Movie review: Allied

Movie reviews

Hello!

Today, I’m reviewing Allied – the movie that ‘broke’ Brangelina, the ‘it’ couple of Hollywood. Okay, I’m kidding –  I don’t actually believe or care much about the rumors. To me, Allied is, first and foremost, a film by a director that is of my native descent (Zemeckis is half-Lithuanian).

IMDb summary: In 1942, an intelligence officer in North Africa encounters a female French Resistance fighter on a deadly mission behind enemy lines. When they reunite in London, their relationship is tested by the pressures of war.

Writing

Steven Knight wrote the screenplay for Allied. So far, his accomplishments have been a bit average: I absolutely loved his small film Locke and really enjoyed the stories of The Hundred-Foot Journey and Pawn Sacrifice. However, Knight also penned the script for the so-so picture Burnt and wrote the completely awful Seventh Son as well. His next film will be a different Brad Pitt picture – Wold War Z 2. Speaking of the writing for this film, quality-wise, Allied was a mixed bag , just like Knight’s track record.

I felt that Allied contained two distinct stories which could have been explored in two separate movies. The first suspenseful act of the two characters falling in love on a mission was cool and interesting. It was a successful homage to Casablanca and the Golden Age of Hollywood. The second story – the home life and the investigation – was much slower and less interesting than the preceding set-up. Nevertheless, I did enjoy the fact that this film focused more on the romance and less on the war because I have already seen enough historical films, in which the romantic aspect is relegated to the sidelines and feels out of place. Allied made a decision to be a romantic movie first and a war drama second and stuck with it. I, as I have mentioned, enjoyed and liked this idea, but I can also understand that some people might see it as too sappy and melodramatic. I, personally, found it touching and heartbreaking, although not Casablanca level heartbreaking (Allied didn’t reach the levels of ‘We’ll always have Paris’ is what I’m saying).

Having said that, Allied still did have some pretty nice lines of dialogue and some rather cool concepts. I don’t really know why but I liked the trailer line: ‘Being good at this kind of job is not very beautiful’. I also enjoyed the ideas about love in war – the problem isn’t the action of getting involved, it is feeling something about the involvement. Lastly, I liked how the film underscored that the two main characters could never be trusted, as they were trained to lie.

Directing

Robert Zemeckis, who is responsible for creating a whole slew of cinematic classics – Back To The Future trilogy, Who Framed Robert Rabbit, Forrest Gump, and Cast Away and whose latest films include The Walk and Flight, directed Allied and did quite a good job. The film looked beautiful visually, although the CGI at the beginning (the desert) seemed a tiny bit fake and took me out of the film. Other historical settings were realized nicely, though. Zemeckis also used a lot of time jumps in the film and they did make sense for the most part. Lastly, I did like his long takes that some critics panned. At first, they seemed unnecessarily long to me as well, but then I realized that they were this long for a reason and were meant to show or to indicate something extra.

Acting

I think that the lead duo – Brad Pitt and Marion Cotillard – did an amazing job. First, they had crazy good chemistry and made a believable couple – their back and forth dialogue was superb, especially in the first act. Secondly, I think that the two actors nailed the ‘fake’ spy acting and didn’t make it seem cartoony. I was also quite surprised to see Lizzy Caplan in a supporting role and thought that her character was interesting, although, I question the motives behind the decision to include her character. A trio of actors, who seem to constantly appear in historical movies – Jared Francis Harris, Matthew Goode, and Simon McBurney, rounded up the cast of Allied and brought solid performances too.

Actors’ film recommendations:

  • Brad Pitt: Seven, Fight ClubMr. & Mrs. Smith (why not, it is still a good movie), Inglorious Basterds, Fury, The Big Short, By The Sea (even more ironic, as this one is directed by Jolie).
  • Marion Cotillard: Macbeth, The Dark Knight Rises, Inception, Big FishLa Vie en Rose for which she won an Oscar should also be on this list, even though I haven’t seen it yet. 
  • Lizzy Caplan: Now You See Me 2, Mean Girls (what a throwback).
  • Jared Harris: Benjamin Button, Lincoln, The Man from U.N.C.L.E.
  • Matthew Goode: Downton Abbey, The Imitation Game, Watchmen.
  • Simon McBurney: MI:Rogue Nation, Magic in the Moonlight, The Theory of Everything, Jane Eyre.

In brief, Allied was a solid romantic war drama. It had good acting and a decent story and visuals. However, the film was not groundbreaking, which it could have been, knowing who was involved in its making, both in front and behind the camera.

Rate: 3,75/5

Trailer: Allied trailer

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Movie review: Jack Reacher: Never Go Back

Movie reviews

Hello!

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

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

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

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

Writing

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

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

Directing

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

Acting

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

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

Rate: 2.5/5

Trailer: Jack Reacher: Never Go Back trailer

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Movie review: The Magnificent Seven

Movie reviews

Hello!

After reviewing a contemporary Western last week (Hell or High Water), today, I turn my attention to the one set in the past – 19th century’s Wild West, to be specific. Let’s discuss The Magnificent Seven.

IMDb summary: Seven gunmen in the old west gradually come together to help a poor  village against savage thieves.

Antoine Fuqua’s The Magnificent Seven, in terms of both the name and the plot, reminds me of a different recent Western from another accomplished director – of course, I’m talking about Tarantino’s The Hateful EightSadly, that awful Adam Sandler movie The Ridiculous Six also sneaks into my mind. What is up with these names, Hollywood?

2016’s The Magnificient Seven is a remake of the 1960s movie with the same (which, in turn, was a remake of a 1954 Japanese picture Seven Samurai – haven’t seen either of them but plan on watching both). Weirdly, it is not getting almost any hate in comparison to the recent Ben-Hur movie, which was also a remake of the 60s classic. Maybe who is involved in front and behind the camera has something to do with it – Seven has a lot more big name talent attached to it than Ben-Hur.

SPOILER WARNING

Writing: story and character development

The Magnificent Seven’s screenplay was written by an interesting duo: Nic Pizzolatto – the creator of True Detective – and Richard Wenk – writer of such mediocre-ish films like The Expendables 2 and The Mechanic and some better flicks, like his previous collaboration with FuquaThe Equalizer (he is writing that film’s sequel as well). Wenk has also penned Jack Reacher: Never Go Back script – that picture is coming out next month.

I quite enjoyed the story they created for this movie. The narrative was a bit by-the-numbers and predictable – Westerns all tend to have a similar plot – but it was executed quite well. The set-up was clear and efficient and the unfolding resolution worked as well. The movie was a bit uneven in that it had some filler material in between the action pieces. Some of that material was interesting, other – less so, but it was worth to sit through because the action sequences were amazing. I also liked the fact that the story had real consequences and not everyone lived happily ever after when it was all said and done.

The character development was also sufficient. I feared that due to a big number of characters, The Magnificent Seven would suffer from the same thing that undercut Suicide Squad’s success, however, I felt that Pizzolatto and Wenk provided all the characters with a lot more moments of personal development than Ayer did for DC anti-heroes. Some characters could have been developed more – there is always room for improvement – but I felt that the things we did get worked better than I expected them too. In general, all the main heroes of the film were not good people but the screenwriters did make them likable and did made believe that these 7 people could bond in a fairly short amount of time.

Denzel Washington’s and Chris Pratt’s characters received the most scenes. Denzel’s character was nicely set-up as the leader and his personal agenda was quite a neat surprise at the end. Pratt’s character’s role as the prankster of the group was cool – his jokes and comic relief helped to ease the tension. The two characters that were the most compelling to me were played by Ethan Hawke and Byung-hun Lee – I liked their comradeship and backstory and I also felt that they had the best dialogues. Hawke’s character’s paranoia and war guilt was really fascinating part of the film, although, his actions at the end (leaving and coming back) were quite predictable, but I guess this type of character arc (fighting one’s inner guilt) has to end in that particular way.  Vincent D’Onofrio’sManuel Garcia-Rulfo’s and Martin Sensmeier’s characters were a bit one-dimensional (the weird outcast, the Mexican, and the Native American) but they did serve their purpose and nicely rounded up the group.

The writing for the main villain of the film was good too – I liked the fact that he was a corrupt businessman, who took the ideas of capitalism a bit too close to heart. The main (and only, really) female character also had a nice story of revenge/righteousness and I especially liked the detail that she was an active member of the fight, not just a damsel in distress.

Directing: visuals and action

Antoine Fuqua is an accomplished director in Hollywood, though he hasn’t made than many films. The Magnificent Seven is his 11th feature film (though other prominent Hollywood directors have made even less – Tarantino have only released 8, while Nolan – 9 pictures, so I guess quality and talent are way more important than quantity when it comes to directing). My favorite Fuqua’s films are King Arthur and Southpaw, while The Magnificent Seven is taking the 3rd spot. I really liked all the action – both the shoot-outs on the ground and on the horses (really want to ride a horse after watching the picture). I admire all the beautiful locations, the wild nature, and the empty valleys. The camera work (cinematography by Mauro Fiore) was excellent too: the close-ups really helped with the suspense, while the long tracking shots of people riding through frames (in color or in the shadow) were neatly used for transition. In addition, I enjoyed how the final stand-off of the film happened in the same place where everything had started – the church and its yard. The religious symbolism was also fitting, especially for the setting of 19th century US. Lastly, the instrumental score (music by James Horner and Simon Franglen) was excellent, while the credits rounded up the film beautifully.

Acting

  • Denzel Washington as Sam Chisolm was quite good. This wasn’t his best performance, but he worked well in the role. I liked how his character was introduced – we saw his guns before we saw his face. After working with Fuqua on 3 films already, Washington will re-team with the director for The Equalizer’s sequel – filming is supposed to start next year.
  • Chris Pratt as Josh Farraday was also great – he was really charismatic and pulled off the jokes and the teases nicely. This was his follow-up to the uber successful Jurassic World and he did not disappoint me. I cannot wait for his upcoming films as well – Passengers just debuted its trailer and will be released during Christmas, while Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 will roll into theaters next summer.
  • Ethan Hawke as Goodnight Robicheaux was amazing too. I liked seeing Hawke, together with Denzel, in a Fuqua movie – reminded me of the Training Day days. Goodnight was kinda the voice of reason/rationality in the group – and Hawke just really knows how to nail this type of role. I’ve seen a lot of his films but my favorite still remains the Before trilogy. He will star in Luc Besson’s Valerian next year.
  • Vincent D’Onofrio as Jack Horne was interesting and weird. The harsh outside look of his character really came into contrast with his inner softness and that squeaky-ish voice. I needed some time to get used to the voice, actually. I enjoyed seeing D’Onofrio in big Hollywood picture and I also think that he deserves to get a lot more prominent roles in mainstream films because he is a very good actor – if you need proof, watch Daredevil.
  • Byung-hun Lee as Billy Rocks and Manuel Garcia-Rulfo as Vasquez were also great. I liked how one was very calm and collected and the other kinda a hot-head. I am not really familiar with their previous work but would love to see more of them. 
  • Martin Sensmeier as Red Harvest was my favorite supporting character/actor. I loved his look and the fact that he had a traditional bow in a gunfight. I would really like to see some more films about/involving Native Americans, any suggestions?
  • Peter Sarsgaard played Bartholomew Bogue – the villain of the film. I liked how both menacing and cowardly he was. The actor also did a very good job of showing his character’s fear with his eyes. Recently, Sarsgaard had roles in films like Blue Jasmine, Pawn Sacrifice, and Black Mass. He will also be in the awards’ contender Jackie later this year.
  • Haley Bennett as Emma Cullen was also really good. I have only seen her in Hardcore Henry, where she didn’t have much to do, so I was pleasantly surprised by her performance in this film. She pulled off her action scenes and the emotional sequences really well and will also star in The Girl on The Train in a few weeks.
  • Matt Bomer (Magic Mike, The Nice Guys) and Luke Grimes (American Sniper, Fifty Shades) also had small roles and did a fine job. In was nice to see Bomer in another flick – don’t know why he doesn’t get more role as he is really good at what he does. Grimes has two Fifty Shades movies coming up but I don’t think that hs character will get much to do in them.

In short, The Magnificent Seven was a well-made and nicely-acted typical Western. It was entertaining and intense and had an amazing and diverse cast. However, the narrative did lack originality.

Rate: 3.75/5

Trailer: The Magnificent Seven trailer

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Movie review: Spotlight

Movie reviews

Hey Hey Hey!

Lately, I have been running out of ideas on how to greet you and on how to introduce the film that I am going to review. Basically, it’s another awards’ nominated movie, but one that I really really enjoyed. Let’s talk about Spotlight – another serious and slightly depressing motion picture.

IMDb summary: The true story of how the Boston Globe uncovered the massive scandal of child molestation and cover-up within the local Catholic Archdiocese, shaking the entire Catholic Church to its core.

Writing and Directing

The film was written and directed by Tom McCarthy. I haven’t seen any other film he has directed, but I did enjoy a few films that he has written scripts for. Mainly, Up and Million Dollar Arm. However, McCarthy was not the only one working on the film’s screenplay. The Fifth Estate’s scriptwriter Josh Singer was also credited for Spotlight. While I liked both Million Dollar Arm and The Fifth Estate from the writing standpoint, Spotlight’s story and plot completely blew me away.

To begin with, the saddest and the most shocking part was that the film is based on true events – these child abuse stories are a reality. The lies and the cover-ups are, sadly, real as well. And the film Spotlight treated these stories with the utter most respect and did a great job not only in bringing these narratives to the attention of the public once again, but in maybe even influencing further change in the system.

The film was thrilling without having any over-the-top action. The dialogue was superb: it gave enough exposition to let the viewer follow the story but also did not give too much away. The viewer followed the investigation step by step, the same way that team Spotlight little by little uncovered the truth. It also had very subtle character development – the audience knew just enough about the main characters in order to be compelled to follow them. And even if the filmmakers hadn’t given the viewer this knowledge about the characters, the film would still have worked, because it was a storytelling/narrative film and not a character movie.

I don’t really want to get much into the actual story, though. While it was interesting to watch on the screen, it also was scary and gave me goosebumps. I do not understand how someone could ever do something like this and how other people can just let it happen. But the again, people are known for turning a blind eye to terrible events that are happening near them. We tend to notice the flaws in strangers easily and quickly, but usually don’t want to admit that something wrong is happening near us.

One of my favorite parts of the film was Mark Ruffalo’s screaming monolog. Not only did the actor was amazing in his performance, but the words that he was saying/shouting were very well written and portrayed his emotional state (breaking down inside) accurately. I really liked that the film incorporated the idea that this type of work takes a toll on people and can turn their worlds upside down or make them crazy.

While reviewer Room, I mentioned that the way journalists were portrayed in that film reminded me, why I decided not to study journalism. However, Spotlight reminded me why I wanted to pursue the career in journalism in the first place. I really hope that there are still journalists like the Spotlight team in the real world, because, nowadays, even respected news sites and newspapers seem more like a cheap propaganda disguised as news reporting than the actual examples of journalism.

To touch upon a directing real quick: I think that McCarthy did a nice job. I was a bit to engrossed with the story and the amazing acting that I did not really look at directing that much. I gotta say – I really liked the juxtaposition of the story and its setting with the church being in the background of a lot of investigation/interview shots. I also think that the usage of a religious gospel – Silent Night- was really clever. Lastly, I liked the mise-en-scene of the Spotlight team’s office and the shots with all of the team members together but in their own spaces.

Acting

The film’s cast completely transformed into their characters – the Spotlight team. They were all unique and had a distinct way of talking and behaving but they all shared a common goal.

While watching Mark Ruffalo, I did not see Bruce Banner/The Hulk or Dylan Rhodes from Now You See Me or Dave Schultz from Foxcatcher. I saw an investigative reporter Michael Rezendes, trying his best to solve this puzzle and connect the dots. The only Ruffalo’s role that might be a bit similar to this one was when he played an inspector in David Fincher’s Zodiac – a really good but underrated film from 2007. I have always admired Ruffalo’s ability to be both a mainstream movie star and an awards contender. I can’t wait to see his future projects.

Michael Keaton starred as Walter “Robby” Robinson, while Rachel McAdams played Sacha Pfeiffer. I really liked their scenes together and the work relationships that their characters had. Keaton picked up an Academy Award for Birdman last year and while he didn’t get a nomination on his own this year, the whole ensemble cast has picked up quite a few smaller awards. Moreover, Spotlight has 6 Oscar nominations, even without Keaton being nominated. Rachel McAdams has already impressed me this year in Southpaw, but she just continues to blossom as an actress and I’m really happy that she finally was recognized by the Academy and received a nomination in the Best Supporting Actress category.

Other Spotlight members were played by Liev Schreiber (as Marty Baron), John Slattery (as Ben Bradlee Jr.) and Brian d’Arcy James (as Matt Carroll). I have recently seen Schreiber in Pawn Sacrifice – a really interesting film about chess and mental health. I still have not seen Mad Men (I know, I’m a terrible person) , so I am not that familiar with Slattery’s work. Since Brian d’Arcy James is more of a stage actor, I, sadly, cannot comment on his previous work as well.

The film had a lot of additional characters of attorneys, survivors, and religious figures. The one that had the biggest impact on the story and the one that was portrayed by a very well know actor was an attorney Mitchell Garabedian played by Stanley Tucci. I swear Tucci can play anyone and he somehow manages to find time to star in a plethora of movies every year.

All in all, Spotlight is/was a film that one would not enjoy in a literal sense of the word just because of how difficult the subject matter of the film is. However, from a filmmaking standpoint, I believe that the movie was masterfully made – the writing was perfect and the acting from the whole cast was top-notch. The motion picture definitely requires the full attention of a viewer, so if you want to snack on some popcorn or check your phone during the screening, pick a different film. Bye!

Rate: 5/5

Trailer: Spotlight trailer

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