5 ideas about a movie: Isle of Dogs

Movie reviews

Hello!

And welcome to a review of one peculiar little picture. This is Isle of Dogs.

IMDb summary: Set in Japan, Isle of Dogs follows a boy’s odyssey in search of his lost dog.

  1. Isle of Dogs was written and directed By Wes Anderson and was undeniably his picture. His style of filmmaking is just so unique and different that it is impossible to confuse his films with anyone else’s. While Anderson did write the screenplay himself, the story credits went to Roman Coppola, Jason Schwartzman (two of Anderson’s frequent collaborators), and Kunichi Nomura (a Japanse actor/writer who was also one of the two casting directors for this film).
  2. I have seen a lot of articles and comments online about Isle of Dogs in relation to the appropriation of Japanese culture. I certainly had a similar thought when watching the movie. I wasn’t entirely sure why the setting had to be Japan, though I found the interplay between the languages – English and Japanese – quite an interesting choice for the film. I also wouldn’t like to state that the filmmaker was definitely appropriating something as I believe that cultures should be shared. And yet, where is the line between respectful homage and appreciation versus malevolent appropriation?
  3. In my mind, Isle of Dogs’ story unfolded on two plains: the surface and the hidden one. The surface story was an elaborate but clear adventure narrative about some dogs and a boy fighting an evil empire. That story was a bit slow but the humor was still snappy (the comedic timing was quite impeccable). The deeper meaning that I took from the picture was the commentary on the modern society, which enjoys nothing more than othering and excluding people that it finds unsuitable for a whole number of reasons (a lot of which relate to the person’s identity).
  4. I highly enjoyed the format of Isle of Dogs. I have always been a fan of the stop-motion animation and I sill find it just so captivating. The amount of work that goes into this style of animation blows my mind every time I see a new film using it. The design of the animals was also great – real but not really. Every shot felt just so material: saturated with objects, colors, and textures. The symmetrical steady shots also felt very Anderson. The film was also very musical in that its score had an underlying beat, constantly ringing in the background, which provided a sort of rhythmic backdrop for the story. The animation, art, and music departments should get as much recognition for this movie as Anderson himself does.
  5. Isle of Dogs’ voice cast was full of Hollywood’s most recognizable and expressive voices that added so much to the picture. Bryan Cranston (Trumbo, Power Rangers), Edward Norton (Collateral Beauty), Bill Murray (The Jungle Book), Jeff Goldblum (ID2, Thor 3), Bob BalabanGreta Gerwig (Lady Bird), Frances McDormand (Three Billboards), Scarlett Johansson (Ghost in the Shell, MCU), and Tilda Swinton (Okja, Doctor Strange) all had roles of varying sizes.  On the Japanese front, Koyu Rankin, Kunichi Nomura, Akira Takayama and even Yoko Ono lent their voices to some characters.

In brief, Isle of Dogs was a bizarre and fascinating Wes Anderson-y ride that might or might not have been culturally insensitive.

Rate: 3.5/5

Trailer: Isle of Dogs trailer

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Movie review: Maze Runner: The Death Cure

Movie reviews

Hello!

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

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

Writing

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

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

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

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

 

 

Directing

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

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

Acting

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

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

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

Rate: 3.8/5

Trailer: Maze Runner: The Death Cure trailer

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2017 Summer Movies RANKED

Movie previews, Movie reviews

Good day!

Welcome to the fall/autumn and the post dedicated to the general overview of the 2017 Summer Movie Season. And bear in mind, I’m using the term ‘summer’ very loosely. Since a lot of blockbusters came during the early spring, I extended this movie season’s beginning from May to March, so the time frame we are now working with is March to August. Like in 2016 and 2015, when I ranked the movies of those respective seasons, I’m dividing the pictures into categories by genre as much as that is possible (a few of these films can fit into a couple of genres). Lastly, while the rank I gave these movies when I reviewed them does affect my thought process, it is not the only factor for ranking these films. Some of my ideas about the said films might have changed with time or with a second viewing. Enjoy and tell me your favorite movie of 2017 (so far) in the comments!

Comic Book Movies:

  1. Logan
  2. Wonder Woman
  3. Spider-Man: Homecoming
  4. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol.2
  5. Batman & Harley Quinn

Action Movies:

  1. Baby Driver
  2. Free Fire
  3. Atomic Blonde
  4. Fast & Furious 8

Animated Movies:

  1. Cars 3
  2. The Boss Baby
  3. Despicable Me 3
  4. The Emoji Movie

Sci-Fi Movies:

  1. War for the Planet of the Apes
  2. Okja
  3. Life
  4. Kong: Skull Island
  5. Power Rangers
  6. Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets
  7. Alien: Covenant
  8. What Happened To Monday
  9. Ghost in the Shell
  10. Transformers: The Last Knight

Fantasy Movies:

  1. Beauty and the Beast
  2. King Arthur: The Legend of The Sword
  3. Death Note
  4. The Mummy
  5. Pirates of the Carribean: Dead Men Tell No Tales
  6. The Dark Tower

Action Comedy/Comedy Movies:

  1. Girls Trip
  2. The Hitman’s Bodyguard
  3. Baywatch
  4. War Machine
  5. Rough Night
  6. Snatched

Drama Movies:

  1. Wind River
  2. Dunkirk
  3. American Made
  4. To The Bone
  5. The Circle
  6. The Glass Castle
  7. Sand Castle

Romantic Drama Movies:

  1. The Big Sick
  2. Their Finest
  3. The Promise
  4. The Beguiled
  5. Everything Everything

I hope you enjoyed my list as well as the summer movies. Onto the awards’ season!

5 ideas about a movie: To The Bone

Movie reviews

Hello!

To The Bone is the latest Netflix original film (previous ones being Okja, War Machine, and Sand Castle), that similarly to another streaming platform’s project – 13 Reasons Why – tackles a controversial issue head on. Both of these pieces of entertainment have been accused of glorifying their respective analyzed problems but, to my mind, the viewers/critics that are saying that have completely missed the point. The depiction of problems forces a conversation and, even though the conversation might be uncomfortable, it is necessary, both on the personal and societal levels. And if Netflix’s TV shows/movie are the only ones willing to kickstart it, they should be praised rather than condemned.

IMDb summary: A young woman is dealing with anorexia. She meets an unconventional doctor who challenges her to face her condition and embrace life.

  1. To The Bone has been written and directed by Marti Noxon, who was a writer and executive producer on Buffy the Vampire Slayer. The script was, arguably, the strongest part of the film. To The Bone presented anorexia from a variety of angles and through the perspectives of a diverse range of characters. And what was even greater was the fact that this varied portrayal was realistic and detailed but the ultimate message was one of hope.
  2. The main character’s family was given as a very toxic example of what not to do. All of the mother figures in the film were far from supportive: the stepmother raised questions of beauty instead of health, while the mother and her partner were distant. All of them were more focused on their own problems. And that nicely corresponded to the message of the film which was, to my mind, the fact that the patients have to heal for themselves. It’s about choosing life for themselves. Nevertheless, it’s also important for them to understand that they deserve the support of others. Even though they are reduce to it, they are not just a nameless burden or somebody’s else problem, they are a person.
  3. I also really appreciated a lot of contemporray approaches to the portrayl of the eating disorder. The tumblr aspect was fasnicating and so true to life. While the blogging site is an amazing creative hub it’s also a cesspool that both perpetuates and fights of a lot of mental disorders. The strict and relentless doctor character was a very interesting inclusion as well. His ‘let’s cut to the core’ attitude was very eye opening. The clinic house and the challenging boding remimded me of a depiction of a group home on The Fosters TV show. Lastly, the feeding scene was heatbreaking and the mother-daughter connection on display in the said scene kinda made up for the earlier negative portrayal of the female authorty figures.
  4. Having touched upon Noxon’s writing, I’d like to now turn my attention to her direction of To The Bone. I thought that the movie’s slow pace was good amd fitting, while the visuals – a classic example of a narrative film/drama. Even though the film has been primarly released on a streaming platform/small screen, the art show and the main character’s night stroll/dream at the end of the movie added a cinematic quality to the picture. The dead body shot at the end of the film was also a very striking image just on its own. Noxon’s portrayl of eating – as a ritualised or sexualised action – was also very interesting.
  5. The main character of the film has been played by Lily Collins, who after starring in some B-level pictures (Mirror Mirror, Love, Rosie) has really blossomed into a wonderful actress in these past few years, with roles in Rules Don’t Apply, Okja, and this film. Her physical transformation for the role was also praisewrothy career-wise but defintely not health-wise. Keanu Reeves was also good. While action movies are still more in his wheelhouse (like John Wick), lately, he has been getting pretty good at drama (like here or in The Neon Demon). Liana Liberato, who I first saw in the film Trust about the dangers of social media, was also very good in this movie, playing the only supportive family member. Lastly, a Tony-award winning actor Alex Sharp was an absolute scene stealer. His character had an aura of theatricality that must have fit perfectly with the talents of a Boradway/theatre actor.

In brief, To The Bone variedly and realistically portrayed the taboo isue of anorexia. The screenplay was informative but not gloryfying, while the acting was stark and emotional rather than inviting of any kind of copycat behaviour.

Rate: 4/5

Trailer: To The Bone 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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