Movie review: Mudbound

Movie reviews

Hello!

Before I start reviewing the major awards contenders, let’s look at one that is on the fringe of the awards voters radar. It’s the Netflix awards offering – Mudbound.

IMDb summary: Two men return home from World War II to work on a farm in rural Mississippi, where they struggle to deal with racism and adjusting to life after war.

Writing

Mudbound was written by Dee Rees and Virgil Williams. I thought that the film’s writing was solid and interesting, though, for the first part of the movie, I wasn’t sure what story it was telling: whether one about a black family’s experience during the WW2 or one about soldiers in and after the war. Only in the second half of the film did the two plotlines converge and made one whole narrative, while the first half seemed a bit confused and all over the place. The domestic set-up, one about a white family moving in next to a black one and having the stereotypical overtly or secretly racist relationship, was average and slow. The foreign set-up – the flashes to the soldiers’ lives during the war – was much more interesting than the domestic front and I wanted to see more of those scenes. It was especially interesting to witness a black man’s encounters with the Europeans. I haven’t seen that aspect explored much on film before. When the two plotlines did meet, Mudbound explored the interplay between race, class, and PTSD. The gender issues, as well as the comparison between black and white families’ distinct problems, were also included.

From the technical point of view, the movie started at the end and then flashed back to the begining of the story. A lot of elements of the plot were given through extensive narration: some of the narration was chilling, and, thus, effective, while other parts seemed annnoying and not essential. As per usual with the film on race, it elicited feelings of anger and disgust. This film, more than any other, portaryed the most radical side of racism in the 20th century the US very overtly, therefore, the feelings it evoked were extremely strong too. And yet, Mudbound ended on a hopeful note and had a message of love not hate. The mixed race friendship as well as the concluding origin of a mixed race family were two strands of hope that were achieved through a lot of pain, hurt, and suffering in the course of the movie.

Directing 

Dee Rees directed Mudbound and did a good job. As I have already mentioned, I wasn’t fully on board with the setup and thought that parts of it were very slow. However, Rees did a brilliant job with crafting striking visuals as well as with weaving the two plot strands neatly together in the second part of the picture. The song, which played during the credits – “Mighty River” by Mary J. Blige, was a lovely touch too.

Acting

Mudbound’s cast was quite stellar. Carey Mulligan (Suffragette, Far From The Madding Crowd), Jason Clarke (Dawn, Everest, and Terminator Genesys – that last film kinda ruined all subsequent performances of Clarke’s for me), and Jonathan Banks (Breaking Bad and its spin-off) were all great in the film, though the stand-outs were definitely Jason Mitchell (Straight Outta Compton, Detroit) and Garrett Hedlund (Unbroken) – their scenes together were fascinating. The actress who is, deservedly, getting the majority of the awards’ recognition for this movie was Mary J. Blige – she is a singer too and was actually the one to perform the end credits song for this film. Her acting performance was amazing too: quiet but very powerful.

In short, Mudbound is a well acted-drama about an old-school subject that is still, sadly, super topical.

Rate: 4/5

Trailer: Mudbound trailer

Mudbound_(film)

 

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Movie review: Stronger

Movie reviews

Hello!

Welcome to a review of the second Boston Marathon bombing biopic. It’s Stronger.

IMDb summary: Stronger is the inspiring real-life story of Jeff Bauman, an ordinary man who captured the hearts of his city and the world to become a symbol of hope after surviving the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing.

Just last year (or at the beginning of this year, depending on the location), Patriot’s Day premiered in theatres. It recounted the events of the 2013 Boston Bombing from the perspective of the law enforcement officers. Back then, I questioned the morality of the cinematic adaptation of such a recent event. Nevertheless, my questioning did not stop Hollywood from making a second biopic centered on the tragic terrorist attack. This time around, the event is portrayed from the viewpoint of a supporter (almost a passerby) who got injured in the attack.

Writing

Stronger was written by John Pollono (actor mostly but he has written some short films before), based on the biography of the same name by Jeff Bauman (portrayed by Jake Gyllenhaal in the film) and Bret Witter. I thought that the writing for the picture was quite interesting. To being with, the set-up for the main character was really effective – in just three scenes (Costco, bar, and home), Jeff’s whole background (work, relationships, family) was established. Speaking of his family: their reaction to his injury (trying to almost benefit from it) was infuriating but, sadly, realistic. Having said that, his family, especially his mother, can’t really be blamed for being unequipped to deal with such a tragedy: nobody is ever prepared for such an incident, moreover, his mother seemed to have had her own personal issues and problems.

Bauman’s relationship with his on-and-off girlfriend was fascinating too. Just the idea that he usually did not show up for anything but the one time he showed up he got hurt was so unreal that it had to have been real (one cannot fictionalize coincidences like this one). The fact that the girlfriend felt to blame for the incident because he showed up for her was also hinted at in the film.

Although Stronger was a personal story of recovery, it also explored the society’s reaction to both the Boston bombing and its victims. The film portrayed the celebration of victims as well as their heroization – two developments that are so peculiar but undeniably real. I wish that the film would have explored PTSD a bit more broadly but, I guess, since Bauman himself was in denial about his state, if the film would have explored the issue more, Stronger would not have been Bauman’s authentic story anymore. What the movie did explore was the meaning of saving (how saving another saves oneself too) and it also touched upon the concepts of wholesomeness and masculinity very briefly.

 

Lastly, the film hinted at the idiotic ideas of conspiracy that surrounds global disasters like this one. It also had an overall nice message about staying strong in the face of a tragedy. Nevertheless, it would be much better if we didn’t need messages like that altogether, but, I suppose, the idea that terrorism might not exist one day is just pure wishful thinking on my part.

Directing

Stronger was directed by David Gordon Green, whose previous film was Our Brand Is Crisis (a fictionalized account of a real political election). I thought that he did a good job with Stronger. The pacing of the film was good for the most part, though, it started dragging slightly at the very end. The emotional core of the story was visualized very well. The scene at the hockey game was brilliant – it felt psychotic and full of anxiety – all the feelings that Bauman himself felt in that moment. The other sport-related scene – the final ceremonial pitch at the Red Sox’s game – acted as a nice conclusion to the character’s journey. Overall, it was very interesting to see how sporting events were/are such a big part of the identity of Boston and the Bostonians. I also appreciated the fact that Stronger focused a lot on the medical procedures and the practical difficulties that somebody with a disability encounters – becoming disabled doesn’t mean just losing a body part but losing one’s whole way of life too – and it was really great that Stronger emphasized that.

Acting

The whole film was mostly carried by three actors. Jake Gyllenhaal (Southpaw, Everest, Nocturnal Animals, Life) delivered an incredible physical and emotional performance as Jeff. Orphan Black’s Tatiana Maslany was also amazing as Erin, Jeff’s girlfriend: the scene with Jeff and Erin screaming at each other in the car was so emotional. Miranda Richardson also delivered a very grounded performance (one that would fit a social realism indie) as Jeff’s mother.

In short, Stronger was a deeply human story, brought to life by brilliant performances and solid directing.

Rate: 4/5

Trailer: Stronger trailer

Stronger_film_poster

5 ideas about a movie: Goodbye Christopher Robin

Movie reviews

Hello!

One of the early potential awards contenders has premiered, thus, let’s evaluate its chances. This is the review of Goodbye Christopher Robin.

IMDb summary: A behind-the-scenes look at the life of author A.A. Milne and the creation of the Winnie the Pooh stories inspired by his son C.R. Milne.

  1. Goodbye Christopher Robin was written by a novelist and a British TV/movie writer Frank Cottrell-Boyce and a TV producer Simon Vaughan and directed by Simon Curtis (who previously directed My Week With Marilyn – one of my favorite films about the movie business). Curtis’s directing was very competent. He paced the movie neatly and made it feel like an old-school classical drama. The way he shifted the focus from one character to the next (from the father to the son) in the two halves of the movie was also an interesting choice.
  2. The script tackled a lot of topics and concept that all made up the incredible real-life story behind Winnie-the-Pooh. To being with, although, ultimately, this narrative was one of hope and happiness, it was framed by a feeling of dread and loss: the filmed opened with a scene that made the viewer believe that the real Christopher Robin had died at war, thus, the following long flashback (the rest of the film) felt like it was destined to end badly. However, the opening scene turned out to be bait-and-switch and the picture indeed had sort of happy ending – as happy as you can get in the real world.
  3. Additionally, Goodbye Christopher Robin had a lot to say about the middle/upper-class family relationships in the 20th century (and also now). First, the role of the nanny as ‘the true parent’ was portrayed explicitly. Also, an engaging message about motherhood was stated: how giving birth does not equal motherhood – one has to earn the right to call oneself a mother. The film also did a good job of portraying Milne’s PTSD and his ideas about/against the war(s).
  4. The film also examined the issues of creativity and commerce. The sequence of the writing of the books was really pleasant and sweet: it was also nice to notice the real-life details that inspired the plot-points in the books. The movie also did a good job of portraying the jealousy and the damage that comes with fame at a young age. Billy’s childhood was similar to that of contemporary children on reality TV (Toddlers and Tiaras, Dance Moms, etc.). Did the father appropriate his child’s childhood for profit? Was he right to do so in order to bring happiness to the masses? Is the happiness of many more worthy than the happiness of one? Robin’s experiences as a child and his desire for anonymity in the army as an adult sure made for a heartbreaking example cause and effect.
  5. Fox Searchlight has definitely assembled a stellar cast for this film, which delivered impeccable performances. Domhnall Gleeson (Anna Karenina, The Revenant, Star Wars, American Made, Mother!, Brooklyn, Unbroken) shined as the frustrated artist and the difficult father. Margot Robbie (Suicide Squad, Tarzan) was equal amounts likable and despicable as Daphne. Kelly Macdonald (T2: Trainspotting) was amazing as the voice of reason and the source of heart (the nanny). However, all three of them seemed like they barely aged over the 3 decades – better make-up or some CGI would have been beneficial. Christopher Robin was played by two actors: the young Will Tilston, who looked like a real-life version of his character’s book counterpart (just brilliant casting), while Alex Lawther handled the more challenging grown-up scenes and displayed his acting talent that some of us have already had a glimpse of on Black Mirror (the ‘Shut Up and Dance’ episode).

In short, Goodbye Christopher Robin was well-made biographical drama, whose subject-matter was complex, layer, and fascinating. I’ll never look at Winnie-the-Pooh the same (a.k.a. as optimistically)….and I have its face of my duvet cover (waking up wrapped in depression?).

Rate: 4/5

Trailer: Goodbye Christopher Robin trailer 

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