Movie review: The Shape of Water

Movie reviews

Hello!

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

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

Writing

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

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

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

Directing

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

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

Acting

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

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

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

Rate: 4,8/5

Trailer: The Shape of Water trailer

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Movie review: 12 Strong

Movie reviews

Hello!

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

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

Writing

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

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

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

Directing

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

 

Acting

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

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

Rate: 3/5

Trailer: 12 Strong trailer

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Movie review: Stronger

Movie reviews

Hello!

Welcome to a review of the second Boston Marathon bombing biopic. It’s Stronger.

IMDb summary: Stronger is the inspiring real-life story of Jeff Bauman, an ordinary man who captured the hearts of his city and the world to become a symbol of hope after surviving the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing.

Just last year (or at the beginning of this year, depending on the location), Patriot’s Day premiered in theatres. It recounted the events of the 2013 Boston Bombing from the perspective of the law enforcement officers. Back then, I questioned the morality of the cinematic adaptation of such a recent event. Nevertheless, my questioning did not stop Hollywood from making a second biopic centered on the tragic terrorist attack. This time around, the event is portrayed from the viewpoint of a supporter (almost a passerby) who got injured in the attack.

Writing

Stronger was written by John Pollono (actor mostly but he has written some short films before), based on the biography of the same name by Jeff Bauman (portrayed by Jake Gyllenhaal in the film) and Bret Witter. I thought that the writing for the picture was quite interesting. To being with, the set-up for the main character was really effective – in just three scenes (Costco, bar, and home), Jeff’s whole background (work, relationships, family) was established. Speaking of his family: their reaction to his injury (trying to almost benefit from it) was infuriating but, sadly, realistic. Having said that, his family, especially his mother, can’t really be blamed for being unequipped to deal with such a tragedy: nobody is ever prepared for such an incident, moreover, his mother seemed to have had her own personal issues and problems.

Bauman’s relationship with his on-and-off girlfriend was fascinating too. Just the idea that he usually did not show up for anything but the one time he showed up he got hurt was so unreal that it had to have been real (one cannot fictionalize coincidences like this one). The fact that the girlfriend felt to blame for the incident because he showed up for her was also hinted at in the film.

Although Stronger was a personal story of recovery, it also explored the society’s reaction to both the Boston bombing and its victims. The film portrayed the celebration of victims as well as their heroization – two developments that are so peculiar but undeniably real. I wish that the film would have explored PTSD a bit more broadly but, I guess, since Bauman himself was in denial about his state, if the film would have explored the issue more, Stronger would not have been Bauman’s authentic story anymore. What the movie did explore was the meaning of saving (how saving another saves oneself too) and it also touched upon the concepts of wholesomeness and masculinity very briefly.

 

Lastly, the film hinted at the idiotic ideas of conspiracy that surrounds global disasters like this one. It also had an overall nice message about staying strong in the face of a tragedy. Nevertheless, it would be much better if we didn’t need messages like that altogether, but, I suppose, the idea that terrorism might not exist one day is just pure wishful thinking on my part.

Directing

Stronger was directed by David Gordon Green, whose previous film was Our Brand Is Crisis (a fictionalized account of a real political election). I thought that he did a good job with Stronger. The pacing of the film was good for the most part, though, it started dragging slightly at the very end. The emotional core of the story was visualized very well. The scene at the hockey game was brilliant – it felt psychotic and full of anxiety – all the feelings that Bauman himself felt in that moment. The other sport-related scene – the final ceremonial pitch at the Red Sox’s game – acted as a nice conclusion to the character’s journey. Overall, it was very interesting to see how sporting events were/are such a big part of the identity of Boston and the Bostonians. I also appreciated the fact that Stronger focused a lot on the medical procedures and the practical difficulties that somebody with a disability encounters – becoming disabled doesn’t mean just losing a body part but losing one’s whole way of life too – and it was really great that Stronger emphasized that.

Acting

The whole film was mostly carried by three actors. Jake Gyllenhaal (Southpaw, Everest, Nocturnal Animals, Life) delivered an incredible physical and emotional performance as Jeff. Orphan Black’s Tatiana Maslany was also amazing as Erin, Jeff’s girlfriend: the scene with Jeff and Erin screaming at each other in the car was so emotional. Miranda Richardson also delivered a very grounded performance (one that would fit a social realism indie) as Jeff’s mother.

In short, Stronger was a deeply human story, brought to life by brilliant performances and solid directing.

Rate: 4/5

Trailer: Stronger trailer

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Movie review: Justice League

Movie reviews

Hello!

Welcome to the review of the most polarizing movie of the year. Is anyone even surprised that the said divisive film is just another entry into the DCEU? This is Justice League.

IMDb summary: Fueled by his restored faith in humanity and inspired by Superman’s selfless act, Bruce Wayne enlists the help of his newfound ally, Diana Prince, to face an even greater enemy.

Before moving on to the actual review, I wanted to give you my brief thoughts about the DCEU in general. When Man of Steel came out in 2013, I barely paid any attention to it because I wasn’t into comic book movies much (had watched some Marvel ones and enjoyed them but was still oblivious to the bigger universe). However, 3 years later (in 2016), I had already become a huge fan of MCU, had familiarized myself with the DC character on TV and had started to read comics regularly. Needless to say, I was looking forward to Batman v Superman and Suicide Squad. Both films left me sort of baffled. While I wasn’t a fan of the dark/grim atmosphere, I could understand it as a creative choice. What I couldn’t forgive was the messy and unfocused storytelling. Then Wonder Woman came along and was a breath of fresh air (with a meh third act). Now, Justice League is coming together for the first time on the big screen and I have mixed feelings even before I see it. I care about these characters, because I have been dazzled by them in the comics (I read way more of DC than I do Marvel), have caught up with them every week on TV (The Flash) or in animated films (DC animation used to be so good before it started going sideways with The Killing Joke debacle and Batman and Harley weirdness) and even though the movies themselves were flawed, I have enjoyed seeing these versions of Batman and Wonder Woman (somebody please fix Superman, though). I go into the screening hoping for the best while also worrying about the worst.

SPOILER ALERT

Writing

Justice League’s screenplay was written by Chris Terrio (the writer of Argoand BvS, while Zack Snyder helped out with the story. Joss Whedon (Avengers 1 and 2) also received a screenplay credit but it’s not really clear whether he got the credit because he actually changed some of the narrative of the film or just because he couldn’t get a co-directing credit together with Snyder. Anyways, I thought that the movie’s writing was a mixed bag.

Let’s start with the set-up. I highly enjoyed a lot of its elements but didn’t necessarily think that they all jelled well. The film’s set-up had two main goals: to introduce the new characters and the establish the team and to develop a villain for the story. The introductions of the new characters – Flash, Aquaman, and Cyborg – were brief but effective. Still, if these characters had solo movies prior to this film, I believe I’d have had a stronger connection to them. Since I already knew this universe’s version of Wonder Woman and Batman (BvS was basically his solo film), they were my favorites of the group.

The dynamics within the team were really neat. I liked the different pairings, the contrast between the rookies and the seniors, and the humor within the group. That last thing felt like an obvious influence of Joss Whedon. What I could have done without was all the sexual nods between Diana and all other members. I wouldn’t have minded a few of them, but the constant stream was not welcomed by me.

Speaking of the villain, Steppenwolf served his purpose but wasn’t amazing. What boggled me was the fact that the DCEU is or was supposed to be this realistic and sophisticated reimagining of the DC characters. And yet, all their villains have been super comic book-y and in no way fitting for the tonne of the franchise. The fact that the main villain had a disposable army, like in all the other comic book films, didn’t bode well for the picture either. Having said that, the army of parademons at least had a trait to make them more interesting – they were feeding on fear – and they also served a bigger purpose in the final act (a.k.a. took down Steppenwolf when he experienced fear).

Justice League also had a plethora of references to the future DCEU projects and I immensely enjoyed spotting them. The more into comics I get, the more Easter Eggs I recognize. I also love to research the references I didn’t spot. Honestly, a huge part of watching these films is reading/watching the coverage of them after the actual screening. Speaking about the future of the DCEU, Justice League had an ending that felt like an answer to the critique of the grimness of the franchise. The sense of hope for the future was established. Now, let’s just pray that the box office numbers allow the DCEU to deliver on their promise of course correction (the opening weekend’s numbers have not been great).

Directing

Zack Snyder (300, Watchmen, Sucker Punch) helmed the movie during the principal photography, while Joss Whedon directed the reshoots and was responsible for the final edit. The film that premiered in cinemas around the world was an amalgamation of the talents of both these filmmakers. Snyder’s input was evident in the actions scenes, while Whedon’s influence shined in the aforementioned humor of the feature.

Speaking of the action, the team had 3 big action scenes (the individual characters had some smaller action scenes in addition to the 3 team ones). The action sequence underneath the Gotham harbor was neat and a great first showcasing of the team’s powers together (I loved how the seniors Wonder Woman and Batman were doing the majority of the fighting, while the rookies Flash and Cyborg were more about helping the civilians). The Superman v League fight wasn’t bad either. The final action scene was entertaining but I wish it was more epic and more massive in scope. Well, at least they have some space to grow in the following pictures. They also have a lot of space for the improvement of the CGI: it should have been way more photorealistic. Overall, my favorite action scene did not even involve the Justice League themselves. It was the sequence on Themyscira that I found the most inventive and the most enjoyable.

The movie’s runtime has been cut short. What was supposed to be a 2.5 hours film, ended up being less than 2 hours. The set-up felt like it was missing some scenes and that’s why it might have felt choppy. However, the fact that the picture was shorter than expected, made it feel really quick and more fast-paced than it actually was/might have been. Nobody can say that it dragged.

The credits scenes

Justice League had a mid-credits scene consisting of the race between The Flash and Superman – an iconic moment from the comics that was replicated only recently on DCTV with Supergirl and The Flash. The post-credits scene was a hint for the future alliance of the villains and also introduced the viewers to Deathstroke (who just appeared on DCTV/Arrow last/this week).

Acting

The DCEU casting choices have been their best choices concerning the series. Let’s go over the main players as well as their supporting characters.

  • Ben Affleck (The Accountant, Gone Girl) was great as Bruce Wayne / Batman. I really enjoyed his speech about his lack of humanity. Jeremy Irons (High-Rise, Assasin’s Creed) was neat as Alfred Pennyworth, while J. K. Simmons (The Snowman, Renegades, Patriot’s Day, La La Land) had a couple of scenes as James Gordon. I really want that Batman solo film to materialize and see more of these actors in the iconic roles.
  • Henry Cavill (The Man from U.N.C.L.E., Sand Castle) appeared as Clark Kent / Superman, while Amy Adams (Arrival, Nocturnal Animals) reprised her role of Lois Lane (the big guns). Cavill’s infamous mustache was very noticeable and his face looked really wonky in half of the shots. Subsequently, a lot of Superman’s scenes were distracting. However, he didn’t have much of them in the film. He is the character that has appeared in the biggest numbers of movies in the franchise, so we have already been exposed to him a lot. What I did like about Cavill’s performance in Justice League particularly was the fact that he was allowed to be positive and happy to be alive (in contrast to moping and feeling sorry for oneself).
  • Gal Gadot came back as Diana Prince / Wonder Woman and was as perfect as ever. I really want to see her in more movies, outside this or Fast&Furiousfranchises. Connie Nielsen briefly appeared as Hippolyta. I loved that moment with the signal fire for Diana.
  • Ezra Miller (Fantastic Beasts) as Barry Allen / Flash was the standout of the new characters and that was mostly due to Miller’s comedic talents. His enthusiasm was infectious and his reaction faces just hilarious. His love interest Iris West was set to be played by Kiersey Clemons (Flatliners) but was cut from the final film. We did get an intro to Barry’s father Henry Allen played by Billy Crudup (Alien: Covenant), though. That The Flash solo movie might actually be really good and could compete with the TV show.
  • Jason Momoa played Arthur Curry / Aquasman. I loved Momoa in the role but wish he was given something more to do with it. I’m hopeful about his solo movie, though. Amber Heard (Magic Mike XXL, The Danish Girl), who was introduced as Mera, will also re-appear in it.
  • Ray Fisher starred as Victor Stone / Cyborg and was probably the character most integral to the plot of the film. I didn’t know much about Fisher prior to this movie but was really impressed by his performance. He brought heart and soul to Cyborg – qualities which only a good dramatic actor can portray well.
  • Ciarán Hinds (GOT’s King Beyond the Wall) did the motion capture of and provided the voice for Steppenwolf. He was good enough in the role but I do wish that the design of the character would have been more interesting.

In short, Justice League was the second best film in the DCEU (and while it’s not much, it’s something). It had some great character moments (both action and humor ones) but was still plagued by the wider problems of the whole series. Nevertheless, the future is hopeful.

Rate: 3.5/5

Trailer: Justice League 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: Battle of the Sexes

Movie reviews

Good evening,

My BFI London Film Festival series of reviews (it opened with Breathe) continues with Battle of the Sexes – another potential awards contender for the year!

IMDb summary: The true story of the 1973 tennis match between World number one Billie Jean King and ex-champ and serial hustler Bobby Riggs.

As a side note, before the actual review begins, I just wanted to tell you about a different tennis movie that already came out this year and left me pleasantly surprised. It’s Borg vs. McEnroe and I suggest you check it out! Onto Battle of the Sexes!

Writing

Battle of the Sexes was written by Simon Beaufoy (who is known for writing such movies as Slumdog Millionaire127 HoursSalmon Fishing in the YemenThe Hunger Games: Catching Fire, and Everest) and the film’s script was inspired/based on real events.

Battle of the Sexes tackled/portrayed two big concepts – the LGBTQ+ identity and the feminism/women’s rights. Sadly, both of these thematical spheres are still highly controversial and not discussed enough (or if they are debated, then only really unproductively, with zero chances of reaching a consensus between the opposing sides). Some might say that both of these issues are more topical in today’s socio-political climate than they were in the 1970s.

The movie approached these topics head-on (feminism way more than the LGBTQ+ side) and had a strong overall message. Personally, I loved it, but then again, I am a woman, a feminist, and a liberal. The general audiences, full of individuals of different genders/ideologies/beliefs, might turn on this movie because of its strong message of social justice. There was one short scene in the movie, where Emma Stone’s character confronted a journalist and clearly declared that she was not fighting to be seen as better, she just wanted to be treated equally. I wanted that idea – one of equality – to be more overtly stated in the movie because I worry that a takeaway for some audience members might be the fact that women want to be on top, rather than by side with the other genders. It is a bummer that, for some, being pro-female ultimately translates into an anti-male stance and I would hate if the cinema-goers interpreted Battle of the Sexes in such a way.

Now, let’s discuss some aspects of the writing in more detail. I thought that the presentation of Steve Carell’s character was captivating: his personal background and problems very clearly affected his actions of the tennis court. The way his gambling addiction and his work – tennis – were combined was super interesting too. It was also fascinating to see how he embellished his toxic masculinity for the public eye. The whole commentary on tennis as an activity in the middle of the spectacle v sports dichotomy was brilliant. In addition, the conflicting position of Carell’s character’s wife, played by Elisabeth Shue, was just amazing to watch: she rooted for her husband because he was her love but she also seemed to be cheering for Billie Jean and her cause.

Lastly, Battle of the Sexes also toyed with the concept of the gentlemanliness/sexism line (where one ends and the other begins). It also showcased sport as the factor that triumphed any relationship in the character’s life. The picture also did a very good job of combining feminity with feminism (which are often presented as polar opposites, which they aren’t). Oh, and the jokes were good too!

Directing

Battle of the Sexes was directed by a duo of filmmakers – Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris – who are responsible for directing one of my all-time favorite pictures Little Miss Sunshine. They did a great job with this film and its nuances and layers. Battle of the Sexes was a great biographical drama, a good sports drama, and an amazing romantic drama. The extreme close-ups of the characters made the movie seem intimate, real, and raw. The 1970s setting was well-realized, from the retro logos to the colorful vintage tracksuits. The sequences of the actual tennis play were good too, the final one was especially intense. The body doubles were hardly noticeable, so props to the directors, the cinematographer, and the camera crew for cleverly shooting around them.

Acting

Emma Stone (Magic in the MoonlightIrrational Man) and Steve Carell (The Big Short, Cafe Society) played the two lead roles. Both of these actors had quite similar careers – they started in comedy and then tried to transition to more serious roles, with varying levels of success. For Stone, this performance is her follow-up to the Oscar win for La La Land and a strong contender for at least a nomination this year. For Carrel, the involvement in Battle of the Sexes might bring him another nomination too. Emma was extremely lovable in the role and exuded both strength and relatable vulnerability. Steve was really good too – he looked exactly like the real person and also made the guy into a somewhat likable human being, even if he was sprouting nonsense most of the time.

The supporting cast was also really good. I loved Sarah Silverman as the bossy manager, she was perfectly cast. Andrea Riseborough (Nocturnal Animals) was brilliant as Billie Jean’s lover, while Austin Stowell (Bridge of Spies) brought a lot of heart to his role of Billie’s husband. Finally, I loved to hate Bill Pullman (ID: Resurgence) in his role and adored Elisabeth Shue in hers!

In short, Battle of the Sexes was a great drama about equality, freedom, and fighting. Undoubtfully, it was well executed, but whether you will agree with its message, will entirely depend on who you are as a person.

Rate: 4.3/5

Trailer: Battle of the Sexes trailer

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5 ideas about a movie: Home Again

Movie reviews

Hello!

Home Again is trying to prove that the rom-com genre is not dead yet. Or is it?

IMDb summary: Life for a single mom in Los Angeles takes an unexpected turn when she allows three young guys to move in with her.

  1. Home Again is a directorial (and writing) debut of Hallie Meyers-Shyer, the daughter of Nancy Meyers – producer and director of various successful rom-coms (she produced her daughter’s first film too). The fact that it is somebody’s first movie explains a lot about it: Home Again was cliched, predictable, cringe-y at times, and real slow at others and, lastly, mostly consisted of elements and plot-points borrowed from other similar films. And yet, I didn’t hate it. If somebody needs an escapist, ‘no-thinking-required’ type of a film to relieve some stress or quiet one’s mind, I recommend you to see Home Again and experience somebody else’s first world problems instead of your own.
  2. The movie tackled three broad ideas: it attempted to be a traditional rom-com, with some sitcom humor, while also being a picture about the film business. Let’s start with that last part, which was, unsurprisingly, my favorite. As a cinephile, I appreciate films which appreciate films. The LA setting, the father director (who looked/came across as pre-Star Wars George Lucas), the aspiring filmmaker characters and their attempt to make a movie were all elements which I adored.
  3. The two other concepts/genres weren’t bad either (but, as I’ve said, nothing remotely original too). I liked the sitcom parts best out of the two, especially the silent reaction faces that the characters would exchange (then again, I love real-life humor). The romcom part was fine too. A bit fairytale-ish but we are talking escapism here (at least they left the ‘happy ending’ slightly ambiguous). By far the best detail of the romantic comedy side of Home Again was the reversal of the trope of the age difference between the two genders: the female character was the older one in a relationship (that is still very much a taboo thing – just look at all the news coverage about the fact that France’s president’s wife is older than him).
  4. The main thing that made Home Again work was its star – Reese Witherspoon (Sing). She has moved away from romcoms and came back to them constantly throughout her career. This instance of return was somewhat successful. She brought some heart into an otherwise shallow picture and was extremely lovable in her role, despite how cliche it was (I mean, are there any other occupations for mothers besides interior design ???).
  5. The film’s supporting cast wasn’t bad either and their performances were fine (again, appropriate for the picture). Nat Wolff (the most well-known out of the three co-leads because of TFIOS, Paper Towns, and Death Note), SNL alumni Jon Rudnitsky and quite an unknown actor Pico Alexander (who has the potential to be the next teen heartthrob) were all fun to watch. For some reason, Michael Sheen (Far From The Madding Crowd, Passengers, Nocturnal Animals) and TV royalty Candice Bergen also appeared in the movie (‘paycheck gigs pay the bills!’).

In short, Home Again is a perfectly serviceable rom-com that you have seen before. It’s a great rental/TV-rerun: a good background movie or a laundry/cooking movie. If you want a more modern take on the genre, check out The Big Sick

Rate: 2.8/5

Trailer: Home Again trailer

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Movie review: Okja

Movie reviews

Hello!

When the international release schedules fail me, Netflix provides. Let’s review their newest original picture Okja!

IMDb summary: Meet Mija, a young girl who risks everything to prevent a powerful, multi-national company from kidnapping her best friend – a fascinating animal named Okja.

Writing

Okja was written by the director of the film Bong Joon-ho and the author/journalist Jon Ronson. The narrative they crafted was just extraordinary. At a glance, the film appeared to be a live-action family adventure. However, in addition to being very entertaining all ages film, Okja was also unique, different, clever, innovative, and very topical. The premise, given in the opening, sounded insane but also sort or realistic (honestly, humans have come up with crazier solutions to the global problems). The familiar family film elements, like the child-animal bond (which sorta reminded me of The BFG), were mixed with the concepts of the corporate world, like bureaucracy, advertising, social media impact and public image, and GMOs – the ideas usually found in dystopian movies. On top of it, the distinct shades of the Korean culture, starting with the Korean language being used alongside English (I loved how the language barrier and translations were part of the plot), added another layer of uniqueness to the picture (it might not seem that out of the ordinary for anyone familiar with the cinema of the Far East).

Okja’s relationship with the vegetarian/vegan movement was super complex too. The film definitely placed the horrors of the mass meat production to the forefront and destroyed the barrier that the supermarkets have created between the production of meat and the consumer. The animal abuse was also hard to witness (tbh, now I am wondering whether animal rape is a thing) but it helped to prove a point that Okja was going for. The ideas expressed through the inclusion of the Animal Liberation Front were also fascinating. It is important to note that the screenwriters wanted to portray this group as peaceful yet still found ways to show its radicalness (beating one of their own for betrayal, starving to not leave a carbon footprint). I also appreciated the partially ambiguous ending of the film: while the personal win was achieved, the broader battle was lost. And yet, as the post-credits scene suggests – the fight continues.

Even though the movie was quite serious, it still had a few chuckle-worthy moments. I can’t believe I’m writing this, but the poop jokes in Okja were adorable rather than annoying. The company’s driver, who was completely done with his job, was also a hilarious addition.

Directing

The South Korean filmmaker Bong Joon-ho directed Okja and did an excellent job. He is probably the most well-known to Western audiences for Snowpiercer – another topical and unique film that is still accessible because of its cast of well-known Hollywood actors. While I liked Snowpiercera bit more, I still have plenty of good things to say about Okja. First, the tone – a weird mixture of satire, theater, and realism (a less kooky version of A Series of Unfortunate Events) – was great. Second, the action,especially the chase sequence through Seoul, was was both fun and entertaining yet still had a lot of heart to it. The score, which accompanied the said sequence, was also magnificent, from the trumpets in the instrumental score to the usage of the song ‘You Fill Up My Senses’. The design of the Okja animal was good too – she was a cross between a hippopotamus and pet pig. The CGI was okay too – not super photo realistic but good enough for the movie.

On a side note, the story of this film’s release is almost as fascinating as the film itself. Okja was first booed at the prestigious Cannes Film Festival for being a Netflix film and then received a standing ovation for being a movie of extreme quality. Not only do the festival goers can’t seem to make up their minds, they also appear to be living in the last century. The film release practices are changing and they should catch up to that or risk becoming irrelevant in their field.

Acting

The movie had an ensemble cast, lead by a young actress Ahn Seo-hyun, whose performance was so pure: full of innocence and wonder. The Hollywood heavyweights like Doctor Strange’s and Hail, Caesar!’sTilda Swinton (once again, completely transformed for the dual role) and Life’sand Nocturnal Animal’sJake Gyllenhaal (in an eccentric and cartoonish performance that still somehow worked) provided the support.Swiss Army Man’sPaul Dano also starred (he is always really good in non-mainstream/indie films), while Lilly Collins also had a small role – she is actually headlining the next Netflix original film – To The Bone.

In short, Okja is a delightfully smart and entertaining picture that you can watch from the comfort of your own home. The best Netflix film so far!

Rate: 4.2/5

Trailer: Okja trailer

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5 ideas about a movie: Free Fire

Movie reviews

Hello!

Welcome to a review of a new British indie movie Free Fire that acted as a great counter-programming to the awful Ghost in the Shell.

IMDb summary: Set in Boston in 1978, a meeting in a deserted warehouse between two gangs turns into a shootout and a game of survival.

  1. Long time readers of my blog will know that I’m a fan of British contemporary cinema. Even before I lived in the UK, I would try to watch all smaller British films that reached my then hometown’s movie theater. It’s pretty sad that the majority of these films do no interest non-European audiences. It’s especially heartbreaking that an amazing film, like Free Fire, will probably go unacknowledged by many global cinema-goers as well. I first found out about the picture in an article in an Empire magazine. The publishing focused on the logistics of the big shoot-out sequence and made me really interested to see the final product.
  2. Free Fire was written and directed by Ben Wheatley, in collaboration with the long-time creative partner – writer and editor Amy Jump. I’m very much a newcomer to Wheatley’s work. The first film of his that I saw was last year’s High-Rise. The dystopian drama was both puzzling and intriguing. It also had a magnificent cast –  Wheatley continued this trend in his next movie too.
  3. The writing for the movie was quite nice. There was no obvious narrative or a story, but the way the character interactions were included within the action was really cool. The attempts at flirting were especially inappropriate in the circumstances of the movie, and, thus, hilarious. In general, the movie was full of actually funny jokes. I laughed out loud multiple times. This group of characters with their various levels of stupidity and all the in-fighting was also super entertaining to watch on screen. Lastly, the decision to loosely tie in the film’s plot to the real historical events in Ireland/Northern Ireland in the 1970s was an interesting choice.
  4.  I also loved the visuals of the film. The big action set-piece was seamlessly executed. The visual craziness was neatly paired with quieter moments full of amazing verbal jabs. Plus, even before everything had escalated, Wheatley succeeded at building tension between the characters, so the start of the shoot-out was somewhat believable even if extremely sudden. The action itself was captured with a mixture of close-ups and wider shots and, while the said action was gritty, bloody, and brutal, it was not literally dark, so one could actually see what was happening on screen. In fact, the color palette was pretty warm – a lot of browns and yellows – a perfect match for the 1970s setting and the tacky costumes. I’m so happy that shoulder pads are no longer in style. What I’m sad about is that this film’s soundtrack and the similar style of music are no longer on the radio.
  5. The film had an amazing cast, full of accomplished and well-known actors. This time around, their ‘acting’ included playing kindergarten-like children in adult bodies and crawling around a lot. The cast’ included big name talent like Brie Larson (Room, Kong), Sharlto Copley (Blomkamp’s films, Hardcore Henry), Armie Hammer (The Man from U.N.C.L.E.The Birth of a Nation, Nocturnal Animals), Cillian Murphy (In the Heart of the Sea, Anthropoid, soon Dunkirk), and Jack Reynor (Sing Street). I loved Larson’s character as well as her interactions with Murphy’s character – they had this subtle chemistry which really worked. I also liked seeing Hammer actually having fun with the role and loosen up a bit. Reynor has been popping on my radar a lot lately, maybe that he is that one actor whose involvement in the Transformers franchise actually led to some good work? The film’s cast was rounded out by a lot of great but less well-known actors: Babou Ceesay (Eye in the Sky), Enzo Cilenti (small role on GOT), Sam Riley (Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, Maleficient), Michael Smiley (Black Mirror’s White Bear episode), Noah Taylor (small role on GOT too), Patrick Bergin (Irish screen actor), and Tom Davis and Mark Monero (TV actors).

In short, Free Fire is a super enjoyable action-comedy that works both as an action movie (the craftmanship of the big action sequence is amazing) an as a comedy (the visual jokes as well as small funny moments of dialogue pair off nicely).

Rate: 4.5/5

Trailer: Free Fire trailer

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Movie review: Life

Movie reviews

Hello!

Welcome to a review of the annual space movie. For the year 2017, it’s Life.

Life follows in the vein of the sci-fi space films, like 2013’s Gravity, 2014’s Interstellar, 2015’s The Martian, and, I guess, 2016’s Passengers. It’s also kinda similar to the earlier pictures, such as 2009’s Moon and 2007’s Sunshine. Life is the most similar to the last one because both films feature diverse groups of astronauts stuck on a space ship and have horror/slasher elements in addition to the sci-fi themes.

IMDb summary: A team of scientists aboard the International Space Station discover a rapidly evolving life form, that caused extinction on Mars, and now threatens the crew and all life on Earth.

Writing

Life was written by Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick (the duo previously co-wrote Zombieland and Deadpool). Story wise, the movie was not the most original but the narrative was still interesting and exciting. The two major themes were human intervention and survival. The character development was minimal but there were still a few nice character moments dispersed throughout. In fact, the movie’s main star was the alien – all the set-up focused on it rather than the humans. Life definitely depicted life beyond earth in an old-school way: the creature was instantly violent rather than communicative like the ones in Arrival. Whether the actual alien of this movie was just the rip-off of the Allien, I don’t know. It definitely appeared similar to that one and it was probably a good idea for this film to come out before Allien: Covenant.

In addition to there being some scenes to depict the character’s backgrounds, the picture also had a couple of sequences of the astronauts doing both scientific experiments and publicity for ISS. I really loved those parts and appreciated the fact that the scriptwriters attempted to show a variety of activities done by the astronauts. The ending of the movie was also interesting. I don’t know whether they didn’t explain what actually happened with the pods (how did they switch?) because they are hoping for a sequel or because they wanted to leave it open for speculation/discussion?

Directing

The Swedish director Daniel Espinosa directed Life. This was his second US-based picture, but he has also directed Child 44 in the UK (really enjoyed that one) and made a couple of films in both Denmark and Sweden. I quite liked what he did with Life. The visuals were just absolutely gorgeous and not once did I think that we weren’t in the real ISS. The pacing and the intensity were also great. The horror elements of the action weren’t cheesy either and didn’t rely too much on the jump scares but used the technique of suspense building and the visceral imagery to elicit a reaction. In fact, some of the scenes were quite gruesome and uncomfortable to watch but they were effective so I can’t fault a movie for that. The camera work was also pretty impressive, especially one of the early long shots that seemingly went all through the space station. The alien POV was also a neat effect.

Acting

The film had a very diverse cast for a narrative reason rather than just for a financial one. The astronauts were played by Jake GyllenhaalRebecca FergusonRyan ReynoldsHiroyuki SanadaAriyon Bakare, and Olga Dihovichnaya.

Seeing Gyllenhaal on screen in yet another movie made me realize that he is one of a few actors who is constantly working. He never seems to fall off the radar even if his pictures don’t earn much. A few of his recent films that I enjoyed are Everest, Southpaw, and, especially, Nocturnal Animals. It was also really nice to see Ferguson in yet another American film (she began her career in Sweden, but has already appeared in MI5, Florence Foster Jenkins, and The Girl on The Train) and I’m excited to continue following her career. For Reynolds, this was his first post-Deadpool film and I think that his role in the marketing campaign for Life was expanded because he is the man behind the Merc with a Mouth. The ad campaign led me to believe that he will be an important part of the picture so I was quite surprised with his character’s story arc.

Sanada, weirdly enough, portrayed a character in Life who very closely resembled his character in Sunshine – a movie which I already mentioned in this review because of its and Life’s similar stories. What a coincidence that these films share an actor too. Bakare has mostly done TV work before now, but he also had cameos in big films like Rogue One and The Dark Knight. Lastly, Dihovichnaya is a newcomer to the Western mainstream cinema but is an established actress in Russian-speaking indie cinema market. I hope that her work in Life will provide her with more opportunities in the West.

In short, Life was a well-made space horror flick. It had a great cast and neat, suspenseful action, which will entertain the majority of the cinema -goers, and an open ending for those who appreciate the intellectual layer in their sci-fi.

Rate: 4/5

Trailer: Life trailer

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