5 ideas about a movie: Isle of Dogs

Movie reviews

Hello!

And welcome to a review of one peculiar little picture. This is Isle of Dogs.

IMDb summary: Set in Japan, Isle of Dogs follows a boy’s odyssey in search of his lost dog.

  1. Isle of Dogs was written and directed By Wes Anderson and was undeniably his picture. His style of filmmaking is just so unique and different that it is impossible to confuse his films with anyone else’s. While Anderson did write the screenplay himself, the story credits went to Roman Coppola, Jason Schwartzman (two of Anderson’s frequent collaborators), and Kunichi Nomura (a Japanse actor/writer who was also one of the two casting directors for this film).
  2. I have seen a lot of articles and comments online about Isle of Dogs in relation to the appropriation of Japanese culture. I certainly had a similar thought when watching the movie. I wasn’t entirely sure why the setting had to be Japan, though I found the interplay between the languages – English and Japanese – quite an interesting choice for the film. I also wouldn’t like to state that the filmmaker was definitely appropriating something as I believe that cultures should be shared. And yet, where is the line between respectful homage and appreciation versus malevolent appropriation?
  3. In my mind, Isle of Dogs’ story unfolded on two plains: the surface and the hidden one. The surface story was an elaborate but clear adventure narrative about some dogs and a boy fighting an evil empire. That story was a bit slow but the humor was still snappy (the comedic timing was quite impeccable). The deeper meaning that I took from the picture was the commentary on the modern society, which enjoys nothing more than othering and excluding people that it finds unsuitable for a whole number of reasons (a lot of which relate to the person’s identity).
  4. I highly enjoyed the format of Isle of Dogs. I have always been a fan of the stop-motion animation and I sill find it just so captivating. The amount of work that goes into this style of animation blows my mind every time I see a new film using it. The design of the animals was also great – real but not really. Every shot felt just so material: saturated with objects, colors, and textures. The symmetrical steady shots also felt very Anderson. The film was also very musical in that its score had an underlying beat, constantly ringing in the background, which provided a sort of rhythmic backdrop for the story. The animation, art, and music departments should get as much recognition for this movie as Anderson himself does.
  5. Isle of Dogs’ voice cast was full of Hollywood’s most recognizable and expressive voices that added so much to the picture. Bryan Cranston (Trumbo, Power Rangers), Edward Norton (Collateral Beauty), Bill Murray (The Jungle Book), Jeff Goldblum (ID2, Thor 3), Bob BalabanGreta Gerwig (Lady Bird), Frances McDormand (Three Billboards), Scarlett Johansson (Ghost in the Shell, MCU), and Tilda Swinton (Okja, Doctor Strange) all had roles of varying sizes.  On the Japanese front, Koyu Rankin, Kunichi Nomura, Akira Takayama and even Yoko Ono lent their voices to some characters.

In brief, Isle of Dogs was a bizarre and fascinating Wes Anderson-y ride that might or might not have been culturally insensitive.

Rate: 3.5/5

Trailer: Isle of Dogs trailer

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Movie review: Geostorm

Movie reviews

Hello!

A film from the producers of Independence Day (yeah?) and Independence Day: Resurgence (oh). This is Geostorm!

IMDb summary: When the network of satellites designed to control the global climate start to attack Earth, it’s a race against the clock to uncover the real threat before a worldwide geostorm wipes out everything and everyone.

Writing

Geostorm was written by the director of the film Dean Devlin (he is a longtime producer) and Paul Guyot (a TV writer). Usually, movies like this one have a whole army of writers, so I was actually quite surprised to see only 2 writing credits for this one). The picture’s writing was exactly of the quality that I expected it to be, while the story was predictable, typical, and full of far-fetched science (again, as it was supposed to be). It also had the most cliched lead – a family man with a broken family (father-daughter AND sibling issues).

The best part about the writing was the interplay between the movie’s messages and the current political climate.  To begin with, the whole movie was basically an awareness campaign for climate change – a development that some (you know who) still think is a hoax. Like all disaster films, the movie also showed the people trying to control or fight nature, while we should have left it alone long ago.

The more obvious political message, or the anti-political one, was the portrayal of the film’s villain (who had that ‘Make America Great Again’ attitude) and the anti-weaponization idea (I suppose that by the anti-political tone I also kinda mean if not ‘anti’ then at least un-American tone too). And yet, even though the film was made for an international market and had an international cast, it still had a typical American hero front and center. China, being the box office power it is, also was spotlighted a bit. Basically, Geostorm seemed like an old school/90s very typically American (but also somewhat un-American) film disguised as a ‘dumb’ actioner for the foreign audiences.

Speaking of the ‘happy’ (millions died, don’t mention it) ending of the film: I, as a realist and a cynic, generally have a hard time stomaching the positivistic happy endings, which are all about the single humanity, solidarity, peace and bright future. I, honestly, stopped believing in that dream long ago and nothing that’s happening in the world today is work towards persuading me otherwise. Well, at least the movies try.

Directing

Independence Day films’ producer Dean Devlin had his directorial debut with Geostorm. I guess he did as good of a job as this genre requires of him. The action was fine, the story made sense in the context of the film (suspension of disbelief is key). The effects were okay. Some of them looked like they belonged in the 1990s, the others in the 2010s. The space stuff looked best, but the weather catastrophes looked kinda awful and very obviously CGI. It was basically a remake of 2012 movie for 2017.

Acting

Gerard Butler starred as the lead and did an okay job. This is the type of movie that he usually makes but I don’t really know why executives still cast him because he is no longer a box office draw. Also, even though I buy him as an action hero, don’t push your luck and make him a scientist too. That’s a bit harder to comprehend. Lastly, why is he always made into an American (or an Egyptian character)? Can’t we hear his actual Scottish accent just once?

The supporting cast of the film included Jim Sturgess (whose performance I did enjoy. I’m also more inclined to give him a pass as he has starred in one of my favorites movies of all time – Cloud Atlas – and also had a role in Stonehearst Asylum); Abbie Cornish; Ed Harris (mother!, also, please, shoot more Westworld ASAP), and Andy García (a Cuban-American actor in the role of the President: should I read into this?). The film also had a bunch of international actors whose character’s only character trait was their nationality (that’s not how you do diversity, Geostorm). The film starred Germany’s Alexandra Maria Lara, Ireland’s Robert Sheehan, Hong Kong’s Daniel Wu (Warcraft), Mexico’s Eugenio Derbez, Adepero Oduye of Nigerian ancestry and Egypt’s Amr Waked in a role of a Frenchman. Also, Zazie Beetz, who will play Domino in Deadpool 2, had a minor role.

In short, Geostorm was exactly what you would expect it to be. I didn’t expect nothing, so the movie was also nothing.

Rate: 2,7/5

Trailer: Geostorm trailer

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Movie review: The Snowman

Movie reviews

Hello!

Welcome to a review of a movie you have never heard about. This is The Snowman!

IMDb summary: Detective Harry Hole investigates the disappearance of a woman whose pink scarf is found wrapped around an ominous-looking snowman

Writing

The Snowman is a European crime thriller (I love thrillers!), written by Hossein Amini (Drive, Snow White and The Huntsman, Our Kind of Traitor), Peter Straughan (Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, Frank, Our Brand is Crisis), and Søren Sveistrup (a Scandinavian TV writer), based on the book of the same name by Jo Nesbø – quite a well-known Norwegian crime novel writer. I’ve, personally, never read any of his books, but I definitely know that my dad has enjoyed quite a few of them. Sadly, I didn’t have the same experience with the movie adaptation of The Snowman. Mostly because of how illogical the plot was.

The opening set-up for a villain left me with so many questions, which were not really answered throughout the film. So, supposedly, the bad guy did nefarious things because he grew up abused by a man, who was probably his father, but somehow blamed his mother for everything and then decided to punish all less-than-perfect mothers las an adult? What kind of senseless self-styled heroism is this? I’m guessing you could make a case about his psychological damage pushing him to do that, but, even if we take his potential mental disorders into consideration, his actions still don’t make much sense!?

The other ‘hero’ characters were all similarly damaged. Additionally, the detective case was not just a job for them, but a personal vendetta. Their character development was minimal: the majority of the traits of the characters directly related to the plot. Or, on the opposite end of the spectrum, the character features appeared to be completely unnecessary and not relating to anything but then were forced into the main plotline. The supporting characters served no purpose in the movie, a few of them were dropped halfway through, with no explanation.

The narrative was predictable, typical, and full of plot-holes. The story was spread out all over the place – elabarote but not in a good way and convoluted rather than complex. All of the plotlines and the story strands were super loose. And yet, the movie somewhow managed to tie everything together. I guess the plot sort of made sense in the context of the film, but it would fall apart easily if one just dug a little deeper. The Snowman did very much feel like an adaptation of a book and I have a feeling that the story worked much better in the novel form.

Directing

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy’s director Tomas Alfredson helmed this film and did a passable job. At the beginning, the film did have a slight David Fincher-esque vibe, but that quickly went away. The Norwegian setting and the visuals of the fjords and the snow were good. In general, the realistic, down-to-earth vibe of a very European thriller was refreshing (I’ve been watching a lot of Hollywood high-glamour thriller lately, so this one was a nice change). However, that same vibe also made the project seem less cinematic and more like a TV movie. The violence was quite brutal and explicit (so maybe don’t see the film if that bothers you or your stomach). Lastly, the pacing was super slow and the intensity wasn’t always there to make up for the lack of action.

Acting

The Snowman assembled quite a good cast. In the lead was Michael Fasssbender, who desperately needed a financial or a critical win after Assasin’s Creed and Alien: Covenant (in both of which he was actually good in). However, The Snowman won’t do his career any good. Can somebody get him another Steve Jobs-type of a role? Or are we betting everything on the next X-Men film?

Rebecca Ferguson (MI5, The Girl on The Train, Life) was the co-lead on the film. Her character arc started out promising but then turned into a stereotype, however, Ferguson still delivered a neat performance. The supporting cast included a French actress Charlotte Gainsbourg (whose English language films include Independence Day: Resurgence), Val Kilmer (who I haven’t seen in a movie for years), and J.K. Simmons (Renegades) who had no business being in this picture. Oh, Jarvis aka James D’Arcy (Dunkirk) was in it too!

In short, The Snowman is a thriller that is not worth anyone’s time. If you are interested in the story, maybe read the book instead of watching the film?

Rate: 2.7/5

Trailer: The Snowman trailer

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Movie review: Battle of the Sexes

Movie reviews

Good evening,

My BFI London Film Festival series of reviews (it opened with Breathe) continues with Battle of the Sexes – another potential awards contender for the year!

IMDb summary: The true story of the 1973 tennis match between World number one Billie Jean King and ex-champ and serial hustler Bobby Riggs.

As a side note, before the actual review begins, I just wanted to tell you about a different tennis movie that already came out this year and left me pleasantly surprised. It’s Borg vs. McEnroe and I suggest you check it out! Onto Battle of the Sexes!

Writing

Battle of the Sexes was written by Simon Beaufoy (who is known for writing such movies as Slumdog Millionaire127 HoursSalmon Fishing in the YemenThe Hunger Games: Catching Fire, and Everest) and the film’s script was inspired/based on real events.

Battle of the Sexes tackled/portrayed two big concepts – the LGBTQ+ identity and the feminism/women’s rights. Sadly, both of these thematical spheres are still highly controversial and not discussed enough (or if they are debated, then only really unproductively, with zero chances of reaching a consensus between the opposing sides). Some might say that both of these issues are more topical in today’s socio-political climate than they were in the 1970s.

The movie approached these topics head-on (feminism way more than the LGBTQ+ side) and had a strong overall message. Personally, I loved it, but then again, I am a woman, a feminist, and a liberal. The general audiences, full of individuals of different genders/ideologies/beliefs, might turn on this movie because of its strong message of social justice. There was one short scene in the movie, where Emma Stone’s character confronted a journalist and clearly declared that she was not fighting to be seen as better, she just wanted to be treated equally. I wanted that idea – one of equality – to be more overtly stated in the movie because I worry that a takeaway for some audience members might be the fact that women want to be on top, rather than by side with the other genders. It is a bummer that, for some, being pro-female ultimately translates into an anti-male stance and I would hate if the cinema-goers interpreted Battle of the Sexes in such a way.

Now, let’s discuss some aspects of the writing in more detail. I thought that the presentation of Steve Carell’s character was captivating: his personal background and problems very clearly affected his actions of the tennis court. The way his gambling addiction and his work – tennis – were combined was super interesting too. It was also fascinating to see how he embellished his toxic masculinity for the public eye. The whole commentary on tennis as an activity in the middle of the spectacle v sports dichotomy was brilliant. In addition, the conflicting position of Carell’s character’s wife, played by Elisabeth Shue, was just amazing to watch: she rooted for her husband because he was her love but she also seemed to be cheering for Billie Jean and her cause.

Lastly, Battle of the Sexes also toyed with the concept of the gentlemanliness/sexism line (where one ends and the other begins). It also showcased sport as the factor that triumphed any relationship in the character’s life. The picture also did a very good job of combining feminity with feminism (which are often presented as polar opposites, which they aren’t). Oh, and the jokes were good too!

Directing

Battle of the Sexes was directed by a duo of filmmakers – Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris – who are responsible for directing one of my all-time favorite pictures Little Miss Sunshine. They did a great job with this film and its nuances and layers. Battle of the Sexes was a great biographical drama, a good sports drama, and an amazing romantic drama. The extreme close-ups of the characters made the movie seem intimate, real, and raw. The 1970s setting was well-realized, from the retro logos to the colorful vintage tracksuits. The sequences of the actual tennis play were good too, the final one was especially intense. The body doubles were hardly noticeable, so props to the directors, the cinematographer, and the camera crew for cleverly shooting around them.

Acting

Emma Stone (Magic in the MoonlightIrrational Man) and Steve Carell (The Big Short, Cafe Society) played the two lead roles. Both of these actors had quite similar careers – they started in comedy and then tried to transition to more serious roles, with varying levels of success. For Stone, this performance is her follow-up to the Oscar win for La La Land and a strong contender for at least a nomination this year. For Carrel, the involvement in Battle of the Sexes might bring him another nomination too. Emma was extremely lovable in the role and exuded both strength and relatable vulnerability. Steve was really good too – he looked exactly like the real person and also made the guy into a somewhat likable human being, even if he was sprouting nonsense most of the time.

The supporting cast was also really good. I loved Sarah Silverman as the bossy manager, she was perfectly cast. Andrea Riseborough (Nocturnal Animals) was brilliant as Billie Jean’s lover, while Austin Stowell (Bridge of Spies) brought a lot of heart to his role of Billie’s husband. Finally, I loved to hate Bill Pullman (ID: Resurgence) in his role and adored Elisabeth Shue in hers!

In short, Battle of the Sexes was a great drama about equality, freedom, and fighting. Undoubtfully, it was well executed, but whether you will agree with its message, will entirely depend on who you are as a person.

Rate: 4.3/5

Trailer: Battle of the Sexes trailer

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Movie review: Independence Day: Resurgence

Movie reviews

Hello, my dear readers!

Welcome to the review of another sequel of this summer. This time, it is Independence Day: Resurgence – a movie that came out 20 years too late and should have probably been left in the 1990s.

IMDb summary: Two decades after the first Independence Day invasion, Earth is faced with a new extra-Solar threat. But will mankind’s new space defenses be enough?

Roland Emmerich

Roland Emmerich is known for making disaster films. He, of course, made the original Independence Day feature back in 1996 as well as other mindless fun pictures of the 90s and the early 00s: 1998’s Godzilla and 2004’s The Day After Tomorrow. Most recently, he destroyed the world in 2009’s 2012 and burned the White House in 2013’s White House Down. Now, Emmerich is directing a sequel to a film that made him famous and created his brand in the first place.

The first Independence Day was cheesy, campy and yet still fun summer picture. I wasn’t even born when it first premiered, but I’ve seen it multiple times because TV re-runs are a thing. ID1 had a bunch of awesome and even iconic pop-culture moments: the President’s speech, the shot of the White House being blown up and the shot of Smith and Goldblum smoking cigars in the dessert. Hollywood has been trying to make an ID sequel for a long time and they finally did it 20 years later, hoping that it still would be a success. Well, I highly doubt that this is/will be the case. While last year’s summer disaster film San Andreas was both sorta critically acclaimed and profitable, I do not think that the audiences are really interested in these types of disaster films anymore. I, personally, have seen almost all of Emmerich’s films. I have also seen the majority of Michael Bay’s films. Moreover, I live in the world that is pretty f*cked up. Basically, what I am getting at is that the destruction of the world doesn’t surprise or interest people – we have seen it on screen  as well as in real life multiple times.

Writing and the Story

ID2 had 5 screenwriters: the director Emmerich, Dean DevlinNicolas WrightJames A. Woods and James Vanderbilt. Two of them are actors with minimal to no previous writing work and the two screenwriters of the group do not have a great track record either. Vanderbilt, for example, wrote both The Amazing Spider-Man films. While I can deal with a picture having 2-3 scriptwriters, 5 is definitely too much and that showed in the film. The movie’s story was so much bigger that it needed to be: ID2 had too many characters, too many background stories, too many unexplained storylines and too much of everything. It seems that all 5 people, who were responsible for the script, wanted to portray their individual ideas rather than create a great narrative collectively. Also, bigger does not necessarily mean better.

To begin with, the film had a way too long and way too slow set-up in the first half an hour. It also had a way too drawn out boss battle in the last half an hour. Somewhere in between, there was a good 1-hour movie.

The first ID started with the alien invasion, but its sequel had to catch up on all the old characters and introduce the new ones. It also had to set up a vague ‘thing’ that would help defeat the enemy in the end. It was quite hard and frustrating to sit through all of the set-ups since we all knew from the trailers that the aliens were coming back. I wanted to shout at the screen – JUST GET ON WITH IT.

While I did like the fact that we got to see the kid characters from the first film all grown up, I did not see the need to add even more (young and old) characters into the movie. That whole idea of the other virtual species in that ball shaped ship was also too much. All of the ‘humans are cool and efficient, let’s pat each other on the back’ ideas felt like they were shoehorned into the film and made me roll my eyes a few times. Since the President’s speech from the first film turned out fine, they decided to have 2 speeches in this film. Pullman’s character had a new cheesy speech as well as the new President. In general, the dialogue was pretty terrible. All of the sidelines – the kid’s on the bus and Goldblum’s characters father, those random gold diggers on the ship, the pilots attacking or falling, the scientists with that ball ship, the politicians and all the screens, some random African nation fighting the aliens, alien telepathy, government and funding for the scientist – OMG. In short, everything was too convoluted and too over the top. Also, nothing made much sense because not one sideline was explained or explored properly – there wasn’t enough time for a few of them, let alone all of them.

The end of the picture also tried to set up a third film, which I doubt will materialize. Well, maybe in another 2 decades or maybe never for the better.

Directing and the Visuals

While I had a lot of problems with the movie’s story, I did enjoy the visuals. The CGI looked good, as it should, in 2016. The opening recap with the voice-over speech was a cool way to open the film. All the futuristic technology were also visually interesting and I did like the premise that people used the alien technology to make the world better. The battles were also interesting but some of them could have lasted shorter.

Acting

As I have already mentioned, Resurgence had way too many characters, so its ensemble cast was huge. Some of them had better performances, others – worse ones, so overall, acting wise, ID2 was a mixed bag.

Those who came backJeff Goldblum as David LevinsonBill Pullman as Thomas J. WhitmoreBrent Spiner as Dr. Brakish Okun, and Judd Hirsch as Julius Levinson. Goldblum was great in his role and was my favorite part of the film. Pullman felt a bit shoehorned in but was also quite useful. Spiner’s character could have been easily replaced – while I appreciated the fact that he wasn’t a stereotypical gay character, I did not really see the need to keep him alive, or in a coma for 20 years. Why Goldblum’s character’s father played by Judd Hirsch came back, is beyond me. He and his children group, led by Joey King as Samantha only slowed down the film and didn’t contribute at all to its quality.

Will Smith chose not to return for ID2 and was replaced by his ‘son’ and another pilot. I wish Smith would have come back: it is obvious that he didn’t need ID2 since he is getting plenty of work without it, however, the decision to return would have shown some kind of loyalty to the project that helped him transition from TV to movies in the first place. Also, his participation in ID2 might have made the film better. On the other hand, I doubt if there would be enough place for him, with so many unnecessary characters being introduced.

New charactersSela Ward as Elizabeth Lanford, the 45th President, William Fichtner as Joshua Adams, a U.S. General, Deobia Oparei as Dikembe Umbutu, a Congolese warlord, Charlotte Gainsbourg as Dr. Catherine Marceaux, a British medical scientist, and Nicolas Wright as Floyd Rosenberg, an accountant. Ward was terrible in her role: her one-liners to attack were super cheesy and she didn’t help the plot much – definitely should have been cut or replaced. Fichtner played a much better political leader and could have been in charge from the beginning of the film. Oparei was there to add diversity to the cast and while the ideas that were introduced through his character were interesting, there was no time for them. Same goes with Gainsbourg’s psychology ideas – interesting but unexplored. Wright’s character was included for comedic relief, which felt forced, out-of-place and boring. The film would have been better without him.

New pilots: Liam Hemsworth as Jake MorrisonJessie Usher as Dylan Dubrow-Hiller, Maika Monroe as Patricia WhitmoreAngelababy as Rain Lao, and Travis Tope as Charlie Miller. All of the new pilots were fine in their roles but I think the film would have benefitted if it reduced their number. I was happy to see Hemsworth getting more work, now that The Hunger Games franchise is over. Usher’s and Monroe’s characters were also okay and had an organic place in the story since they appeared as kids in the firs film (played by different actors back then). However, Angelababy’s character was obviously there to appeal to the Chinese audiences (get that Chinese box office money, Fox!). What the appeal of Tope’s character was, is beyond me.

In short, Independence Day: Resurgence was a watchable movie, with terrible writing (too many cooks in the kitchen), okay directing and passable acting. A disappointing sequel that had no place in the 21st century.

Rate: 2.5/5

Trailer: Independence Day: Resurgence trailer

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