idea of downsizing as well as it global outreach – I instantly started to believe in the world of the movie. Then, the picture flashed to its main character and that’s where the problems started to arise.
  2. While I don’t necessarily think that the main character was bad, I do strongly believe that the story of the main character was too simplistic (for such an incredible premise, the narrative should have been more unique too). The wife’s decision to leave the husband was such a cliche way to create conflict. The fact that the movie started with one love story and ended with another was not the best decision either because by focusing so much on the romance, Downsizing forgot to explore a multitude of concepts that it introduced.  I wanted less predictability and more time spent on the economic, political, and social implications of downsizing; the abuse of the new technology (cause there always is a darker side behind a shiny billboard), and just the problem of overpopulation itself.
  3. Alexander Payne did a good job directing Downsizing. He realized the world of the story well and visually blended the small and the big worlds almost seamlessly (those visuals had a surrealist feeling to them which was interesting). In addition, Downsizing was billed as a comedy, and, while there were certainly some chucklesome moments, the film definitely wasn’t a laugh-out-loud type of a comedy. My favorite visual (as well as narrative) sequence was the prep for and the actual procedure of downsizing. As I’ve mentioned in the previous part, I wanted to see more of it rather than the love story.
  4. Matt Damon (The Martian, Jason Bourne, The Great Wall) played the lead and was good, but I don’t think that this role will result in any awards’ nominations let alone wins (it’s zero for two for Damon this season as Suburbicon was panned by the critics). Christoph Waltz (Tarzan, Spectre, Tulip Fever) was fun to watch as he was playing an eccentric and creepy character – one straight out of Waltz’s wheelhouse. Kristen Wiig (mother!, Ghostbusters) and Jason Sudeikis had very minor roles but they were great in those and proved to me that I definitely prefer seeing these two actors in more dramatic roles rather in their full-on comedic ones.
  5. The stand-out from the cast, who deservedly is getting all the awards’ recognition for this film was Hong Chau. While her character first appeared to be a comedic stereotype (mostly because of the broken English aspect), she was so much more than that. Chau’s performance was compelling and emotional, innocent yet sophisticated. I’d love to see her winning an Oscar as well as getting more opportunities in Hollywood (she has previously appeared on Big Little Lies and in the picture Inherent Vice).

In short, Downsizing wastes an amazingly original concept on a predictable love story. The cast is good overall but the standout is definitely Hong Chau.

Rate: 3.5/5

Trailer: Downsizing trailer

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BEST, WORST, and MISSED movies of 2017

Movie previews, Movie reviews

Hello!!

Happy New Years Eve!

For most people, it’s a day/night of celebration: partying and drinking. Well, I’m also celebrating but in my own way – by posting my cinema round-up of the year. Like in 2015 and 2016, I’m providing you with my personal list of best and worst films (and I’m linking all of their reviews). A new development for this year is the fact that my top 5 list of obscure, small, ‘missed’ movies/honorable mentions is expanding into a 10 just because I’ve seen too many pictures this year that I want to bring to your attention once again! As always, please don’t bear any hard feelings if our lists don’t match! This post was written in the name of fun and I’m really looking forward to reading your picks in the comments!

BEST Movies:

  1. Logan
  2. Star Wars: The Last Jedi
  3. Wonder Woman
  4. Blade Runner 2049
  5. Thor: Ragnarok
  6. Beauty and the Beast
  7. Spider-Man: Homecoming
  8. War For The Planet Of The Apes
  9. Wind River
  10. It

Those who read my blog somewhat regularly probably aren’t surprised by the fact that my list contains 4 comic book movies. As much as I love the genre in general, what I loved about these particular films was the fact that they expanded the status quo: Logan brought the sophistication that we haven’t seen since The Dark Knight, while Wonder Woman was a game-changer for the female characters. Thor 3 fixed the weakest MCU trilogy, while Homecoming achieved what was deemed impossible – told the first good Spidey story in a decade. Joining the comic book films, are the three sci-fi juggernauts: Star Wars 8 (no surprise here, though, maybe it is a surprise as I seem to be one of the few who truly enjoyed the picture), Blade Runner sequel (visual and narrative masterpiece), and Apes 3 (an underappreciated finale of a great trilogy). The last 3 pictures bring some more variety genre-wise. Wind River represents drama (as well as my anthropological interests), Beauty and the Beast symbolizes my love for live-action fairytales (and my choice to remain a kid inside), while It is the biggest surprise of the year – the first horror movie that I’ve ever enjoyed.

WORST Movies:

  1. Snatched
  2. Transformers: The Last Knight
  3. Rough Night
  4. The Emoji Movie
  5. Geostorm
  6. Tulip Fever
  7. Suburbicon
  8. The Snowman
  9. American Assasin
  10. The Dark Tower

My worst list has it all: awful comedies (Snatched and Rough Night), confused dramas (Tulip Fever and Suburbicon), and underwhelming action thrillers (American Assasin and The Snowman). It also showcases a genre that should die (disaster films – Geostorm) and a franchise that should do the same (Transformers). The infamous cash grab for the millennials (The Emoji Movie) and the bad kind of Stephen King adaptation (The Dark Tower) finish of the list!

Honorable mentions/Movies you’ve MISSED:

I’ve decided not to number these and divide them into 3 levels of obscurity, from the least known to almost mainstream (or even actually mainstream) films.

To begin with, in the most obscure category, I’ve put The Death of Stalin, The Party, and Free Fire. First is a British adaptation of a French graphic novel, which itself is a reimagining of Russian history; second is more of a character piece than a movie with the shortest runtime of a feature film I’ve seen; and the third is an action movie that builds its story around the main action sequence that last the whole picture.

The second trio of more well known movies consist of The Killing of a Sacred Deer, Their Finest, and T2: Trainspotting. The first is an extraordinary revenge story from a proven director, the second – a romantic take on war and the movie business, and the last is everything I love about my adoptive country of Scotland!

Lastly, the 4 final movies that the majority of moviegoers have heard about and which couldn’t necessarily make my top 10 list but were so unique that they deserved to be mentioned are Paddington 2(a bundle of joy in these dark times), John Wick 2 (a successful sequel in a not that big of a franchise), mother!(the picture that was more fun to analyze than watch), and The Big Sick (a romantic comedy like no other).

And that is it for 2017 cinema! I hope you enjoyed reading my lists! Every year, its gets harder and harder to decide on my picks because of the sheer amount of new movies I’m able to see. Please don’t be mad if your favorite/least favorite movies were not on my lists! Also, if you missed some awards contenders in this post, they might have been excluded because I haven’t seen them yet or because I expect to talk about them a lot during the next two months. Hence, they will get enough praise then, it’s what I’m saying.

Anyways, have a happy 2018 in the cinema and in life!

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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: Murder on the Orient Express 

Movie reviews

Hello!

A glamorous whodunit has landed in theatres. This is Murder on the Orient Express.

IMDb summary: A lavish train ride unfolds into a stylish & suspenseful mystery. From the novel by Agatha Christie, Murder on the Orient Express tells of thirteen stranded strangers & one man’s race to solve the puzzle before the murderer strikes again.

Prior to seeing the film, I had some knowledge about Hercule Poirot: I and my aunt used to play a Poirot video game, where you had to either assist the detective in solving a mystery or you were playing as the detective. In addition, while I haven’t seen any of the previous adaptations of this book, I did go straight to the source and read an original novel by Agatha Christie. I would love to read more of her writings about Poirot but that extensive list is a bit overwhelming.

Writing

Agatha Christie’s detective novel Murder on the Orient Express was adapted to the screenplay format by Michael Green (the writer of 3 (not counting this one) big movies of 2017: Logan, Alien: Covenant, and Blade Runner 2049). I thought that he did a fairly competent job. Since I have read the book only recently, I noticed a few changes in the story, mostly in the set-up, the locations, and the character traits. Other than these small details, the narrative stayed the same and the ending, which I was a bit disappointed by while reading the book, also stayed the same. In the film form, I did not mind the ending that much. I’m just wondering whether that complex reveal and its various tie-ins were explained well enough for a viewer, who wasn’t familiar with the story in the first place, to grasp.

I quite enjoyed the character development that Poirot received. I don’t think these particular details of his past were in the original book but I’m sure they were taken from one of the other Christie’s books of the same series. The emotional vulnerability that the character exhibited in the film made me believe his final decision (the one that came from the heart) more believable. The other characters did not receive much character development unless it was directly related to the case. Since the plot also involved a lot of performative elements, even the character development that was given could not be fully trusted.

Last few points on the script: I feel like it had a more overtly political tone than the book had, or at least elements relating to race, nationality, and governance, were more noticeable in the film. Murder on the Orient Express also had a fair few of chucklesome moments and a surprisingly big amount of sexual innuendos.

Directing

Murder on the Orient Express was directed by Kenneth Branagh, who has quite a lot of experience directing adaptations of classical books (mostly Shakespeare). He has also worked with the fantasy, action, and fairytale genres with Thor, Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit, and Cinderella. Overall, I thought he did a great job with this movie. I believe that the glamour of the setting was well realized, while the limits of it were used for the benefit of the film. The picture had quite a few impressive looking long tracking shots and also a couple of very unique looking straight-overhead/from the top shots. A couple of scenes of more obvious action-y nature were added to keep up the pace of the film, while the extensive interviews of the book were placed in various inventive locations around the train to make them more interesting. The black and white flashback sequences were a nice touch. My only gripe with the visuals of the film was the fact that some wide exterior shots looked really fake and too obviously CGI.

Acting

Kenneth Branagh was quite spectacular as Hercule Poirot. When a director plays the lead in his own film, I always get a bit worried, but I think Branagh handled the challenge well. I think he portrayed the character eccentrically enough but didn’t go into the cartoon territory (which was my worry). Poirot actually seemed like a serious and real person with some unique quirks.

The supporting cast of the film was quite extensive and full of big-name talent. The actors all delivered good enough performances with their limited screen time. Johnny Depp (Pirates 5, Fantastic Beasts, Black Mass, Alice 2) had his most ‘normal’ performance, so maybe the audience members, who have been turning away from him and his over the top roles, will come back? It was also really nice to see Daisy Ridley in a non-Star Wars role and Josh Gad (Beauty and the Beast, Pixels) in another live-action rather than voice role. It was also interesting to spot Michelle Pfeiffer and Judi Dench (Tulip Fever, Spectre) doing something more mainstream after mother! and Victoria&Abdul, respectively.

Penélope CruzWillem Dafoe (Death Note, What Happened To Monday, The Great Wall, TFIOS), Hamilton’s Leslie Odom Jr.Derek JacobiMarwan Kenzari (The Mummy, The Promise, Ben-Hur), Olivia Colman (The Lobster + she is taking over the role of the queen on The Crown), Lucy Boynton (Sing Street), Manuel Garcia-Rulfo (The Magnificent Seven), Sergei Polunin (he is a ballet dancer, so the count’s jumping kicks were legit), and Tom Bateman all starred in the roles, ranging from small to tiny, but the limited size of their roles did not limit the quality of their performances.

In short, Murder on the Orient Express was quite an enjoyable old-school thriller.

Rate: 3.75/5

Trailer: Murder on the Orient Express trailer

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Movie review: The Killing of a Sacred Deer

Movie reviews

Hello!

The reviews of the awards’ hopefuls continue. Today, we are discussing The Killing of a Sacred Deer.

IMDb summary: Steven, a charismatic surgeon, is forced to make an unthinkable sacrifice after his life starts to fall apart when the behavior of a teenage boy he has taken under his wing turns sinister.

The Killing of a Sacred Deer is director’s Yorgos Lanthimos’s and writer’s Efthymis Filippou’s follow-up movie to The Lobstera smart, sophisticated, and artistic dystopia, which I really enjoyed. Thus, I was looking forward to this film.

Writing

The Killing of a Sacred Deer’s writing was extraordinary. At the basest level, the film told a revenge story, inspired by the ancient Greek literature, especially the tragedies. However, so many unique details and topics were used to embellish this revenge story. A lot of them left me flabbergasted and puzzled, but in a good way.

The characters in the film were so peculiar. Their ‘prim and proper’ facade was very obviously just a facade. In truth, they were all deeply disturbed individuals, some more than others. They all had a weird aura of emotionlessness and eagerness about them. They blurted out sentences that ‘normal’ people don’t say. This all added up to a warped reality feeling of the film’s world.

The lead character, from the very beginning, was an unsettling one to watch. His relationship with the teenage boy also seemed inappropriate from the start, even if for different potential reasons that it ultimately turned out to be. Additionally, it was interesting to see how the movie explored the immense responsibility and the burden of doctors, even if taken to the farthest extreme.

Sticking with the theme of medicine, The Killing also commented on human psychology and introduced me to an idea of psychosomatic disorders, which I had never heard of before. Having said that, I wish that the movie had a more explicit explanation for the illnesses of the children – was it certainly related to psychology? Or was there a supernatural element? A symbolic explanation? Who knows. Maybe that’s also sorta the point, not to know completely.

The film also investigated the concept of family and family relationships. This was no positive representation of a family, but the example of parental favoritism and sacrifice (not like self-sacrifice, though, not even close). The questions of morality also sprung up from the family concept.

While I thought that the narrative, on the whole, was really strong, I also got a feeling that the writers weren’t sure how to end it. The 3rd act seemed to be winding down rather than building up to something and I’m not entirely sure that the conclusion we got was fully satisfying. Then again, when the entire movie was unsettling, why should it have a satisfying ending? Isn’t it more appropriate to carry the signature feeling till the very last frame?

Directing

I’ve seen this picture being describe as a modern take on Hitchcock and I do see some similarities to the thrillers of the beloved filmmaker.  What stood out to me the most, was how the director Lanthimos was able to take an already disturbing textual story and make it feel 10 times more creepy in a film form. The Killing of a Sacred Deer had a few very graphic and shocking images, like its opening frame, which popped out of the darkness and completely startled me. The sacral music that accompanied the image only strengthened the effect. That score, full of high pitched string orchestra sounds, deep drum noises, and a sacral/choral elements, was, in general, employed very effectively throughout the film. The long tracking shots, the zoom ins/outs, and the steady frame also contributed to that feeling that something was off or not what it seemed.

Acting

The whole cast delivered great performances, that combined the aforementioned qualities of eagerness and emotionless. Colin Farrell (Fantastic Beasts) was reunited with Lanthimos whom he worked with on The Lobster, and was just amazing to watch. Nicole Kidman (Lion, Genius), who was recently in The Beguiled with Farrell, was equally brilliant. Barry Keoghan (Dunkirk) was deeply disturbing, troubling, and just perfect for the role. Raffey Cassidy and Sunny Suljic starred as the children of Farrell’s and Kidman’s characters and were also really good. Lastly, Alicia Silverstone had a minor role and I did not even recognize her on screen. To me, she will always be stuck in a Clueless era.

 

 

In short, if mother! was the queen of creepiness than The Killing of a Sacred Deer is the king of unsettledness.

 

Rate: 4/5

Trailer: The Killing of a Sacred Deer trailer

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Movie review: Geostorm

Movie reviews

Hello!

A film from the producers of Independence Day (yeah?) and Independence Day: Resurgence (oh). This is Geostorm!

IMDb summary: When the network of satellites designed to control the global climate start to attack Earth, it’s a race against the clock to uncover the real threat before a worldwide geostorm wipes out everything and everyone.

Writing

Geostorm was written by the director of the film Dean Devlin (he is a longtime producer) and Paul Guyot (a TV writer). Usually, movies like this one have a whole army of writers, so I was actually quite surprised to see only 2 writing credits for this one). The picture’s writing was exactly of the quality that I expected it to be, while the story was predictable, typical, and full of far-fetched science (again, as it was supposed to be). It also had the most cliched lead – a family man with a broken family (father-daughter AND sibling issues).

The best part about the writing was the interplay between the movie’s messages and the current political climate.  To begin with, the whole movie was basically an awareness campaign for climate change – a development that some (you know who) still think is a hoax. Like all disaster films, the movie also showed the people trying to control or fight nature, while we should have left it alone long ago.

The more obvious political message, or the anti-political one, was the portrayal of the film’s villain (who had that ‘Make America Great Again’ attitude) and the anti-weaponization idea (I suppose that by the anti-political tone I also kinda mean if not ‘anti’ then at least un-American tone too). And yet, even though the film was made for an international market and had an international cast, it still had a typical American hero front and center. China, being the box office power it is, also was spotlighted a bit. Basically, Geostorm seemed like an old school/90s very typically American (but also somewhat un-American) film disguised as a ‘dumb’ actioner for the foreign audiences.

Speaking of the ‘happy’ (millions died, don’t mention it) ending of the film: I, as a realist and a cynic, generally have a hard time stomaching the positivistic happy endings, which are all about the single humanity, solidarity, peace and bright future. I, honestly, stopped believing in that dream long ago and nothing that’s happening in the world today is work towards persuading me otherwise. Well, at least the movies try.

Directing

Independence Day films’ producer Dean Devlin had his directorial debut with Geostorm. I guess he did as good of a job as this genre requires of him. The action was fine, the story made sense in the context of the film (suspension of disbelief is key). The effects were okay. Some of them looked like they belonged in the 1990s, the others in the 2010s. The space stuff looked best, but the weather catastrophes looked kinda awful and very obviously CGI. It was basically a remake of 2012 movie for 2017.

Acting

Gerard Butler starred as the lead and did an okay job. This is the type of movie that he usually makes but I don’t really know why executives still cast him because he is no longer a box office draw. Also, even though I buy him as an action hero, don’t push your luck and make him a scientist too. That’s a bit harder to comprehend. Lastly, why is he always made into an American (or an Egyptian character)? Can’t we hear his actual Scottish accent just once?

The supporting cast of the film included Jim Sturgess (whose performance I did enjoy. I’m also more inclined to give him a pass as he has starred in one of my favorites movies of all time – Cloud Atlas – and also had a role in Stonehearst Asylum); Abbie Cornish; Ed Harris (mother!, also, please, shoot more Westworld ASAP), and Andy García (a Cuban-American actor in the role of the President: should I read into this?). The film also had a bunch of international actors whose character’s only character trait was their nationality (that’s not how you do diversity, Geostorm). The film starred Germany’s Alexandra Maria Lara, Ireland’s Robert Sheehan, Hong Kong’s Daniel Wu (Warcraft), Mexico’s Eugenio Derbez, Adepero Oduye of Nigerian ancestry and Egypt’s Amr Waked in a role of a Frenchman. Also, Zazie Beetz, who will play Domino in Deadpool 2, had a minor role.

In short, Geostorm was exactly what you would expect it to be. I didn’t expect nothing, so the movie was also nothing.

Rate: 2,7/5

Trailer: Geostorm trailer

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