Movie review: Fifty Shades Freed

Movie reviews

Hey…there,

Creeped you out yet? That’s good because, oh my dear lord, here we go. This is Fifty Shades Freed. While I did not review the previous two films in the franchise, in honor of its end, I decided to sink my teeth into the last chapter.

IMDb summary: Anastasia and Christian get married, but Jack Hyde continues to threaten their relationship.

Writing

Fifty Shades Freed was written by Niall Leonard, based on the book by his wife’s E.L. James (an author as territorial about her work as her main character is about his partner – if u don’t know what I’m talking about and are interested, read up on the behind the scenes conflict between James and the director of the first film Sam Taylor-Johnson). Now, I’m not proud to admit but I have actually read the books as a teenager and had a good laugh with friends about them. I didn’t really think that they were worthy of or appropriate for cinematic adaptation, but Hollywood doesn’t care about ethics or quality when the prospect of a big paycheck appears on the horizon.

Anyways, my general thoughts on the writing of this franchise have always been twofold. I thought that it was a good thing that Fifty brought BDSM culture into the forefront and the mainstream conversation. What I always hated was the fact that the dominant-submissive relationship never ended when the bedroom’s or the red room’s door were closed: he was creepy and stalkerish IRL too and she seemed to be fine with that. Her reactions to his actions were even more infuriating than his actions themselves. Although, I guess, in this film both of them were jealous and territorial, so maybe they were truly meant for one another.

Speaking about the script of this film: it was fine (bear in my mind that my expectations were extremely low). Freed sort of had two storylines (if you can call them that): the love story and the crime thriller sideline.

Now, the love story was always the backbone of this series, though, what the filmmakers have failed to realize time and time again was that Anna’s and Christian’s relationship was never strong enough to mount the whole plot on (let alone the plots of three movies). Also, while these films (including the last one) really tried showcasing a modern love story, they always ended up playing into the same gender roles and even worse, cliches. Moreover, in this film, the Greys’ romance wasn’t even the only love story (maybe the filmmakers did realise that it wasn’t that great or that there wasn’t anything more to do with it, except to fabricate some shallow and senseless conflict) and an attempt was made to do something with the brother and the best friend characters. Still, I do have to admit that Anna and Christian did share a few sweet and romantic moments, which I think usually get lost in a lot of reviews, but I’m trying to be fair for this movie, so I’m mentioning them.

Anyways, on the thriller side of the movie, things weren’t great either. The thriller plotline lacked exposure and sort of disappeared in the second act before reappearing in the third act when the screenwriter suddenly realized that he needed to close this movie (and the series) with a bang (or at least with an attempt of a bang). Also, the finale really tried to show Anna as independent and resourceful but I think it might have been too late for that.

On the humor side, Fifty Shades Freed had two types of jokes. Firstly, it had those absolutely laughable moments that made no sense (‘let’s have a car chase sequence and then have sex in the car’). The second kind was actually funny moments that came from the film’s awareness about its own silliness (like the exchange ‘Restrain Him! I don’t have anything! Oh, we do! I mean, I can find something…’).

Directing

Fifty Shades Freed was directed by James Foley (he did Darker too and has also directed Glengarry Glen Ross – what a range in the filmography). I guess he did an okay job. The glamorous lifestyle was neat to look at (some quality Audis and nice outfits on display). The pop soundtrack was good too (I did like that they reused ‘Love Me Like You Do’ cause it was such a huge song from the first film). The sex scenes were… well… sex scenes (I’m not analyzing them, pervs). What I will say is that I’m not happy about the inequality in the nudity of this film. Lastly, Freed concluded with the summary sequence, so if you don’t to watch this trilogy but are interested in what the fuss was about, just look up that clip when it ends up online.

Acting

Both Dakota Johnson (Black Mass) and Jamie Dornan are good looking actors, so I do see why they were cast in this series. What I’m sad about is the fact that the two of them are actually quite amazing actors but one cannot really see that in this series. Having said that, while the duo has become infamous for having no chemistry in the previous pictures, I did somewhat believe their relationship in this one. That’s probably because this was the last film and they were genuinely happy to be done with so it appeared that they were actually happy to be Mrs. and Mr. Grey. Anyways, I hope that both of their careers can survive the damage of this franchise.

On the supporting front, there really isn’t much to mention. A bunch of actors like Rita Ora, Bran Daugherty (who went from background actor on Pretty Little Liars to a sideline character on the big screen – progress?), Eric JohnsonEloise MumfordLuke Grimes (The Magnificient Seven), and Arielle Kebbel appeared and sort of just stood or ran around in the background. They served the purpose of the movie, I guess.

In short, Fifty Shades Freed was what it was. If you liked this series, good for you. If you didn’t enjoy it, sorry that you spent money on it.

Rate: 2.5/5

Trailer: Fifty Shades Freed trailer

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5 ideas about a movie: Status Update

Movie reviews

Hello!

Welcome to a review of a movie you haven’t heard of. This is Status Update – a clear example of what the critics (or angry online commentators) mean when they describe something as ‘millennial’.

IMDb summary: Ross Lynch stars as Kyle Moore, a teenager who after being uprooted by his parents’ separation and unable to fit into his new hometown, stumbles upon a magical app that causes his social media updates to come true.

  1. Status Update was written Jason Filardi (he wrote 17 Again) and directed by a music video director Scott Speer (who also did the last two Step Up movies and the upcoming Midnight Sun). I knew (and didn’t mind) the previous works of the duo, so I’ve had certain expectations about this film beforehand. And… it was exactly what I thought it’d be  – a typical teen dramedy with cringe-y and cool moments in an equal measure.
  2. Status Update tried being super contemporary by focusing on the impact of social media (Nerve did that more than a year ago too) and the fictional app the Universe. While the said app was really nonsensical (magic and technology rarely work together), it did have a smart thematical concept. At its core, the Universe was all about wishful thinking or imagining the best version of one’s life. And while that isn’t a healthy practice, it is also one that all people have partaken in at least once in their life. I know that I have certainly imagined quite a few ‘what if’ versions of my own life. Relating to that, I also appreciated the fact that the movie asked the question ‘who is the real you?’. Is it your social media-self or your real-world self? In the past, I had a definite answer to this question, but now, the answer is becoming harder and harder to find.
  3. While Status Update did some new things, it also heavily relied on the good old teen movie cliches. It had some really cringe-y and on-the-nose dialogue; a lot of jokes that didn’t land; and some walking caricatures for its characters (that phone guy was so annoying). It also attempted to present a diverse high school but really fell flat in its representation of a gay student (hopefully, Love, Simon fixes the trend of awful or non-existent LGBTQ+ representation).
  4. From the directing point of view, Status Update was fine. It was relatively short and the pacing was okay. It was also more musical-esque than I expected (thus, it kinda reminded me of High School Musical, which is not a bad thing to resemble, in my book). It also did look like a TV movie that could have aired on Disney Channel/Nickelodeon/Freeform/The CW. Lastly, more as a side note, I really do wonder whether anybody will remember contemporary teen movies fondly in about 30 years time, similarly to how now people feel nostalgic towards the teen films from the 1980s, like the whole filmography of John Hughes.
  5. Status Update’s cast consisted of mostly Disney Channel alumni: Ross Lynch (of Austin & Ally and Teen Beach moviesand Olivia Holt (of Kickin’ ItGirl vs. Monster, and I Didn’t Do It) played the leads. Although I have been a fan of the Disney Channel in the past, I haven’t really been keeping up with it lately (except Descendants) thus, I didn’t know any of the actors. I feel like they are from a later generation of Disney TV (not the generation of HSM, Hannah Montana, Wizards of Waverly Place, or Suite Life). The only actor I knew was Greg Sulkin who has been playing this type of a role for years now: he should really move on. Though, typecasting is a hard thing to escape from. Pitch Perfect’s John Michael Higgins also had a role in the movie, not too dissimilar from the one in the acapella trilogy. 

In short, Status Update made me roll my eyes as much as it made me smile. I don’t think it’s necessarily a cinema admission worthy movie but it’s certainly a great Netflix/background for chores film.

Rate: 3.2/5

Trailer: Status Update trailer

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Movie review: Black Panther

Movie reviews

Hello!

Welcome to the review of the newest and, arguably, the most important Marvel movie! This is Black Panther!

IMDb summary: T’Challa, after the death of his father, the King of Wakanda, returns home to the isolated, technologically advanced African nation to succeed to the throne and take his rightful place as king.

As usual, before I start, my previous MCU reviews are here: Guardians 1 and 2, Avengers 2, Ant-Man, Doctor Strange, Civil War, Spider-Man: Homecoming, Thor 3.

Writing

Black Panther was written by the director of the film Ryan Coogler and Joe Robert Cole. I thought that the duo did a stellar job with the script. I’m not going to talk about the plot in detail, so as to keep this review spoiler free, other than to stay that a lot of narrative things happen in this film and a couple of them are quite unexpected. There are also a few of meaningful deaths (that might silence MCU critics who say that nobody ever dies in this universe). What I’m going to discuss more elaborately are the brilliant and multiple thematical concepts of Black Panther.

Just on the surface representational level, this film was a game changer. Black characters were elevated from the roles of the supporting friend/the funny sidekick/the one-scene cameo and were brought to the forefront. It’s also refreshing to see fictional black characters rather than real-life rebel slaves or civil rights activists (those smaller biographical movies are important too, but diversity in the blockbuster field is key as well). Also, even though this movie told a fictional story about fictional characters, it honored and paid homage to a lot of its real-world equivalents/inspirations, which raised a question for me: why haven’t we seen pictures about real, past or current, African tribes that were not documentaries???

Anyways, more on Black Panther paying homage to certain real-world ideas/events. I absolutely loved how the movie honored the connection that Africans have with their ancestors (and how in touch with their spirituality they are) as well their connection with nature (healing herbs, animals as deities). It was also great for the movie to acknowledge the violence within African culture (both the inner to the culture and the one coming from the west). Most importantly, it was just so amazing to see the Afrofuturism ideas on screen, which connected modernity with the traditional side of the culture. Scholars have been racking their brains about how to develop Africa without Westernizing it! Well, just do what Black Panther did: connect the two things rather than make one negate the other!

As the movie’s main character was a sovereign of a country, Black Panther also had some political commentary, mostly about a single country’s relation and obligation to the world. It also explored the well-known idea of the sins of the father reflecting of the children but in a royal context.  The film also had some fascinating things to say about communities, tribes or one’s ‘people’. How do we define that category? Do we draw lines based on race? Ethnicity? Nationality? Culture? Common beliefs and ideals? One of the central conflicts in the film was based on the fact that the villain and the hero of the story had different answers to that question. Speaking of the villain, Killmonger might be Marvel’s best one yet because he wasn’t just a villain but a character in his own right, whose goals were radical yet valid. The viewer could definitely understand his frustrations and reasons for his thinking.

Directing

Ryan Coogler (of Creedand Fruitvale Station) did an amazing job with Black Panther. He realized the visuals of Afrofuturism so well (with the help of production design, of course). The sets were brilliant and the costumes – absolutely impeccable and so cool as well! The action was really great too: fast-paced, intense, and meaningful for the plot. The pacing was also great!  The much-celebrated music of the movie was great (so it has been celebrated for a reason). I wanted to hear even more if it!

Acting

Black Panther assembled a stellar cast, led by Chadwick Boseman (Civil War) in a role that he was born to play. I’d love to see his involvement in the MCU leading to more non-biographical roles for him (cause I have seen him in quite a few biopics). Coogler’s collaborator Michael B. Jordan (Creed, Fantastic Four) played the villain and fully embodied the role, both physically and emotionally. I absolutely loved his character’s Americanized look too. An absolute scene stealer was Letitia Wright as the tech (and actual) princess. I loved her portrayal as a tech genius who was super excited about her creations and I also loved all her outfits and amazing sense of humor (bit cringe-y at times but so relatable). Lupita Nyong’o (The Jungle Book, The Force Awakens) also had a great role in the film – really loved seeing her in a big picture in person (not as in Star Wars, in motion capture).

Walking Dead’s Danai Gurira played an incredible role of the leader of Dora Milaje (who were all so amazing), while the breakout star of last year Daniel Kaluuya (Get Out) also had an interesting role to play (I loved how his character’s cape-like looking thing was also a shield). Winston Duke played a fun and multifaceted character too. Some more seasoned talent was also spotlighted: Angela Bassett was great as the mother of the king, while Forest Whitaker (Southpaw, Arrival, Rogue One) was perfect as an elderly statesman. Martin Freeman and Andy Serkis (War For The Planet of The Apes, The Last Jedi) also reprised their earlier roles in the MCU and were great. Freeman was a lovable CIA agent (not a word I’d use to describe a CIA agent, but, oh well), while Serkis was super crazy as one the villains of the film but it was really nice to see him in a non-motion capture performance.

Post-credits/End-credits (bit spoiler-y)

While Black Panther was mostly divorced from the MCU (it didn’t have many Easter Eggs that I could notice except of course the Stan Lee cameo), it did have a neat after-credits scene, where a fan-favorite from Civil War (‘White Wolf’) was defrosted. He seemed to be doing well in Wakanda.

The mid-credits scene was closely related to this picture and had a nice message of peaceful communication. It sounded a tiny bit naive but I can’t really fault hope.

In short, Black Panther was both a great Marvel comic book movie and a sophisticated game-changer in terms of representation for the whole context of modern cinema.

Rate: 4.8/5

Trailer: Black Panther trailer

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5 ideas about a movie: Early Man

Movie reviews

Hello!

While some people flocked to the theater to see the last Fifty Shades, I joined my favorite demographic – kids – at the cinema. This is Early Man.

IMDb summary: Set at the dawn of time, when prehistoric creatures and woolly mammoths roamed the earth, Early Man tells the story of Dug, along with sidekick Hognob as they unite his tribe against a mighty enemy Lord Nooth and his Bronze Age City to save their home.

  1. Early Man was written by Mark Burton (comedy writer) and James Higginson and directed by Nick Park (Chicken Run director). This animated feature comes from Aardman – one of the few stop-motion animation studios still working in the mainstream (the other studio being Laika). I have always loved this type of an animation style and the aforementioned style was one of the factors that drew me into the cinema to see Early Man.
  2. Having seen the trailer numerous times (they were showing it literally before every movie here in the UK, Aardman being a British company), I vaguely knew what the story was going to be and wasn’t certain how to feel about it. Part of me was thinking that it’s a good thing to educate children on the origin of humans but another part of me (the anthropology student) wasn’t sure how the film would handle the ideas of a ‘primitive’ (can’t stand that word anymore, thanks, anthropology). Anyways, Early Man’s solution to the tricky representation was to just make every character into an idiot and also, have the movie to turn out to be about something completely different: not the origin of humans but the invention of football.
  3. The whole football storyline (which was, basically, the main plotline) was where the movie shined. All the real world comparisons and jabs completely worked: starting with the instant replay puppets, unfair referee, players acting as if they were hurt and ending with Lord Nooth being a corrupt sports manager (‘Voluntary contribution…everybody has to pay’ was such a great oxymoron of a line). This whole idea to focus on football (or soccer for the US) also seemed very British/European. South America enjoys football too, so maybe this film will be financially successful down there. In addition to smart jokes, Early Man also had a plethora of really stupid ones, which I didn’t care for, but the primary audience (a.k.a. children in my screening) absolutely loved.
  4. The animation of the picture was really great and the character design stayed within the Aardman brand (more round, obviously clay-like characters in contrast to Laika’s more spindly and weirdly shaped ones). The pacing of the movie was good too and I did appreciate how quick and short it was. As all sports-movies (yes, Early Man is a sports movie), this film had a fun and quite inventive training montage. Lastly, I’d love to find out whether any of the football players in the movie were based on real athletes.
  5. Early Man’s voice cast featured some incredible British A-listers (their involvement was the second major draw to the movie for me, personally). Eddie Redmayne (Fantastic Beasts, The Danish Girl, Jupiter Ascending) was great as aloof, optimistic, and infectious lead Doug, while Tom Hiddleston (Thor 3, Kong, High-Rise) sounded like he had fun embodying such a caricaturish old-school villain. Game of Thrones’ Maisie Williams was basically voicing an animated version of Arya (only obsessed with football, not revenge). While one could definitely recognize the voices of all the actors, their accents did sound a bit thicker than usual, which seemed like an intentional choice to go with the overall tone of the film.

 

In short, Early Man was a lovely and neatly animated movie with a nice message of writing one’s own story. It also kinda made me want to watch a football match or even kick a ball around for a bit myself.

Rate: 4/5

Trailer: Early Man trailer

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Movie review: Phantom Thread

Movie reviews

Hello!

Welcome to one the last awards’ movie reviews. This time around, we are discussing Phantom Thread!

IMDb summary: Set in 1950’s London, Reynolds Woodcock is a renowned dressmaker whose fastidious life is disrupted by a young, strong-willed woman, Alma, who becomes his muse and lover.

Paul Thomas Anderson

Phantom Thread was written and directed by Paul Thomas Anderson, known for such films as Magnolia, Boogie Nights, Inherent Vice (which I’ve finally watched and was confused by) and There Will Be Blood (my favorite picture of his). His direction for Phantom Thread was very particular (and, in a way, quite spectacular). The writing was also very specific and, while I, personally, found a lot of problems with its content, I could also see how other people might have been fascinated by it. Let’s begin!

Writing

Phantom Thread’s narrative was, at its core, a love story, albeit a twisted and toxic one. The portrayal of such a love story was my main problem with the film. I have seen this movie described as a true representation of what it is like being in a relationship with an artist. To me, this looked like a situation, in which the film’s supposed authenticity of representation was used as a poor justification for the toxic relationship of the characters. Also, the assertion of authenticity raised another problem in my mind: according to this film, artists are borderline divine deities, to be sheltered and protected. In my worldview, artists are humans: flawed individuals rather than godlike figures to be privileged and raised above everyone else.

Going back to the love story, I couldn’t buy its progression. The female character stared the film as timid and quiet and seemed to be perfectly happy to be in an abusive and strict relationship. However, then she changed into a femme fatale (went from 0 (every second word from her mouth in the first half was ‘yes’) to Christian Grey levels) and attempted to reassert some power/or even take full control of the relationship by using quite deadly means. Where did that change come from? I did not see any hints at it at the beginning of the film! Also, if deciding to play-up the female character as this quiet but deadly individual, why not have the whole tonne of the movie be a bit more cynical and sinister rather than romantical? The changes in tonne would have made the whole shift seem a bit more possible. Also, was her goal to lower his defense mechanism really the only thing driving her forward? Or did she just want to weasel herself into his business and was basically a gold digger?

The male character was equally awful. He was privileged, pedantic, ridden with mommy issues (which were never really explored, just mentioned), demanding, superior without any good reason, obsessive, pretentious and controlling workaholic. Was he like that because of a mental illness or was he just an awful human being? Did his eccentricities really make him remarkable? I found that assertion quite questionable. Also, what did he see in the female character? A person to love, a prize to desire or a great model for his clothes/a real life dressmaker’s dummy?

The two ideas of writing that I liked the most (or the only two I liked at all) were the assertions that clothing is powerful and transformative and the character of the sister. Her jealousy of the new girlfriend/wife was a bit weird but I did like the fact that she was done with her brother by the end of the film and experienced growth – escaped the cycle that the other two characters remained stuck in.

Directing

Phantom Thread looked like a 1950s movie with its blurry and grainy visuals and soft colors. The designs themselves were beautiful but they also seemed very much of their own time – old rather than classical (time-transcending). The picture was also really slow, and since the story was either angering or extremely unengaging for me, I felt that it dragged more than a few times.

Acting

The two lead actors – Daniel Day-Lewis and Vicky Krieps – did a good enough job portraying the character. But, as I found their characters atrocious, I couldn’t really enjoy the actors’ performances. The chemistry between the two actors was interesting. I didn’t see it as positive but rather more confrontational and sometimes awkward, uncomfortable to watch. I don’t think this was Day-Lewis best performance and I certainly don’t think he should retire after it. For Krieps, this was her English-language debut (or one of the first few roles in English) and it was not necessarily the most successful one.

 

 

In short, Phantom Thread was a beautifully shot film, whose writing left me confused and annoyed. Might just be a personal thing, though, as a lot of critics seemed to have loved it.

Rate: 3/5

Trailer: Phantom Thread trailer

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5 ideas about a movie: Den of Thieves

Movie reviews

Hello!

Welcome to review of the most January movie ever. Yes, I know it’s already February but January is more than just a month, it’s a whole separate genre of movies. This is Den of Thieves.

IMDb summary: A gritty crime saga which follows the lives of an elite unit of the LA County Sheriff’s Dept. and the state’s most successful bank robbery crew as the outlaws plan a seemingly impossible heist on the Federal Reserve Bank.

  1. Den of Thieves was directed by Christian Gudegast from the script by Gudegast himself and Paul Scheuring. The duo has worked on various projects before. Gudegast is probably best known for writing London Has Fallen, while Scheuring is responsible for creating the TV show Prison Break. Their work on this film was a mixed bag. The film was directed competently enough (especially for a first-time feature director) but the writing was just a steaming pile of cliches and recycled ideas.
  2. Let’s start with the characters. Den of Thieves attempted to pin to equally awful sides against one another: the criminals (who first were shown as having some kind of an honor code which didn’t stick for long) and the unlawful police officers (who were literally introduced while eating donuts – such a cliche). For the first act of the picture, the movie decided to have an interview+flahbacks structure that was instantly dropped as soon as the set-up was finished. Then, the movie went into more of a confrontation-type of a plot, rather than an investigation story. This type of direct relationship between the two groups would have made for a great story if it weren’t so convoluted. Den of Thieves really tried going for the elaborate and turned out confused (even the titles appearing on screen were convoluted as both the names of characters, the names of places and the times were all flashed on screen).
  3. In addition, for the movie that picked direct confrontation as its narrative structure, it really lacked actual action scenes. All of the action was crammed into the last 30 minutes of the film and I wish there was more of it in the preceding 1.5h. For an old-school actioner, Den of Thieves was surprisingly action-less. The movie also should have explained more of its twist and turns as to make it more engaging throughout. The final reveal was quite good but it came way too late for me to have carried.
  4. Two ideas in the script that I found quite interesting and worthy of mention were 1)the way to enter a gang and 2)the position of bars as neutral grounds. The fact that sport or the military are the only two points of acceptance on the street was fascinating. It really drew attention to what is valued in terms of male identity in the criminal world. Also, the portrayal of a bar as a cesspool of information was spot-on (this comes from somebody who has worked behind the counter and provided basically free therapy for customers).
  5. The film assembled quite a good cast of B-listers. Gerard Butler (Geostorm) was half of a cartoon, half of the real person as the main ‘bad cop’. Inexplicably, he also had a family on the side (cause even when Butler plays a twat, he has to have a family. He is the Scottish Liam Neeson, basically). American God’s Pablo Schreiber played the main villain of the film and was good. It took me forever to recognize the actor without the ginger hair and bear of Mad Sweeney, though. O’Shea Jackson Jr. (Straight Outta Compton) played the mediator between the two groups and was great too. He was also the only one to have some sort of a character arc. A bunch of others actors rounded up the cast but as they had almost nothing to do, I don’t see the point to mention them. Also, as Den of Thieves was mostly just a fest of traditional masculinity, it had a total zero of female characters.

 

In short, Den of Thieves was an okay action movie that should have had more action and fewer cliches.

Rate: 2.7/5

Trailer: Den of Thieves trailer

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Movie review: The Shape of Water

Movie reviews

Hello!

Welcome to a review of another awards movie. This is The Shape of Water!

IMDb summary: At a top secret research facility in the 1960s, a lonely janitor forms a unique relationship with an amphibious creature that is being held in captivity.

Writing

The Shape of Water was written by the director Guillermo del Toro and Vanessa Taylor (who wrote Divergent and the upcoming live-action Alladin and has also worked on Game of Thrones). I thought that the duo crafted a unique yet familiar love story. The characters – the mute woman and the creature – were the two things that made the conventional plot into an unconventional (subverted) and extraordinary one. It was interesting to see how Elisa’s disability made her more empathetic towards other individuals who were shunned by society (not only the creature but the (?)gay (he is never labeled in the movie) neighbor but the black co-worker). Her specific disability (being mute) and her gender (female) also had an interesting correlation with the idea of women being silenced/having no voice in that period (the 1960s – prior to the sexual revolution and the overt women’s rights movements).

The hints at the fact that the amphibian man was the one who hurt her as a child made for some fascinating implications in their relationship too. For one, that possibility (of him maybe having hurt her) and some of his other actions in the film made him seem as a creature in which goodness and destruction coexist (sort of like in humanity: Hawkins‘ character symbolizing the kindness and Shannon’s – the violence). The whole romantic relationship between the two characters was just so pure, even adorable and yet still slightly creepy. The picture didn’t shy away from the more questionable parts of the relationship (Beauty and the Beast never raised those kinds of questions) which was quite brave, in my mind, mostly in risking alienating the audience. The film’s ending was quite unexpected, to me, personally. I was assuming that the script will go the melancholic route – ‘if you love, let go’ – but The Shape of Water chose the hopeful/happy fairytale conclusion and finished on the note of love and unity. That was quite an escapist ending but it did fit the surreal quality of the film.

A few other notes on the writing. First, I loved this movie’s appreciation for cinema and creative arts in general (painting, drawing). I’ve always loved films which love (like me) and pay homage to other motion pictures (I’d love to live above the movie theatre). The second interesting point of writing that was somewhat divorced from the main love story was Michael Shannon’s arc and his character’s relation to the ideas of the male success and the expectations for such success. Failure was not an option for him and it is still not seen as a legitimate or appropriate part of the construction of masculinity, especially the white privileged form of masculinity.

Directing

Guillermo del Toro directed The Shape of Water and succeeded in crafting almost a spiritual sequel (an adult one) to Pan’s Labyrinth (while I have liked his more action-driven works like Hellboy and its sequel and Pacific Rim, his weirder creations (fantasy realism or realistic fantasies) were always more fascinating to me and that includes Crimson Peak). Anyways, speaking about this picture, I adored its mixed tonne. The Shape of Water was both a genre movie and a typical awards movie. It was an old-school monster thriller/horror movie (think the original Universal Monsters Universe, Creature from the Black Lagoon) as well as an old-school romantic drama with some shades of the theatrical musical or more than just shades in one particular sequence (think Singin’ in the Rain, An American in Paris, just recently La La Land). The adult tone that I’ve mentioned in the opening sentence was that fact that the film had sexual and sensual undertones that one would not find in a more family-friendly film, like Pan’s Labyrinth (though, both that movie and The Shape of Water were rated R, so maybe Pan’s Labyrinth isn’t that all-ages appropriate as I remember).

Visually, the film looked stunning. The 1960s world of science was well realized (stellar production design) and the underwater sequences at the beginning and the end of the film were amazing (top-notch cinematography). The movie’s and the main character’s relationship to water was realized so cleverly and beautifully too. The costume design and the makeup were impeccable as well: the monster looked incredibly real.

Acting

Sally Hawkins (Paddington 2) delivered a brilliant performance that shined through the limited means of expression, a.k.a., she was amazing, even though, she barely said any lines. She seemed so endearing and had such a complex interplay innocence and maturity about her. And, although she was so great in the film, part of me wishes that the role would have been given to am an actually mute actress – I’d love to see more opportunities being extended to actors with disabilities (or special abilities). The TV show Switched at Birth has taught me that there are quite a few mute and deaf actors working in the business.

Doug Jones (a longtime collaborator of del Toro, currently part of the main cast of Star Trek: Discoveryor the Andy Serkis of practical costumes/effects was great as the creature and was definitely more than able to act through all that rubber. Michael Shannon (12 Strong, Nocturnal Animals, Loving) was also fascinating to watch even when though he played a very despicable character. Octavia Spencer (Hidden Figures, Allegiant) also had some fun scenes, while Richard Jenkins was amazing as the neighbor. Michael Stuhlbarg also had a small role in the film (and applause go to him and his agent for having three awards movie this season – The Shape of Water, Call Me By Your Name, and The Post – that join numerous other awards movies in his filmography, including the recent ones: Steve Jobs, Trumbo, and Arrival).

In short, The Shape of Water was one of those movies that made me go ‘huh?!’ and made me unsure what to feel (or think) in the best way possible.

Rate: 4,8/5

Trailer: The Shape of Water trailer

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Movie review: Maze Runner: The Death Cure

Movie reviews

Hello!

The last of the YA dystopias is coming to an end. This is Maze Runner: The Death Cure.

IMDb summary: Young hero Thomas embarks on a mission to find a cure for a deadly disease known as the “Flare”.

Writing

The Death Cure was written by T.S. Nowlin (the writer of the two previous pictures in this series and the upcoming Pacific Rim: Uprising film), based on the book of the same name by James Dashner. I’ve read the original trilogy more than 5 years ago now, so I hardly remember its plot details (I might have remembered a bit more a year ago, when this film was supposed to come out but, as it was pushed back due to Dylan O’Brien’s injury on set, I’m now more in the dark than I’ve ever was). However, this movie franchise has gone so far off the books (especially in the second film) that my background of having read and not remembering the book hardly impacts the motion picture watching experience. Having said that, I did recount two major things from the last book that managed to stay with for 5+ years and both of these developments were preserved in the film. I was quite upset that the filmmakers kept the first thing (from the selfish fan perspective) but quite glad that they retained the second one (from an objective-ish reviewer perspective). Let me elaborate. Also: SPOILERS!

The first thing I had in my mind was the death of probably my favorite character from the series – Newt. I distinctly remember being very sad after finishing the book and hoping that, when this novel will finally reach the big screen, Newt will be allowed to live. However, I’m not surprised that the screenwriter kept such an ending for one of the main character’s, as his final scene was pretty emotional and made for a great and powerful moment on screen. His nickname for Thomas – Tommy – was heartbreakingly sweet too. The second development that I’ve mentioned as having liked from a more objective point of view was the movie’s (and the book’s) ultimate ending. The film ended with all the surviving characters living on an island (a more realistic version of the safe haven from the books. In the original novels, a portal had to be taken to reach safety rather than just a boat). I’m glad that the screenwriters didn’t change the ending into fairytale/happy one but kept it ambiguous: what will Thomas do with HIS gift? In addition, I feel like a happy ending (like a sequence of the cure being spread to everyone) would have undercut all the losses that the surviving characters had to go through.

Now, having explored some of the narrative details, let’s look at some themes. One of the major topics of discussion for the film was memory (and my musings about remembering or forgetting certain details of the plot somehow feel more appropriate). Another big concept for this series has always been friendship, which was on display here once more (Thomas, Newt, and Minho are one of my favorite trios in YA fiction). The shades of the love triangle (Thomas, Teresa, Brenda) were present too, though, they weren’t on display that much.

My few slight criticism towards the writing were mainly just two and both of them had to do with the antagonists of the series. For one, I have never fully understood the hierarchy within the WCKD. In this film, Ava Paige had to ask somebody else for the permission to start the human trials of the cure as if they haven’t been experimenting on humans for years already to get the vaccine in the first place?! Also, I’m still not entirely sure whether I buy Teresa’s shifting allegiances or it might be that I just don’t understand her character and the scale she uses to judge what is right on.

 

 

Directing

Wes Ball directed The Death Cure (he also did The Maze Runner and The Scorch Trials) and did quite an amazing job, especially with only around $60 million budget. The last entry into the franchise was highly action-packed. The said action was also quite varied: the film had a variety of sets (all brown and broken but still cool looking) and a ton of CGI that looked quite good (I’ve seen movies that cost double what this one did and looked four times worse (*cough, cough*, Geostorm). The focus on the action in this film also allowed this series to finally differentiate itself from the other YA dystopias, mainly The Hunger Games. While THG finished off as more of a political thriller, TMR series seems to have always been more about the spectacle and only then about the ideas. The ideas – the attempt to go the political thriller route with the cure only being meant for the privileged – were present but they did feel like an afterthought. The Maze Runner series should not have tried to shy away from its action roots, as these sequences were the best ones in the movie. Having said that, the characters had to break into The Capitol-like city in this film, so maybe these two series aren’t that different after all. I wonder how the Divergent/Allegiant situation is going on? That series probably won’t end ever.

Anyways, the fact that this movie had a lot of action, also helped it with the pace, which was quite fast. The only dip came in the second act, however, the first and the third acts were rapid and intense.  My only critique of the action sequences was that, at times, they were filmed with a bit too much of the shaky cam. Nevertheless, those moments were far and few in between, while the majority of the action was captured by a handheld but steady enough camera, while the mobile frame helped with the intensity. I also loved how the action scenes in the first act (the maze and the grievers; the cranks) were used as a slight reminder of what happened in the previous pictures. Lastly, how nice was it that they the filmmakers (and the suits) didn’t divide the finale of the trilogy into two parts!

Acting

The Death Cure saw the return of all the favorites. Dylan O’BrienThomas Brodie-Sangster, and Ki Hong Lee were all great as my favorite trio: Thomas, Newt, and Minho, respectively. I only wish that they would have shared more scenes together. O’Brien’s TV show – Teen Wolf – has ended last year but he has been steadily racking up movie roles (in this series, Deepwater Horizon, and American Assasin) and seems to be fairing much better than the actual lead of his TV show – Tyler Posey. I really hope that the relative financial success of this franchise will allow Thomas Brodie-Sangster and Ki Hong Lee to be cast in more projects too.

Will Poulter (The Revenant, Detroit) also returned as Gally, while Dexter Darden had some neat moments (operating a crane) as FrypanKaya Scodelario (Pirates 5) was okay as Teresa, while Giancarlo Esposito’s (OkjaJorge and Rosa Salazar’s Brenda were neat to watch in their father-daughter-like relationship. On the villain side, Patricia Clarkson (The Party) was still immaculately dressed in white as Ava Paige, while Littlefinger – Aidan Gillen (Sing Street) as Janson – was doing his thing as usual. Another GOT family member (who also stars in Fast&Furious franchise) Nathalie Emmanuel (as Harriet), as well as ShadowhuntersKatherine McNamara (as Sonya), appeared too, although the film didn’t really know what to do with them, after having introduced them in The Scorch Trials as members from a different maze/test group.

In short, Maze Runner: The Death Cure was an entertaining finale to the, overall, surprisingly strong YA franchise, that pleased my heart and mind. And this praise comes from somebody who was once the biggest fan of the book and this genre in general.

Rate: 3.8/5

Trailer: Maze Runner: The Death Cure trailer

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Movie review: 12 Strong

Movie reviews

Hello!

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

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

Writing

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

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

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

Directing

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

 

Acting

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

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

Rate: 3/5

Trailer: 12 Strong trailer

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Movie review: Darkest Hour

Movie reviews

Hello!

I’ve finally found time to watch Gary Oldman’s Oscar picture Darkest Hour and this is my review.

IMDb summary: During the early days of World War II, the fate of Western Europe hangs on the newly-appointed British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, who must decide whether to negotiate with Hitler or fight on against incredible odds.

Before we start discussing this film, let me link you to another Churchill biography from 2017 titled, surprise surprise, Churchill. That film focused on the closing moments of WW2 (in contrast to this movie, which explores the opening chapters of it). Also, if you want more context for Darkest Hour, you can watch Dunkirk, also from 2017: the events in that film happen at the same time as the ones in Darkest Hour.

Writing

Darkest Hour was written by Anthony McCarten (writer and producer of The Theory of Everything and a novelist) and he did a spectacular job writing for the character of Churchill (less of a stellar job constructing the story of a film but, then again, the character was the story in the case of this movie).

Churchill was presented as a complex and layered figure, one that had both flaws and redeeming features. He was basically the last choice for the position of PM and, yet he became the hero of the nation and half of the Western world. He came from a privileged background (didn’t even know the correct hand gestures) and, yet was also the man of the people (the underground scene was a great visualization of his transition from being the PM for the government to being the PM of the people). He was also a patriot through and through and, yet he decided to lie to his nation (is there ever a good enough cause to withhold the truth?). He also has worked with people with diverging opinions and personalities all his life and, yet have never really learned to comprise. In addition to being a leader, who deeply felt the loss of his troops (the fact that it is the leader’s main objective to bear the loss is as true in real life as it is in fiction, a.k.a. The Last Jedi), he was also a husband and a father, who sacrificed his family life for the public one. And yet, Churchill’s and his wife Clementine’s relationship was portrayed as a very loving and caring one. The moments of confrontation were present in it too, but the shared feeling between the two individuals was love, at its purest.

The screenwriter also did a very good job with the inclusion of Churchill’s actual speeches into the film. However, while those speeches were truly inspirational, especially the final one, probably not one of the initial listeners (other politicians) were that inspired to do any actual fighting. The scriptwriter also wrote some brilliant dialogue for Churchill and King George VI (yup, the one from The King’s Speech – this is a well cinematized period of the British history) – I especially liked the King’s change of heart moment. Darkest Hour also explored or hinted at some of the wider implications of war. The moment with Churchill calling Franklin D. Roosevelt was a perfect signal of the reversal of fortunes of the former colony and the empire. Speaking about the empire: every WW2 (or any war) movies I watch raise me a question: is there ever the good side in the war? Yes, Hitler was a monster but the British Empire was an empire, that oppressed millions of people around the globe for way longer than Hitler was in power. How do count who is worse? By human loss? By time? By subjective and personal evaluation? Lastly, some historical events portrayed in the film, when put in contemporary context, made me chuckle ironically, like the fact that the majority of the British politicians were ready to compromise, while they are not known for their ability to do the same nowadays (*cough, cough*, Brexit).

Directing

Joe Wright (of such literary adaptations as Pride & Prejudice, Atonement, and Anna Karenina and mainstream missteps as Pan) tackled the Churchill biopic and was quite successful. Darkest Hour was truly a character piece, and a specific glimpse into, rather than a full-on recreation of a historical event. I loved how the camera’s focus was always on Churchill and how he occupied the center of the frame most of the time (I loved the images where Churchill was framed in doors, windows, rooms). I also thought that the drama was constructed quite well, though a film did felt a bit long. Lastly, I reached a sort of a personal epiphany that probably wasn’t intended by the director, when watching the picture. Seeing all the rooms of white old men in the positions of power was all good and appropriate for a historical drama but as soon as I saw them, I had a sad realization that this image has changed very little in the governments of today.

Acting

Gary Oldman (The Hitman’s Bodyguard was his last film – what a step-up in quality this one is) absolutely nailed the titular character. He fully transformed himself into Winston Churchill. While the physical transformation (the make-up and the prosthetics) were impressive, what I found most intriguing (and transformative) about Oldman’s performance was his demeanor, emotional intensity, and his way of speaking. I also appreciated the fact that Oldman played Churchill as a real person rather than a historical figure. By treating Churchill as a person, Oldman (and the director) found room for humor and sarcasm within the character – two things that don’t really come across in the history textbooks. Oldman has won every major acting award so far, thus, an Oscar win is almost a sure bet too.

Kristin Scott Thomas (The Party) brought warmth and strength to Clementine Churchill, while Ben Mendelsohn (Rogue One) was really good as King George VI and portrayed the royal as a real person rather than a larger than life figure too. Lily James (Cinderella, Baby Driver) was good as the secretary Elizabeth Layton but her character wasn’t really necessary for the film. Also, I feel like a secretary type of character (with either a boyfriend or a family member being at war or in another kind of peril) has been included in alongside portrayal of Churchill: e.g. Ella Purnell played PM’s secretary in Churchill, while Kate Phillips played one on The Crown. Lastly, Ronald Pickup and Stephen Dillane were good as the two main antagonists of Churchill: Neville Chamberlain and Edward Wood, 3rd Viscount Halifax, respectively.

In short, Darkest Hour was a brilliant character piece that featured a truly magnificent performance by Gary Oldman.

Rate: 4/5

Trailer: Darkest Hour trailer

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