Movie review: Their Finest 

Movie reviews

Hello!

The first movie of the year focused on the battle of Dunkirk – Their Finest – has reached theaters, so, let’s review it.

IMDb summary: A British film crew attempts to boost morale during World War II by making a propaganda film after the Blitzkrieg.

While Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk (premiering in July) will tackle and reproduce the actual battle and the evacuation, Lone Scherfig’s film Their Finest is a story about a war propaganda film, based on a fictional story related to the real-life events at Dunkirk, produced in order to raise the patriotism of the nation. The genres and tones of the 2 movies differ vastly: one looks like a grim and serious action drama, while another one is a lighter comedy drama with some romance thrown in as well.

On top of being one of the two films about Dunkirk, Their Finest interested me for 3 reasons: 1. I wanted to see the representation of the British propaganda and how it differed or was similar to the Soviet propaganda – the kind that I’m more familiar with from history classes and from just generally growing up in Eastern/Northern Europe. 2. I have always enjoyed films about filmmaking and as this one centered on screenwriters – an occupation that I would like to pursue – my interest was peaked. 3. The movie started Sam Claflin – an actor, whose career I’ve been following pretty closely. So, let’s see if Their Finest is as ‘fine’ of a picture as the title suggests!

Writing

Their Finest was written by a TV writer Gaby Chiappe, based on novel Their Finest Hour and a Half by Lissa Evans. From the technical standpoint, the writing for the film was very nice: the narrative was well structured and rich with ideas. Whether or not the ideas worked, is a very subjective question. I, personally, really liked some of the themes but was equally frustrated by the others.

To begin with, the picture focused a lot on the relationship between Gemma Arterton’s and Sam Claflin’s characters. I highly disliked the fact that their professional relationship had to be turned into a romantic one by the end of the film. I find that this happens in a lot of stories, even in the contemporary ones. For example, the way J.K.Rowling, writing under the pseudonym Robert Galbraith, is portraying the relationship between the two main characters in her Cormoran Strike Series irritates me a lot. And yet, going back to the relationship between the characters in Their Finest, if I considered the said relationship’s romantic aspect separately, I thought that it did work and was convincing. The two individuals seemed pretty evenly matched and their sparring was entertaining to watch. The sudden end to the relationship was also emotionally effective. At first, I deemed that the end might have been too sudden but I later I’ve realized that the scriptwriters intended it to be that way and to convey a message that one never knows what might happen in war.

The second big theme of the picture was Gemma Arterton’s character’s growth as an individual. Her personal story acted very much as a symbol for a lot of women’s stories during the war – how they have finally begun to transition from the domestic spaces into the public ones. Sadly, this process is still is progress, 70+ years later. I thought that the main character was developed quite nicely – I wish we would have found out more about her background and upbringing in Wales, but I really liked her subtle journey towards independence.

Thirdly, the movie explored the screenwriting and the filmmaking business. I really loved this particular aspect of the film and just loved the fact that Their Finest celebrated the movies and tried finding positive attributes of cinema even if it was political cinema. I simply loved Sam Claflin’s character’s enthusiasm about and love for the pictures, especially since his character otherwise seemed really pessimistic and ironic. I could identify with this type of depiction very closely. The way the movie played up the uber-poshness of the actors and of the British actors, to be specific, with Bill Nighy’s character was also really fun.

Lastly, Their Finest dealt with the propaganda filmmaking, not just simple filmmaking. Not only did this type of story provided a different perspective on war, but it also proved to me that the types of propaganda don’t vary much from country to country. Like the Soviet propaganda, some of the British propaganda was very obvious but some of it was something more, just like the-picture-within-the-picture in Their Finest or a real life example, such as Sergei Eisenstein’s Battleship Potemkin. And yet, since both Their Finest and The Nancy Starling (a-movie-within-a-movie) stressed the importance of optimism and happy endings, I can’t help but wonder where exactly did the cinematic propaganda end?

Directing

Their Finest was directed by Lone Scherfig. Although the director is Danish, I thought that she nailed the British feeling of the film. She has already done that earlier with The Riot Club – that movie has really made me question my adoration of the British culture quite a bit. So, Their Finest resembled the previous historic UK-based movies that I’ve reviewed, like SuffragetteTestament of Youthand Far From The Madding Crowd. The fact that the movie was executed with the classical stationary camera work and the steady frame, also added an appropriate old-school yet timeless feel to the picture. The pacing of the picture was also very even. 

Acting

Gemma Arterton played the lead in the film and did a really good job. I hope that this is a career-changing role for her, as so far she has been starring in mostly B-level pictures, like Clash of the TitansPrince of Persia: The Sands of Time, and Hansel & Gretel: Witch HuntersI really loved how subtle yet powerful her performance was. My favorite line of hers was the last words to the boyfriend: ‘You shouldn’t have painted me that small’. Her delivery was brilliant. I also though that Arterton’s chemistry with the co-star Sam Claflin was really good and believable. I loved Claflin’s character and the actor’s performance. It was so interesting to see a writer who can express oneself well enough of paper but struggles to do the same face to face. After starting his big screen career by acting the big action flicks, like Pirates of the Caribbean 4 and The Hunger Games franchise, Claflin has mostly stuck to dramas recently, including 2014’s Love, Rosie and 2016’s Me Before You. His next film is also a historical drama – My Cousin Rachel. He has also previously collaborated with the director of Their Finest on The Riot Club.

The supporting cast included established English actors Bill NighyHelen McCroryEddie Marsan, and Richard E. GranJack Huston (American Hustle, Hail, Caesar!and Ben-Hur) also had a minor role.

In short, Their Finest is a brilliant little movie, which, sadly, will be overlooked by the majority of movie-goers and buried by the blockbusters, including the one it shares the topic with. I highly recommend this film for all those interested in history and the art of filmmaking.

Rate: 4.3/5

Trailer: Their Finest trailer

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5 ideas about a movie: Sing

Movie reviews

Hello!

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

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

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

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

Rate: 4/5

Trailer: Sing trailer

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Movie review: Arrival

Movie reviews

Hello, my dear readers!

An original sci-fi flick – Arrival – has landed in cinemas, so let’s review it! Since I hadn’t seen an inventive science fiction film in theaters for quite some time (I did, however, only recently watched an original sci-fi movie on Netflix, called ARQ – it was quite entertaining), I was super excited to see Arrival. Plus, I’ve also really enjoyed the previous work of the director as well as the cast.

SPOILER ALERT

IMDb summary: A linguist is recruited by the military to assist in translating alien communications.

Writing

Eric Heisserer, who has mostly written horror films, penned Arrival’s script and did an absolutely spectacular job. This movie’s narrative was so refreshing – it never went where I expected it to go.

To begin with, I appreciated the fact that this movie focused on a linguist and on the subject of languages and communication. Sci-fi films usually tend to have scientists or military personnel front and center, but this time, these types of characters were relocated to the supporting positions. As someone who studies art and humanities, I was extremely happy to see these subjects as useful in a sci-fi scenario, since usually after watching a science fiction movie, I would regret not studying physics or biology. But now, I can imagine that my language and anthropology skills can also be useful.

On the topic of anthropology, last year, in my symbolic anthropology class we studied the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis that this movie took and made true. The hypothesis states that one’s language determines one’s culture, behavior, and thinking and Amy Adams’s characters mind was heavily impacted by the alien language. On the topic, of Adams’s character – I loved how the plot played up her backstory. Those ‘flashbacks’ were not only a story-telling technique but a part of the actual story. That was amazing and mindblowing.

Like other science fiction films, Arrival explored the topic of humanity. Some of the ideas and dialogue lines sounded a bit ironic and skeptical, especially in the post-Brexit and post-U.S. election context. The notions that the world needs to work together and that peaceful communication come first rather than violent attack/defense are wonderful ideas, but I highly doubt their real-life application. The plot-points about protecting humanity by not talking to other humans seemed like a more realistic outcome of the situation. The media’s role in all of this mess was also a great and topical inclusion for the modern context. Lastly, showcasing the panic as the biggest threat to humanity was also good writing! These thematical parts of the film frustrated me quite a bit, but then again, these kinds of things frustrate me IRL, so I guess the movie just represented the contemporary world and explored its negative aspects and shortcomings really well.

Arrival, like a lot of other sci-fi films, started as a grounded science movie but then quickly escalated into the fiction territory. It asked questions and didn’t answer some of them. With these type of movies, there is always a debate going on whether there was some kind of deeper meaning and I was just too stupid to notice it or whether the film was just badly written and didn’t make much sense. Having said that, I think this debate is part of the beauty of making and writing about motion pictures – they always mean something different to different people. I also believe that Arrival is a brilliant and intriguing film to watch and discuss.

Directing

Denis Villeneuve, who is best known for making 2013’s Prisoners and last year’s Sicario, directed the film and did a wonderful job. The visuals were spectacular: the design of the ships – so simple yet so cool and the long tracking shots – awe inspiring. At first, I wasn’t completely sure about the design of the aliens, but when we got to see them whole, I was pleasantly surprised. The way the communication aspect was visualized was super cool too. I also liked all the inventive and innovative camera angles. On a personal note, I loved Amy Adams’s character’s home – would love to have a house with such a stunning view myself.

I also really liked the pacing of the film – it was slow and suspenseful and did not need some big and over-the-top 3rd act action piece to be memorable and entertaining. The music choices (by Jóhann Jóhannsson) were great as well and really helped to build thrilling, frightening and yet curious type of atmosphere.

Acting

  • Amy Adams as Dr. Louise Banks, a linguist was at the center of the film and delivered a really subtle performance. I do believe that these smaller, more indie-like films showcase her talent much more than big blockbusters (BvS). So, I suggest you check out Amy in Nocturnal Animals, American Hustle, and Big Eyes.
  • Jeremy Renner as Ian Donnelly was also great in his role of a scientist. Renner is also one of those actors that is on everyone’s radar and is constantly working but is not a complete A-lister which he should be. He is equally enjoyable to watch in popcorn flicks like Marvel movies and Mission Impossible films and in more serious pictures like The Hurt Locker, The Town, and Kill The Messenger.
  • Forest Whitaker as Colonel Weber and Michael Stuhlbarg as Agent Halpern provided great support and presented a more stereotypical government perspective to the movie. Whitaker still has Rogue One to be released in a month, while Stuhlbarg just had a small role in the recently released Doctor Strange.

In short, Arrival was a visually stunning picture, with an extremely clever and interesting story and some nice thematical concepts and great acting. It is a great conversation starter of a movie.

Rate: 4.5/5

Trailer: Arrival trailer

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5 ideas about a movie: The Accountant 

Movie reviews

Hello!

An original thriller – The Accountant – finally premiered in the UK, so, let’s review it!

IMDb summary: As a math savant uncooks the books for a new client, the Treasury Department closes in on his activities and the body count starts to rise.

  1. The Accountant is an original thriller, written by Bill Dubuque, who has previously penned the script for RDJ’s The Judge. I absolutely loved the narrative of this film from a thematical point of view. The movie felt fresh because it had a unique character – an accountant – in the lead (usually, thrillers tends to focus on ex-military personnel, former spies, even politicians). Moreover, the personal background of the character was out of the ordinary and new. The story also had a good mix of personal and professional narrative ideas. Plus, I loved the fact that they made accounting seem interesting, similar like The Big Short made the housing crisis exciting rather than dull. The twists and turns were also unexpected but much appreciated. My only gripe with the screenplay is that I wish the movie would have explained some stuff sooner. There was around 10 min of expositional dialogue full of information just before the 3rd act started and I think that if the scriptwriter would have dispersed that info into a few scenes, the plot would have flowed a bit better.
  2. Gavin O’Connor, whose last two films were Warrior (one of my favorite sports films ever) and Jane Got a Gun, directed The Accountant and did a magnificent job. I loved how subtle his directing was and how he found a good balance between drama and action in a thriller. The visuals, as well as the handling of the mise-en-scene (props and setting used for the purposes of the narrative ) were nice and neat as well. The picture unraveled slowly but was extremely engaging.
  3. Ben Affleck (BvS, Gone Girl) played the lead character and did a spectacular job. I believed that he had the highly-functioning autism and I also appreciated the fact that they spotlighted this type of an individual in a movie. I also applaud the film for trying to show that autistic people are not lesser than everyone else – they are just different and special in their own way. Huge props to the movie and to Ben Affleck for attempting to break social stigmas associated with this supposed illness/condition. I, personally, could also relate to the character, because even though I’m not autistic, I’m quite shy and anti-social, so seeing all the problems that the characters had while communicating with people made me cringe a bit as well as sympathize since it hit so close to home.
  4. Anna Kendrick (Pitch Perfect, Mike and Dave, Trolls) and Jon Bernthal (WAYF, Sicario) played two supporting characters that had relations to the main character. Kendrick did a nice job with the few scenes she had and I did love her optimism in contrast to Affleck’s calmness and serenity. Bernthal was also great – I did not predict his character’s twist. His character shared some similarities with The Punisher, so I could see why Bernthal wanted to play this role, as I think he really enjoyed playing The Punisher. His solo series is coming out next year.
  5. J.K. Simmons and Cynthia Addai-Robinson played the government personnel and brought a different perspective into the movie. For Simmons, this is one of his 10 movies this year. Two other notable pictures which have premiered at festivals, but haven’t had wide releases are La La Land and Patriot’s Day. I’m also excited for Simmons’s role in next year’s Justice League.  Addai-Robinson was also really good in her role – I was excited to see her on a big screen, as she has mostly done TV until now. I first became a fan of her after she appeared as Amanda Waller on Arrow before Suicide Squad‘s storylines had to be scratched from the small screen.

In short, The Accountant was a great original film that didn’t deserve to be panned by the critics as much. It had good directing, amazing acting and a thematically strong and important story.

Rate: 4/5 

Trailer: The Accountant trailer

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Extraordinary Cinema Review II (The Shows of Shows + Persepolis)

Movie reviews

Hello!

I’m continuing my series of indie foreign films that I’ve started yesterday. My previous post and the reasons behind me doing this review series are here.

The previous two films I discussed both belong to the narrative cinema genre, so they were fairly close the mainstream. However, these two are more outside the box: one of them is a stock footage documentary and the other – black and white 2D animated feature.

The first film I’m discussing today is The Show of Shows: 100 Years of Vaudeville, Circuses, and Carnivals. It’s an Icelandic director’s Benedikt Erlingsson’s musical documentary from 2015. The whole film is one giant found footage montage. Erlingsson just pieced together various National Fairground Archive clips of circus and carnival performances. The picture has no dialogue, no narrative – it just a spectacular combination of music and visuals and the upbeat tempo of the soundtrack really adds a lot of liveliness to the already spectacular video recording. The film is kinda divided into different sections – you get 10 minutes of dance acts at the start, then the movie spotlights the different animal performers, jugglers, gymnasts, clowns and all kinds of other circus personnel.  The Show of Shows ends with the sequence of people laughing and drives home the idea that circus wouldn’t exist without the spectators.

The feature is definitely amusing and entertaining (just like the carnival), though, the animal parts are quite hard to watch. The previously heard stories about animals being treated badly at the circus kinda ruined the enjoyment of the film for me just a bit.

Watching this film was not only a great experience because of its content – the location added some flavor to the mix too. I actually got to see this film outside during the night. During the summer, the Lithuanian international film festival Kino Pavasaris (eng. Cinema Spring) in partnership with the Kaunas’ Art Cinema Romuva put on a screening of this particular picture in the Old Town of Kaunas. The event attracted a lot of people and we all got a chance to spend a nice summer evening watching a movie underneath the stars.

Rate: 5/5

Trailer: The Show of Shows trailer

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The second film I want to mention was made in 2007 but skipped my attention until two days ago. It’s the animated feature Persepolis, directed by Marjane Satrapi and Vincent Paronnaud, based on Satrapi’s autobiographical graphic novel of the same name. I have read the novel – it was one of the first comics I have read – and absolutely loved it, so I decided to check out the movie as well.

To begin with, I loved the film because it was so close to graphic novel – the animated graphics looked exactly like the comic book panels. In addition, although all the characters were animated and lacked any coloring, they were so full of life and expressive.

I also appreciated the fact that the picture was respectful to the subject but also dared to make some jokes. The film revolves around a girl’s (Satrapi’s) life – how she lives through a war and through a revolution in Iran, how she eventually has to leave her native country and has to build a new home abroad. All of the facts are laid out neatly and clearly, the problems and horrors are showed unflinchingly, but the comic-relief and the everyday funny situations also find a place in the picture. In short, Persepolis is both heartwarming and anger-inducing. It kinda makes everyday problems of my own life seem unimportant.

One of the most interesting aspects of the film (and the original novel) was the concept of Westernization of Iran. It was interesting to see that Iranian people weren’t actually that different from people in the West – they liked the same music and films. It was also captivating to see the items of the Western world being sold as contraband on the streets – the situation was pretty similar in the Soviet block, where my parents grew up, so it was fascinating to see the same things happen in a different part of the world. I guess, for better or for worse, one cannot escape Westernization, be it a voluntary or involuntary process.

Rate: 5/5

Trailer: Persepolis trailer

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I hope you enjoyed this slight break from the mainstream films. I will return to reviewing them tomorrow with a post on Deepwater Horizon. In the meantime, let’s go back to binge-watching Luke Cage.

Extraordinary Cinema Review I (Son of Saul + Mustang)

Movie reviews

Hello!

Throughout the summer and the rest of 2016, movie audiences have expressed a general dissatisfaction with the quality of the mainstream films. The critics disagreed with the viewers on the same topic multiple times as well. Looking at the statistics, the box office numbers have also not been the greatest.

I have also heard a lot of people say that the best movies they have seen this year have all been indie releases. So, I have decided to tell you about the best independent movies that I have seen this year thus far. On top of being non-studio films, these pictures have also been produced outside of the English-speaking world, however, they should be fairly familiar to the Western audiences. Lastly, these films have not necessarily been made or released this year – it’s just that I got a chance to see them in 2016.

I don’t know if this post will spark a broader series of foreign reviews but I would really like if it did because I want to widen my horizons and want to help bring more foreign films to the forefront. I will review 2 pictures in this post and the other two tomorrow.

The first film that I’d like to mention is the Hungarian WW2/Auschwitz concentration camp drama Son of Saul. It was directed by László Nemes and stars Géza Röhrig as Saul. The film won a bunch of awards at various festivals last season and also received the Academy Award in the category of the Best Foreign film.

Son of Saul’s story was not easy to watch, even though I have seen quite a few films about concentration camps. Nevertheless, this picture showed the horror of the situation so vividly that you could almost feel like you were in the camp. A lot of that came from the extraordinary cinematography by Mátyás Erdély – the handheld long continuous close-up shots of Saul’s face made the viewer feel claustrophobic and scared. Because of the limited frame, the audiences couldn’t actually see much of the camp or the gas chambers. However, one didn’t actually need to see the broader mise-en-scene to imagine what was happening outside of the frame. The decision to have such a narrow point-of-view also reminded me something that Art Spiegelman stated about the visualization of the genocide (he is the author of the critically acclaimed graphic novel Maus which also deals with the events that happened at Auschwitz). Like the Son of Saul filmmakers, Spiegelman also chose not to show the inside of the gas chambers in his comic because no-one came out alive of these chambers, so no-one knows how they actually looked and it might be disrespectful to the people who lost their lives in there to fictionalize these rooms in one way or the other.

The lead of the film – Géza Röhrig – was spectacular. His face took up the bigger part of the frame throughout the whole film, so his emotions and face-acting were extremely important and he absolutely nailed his performance. Son of Saul didn’t really focus on the plot but explored the heartbreaking journey of a single character. In addition, the lack of music added a lot of realism to an already realistic movie, while the ambiguous ending was equal parts satisfying and horrifying.

Rate: 5/5

Trailer: Son of Saul trailer

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The second auteur feature that I want to talk about is the Turkish coming of age drama Mustang by the director Deniz Gamze Ergüven. It was nominated for a variety of awards during the festival season and also received the Best Foreign Film Oscar nomination but lost to the previously discussed picture.

Mustang revolves around 5 sisters, played by Güneş Şensoy, Doğa Doğuşlu, Elit İşcan, Tuğba Sunguroğlu and İlayda Akdoğan, who have reached puberty, thus, according to the traditions of Islam, they have to get married. The sisters’ parents are dead, they grew up with their uncle and grandmother. Their life so far has been quite independent: they went to school, socialized with boys and led quite a Western-style life. However, from the very beginning of the film the viewers and the sisters realize that everything has changed.

All films, which revolve around Islam and women’s place in this particular religion, spark dual feelings inside of me. On one hand, I’m angered that females around the world still have to suffer the oppression. The concept of arranged marriage simply infuriates me. However, as an anthropologist-in-training, I’ve to attempt to look at a different culture through the lenses of that culture. Nevertheless, I know enough about Islam (definitely not from the Western media) to tell you that the female subordination by males is not in the Quran. The theoretical religious concepts highly differ from the religious beliefs that are practiced in the Islamic world – they have been radicalized to the extreme.

Mustang is an independent but narrative film, so it can definitely appeal to the mainstream movie goers more than some other art cinema pictures. The 5 leading ladies are all amazing and the 5 sisters, though related, are all very unique and different. The picture also shows a variety of diverse consequences of arranged marriages: these outcomes range from happy and relieving to extremely sad and tragic.

Rate: 5/5

Trailer: Mustang trailer

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5 ideas about a movie: Cafe Society

Movie reviews

Hello!

The newest Woody Allen picture that hopes to be an awards’ contender has reached theatres, so let’s discuss it!

IMDb summary: In the 1930s, a young Bronx native moves to Hollywood where he falls in love with the secretary of his powerful uncle, an agent to the stars. After returning to New York, he is swept up in the vibrant world of high society nightclub life.

  1. Woody Allen’s filmography is extensive and impressive. I’ve mostly familiar with his latest European adventure films (Match Point, Scoop, Vicky Cristina Barcelona, Midnight in ParisYou Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger, To Rome With Love and Magic in the Moonlight which I reviewed when it came out in 2014) as well as his latest features set in The States (Blue Jasmine and Irrational Man which I’ve also reviewed). I also really want to watch some of his older classics, starting with Manhattan and Annie Hall. Speaking about his newest picture – Cafe Society – it is a Woody Allen film to the bone. In addition, if Hail, Caesar! was The Coen brothers’ love letter to Hollywood, then Cafe Society is Allen’s homage to the Golden Age of the movie capital as well as a subtle critique of it.
  2. Like always, Allen wrote the script for the movie himself. Once again, he explored his signature ideas, like love and romance, and asked the existential questions. He also invited the viewers to think what would have happened if the characters made different life choices. Looking at the format of the narrative, the film didn’t have a linear story. The plot consisted of character moments/scenes, which were connected with/through narration (done by Allen himself). Since the picture was partially set in Hollywood, it made a lot of movie references, which I, as a cinephile, appreciated. Cafe Society was kinda an absurd comedy but not a dark one – it was full of light, heartfelt satire. It also had an artsy and a dreamy aura about it with a touch of charm.
  3. Woody Allen used his signature camera movements and filming techniques to create this feature. Together with the famous Italian cinematographer Vittorio Storaro, Allen crafted beautiful steady shots that allowed the viewer to calmly appreciate the gorgeous mise-en-scene. The back and forth over the shoulder shots and wipe and fade away transitions brought a classical Hollywood narrative film feeling to the picture, while the tracking shots added some movement and energy. The framing of the picture was neat as well – I loved how the characters moved in and out of the frame and how the filmmakers played with on-and-off-screen spaces. My favorite scene of Cafe Society was Kristen Stewart’s and Steve Carell’s characters’ confrontation with interruptions – it was crafted magnificently and was not only entertaining and funny but emotional and meaningful. Lastly, the movie had Allen’s signature warm color palette and the lovely and quirky upbeat soundtrack.
  4. The two leads were played by Jesse Eisenberg and Kristen Stewart. This was their 3rd movie together (the first two were Adventureland and American Ultra). The pair had a very subtle chemistry which worked really well in a film like this. I enjoyed seeing Eisenberg in his usual role of an awkward yet adorable guy and did enjoy how he portrayed the character’s transition and growth. While I like Eisenberg the most in the roles likes this one and in films like The Social Network and Now You See Me, I also want to see him trying something different. I actually do want to see what will he do with the character of Lex Luthor as BvS ending was promising. Kristen Stewart was also really good in the film, she probably played her most feminine role yet which was quite interesting to observe. I was used to Stewart playing a rebel of some sorts like in Still Alice or Camp X-Ray.
  5. The supporting cast of the film did a great job as well. I was quite surprised to see Steve Carell (The Big Short) in the film but he was really good – he even made me, as a viewer, empathetic towards a kinda creepy character. Blake Lively was amazing in her small role too – her dazzling look and almost regal and sophisticated yet still flirty demeanor fit the setting of old Hollywood perfectly. I’m finally seeing her movie The Shallows next week. Jeannie Berlin was super funny – I loved how blunt her character was. Corey Stoll (Ant-Man, Black Mass) was also great and added some grunge to the overall glamorous picture. Anna Camp (Pitch Perfect) was also great with her laughing-through-tears scene.

In short, Cafe Society was another great film by Woody Allen. It is a must watch for all the fans of the auteur and I would also recommend it to all the fans of the Golden Age of Hollywood.

Rate: 4/5

Trailer: Cafe Society trailer

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Cinema Camp 2016

Movie previews, Movie reviews

Hello!

On my blog, I usually post movie reviews with a few sightseeing or more personal diary-like entries about my experiences doing various kinds of stuff. Well, today, I’m combining these two types of posts and writing about my weekend, which was spent at a Cinema Conference/Camp.

This particular cinematic event was held for the 7th time and was organized by non-governmental arts organization Meno Avilys. I had a chance to spend almost 4 days in the company of various Lithuanian and foreign filmmakers and film-lovers. The topic of the conference was The Eye of The Cinema, so we focused a lot on cinematography and camera work.

The conference was held at a newly refurbished and renovated Gelgaudiskis Manor and its surrounding areas – this is where the ‘camping’ portion of the weekend comes into the picture. The majority of the participants lived and slept in tents, with the exception of the organizers and specials guests, who stayed at a makeshift hostel. The catering services were established in a school cafeteria, so the whole conference had a ‘children’s camping trip’ kinda aura. However, this aura was also mixed with the feeling of bohemia. It was a strange and long weekend.

I’ll now go through each of the days of the conference and will elaborate on the various lectures and screening I attended.

I and a few of my friends, which are also cinephiles and/or film students, arrived at a camp on Thursday evening (Day 1). After registering and settling in, we had a chance to listen to the opening lecture by the Lithuanian Film Theoretic Lukas Brasiskis on the topic of the Eye of the Cinema. I really enjoyed his presentation and agreed with the idea that the Cinematic Eye can both transform reality and help a person look into it. Afterward, we watched Dziga Vertov’s experimental film Cinema Eye from 1924. We ended the night with philosopher’s Nerijus Milerius piece on the eye and its place in the Snuff Cinema.

Day 2 started with a few workshops, where the aspiring camera operators could learn the tricks of the craft from Lithuanian cameramen Eitvydas Doskus and Vilius Maciulskis. After lunch, the director’s Audrius Stonys lecture on the ethics of documental films took place. Then, another Lithuanian director Deimantas Narkevicius showcased some of his earliest works and held a Q and A session. The day was closed with meet and greet with Polish camera operator Adam Sikora and we also watched a film he has worked on with the director Jerzy SkolimowskiEssential Killing. During the night/late evening, a Russian Rock band Megapolis performed a visual and musical homage to the Soviet films that were never made due to heavy censorship called From the Life of the Planets. I loved the idea of this performance, just wish it wasn’t held so late in the evening.

Day 3 finally saw some female professionals sharing their ideas. The Researcher of Cinema and its Visuals Natalija Arlauskaite gave a lecture on Censorship, while the art critic Agne Narusyte discussed Performative Symbols in Cinema and Photography. The third day of the event also had three of my favorite lectures/screening of the whole camp. First, the American Film Theoretic Gabriel Paletz gave a lecture on Citizen Kane and Movie Climaxes, then the great French cinematographer Agnes Godard held a Q and A gathering and we also watched a movie she made with Claire Denis – Beau Travail. Lastly, we rounded up the night with an In Memoriam assembly for Abbas Kiarostami and enjoyed his brilliant work by watching The Wind Will Carry Us, which I had a chance to study at university.

On the last day of the camp/conference (Day 4), the focus was shifted more to the new technologies and modern ways of looking at cinema. The Lithuanian artist/programmer Bartosh Polonski told the participants about virtual reality and the opportunities that the current technologies create. Before lunch, the Lithuanian director Mantas Kvedaravicius held a test screening of his documental feature Mariupolis. The cinematic weekend was closed with an open discussion/panel with various operators: the aforementioned Eitvydas Doskus and Vilius Maciulskis, who were joined by Mindaugas Survila and Vytautas Katkus.

Overall, I had a really pleasant time at this event. My background in film is tiny, so I always take every opportunity to learn about the field from the professionals who work in it. I also tend to focus a lot on mainstream films, so it was really nice to be exposed to more experimental and indie features. It was also delightful to learn more about the cinema of my own country, as I do usually watch foreign films, especially those made in the English language. I arrived on Thursday with an open heart and an even opener mind and did not regret a thing. While I might need a break from indie and experimental films , I’m certain that I will be coming back to them more often than I did before.

Thanks for reading!

Photos from the event and the location it was held in:

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Movie review: Midnight Special

Movie reviews

Hi!

Since there will be no new releases for a few weeks in the country that I’m currently staying (no big foreign releases – the distributors are pushing a domestic film that I have zero interest in) , I have decided to review a few films that I missed at the beginning of 2016 – Zootopia, Hardcore Henry, and Midnight Special. In this post, I will be taking about the last one on that list.

IMDb summary: A father and son go on the run, pursued by the government and a cult drawn to the child’s special powers.

Midnight Special is an original sci-fi drama. It is not an adaptation, a reboot or a sequel/spin-off. Original movies are unheard of in today’s Hollywood and even a few original films that we do get are usually not that great. However, Midnight Special is an exception – on top of being an original property, the picture is also interesting, intelligent and provides interesting commentary on faith, the people’s need for something to believe in, and the cult mentality. Sadly, despite having a tiny budget, it still did not earn it back.

The film was written and directed by Jeff Nichols who has previously done films like Mud and Take Shelter. This was his first studio production but it still felt like an independent picture.

Writing: The Narrative

The film’s story was kinda vague. It raised more questions than it answered. It didn’t even seem that the filmmaker knew the answers to the questions they were asking, but that also meant that the viewer could be more engaged – when there is no right answer, everyone can participate and be both right and wrong. The fact that nothing was explained fully also gave the film a scary and intense feeling/aura.

The themes explored in the film were the religion (why do we believe or don’t believe? what is the thing that we believe in? what is the power of our belief/disbelief?), home (why do we need to belong somewhere? do we find or create our homes? can you feel at home if you are different?) and family (what is the importance of the father-son relationship? can parents ever let their children go?). The film also explored various ways how people deal with stuff they don’t understand – by worshiping it, dismissing it or seeing it as a threat – fearing the unknown. The film also kinda disproved the notion that seeing is believing, because, at the end of the film, a lot of people saw that other world, but chose to disregard the information that their eyes received. The religious cult ideas also reminded me a bit of True Detective Season 1, which I started watching today.

Writing : The Characters + Acting

  • Michael Shannon as Roy Tomlin. This is the third collaboration for Shannon and Nichols. I did enjoy the conflict inside Roy – which force is stronger – his love for his son or his belief in smth greater? While Shannon did a good job playing a loving father, from the outside, he did come across as quite an unlikeable character. I wonder if a more likable, charismatic actor would have been a better choice. Recently, Shannon had a cameo in BvS.
  • Joel Edgerton as Lucas. The character of Lucas was a bit strange. I always wondered whether he had an ulterior motive or was he just along for a ride. He ended up being just a really good friend. His transition into the believer was also interesting and hopeful. Edgerton was recently in Black Mass and his next film is also a Jeff Nichols’s picture Loving.

I also liked the juxtaposition of Lucas and Roy. One was rational, another believed in supernatural. One followed science (‘he’s sick’), the other – faith (‘he’s meant for smth else’).

  • Kirsten Dunst as Sarah Tomlin. She was okay. She didn’t do much but just reacted to the events happening around her.
  • Adam Driver as Paul Sevier. He was excellent in the film. I’m so happy that he is Kylo Ren. In Midnight Special, he showed even more of his acting abilities and I loved his character arc. He went from a disbeliever to a believer, from being lost and out of his element to being basically an expert. On top of being in Star Wars, Driver will also start in Scorcese’s Silence.
  • Scott Haze as Levi. He did a good job. He wasn’t as great as Jacob Tremblay in Room, but still much better than other child actors I’ve seen. He had a really difficult job – to portray a child that is also a god-like figure. His demure look and an innocent way of acting were really appropriate choices.

Directing

I really appreciated the film’s visuals. The cinematography (by Adam Stone) was simple but refined. The color palette – similar to Gone Girl’s – interesting: cool blue, black and white tones with yellowed and golden details, shadowy or bright with white lights shots. The ambient music (by David Wingo) was also really effective. The pace of the film was also great – Nichols managed to create a slow picture that explores various themes but never drags or becomes boring. The subtle camera movements to reveal something were also great (especially the shot of the meteors falling behind the boy’s head).

The CGI was also pretty neat. It didn’t always look good – the meteor shower looked kinda fake, however, the otherworldly architecture was spectacular. Both realistic and majestic. It was not only visually pleasing but visually interesting – I noticed a lot of circular and round shapes and bent lines. With this kind of a budget, the CGI definitely looked better than I expected.

In short, Midnight Special was an impressive sci-fi film that was overlooked by the majority of cinema goers. It explored engaging topics and asked questions in a simple yet visually pleasing and interesting way.

Rate: 4/5

Trailer: Midnight Special trailer

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