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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Movie review: Logan Lucky

Movie reviews

Hello!

Steven Soderbergh is back from retirement but the audiences don;t care much. This is Logan Lucky!

IMDb summary: Two brothers attempt to pull off a heist during a NASCAR race in North Carolina.

Writing

Logan Lucky was written by Rebecca Blunt – either a newcomer writer or somebody, working under a pseudonym. There has been speculation online that Blunt lives the UK, while some critics thought that Soderberg himself is hiding underneath that name (because he does that when crediting himself as a cinematographer (as Peter Andrews) and editor (as Mary Ann Bernard). Anyways, whoever this Blunt person is/was, they did a good job on the script. While the core narrative was quite familiar (Hell or High Water-esque – stealing for one’s family), its execution in details was brilliant.

The movie opened with a good set-up of the mundane lives of its characters and established them as people, whose lives did not turn out the way they planned (one of them peaked in high school, the other was suffering from the little brother inferiority complex).

Then, Logan Lucky moved on to showcasing the American culture (the kind that foreign people wouldn’t even dare to call culture), which consisted of children beauty pageants and rural county fairs. However, the star of the said culture and the film was NASCAR – a very American brand of motor-racing. The cherry on top was the prolonged anthem scene. Logan Lucky seemed to be driving home a message, that stuff like this, for better or for worse, happens only in the USA. This type of portrayal could have easily come across as annoying but the underlying sense of irony and satire made it work.

Speaking about the comedic side of Logan Lucky – it was great if not as extensive as I hoped, after watching the trailer. I loved the different pairings of the criminals (The Hitman’s Bodyguardesque) as well as the jokes that were central to the characters (one-handed bartender, the dumb brothers of Joe Bang). Logan Lucky also had a really funny sequence with Sebastian Stan’s driver character (who didn’t seem like he had much to do with the actual plot of the film). Another magnificent and hilarious sequence was the prison riot and the prisoners demanding all GRRM books, getting frustrated that ‘The Winds of Winter’ has yet to be released, and hating the fact that the TV show is going off books. The ‘explosive device’ sequence and the decision to stop midway and explain the chemistry were extremely funny too.

Logan Lucky also had a surprising and really heartfelt scene involving the main character’s daughter’s beauty pageant and the song ‘Take Me Home, Country Roads’ (by John Denver). That scene should have been the closing images of the picture. However, Logan Lucky did continue and had a concluding detective story that felt like an afterthought. The investigation itself was not that interesting or neccesary. However, that closing sequence did provide some revelations about the main character’s secret dealings and did have a nice ending (well, for now) with all of them sitting in a bar.

Directing

Steven Soderbergh (The Ocean’s trilogy, Magic Mike series, Haywire) did a good job with Logan Lucky but I don’t think that this was his best film. The pacing at the start was a bit slow, however, the movie did pick up its pace, when the action began. However, it started dragging again with that detective-story afterthought. What I appreciated the most about Logan Lucky (and the other films by Soderbergh) was that it felt real. Not necessarily realistic but real, grounded, self-aware, and sprinkled with irony. While the scripts that he directs (or even writes) are usually mainstream, Soderbergh addresses them with unique auteur/indie perspective.

This time around, Soderbergh also approached the distribution of the film uniquely and decided not to partner with any of the big studios. Well, that backfired. Big time. Logan Lucky didn’t win its weekend, nor it showed any staying power by dipping lower and lower in the TOP 10. I really want to know who/what is to blame. Are the audiences just not interested in Soderbergh’s work anymore? Was it the lack of advertisement? Where were all the NASCAR fans? Where were all the grown-up Pixar’s Cars fan (the ones who saw the 2006 film as children and are now adults)? Where were the fans of movies, involving cars, a la Baby Driver?

Acting

Logan Lucky had a really strong cast, lead by a new favorite of Soderbergh’sChanging Tatum (they worked together on Magic Mike, while the other recent Tatum’s films include Hail, Caesar!, The Hateful Eight, Jupiter Ascending, Jump Street). His brother was played by Adam Driver, who is constantly working on smaller, more art-house pictures in between his Star Wars gigs, like Midnight Special, Silence, and Paterson. Daniel Craig (Spectre) also had a very fun role in the film that he seemed to be having a blast while playing. He never appeared to enjoy being Bond that much and, yet, he still signed on to continue being the 007.

The supporting cast included Riley Keough (Mad Max), Katie HolmesKatherine Waterston (Fantastic Beasts), and Hilary Swank (would love to see her going back to the Million Dollar Baby type of projects and the level of success). The majority of them didn’t really play real characters but were used as devices for world-building or the lead’s character development. Seth MacFarlane (Ted, Sing) and Sebastian Stan (Marvel stuff, The Martian) also had cameo roles and their whole separate thing going on in the background.

In short, Logan Lucky was an enjoyable mixture of mainstream and indie, but it didn’t offer anything too special. Neither a disappointment nor really a win for Soderbergh.

Rate: 3.5/5

Trailer: Logan Lucky trailer

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Movie review: Despicable Me 3 

Movie reviews

Hello!

Illumination Entertainment has replaced DreamWorks as the other ‘it’ animation studio in Hollywood (first being the Disney/Pixar conglomerate). Let’s see whether their latest offering – Despicable Me 3 – is worthy of praise.

IMDb summary: Gru meets his long-lost charming, cheerful, and more successful twin brother Dru who wants to team up with him for one last criminal heist.

I, personally, really enjoyed the first two Despicable Me films (and other recent Illumination movies, like Sing and The Secret Life of Pets) but I vastly despised the Minions spinoff. I hoped that the minions’ meme would have died down by now but is still as strong as ever. Thus, the interest in this movie is, most likely, big. Minions have been definitely used more in the marketing than when advertising the previous pictures of the main series. While their role in the movie is smaller than I expected (thankfully), two of them actually appear on the screen first, a few seconds before Gru – the supposed star of the franchise.

Writing

The writing duo Cinco Paul and Ken Daurio wrote the third film in the Despicable Me series (they also penned the original and the first sequel). Overall, the script was a mixed bag of stuff. Story-wise, a lot of things were happening and multiple plotlines were being developed (with varying amounts of attention and screentime). The biggest ones were Gru’s and his brother’s story, the Mother-Daughter bonding idea, the new villain’s Baltazar’s plotline, and the Minion shenanigans (that had little to do with anything else in the movie). The daughter characters also had their small side quests (unicorn and engagement). While I don’t really think that all these lines necessarily worked together, I would at least like to compliment the scriptwriters for trying to do something with the story and the characters.

Speaking of the characters – I loved the new villain Baltazar. I loved his 80s look (shoulder pads!) and affinity for music and dance. He really reminded me of Baby from Baby Driver – stealing into the beat of the music similarly to driving into the beat of the music. I also loved his Guardians of the Galaxy-like dance-off idea. Agnes character – the most adorable of the daughters – was also delightful to watch and I very much enjoyed her ‘hunt’ for the unicorn (definitely more than everything related to the Minions).

Thematically, Despicable Me 3 tackled adult themes and paired them with childish humor. The grown-up characters were dealing with being fired and finding a new life path, while also coming to terms with failed dreams of their youth; they were attempting to reconnect with long lost siblings and were worrying about being good parents. Things, like gambling online, sexual innuendos, and baldness were also mentioned. On the completely opposite end of the spectrum was the film’s humor – it was mostly childish. The Minions comic relief side quest could have been cut out of the movie and nothing would have changed. The Minions were actually sort of replaced by pigs. The new brother character, who failed at being a villain, got annoying really quick too.

Lastly, one meta idea that I immensely enjoyed about Despicable Me 3 was the fact that the movie’s villain was attempting to take down Hollywood, while the film itself was very much a product of Hollywood. Oh, the sweet irony.

Directing

Pierre Coffin and Kyle Balda, who directed all the previous pictures of the series, helmed Despicable Me 3 and did an okay job. The animation was good, as it always is. The pacing was also fine and I liked the fact that the movie was quite short and not too overindulgent in itself. The score (by Heitor Pereira and Pharrell Williams) was catchy too. While the film was surely my least favorite in the franchise (it went downhill as so many series do), I think that the kids would definitely enjoy it. I wonder if they will attempt to continue the franchise – is the final scene of Dru teaming up with the Minions an indication that the next film might be Dru vs. Gru. And we all know that ‘versus’ stories are popular now.

Voice work

Steve Carell performed a double duty and voiced both Gru and Dru. I liked his work here as much as in the previous films and appreciated the subtle differences in the voices of the two brothers. Kristen Wiig was also good, while the co-creator of South-Park Trey Parker was a neat choice for a villain.

In short, Despicable Me 3 is a perfectly servicable kids’ movie that doesn’t offer anything too special but is, overall, entertaining, if one can stomach the Minions.

Rate: 3.5/5

Trailer: Despicable Me 3 trailer

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Movie review: Cars 3

Movie reviews

Hello!

The latest Pixar film – Cars 3 – has hit theaters. Let’s see whether the beloved studio can repeat the cinematic success for the gazillionth time.

IMDb summary: Lightning McQueen sets out to prove to a new generation of racers that he’s still the best race car in the world.

I, like the majority of cinephiles, am a huge fan of Pixar and have seen all of their films multiple times. The original Cars picture is one of my favorite Pixar films (it is just outside my top three childhood animated films – Finding Nemo, The Incredibles, and Monsters, Inc.). However, I can hardly remember what happened in Cars 2. Hopefully, the third film is more in line with the original rather than the sequel. One thing is for sure, Cars is more than a movie franchise – it’s a global merchandise brand (and a cultural/capitalistic phenomenon) as widespread as the Minions.

Writing

Cars 3 was written by a studio’s film developer Kiel Murray, a Pixar veteran writer Bob Peterson, and a writer of sports films Mike Rich, based on a story by the director of the picture Brian Fee, a TV producer Ben Queen, a TV actor Eyal Podell, and quite an inexperienced writer Jonathan E. Stewart (a lot of cooks in the kitchen).

I enjoyed the story of the film quite a lot: I especially liked the ideas and the message. The treatment for the characters was also interesting and worthy of discussion. Let’s star with the themes: I loved the juxtaposition between the modernity and the traditionalism, the rookies and the old-school racers. More importantly, I give props to the movie for making the ultimate message about the combination of both – it’s important to move on while also acknowledging one’s roots (plus, the idea that all seniors have once been rookies).  I also applaud the scriptwriters for including realistic aspects such as the camaraderie between the race cars as well as the bullying that happens within a sport (psychological mind frames) into the script.

The character development was also not bad. The new opponent – Jackson Storm – felt like a stereotype of a millennial (EDM music, flashing neon night club-like lights, and sarcasm). Cruz Ramirez was delightful – not only was she a female racer but a good one too. I loved how hers and McQueen’s relationship was reciprocal – they learned different things from one another and were fluctuated between being students and teachers. I also wonder whether the ending twist of the film means that Ramirez will now be at the forefront of the franchise moving forward. McQueen himself had a good arc in this film too. I liked all the jokes about him being old but I think that he should not have been as cocky as he was – he literally made the same mistake in the first film – shouldn’t he have learned by now?

The returning character of Mater (the tow truck) had barely anything to do. This might have been because he was heavily featured in Cars 2 and nobody liked that, so the filmmakers were careful about using him. However, an homage was paid to another character from the original – the mentor Doc Hudson. The character did not even appear onscreen in person (in car-son?) but the plot revolved about his role in McQueen’s life.

Directing 

Brian Fee made his directorial debut with Cars 3. He has previously worked on Pixar projects as a storyboard artist. For his first directing effort, Fee did a brilliant job. Of course, he had the help of amazing Pixar animators. The animated visuals were astounding as usual and yet I’m still surprised how much emption the animators are able to make these cars convey. The pacing was really good for the most part – the narrative was unraveling quickly – but the film did slow down before the third act (that’s a major problem for a lot of mainstream pictures).

The movie had a few distinct sequences, which I quite liked. Both of the training montages were fun, especially the car aerobics scenes. The wild racing sequence with the bull-like school bus was not something I expected from Pixar but it was, nonetheless, fun to watch. The new stylistic modifications for the cars were cool too but I can’t help but feel that they were included in order to sell more new toys.

Voice work

While I don’t think that the voice cast of the Cars franchise is super iconic, it was still nice to hear the returning actors, like Owen Wilson and the comedian Larry the Cable. The newcomers Armie Hammer and Cristela Alonzo were also great.

Short picture

Before Cars 3, an animated short was screened (this is a usual practice). Dave Mullins’s LOU felt like a cute combo of Toy Story and Monsters, Inc. 

In short, Cars 3 might not be the best Pixar movie but it is definitely a return to form for the franchise. Their next release is the Dia De Los Muertos themed flick Coco and then, a sequel I have been waiting for a decade – The Incredibles 2.

Rate: 4/5

Trailer: Cars 3 trailer

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5 ideas about a movie: Storks

Music

Hello!

Welcome to the last animation review of this year! This time, I want to briefly talk about one of the best overlooked animated movies of 2016 – Storks.

IMDb summary: Storks have moved on from delivering babies to packages. But when an order for a baby appears, the best delivery stork must scramble to fix the error by delivering the baby.

  1. Storks was written by Nicholas Stoller, who also co-directed the picture. Stoller has worked on The Muppets movies as well as recent comedies such as Neighbors 1 +2Sex TapeZoolander 2, and The Brothers Grimsby. Storks, to my mind, might be his best movie yet because of its neat and inventive story. Stoller and his co-director Doug Sweetland (a longtime Pixar animator) created a really adorable animated picture.
  2. Advertised as a super childish film, Storks actually dealt with pretty adult problems, such as finding and building a career, parenting, and consumerism. It also touched upon the ideas on how to show one’s feeling and how to find one’s place. The film also had a very liberal, open and worth celebrating view on a family. In general, its story was very heart warming.
  3. I’d like to also celebrate Storks for taking such an old and traditional myth and revamping it for a new generation. The fact that the film had adults jokes that weren’t raunchy or sexual should also be praised. Nevertheless, the film had enough funny moments that were understandable to kids. The wolf pack, as well as the pigeon lad, were probably the easiest jokes that the movie made.
  4. The voice cast did a good job, the standouts to me were Katie CrownKelsey Grammer, and Andy Samberg
  5. Before the main feature, The Lego Ninjago short was screened so as to promote all the upcoming The Lego Movie spin-offs, namely The Lego Batman movie that comes out in February and The Lego Ninjago film that will premiere in September. The short picture was cute and funny. I’m still amazed by this style of animation and I can’t wait to see the feature flicks next year.

In short, Storks was a lovely little movie that was both funny and engaging. The adorable animation didn’t hurt the picture either.

Rate: 3.75/5

Trailer: Storks trailer

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Movie review: Moana

Movie reviews

Hello!

The long awaited and newest Disney Princess movie – Moana – has reached theaters, so, let’s talk about it!

IMDb summary: In Ancient Polynesia, when a terrible curse incurred by Maui reaches an impetuous Chieftain’s daughter’s island, she answers the Ocean’s call to seek out the demigod to set things right.

Moana is, technically, a 13th Disney Princess film. It has been truly amazing to see how this brand evolved in the past 80 years. I feel that the biggest changes started with 2010’s Tangled and all the films following it have been adapting their stories and characters to fit the contemporary world and I’m excited to see what will Disney do next.

Moana is also Disney’s return to musicals, since Frozen 3 years ago. Can Moana’s soundtrack replicate the success of Frozen’s soundtrack? It is gonna be a bit harder for Moana, as this year, we already had one fairly successful animated musical – Trolls – and we also have another one coming up – Sing.

Lastly, Moana is Disney’s attempt at presenting an indigenous – Polynesian culture – to the global market. Thier last attempt at this with Pocahontas wasn’t the most successful, but I think that Disney learned from their mistakes. They went an extra mile to cast voice actors from appropriate backgrounds and also employed anthropologists to help portray Polynesian culture as accurately as possible. As a student of anthropology and a lover of films, I found that fascinating – maybe this can be my job in the future?

Moana’s story also appealed to me on two personal levels. First of all, I, as a longtime professional(-ish) swimmer, sometimes do feel better in the water than on land, so I loved seeing Moana’s connection to the ocean. Secondly, Moana reminded me of two different books that I read as a kid that both revolved around islands and island culture. One of them was Whale Rider (1987) by Witi Ihimaera about a Maori girl and her journey to becoming her clan’s chief. The other was called Island of the Blue Dolphins (1960) by Scott O’Dell about a Native American girl who gets stranded on an island near California. Both books have been turned into movies, in 2002 and 1964 respectively.

Writing and Story

Jared Bush, who has previously worked on Big Hero 6 and also co-wrote and co-directed Zootopia, wrote the screenplay of Moana but a lot of people got the credits for the story, including the directors of this film Ron Clements and John MuskerBig Hero 6’s directors Chris Williams and Don HallWreck-It Ralph 2’s writer Pamela Ribon, and twin Hawaiian screenwriters Aaron and Jordan Kandell.

For the most part, I really enjoyed the writing for Moana. I loved that the movie opened with a lesson in Polynesian mythology. In general, I thought that this specific culture was represented with respect but it was still made fun. The writing for the two main characters was also great. Where the movie’s magic kinda broke down was in the actual narrative of the film. The first act felt a bit drawn out – I wanted to get onto the adventure part quicker. I felt that the movie was just basically checking things off a list in during the set-up: Moana had Disney staples such as the dead relative/teacher, the overprotective parents, and the idea that everyone should stay in their place. The ending was also a bit predictable and I wish they would have done without the cliches like failing at first try and leaving and coming back in the heat of the battle. Nevertheless, a few narrative ideas that I thought were great was the fact that Moana didn’t have or need a love interest. Also, the final confrontation was female-centric, similarly to Frozen, and I would have had a problem with that if Moana didn’t have strong and cool male character – Maui – as well.

Directing and Animation

Ron Clements and John Musker, who have made such Disney classic as The Little MermaidAlladinHercules, and Princess and the Frog, directed the film and did a wonderful job. The pacing of the film could have been better but I absolutely adored the visuals and the animation. All the environment, especially the ocean, were brought to life just magnificently – the water looked both realistic and magical – so much better than another recent water based animation Finding Dory. The character design was also super cool. Moana actually looked like a real person, with realistic body proportions! Maui looked super cool too – I liked that his tattoos were not only a visual prop but a part of the plot. Moana’s sidekicks were good too. The chicken was mostly used for comic relief which was neither a hit or a miss for me. I wish, however, that they would have brought the piggy along for the ride, as he was super cute. The baby Moana was also so adorable. You couldn’t not fall in love with her. Lastly, one of my favorite parts of the film was the good old training montage for both Moana and Maui.

Music

Tarzan’s composer Mark MancinaHamilton’s Lin-Manuel Miranda, and a member of Oceanic music group Te Vaka – Opetaia Foa’i – all worked on the soundtrack and did an amazing job. To being with, I loved hearing some of the songs in Tokelauan language – it added more authenticity to the film’s atmosphere. The more mainstream pop-songy numbers were also great. I see a lot of potential in one song especially in finally making the world let go of Let it Go – I’m talking about the main song of MoanaHow Far I’ll Go. I liked the version sung by Cravalho much more than Alessia Cara’s credits version. Even though I love Cara and her lyrics, I felt that Cravalho voice just had more emotion and fit the song better. But I can see why Disney wanted a more well-known singer to record a version of the song. Let it Go was also recorded by Idina Menzel and a more mainstream choice Demi Lovato.

Other two songs that I’d like to name are You’re Welcome by Dwayne Johnson. I was super impressed with Johnson’s voice – is there anything he can’t do? The song itself kinda reminded me of another Disney tune whose name I don’t remember, but it just sounded so familiar. The last song I’m gonna mention was the one sung by the crab – that was the only part of the score that I didn’t feel on board with.

Voice cast

  • Auli’i Cravalho was amazing as Moana. Her voice just had so much emotion and fit the character perfectly. I think she has a long career ahead of her, at least I hope so.
  • Dwayne Johnson as Maui was great too. He just had so much charisma in his voice alone. This was only his second voice role. Next year, he has 3 big movies coming up – Fast 8Baywatch, and Jumanji.

In short, Moana was another great picture from Disney. It had spectacular characters, nice thematical ideas and gorgeous animated visuals. I only wish they would have made the story a bit more original.

Rate: 4/5

Trailer: Moana trailer

P.S. Before Moana, a new Disney short called, Inner Workings, was screened. It was kinda the Inside Out of the body rather than the mind. It was both funny and cute as well as sad and depressing (like Pixar levels sad). Loved the main message – treat yourself, escape the routine and enjoy life!

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Movie review: Inferno

Movie reviews

Hello, my dear readers!

The latest Dan Brown/Ron Howard/Tom Hanks collaboration – Inferno – has reached cinemas, so, let’s review it!

IMDb summary: When Robert Langdon wakes up in an Italian hospital with amnesia, he teams up with Dr. Sienna Brooks, and together they must race across Europe against the clock to foil a deadly global plot.

I have done a preview post for this film where I talked about all the books as well as the previous films of the franchise (you can find it here). As usual, I’ll try to list as many book-to-movie changes as I could spot, although it has been a few months since I’ve read the novel, so I might not have noticed everything. Once again, the critics are ripping this movie apart (like the earlier movies of the series), so I’ll also try to defend it from a fan’s perspective.

SPOILERS AHEAD

Writing

The screenwriter David Koepp adapted Dan Brown’s novel to the big screen and did a fairly good job. Koepp’s track record has been mixed. Although the movies he has written have been very financially profitable, not all of them were liked by the movie goers or the critics. He has contributed to such successes as Jurassic ParkMission: Impossible and Panic Room. However, he also co-wrote the horrible Indiana Jones 4 and directed one of the worst films of Johnny Depp’s career – Mordecai. Koepp has also written the second film of the Robert Landon franchise – Angels & Demons – it used to be my favorite, but I think Inferno has taken its place.

For the bigger part of the movie, narrative alterations have been minimal. Even the third act and the finale went down in a similar way in the book, however, the final end-game of the story was changed completely.

To begin with, the book started with Langdon already in the hospital, while the movie added an explanatory set-up (and yet ‘Would you press a button’ idea came from the book). The picture immersed the viewers into the film’s world first and then dropped Langdon in it, while the book used Langdon as the reader’s lens into the world of the story. The screenwriter also modernized the narrative by showing Zobrist giving a Ted talk like presentation and by using a drone to look for Langdon and Sienna.

The scriptwriter also added some shared history for Sienna and Langdon (met when she was a kid), introduced an idea that Langdon might be a carrier of the virus, and also added a new character of Christoph Bouchard – the inclusion of him allowed the film to explore the plot-line of a virus possibly being stolen and sold. Furthermore, Koepp cut Sinskey’s personal background and added some shared backstory for her and Langdon. He also streamlined the story and made it more linear, as usual for book-to-movie adaptations.

The film’s finale happened in the same location as did the book’s. The premise was also similar – Langdon + W.H.O. and Sienna were separately looking for the bag. However, that’s where the similarities ended. In the film, Sienna had mini bombs to break the bag – she didn’t have them in the book. However, the biggest change was the fact that the virus was actually contained in the movie, while the book explained that the bag has dissolved a week ago and that the virus was already out in the world. The film only talked about the virus killing half of the population, while, in the book, this was only a false facade to hide the fact that the virus would sterilize a third of world’s population. The book also had Sienna’s character surviving the whole thing and she even ends up working for World Health Organization to research the virus, though the book also made it explicit that the sterilization of some humans might be a good thing. The movie cut this kinda controversial ending and finished the picture with the good guys winning and Sienna dying for basically nothing. I wish the filmmakers would have had the courage to keep the novel’s ending.

The film had a lot of expositional dialogue and monolog – some of it worked well and seemed organic, some appeared forced and out-of-place. The character development through dialogue was good: e.g. Sienna mentioning her childhood and Langdon saying that he had a fear of tight spaces and a bad past relationship. However, before the 3rd act of the film began and all the characters had to get on the same page, that part of the exposition was a bit cliche and an extremely obvious plot device.

Directing

Ron Howard (Rush, In The Heart of The Sea) directed the picture, like the two previous features of the franchise and did a solid job. The pacing was really good for the majority of the film, but the movie did slow down during the Sienna/Zobrist flashback and before the 3rd act. The dream montages were effective and quite scary and Langdon’s disorientation was also portrayed well through the shaky cam, close-ups, and quick cuts. I also liked how the classical music was incorporated into the finale – it wasn’t just an outside soundtrack but an actual diegetic musical score. I also found it amusing that the 3rd act’s action happened in the water – fitting for Langdon’s swimming/water polo background.

Acting

  • Tom Hanks as Robert Langdon was good as always. I’m one of a few people who actually like Hanks as this character and I also cannot ever find anything wrong with his acting abilities – in my opinion, he is one of the best and most reliable actors (quality-wise) of today. I don’t think that I would be able to pick my favorite movie of his because I have seen so many and all of them have been great, so I’m just gonna list his latest and upcoming performances. Hanks recently starred in Bridge of Spies, A Hologram for the King, and Sully (which will only premiere in the UK in December – so annoying). Going forward, he will star and produce The Circle and will also come back to voicing Woody in Toy Story 4
  • Felicity Jones as Dr. Sienna Brooks was great as well. Since I knew the big twist of her character, I think I noticed a few hints at it in Jones’s performance. She had a weird look here and a strange expression there, so I was expecting the reveal and was mostly sure that it wouldn’t be cut. I was first introduced to Jones in The Theory of Everything, since then she has moved to way bigger things. On top of being in Inferno and another possible awards’ contender for this year – A Monster Calls – she will also play the lead in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story.
  • Ben Foster as Bertrand Zobrist was good. He didn’t get a lot of screen-time – he actually mostly appeared in flashbacks or in videos. Nevertheless, he played a solid mad genius. Foster’s recent performances include The ProgramThe Finest HoursWarcraft and one of my favorite movies from this year Hell or High Water.
  • Omar Sy (The IntouchablesJurassic Worldas Christoph BouchardSidse Babett Knudsen (A Hologram for the King) as Elizabeth Sinskey and Irrfan Khan (Life of Pi, Jurassic World, The Jungle Book Hindi version) as Harry Sims were also great in their supporting roles. Khan probably stood out the most out of the three of them just because his character was so interesting – wish we could have explored his backstory and his company more.

In short, Inferno was a solid action adventure film with some art history sprinkled on top. It had an okay writing, good directing and nice performances. It wasn’t a special or groundbreaking movie, but I still had fun with it and definitely do not understand why critics hate it so much.

Rate: 3.5/5

Trailer: Inferno trailer

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Movie review: Finding Dory

Movie reviews

Hello!

The summer is coming to an end but the summer movie season is not over yet, thus, allow me to review another movie. This time, it’s Finding Dory!

IMDb summary: The friendly but forgetful blue tang fish begins a search for her long-lost parents, and everyone learns a few things about the real meaning of family along the way.

I’m a huge Pixar fan (who isn’t?). I have seen all Pixar feature film multiple times and enjoyed the viewing experience immensely, time and time again. Growing up, I would constantly rewatch Monsters, Inc., The Incredibles, and Finding Nemo and these 3 movies are still at the top of ‘My Favorite Animated Pictures of All Time’ list. I was really happy when Monsters Inc got a prequel in 2013 and wasn’t disappointed by it and I also cannot wait for 2019’s The Incredibles 2. I have been waiting for the Finding Nemo sequel for more than a decade, so I was more than excited to see it. Sadly, due to the awful international release schedules, I had to wait 2 months more than the rest of the world. But, the wait is over, so let’s go and find Dory!

The screening of the picture that I attended mostly had kids in the audience. The majority of them weren’t even born when Finding Nemo came out. Needless to say, this kinda made me feel old.

Piper

Before I talk about Finding Dory, I want to briefly touch upon the animated short Piper that they showed before the feature. It was made by Alan Barillaro and was absolutely amazing. The animation looked extremely realistic. The actual plot of the short film was really cute and sweet but still had an important message – it encouraged the viewers to be brave and step out of their comfort zones.

Writing

Finding Dory’s screenplay was written by the director of the film Andrew Stanton and TV writer Victoria Strouse. Stanton wrote and directed Finding Nemo, A Bug’s Life, and WALL-E and has also helped out with the scripts of  Monster’s Inc. and all 3 Toy Story pictures. He is also set to co-write Toy Story 4, while Strouse will be penning the live-action Tinkerbell’s screenplay. I really enjoyed the narrative that they created for this film. The story was both simple and clever, funny and genuine. The character development was never forced but came out organically during the dialogue. The set up for the big adventure was a both obvious and logical. As usual, Pixar also pulled on its viewers’ hearts strings. The jokes worked too even if they got kind dark at times (that bucket of dead fish).

Finding Dory also did a good job of introducing new characters, while also giving some screen time to the old favorites. We did get Dory’s full backstory (prequel) as well as a Finding Nemo sequel (the next adventure). We also find out what happened to the dentist office’s tank gang from the first film in the post-credits scene. Of the new characters, Hank, the octopus, Destiny, the whale shark and Bailey, the beluga whale, were the most interesting and useful to the story. Through Destiny’s character, we found out how Dory learned to speak whale. Hank allowed the movie to move (literally – the octopus was the only one who could go on land), while Bailey was super helpful in the last act. I also really liked the fact that the majority of the new characters had disabilities, so, Dory wasn’t just the only one who was different. In addition, all 3 new supporting fish received small resolutions to their own stories, which tied up the movie nicely.

The overarching theme that was carried out from Finding Nemo was, of course, family. The main focus was shifted from Nemo’s to Dory’s family, but the message of the film remained the same or at least similar. The 2 ideas – that ‘parents have to let their kids go’ and that ‘friends can also become family members’ – were realized and portrayed carefully and cleverly. The ‘just keep swimming’ line (I still have it on my inspiration board, as I’m a competitive swimmer – it is both my motto for life and for swimming) as well as Dory’s philosophy to just kinda live spontaneously and without a plan were also great parts of the movie. Lastly, Finding Dory had a strong anti-captivity message. I wonder if they did that so that the clown fish and the regal blue tang population would not suffer, as this has happened in 2003 after the first flick came out and all the children wanted to have their own Nemo and Dory.

Directing

For the director Andrew Stanton, Finding Dory was his 4th Pixar film and only 5th picture altogether.  I think he did a great job with this project. To begin with, the actual animation of the picture was realized beautifully: the settings of the ocean and all the different aquariums were just absolutely gorgeous, while the character design was the right amount of cartoon mixed with realism. The young Dory was an extremely cute character – those huge eyes were adorable. I also really liked the fact that the movie knew that it was really cute and used to their own advantage – that moment with otters distracting the drivers with their cuteness was a bit meta.

Going back to the animated visuals – the movements of the octopus were so fluid and so real looking too. I also appreciated the fact that they showed so many different locations and even had a lot of action on land. That ending, though, was a bit much and too cartoonish. I know we are talking about a movie with talking fish, but that ‘jumping out of a truck with the slow-mo and that cheesy song’ type of an ending was a bit too out there.

One other criticism of the film was the fact that it did repeat more than a few ideas from Finding Nemo, while slightly repackaging them: once again, we got a lot of action in the aquarium, only this time, the tank stood in the oceanology institute rather than in the dentist’s office. The character traveled in the current with the turtles again. The bird was used for transport for the 2nd time too.

Lastly, guess whose song was playing during the credits? If you though Sia’s, you were correct. This time, it was the song Unforgettable, written especially for this film. Her songs have also been featured in The Shallows and The Neon Demon recently.

Voice work

Since animated movies are dubbed in my home country, I wasn’t able to hear Ellen DeGeneres as Dory, but I’m sure that she was great, like the rest of the cast. I also have to give props to the people who voiced the characters in the Lithuanian version of the film – they did a much better job than the people who dubbed the characters in The BFG film. Spielberg’s live-action fairytale was awful to listen to, while Finding Dory’s dubbing didn’t bother me much or even at all. Nonetheless, I still can not wait to get back to the UK, so that I would be able to enjoy the original English versions of the animated films.

In short, Finding Dory was another great film by Pixar. It wasn’t Finding Nemo, or as original and fresh as Inside Out but way better than the last Pixar feature – The Good Dinosaur. Only one question remains, where do they go now? Will there be a 3rd Finding picture since Pixar has started to dip their toes into the sequel business? Or is this the end for the fishy franchise?

Rate: 4.25/5

Trailer: Finding Dory trailer

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Movie review: Zootopia

Movie reviews

Hello!

Welcome to my last post in the series ‘Movie Reviews of the 2016’s films I’ve missed’. I have already discussed Hardcore Henry and Midnight Special. Today, I will be giving you my thoughts on Zootopia – that Pixar film made by Disney.

IMDb summary: In a city of anthropomorphic animals, a rookie bunny cop and a cynical con artist fox must work together to uncover a conspiracy.

Writing and Themes

Zootopia’s screenplay was written by Jared Bush (has worked on Big Hero 6 and Moana) and Phil Johnston (wrote Wreck-It Ralph), however, a bunch of people have contributed to the story, including Zootopia’s directors, former The Simpson’s director Jim Reardon and even Frozen’s Jennifer Lee among others. Thankfully, this was not the case of ‘too many cooks in the kitchen make a horrible meal’ but a complete opposite. Zootopia’s story was simple yet sophisticated and the concepts that were discussed in this supposedly kids’ movie – very adult and nuanced. The film reminded me a bit of Inside Out – that children’s movie also tackled big and serious issues.

Zootopia had a strong message about the importance of tolerance, knowledge and open-mind and showed the true awfulness of prejudice, bullying, violence, racism, and sexism. It also tackled the question of biological divide through the prey vs. predator metaphor. Zootopia portrayed the consequences of letting the biological divide become a social one and provided nice commentary on issues such as genders norms, racial, financial and religious differences. Other opposing ideas that were touched upon were conservativism vs. liberalism, idealism vs. reality, nature vs. nurture and us vs. them. The line ‘we might have evolved but we are still animals’ was an extremely telling and truthful commentary on the animalistic side of humans – I’m really happy that Zootopia’s creators were not afraid to be so blunt. In additiom., the film also encouraged its viewers to believe in themselves, to fight the self-doubt, to dream and to work towards their goals, to learn from their mistakes, to never quit and prove the nay-sayers wrong. Moreover, Zootopia showed that revenge is never an answer. Lastly, the film had a nice conclusion and wrapped up nicely – the final message that life is complicated and messy but still beautiful was a really good way to end the picture.

Zootopia also had a very strong writing for all its characters. The different species represented different types of people and the choices of species were simultaneously stereotypical and subversive. The two main characters were also very relatable. I could relate to Officer Judy Hopps on a personal level, like, I’m sure, many millennials with big dreams could, but I also understood and appreciated the sarcasm and the irony of Nick Wilde, the fox.

The picture also had amazing jokes and references. ‘Don’t call a bunny cute’ line was perfect and the extended scene with The Godfather was unbelievable. Breaking Bad reference was neat too.  The joke with the sloths was also nice as well as that moment with Nick and Assistant Mayor, a.k.a. the sheep. In general, Zootopia had a lot of funny situations that were organic. The jokes were never pushed too far but happened naturally.

Zootopia, the movie, reminded me of my favorite childhood book What do people do all day?by Richard Scarry. It’s a picture book with some lines of dialogue – probably closest to a comic but not fully a comic. Anyway, What do people do all day? shows simple activities being carried out by various animals. That book is used to introduce kids to different careers and it used to be favorite read from ages 5 till 10. I still like to flick through it when I’m feeling nostalgic.

Directing and Animation

Zootopia was directed by Byron Howard (directed Bolt and Tangled, animated Mulan, Brother Bear and Lilo&Stitch) and Rich Moore (directed Wreck-It Ralph). The two directors, as well as all the Disney’s animators, did a wonderful job. The graphics of the landscapes and the character design were marvelous and realistic. The action – exciting and that montage of Hopps arriving in Zootopia – a perfect locational step up. The attention to detail was also spectacular. For example, Hopps was using her iPhone’s (iCarrot’s) flashlight like so many people do nowadays – this little detail made the film even more realistic and contemporary. I also enjoyed the usage of Shakira’s song Try Everything. It was fun and fit the film perfectly. Basically, I feel like Zootopia transcended the animation genre and was really good buddy-cop comedy and a crime drama that just happened to be animated.

I am really happy that this film was financially and critically successful. Critical success means that it will probably be awarded an Oscar or at least nominated for it. Financial success means that a lot of people saw the film, thus, a lot of people can learn from it – ‘Change starts with all of us’.

Voice Work

All of the members of the cast did a magnificent job. The voices fit the characters perfectly. The leads, Ginnifer Goodwin and Jason Bateman, had really good chemistry. Idris Elba as Chief Bogo was also really good – I could instantly tell that that was him. Lately, Elba has been doing a lot of voice work: he voiced characters in The Jungle Book and Finding Dory. The other standout was Nate Torrence as Officer Benjamin Clawhauser, an obese cheetah. I really liked his performance and the character in general.

In short, Zootopia was an amazing film that was gorgeous to look at, but also engaged the viewers intellectually by discussing important and serious, real-world topics. The voice work was also stellar. In general, it was such a cute film (although, never call a bunny cute if you’re a not bunny!)

Rate: 5/5

Trailer: Zootopia trailer

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5 ideas about a movie: The Little Prince (Le Petit Prince)

Movie reviews

Hi!

Welcome to a very last movie review of this year! I will end 2015 with a new adaptation of a classical story – The Little Prince.

IMDb summary: A little girl lives in a very grown-up world with her mother, who tries to make sure she is prepared for it. Her neighbor The Aviator, introduces the girl to an extraordinary world where anything is possible, the world of The Little Prince.

To begin with, I saw a trailer for this at the beginning of the year and my interested was peaked. However, I did not know if I will be able to see this film, as it looked quite small and my local movie theater does not always show films like this one. Nevertheless, my hometown’s cinema did not let me down and actually started screening this movie at the end of November and I managed to see one of its last screenings on December 31st. So, let’s talk about the technical side of the film as well as its themes. Once again, animated films are dubbed in my native country, so I can’t really comment on the voice work of the actors.

  1. The Little Prince is a very well know story, written by a French author Antoine de Saint-Exupéry at the beginning of the last century. When I first read this book in elementary school, I actually disliked it, because I could not understand it. When I re-read it later in life, I saw this story with completely different eyes. This truly timeless narrative was transferred to the silver screen by screenwriters Irena Brignull and Bob Persichetti. They managed to adapt this dense and complex story magnificently. All of the metaphors and symbolism worked well on screen as well as on paper and the emotional level of the film almost reached the level of Pixar movies.
  2. The film was directed by Mark Osborne (he co-directed the first Kung Fu Panda). He blended the modern computer animation with classical handcrafted (almost papier-mâché like) stop motion (my favorite kind of animation) beautifully. The bleak and cold color palette of the real world and the graphic overhead shots were also really nice. In addition, the familiar imagery, which was lifted straight from the book, was also appreciated. The musical score by Richard Harvey and Hans Zimmer was also pleasant to the ear and fit the story wonderfully.
  3. The film’s story dealt with the relationship between parents and their children. It explored the generation gap and miscommunication between parents and their offspring as well as dealt with the idea of parents living vicariously through their children.
  4. The real world of the film introduced the themes of lost identity, the uncertainty of life, norms of society, drawbacks of life planning and shortcomings of rational thinking. Life is so much more interesting when its unpredictable: it’s easy to follow a plan, but much more rewarding to live in the unknown. For a long time, I have followed a supposed life plan and I am still following it to some extent – for one, I went to university straight after high school as society expects. However, the degree I have chosen is not as easily predictable – I study anthropology, which is a very liberal and broad subject, as well as English – there is a lot of room for interpretation and creativity when studying literature.
  5. The imaginary world showed the importance and power of imagination. It also portrayed friendship as a crucial part of life. In addition, the film introduced an idea of growing up but never forgetting what it’s like to be a child. I hope I’ll never forget to dream and think outside of the box as well as look at the world with an open heart. The movie also commented on human vices like greed, materialism, and vanity.

In short, The Little Prince was a perfect motion picture to end this year on. I hope that in time, this motion picture will become an instant classic because it certainly deserves it.

Rate: 5/5

Trailer: The Little Prince trailer

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