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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Movie review: Pitch Perfect 3

Movie reviews

Hello!

Welcome to the end of the acapella era (more like half a decade). This is Pitch perfect 3.

IMDb summary: Following their win at the world championship, the now separated Bellas reunite for one last singing competition at an overseas USO tour, but face a group who uses both instruments and voices.

Pitch Perfect 3 originally came out during Christmas, though it didn’t feature any Christmas songs. At first, I thought that it was a stupid idea to have a musical that features covers of popular songs come out during Christmas and not feature any Christmas songs. However, since I myself was only able to watch the film in January, the lack of Christmas songs made it still watchable after the festive season has ended. So, it was a smart idea not to tie this picture to any specific time after all.

Writing

The third Pitch Perfect film was written by Kay Cannon (writer of the previous Pitch Perfect films) and Mike White (of The Emoji Movie) and I thought that they did a so-so job. The films in this franchise have always been borderline ridiculous but this one went over such border. It didn’t really do anything really original but also somewhat betrayed the brand of the franchise.

The characters of the film were soon established as being down on their luck. Let me ask you this: when have the Bellas started their films in a good place? Never! These movies all begin the same! However, this movie somewhat differed in that it attempted to developed other characters rather than just Becca (a bit late, guys). And yet, by the end of it, the movie solidified Becca as the only important and the main character (also, I’m pretty sure that they did Becca v Bellas idea in the first film already. Still, the message that true family will lift you up rather than tying you down was a cute one). Also, the fact that the other character’s arcs were wrapped up during the credits was an additional proof of how unimportant they are/were to the series.

Speaking about the betrayal of the brand – why on earth did Pitch Perfect 3 though that it could be a crime drama??? Also, why was it necessary for the Bellas to go on that military tour? It literally added nothing to the story. Plus, that whole tour plotline was full of inconsistencies. They got booed (silenced by a siren) in their first performance, then burnt a hotel room, and then they are suddenly liked by the audiences and everyone? Also, to top everything off, the movie partook in some heavy exposition (pointing out the exposition is not enough for me to forgive the fact they that employed it too). Lastly, some moments of writing were meant to be jokes but just turned out stupid. Like ‘Evermoist’. Really?!

Directing

Neither Jason Moore (director of the original) nor Elizabeth Banks (long-time producer and director of the second film) chose to come back and helm the third film, so the reins went to Trish Sie of Step Up: All In (arguably, the worst film in that franchise). I feel like she did as good of a job as she did with her last film (which means she delivered poor results). The movie felt tonally confused, choppy, and lacked a direction. The opening sequence was ridiculous but, I guess, it prepared the viewer the rest of the film. The performances were fine. Only two of them – the riff-off and the finale felt iconic to this series – because the first one belonged to their signature genre and the last one had some heart. The riff-off also presented the acapella v instruments idea that didn’t go anywhere.

One good thing about this picture was the fact that it felt like a true goodbye. It somewhat concluded all the storylines and had a fun end-credits sequence, full of behind the scenes clips from all 3 movies. It was also nice that it was fairly short, as I don’t think I would have been able to sit through another half an hour of it.

Acting 

A lot of old characters and a bunch of new ones appeared in this film and were fighting for the very limited screening. Anna Kendrick (Mike and Dave, Trolls, The Accountant) and Rebel Wilson were the best just because they had somewhat developed storylines. The other Bellas were played by Brittany SnowAnna Camp (Cafe Society), Hailee Steinfeld (had absolutely nothing to do but was there just because she is probably the biggest name in the cast), Hana Mae Lee (who spoke for the first time in the franchise), Ester Dean (who should have been given more solos because she is brilliant!), and Chrissie Fit. The commentators – John Michael Higgins and Elizabeth Banks (Magic Mike, Mockingjay, Power Rangers) came back too and their inclusion in this movie was justified by a paper-thin reason.

The new characters were played by John Lithgow (I thought that Daddy’s Home 2 was a low point for him but this was something else), Matt Lanter (who was the replacement eye candy for the female viewers), Guy Burnett (eye candy number 2), DJ Khaled (who couldn’t act even when playing himself), and Ruby Rose (the ultimate female crush of any straight girl, who also appeared in John Wick 2 recently).

In short, Pitch Perfect 3 felt flat while trying to go out on a high note.

Rate: 3/5

Trailer: Pitch Perfect 3 trailer

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Movie review: Basmati Blues

Movie reviews

Hello!

Welcome to a review of a movie you have never heard of. I only really find out about it when I was buying a ticket to its screening. This is Basmati Blues.

IMDb summary: A brilliant scientist is plucked out of the company lab and sent to India to sell the genetically modified rice she created – which she doesn’t realize will destroy the farmers she thinks she’s helping.

Writing and Directing

Basmati Blues was written by Dan Baron (who also directed the film), Jeff Dorchen, and Danny Thompson. These filmmakers either don’t have anything else or anything worthy of note on their IMDb pages. Also, they have made this movie back in 2012-2013 and it has been kept from release for 5 years (definitely for a reason(s)). Even now, it has only been released in a handful of countries (either in the cinema or on DVD). I think that the US premiere date is still a couple of months away and even when the picture does come out, there won’t be any advertising for it. So, how bad is it?

Story

Basmati Blues has been justified online as Hollywood’s homage to Bollywood. That justification was an answer to the critique that the movie was just appropriating the culture of India. Whether that was truly the case, I’m not entirely sure. The film seemed to be a somewhat collaborative project between the East and the West (based on a mixture of English and Hindu names in the credits), while the familiar Bollywood traits – songs, dances, bright colors, slapstick humor – seemed to have been celebrated in this picture. Nevertheless, the movie’s lead and the villain were white. The shades of the white savior narrative were present too (at least the said saviour wasn’t male so maybe that’s better? It isn’t). The idea that farmers in India would be so trusting of a Western corporation was just plain stupid. People from the East have little reason to trust the West and, if the West still doesn’t get why, we are gonna be stuck in the current global relations for a long time.

Anyways, even if you divorce the content of the film from its context, it still had problems. The fact that it was sort of a musical about science (at least in the beginning) seemed like a bizarre combo. The villain was so cartoonish – his whole evil corporation belonged in a Sunday morning animation (and he wasn’t cartoonish in a right way for the performance to be seen as a parody). The main character was annoying too – she seemed to be highly intelligent in the lab but clueless about the world, the different cultures, and just life in general. The love story aspect was cliche, cheesy, and predictable (really Hollywood-y). I guess at least from the structural point of view, the film was well-written as the plot ideas that were introduced during the first act, did come back in the third (the horse, the monkey seeds).

Visuals and Music/Dance

Basmati Blues looked okay. The views of India were nice, but then again, I could have watched a documentary to see more of them. A lot of noticeable green screens were used for musical numbers. The numbers themselves were fine. The songs weren’t that catchy and I wanted to see more choreographed dances. Again, I should probably watch a true Bollywood film rather than a Hollywood knockoff to see the things that were lacking here. Genre-wise, Basmati Blues have been classified as a comedy and while it certainly had intentional moments of humor, I was mostly laughing at the unintentional ones (which is both bad and good).

Acting

One person who wishes this film would never come out is Brie Larson, who played the lead. She wasn’t awful in the movie but she also wasn’t great. Her performance here is a far cry from her outing in Room (for which she won an Oscar) and I don’t think that it comes close to her other films either, like Free Fire, The Glass Castle or even Kong.

Somebody who should be even more ashamed of their work on this movie is Donald Sutherland, who was literally a cartoon villain. He recently played a very distinct villain in The Hunger Games but in that franchise, he had a layer of menace and sophistication. I don’t know what he was going for in this film.

The two romantic leads (cause, of course, there had to a love triangle) were played by Utkarsh Ambudkar (TV actor) and Saahil Sehgal. Both of them were as good as the script allowed them to be.

 

In short, Basmati Blues was either Hollywood’s homage to or appropriation of Bollywood. No matter which side of that argument you stand on, I think we can all agree that the final project wasn’t great. And yet, if you are somebody who can enjoy a movie ironically, you might find Basmati Blue hilarious, absurd, or both.

Rate: 2.7/5

Trailer: Basmati Blues trailer

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Movie review: The Greatest Showman

Movie reviews

Hello!

What you get when you take the songwriters of La La Land and add them to a retired Wolverine? This is The Greatest Showman!

IMDb summary: inspired by the imagination of P.T. Barnum, The Greatest Showman is an original musical that celebrates the birth of show business and tells of a visionary who rose from nothing to create a spectacle that became a worldwide sensation.

Writing

The Greatest Showman, written by Jenny Bicks (one of the writers on Sex and the City) and Bill Condon (directed Beauty and the Beast, wrote Chicago, did both on Dreamgirls), is the story of P.T. Barnum. Being a mainstream musical that values entertainment value over accuracy, The Greatest Showman puts a fictional and quite an optimistic spin on a really dark and depressing real-life story. Barnum’s circus was not the safe haven for the different and marginalized, it was a prison for the so-called ‘freaks’ who neither the society nor Barnum himself actually cared for. And while there are some hints in the film for Barnum’s darker side (him turning away from his performers, and following the money and the high society’s acceptance instead), the overall final product can hardly be called a biography. Nevertheless, if one divorces the movie from its source material and takes it as a fictional story, then The Greatest Showman can absolutely be enjoyable (that’s how I enjoyed the movie – by treating it as a fictional musical rather than a biography).

Thematically, the picture explored ideas of hope and celebrated imagination and tolerance (again, take it as a fictional story, not a biography). It also expressed some ideas about hoaxes as lies for a good purpose (felt iffy about that message). The Greatest Showman also attempted to be a celebration of difference, however, it didn’t end up doing much else than just showcasing the difference – what I mean by this is that the script lacked character development for the majority of the performers. P.T. Barum received the most development, him being the lead and all, but even his personal arc was rushed at the beginning.

Directing

A visual effects supervisor Michael Gracey debuted as a director with The Greatest Showman and did quite a good job. Of course, he did get a lot of help from the aforementioned songwriters Benj Pasek and Justin Paul (their other credits include Dear Evan Hansen – a new and beloved Broadway musical as well as ‘Runnin’ Home To You’ – the song from The Flash musical episode) and composers John Debney and John Trapanese. The choreographer Ashley Wallen is also responsible for the success of the film’s musical numbers. And the musical numbers were plentiful. While on the first hearing, all of the songs somewhat blended together for me, upon a second listen, I started to appreciate them all separately. While ‘This is Me’ was certainly a great song and deserves the awards recognition it is getting, my favorite track was actually ‘Never Enough’. That song might be a bit too depressing and too real for the academy/other awards voters. What I wish that The Greatest Showman had less of was the reprisals of its songs. There were a lot of them and maybe a bit too many for a less than a 2-hour movie.

I’ve seen a few complaints online about the fact that this old school musical had a modern soundtrack – I actually loved the combo of old and new, but, then again, I liked how The Great Gatsby used modern music and I just love easy pop songs in general. I also loved how the movie realized its setting of a carnival/circus – I always thought that circus was a rich and realistically magical setting that is open to a lot of possibilities. In fact, The Greatest Showman’s circus numbers reminded me a bit of one short carnival sequence in the remake of Fame which I have always adored (linked it here).

Acting

Hugh Jackman (X-Men, Eddie The Eagle) starred in the lead of the film and did a good job. There was a reason why he so desperately wanted to make this movie – he knew he would be very good in it. It took me a few songs to get used to him not singing opera-like classics – I have only really heard him singing in Les Miserables before.

Zac Efron (The Disaster ArtistBaywatch, Mike and Dave, We Are Your Friends) was also really good in the picture and it was fun to see him coming back to his roots – a genre that made him well known in the first place (yes, I did grew up watching him in HSM, don’t judge me). Zendaya (Spider-Man) also delivered a wonderful performance, made even more amazing by the fact that she was actually the one doing the trapeze stunts. Michelle Williams (Manchester By the Sea) was also great in the film and in a less depressing role than she usually plays.

Rebecca Ferguson (The Snowman, MI5) delivered a great performance too – I loved the scene of her and Hugh Jackman just looking at each other. However, the most notable scene of Ferguson’s wasn’t even notable because of Ferguson herself – the aforementioned song ‘Never Enough’ was sung by her character but not by the actress herself. She was only lip syncing to the vocals of  Loren Allred. Lastly, Keala Settle rounded out the cast and was superb.

In short, The Greatest Showman was a great musical with delightful performances that was a bit let down by its mediocre writing

Rate: 4/5

Trailer: The Greatest Showman trailer

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Movie review: Beauty and the Beast

Movie reviews

Hello!

The Disney’s juggernaut Beauty and the Beast has landed in theaters, so, let’s review it!

On a personal note, Belle was always the character I most closely identify with, in that we were both more interested in books than the real world. Also, weirdly enough, Disney fairytales seem to be the only romances I can stomach because l seem to prefer love stories set in a fantasy world rather than real one.

Disney has made quite a fair few of the live-action fairytales: Alice and its sequel, Oz The Great and Powerful, Maleficient, Into The Woods, Cinderella, The Jungle Book, The BFG, and Pete’s Dragon. The re-tellings started dark (almost as a comeback to the original print version of the tales) and have gotten lighter and more faithful to the Disney animated versions. The new Beauty and the Beast film is the most faithful to its animated predecessor out of all of them because the live action movie will also be a musical. While all the other live-action adaptations have featured some variations of the traditional songs neither of the previous movies have been full-on musicals.

Writing

2017’s Beauty and the Beast’s script was written by Stephen Chbosky (The Perks of Being a Wallflower) and Evan Spiliotopoulos (The Huntsman: Winter’s War). I thought that the duo of writers crafted a beautiful and faithful adaptation that was inspired by both the Disney animated version and the original French fairytale (which I, sadly, haven’t read in its original form but have definitely read a few re-tellings). I didn’t notice any big changes from the animated film but I highly appreciated all the additions. I really liked that they expanded Gaston’s character: gave him a war background and made him more cruel and villainous not just empty. I also enjoyed seeing Agatha or The Enchantress taking on a more active role in the story. Similarly, both Belle and the Prince received more development – their family backgrounds were incorporated into the narrative. That really helped The Beast’s character – his vainness was justified by his upbringing and, thus, made him more likable.

Speaking more about the writing for Belle – I really loved the fact that this time around Belle tried escaping from the very beginning and that it was explicitly stated that she find out about the curse. Moreover, I loved that they added the idea that both Belle and The Beast were outsiders and that that helped them reach a common ground.

Finally, to address the issue that a lot of people pointlessly made a big deal of – LeFou being gay or having a ‘gay moment’ in the movie (wtf that even means?). Personally, I loved all the subtle progressive additions to the plot: I absolutely loved the moment with the three musketeers being dressed in the lady’s outfits and one of the giving a positive reaction. The way that moment came into play later, during the final dance with that musketeer and LeFou briefly meeting was also nice. Even though the idea that feminity and homosexuality go hand-in-hand is bit stereotypical, it was still a nice moment and a definite step (even if a tiny one) forward. Additionally, the fact that LeFou realized that he was too good for Gaston was so important! In general, I really enjoyed what they did with the character. I applaud the filmmakers for seeing an opportunity to make a modern and sophisticated alterations/enhancement and taking it. Moreover, the screenwriters still managed to keep the comic relief aspect of the character and even made his jokes more mature and commentary-like instead of the slapstick cartoonish humor of the animation.

Directing and Visuals

Bill Condon, who has a diverse list of movies in his filmography, ranging from Twilight 3 and 4 to The Fifth Estate and Mr. Holmes, directed the picture and did a brilliant job. From the opening shot of the film, the visual were just plain gorgeous. The CGI characters and the backgrounds and the actual physical props blended seamlessly (hats off to both the production design and the special effects teams). The opulent opening sequence acted as an amazing visual set-up and explained the Prince’s greed and vainness effectively. The Sound of Music reference with Belle singing on the hill was also nice. The final action sequence appeared to be elongated and was definitely more suspenseful than the one in the animated version – I can easily see why they did that – even fairytales have to have a big 3rd act action sequence in Hollywood’s mind. My only criticism for the movie was that the second hour before the 3rd act felt a bit slow. And yet, I still understand why they had to slow down – they needed to show Belle and The Beast falling in love. In fact, I actually appreciated that the falling in love montage was longer, and, hence, more believable. In general, the picture had all the right feels – from the heartbreaking sadness to the Disney staple of eternal romance. Lastly, the animated character credits and the French translations for the credits were neat finishing touches.

Musical Numbers

Alan Menken was responsible for the music of the picture and did an amazing job. I felt that all of the musical numbers lasted for a longer time (the movie is half an hour longer than the animated picture) and I also loved the huge scope of them – they had way more extras and dancers than I expected. All the theatricality and drama of the performances was just great as well. All the old songs sounded familiar and yet brand new. I loved all the classics – Belle, Gaston, Be Our Guest, and, of course, Beauty and the Beast. The new songs – How Does a Moment Last Forever, Evermore, and Days in the Sun were also great and fit the old soundtrack well. The fact that the filmmakers got Celine Dion to sing one of the new songs during the credits was also great and a nice reference to her work on the animated film. I also really liked the Ariane Grande/John Legend version of Beauty and the Beast.

Acting

Emma Watson as Belle. Watson is always going to be Hermione in the majority of people’s minds but I hope that she will also get remember as Belle as she was stunning in the role: sweet but also tough enough. I also thought that she did a good job with the singing. Next step for her career is to star in an awards movie and maybe even snag a nomination for it.Some of her recent films include Noah, Colonia, and the upcoming The Circle.

Dan Stevens as The Beast. He was amazing. I could actually see him through all the motion capture CGI and his singing was also excellent. Steven’s career has had its ups and downs. He first got on everyone’s radar through Downton Abbey, but then he made a decision to leave the show just after a couple of seasons in order to star his movie career Well, that didn’t happen as soon as he probably planned. The role of The Beast is his most high-profile role to date but his performance 2014’s The Guest has also been positively accepted. Interestingly, Stevens also made a decision to go back to TV – be it in a very different role than the Cousin Matthew one – this time playing the titular mutant on Legion.

Luke Evans as Gaston. A perfect casting if I have ever seen one. Evans was just oozing charm as Gaston and even though I wanted to completely despise the character, I just couldn’t. Evans got his big break with The Hobbit movies and Dracula Untold and he was also recently in an indie experimental film High-Rise and The Girl on The Train big screen adaptation.

Josh Gad as LeFou was also brilliant. I really liked actually seeing him on screen after only listening to him in Frozen (he was Olaf for those not in the know).

My favorite voice actors were Emma Thompson as Mrs. Potts and Ewan McGregor as Lumière. Thompson just has a motherly sounding voice that was perfect for Mrs. Potts, while McGregor was super funny as Lumière. I can’t really comment on McGregor’s French accent or lack of it, cause I don’t speak French but I know that he had some difficulties with it. Well, I didn’t mind and actually liked how he sounded. It was also nice to hear McGregor singing cause I think that the last movie I heard him singing in was Moulin Rouge more than 15 years ago. The fact that he went from Trainspotting 2 straight to a Disney fairytale is also pretty funny.

Other cast member included Kevin Kline as MauriceIan McKellen as CogsworthAudra McDonald as Madame de GarderobeGugu Mbatha-Raw as Plumette, and Nathan Mack as Chip. All of them did a fine job. Lastly, Stanley Tucci played an original character – Maestro Cadenza. I didn’t really think that the picture needed a new character but his presence didn’t hurt the movie either. That final gag with the teeth and the piano keys was actually quite funny.

In short, Beauty and the Beast is an amazing adaptation of a beloved classic. It’s immensely entertaining and provides a great opportunity for some quality escapism into a fairytale world.

Rate: 4.8/5

Trailer: Beauty and the Beast trailer

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5 ideas about a movie: Sing

Movie reviews

Hello!

Welcome to one of the last reviews of this year. Without further ado, let’s start discussing Illumination Entertainment’s latest feature – SING!

IMDb summary: A koala named Buster Moon has one final chance to restore his theater to its former glory by producing the world’s greatest singing competition.

  1. Sing was written and directed by Gareth Jenkins. This was his first solo project after working with Nick Goldsmith on a number of films and music videos. Jenkins made this movie for Illumination Entertainment – a relative newcomer to the animation scene. However, this company has already established itself: they made the successful Despicable Me films and the crazy lucrative Minions movie. Just this summer, they had another huge hit – The Secret Life of Pets. So, Sing has to meet fairly high expectations, both financial and critical ones.
  2. Sing was advertised as an animated musical. We already had a couple of those this year, like Trolls and Moana. Since it focused on singing animals, Sing also made an impression of being Zootopia: The Musical. However, the film surprised me because it had a strong story with organic music number rather than being a straight-up musical that a story had to accommodate.
  3. Thus, the writing for Sing was actually quite good. The story itself wasn’t the most original but it was executed well. It had the emotional appeal (the ‘feels) and was also interesting intellectually because of a varied bunch of great characters. All of them were underdogs but in a unique and different way. I really liked the opening sequence which set up all of their individual plots. In general, the picture both celebrated the love for music and performance but also showed the hardships of show-biz. The film was not as light or childish as I expected it to be.
  4. The musical numbers and the audition ideas of the film obviously tried to capitalize on the success of music competitions, such as The X Factor and The Voice. Nevertheless, the audition montage was still funny and entertaining. The twerking bunnies, as well as the K-Pop group, were my favorite. I also fell in love with Gunter. I want him to be my spirit animal or my best friend. The other funny scene that I’d like to spotlight was the car wash sequence. The final performances were also cute. The short snippet of George Michael’s ‘Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go’ also made me tear up a bit.
  5. The original voice cast was full of Hollywood A-listers. I was only able to hear their voices during the singing performances, as the rest of dialogue was dubbed (the joys of spending the holidays in a non-English speaking country). Nonetheless, I enjoyed listening to the singing performances by Reese WitherspoonSeth MacFarlaneScarlett JohanssonTori KellyTaron Egerton, and Nick Kroll. I would have loved to hear what Matthew McConaughey did with the leading role as well, but as his voice is so distinct, I think I still imagined him speaking in my head. 

In short, Sing was a great animated film, perfect for the holiday season. It had a lovely narrative at its center, while the equally nice musical numbers occupied a secondary role.

Rate: 4/5

Trailer: Sing trailer

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Movie review: La La Land

Movie reviews

Hello!

Today, I had a chance to see the current awards front-runner – the film La La Land – so let’s review it! I have read a lot of emotional (both positive and negative) tweets about it in my feed these past few weeks, but, as usual, I decided to make up my own mind by watching it.

IMDb summary: A jazz pianist falls for an aspiring actress in Los Angeles.

I would like to begin by saying that La La Land is very much an indie picture – it won’t please the majority of the mainstream audiences and it certainly didn’t appeal to the majority of the people at my screening, who were complaining throughout the whole runtime. Despite their actions, I took La La Land for what it was – a niche musical about Hollywood – and had a great time watching it.

Writing

La La Land was written by Damien Chazelle, who also directed the picture. Chazelle is best known for directing and writing 2014’s awards winner Whiplash, but he also wrote the recent 10 Cloverfield Lane. I, personally, found La La Land’s story to be interesting. It wasn’t the most original but it was executed quite well. I, as a fan of cinema, have always enjoyed movies set in LA and Hollywood. Musicals have also always been my guilty pleasure genre. La La Land combined both of these things in a more successful way than Hail, Caesar – another recent film about Hollywood that featured some musical numbers. Lastly, I loved all the homages in La La Land, especially, the Rebel Without a Cause recreation.

Thematically, the film was also quite good. The character development was great as well – the two leads appeared as fully rounded and real characters. I saw some complaints saying that the lead female character was really unlikeable. To my mind, firstly, the characters don’t necessarily have to be likable to interesting. Secondly, I thought that not only the female lead but the male lead had some qualities that made them unlikeable. Besides, real people aren’t always likable too, so why should then the movie characters be over-idealized versions of us? I though that the main pair’s relationship had its ups and downs and that both individuals involved were damaged as well as rewarded by it. She might not have gotten to fulfill her dreams without him but neither would he have reached his goals without her. Not surprisingly, one of my favorite scenes from the writing perspective was their argument over dinner – it had great timing and a lot of emotional weight. Overall, I did enjoy the message of the film, so dream big because somebody has to.

Directing

For the most part, I really enjoyed La La Land’s directing. I loved the mixture of the long tracking shots and the speedy montages. I liked the upbeat energy of it, the dreamy atmosphere, the colorful pallet as well as the beautiful settings and the whole mise-en-scene. However, I think that the picture’s pace was a bit uneven and that the film was a tiny bit too long.

My biggest problem with La La Land was the fact that the movie was confused about its genre. Maybe this was an intentional decision and if so, I don’t think that this particular blend of genres worked. La La Land, at times, was a realistic, grounded, quite modern film, close to a drama. However, a few scenes later, it would very much remind of a filmed theater performance – the levels of overdramatization would go through the roof. This would happen a lot during the musical numbers, which sometimes made the movie seem like a live TV special, like Grease: Live! and Hairspray: Live! I wish the filmmakers would have picked one direction and followed it: either make La La Land into a fully modern or a fully traditional musical.

So, even though La La Land didn’t reach the quality of Singing in the Rain, it still had some pretty enjoyable sequences. A couple of my favorites were all the times when Ryan Gosling’s character played the main theme of the film. I also really like Gosling’s and Stone’s interaction during the ‘I ran’ performance. The dream sequence was also lovely and looked visually stunning. I liked The Messengers’ gig scene too. However, my favorite sequence was the dance with the city’s skyline in the background. 

Music

Justin Hurwitz was responsible for the soundtrack and I think he did a neat job. Although I’m not the biggest fan of jazz, I did appreciate its tunes and all the nostalgia surrounding them in this film. Other songs were beautiful as well but not catchy in that pop-music kinda way. Nevertheless, City of Stars is a magnificent song.

Acting

Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone made for a great lead duo. Their chemistry was amazing as usual, as this was not the first time they worked together – they have also started in Crazy, Stupid, Love (one of my favorite romantic comedies) and a passable thriller Gangster Squad. Both of the actors did a good job with their singing – theirs were not the best singing performances I’ve seen in a film but they weren’t the worst either. I absolutely loved the dancing, though. I don’t know if the two of them are going to win any big awards in the acting category but I could definitely spot a few scenes that were included in their awards reels. For Gosling, it could have been any of the piano playing scenes, while for Stone it was most likely the audition storytelling/singing sequence.

A few of my favorite Stone’s film are Easy A, Magic in the Moonlight, Irrational Man, and Birdman. Going forward, she has a sport’s comedy Battle of the Sexes listed for next year. Gosling’s best film are Blue Valentine, Drive, The Big Shortand The Nice Guys. He will star in the Blade Runner sequel next year.

The film’s supporting cast didn’t have much to do in the film, but I’d like to mention two individuals who stood out. First one was, of course, well-known singer John Legend – has was great. The second one – J.K.Simmons – it was nice of him to cameo in a different movie by Chazelle as Whiplash earned Simmons an Academy Award and it was nice of Chazelle to include him in the film for the same reason.

To conclude, La La Land was a gorgeous looking film with a nice story, lovely performances, and great music. However, I can’t recommend it as a must-watch as I think that only a very open minded audience would enjoy it. With musicals, like this one, you just have to go with everything and do not find the random bursting out into song moments awkward or uncomfortable.

Rate: 4/5

Trailer: La La Land trailer

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5 ideas about a movie: Sing Street

Movie reviews

Hello!

I’m continuing my series of ‘catch up’ movie reviews. Today, the focus is on the critically acclaimed indie picture Sing Street.

IMDb summary: A boy growing up in Dublin during the 1980s escapes his strained family life by starting a band to impress the mysterious girl he likes.

  1. John Carney (who I only knew as the director of the musical drama Begin Again) wrote and directed this picture. At the core of Sing Street, he placed a coming of age tale, that everybody has seen before. However, he executed this particular kind of story  immaculately. It felt very personal and relatable – maybe because it was semi-autobiographical. Sing Street centered on young adults in Ireland in the 80s, which alone helped the film to stand out (the only other film that has relations to Ireland that I can name is Brooklyn). In addition, the narrative was very clear and cohesive, while the set-up – quick but not rushed.
  2. Sing Street managed to find a balance between fun and seriousness. It was an upbeat and inspiring story placed in a grim setting of poverty, abuse, and family drama. It’s quirky and dorky in the best way possible. Sing Street was a celebration of art and artistry and it showed that rebellion against the societal norms is not a new thing. I also loved the fact that this feature focused on the relationship between brothers and portrayed the elder brothers as guides and trailblazers.
  3. As I have mentioned, John Carney directed Sing Street and did a neat job. I loved the personal aspect he brought to the film with some handheld camera shots. I liked how he realized the setting of the 80s Ireland (enjoyed the wacky fashion especially) and how he paid homages to the pop culture of the time. Back To The Future homage sequence was both cool and entertaining.
  4. Sing Street featured some amazing tunes from the 80s as well as original songs by the titular band of the film.  A whole bunch of people worked on the music for the picture, including veteran composer Gary Clark, some members of the band Relish, Graham Henderson, Zamo Riffman and even Maroon5’s Adam Levine. As a fan of 80s music, I really loved all the songs. Moreover, it was interesting and refreshing to see a film which focused on more traditional styles of music in contrast to the recent films that had EDM as their subject (We Are Your Friends, XOXO).
  5. Sing Street also had a great and diverse cast. The majority of the young actors, like Ferdia Walsh-Peelo and Lucy Boynton, were/are quite unknown but they did such a good job that I think this situation will soon be fixed. A few familiar faces also appear in the film, including Game of Thrones’s Aidan Gillen and Transformers 4’s Jack Reynor who completely surprised me, as I had basically already written him off after the last Transformers movie. Turns out, he is actually a pretty good actor.

In brief, Sing Street was both light and serious coming of age tale, with a unique temporal and spatial setting. The music was also top-notch.

Rate: 4.25/5

Trailer: Sing Street trailer

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Movie review: Moana

Movie reviews

Hello!

The long awaited and newest Disney Princess movie – Moana – has reached theaters, so, let’s talk about it!

IMDb summary: In Ancient Polynesia, when a terrible curse incurred by Maui reaches an impetuous Chieftain’s daughter’s island, she answers the Ocean’s call to seek out the demigod to set things right.

Moana is, technically, a 13th Disney Princess film. It has been truly amazing to see how this brand evolved in the past 80 years. I feel that the biggest changes started with 2010’s Tangled and all the films following it have been adapting their stories and characters to fit the contemporary world and I’m excited to see what will Disney do next.

Moana is also Disney’s return to musicals, since Frozen 3 years ago. Can Moana’s soundtrack replicate the success of Frozen’s soundtrack? It is gonna be a bit harder for Moana, as this year, we already had one fairly successful animated musical – Trolls – and we also have another one coming up – Sing.

Lastly, Moana is Disney’s attempt at presenting an indigenous – Polynesian culture – to the global market. Thier last attempt at this with Pocahontas wasn’t the most successful, but I think that Disney learned from their mistakes. They went an extra mile to cast voice actors from appropriate backgrounds and also employed anthropologists to help portray Polynesian culture as accurately as possible. As a student of anthropology and a lover of films, I found that fascinating – maybe this can be my job in the future?

Moana’s story also appealed to me on two personal levels. First of all, I, as a longtime professional(-ish) swimmer, sometimes do feel better in the water than on land, so I loved seeing Moana’s connection to the ocean. Secondly, Moana reminded me of two different books that I read as a kid that both revolved around islands and island culture. One of them was Whale Rider (1987) by Witi Ihimaera about a Maori girl and her journey to becoming her clan’s chief. The other was called Island of the Blue Dolphins (1960) by Scott O’Dell about a Native American girl who gets stranded on an island near California. Both books have been turned into movies, in 2002 and 1964 respectively.

Writing and Story

Jared Bush, who has previously worked on Big Hero 6 and also co-wrote and co-directed Zootopia, wrote the screenplay of Moana but a lot of people got the credits for the story, including the directors of this film Ron Clements and John MuskerBig Hero 6’s directors Chris Williams and Don HallWreck-It Ralph 2’s writer Pamela Ribon, and twin Hawaiian screenwriters Aaron and Jordan Kandell.

For the most part, I really enjoyed the writing for Moana. I loved that the movie opened with a lesson in Polynesian mythology. In general, I thought that this specific culture was represented with respect but it was still made fun. The writing for the two main characters was also great. Where the movie’s magic kinda broke down was in the actual narrative of the film. The first act felt a bit drawn out – I wanted to get onto the adventure part quicker. I felt that the movie was just basically checking things off a list in during the set-up: Moana had Disney staples such as the dead relative/teacher, the overprotective parents, and the idea that everyone should stay in their place. The ending was also a bit predictable and I wish they would have done without the cliches like failing at first try and leaving and coming back in the heat of the battle. Nevertheless, a few narrative ideas that I thought were great was the fact that Moana didn’t have or need a love interest. Also, the final confrontation was female-centric, similarly to Frozen, and I would have had a problem with that if Moana didn’t have strong and cool male character – Maui – as well.

Directing and Animation

Ron Clements and John Musker, who have made such Disney classic as The Little MermaidAlladinHercules, and Princess and the Frog, directed the film and did a wonderful job. The pacing of the film could have been better but I absolutely adored the visuals and the animation. All the environment, especially the ocean, were brought to life just magnificently – the water looked both realistic and magical – so much better than another recent water based animation Finding Dory. The character design was also super cool. Moana actually looked like a real person, with realistic body proportions! Maui looked super cool too – I liked that his tattoos were not only a visual prop but a part of the plot. Moana’s sidekicks were good too. The chicken was mostly used for comic relief which was neither a hit or a miss for me. I wish, however, that they would have brought the piggy along for the ride, as he was super cute. The baby Moana was also so adorable. You couldn’t not fall in love with her. Lastly, one of my favorite parts of the film was the good old training montage for both Moana and Maui.

Music

Tarzan’s composer Mark MancinaHamilton’s Lin-Manuel Miranda, and a member of Oceanic music group Te Vaka – Opetaia Foa’i – all worked on the soundtrack and did an amazing job. To being with, I loved hearing some of the songs in Tokelauan language – it added more authenticity to the film’s atmosphere. The more mainstream pop-songy numbers were also great. I see a lot of potential in one song especially in finally making the world let go of Let it Go – I’m talking about the main song of MoanaHow Far I’ll Go. I liked the version sung by Cravalho much more than Alessia Cara’s credits version. Even though I love Cara and her lyrics, I felt that Cravalho voice just had more emotion and fit the song better. But I can see why Disney wanted a more well-known singer to record a version of the song. Let it Go was also recorded by Idina Menzel and a more mainstream choice Demi Lovato.

Other two songs that I’d like to name are You’re Welcome by Dwayne Johnson. I was super impressed with Johnson’s voice – is there anything he can’t do? The song itself kinda reminded me of another Disney tune whose name I don’t remember, but it just sounded so familiar. The last song I’m gonna mention was the one sung by the crab – that was the only part of the score that I didn’t feel on board with.

Voice cast

  • Auli’i Cravalho was amazing as Moana. Her voice just had so much emotion and fit the character perfectly. I think she has a long career ahead of her, at least I hope so.
  • Dwayne Johnson as Maui was great too. He just had so much charisma in his voice alone. This was only his second voice role. Next year, he has 3 big movies coming up – Fast 8Baywatch, and Jumanji.

In short, Moana was another great picture from Disney. It had spectacular characters, nice thematical ideas and gorgeous animated visuals. I only wish they would have made the story a bit more original.

Rate: 4/5

Trailer: Moana trailer

P.S. Before Moana, a new Disney short called, Inner Workings, was screened. It was kinda the Inside Out of the body rather than the mind. It was both funny and cute as well as sad and depressing (like Pixar levels sad). Loved the main message – treat yourself, escape the routine and enjoy life!

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Movie review: Trolls

Movie reviews

Hello, everyone!

Usually, I go to the cinema on a Friday or during the weekend. However, I made an exception this week and went to see a film on a Monday afternoon as a reward for finishing a very depressing anthropology essay (I wrote about race and racism). As a result, I chose a movie that I hoped would make me smile and would lift my spirits – Trolls. So, let’s see if the film succeeded in that regard!!

IMDb summary: Enter a colorful, wondrous world populated by hilariously unforgettable characters and discover the story of the overly optimistic Trolls, with a constant song on their lips, and the comically pessimistic Bergens, who are only happy when they have trolls in their stomach

Writing

Jonathan Aibel and Glenn Berger, writers of the Kung Fu Panda series and The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water, penned the script for Trolls and did a good job. The narrative was not the most original – it had the basic rescue plot, a storyline of hero’s growth, a dead relative (a Disney/Pixar staple in a DreamWorks film?) and even a Cinderella-esque plot-line on a side. However, it was executed effectively. Trolls was cheesy and had heart: it was pleasing to the eye, the mind, and the soul. It portrayed universal topics of friendship and family and looked for the balance between positivity and negativity. It overcame the problematic and a tiny bit cruel premise that one can only be happy by hurting others with a concluding notion that happiness is inside all of us, but sometimes we need others to bring it out. The film’s jokes were mostly aimed at children, but a few more adult lines were also slipped in, including ‘Little slappy, make daddy happy’ moment. I also appreciated ‘the happiness equals pizza’ scene.

Directing

Mike Mitchel (worked on the Shrek movies and the new SpongeBob film) and Walt Dohrn (co-wrote the Shrek series, the Madagascar series and Rise of the Guardians) directed the film and did a nice job. I loved the fact that they and the DreamWorks animators just went all out with the colors. Trolls was an absolute explosion of the rainbow – all big and bright. I loved the troll’s hair and the way they used it as a tool or a weapon. Both the hair and all other surrounding textures appeared to be very furry and soft – I really wanted to physically touch that world. The structure/appearance of the trolls’ bodies reminded me a bit of smurfs, although it was actually based on the Danish woodcutter’s Thomas Dam’s designs. Because of the way trolls acted, they also had some similarities to minions. I wish that Trolls would become the new Minions because I am so tired of those yellow fire-hindrents – they are literarly everywhere. Trolls’ movements (or singing, dancing, hugging, and scrapbooking) were realized nicely as well: they moved realistic enough but also had the right amount of fantasy’s fluidity. Lastly, the movie had a mid-credits scene, so make sure you stay through the first part of the credits to watch it.

Music and Voice Work

Christophe Beck was responsible for the music and he did a fairly good job. The film had a good mixture of well-known pop songs and, since I enjoy pop music and different covers of it, I liked the overall soundtrack. My favorite performances were the sadly happy ‘True Colors’ scene and the unapologetically bright and explosive finale with ‘Can’t Stop The Feeling’. That song was literally everywhere this past summer (and will probably re-appear after the release of this picture) and was the best marketing for the film. However, I wish they would have released the movie’s version with both Kendrick’s and Timberlake’s vocals, instead of it just being sung by Timberlake. Both of them did a good job with their songs and dialogue, though. Kendrick (Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates, Pitch Perfect and upcoming The Accountant) was bubbly and sweet as Poppy and Timberlake (Friends with Benefits, In Time, upcoming Woody Allen project) was moody and whiny enough to be Branch. Branch’s character was probably the one that I related the most to. I also liked the meta-moment when Branch said ‘I don’t sing’ even though the person behind his voice is literally one of the greatest singers/entertainers of out generation.

The supporting voice cast included a few actors, a few comedians, a few singers and even a few YouTubers: Zooey DeschanelRussell BrandJames CordenGwen Stefani, and Icona Pop all had characters to bring to life. Youtube was represented by Ricky Dillon, Kandee JohnsonGloZell GreenCarrie Hope Fletcher, and Connie Glynn (Noodlerella). All of them were supposed to have voice cameos in the film, although I’m not sure in which versions. I definitely know that Carrie and Connie aurally appeared in the UK version – the one I saw.

Rate: 3.75/5

In short, Trolls was a delightful little film. It had superb animation, some nice songs, and good performances from the voice cast. The story lacked originality but entertained me in that familiar kinda way. Next similar film – an animated musical comedy SING will be coming out in December/January!

Trailer: Trolls trailer

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