Movie review: Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again

Movie reviews

Hello!

And welcome to a review of a film that I was looking forward to for a decade! This is Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again!

IMDb summary: Five years after the events of Mamma Mia! (2008), Sophie learns about her mother’s past while pregnant herself.

Writing

Mamma Mia 2 was written by Catherine Johnson (the playwright who wrote the first film as well as the original theatre production), Richard Curtis (the writer of some classic romantic movies, like the Bridget Jones series), Ol Parker (the director of the film). I highly enjoyed the story of the second film. I loved the fact that it was a prequel and a sequel hybrid that took the narrative both forward and backward. I thought that the blend of the two timelines was really neat and the connections that were drawn between the characters in the past and the present allowed the movie to explore some great themes. The multigenerational family dynamics (mother-daughter bonds), family, friendship, love, adventure were all touched upon to some extent. The movie also had some weird accidental meetings that were only there to allow the film to include more musical numbers. I would have been mad about that if they weren’t ABBA songs, which I love unconditionally.

Additionally, it was also interesting to see the tonne difference between this film and the original. While Here We Go Again! was still a fun comedy, it did have a more somber tone than the first film. There was an overwhelming feeling of mourning even if the healthy kind (by ‘healthy’ I mean mourning that is hopeful and has a foreseeable ending). Plus, the majority if not all of the romantic plotlines included a lot of heartbreak and wasted opportunities type of ideas.

Directing

Ol Parker of The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel movies directed Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again! directed the second film and did a great job. Still, I wonder why Phyllida Lloyd, the director of the first film, didn’t helm the sequel. Was she asked and declined? Wasn’t she asked at all? Up until just last year, her original film was the highest grossing movie directed by a woman. It was also the highest grossing musical. (Wonder Woman and Beauty and the Beast dethroned it from the two top spots).

Anyways, I thought that the second film was crafted beautifully. The transitions between the two timelines and between the different locations in the musical numbers were seamless and beautiful. It was nice to hear some ‘new’ ABBA songs as well as some new takes on the songs used in the first film. The 70s setting of the past timeline was also very fun because it was true to ABBA’s roots. I also loved how self-aware the movie was and how it had a carefree attitude too. My one gripe was the fact that it had some fake looking backgrounds in a few musical numbers.

Acting

Mamma Mia 2 had a great cast. The favorites from the original returned, including Amanda Seyfried (who was recently in Gringo), Meryl Streep (in a cameo appearance / The Post, Florence Foster Jenkins), Dominic Cooper (not gonna lie, was a bit weird to see him as Sky after seeing him on Preacher; he was also in Warcraft not that long ago), Christine Baranski and Julie Walters (the best (and most relatable) duo of friends that I wish to have when I’m older), and Pierce BrosnanColin Firth (Kingsman), and Stellan Skarsgård (all of who have barely aged in 10 years).

Joining them was Lily James (whose film career has been blossoming with Cinderella, Baby Driver, Darkest Hour, Guernsey), Jessica Keenan WynnAlexa DaviesJeremy IrvineHugh Skinner, and Josh Dylan. The younger counterparts were very respectful of the beloved characters that they got to play but also made them their own and were charming in their own right. Lastly, Cher (who should really cover all ABBA songs) and Andy García rounded out the already perfect cast!

In short, Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again! is a fun but slightly sad summer musical, certainly worthy of the original!

Rate: 4.5/5

Trailer: Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again! trailer

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5 ideas about a movie: Game Night

Movie reviews

Hello!

Welcome to a review of a comedy whose trailers’ actually made a fairly good impression. This is Game Night!

IMDb summary: A group of friends who meet regularly for game nights find themselves trying to solve a murder mystery.

  1. Game Night was written by Mark Perez (he has written a couple of obscure comedies before). I thought that the writing for this comedy was quite good: fairly smart and even original at times. I loved the actual idea of a game night – that opening set-up of the main couple’s relationship through the various games was super fun! I also really appreciated the fact that the movie celebrated adult friendship. All the film and pop culture references were much appreciated too. Lastly, I liked how the movie set up some details and actually delivered on them – the creepy neighbor had a role in the film and wasn’t just used for a funny cameo, the Fight Club recurring verbal joke ended up being more than just a verbal jab, while even the minor doctor character reappeared.
  2. For all the good parts of the writing, there was an equal quantity of bad ones (a bit less, maybe, I don’t want to be too harsh on this movie). I did like the fact that the characters fairly quickly realized that they weren’t playing a game. However, that actual mystery of the film that they found themselves in was a bit too convoluted: there were too many layers of fakeness and reality for it to make sense. Also, ‘the everyday Joe/Jane’ characters did Jar Jar Binks-ed their way through a lot of the plot and got lucky one too many times. Still, I wasn’t that mad at the picture for some these inconsistencies or stupid-ish moments, as I found the story of the film entertaining on the whole.
  3. Game Night was directed by John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein. The duo was on the writing team for Spider-Man: Homecoming and are also supposed to helm the Flashpoint movie for DCEU (if it ever materializes). They also did the questionable Horrible Bosses comedy and the god-awful Vacation movie. Weirdly, I believe that they did a good job with this film: the movie was exciting and was paced well in addition to being of appropriate length (90minute-ish/short and sweet/doesn’t overstay its welcome). The score was also fun: it has electronic music vibes and featured few familiar hits. The credits were cool too: they were very thematically and narratively appropriate for the picture.
  4. Game Night had quite a big cast, consisting of actors of various caliber. At the centre of the film were three main couples, all of whom had somekind of personal problem to argue about during the quiter scenes: there was Rachel McAdams (Doctor Strange, Spotlight, Southpaw) and Jason Bateman (heard good things about his Netflix show Ozark) going on about having kids, New Girls’ Lamorne Morris and Kylie Bunbury (a TV actress) bickering about past celebrity hookups, and Billy Magnussen (the prince in Into The Woods) and Sharon Horgan (a British/Irish TV actress) just getting to know each other though arguments about everything.
  5. In smaller roles, there was the brother character played by Manchester By The Sea’s Kyle Chandler (Bateman and he do look fairly similar and they could actually be brothers). Westworld’s Jeffrey Wright also had a short scene (can’t wait for that TV show to come back). Plus, Fargo’s Jesse Plemons was absolutely brilliant in being creepy! Lastly, there was also a revolving door of villains and bad guys played by both familiar and new faces. They were too numerous and their roles – too insignificant to list here, though.

In short, Game Night is an entertaining and fun comedy with some neat moments. Not a sure hit but worthy of a watch.

Rate: 3.7/5

Trailer: Game Night trailer

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5 ideas about a movie: Wonder Wheel

Movie reviews

Hello!

A feature from one of the most polarizing yet still working directors in Hollywood. This is Wonder Wheel.

IMDb summary: On Coney Island in the 1950s, a lifeguard tells the story of a middle-aged carousel operator and his beleaguered wife.

  1. Wonder Wheel was written and directed by Woody Allen. Despite all the allegations and rumors, he is still able to keep his career afloat. This is even more surprising when one considers the current political climate in Hollywood. What is even more disturbing regarding Allen and this particular film is the fact that this movie focuses on the relationships between a mother, a stepdaughter, and a young man – a topic that might be too closely related to the filmmaker himself (he married his stepdaughter in 1997).
  2. After a series of Europe-centric pictures (Vicky Cristina BarcelonaMidnight in Paris, To Rome with Love, and Magic in the Moonlight), Allen has returned to his native US and explored a number of different time periods and parts of US with his latest films: Irrational Man, Cafe Society, and A Rainy Day in New York (premiering next year). While the temporal and the physical places might have constantly been in flux in Allen’s films, the topics that he investigates have stayed the same. Wonder Wheel explored love (the most signature and simultaneously universal theme) and really dug deep into it. The film also celebrated movies as both art and escapism. It also looked at the concept of unfulfilled dreams (a personally relatable topic) and had a dark twist (also, very Allen-like).
  3. The feature also examined writing as an occupation and looked at its tools of dramatization and symbolism. The film also presented life as a script that we write (or have written for us). Wonder Wheel was a bit meta too: not only did it break the 4th wall but it interrogated the differences between the real-life stories and the fictional ones. From the directing standpoint, the movie felt indie and old school. The long takes and the soft colors added to the aforementioned feelings. The jazz score was lovely too.
  4. Kate Winslet (Collateral Beauty, Triple 9, The Mountain Between Us, Steve Jobs) played the lead in the movie and, while she was undeniably great, I’m wondering why she chose this role in the first place. I saw Ginny (her character) as an absolutely stereotypical female character – highly emotional and always needing a man to rely on. Looking past these typical traits, Ginny had some interesting qualities that probably intrigued Winslet too, like her selfishness, shadiness, and her trivial choice to not save Caroline (her stepdaughter). That choice seemed like Ginny’s big stage moment – the meeting point between her life and art (Ginny used to be an actress).
  5. The supporting cast of the film was quite good. The aforementioned Caroline was played by Juno Temple (Black Mass), who brought delightful youthfulness to the role. Justin Timberlake (Trolls) was believable as the guy Caroline and Ginny fancied. While he isn’t the best actor, Timberlake was fine in this role (probably not one far from his life). Jim Belushi played Caroline’s father and Ginny’s husband and was also okay. All of the performances had a touch of the theatrical but that fit the film’s tone, as it explored the idea of life as a dramatic and symbolic story.

In short, Wonder Wheel was a fine film. Not Allen’s best and not an awards’ contender but perfectly watchable and interesting.

Rate: 3.3/5

Trailer: Wonder Wheel trailer

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Movie review: Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle

Movie reviews

Hello!

Another reboot/sequel of a beloved childhood classic has hit theatres, but, this time around, it’s surprisingly good?! This is Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle! (That title is awful, though.)

IMDb summary: Four teenagers discover an old video game console and are literally drawn into the game’s jungle setting becoming the adult avatars they chose.

Only last year, a 1980s classic, Which was near and dear to a lot of people during their childhood, was remade and the Internet went nuts. However, that Ghostbusters debacle did not stop Hollywood from remaking/attempting to continue another classic property, this time around, from the 1990s. And it looks like the LA suits were right to try: I haven’t seen much hate (barely any) towards the 2017’s a Jumanji. Why is this reboot more acceptable than the Ghostbusters one? Is it the Rock? The Rock and Hart proven combo? The ‘correct’ genders of the characters (mixed cast rather than an all-something reboot)? Or maybe nobody liked Jumanji in the first place as much as I thought they did? I certainly remember the film quite fondly from my childhood.

Writing

Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle was written by Chris McKenna and Erik Sommers (the duo behind Spider-Man: Homecoming and The Lego Batman), the director Jake Kasdan, and Scott Rosenberg and Jeff Pinkner (the writers of the upcoming Venom movie which is currently being filmed). In general, I enjoyed quite a lot of elements of the writing of this film.

To begin with, I thought that the idea to update Jumanji from a board game to a video game was a clever one. However, the way the script went about doing that – just sort of allowing the game to morph by itself – was a bit weird. Also, if they were giving the game an update, why not do a completely contemporary take on it? Make it into a Nintendo Switch type of a thing rather than a very 90s cassette game. What I did like about the video game concept in relation to this film was the fact that the movie overtly and unapologetically used the video game tropes, like the cutscenes, the numbered lives, the strengths/weakness idea, and the different levels. Jumanji might actually be the best video game movie without technically being one

The new characters of Jumanji weren’t bad either. The teenagers/real-life characters got some brief but neat development during the setup, which was nicely built upon during the following adventure. The relationship moments that the characters shared actually provided the picture with some opportunities to explore the ideas of friendship and teamwork. Some nice messages about bravery, self-confidence as well as one’s ability to change were also expressed. The interactions between the characters also resulted in some great humorous moments. The flirting school and the peeing scene were stupid but also hilarious. The switch-ups with the bodies (the nerds becoming athletic and cool; the popular kids being degraded to sidekicks and the comic relief) was another source of jokes for the film.

My main and the only actual critique of the movie was its plot or the set up of it. The game narrative itself was fine and it worked well as an adventure story. However, the way it just came out of nowhere seemed a bit odd. That whole explanation about the stone, the villain, and the curse seemed a bit heavy-handed and too highly fabricated. At least the format of that explanation/set-up (the cutscene) was somewhat meta (explicit in its usage of a trope) and, thus, a bit more interesting.

Lastly, while this film appeared to have been a direct continuation of the original Jumanji with the game itself being found on the beach, where it was last seen, I question whether the people behind-the-scenes are planning to make any further sequels, in case this one is successful. The last scene, which showed the characters breaking the game, suggests that we won’t see any sequels, which is, quite frankly, a shocking thing in today’s mainstream filmmaking business.

Directing

2017’s Jumanji was directed by Jake Kasdan (his last two films were both mediocre Cameron Diaz comedies) and I thought that he crafted quite an entertaining action adventure flick that was so much better constructed that I thought it’d be. The action was inventive enough and energetic. The CGI of the animals could have been a bit better. The pacing was fine for the most part, though the film did slow down a bit towards the end of the second half. Lastly, I’ve noticed (or imagined) some callbacks to other movies in this feature, which seemed like quite neat additions to me: the creepy house and the yellow raincoat reminded me of It, while the biker gang inside the game seemed Mad Max-esque.

Acting

Jumanji’s two casts were both really good. The teenagers/young adult actors – Alex Wolf (Patriot’s Day), Ser’Darius BlainMorgan Turner, and Madison Iseman – were believable and relatable. However, the majority of the film was carried by the video game versions of these characters, played by Dwayne Johnson (Baywatch, FF8, Moana, San Andreas), Kevin Hart (The Secret Life of Pets), Karen Gillan (Guardians of the Galaxy 1 and 2, The Circle), and Jack Black, respectively. Johnson’s and Hart’s chemistry, which blossomed in Central Intelligence, was back in full force in this movie. All of the scenes with the Rock discovering his muscles were incredible and I also appreciated the fact that the film poked fun at his inherent charisma with that ‘smoldering look’ skill. Kevin Hart was amazing and funny too, while Karen Gillan was a complete badass (both as a character and as an actress). Jack Black also surprised me. I have never been much of a fan of his but I highly enjoy seeing him acting as the ‘it’ girl in this film.

A few other characters, worth the mention, were played by Nick Jonas and Bobby Cannavale (Ant-Man). Jonas was okay in the picture but his character was intended to be somewhat of a replacement for Robin Williams character of the original (a person who gets stuck in the game) and, no offense to Nick Jonas, but he could never replace Williams. Cannavale played the villain and he was the worst of the cast, in my mind. I think he went a bit too cartoonish with his performance – yes, there is such a thing as too cartoonish even in a live-action cartoon.

In short, Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle is a surprisingly entertaining adventure movie. It would be the perfect holiday film for the whole family if it wasn’t competing with Star Wars 8.

Rate: 4/5

Trailer: Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle trailer

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Movie review: Call Me By Your Name

Movie reviews

Hello!

Another awards’ contender has landed in theatres! This is the review of Call Me By Your Name.

IMDb summary: In 1983, the son of an American professor is enamored by the graduate student who comes to study and live with his family in their northern Italian home.

Writing

Call Me By Your Name was written by James Ivory (a writer and director of mainly indie dramas), based on the book by Andre Aciman. To begin with, I’m sure that the LGBTQ+ focus of this film will automatically mean that it will be compared to the big awards winner of last year – Moonlight – especially since Call Me By Your Name is also supposed to get at least nominated. I believe that this comparison is quite unfair because, even though both movies tell coming-of-age stories of young men, exploring their sexuality, the circumstances and the details of their stories are vastly different (race, class, time period, location, community – all these aspects of the two movies are on the opposite sides of the spectrum). Other topics of discussion, which will surely arise in the popular discourse, are the questions of consent and age of consent. I can already see the online fights brewing, with minimal productive arguments about legality and morality, and full of trolls who just want to see the world burn.

Anyways, I, personally, loved a lot of aspects of the writing. To begin with, I liked the settings of the movie quite a lot, both the spatial one (Italy) and temporal one (the 1980s). Both of these places/times posses a feeling of freedom and history mixed with timelessness – almost a fairytale-like setting, perfect for a story of first love. And the said romance at the center of the movie was written beautifully and richly. The film explored the interplay between masculinity and sexuality, sensuality and sexuality, innocence and maturity, and emotional love and physical love. It touched upon the ideas of art, creativity, and self-expression. It portrayed the teasing and flirting stages of the relationship so purely. Call Me By Your Name also examined both the development of its main character’s personality and sexuality, e.g. wanting to be with Oliver and/or wanting to be Oliver (copying his mannerisms (‘Later’) and style (sunglasses, shirts, the pendant of the star of David).

The movie also presented an unheard of example of accepting parents. It was so refreshing to see parents being so nonchalant about their child’s exploration of his sexuality. That final speech of the father was one of the best written fatherly wisdom scenes ever. My few criticisms regarding the picture were: 1) it was a bit too long. I know that it was made to be long so as to build up the stronger connection between the characters and the viewers but I also believe that this connection could have been created through a few quality scenes much better than through a bigger quantity of mediocre ones. 2) I also would have loved to see the film interrogate the role of women in this instance, whether as supportive friends or ‘girlfriends for show’ a bit more.

In short, ultimately, Call Me By Your Name was a gorgeously written sad love story full of moments of hope and happiness and what can all of us ask more of life than brief moments to enjoy?

Directing

Call Me By Your Name by Luca Guadagnino – an Italian film director, best known to English-speaking audiences for his 2015 film A Bigger Splash with Tilda Swinton (a longtime collaborator of Guadagnino). He directed the film absolutely beautifully. Call Me By Your Name looked raw, rough, and unpolished – an example of natural beauty. The handheld camera brought the vibrancy to the film, while the close-ups helped to create an intimate and personal atmosphere. The lingering shots strengthened the emotional impact.

In addition, Call Me By Your Name explored the male sexuality by looking at the male physicality: the male bodies and their parts were at the center of the camera’s gaze. The topic of bodily physicality was continued with the inclusion of the sculptures into the movie. Some scenes were quite explicit and not the most comfortable to look at (*cough, cough*, peach). Other images were just beautiful and deserve to be framed in an art gallery. The closing image of Elio, looking at the fire and contemplating his experiences, was just so striking and a perfect visual to finish the film with.

Acting

  • Timothée Chalamet, who has previously appeared in Interstellar as well as some lesser-known indies, was absolutely brilliant as one-half of the main pair. The other half was equally brilliantly played by Armie Hammer, who is finally getting the recognition he deserves as an actor. He has experienced a relative level of success with The Social Network and J. Edgar and I also quite liked him in The Man from U.N.C.L.E., Nocturnal Animals, and Free Fire, however, I believe that Call Me By Your Name will be his ‘big break’ and maybe even get him an Oscar nomination. Chamalet absolutely deserves one too.
  • The supporting cast of the film was quite small and didn’t have much to do. However, the aforementioned moment of fatherly wisdom would not have been the same without Michael Stuhlbarg (Doctor Strange, Arrival) in the role of the father. It was also lovely to see some European actors joining the American talent on screen, namely Amira Casar (in the role of the mother) and Esther Garrel (who played Elio’s friend).

In short, Call Me By Your Name is an emotional, beautiful, and raw drama about love and finding oneself through it.

Rate: 4/5

Trailer: Call Me By Your Name trailer

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Movie review: Blade Runner 2049

Movie reviews

Hello!

The long-awaited (by some) sequel to another 1980s hit – Blade Runner 2049 – has reached theaters, so, let’s see whether it was worth the wait and all the hype.

IMDb summary: A young blade runner’s discovery of a long-buried secret leads him to track down former blade runner Rick Deckard, who’s been missing for thirty years.

The original Blade Runner has been a cult classic for years but I’ve never expected it to get a sequel 3 decades later because of the lack of mainstream success. Undoubtedly, it has aged well: the story is still solid and is open to as many different interpretations as there are versions of the film. The pacing is a bit slow but that can be seen as a feature of the time. The effects are great too even if you can tell that they have that particular 1980s futuristic style. Even though I did like the original film, I wouldn’t have been as excited about its sequel if they hadn’t gotten Dennis Villeneuve to direct it. His attachment to the project was the factor that immensely increased my interest the movie! Besides, the marketing shorts, which filled in the 30-year-old gap between the two feature films – the anime Black Out 2022, and the live action shorts 2036: Nexus Dawn and 2048: Nowhere to Run – have acted as great tasters for the sequel and doubled the hype as well!

SPOILER ALERT

Writing

Blade Runner 2049 was written by Hampton Fancher (the writer of the original) and Michael Green (the writer of Logan, Alien: Covenant, and the upcoming Murder on the Orient Express, the co-creator of American Gods). This duo of scriptwriters did an amazing job: they paid homage to the original (both the plot and the thematic concepts) and expanded upon it/them extremely successfully.

The first two acts of the sequel were structured as a mystery: a smart yet straightforward one man’s quest for answers. The third act upped the complexity: it had a tonne of exciting reveals and a bunch of sidelines converging with the main one. The writing for the lead character was just brilliant too. Every act of the film had some kind of twist relating to him: either the fact that he was a replicant at the beginning, a potential offspring of a replicant in the second act and just a decoy for the actual child in the end. It was amazing to see a character go from not knowing who he was to finding actual answers but quickly realizing that he was asking the wrong questions in the first place. He both found and lost an identity before our eyes in the time span of two hours. It was such a great and different character arc.

Two huge thematic concepts that 2049 introduced were the virtual/holographic humans and the procreation ability of the replicants. These two ideas pushed the question of ‘what is humanity ?’ so much farther than I ever dream it could go. I still can’t wrap my head around these two concepts.

Directing

Denis Villeneuve, who has quickly become one of the most critically acclaimed directors of our time with films like Prisoners, Sicario, and especially last year’s Arrival, directed the Blade Runner sequel and did a spectacular job. To begin with, he stayed faithful to the original with the pacing and the style of the visuals. Having said that, Villeneuve also built upon what was already there. 2049 was a really long and quite a slow film, however, it never dragged. It was always intense, intriguing, and exciting – way more than the original ever was.

When it comes to visuals, they were just breathtaking. The set design (by Alessandra Querzola + production design by Dennis Gassner), the costume design (by Renée April), the lighting and the cinematography (by Roger Deakins) – all these different departments just brought their A-game and created such a cohesive masterpiece. The scope was epic and awe-inspiring. The shots were composed so beautifully, you could just freeze them and frame every single image. The colors were so vibrant and just popped off the screen. The shots also lingered a lot (that’s why the movie was so long) but the combination of the visuals and the amazing score made them so impactful, powerful, and effective. In general, the soundtrack (by Benjamin Wallfisch and none other than Hans Zimmer) was so cool and that new instrumental theme was so heart wrenching.

A lot of films have tried to emulate a similar style but none of them have come close to Blade Runner 2049 (Ghost in the Shell looked good but wasted the visuals on an awful story). A few of noteworthy sequences in this picture were: 1. the interplay between the shadows and the light in the pyramid; 2. the memory-construction scene – such a brilliant example of storytelling within a bigger story; 3. the zoom/enhance effect carried over from the first film; 4. a very unique sex scene (not an adjective I’ve ever thought I’d use to describe a sex scene; and 5. an impeccable looking de-aging moment – that technology has never looked better.

Acting

Blade Runner 2049 had quite an extensive cast, full of fan-favorite actors in roles of varying sizes. At the centre of it was Ryan Gosling, who has lent his talents to a variety of genres throughout his career, including but not limited to musicals (La La Land), art films (Only God Forgives), indies with mainstream appeal (Drive), mainstream romantic dramas (The Notebook), arty romantic dramas (Blue Valentine), comedies (Crazy,Stupid,Love), political dramas (The Ides of March), action comedies (The Nice Guys), biopics (The Big Short), and crime dramas (Gangster Squad). Finally, he has added sci-fi to this extensive list with the lead role in Blade Runner 2049, which he was just absolutely brilliant in: powerful, vulnerable, dramatic, emotional. Totally marvelous.

Harrison Ford has come back to another role from his younger days. He has already retired Han Solo and will be back as Indiana Jones in 2020. In Blade Runner 2049, he only appeared in the third act but that was enough to make an impression.

The film also had quite a few female characters. Ana de Armas (War Dogs) was amazing as the virtual girlfriend, Sylvia Hoeks (Renegades) was wonderful as the warrior replicant, Robin Wright (Wonder Woman) was a badass police chief,
Mackenzie Davis (Black Mirror’s ‘San Junipero’ episode) had a fun appearance and, lastly, Carla Juri had a surprisingly important role. Guardians of the Galaxy’s Dave Bautista appeared in a short but the most dramatically challenging role of his career so far, while Captain Phillips’s and Eye in the Sky’s Barkhad Abdi also had a cameo (wish he got more roles). Lastly, Jared Leto (Suicide Squad) played the main antagonist and, although his role was unsettling and quite creepy, it seemed quite normal by Leto’s standards. He was great in it, though.

In short, Blade Runner 2049 was one of those wow pictures that stays with you, long after you are done watching it. Gorgeously looking, carefully written, brilliantly acted sequel that is *gasp* better than the original.

Rate: 4.8/5

Trailer: Blade Runner 2049

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Movie review: Kong: Skull Island

Movie reviews

Good day!

Kong: Skull Island was not a film that I was excited for until I saw its first trailer. That 2-minute preview really got me hyped and raised my expectations. Let’s see if Kong can deliver!

IMDb summary: A team of explorers and soldiers travel to an uncharted island in the Pacific, unaware that they are crossing into the domain of monsters, including the mythic Kong.

Kong: Skull island is the second installment in Legendary’s MonsterVerse franchise, which begun in 2014, with the reboot of Godzilla. Legendary’s MonsterVerse should not be confused with the Universal Monsters series, which also technically begun in 2014 with Dracula Untold and is continuing later this year with The Mummy reboot (although now, that Dracula movie has been dropped from the canon). While I’m all for cinematic universes, I find these two a bit ridiculous. First, they are too similar and are definitely going to blend in the public’s consciousness. Secondly, these properties are good enough on their own – not everything has to be mixed. And yet, I was recently informed that King Kong and Godzilla have already fought against each other in a Japanese film from the 1960s made by Toho. So, is this new shared universe just another Hollywood remake of a foreign property? I, personally, found 2014’s Godzilla to be an okay movie but hopefully, Kong can get me fully on board with this franchise.

Writing

Kong: Skull Island was written by Dan Gilroy (wrote The Bourne Legacy and wrote and directed the spectacular indie film Nightcrawler) and Max Borenstein (wrote the new Godzilla). To my mind, the writing for the film was okay: not great but not bad either. As usual, since the monsters were expensive to animate, the viewer got to spend a lot of time with the human characters and yet, the character development was scarce. All of the characters had one major feature that defined them and the said defining trait was sometimes interesting and promising and very cliche in the other instances. The representation of the tribal people of the island was a bit stereotypical and from a definite Western POV (and that’s is a huge no-no for me as an anthropology student).

Story-wise, the movie had a fairly quick and interesting set-up. I liked that the film had a wide variety of characters – the military, the scientists and two leads (Hiddleston and Larson) but, as I have already mentioned, I wish they would have done more with them. The twists and turns in the plot were also fine for the most part, but the narrative did have a few too convenient moments (like the vomiting of the dog tags). The Monster vs. Monster or ‘Let them fight’ idea that begun in Godzilla was also continued here. Kong: Skull Island actually included a surprising variety of monsters: from Kong himself to the big buffalo-like looking animal to the huge spider (felt a bit squeamish watching that scene) to the tentacle monster to the giant ant and, lastly, to the actual skull crawlers.

The film’s setting in the 70s served the purpose of providing some commentary on the issue of war. It was a promising concept and they should have done more with it than they did (the portrayal of the colonel as stubborn and plainly cruel was a bit laughable or at least it played that way). The other overarching topic was man vs. nature – an obvious choice for the monster/survival movies. That whole idea about dropping bombs was really stupid but I also have a feeling that it might have been temporally accurate. The whole ‘What is it? Let’s kill it!’ topic of the movie was also kinda idiotic but also very realistic.

The film had good comedic relief. Some of the jokes landed, some didn’t. One line, in particular, stuck with me. It wasn’t supposed to be funny but it just sounded so ironic in today’s context. I’m, of course, talking about the line ‘there won’t be a more screwed up time in Washington’. Well, how about now?

Directing

The picture was helmed by Jordan Vogt-Roberts and this was only his 3rd feature film. His directorial debut was the indie coming of age drama Kings of Summer, which I really enjoyed – I remember it was recommended to me by a friend, who absolutely loved the movie. Bearing in mind that this was only the 3rd picture for the director and the first one of such a massive scale, I think he did an incredible job. While the opening plane crash CGI looked horrible, all of the following CGI of the monsters and the fights was magnificent. I loved the shot of King Kong in a fiery background as well as all the other wide, sweeping shots of the nature of the island. The northern lights also looked neat. The shots from within the helicopter during the first major action sequence were great too. I also thought that Vogt-Roberts had more visuals of Kong than Edwards did of Godzilla. Or maybe they were just dispersed throughout the film more than they were in Godzilla. The old school photo/video visuals were also a nice touch. Lastly, the fact that the first (the sun) and the last (the eye) shots of the picture were similar was also an excellent way to frame the whole thing.

The post-credits scene

Yes, you read that correctly. The post-credits scenes aren’t unique just to comic book movies. I was the only person in my screening who sat through the 10 minutes of the credits but I wasn’t disappointed that I did. The tease for the future was quite cool and made me wonder whether the actors who appeared in the teaser, will reprise their roles in the future sequels of this shared universe.

Acting

Tom Hiddleston as James Conrad. Hiddleston was good in the role even if the role itself wasn’t that great. I mean, his character was just unexplainably good at everything. The most over the top part of his arc was that scene with a sword in a gas cloud – it looked cool but didn’t make much sense and kinda came out of nowhere. I just finished watching Hiddleston in The Night Manger for which he won a Golden Globe. While his acceptance speech wasn’t the greatest, his performance was spectacular, so I’d highly recommend this mini-series. Going forward, he will reprise the role of Loki – arguably, the best villain of MCU – in Thor: Ragnarok.

Brie Larson as Mason Weave. I liked the fact that Larson’s character was a photo-journalist and that they didn’t call much attention to her gender (only in one scene, which should have been cut). Larson herself was good in the role and I’m happy that she is getting more work post her Oscar win (Room). Having said that, the majority of the acting she had to do was basically just reacting to the imaginative things around her. Nevertheless, she did have that one scene of special connection with Kong. What is up with female characters and giant monkeys? Katelyn Snow and Grodd also had a special connection on The Flash.

Samuel L. Jackson as Colonel Packard. Jackson was just recently in another jungle-based movie – The Legend of Tarzan – and I think I liked him more in that one. Here, his performance seemed a bit too much for me. But, I cannot argue that he does know how to play/appear as a menacing villain-ish character.

John C. Reilly as Hank Marlow. Reilly was supposed to be the comic-relief character, based on the trailers and, while he certainly joked around, he was also the exposition machine. Plus, the Jason Mitchell and Shea Whigham duo provided some additional comic relief which was funnier than Reilly’s.

The scientists of the film were played by John Goodman (Trumbo, Patriot’s Day), Jing Tian (The Great Wall), and Corey Hawkins. They served the purposes of their roles well and added some diversity to the cast (the last two). Toby Kebbell (Warcraft, Fan4stic, Ben-Hur) played Jack Chapman and had the emotional character arc of the movie. While I get what the film was aiming for, I didn’t really feel much for Kebbell’s character.

In short, Kong: Skull Island was an entertaining adventure monster movie. The visuals looked amazing and made up for the sorta lackluster script.

Rate: 3.5/5

Trailer: Kong: Skull Island trailer

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5 ideas about a movie: Moonlight 

Movie reviews

Hello!

Welcome to probably the last review of the awards season. Today, we are discussing the frontrunner Moonlight!

IMDb summary: A timeless story of human self-discovery and connection, the film chronicles the life of a young black man from childhood to adulthood as he struggles to find his place in the world while growing up in a rough neighborhood of Miami.

  1. Moonlight was written and directed by Barry Jenkins, based on a play ‘In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue’ by Tarell Alvin McCraney. Jenkins made his directorial debut in 2008, with the critically acclaimed indie romantic drama Medicine for Melancholy. Moonlight is only his second feature film.
  2. At its core, Moonlight is a coming of age story. However, it is a coming of age story like no other because it focuses on an individual that the mainstream media would rather forget – a poor black gay boy/teenager/man. And yet, even if a viewer’s identity falls on the other side of the spectrum, the movie still has universal appeal. The family problems, bullying, finding a life path for oneself, dealing with emotions, learning to forgive and reconnect – these are all topics of widespread appeal. The more personal issues of sexual identity and masculinity are also present. The picture paints a complex picture – it asserts that only an individual can decide who he/she wants to be, but also undermines this statement by showing a stereotypical outcome for the character of this background. Lastly, the film provides interesting commentary on the LGBTQ+ position within the black community.
  3. For such a progressive and modern movie, Moonlight has a very striking traditional structure – the film is divided into vignettes, like some movies from the past. Jenkins manages to create a deeply personal almost documentary-like feeling for the film. The long slow takes in the first part of the movie allow this story to unfold at its own pace, while the shaky and fast closeups in the other parts of the picture create a sense of disorientation and intimacy. Some pretty standard techniques, like the over the shoulder shots for the dialogue, are also implemented.
  4. In the first part of the film, the main character of Chiron, played by Alex Hibbert, takes on a passive role in order for Mahershala Ali’s Juan – the drug dealer mentor of Chiron – to shine. Juan is even the first characters that the viewer is introduced to. Ali has been getting a lot of recognition for his work in this film and that’s happening for a reason. Although he only appears in a handful of scenes, both his characters and the actor himself leave a striking mark on the picture. Juan, the drug dealer, seems to be the only positive influence on Chiron and they form a student/mentor type of relationship. The scene in which Juan teaches Chirton to swim is just beautiful. The question arises why would a Juan care for this child? Maybe because he saw a part of himself in the little boy?
  5. The teenager Chiron is portrayed by Ashton Sanders, while the adult Chiron is played by Trevante Rhodes. Rhodes does an absolutely incredible job in the third part of the film and I wish that his performance would have been rewarded much more. Nevertheless, this film really helped him to breakthrough into the business, as he was just cast in a mainstream movie – 2018’s The Predator. Janelle Monáe also appears in the film as the truth mother figure for Chiron. Her career has also kicked off to a good start – she starred in not one but two awards contenders in 2016, other being Hidden Figures. Naomie Harris also plays a small role of the actual birth mother of Chiron. Although the role is a bit stereotypical, Harris does a brilliant job. She has also probably hoped to be in 2 awards contender this year. She also recently acted in Collateral Beauty, which was supposed to be an awards movie, but that film did not materialize at all.

In short, Moonlight is a well-written and nicely directed personal story that takes the framework of a coming of age narrative and tells a unique story about an individual who has been relegated to the fringes of society for too long.

Rate: 4.5/5

Trailer: Moonlight trailer

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Movie review: Jack Reacher: Never Go Back

Movie reviews

Hello!

The latest film in that other Tom Cruise action-spy franchise has landed in theaters, so, let’s talk about it! This is the review of Jack Reacher: Never Go Back.

IMDb summary: Jack Reacher must uncover the truth behind a major government conspiracy in order to clear his name. On the run as a fugitive from the law, Reacher uncovers a potential secret from his past that could change his life forever.

While I’ve closely followed Cruise and his Mission: Impossible movies, I managed to somehow miss the first Jack Reacher picture when it was first released in 2012. However, I did my homework and watched it before going to see the sequel. I really enjoyed the narrative of the film: the story was a bit different from the usual action movie plot. It had more of the actual investigation and an interesting dialogue rather just a ton of physical fights. But, when the action did happen, it was quite cool too – it was more rugged and down to earth than the spectacular and over the top action sequences in MI. Jack Reacher’s action reminded me of the action in Jason Bourne films, just with less shaky cam. The characters were fine as well, although the film was mostly a Tom Cruise show.

While the first film was a delightful surprise, the second one was just another uninspired and cliche sequel. I didn’t really have any expectations going into this film and I was right to not expect anything because Jack Reacher: Never Go Back was just an average action movie at best.

Writing

Richard Wenk (The Mechanic, The Equalizer, The Magnificient Seven), the director Edward Zwick and Zwick’s long-time collaborator Marshall Herskovitz wrote the screenplay for the film, adapting Lee Child’s 18th book of the Jack Reacher series. I had a lot of problems with the story. For one, the whole set-up seemed forced and rushed. It took two phone calls for Reacher to want to help Turner, while in the first film, more than 30 minutes had to be spent to actually get Reacher into the action. That whole thing with Turner being wrongly accused seemed like a recycled idea from the first movie as well. And don’t even get me started on that plot-line concerning his maybe-daughter – she was super annoying and was a huge liability to both the characters and the film’s narrative. She had one smart scheme, which we didn’t even see her carrying out – we were just told about it, and a ton of stupid ideas. And why even include her if she turns out to not be his daughter after all? Only to have that cheesy goodbye that didn’t add anything to the picture?

The villain showed up in maybe like 3 or 4 scenes in the whole movie. If you want to see a much better movie about the government contracts and arms’ dealers, then just check out War Dogs. Lastly, while the first film was slow but had a somewhat interesting dialogue about the investigation to fill in the time between the action, its sequel had a ton of small talk that didn’t get the movie anywhere. When it tried to foreshadow or set-up something, it did that in the most obvious way possible. From a thematical standpoint, I did like the overarching military v civilian life debate, however, what I didn’t appreciate was that whole male/female bickering. That plotline was irrelevant and felt out of place even more than the father/daughter storyline.

Directing

Edward Zwick, who has previously worked with Cruise on The Last Samurai and has also directed such films as the biopic Pawn Sacrifice, the war drama Defiance, and the comedy Love & Other Drugs, helmed Jack Reacher: Never Go Back and did an okay job. He opened the film with the sequence from the trailer, which I have seen multiple times before even watching the movie since I go to the cinema a lot. Wish they would have either chose a different scene for the trailer or changed it up a bit for the movie. The overall action was fine but nothing too striking or worth mentioning. I liked the gray colored shots of Reacher visualizing the escape or the past events, but the movie kinda dropped this idea halfway through.

Acting

  • Tom Cruise was good as Jack Reacher but I have come to expect this from him a long time ago. It’s nice to see him doing his own stunts, though – makes the movie a bit more realistic. Cruise also produced this film, like the majority of his action movies, but I’m actually quite interested to see if he will ever direct one. His upcoming pictures are a biographical crime thriller American Made and The Mummy reboot.
  • Cobie Smulders as Susan Turner was quite good too. I was happy to see her getting some work, because since How I Met Your Mother has ended, I haven’t seen much of her, well except in the MCU films, although her role in those is really small. I liked hers and Cruise’s chemistry in this movie and I also thought that she was good in the action scenes.
  • Danika Yarosh as Samantha Dayton a.k.a. the daughter. I don’t want to be angry with the big screen newcomer Yarosh because she was fine in the role, but, as I have already mentioned, her character was written terribly and didn’t even have a place in the film. Yarosh has been mostly acting in various TV shows and I do hope that this mediocre film and a bit cringe-y performance won’t stop her from being cast in more movies.
  • The supporting cast also included a lot of quite unknown (to me) actors, like Aldis HodgePatrick HeusingerHolt McCallany, and Austin Hebert. No one really stood much but they also haven’t been really given a chance to do so.

 In short, Jack Reacher: Never Go Back is an average sequel that basically advises its potential viewers to skip it. The story is awful, the directing is okay and while the acting is good, the cast is not given enough solid material to work with. I advise you to Never Go Back to the Jack Reacher films.

Rate: 2.5/5

Trailer: Jack Reacher: Never Go Back trailer

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Dan Brown’s Books and Ron Howard’s Movies (Inferno Preview)

Movie previews

Hello!

In the middle of October, the latest Ron Howard and Tom Hanks collaboration – Inferno – will hit theaters. So, I decided to educate myself on the source material – the amazing bestsellers by Dan Brown as well as the 2 previous films of the franchise – and want to tell you all about my educational and entertaining journey into the world of Robert Langdon.

Dan Brown’s Books

While all of the books in the Robert Langdon series are stand-alone novels, I decided to read them in the order that they were published. My dad used to a big fan of this author’s work, so I had all the novels in my home library. I truly enjoyed reading this series that blends history and modernity beautifully; unravels the whole narrative in such a limited time frame (the stories span maximum of 2 days) and finds real facts to prove conspiracy theories (sort of). A few ideas about the 4 different accounts of the exciting adventures:

  • Angels & Demons – the first and my favorite book of the series. It was the freshest and the most original (because it came first) and it also had the biggest amount of action, mystery, and suspense. I loved the religion v science debate. I also liked the realism of the novel but had a few problems with the ending – it just seemed a bit over-the-top and unbelievable for such a grounded story.  The setting of Rome and Vatican was brilliant, though.
  • The Da Vinci Code – probably the most famous book of the series that explored the topic of art v religion and had quite an open ending that I still don’t know if I liked it or hated it. Either way, I loved learning about Paris.
  • The Lost Symbol – the most philosophical book of the series that dealt with science and spirituality and even magic. I really liked that Brown moved the action to the new world instead of focusing on Europe once again.
  • Inferno – with this book, the writer moved the plot back to Italy, where everything started (Angels & Demons was also set in Italy). The mixture of themes such as literature, art, medicine, religion, and humanism was really cool. The amnesia aspect was a great story device to kick-start the narrative. The idea of The Consortium as an underground organization with a lot of power was impressive too.

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In general, as I’ve said, I loved all of the works by Dan Brown. This series is like a virtual tour of historical cities that I desire to visit in real life as well. My only gripes with the books were 1. the repetition of story devices and 2. a slight overdramatization. After reading all of the volumes of the series, I started noticing that all of the female characters were kinda similar – they all were either daughters/granddaughters/sisters/lovers of the other important characters of the books. All of the 4 leading ladies were also used as the love interests for the main character but they never resurfaced a second time. Robert Langdon’s position was also always pretty much the same – he would be sucked into the action by accident and would usually become a temporary outlaw. The villains tended to be people from the outskirts of society that don’t fully fit in – they were either the assassins, the crazy monks, the revengeful family members or the misunderstood geniuses. Lastly, the author really seemed to like his ending twists – all novels revealed a lot of stuff during the last 20 pages and these ‘exposures’ totally turned things around and changed the stories almost completely.

The 2nd and 3rd books shared an idea that ‘people are not ready to find out some historical truth’, while the 1st and 4th novels focused on some kind of modern technologies that were used in the attempted destruction of the world for religious reasons. The 1st book was my favorite, while the following 3 all shared the runner’s up position.

Ron Howard’s films

The Da Vinci Code was the first book to be adapted into the film in 2006. 3 years later, the big screen adaptation of Angels & Demons was released. I don’t know why they decided to switch the order of the first two books when adapting them, especially, since I felt that Angels & Demons was the stronger novel and might have been a better starting feature of the franchise. I also have no idea why they skipped the 3rd book and decided to adapt Inferno instead. Also, why wait 7 years to adapt the next movie? I think that the audiences might have already forgotten the character of Robert Langdon, particularly, in the market oversaturated with thrillers, adventure films, crime dramas and superhero movies (Ron Howard’s adaptations have various aspects in common with all of these genres).

I also don’t understand why the two films have been panned by critics this much. The few reasons that I can spot in common between all the reviews is the fact that the movies have a lot of narration and that they critique the church – all the reviewers seem to be personally offended by this commentary. I also can not comprehend how the Catholic Church feels threatened by a piece of fictional entertainment/commercial art. Is the church really this weak to see a slightly diverging idea as a serious menace to its thousand year old history and a thousand year long world domination?

A few ideas about the two movies purely from the cinematic perspective:

The Da Vinci Code: 

  • The movie had a smaller amount of explanations and less backstory than the book, Langdon seemed to break the codes way more easily and without the key, and the family relations were altered too.
  • Small moments, like difficulties with the code at the bank and the second cryptex, were cut, but, in general, the picture was quite true to the book.
  • The narrative was more straightforward and streamlined for the film, so as to make in easy to follow to viewers not familiar with the book.
  • The filmmakers added more action in the literal sense of the word, although, they kept the quite underwhelming ending – I expected the film to finish with some big original action sequence since it was made in Hollywood.
  • The movie also had a lot of dialogue in French which is quite unusual for a Hollywood picture, which is primarily aimed at the English-speaking audiences.
  • The visuals of the past/explanatory flashbacks were really nice and interesting. They also served as a nice visual explanation to accompany the narration.
  • The supporting cast was full of big name talent. Ian McKellen and Paul Bettany both were really good and the lesser know (at least to me) French actors Audrey Tautou and Jean Reno were great as well.

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Angels & Demons:

  • This film was less faithful to the book and it had a variety of changes and things being cut.
  • Changes: Vetra’s father was replaced with a different scientist. Olivetti was not part of the Swiss Guard and the Vatican contacted Langdon, not CERN. The last cardinal was saved in the film, while he died in the book. The assassin was way less sadistic and eccentric and died differently. Lastly, the final suicide was public in the novel, but it happened in private in the picture and Langdon also received a different ‘thank-you’ gift.
  • Cuts: the director of CERN didn’t appear in the film. Vittoria wasn’t kidnapped at all. The biological son plotline was left out and Robert also didn’t go into the helicopter in the film, while he did that in the book.
  • However, the film kept the main thematical idea of the book – the whole tradition vs. modernity discussion. It also retained the little details, like Langdon’s passion for water sports and his Mickey Mouse watch.
  • The feature also had a way faster set-up than the book – it took the novel at least a hundred pages to start on the quest of looking for the Path of Illumination, while the film started to look for it after the first 15-20 minutes.
  • A few cool shots that I particularly enjoyed were: the whole sequence in the particle accelerator and the shot of the cardinals leaving their cell phones behind when entering the conclave.
  • The film had a nice supporting cast, although, the characters could have been fleshed out more. Ewan McGregor’s character seemed shady from the start, while Stellan Skarsgård’s character was unlikeable and hostile without any real explanation. Ayelet Zurer’s character also needed a lot of screen time before she grew on me as a likable protagonist.

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I hope you enjoyed this review of a franchise that spans a few mediums, both the cinematic and the textual one. I would really like to do more post like these. My Inferno review will come out as soon as I get a chance to see the film!

Have a great day!