Movie review: A Star Is Born

Movie reviews

Hello!

And welcome to a review of a potential Oscar movie. In October. I swear the classical awards season stars earlier and earlier every year and I don’t think I can keep up. Anyways, this is A Star is Born!

IMDb summary: A musician helps a young singer and actress find fame, even as age and alcoholism send his own career into a downward spiral.

Writing

A Star Is Born was written by Eric Roth, Bradley Cooper (who also directed and starred), and Will Fetters. The 2018 film was the 4th iteration of this story and the 3rd reboot of the original 1937 movie. All the films have differed slightly by having either movie or music stars in the lead roles. I really enjoyed the fact that this time around the focus was on singers and songwriters as when I’ve recently got pretty burned out with movies and their reviews, music became my new main hobby. Thus, this film was kinda the perfect combo of my old and new hobby.

While the characters have shifted between different areas of entertainment throughout the reboots, the stories themselves have always been pretty similar. The same 3 plotlines were also used in the latest version: one’s career going up, the other’s career going down, and a simultaneous romantic involvement of the two stars, the up-and-coming one and the one whose career is in decline. I thought that the interplay between the 3 storylines was really good. However, I had some problems with the pacing of the story. The first and the seconds acts felt like they unraveled organically, however, the third one seemed rushed. The breaking points in both character’s career seemed quite sudden. Why did he completely fell off the wagon that suddenly when he had managed to maintain a steady-ish career up until that point? How did she break through that quickly and at that exact point? I guess that showbiz? One can never predict it?

Directing

Bradley Cooper directed A Star Is Born as his directorial debut and impressed me immensely. The pacing, as I have mentioned before, was a bit strange, but the world-building and the visuals were great. I loved how the viewer got to be onstage with the stars and see an unseen side of a concert. The film could have been a tad bit shorter though. The soundtrack was good, ‘The Shallows’ was my favorite song and I could see it being nominated for an Oscar.

Acting

  • In addition to directing and writing (and producing), Bradley Cooper (Joy) also played the lead and was great! I was also so surprised how good he was at singing!
  • Lady Gaga had her first big screen role in this film. She has previously cameoed or had supporting roles and films and has worked on TV (on American Horror Story). I was lucky enough to see her live 6 years ago, in my first ever big concert which was part of the Born This Way Ball tour. She sounded splendid live back then and was equally as amazing (in both the singing and the acting) in this film! I could see an Oscar nomination in her future.
  • A couple of important supporting roles were played by Sam Elliott, Andrew Dice Clay, Anthony Ramos, and Rafi Gavron. A few celebrity cameos could also be spotted but this was no Entourage.

In short, A Star Is Born was a bit long but a neat musical romance with some stellar acting and singing performances!

Rate: 4.2/5

Trailer: A Star Is Born trailer

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The Awards Season Round-Up 2018

Movie previews, Movie reviews

Hello!

Welcome to the end of the 2018 awards’ season. With the big night – the Academy Awards – just around the corner, I thought it was high time for me to decide on my personal winners. I have done similar posts for 2016 and 2017 awards seasons and linked them accordingly.

This year, I’m switching up the format and instead of listing my favorite to the least favorite filmmakers/films in each category, I’m just gonna be announcing a single personal (subjective) winner out of the nominees. I’ll also write down my objective winner – somebody who I think (when factoring in the previous wins, the critical acclaim, even the box office numbers) will actually get the Oscar. My subjective and objective winners might not always coincide. I’ll also include some of the snubs – people or movies that should have been included in the prestigious top 5 (or top 10 for Best Picture) but didn’t get an invite. Here we go! Don’t forget to tell me your personal winners (who should win and who will win) in the comments!

Lead Actor:

Timothée Chalamet – Call Me by Your Name
Daniel Day-Lewis – Phantom Thread
Daniel Kaluuya – Get Out
Gary Oldman – Darkest Hour
Denzel Washington – Roman J. Israel, Esq.

Snubs: Tom Hanks – The Post; James Franco – The Disaster Artist; Jamie Bell – Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool

  • Objective Winer: Gary OldmanDarkest Hour (he won every major award until this point).
  • Subjective Winners: Timothée ChalametCall Me by Your Name or Daniel Kaluuya Get Out (two incredible actors, both at the beginning of their career – the nominations themselves already solidified them as valuable commodity in Hollywood and the wins, though unlikely, would kickstart their career on even a higher note)

Lead Actress:

Sally Hawkins – The Shape of Water
Frances McDormand – Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Margot Robbie – I, Tonya
Saoirse Ronan – Lady Bird
Meryl Streep – The Post

Snubs: Jessica Chastain – Molly’s Game; Michelle Williams – All The Money In The World; Emma Stone – Battle of the Sexes

  • Objective Winer: Frances McDormandThree Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (again, she has won every major acting award this season)
  • Subjective Winner: Sally HawkinsThe Shape of Water (there was something so special about her performance that I just have to give it to her)

Supporting Actor:

Willem Dafoe – The Florida Project
Woody Harrelson – Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Richard Jenkins – The Shape of Water
Christopher Plummer – All the Money in the World
Sam Rockwell – Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Snubs: Armie Hammer – Call Me by Your Name

  • Objective Winer: Sam Rockwell Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (won every major award this season)
  • Subjective Winners: Sam Rockwell Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (made an awful caricature into an understandable character – brilliant)

Supporting Actress:

Mary J. Blige – Mudbound
Allison Janney – I, Tonya
Lesley Manville – Phantom Thread
Laurie Metcalf – Lady Bird
Octavia Spencer – The Shape of Water

Snubs: Hong Chau – Downsizing; Holly Hunter – The Big Sick; Kristin Scott Thomas – Darkest Hour

  • Objective Winer: Allison JanneyI, Tonya (won every major award – I’m getting tired of repeating this line but there really hasn’t been a lot of surprises this awards season)
  • Subjective Winners: Allison Janney I, Tonya (while all the nominees were good, she was amazing and on a different level altogether)

Director:

Christopher Nolan – Dunkirk
Jordan Peele – Get Out
Greta Gerwig – Lady Bird
Paul Thomas Anderson – Phantom Thread
Guillermo del Toro – The Shape of Water

Snubs: Martin McDonagh – Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri; Ridley Scott – All the Money in the World; Steven Spielberg – The Post; Sean Baker – The Florida Project; Denis Villeneuve – Blade Runner 2049

  • Objective Winer: Guillermo del ToroThe Shape of Water (the major winner this season who is also a longtime working director that deserves an Oscar)
  • Subjective Winners: Greta GerwigLady Bird (while I didn’t think her movie was as praiseworthy as everyone said, I do think that her directing abilities made it into something more special than a simple YA coming of age tale).

Adapted Screenplay:

James Ivory – Call Me by Your Name
Scott Neustadter & Michael H. Weber – The Disaster Artist
Scott Frank, James Mangold & Michael Green – Logan
Aaron Sorkin – Molly’s Game
Virgil Williams & Dee Rees – Mudbound

Snubs:  Armando Iannucci, Ian Martin & David Schneider – The Death of Stalin;  Hampton Fancher & Michael Green – Blade Runner 2049 (not sure whether it counts as original or adapted)

  • Objective Winer: Aaron Sorkin Molly’s Game (I think that Sorkin’s name will be enough to persuade the voters)
  • Subjective Winners: Scott Frank, James Mangold & Michael Green Logan (no surprise here, if you read my blog: as much as I like typical awards movies, seeing a mainstream comic book movie winning an Oscar would be absolutely amazing)

Original Screenplay:

Emily V. Gordon & Kumail Nanjiani – The Big Sick
Jordan Peele – Get Out
Greta Gerwig – Lady Bird
Guillermo del Toro & Vanessa Taylor – The Shape of Water
Martin McDonagh – Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Snubs: Sean Baker & Chris Bergoch – The Florida Project;  Steven Rogers – I, Tonya

  • Objective Winner: Martin McDonaghThree Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.
  • Subjective Winners: Emily V. Gordon & Kumail NanjianiThe Big Sick or Jordan PeeleGet Out (again, two more mainstream-esque movies that did something new and unique with familiar genres)

Best Picture:

Call Me by Your Name
Darkest Hour
Dunkirk
Get Out
Lady Bird
Phantom Thread
The Post
The Shape of Water
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Snubs: The Disaster ArtistThe Big Sick; Molly’s Game; The Florida Project

  • Objective Winner: Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (the winner up to this point). Or The Shape of Water (the big nominee that could steal the thunder)
  • Subjective Winners: I would love to see either of my objective winners actually winning. The third subjective pick would be Call Me by Your Name.

And that is is for the 2018th Awards Season! Onto March a.k.a. the warm-up for the summer movie season (A Wrinkle In Time; Red Sparrow; Tomb Raider; Pacific Rim 2; Love, Simon; Ready Player One…this month is going to be big!)

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Movie review: I, Tonya

Movie reviews

Hello!

Just in time for Winter Olympics 2018 in PyeongChang, I got a chance to see a biopic of a former Olympic figure skater. This is I, Tonya!

IMDb summary: Competitive ice skater Tonya Harding rises amongst the ranks at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships, but her future in the activity is thrown into doubt when her ex-husband intervenes.

Writing

I, Tonya was written by Steven Rogers – a writer of mostly romantic comedies and dramas. I thought that he did quite an excellent job with a new kind of story for him – a biographical black comedy. Of course, a lot of the appeal of the writing came from the peculiar and fascinating subject matter itself – Tonya Harding’s life. I really liked the structure of the film: the 4th wall breaking interviews + flashbacks. This type of structure didn’t make the movie feel choppy at all but added a layer of almost documentary-like authenticity. I also liked how the first’s part of the movie explored Tonya’s life prior to the event and only the second part focused on the event and its aftermath. By not making the whole movie about the incident with Nancy Kerrigan (who, btw, only showed up briefly – this picture was, truly, Tonya’s story and I’ve seen some supporters of Nancy complain about that online), the filmmakers really made this movie into a well-rounded biography of Tonya’s rather than just a retelling of a single event in her life. I also found the themes that the movie explored very interesting: the two major concepts that the picture looked at were family and sport – both of which intersected in Tonya Harding’s life.

Lately, ‘sport’ movies have been about so much more than just sport (like, Battle of the Sexes, in addition to I, Tonya). Gone are the days of basic inspirational sports movies of underdogs succeeding. Now, the underdogs don’t always win and the hurdles in their way are even higher and more complicated (less black and white too). Also, a recurring topic that I’ve noticed in the latest ‘sports’ movies was elitism in sport, which was explored here through the need of a ‘wholesome American family’ for a world-class skater and in Borg Vs. McEnroe through a need to come from a certain class (the higher the better) to be able to play tennis.

Looking for parallels with the other movies further, interestingly, Tonya Harding wasn’t the only real-life movie heroine this awards’ season who was told all her life that she wasn’t good enough (Molly from Molly’s Game was too). There is no question that her mother was a horrible and abusive parent. However, did that abuse really made Tonya tougher and a champion, as her mom asserted? I’d disagree, as it seems that Tonya went from one abusive family to create an abusive and dysfunctional family of her own. And yet, was she only a product of her upbringing and circumstances? Or whether some of it was completely on her? Was she inherently violent or did she learn violence? Either way, while the movie raised a lot of questions for me (as evident in this paragraph), it did provide me with one clear answer: Tonya deserved better. Also, I do believe that Tonya wasn’t to blame as much as she was blamed (she wasn’t completely blameless either). However, it seems that the skating world really could not past up an opportunity to avenge themselves not only for the incident but for her whole attitude towards them.

But, this is only my takeaway from the film. Other viewers might have understood the message differently and that’s okay because, as the movie itself stated at the very beginning: there are different versions of the truth. However, I do believe that there is a consensus among the viewers about who was the most despicable character in the film. If you didn’t think it was the bodyguard, then you really shouldn’t read this review further. I absolutely hated his character not only for his final actions that damned everyone else but just how he weaseled himself into that situation in the first place. He was truly an idiot, and that special kind of idiot, that, I’m sad to say, only seems to come in the US. Another very American aspect of the movie was the public’s reaction to the incident: Americans are a special nation who love to love celebrities as much as they love to hate them. Though it looks like this trend (of love and hate) is spreading to other parts of the world now too, mostly because of the social media.

Directing

Craig Gillespie (of The Finest Hours and Million Dollar Arm) directed I, Tonya and did a stellar job. He paced and edited the movie really well. The cinematography was great too – I loved how close and intimate the camera was during the skating sequences. The head replacement effect was noticeable in some of those sequences but not as much as to take the viewer out of the movie. The setting of the period was realized spot-on. The breaking of the 4th wall not only during the interview sequences but during the flashbacks was great too and fit the black comedy/’so crazy it has to be true’ tonne of the film. The picture was also incredibly funny but in that ‘I feel horrible for laughing’ kind of a way. I loved its irony and that satirical feeling.  The mirrored visuals in the ending, with Harding twirling on ice vs falling in a boxing, were amazing and quite sad as well.

Acting

Margot Robbie (Goodbye Christopher Robin, Tarzan, The Big Short), who has been steadily increasing her mainstream fanbase with every movie she has starred in, especially Suicide Squad, did an absolutely stellar job as the titular character. She not only acted in the film but also produced it. This role of hers reminded me of Charlize Theron’s performance in Monster, as both actresses got really de-glamourized in order to portray their respective characters. I also loved how Robbie was able to portray Tonya as a graceful dancer who wasn’t girly but rather more masculine. I thought that Robbie’s best scenes in the film (the ones that were definitely in her awards reel) were: 1)her just looking at the mirror before the 1994 Olympics and 2)her reaction to the sentence of the trial. Fun fact: the girl who played young Tonya was Mckenna Grace. In addition to playing the younger version of an actress who is Harley Quinn, she has also starred in Gifted alongside Captain America, a.k.a Chris Evans.

Allison Janney (Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, The Girl on the Train) was also incredible in the film and is deservedly getting a lot of awards recognition for it. I wish that Sebastian Stan, who played Tonya’s husband, would have also gotten some awards nods because he too was excellent in the film. Stan has been steadily building quite a successful career for himself too, like Robbie, by starring in the supporting roles in smaller/awards films (The Martian, Logan Lucky) and by portraying a fan favorite character in a big franchise, a.k.a. Bucky in MCU (who was last seen in Civil War plus, a certain post-credits scene in a certain movie.

In short, I, Tonya was a great film with a fascinating subject matter and a stellar execution.

Rate: 4.5/5

Trailer: I, Tonya trailer

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Movie review: Phantom Thread

Movie reviews

Hello!

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

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

Paul Thomas Anderson

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

Writing

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

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

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

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

Directing

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

Acting

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

 

 

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

Rate: 3/5

Trailer: Phantom Thread trailer

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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: Darkest Hour

Movie reviews

Hello!

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

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

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

Writing

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

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

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

Directing

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

Acting

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

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

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

Rate: 4/5

Trailer: Darkest Hour trailer

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Movie review: Coco

Movie reviews

Hello!

The latest Pixar film has finally landed in my local theatres. This is Coco!

IMDb summary: Aspiring musician Miguel, confronted with his family’s ancestral ban on music, enters the Land of the Dead to find his great-great-grandfather, a legendary singer.

Just before we start, here are the links to my other Pixar reviews: Cars 3, Finding Dory, Inside Out.

Writing

Coco was written by Adrian Molina (worked on Monsters University, Toy Story 3, The Good Dinosaur, Ratatouille) and Matthew Aldrich (who doesn’t have much on his IMDb). Disney/Pixar have been dipping their toes into different cultures more and more (just recently with Moana) and have been attempting to showcase these certain cultures without appropriating them. I think that they succeed at this with Coco. On a side note, Coco is not the first animated film to have explored the day of the dead – 4 years ago, 20th Century Fox animation studios made The Book of Life to little or no fanfare. This only goes to show the importance of the attachment of a big name to any project – people trust Pixar, similarly how they trust Marvel or up until recently, Lucasfilm.

Anyways, back to Coco. So, Molina and Aldrich took the rituals and the beliefs of Dia de Los Muertos and turned them into a mythology of the film. To my mind, they were respectful of the culture and did a very good job of explaining it/informing others about it. I’ve always been interested in this particular celebration (even wrote a paper on it in my first year of uni), however, I only had a limited knowledge of it and Pixar’s Coco expanded it. I loved how they also included other iconic elements/people from the Mexican culture (loved the recurring Frida Kahlo gag). I also liked how the move took something culture-specific, like the idea that people decorate altars with photos, candles, and their ancestors’ favorite things, and used it in a very universal, familiar way, a.k.a in the shrine that Miguel dedicates to his favorite singer. While not all of us have made shrines for our favorite things, I’m certain that everybody who reads this blog has at least one movie poster on their wall. I can tell you that I’ve made many movie shrines in my days.

From the structural point of view, I thought that Coco was a well-written and fun adventure. It had some unexpected twists and turns. Thematically, the movie explored the idea of a family v. individual, though, the true conflict of the film was secrets within a family. In addition, while the Dia de Los Muertos setting of the picture already made it a bit dark, some reveals in the third act made it even darker. The Dia de Los Muertos focus of the film also allowed Coco to stress the importance of remembering one’s ancestors – that was such a nice message to spread. Lastly, in the usual Pixar fashion, all the heartstrings were pulled by Coco too.

Directing

Lee Unkrich (director of Toy Story 3, who has also worked on other Pixar films in various roles since the creation of the beloved studio) directed Coco and did a magnificent job. To begin with, the whole animation department at Pixar should get raises or a standing ovation every morning because Coco was the most beautiful animated picture I have ever seen. The amount of detail that went into the design, the vibrancy of the colors, the lighting – everything was just perfect. A lot of these praises are based just on the original visual appeal of Dia de Los Muertos but I do think that the animators deserve recognition for their work of translating this real-world visual appeal into an animated form. I loved the opening sequence with the backstory given through papercuts – it was both original and a culturally-appropriate way to do exposition.  In addition, I loved the aural cultural aspects that were included – mainly the music and how it was both there to embellish the story and be an important part of the story. ‘Remember Me’ was such a great song and, while it might not be the catchiest one, it carried so much sentimental weight. Lastly, the film was paced very well too. It had a good mix of funny moments, entertaining action, educational information, and heart-wrenching emotions.

Voice work

Anthony Gonzalez voiced Miguel and did such a brilliant job. He had such an expressive and strong voice that was just perfect for the lead in an animated film. Gael García Bernal voiced Héctor, while Benjamin Bratt (he does quite a lot of voice work and was recently in Doctor Strange) was Ernesto. I also really loved the brief but important work of Renée Victor (as Abuelita Elena) and Ana Ofelia Murguía (as Mamá Coco) in the movie. One brought such energy to the character, while the other – such love and affection to her respective character.

In short, Coco was a beautiful story brought to life by gorgeous animation and majestic voice work. This is one of those reviews, where any positive synonym of the word ‘beautiful’ works. And the film is very much worthy of all praise.

Rate: 4.8/5 (I’m taking a few points off not because of the movie but because of its messed up international release date)

Trailer: Coco trailer

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5 ideas about a movie: Roman J. Israel, Esq.

Movie reviews

Hello!

This is an awards’ film (barely) with Denzel Washington and he is the only nominee. Well, that never happens (*cough, cough*)…This is Roman J. Israel, Esq.

IMDb summary: Roman J. Israel, Esq., a driven, idealistic defense attorney, finds himself in a tumultuous series of events that lead to a crisis and the necessity for extreme action.

  1. Roman J. Israel, Esq. was written and directed by Dan Gilroy (he debuted as a director in 2014 with Nightcrawler and also wrote the recent Kong: Skull Island). While he didn’t do a bad job per say, I wouldn’t say that the film was successful either. At best, it was okay, at worst: so-so.
  2. From the writing standpoint, Roman J. Israel, Esq. was super dense. The law jargon was confusing and was not presented in an interesting way (it seems that ‘show, don’t tell’ rule was unheard of by the filmmakers). The only interesting visual with the legal paperwork was the opening sequence of a typed text –  I wanted to see more of that or other types of visualizations of the law. The movie was also quite slow and long – the plot dragged in more than a few places. In addition, the big twist – Roman’s decision to acquire some money through shady means – seemed far-fetched as the character did not seem to be so desperate as to commit such an act. The act could be believable if the movie was attempting to showcase the fragility of idealism when materialism comes calling. That’s one depressing message.
  3. Despite the flaws in the script, some neat dualities could be found in the writing. For one, Roman’s personal character and the requirements of his job were at odds – he was antisocial and introverted in nature but had to present a certain flashier business image of himself (extrovert in a suit with sleek rather than ethnic hair). His personal beliefs were also challenged by the modern times: his outlook was fairly old school and he didn’t seem to be able to adapt to the changes (the scene where he is lecturing the activists, as well as his exchange with the two women about the line between chivalry and sexism, come to mind).
  4. If my cryptic intro was too cryptic, what I meant by it was the fact that Denzel Washington has been nominated in the acting categories a plethora of times throughout his career, however, the films, in whole, have not faired great. Fences was completely shut down just last year (except for the Viola Davis’s win, which was more of a career win rather than a reward for that specific movie) and Flight did not do any better in the 2012/2013 season. Washington’s last big win was in 2002/2003 with Training Day. Here, he was good as Roman J. Israel and also acted as the only reason for me to watch this film. However, the performance wasn’t special – it was neither showy nor subtly powerful. Just good. And yet, if not for Denzel’s involvement with this film, we wouldn’t be even talking about it: another recent law drama/biography Marshall didn’t get any nominations because it didn’t have an awards’ voters favorite in the lead (that one did have a Black Panther, though).
  5. While the film was mostly a Denzel-centric show, the other members of the cast were good too. Colin Farrell (The Killing of a Sacred Deer, The Beguiled, Fantastic Beasts, The Lobster) didn’t have much to do but he did fit the role of a high profile lawyer very well. Carmen Ejogo (Fantastic Beasts, Alien: Covenant) was good as an activist too.

In short, Roman J. Israel, Esq. fades as a movie, while Denzel Washinton peaks as per usual.

Rate: 3/5

Trailer: Roman J. Israel, Esq. trailer

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5 ideas about a movie: Downsizing

Movie reviews

Hello!

Welcome to January – the month of great awards movies and awful mainstream ones. I don’t know how many reviews of the latter I’m going to be posting but you can be sure that the awards’ film reviews will be plentiful. For example, you are reading one now – this is Downsizing.

IMDb summary: A social satire in which a man realizes he would have a better life if he were to shrink himself to five inches tall, allowing him to live in wealth and splendor.

  1. Downsizing was written and directed by Alexander Payne (of The Descendants and Nebraska). Payne’s long-time collaborator Jim Taylor was also credited as a writer and a producer. To begin with, I thought that these two filmmakers had a genius premise for a movie. I haven’t really seen a social satire that tackled overpopulation as the main problem and definitely haven’t seen a film that had such a cheeky yet somehow believable solution to the problem. The opening sequence of the film was really good – it effectively set up the idea of downsizing as well as it global outreach – I instantly started to believe in the world of the movie. Then, the picture flashed to its main character and that’s where the problems started to arise.
  2. While I don’t necessarily think that the main character was bad, I do strongly believe that the story of the main character was too simplistic (for such an incredible premise, the narrative should have been more unique too). The wife’s decision to leave the husband was such a cliche way to create conflict. The fact that the movie started with one love story and ended with another was not the best decision either because by focusing so much on the romance, Downsizing forgot to explore a multitude of concepts that it introduced.  I wanted less predictability and more time spent on the economic, political, and social implications of downsizing; the abuse of the new technology (cause there always is a darker side behind a shiny billboard), and just the problem of overpopulation itself.
  3. Alexander Payne did a good job directing Downsizing. He realized the world of the story well and visually blended the small and the big worlds almost seamlessly (those visuals had a surrealist feeling to them which was interesting). In addition, Downsizing was billed as a comedy, and, while there were certainly some chucklesome moments, the film definitely wasn’t a laugh-out-loud type of a comedy. My favorite visual (as well as narrative) sequence was the prep for and the actual procedure of downsizing. As I’ve mentioned in the previous part, I wanted to see more of it rather than the love story.
  4. Matt Damon (The Martian, Jason Bourne, The Great Wall) played the lead and was good, but I don’t think that this role will result in any awards’ nominations let alone wins (it’s zero for two for Damon this season as Suburbicon was panned by the critics). Christoph Waltz (Tarzan, Spectre, Tulip Fever) was fun to watch as he was playing an eccentric and creepy character – one straight out of Waltz’s wheelhouse. Kristen Wiig (mother!, Ghostbusters) and Jason Sudeikis had very minor roles but they were great in those and proved to me that I definitely prefer seeing these two actors in more dramatic roles rather in their full-on comedic ones.
  5. The stand-out from the cast, who deservedly is getting all the awards’ recognition for this film was Hong Chau. While her character first appeared to be a comedic stereotype (mostly because of the broken English aspect), she was so much more than that. Chau’s performance was compelling and emotional, innocent yet sophisticated. I’d love to see her winning an Oscar as well as getting more opportunities in Hollywood (she has previously appeared on Big Little Lies and in the picture Inherent Vice).

In short, Downsizing wastes an amazingly original concept on a predictable love story. The cast is good overall but the standout is definitely Hong Chau.

Rate: 3.5/5

Trailer: Downsizing trailer

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Movie review: The Disaster Artist

Movie reviews

Hello!

I just saw a great movie about an awful movie. This is The Disaster Artist.

IMDb summary: When Greg Sestero, an aspiring film actor, meets the weird and mysterious Tommy Wiseau in an acting class, they form a unique friendship and travel to Hollywood to make their dreams come true.

Disclaimer: prior to seeing The Disaster Artist, I wanted to watch The Room – the film whose behind-the-scenes story is the subject of this movie. However, then I thought that I already have a never-ending list of past quality pictures that I need to watch but don’t have time for. So, The Room fell off the list without even making on it. But, maybe if I truly love The Disaster Artist, I’ll give The Room a chance too.

Writing

The Disaster Artist was written by Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber (the duo has previously adapted two John Green’s book to the big screen – TFIOS and Paper Towns, they are also writing the New Mutants film for the Marvel Fox division), based on the book The Disaster Artist: My Life Inside The Room, the Greatest Bad Film Ever Made by Greg Sestero (Dave Franco played him in the movie) and a journalist and a critic Tom Bissell. I enjoyed the writing for this picture very much. First of all, as a cinephile, I love all things related to movies, so a film about a different film is right up my alley. Moreover, I adore movies that celebrate other films and The Disaster Artist did just that. It wasn’t making fun of The Room or Wiseau but showed a certain kind of appreciation of and respect to it and him. Also, the fact that the movie didn’t go for the easy jokes, made The Disaster Artist so much better and funnier in its own kind of way.

The writing for Tommy Wiseau as a character for this movie was intriguing. I don’t know how accurate it was but it certainly worked for the film. The fact that Wiseau was trying really hard to make something he believed in and loved came across very clearly. His personal quirks (that have now become infamous) were present in the film too. However, the movie did not single them out more than necessary. What The Disaster Artist seemed to be more focused on were Wiseau’s insecurities and feelings behind the quirks. I drew a conclusion that he was somebody who wanted approval of others but on his own terms (basically, he wanted a friend who would understand him and it’s a good thing that he found one in Sestero. It’s cute that they still talk every day, if the text at the end of The Disaster Artist is to be believed).

Lastly, Wiseau, The Room, and now The Disaster Artist also expressed some neat ideas about cinema and human behavior (how one is the expression of the other). My main takeaway from the 2017’s biopic was the idea that the making of The Room was therapy for Wiseau. In addition, the watching of The Room seems to bring a feeling of catharsis for the viewers too (otherwise, why would they be watching it?).

Directing

James Franco directed The Disaster Artist and did an impeccable job (this film was actually my first introduction to him as a director). Not only did he recreate the scenes from The Room spot on (as evident in the credits side-by-side comparison) but he managed to balance out the film – keep it respectful but also funny. The opening interview montage, full of celebrity cameos, added a slight documentary feel to the movie, while the handled cinematography made it undeniably indie. The late 1990s/early 2000s soundtrack was fun (especially for somebody who grew up on that bad pop music). The funniest sequences of the feature, in my opinion, were the audition montage and the nude scene shoot. Lastly, the shots of the audience laughing while watching The Room felt very meta, as the actions of those moviegoers were mirrored by the audience of The Disaster Artist.

Acting

The Disaster Artist had a display of some bad acting from some great actors. James Franco not only directed the film but played the lead Tommy Wiseau (real Wiseau cameos during the end credits scene that nobody waits to see). I have enjoyed a lot of Franco’s dramatic roles before (like the one in 127 Hours) and I have liked some of his comedic work (he was hilarious in both Sausage Party and This is the End). I feel like, in this film, he combined all of his talents and delivered a brilliant dramatic and comedic performance. He nailed Tommy’s laugh and the vaguely Eastern European accent (though I’m not sure that Wiseau’s own accent is truly Eastern European – this comes from somebody who has spent years trying to lose her accent from the same region, so I think I’d recognize that particular accent in another person).

Dave Franco (Nerve, Now You See Me, The Lego Ninjago, Jump Street) played Greg Sestero and was really good too. He brought innocence and excitement to the role of the young Sestero (he was barely 20 or in his early twenties when shooting The Room). The Disaster Artist marked the first time that both Franco brothers appeared on screen together. Would love to see them collaborate on future projects!

Seth Rogen (Steve Jobs), in addition to producing the film, also had a role as Sandy Schklair, the script supervisor on the production of The Room. He was delightful to watch on screen: his scene about the check going through received a lot of laughs from the audience in my screening. Alison Brie starred as Amber, Sesteros’ girlfriend, while Ari Graynor played the actress who portrayed Lisa (yup, the same one that’s tearing Wiseau apart) in The RoomJosh Hutcherson (Mockingjay) and Zac Efron (BaywatchMike and Dave, We Are Your Friends) also both appeared as the members of The Room’s cast. They got a chance to recreate an incredible scene from The Room (that literally does not connect to anything else in that film) in The Disaster Artist.

In short, The Disaster Artist was an amazing movie that should be highly appreciated by any cinephile out there. Though it still did not fully convince me to watch The Room.

Rate: 4.5/5

Trailer: The Disaster Artist trailer

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