Movie review: Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again

Movie reviews

Hello!

And welcome to a review of a film that I was looking forward to for a decade! This is Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again!

IMDb summary: Five years after the events of Mamma Mia! (2008), Sophie learns about her mother’s past while pregnant herself.

Writing

Mamma Mia 2 was written by Catherine Johnson (the playwright who wrote the first film as well as the original theatre production), Richard Curtis (the writer of some classic romantic movies, like the Bridget Jones series), Ol Parker (the director of the film). I highly enjoyed the story of the second film. I loved the fact that it was a prequel and a sequel hybrid that took the narrative both forward and backward. I thought that the blend of the two timelines was really neat and the connections that were drawn between the characters in the past and the present allowed the movie to explore some great themes. The multigenerational family dynamics (mother-daughter bonds), family, friendship, love, adventure were all touched upon to some extent. The movie also had some weird accidental meetings that were only there to allow the film to include more musical numbers. I would have been mad about that if they weren’t ABBA songs, which I love unconditionally.

Additionally, it was also interesting to see the tonne difference between this film and the original. While Here We Go Again! was still a fun comedy, it did have a more somber tone than the first film. There was an overwhelming feeling of mourning even if the healthy kind (by ‘healthy’ I mean mourning that is hopeful and has a foreseeable ending). Plus, the majority if not all of the romantic plotlines included a lot of heartbreak and wasted opportunities type of ideas.

Directing

Ol Parker of The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel movies directed Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again! directed the second film and did a great job. Still, I wonder why Phyllida Lloyd, the director of the first film, didn’t helm the sequel. Was she asked and declined? Wasn’t she asked at all? Up until just last year, her original film was the highest grossing movie directed by a woman. It was also the highest grossing musical. (Wonder Woman and Beauty and the Beast dethroned it from the two top spots).

Anyways, I thought that the second film was crafted beautifully. The transitions between the two timelines and between the different locations in the musical numbers were seamless and beautiful. It was nice to hear some ‘new’ ABBA songs as well as some new takes on the songs used in the first film. The 70s setting of the past timeline was also very fun because it was true to ABBA’s roots. I also loved how self-aware the movie was and how it had a carefree attitude too. My one gripe was the fact that it had some fake looking backgrounds in a few musical numbers.

Acting

Mamma Mia 2 had a great cast. The favorites from the original returned, including Amanda Seyfried (who was recently in Gringo), Meryl Streep (in a cameo appearance / The Post, Florence Foster Jenkins), Dominic Cooper (not gonna lie, was a bit weird to see him as Sky after seeing him on Preacher; he was also in Warcraft not that long ago), Christine Baranski and Julie Walters (the best (and most relatable) duo of friends that I wish to have when I’m older), and Pierce BrosnanColin Firth (Kingsman), and Stellan Skarsgård (all of who have barely aged in 10 years).

Joining them was Lily James (whose film career has been blossoming with Cinderella, Baby Driver, Darkest Hour, Guernsey), Jessica Keenan WynnAlexa DaviesJeremy IrvineHugh Skinner, and Josh Dylan. The younger counterparts were very respectful of the beloved characters that they got to play but also made them their own and were charming in their own right. Lastly, Cher (who should really cover all ABBA songs) and Andy García rounded out the already perfect cast!

In short, Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again! is a fun but slightly sad summer musical, certainly worthy of the original!

Rate: 4.5/5

Trailer: Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again! trailer

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Movie review: Ocean’s 8

Movie reviews

Hello!

And welcome back to the sporadic AF movie reviews. Ocean’s 8 is the topic for today.

IMDb summary: Debbie Ocean gathers an all-female crew to attempt an impossible heist at New York City’s yearly Met Gala.

Writing

Ocean’s 8 – a spin-off of the original trilogy rather than its reboot (this is no Ghostbusters) – was written by the director of the film Gary Ross and Olivia Milch (she is writing a Barbie movie next, don’t know how to react to that). There was a lot to like in the script. To begin with, I liked how this action film was kept feminine with the focus on the MetGala and diamonds. A decision to make women steal diamonds might be seen as playing into stereotypes. However, I’d argue that by keeping a feminine focus, Ocean’s 8 fights the stereotype that strong women, especially female action stars, have to be masculine. Some of them might be masculine, while others might prefer femininity (or a mixture of the two). And Ocean’s 8 showcases that by having a variety of women of different colors/shapes/sizes/styles as the core characters. While the character development isn’t plentiful, there is enough of it to make each character necessary and at least a tiny bit interesting.

Additionally, while Ocean’s 8 stands on the shoulders of the original Ocean’s trilogy, it doesn’t lean on them too hard, meaning that one can go into this movie not knowing anything of the first 3 films and completely get the plot of this one. As I wasn’t a fan of the original films, I also didn’t mind some of the developments/reveals about the original characters in this film (some fans might actually be legitimately annoyed by them). Personally, my main problem with this movie was its structure. I loved the first two acts – the pre-heist set-up and the actual heist. However, I feel like the whole 3rd act, rather than being a big finale, was a boring wrap-up that dragged immensely. The investigation and the reveals felt both rushed and like the movie was overstaying its welcome.

Directing

Gary Ross (of the first Hunger Games film and Free State of Jonesdirected Ocean’s 8, while Steven Soderbergh – the director behind Ocean’s 11,12, and 13 – stayed on as a producer. I thought that Ross handled the material well, the narrative made sense and was intense for the most part. Pacing had some issues, especially the pacing of the aforementioned third act. The glitz and the glamours of the MetGala were realized accurately.

Acting

Undeniably, the best part about Ocean’s 8 was its cast: Sandra BullockCate BlanchettAnne HathawayMindy KalingSarah PaulsonAwkwafinaRihanna, and Helena Bonham Carter. I adored the female solidarity and friendship on display. Cate Blanchett (Thor 3, Cinderella, Carol) was my absolute favorite – I loved her character’s outfits, charisma, and just effortless coolness. I also enjoyed seeing Hathaway (Alice 2) playing the gossip sites’ version of herself. I also loved seeing Bullock, back on screen in a lead role as I feel I haven’t seen her in a big movie in ages (since Gravity). Kaling (A Wrinkle in Time) and Paulson (The Post) were also really fun to see. I loved the uber contemporary vibes that Awkwafina brought to the film and I loved seeing Rihanna actually having a character to play rather than just being there to look pretty (*cough, cough*, Valerian. BTW, I’ve been to her concert some years before and wrote about that). Bonham Carter (Suffragette) was also good in the film, though I feel like she played her typical, slightly awkward and over-the-top type of a personality.

Ocean’s 8 also featured some cool celebrity cameos, some neat cameos by the original cast, and a short appearance by James Corden (Peter Rabbit), who is always a delight to see.

In short, Ocean’s 8 was a great all-female thriller. It might not please everyone, but then again, why does it have too?

Rate: 4/5

Trailer: Ocean’s 8 trailer

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5 ideas about a movie: Beast

Movie reviews

Hello!

The only movie that is daring to play as counterprogramming to Avengers: Infinity War in the UK cinemas is a small British movie Beast. As it will certainly be overlooked by a lot of people, I decided to give it a chance.

IMDb summary: A troubled woman living in an isolated community finds herself pulled between the control of her oppressive family and the allure of a secretive outsider suspected of a series of brutal murders.

  1. Beast was written and directed by Michael Pearce, who has mostly directed short films before, making this movie his feature debut. Beast was certainly a peculiar story but in the best way possible. I have seen some describing it as a modern fairytale. I guess that’s the case if we are replacing princes and princesses with criminals and psychopaths?
  2. Beast’s writing was really great. The set-up of an oppressive, damaging, and not very loving family was very clear and made the viewers instantly feel for the character. The will they/won’t they romance (more like is he the killer or isn’t he?) mystery also worked. I wasn’t entirely sure about the ending, whether the blind love was in any way a good message or whether that finale was a celebration of female empowerment or a celebration of a psychopath as bad as the initial murderer? Is she the titular Beast or was he? Or was it both of them? Or is it all humans, as we are, in one way or the other, deeply flawed creatures?
  3. The closed off island and a tight-knit privileged community made for a great setting for this mystery thriller (recently, another English Channel island got spotlighted – Guernsey – but in a completely different type of a film). Just the views of the island itself were really pretty and calming in contrast to the story. It was also interesting to see movie constructing the class difference as a defining factor in how one is going to be perceived a.k.a. painted as the villain. But as it turned out to be the truth, doesn’t that make the movie’s message that lower class individuals more likely to be criminals?
  4. From the directing point of view, the movie was slowish but suspenseful and I did like very real and raw visuals. The diegetic noises – the breathing sounds or the sound of crunching grass/dirt – added a lot of ambiance to the movie. The camera work was neat too.
  5. The two leads were played by Jessie Buckley (British TV and theatre actress) and Johnny Flynn (TV actor and musician). I was completely unfamiliar with both of the actors but I thought that they did a spectacular job. The performances were believable, relatable, but also slightly off to always keep the viewer on edge.

In short, Beast was a great psychological thriller that left me with a lot of questions to ponder over.

Rate: 4/5

Trailer: Beast trailer

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5 ideas about a movie: Every Day

Movie reviews

Hello!

Before watching Avengers: Infinity War, I checked out a smaller YA movie, so that my series of recent YA reviews could continue. This is Every Day!

IMDb summary: A shy teenager falls for someone who transforms into another person every day.

Previous recent YA movies I’ve discussed are linked here: Status Update, Love, Simon, Midnight Sun, Blockers.

  1. After watching a fair few of YA movies recently, I’ve sort of realized that they don’t deserve all of the bad-ish rap that they are getting. Not all YA movies are created equal, similarly to how all other films, which aren’t overtly targeted to a specific demographic, are not all good. And while Every Day isn’t the best picture out there, it is certainly not bad and has some new and modern concepts to offer.
  2. Every Day was written by Jesse Andrews (the author of Me and Earl and the Dying Girl), based on the book of the same name by a well known YA writer David Levithan, and directed by Michael Sucsy (who did 2012’s Rachel McAdams romantic drama The Vow). Its premise was either stupid or genius: stupid in that one needed a lot of suspension of disbelief to take the movie seriously but genius because it led to some neat and very 21st-century topics.
  3. I adored Every Day’s take on the trope of the romantic lead and how they could be literally anyone in this movie. Flipped the genre on its head (do any of my readers listen to The Weekly Planet? If yes, I sincerely hope you got that reference). Anyways, I loved how the movie portrayed both identity and sexuality as fluid and asked whether one falls in love with the inner or outer identity.
  4. From the directing standpoint, the movie was fine. It was slow like the majority of romantic dramas and had some neat pop songs like a lot of young adult teen movies do.
  5. The lead of the film was played by Angourie Rice, who some of you may know from an underappreciated comedy The Nice Guys or Sofia Coppola’s The Beguiled. The different romantic interests were played by a whole bunch of actors, some better known than others, like Spider-Man Homecoming’s Jacob Batalon and Paper Towns’ Justice Smith. Debby Ryan also appeared as a sister of the main character – haven’t seen that actress in a project since forever.

In short, Every Day is a very contemporary YA picture that should be given at least a chance.

Rate: 3.5/5

Trailer: Every Day trailer

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Movie review: Avengers: Infinity War

Movie reviews

Hello!

And welcome to a review of a movie that requires no introduction – Avengers: Infinity War!

IMDb summary: The Avengers and their allies must be willing to sacrifice all in an attempt to defeat the powerful Thanos before his blitz of devastation and ruin puts an end to the universe.

As per usual, just before we start, these are my previous MCU reviews: Black Panther, Thor: Ragnarok, Spider-Man: Homecoming, Civil War, Doctor Strange, The Winter Soldier, Ant-Man, Age of Ultron, Guardians 1and 2.

Also, since #ThanosDemandsYourSilence, I’m keeping this review spoiler free!

Writing

Infinity War was written by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely (the duo who wrote all the Captain America movie and The Chronicles of Narniacinematic adaptations). There were so many things to love in the script. Firstly, the screenwriters did an amazing job handling the plethora of characters that they had to work with. They didn’t have time to develop any of them really so you do kinda need to have seen at least some of the previous movies to really enjoy this one (but then again, if you are watching Infinity War, you have seen some of the previous 18 films for sure). What the screenwriters did manage very successfully was to give each of the characters some meaningful moments that were either emotional and weighty or funny and entertaining. The different scenes of the various characters meeting each other and interacting were just brilliant. The deep cuts to the MCU lore (cameos and tiny plot elements from other films) were also greatly appreciated. I also liked the fact that script fast-tracked over some meetings and explanations, as that made sure that the movie’s pace stayed top-notch. Secondly, they did an amazing job developing the character of Thanos and explaining his motivations and point of view. Marvel officially doesn’t have a problem with villains no more. Thirdly, the movie did a good job of picking a theme – sacrifice – a sticking to it, through and through.

Fourthly, the script delivered on the unexpected twists and the consequences a.k.a. characters we didn’t forsee died, both throughout the film and in the third act. Every one of those deaths meant something and was felt by every fan in the screening. I’m incredibly interested to see how will these consequences be dealt with in the next film: whether Marvel is gonna go back on some of them or all of them. I would love to see a lot of these characters back but I would also love to see them making the ballsiest move in cinema and not bringing any of them back. The film’s post-credits scene – only one but worth the wait – hints at how the universe will move forward and solve the problem, like Thanos (I wrote that in a ‘How do you solve a problem like Maria’ singing voice).

Directing

After nailing the unique political thriller vibes with The Winter Soldier and after managing to work with a massive cast in Civil WarAnthony Russo and Joe Russo were trusted with the biggest Marvel movie yet and they did an excellent job. They made it feel like an event and not just a movie. The vibes this time were cosmic and so so so Marvel Comics-like. The massive group of characters was even bigger this time and all of them were accounted for. The action was epic and explosive and there were so many amazing team-ups and groups during the fight scenes (especially one great episode with my favorite female characters). The quips during the fighting felt very Marvel but not cheesy or annoying. The editing was also clear and seamless.

Acting

Infinity War had an awesome display of that perfect Marvel casting and just listing the whole cast is gonna take forever but here we go: Robert Downey Jr. (his new armor is lit), Chris Hemswort (Thor has a great arc), Mark Ruffalo (interesting things happen with Hulk), Chris Evans (still Cap even if not of America), Scarlett Johansson (loved the new look), Benedict Cumberbatch (Doctor Strange has really come into his own), Tom Holland (still a teenager), Chadwick Boseman (still the king), Paul Bettany and Elizabeth Olsen (some great stuff involving the two of them), Anthony Mackie and Don Cheadle (have some great ‘the team-ups of the sidekicks’ moments), Sebastian Stan (also known as a L’Oreal model), Tom Hiddleston (his arc picks up where Ragnarok left off), Idris Elba (his arc might anger some fans/theorists), Benedict Wong (has no cash), Chris Pratt (has a great gag about voice), Pom Klementieff (surprisingly important), Karen Gillan (has a great visual scene), Dave Bautista (the funniest of the cast), Zoe Saldana (Gamora has a briliant arc), Danai Gurira (still a bad-ass), and Letitia Wright (the third member of the science bross) are all back and better than they have ever been.

From the newbies, Peter Dinklage has a gigantic cameo, while Josh Brolin does a great job with the motion capture. Thanos’ pawns are voiced/captured by Terry Notary (mocap performer in Apes, Warcraft, and Kong), Tom Vaughan-Lawlo (little-known actor), Carrie Coon (Fargo season 3), and Michael James Shaw (TV actor).

In short, Avengers: Infinity War is the movie event of the year that has to be watched multiple times to truly be appreciated. My next screening is on Monday, when’s yours?

Rate: 4.5/5

Trailer: Avengers: Infinity War trailer

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5 ideas about a movie: A Quiet Place

Movie reviews

Hello!

I start every review of a horror movie by saying that I don’t watch horror movies, which is not only a paradox but a lie too. Anyways, this is A Quiet Place!

IMDb summary: A family is forced to live in silence while hiding from creatures that hunt by sound.

  1. A Quiet Place was written by Bryan Woods, Scott Beck, and John Krasinski, who also directed the picture. Krasinski has been acting, writing, producing, and directing films/TV shows in Hollywood for the past decade but this movie is definitely his biggest project to date and also a film that he has probably been the most invested in. I haven’t been really familiar with Krasinski’s previous work. I really liked him in 13 Hours but I have never (brace yourselves, people) seen a single episode of The Office. Yup, I know, you can throw virtual rocks at me, I’m ashamed too. Anyways, onto the review.
  2. The premise of this movie was absolutely genius and I’m so glad that it was also executed really well in the story. The rules of this world were clear enough, but the mystery element also always remained (e.g. the origin of the aliens). I also loved the fact that the story had real consequences and that not all the characters made it through – that added so much more weight to the narrative and required more emotional investment from the viewers. Lastly, I loved the ending and how it was kept small and intimate with only a hint at a bigger, over-the-top battle to come.
  3. While A Quiet Place is not a family movie, it is certainly a movie about family. The love within and the sacrifice for a family were beautifully portrayed on screen. The concept of blame also came up and was touched upon. The fact that movie had a serious thematic under structure elevated it from a simple horror movie somewhere closer to the levels of Get Out and smart genre filmmaking.
  4. The film was also not only well-written but well-directed too. The raw visuals made the movie seem grounded, while the close-ups helped it feel intimate, personal. The levels of intensity and suspense were also always pretty high. A Quiet Place also earned the right to use jump scares because they weren’t the typical visual jump scares (a couple of those were used too) but more of a sound scares which fit so well with the story. The design of monsters themselves wasn’t the most original but I loved the visualization of their main strength and weakness – hearing/the ear.
  5. John Krasinski and Emily Blunt (Edge of Tomorrow, Sicario, The Huntsman, The Girl on The Train) were the perfect leads. They had that quiet chemistry (obviously, they are, after all, married) and their individual performances were great too. I completely bought Krasinski as the grieving and loving father who would do anything for his family. I also loved Blunt’s almost sensual performance in the pregnancy scenes. The children were played by Millicent Simmonds and Noah Jupe (Wonder, Suburbicon). It was so nice to see some diversity and inclusivity with the casting of Simmonds (a deaf actress playing a deaf character), while Jupe’s performance was really powerful and realistic.

In short, A Quiet Place was scary, smart, and heartwarming. An unlikely combination but it works, I swear.

Rate: 4.5/5

Trailer: A Quiet Place trailer

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Movie review: Thoroughbreds

Movie reviews

Hello!

And welcome to a review of a movie that enthralled me just with its name. This is Thoroughbreds.

IMDb summary: Two upper-class teenage girls in suburban Connecticut rekindle their unlikely friendship after years of growing apart. Together, they hatch a plan to solve both of their problems-no matter what the cost.

Writing

Thoroughbreds was written by the director Cory Finley. I have seen this movie described as an ‘update on the teen thriller genre’. Even though that sounds like a positive description, I would like to completely bypass the teen genre denomination, as, while the movie is about two teens, its writing is so much more than the writing for just a teen movie. It’s entirely something else.

Thoroughbreds plot revolves around two girls that set off on a mission. But these girls are not just random teenagers: they come from a privileged background that has damaged them. One of them has no emotions, the other controls hers until she doesn’t. And their mission is not a fun adventure but a quest that showcases human capacity and will for violence. It really doesn’t paint the best picture of humanity, especially the supposed best of the best of humanity, also known as the rich upper class. It also doesn’t paint the best picture of people’s understanding of human emotion, as lack of it is always seen as an issue, a deficiency, a mental illness. On the other hand, it does portray the idea of sympathy as a rare phenomenon in modern society very accurately.

Hints (or more than just hints) to the characters being psychopaths are also in the film, as they don’t seem to process human relationships in a healthy way. While the stepfather does appear abusive and not the nicest man, the killing of him is far from justified. It’s only justified in the character’s mind as the reclaiming of control. Finley’s script doesn’t need to reclaim controls as it never lets it go. The narrative is tight and doesn’t have any unnecessary details, while no line of the dialogue feels out of place. All the statements are sharp and to the point but still somewhat natural and realistic sounding. And that name, the thing that first peaked my interest, is perfect. Not only does it captures the privileged nature of the characters (horseriding is a stereotypically popular activity among the upper class), but also showcases how that privilege damages them (children are bred like animals rather than cared for through human connection).

Directing

Thoroughbreds was a directorial debut by Cory Finley and want a brilliant one it was. He took the idea of control from the script and applied it to the whole story, making it tight and controlled. It was brought to life through forceful but contained visuals and cinematography. Restrain was, most likely, encouraged in the actors’ performances too. One part of the movie that is allowed to be a bit less controlled but is still incredibly focused and powerful is the score. It’s unsettling and keeps the tension and suspension all throughout the runtime. Finley’s debut thriller-drama was just so damn good. I have no idea why it is being billed as comedy as there is nothing particularly funny about it, maybe only in ‘this is so morbid, I have to laugh’ kinda way.

Acting

Olivia Cooke (Ready Player One) and Anya Taylor-Joy (Split, soon The New Mutants) were absolutely brilliant in the picture. Their performances were top notch and extremely strong in a subtle way. Cooke’s character’s emotionlessness and Taylor-Joy’s characters privilege and porcelain-like stature were portrayed with such sophistication. Can’t wait to see more from them!

This movie also featured one of the final performances by Anton Yelchin (Star Trek Beyond). Seeing him on screen was a bittersweet moment. It’s such a shame that we have lost an incredibly talented actor at such a young age. His role here was really interesting: his drug dealer character unexpectedly became the one nice person in the film, who received all of the viewers, at least all of my, sympathy.

In short, Thoroughbreds is a fantastic thriller about control (the concept permeates all aspects of the film) and an incredibly promising directorial debut from a new voice in Tinseltown.

Rate: 4.25/5

Trailer: Thoroughbreds trailer

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Movie review: Unsane

Movie reviews

Hello!

Welcome to a review of a horror movie by a horror hater (also known as a scary cat). This is Unsane!

IMDb summary: A young woman is involuntarily committed to a mental institution, where she is confronted by her greatest fear–but is it real or a product of her delusion?

Writing

Unsane was written by Jonathan Bernstein (journalist) and James Greer (novelist and critic) and I thought that their script was really interesting. First of all, I loved how much information the movie provided about its characters and the story, and yet, how nothing was clear. It sprung the main topic of the film on the viewer in the first few scenes without any preparation. That main question, whether the character was actually insane or not, didn’t actually end up being answered but the ambiguity of it was so intriguing that I wasn’t even mad for not getting concrete answers. I also don’t feel that concrete answers are appropriate when looking at mental illness – a very complex, personal, and still not-fully-understood field.

The main character, aside from her existing (or not) psychological issues, was also super interesting. Her personality and actions weren’t the most sympathetic and yet, the viewer wanted to root for her. It was quite a confusing and frustrating state that the viewer was put in. I also got personally annoyed with the character because of her incapability to work the situation that she was in. That inability might be due to the mental illness? But did it start because of the stalking? Or was there an issue before? Was she ever telling the truth? Why would she play/provoke him? What about that ending? I really didn’t expect the movie to go there but I am sort of fascinated by the fact that it did.

Lastly, the setting of the movie was incredible too. That asylum was both old-school (because it reminded me of a mental institution one might see in old horror movies) but was also super contemporary (because it was just a front for insurance fraud (yey, capitalism?)).

Directing

Unsane was directed by Steven Soderbergh (Magic Mike XXL), who was also the cinematographer and the editor of the film. His involvement with this movie was the main reason while I actually subjected myself to watching a horror movie. And it wasn’t really a typical horror movie, but a very fascinating and creepy psychological thriller (and I’m somehow very into that genre, even though it is so closely related to the horror one).

Anyways, Soderbergh has made some bold chances, like breaking away from the big studios and handling the marketing himself with his last film Logan Lucky. He went one step further with Unsane by not even using any of the traditional filmmaking methods – the picture was shot entirely on an iPhone (Tangerinewas also shot on an iPhone, so Unsane isn’t the first ‘bigger’ movie to do that). Thus, the aspect ration of the movie was unusual. The cinematography was super unique too: the viewers had a very direct relationship with the image and seemed to be so close to it. The angles from which the film was shot also differed from the usual ones. That lack of distance between the viewer and the picture kinda made it feel like a documentary movie too. The not-perfect quality of the visuals also added to that feeling of realism. Since it appears that Soderbergh pretty much did everything himself on this picture, the credits of it were surprisingly short. I was halfway down the stairs in the screen and they were already over.

Acting

Unsane was mostly a one-woman show: Claire Foy (Breathe) played the lead and was really incredible. Love the fact that Netflix’s The Crown led to more cinematic roles for her. Joshua Leonard played the stalker and was uncomfortable to watch, both because of what type of character he was playing and because the actual performance was a bit stiff. SNL’s Jay Pharoah was one strand of positivity in the film and I did appreciate the breather/reassurance that the character provided both for the main character and the viewers. Juno Temple (Wonder Wheel) also had a small but quite explosive role. There is also a fun cameo by a big movie star, who has been popping up in all kinds of different projects, lately.

Unsane was an unhinged psychological thriller that left me with more questions than answers, like any good psycho-thriller should do.

Rate: 4/5

Trailer: Unsane trailer 

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Movie review: Red Sparrow

Movie reviews

Hello!

Welcome to March – the new ‘it’ month for high-profile movie releases. And it opens with Red Sparrow!

IMDb summary: Ballerina Dominika Egorova is recruited to ‘Sparrow School,’ a Russian intelligence service where she is forced to use her body as a weapon. Her first mission, targeting a C.I.A. agent, threatens to unravel the security of both nations.

Writing

Red Sparrow was written by Justin Haythe (who wrote two previous Gore Verbinski’s films The Lone Rangerand A Cure For Wellness), based on the book of the same name by Jason Matthews. I found the writing to be quite uneven and I’m going to unpack my ideas more broadly by discussing the narrative and the themes. The film had two parts, each about an hour long. The first hour acted as an extensive set-up and developed the main character quite a lot. The viewers got to follow her life as an everyday citizen (though she was never just an everyday person – she was always special, first as a ballerina and later as a sparrow), then to witness the inciting incident and its consequences: the extensive training to be a tool of the state (more on that in the second part on themes). The set-up was quite long but it did work: the main character’s capacity for the horrific actions that she was going to commit as a sparrow was always present in the set-up.

In the second hour of the film (+20minutes), Red Sparrow’s actual plot unraveled, and sadly, it was quite uneven. The writers really tried crafting a complex and layered story, full of characters with constantly shifting allegiances. And while that sounds all good – actually it is quite fascinating – the mysterious and the secretive nature of the plot was not always realized compellingly. Also, looking back to the plot – not all the dots necessarily connect and make sense. Still, I have to applaud the ending of the story. For a while, it seemed like the movie was headings towards a typical romantic conclusion but then it broke away from all of that and delivered and strong finale with some great double-crosses and twists. Though, the reveal of the mole was a bit heavy-handed and surprising it a bad way a.k.a.it came out of nowhere.

Thematically, I’d like to touch upon two major things: the usage of sex in the film as well as the Russia vs. US standoff. Before going to see the film, I got the impression that the main weapon of the sparrow will be psychological manipulation but I feel like the ads and trailers lied to me. Red Sparrow, in my mind, was missing its promised psychological manipulation and was all about the pure physical manipulation a.k.a. manipulation through sex. And while physical and psychological manipulations are certainly connected, I really wish that the movie would have looked at that actual connection or the psychological side quite a lot more. Also, the usage of sex by a specifically female heroine of the film raised even more questions about the position of female sexuality on film. While it can certainly be seen/used as a strong creative choice, it has also been reduced to a cheap trick quite a few times. Also, there is but a fine line between female sexuality as a form of empowerment or a tool of exploitation. To my mind, Red Sparrow was leaning more towards the second option, as the female sparrows were taught and made to use sex as a weapon by a patriarchal system rather than having chosen it as a weapon out of their own agency.

On the US v Russia front, the picture was certainly successful at establishing the askew nationalistic ideas that were/are so prevalent in Russia and portraying the brainwashing politics accurately. Still, it had an overall message of American heroism as the better/ the winning option. The weird US/Russia antagonism also made the movie’s temporal setting feel rather vague: it could have been set during the Cold War, the early aftermath of it in the late 90s/early 2000s or even just last year.

Directing

Francis Lawrence (the director of the 3 last The Hunger Games films, including my two favorites – Catching Fire and Mockingjay 1) directed Red Sparrow and did an okay job. I highly appreciated the style of the picture: the raw and indie feeling of it as well as the cold and cool tone. However, the slowness of the pace and the length of the movie really minimized the enjoyment of the film. Moreover, the plot (the substance) wasn’t good enough to make up for the lacking pace. The graphic violence and graphic nudity were both present in Red Sparrow and I don’t really know whether they served the plot or were they just there for shock value. During the scenes of violence, Red Sparrow did feel like a more contemporary version of its predecessor Atomic Blonde, while the scenes of creepy nudity were more plentiful than in the whole Fifty Shades franchise.

Acting

Jennifer Lawrence (reunited with F. Lawrence after THG) played the lead of the film and did a good job but she wasn’t great or irreplaceable. Her Russian accent was fine, though, at times, she did sound like she was speaking with a clogged noise (as if she had a cold). Her decision to play this role is probably more interesting than the performance itself. The actress has vocally expressed how uncomfortable she was with the skin tight costume of Mystique in the X-Men movies and yet she was somehow fine with complete nudity in this film? Was this an act of bravery and growth as a performer or a desperate attempt to reclaim some fame? Her fan circle has been decreasing: The Hunger Gamesfinished a with whimper rather than a bang, she annoyed a lot of Marvel/X-Men fans because of her lack of enthusiasm about that series, her various comments on talk shows have also been reacted to quite badly online, and even her last two more serious awards films failed to connect with the audiences or the critics (Joyat least got her another Oscar nomination, while mother! turned out to be a complete disaster).

Some big-name talent was also involved with this film on the supporting front. Joel Edgerton (Bright, Midnight Special, Loving, Black Mass) and Matthias Schoenaerts (Far From The Madding Crowd, The Danish Girl) had two best-developed and most interesting male roles in the film. Jeremy Irons (BvS, High-Rise) and Game of Thrones’ Ciaran Hinds (Justice League) also both appeared but in much smaller, cameo-sized roles. Charlotte Rampling (45 Years, Assasin’s Creed) played the matriarch of the school of the sparrows and it was quite unexpected seeing her in a film with a, supposedly, strong female lead after her sort of anti-women comments a few awards seasons ago (that ran along the lines of ‘women in the West don’t have anything to complain about’).

In short, Red Sparrow was a mediocre thriller that betrayed its message and overstayed its welcome.

Rate: 3/5

Trailer: Red Sparrow trailer

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5 ideas about a movie: Game Night

Movie reviews

Hello!

Welcome to a review of a comedy whose trailers’ actually made a fairly good impression. This is Game Night!

IMDb summary: A group of friends who meet regularly for game nights find themselves trying to solve a murder mystery.

  1. Game Night was written by Mark Perez (he has written a couple of obscure comedies before). I thought that the writing for this comedy was quite good: fairly smart and even original at times. I loved the actual idea of a game night – that opening set-up of the main couple’s relationship through the various games was super fun! I also really appreciated the fact that the movie celebrated adult friendship. All the film and pop culture references were much appreciated too. Lastly, I liked how the movie set up some details and actually delivered on them – the creepy neighbor had a role in the film and wasn’t just used for a funny cameo, the Fight Club recurring verbal joke ended up being more than just a verbal jab, while even the minor doctor character reappeared.
  2. For all the good parts of the writing, there was an equal quantity of bad ones (a bit less, maybe, I don’t want to be too harsh on this movie). I did like the fact that the characters fairly quickly realized that they weren’t playing a game. However, that actual mystery of the film that they found themselves in was a bit too convoluted: there were too many layers of fakeness and reality for it to make sense. Also, ‘the everyday Joe/Jane’ characters did Jar Jar Binks-ed their way through a lot of the plot and got lucky one too many times. Still, I wasn’t that mad at the picture for some these inconsistencies or stupid-ish moments, as I found the story of the film entertaining on the whole.
  3. Game Night was directed by John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein. The duo was on the writing team for Spider-Man: Homecoming and are also supposed to helm the Flashpoint movie for DCEU (if it ever materializes). They also did the questionable Horrible Bosses comedy and the god-awful Vacation movie. Weirdly, I believe that they did a good job with this film: the movie was exciting and was paced well in addition to being of appropriate length (90minute-ish/short and sweet/doesn’t overstay its welcome). The score was also fun: it has electronic music vibes and featured few familiar hits. The credits were cool too: they were very thematically and narratively appropriate for the picture.
  4. Game Night had quite a big cast, consisting of actors of various caliber. At the centre of the film were three main couples, all of whom had somekind of personal problem to argue about during the quiter scenes: there was Rachel McAdams (Doctor Strange, Spotlight, Southpaw) and Jason Bateman (heard good things about his Netflix show Ozark) going on about having kids, New Girls’ Lamorne Morris and Kylie Bunbury (a TV actress) bickering about past celebrity hookups, and Billy Magnussen (the prince in Into The Woods) and Sharon Horgan (a British/Irish TV actress) just getting to know each other though arguments about everything.
  5. In smaller roles, there was the brother character played by Manchester By The Sea’s Kyle Chandler (Bateman and he do look fairly similar and they could actually be brothers). Westworld’s Jeffrey Wright also had a short scene (can’t wait for that TV show to come back). Plus, Fargo’s Jesse Plemons was absolutely brilliant in being creepy! Lastly, there was also a revolving door of villains and bad guys played by both familiar and new faces. They were too numerous and their roles – too insignificant to list here, though.

In short, Game Night is an entertaining and fun comedy with some neat moments. Not a sure hit but worthy of a watch.

Rate: 3.7/5

Trailer: Game Night trailer

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