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: Finding Your Feet

Movie reviews

Hello!

It seems that lately, I’ve been reviewing quite a few small and unknown British films. This post is no exception. This is Finding Your Feet.

IMDb summary: On the eve of retirement a middle class, judgmental snob discovers her husband has been having an affair with her best friend and is forced into exile with her bohemian sister who lives on an impoverished inner-city council estate.

  1. Finding Your Feet was written by Nick Moorcroft and Meg Leonard and directed by Richard Loncraine. This film was my introduction to all of these filmmakers and it certainly wasn’t a bad first impression on their part. Even though I, a university student, certainly wasn’t the target demographic for this movie, I still found it quite enjoyable. The other cinemagoers in my screening (all of whom were at least 20 years older than me) were really into this movie: I heard quite a few laughs as well as emotional snivels.
  2. Thematically, the movie was both inspiring and cliche. The inspiring parts were the messages about living at any age and having a life outside of marriage. The cliches were mostly all related to the ending of the romantic arc of the film – the arc itself was cute and did have another nice message of giving love a second chance. This feel-good film was also quite funny, especially when it poked fun at British upper-class identity (though, it was still very much rooted in British culture, both in the setting and slang).
  3. From the structural point of view, some of the writing elements were somewhat mediocre. One portion of the movie was set in Italy and it didn’t really have to be. Also, the second act took place during the Christmas season: those extended sequences, plus, the whole feeling and tonne of the picture made it seem a bit like a holiday movie, which begs the question: why didn’t it come in December (instead of February)? Also, the movie took a tiny bit too long to wrap up after its big emotional scene had already played out.
  4. From the directing point of view, Finding Your Feet was a fine film. It was slow but not too slow (not counting the ending). The comedic timing was fine, while the cinematography was that of a typical narrative drama film. The picture also had some adorably amateurish dance sequences, which were fun enough.
  5. Finding Your Feet has assembled a great cast of seasoned British actors. Imelda StauntonTimothy Spall (The Party), and Celia Imrie (her character’s name was Elizabeth, shortened to Bif – never heard that abbreviation before) played the three main characters and were a pure delight to watch. Staunton was especially great, though I didn’t particularly appreciate her anti-blockbuster comments during the promotion of this movie. They sounded especially ironic knowing that she herself is best known to worldwide audiences because of a blockbuster franchise – she played none other that Umbridge in HP films. Her co-star in this film – T.Spall – has also starred in that series as Peter Pettigrew.

In short, Finding Your Feet was equal parts heartfelt and cheesy dramedy that will delight your grandparents/parents. You might enjoy it too!

Rate: 3.2/5

Trailer: Finding Your Feet trailer

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Movie review: Fifty Shades Freed

Movie reviews

Hey…there,

Creeped you out yet? That’s good because, oh my dear lord, here we go. This is Fifty Shades Freed. While I did not review the previous two films in the franchise, in honor of its end, I decided to sink my teeth into the last chapter.

IMDb summary: Anastasia and Christian get married, but Jack Hyde continues to threaten their relationship.

Writing

Fifty Shades Freed was written by Niall Leonard, based on the book by his wife’s E.L. James (an author as territorial about her work as her main character is about his partner – if u don’t know what I’m talking about and are interested, read up on the behind the scenes conflict between James and the director of the first film Sam Taylor-Johnson). Now, I’m not proud to admit but I have actually read the books as a teenager and had a good laugh with friends about them. I didn’t really think that they were worthy of or appropriate for cinematic adaptation, but Hollywood doesn’t care about ethics or quality when the prospect of a big paycheck appears on the horizon.

Anyways, my general thoughts on the writing of this franchise have always been twofold. I thought that it was a good thing that Fifty brought BDSM culture into the forefront and the mainstream conversation. What I always hated was the fact that the dominant-submissive relationship never ended when the bedroom’s or the red room’s door were closed: he was creepy and stalkerish IRL too and she seemed to be fine with that. Her reactions to his actions were even more infuriating than his actions themselves. Although, I guess, in this film both of them were jealous and territorial, so maybe they were truly meant for one another.

Speaking about the script of this film: it was fine (bear in my mind that my expectations were extremely low). Freed sort of had two storylines (if you can call them that): the love story and the crime thriller sideline.

Now, the love story was always the backbone of this series, though, what the filmmakers have failed to realize time and time again was that Anna’s and Christian’s relationship was never strong enough to mount the whole plot on (let alone the plots of three movies). Also, while these films (including the last one) really tried showcasing a modern love story, they always ended up playing into the same gender roles and even worse, cliches. Moreover, in this film, the Greys’ romance wasn’t even the only love story (maybe the filmmakers did realise that it wasn’t that great or that there wasn’t anything more to do with it, except to fabricate some shallow and senseless conflict) and an attempt was made to do something with the brother and the best friend characters. Still, I do have to admit that Anna and Christian did share a few sweet and romantic moments, which I think usually get lost in a lot of reviews, but I’m trying to be fair for this movie, so I’m mentioning them.

Anyways, on the thriller side of the movie, things weren’t great either. The thriller plotline lacked exposure and sort of disappeared in the second act before reappearing in the third act when the screenwriter suddenly realized that he needed to close this movie (and the series) with a bang (or at least with an attempt of a bang). Also, the finale really tried to show Anna as independent and resourceful but I think it might have been too late for that.

On the humor side, Fifty Shades Freed had two types of jokes. Firstly, it had those absolutely laughable moments that made no sense (‘let’s have a car chase sequence and then have sex in the car’). The second kind was actually funny moments that came from the film’s awareness about its own silliness (like the exchange ‘Restrain Him! I don’t have anything! Oh, we do! I mean, I can find something…’).

Directing

Fifty Shades Freed was directed by James Foley (he did Darker too and has also directed Glengarry Glen Ross – what a range in the filmography). I guess he did an okay job. The glamorous lifestyle was neat to look at (some quality Audis and nice outfits on display). The pop soundtrack was good too (I did like that they reused ‘Love Me Like You Do’ cause it was such a huge song from the first film). The sex scenes were… well… sex scenes (I’m not analyzing them, pervs). What I will say is that I’m not happy about the inequality in the nudity of this film. Lastly, Freed concluded with the summary sequence, so if you don’t to watch this trilogy but are interested in what the fuss was about, just look up that clip when it ends up online.

Acting

Both Dakota Johnson (Black Mass) and Jamie Dornan are good looking actors, so I do see why they were cast in this series. What I’m sad about is the fact that the two of them are actually quite amazing actors but one cannot really see that in this series. Having said that, while the duo has become infamous for having no chemistry in the previous pictures, I did somewhat believe their relationship in this one. That’s probably because this was the last film and they were genuinely happy to be done with so it appeared that they were actually happy to be Mrs. and Mr. Grey. Anyways, I hope that both of their careers can survive the damage of this franchise.

On the supporting front, there really isn’t much to mention. A bunch of actors like Rita Ora, Bran Daugherty (who went from background actor on Pretty Little Liars to a sideline character on the big screen – progress?), Eric JohnsonEloise MumfordLuke Grimes (The Magnificient Seven), and Arielle Kebbel appeared and sort of just stood or ran around in the background. They served the purpose of the movie, I guess.

In short, Fifty Shades Freed was what it was. If you liked this series, good for you. If you didn’t enjoy it, sorry that you spent money on it.

Rate: 2.5/5

Trailer: Fifty Shades Freed trailer

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5 ideas about a movie: Status Update

Movie reviews

Hello!

Welcome to a review of a movie you haven’t heard of. This is Status Update – a clear example of what the critics (or angry online commentators) mean when they describe something as ‘millennial’.

IMDb summary: Ross Lynch stars as Kyle Moore, a teenager who after being uprooted by his parents’ separation and unable to fit into his new hometown, stumbles upon a magical app that causes his social media updates to come true.

  1. Status Update was written Jason Filardi (he wrote 17 Again) and directed by a music video director Scott Speer (who also did the last two Step Up movies and the upcoming Midnight Sun). I knew (and didn’t mind) the previous works of the duo, so I’ve had certain expectations about this film beforehand. And… it was exactly what I thought it’d be  – a typical teen dramedy with cringe-y and cool moments in an equal measure.
  2. Status Update tried being super contemporary by focusing on the impact of social media (Nerve did that more than a year ago too) and the fictional app the Universe. While the said app was really nonsensical (magic and technology rarely work together), it did have a smart thematical concept. At its core, the Universe was all about wishful thinking or imagining the best version of one’s life. And while that isn’t a healthy practice, it is also one that all people have partaken in at least once in their life. I know that I have certainly imagined quite a few ‘what if’ versions of my own life. Relating to that, I also appreciated the fact that the movie asked the question ‘who is the real you?’. Is it your social media-self or your real-world self? In the past, I had a definite answer to this question, but now, the answer is becoming harder and harder to find.
  3. While Status Update did some new things, it also heavily relied on the good old teen movie cliches. It had some really cringe-y and on-the-nose dialogue; a lot of jokes that didn’t land; and some walking caricatures for its characters (that phone guy was so annoying). It also attempted to present a diverse high school but really fell flat in its representation of a gay student (hopefully, Love, Simon fixes the trend of awful or non-existent LGBTQ+ representation).
  4. From the directing point of view, Status Update was fine. It was relatively short and the pacing was okay. It was also more musical-esque than I expected (thus, it kinda reminded me of High School Musical, which is not a bad thing to resemble, in my book). It also did look like a TV movie that could have aired on Disney Channel/Nickelodeon/Freeform/The CW. Lastly, more as a side note, I really do wonder whether anybody will remember contemporary teen movies fondly in about 30 years time, similarly to how now people feel nostalgic towards the teen films from the 1980s, like the whole filmography of John Hughes.
  5. Status Update’s cast consisted of mostly Disney Channel alumni: Ross Lynch (of Austin & Ally and Teen Beach moviesand Olivia Holt (of Kickin’ ItGirl vs. Monster, and I Didn’t Do It) played the leads. Although I have been a fan of the Disney Channel in the past, I haven’t really been keeping up with it lately (except Descendants) thus, I didn’t know any of the actors. I feel like they are from a later generation of Disney TV (not the generation of HSM, Hannah Montana, Wizards of Waverly Place, or Suite Life). The only actor I knew was Greg Sulkin who has been playing this type of a role for years now: he should really move on. Though, typecasting is a hard thing to escape from. Pitch Perfect’s John Michael Higgins also had a role in the movie, not too dissimilar from the one in the acapella trilogy. 

In short, Status Update made me roll my eyes as much as it made me smile. I don’t think it’s necessarily a cinema admission worthy movie but it’s certainly a great Netflix/background for chores film.

Rate: 3.2/5

Trailer: Status Update trailer

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5 ideas about a movie: Early Man

Movie reviews

Hello!

While some people flocked to the theater to see the last Fifty Shades, I joined my favorite demographic – kids – at the cinema. This is Early Man.

IMDb summary: Set at the dawn of time, when prehistoric creatures and woolly mammoths roamed the earth, Early Man tells the story of Dug, along with sidekick Hognob as they unite his tribe against a mighty enemy Lord Nooth and his Bronze Age City to save their home.

  1. Early Man was written by Mark Burton (comedy writer) and James Higginson and directed by Nick Park (Chicken Run director). This animated feature comes from Aardman – one of the few stop-motion animation studios still working in the mainstream (the other studio being Laika). I have always loved this type of an animation style and the aforementioned style was one of the factors that drew me into the cinema to see Early Man.
  2. Having seen the trailer numerous times (they were showing it literally before every movie here in the UK, Aardman being a British company), I vaguely knew what the story was going to be and wasn’t certain how to feel about it. Part of me was thinking that it’s a good thing to educate children on the origin of humans but another part of me (the anthropology student) wasn’t sure how the film would handle the ideas of a ‘primitive’ (can’t stand that word anymore, thanks, anthropology). Anyways, Early Man’s solution to the tricky representation was to just make every character into an idiot and also, have the movie to turn out to be about something completely different: not the origin of humans but the invention of football.
  3. The whole football storyline (which was, basically, the main plotline) was where the movie shined. All the real world comparisons and jabs completely worked: starting with the instant replay puppets, unfair referee, players acting as if they were hurt and ending with Lord Nooth being a corrupt sports manager (‘Voluntary contribution…everybody has to pay’ was such a great oxymoron of a line). This whole idea to focus on football (or soccer for the US) also seemed very British/European. South America enjoys football too, so maybe this film will be financially successful down there. In addition to smart jokes, Early Man also had a plethora of really stupid ones, which I didn’t care for, but the primary audience (a.k.a. children in my screening) absolutely loved.
  4. The animation of the picture was really great and the character design stayed within the Aardman brand (more round, obviously clay-like characters in contrast to Laika’s more spindly and weirdly shaped ones). The pacing of the movie was good too and I did appreciate how quick and short it was. As all sports-movies (yes, Early Man is a sports movie), this film had a fun and quite inventive training montage. Lastly, I’d love to find out whether any of the football players in the movie were based on real athletes.
  5. Early Man’s voice cast featured some incredible British A-listers (their involvement was the second major draw to the movie for me, personally). Eddie Redmayne (Fantastic Beasts, The Danish Girl, Jupiter Ascending) was great as aloof, optimistic, and infectious lead Doug, while Tom Hiddleston (Thor 3, Kong, High-Rise) sounded like he had fun embodying such a caricaturish old-school villain. Game of Thrones’ Maisie Williams was basically voicing an animated version of Arya (only obsessed with football, not revenge). While one could definitely recognize the voices of all the actors, their accents did sound a bit thicker than usual, which seemed like an intentional choice to go with the overall tone of the film.

In short, Early Man was a lovely and neatly animated movie with a nice message of writing one’s own story. It also kinda made me want to watch a football match or even kick a ball around for a bit myself.

Rate: 4/5

Trailer: Early Man trailer

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Movie review: Phantom Thread

Movie reviews

Hello!

Welcome to one the last awards’ movie reviews. This time around, we are discussing Phantom Thread!

IMDb summary: Set in 1950’s London, Reynolds Woodcock is a renowned dressmaker whose fastidious life is disrupted by a young, strong-willed woman, Alma, who becomes his muse and lover.

Paul Thomas Anderson

Phantom Thread was written and directed by Paul Thomas Anderson, known for such films as Magnolia, Boogie Nights, Inherent Vice (which I’ve finally watched and was confused by) and There Will Be Blood (my favorite picture of his). His direction for Phantom Thread was very particular (and, in a way, quite spectacular). The writing was also very specific and, while I, personally, found a lot of problems with its content, I could also see how other people might have been fascinated by it. Let’s begin!

Writing

Phantom Thread’s narrative was, at its core, a love story, albeit a twisted and toxic one. The portrayal of such a love story was my main problem with the film. I have seen this movie described as a true representation of what it is like being in a relationship with an artist. To me, this looked like a situation, in which the film’s supposed authenticity of representation was used as a poor justification for the toxic relationship of the characters. Also, the assertion of authenticity raised another problem in my mind: according to this film, artists are borderline divine deities, to be sheltered and protected. In my worldview, artists are humans: flawed individuals rather than godlike figures to be privileged and raised above everyone else.

Going back to the love story, I couldn’t buy its progression. The female character stared the film as timid and quiet and seemed to be perfectly happy to be in an abusive and strict relationship. However, then she changed into a femme fatale (went from 0 (every second word from her mouth in the first half was ‘yes’) to Christian Grey levels) and attempted to reassert some power/or even take full control of the relationship by using quite deadly means. Where did that change come from? I did not see any hints at it at the beginning of the film! Also, if deciding to play-up the female character as this quiet but deadly individual, why not have the whole tonne of the movie be a bit more cynical and sinister rather than romantical? The changes in tonne would have made the whole shift seem a bit more possible. Also, was her goal to lower his defense mechanism really the only thing driving her forward? Or did she just want to weasel herself into his business and was basically a gold digger?

The male character was equally awful. He was privileged, pedantic, ridden with mommy issues (which were never really explored, just mentioned), demanding, superior without any good reason, obsessive, pretentious and controlling workaholic. Was he like that because of a mental illness or was he just an awful human being? Did his eccentricities really make him remarkable? I found that assertion quite questionable. Also, what did he see in the female character? A person to love, a prize to desire or a great model for his clothes/a real life dressmaker’s dummy?

The two ideas of writing that I liked the most (or the only two I liked at all) were the assertions that clothing is powerful and transformative and the character of the sister. Her jealousy of the new girlfriend/wife was a bit weird but I did like the fact that she was done with her brother by the end of the film and experienced growth – escaped the cycle that the other two characters remained stuck in.

Directing

Phantom Thread looked like a 1950s movie with its blurry and grainy visuals and soft colors. The designs themselves were beautiful but they also seemed very much of their own time – old rather than classical (time-transcending). The picture was also really slow, and since the story was either angering or extremely unengaging for me, I felt that it dragged more than a few times.

Acting

The two lead actors – Daniel Day-Lewis and Vicky Krieps – did a good enough job portraying the character. But, as I found their characters atrocious, I couldn’t really enjoy the actors’ performances. The chemistry between the two actors was interesting. I didn’t see it as positive but rather more confrontational and sometimes awkward, uncomfortable to watch. I don’t think this was Day-Lewis best performance and I certainly don’t think he should retire after it. For Krieps, this was her English-language debut (or one of the first few roles in English) and it was not necessarily the most successful one.

 

 

In short, Phantom Thread was a beautifully shot film, whose writing left me confused and annoyed. Might just be a personal thing, though, as a lot of critics seemed to have loved it.

Rate: 3/5

Trailer: Phantom Thread trailer

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Movie review: The Shape of Water

Movie reviews

Hello!

Welcome to a review of another awards movie. This is The Shape of Water!

IMDb summary: At a top secret research facility in the 1960s, a lonely janitor forms a unique relationship with an amphibious creature that is being held in captivity.

Writing

The Shape of Water was written by the director Guillermo del Toro and Vanessa Taylor (who wrote Divergent and the upcoming live-action Alladin and has also worked on Game of Thrones). I thought that the duo crafted a unique yet familiar love story. The characters – the mute woman and the creature – were the two things that made the conventional plot into an unconventional (subverted) and extraordinary one. It was interesting to see how Elisa’s disability made her more empathetic towards other individuals who were shunned by society (not only the creature but the (?)gay (he is never labeled in the movie) neighbor but the black co-worker). Her specific disability (being mute) and her gender (female) also had an interesting correlation with the idea of women being silenced/having no voice in that period (the 1960s – prior to the sexual revolution and the overt women’s rights movements).

The hints at the fact that the amphibian man was the one who hurt her as a child made for some fascinating implications in their relationship too. For one, that possibility (of him maybe having hurt her) and some of his other actions in the film made him seem as a creature in which goodness and destruction coexist (sort of like in humanity: Hawkins‘ character symbolizing the kindness and Shannon’s – the violence). The whole romantic relationship between the two characters was just so pure, even adorable and yet still slightly creepy. The picture didn’t shy away from the more questionable parts of the relationship (Beauty and the Beast never raised those kinds of questions) which was quite brave, in my mind, mostly in risking alienating the audience. The film’s ending was quite unexpected, to me, personally. I was assuming that the script will go the melancholic route – ‘if you love, let go’ – but The Shape of Water chose the hopeful/happy fairytale conclusion and finished on the note of love and unity. That was quite an escapist ending but it did fit the surreal quality of the film.

A few other notes on the writing. First, I loved this movie’s appreciation for cinema and creative arts in general (painting, drawing). I’ve always loved films which love (like me) and pay homage to other motion pictures (I’d love to live above the movie theatre). The second interesting point of writing that was somewhat divorced from the main love story was Michael Shannon’s arc and his character’s relation to the ideas of the male success and the expectations for such success. Failure was not an option for him and it is still not seen as a legitimate or appropriate part of the construction of masculinity, especially the white privileged form of masculinity.

Directing

Guillermo del Toro directed The Shape of Water and succeeded in crafting almost a spiritual sequel (an adult one) to Pan’s Labyrinth (while I have liked his more action-driven works like Hellboy and its sequel and Pacific Rim, his weirder creations (fantasy realism or realistic fantasies) were always more fascinating to me and that includes Crimson Peak). Anyways, speaking about this picture, I adored its mixed tonne. The Shape of Water was both a genre movie and a typical awards movie. It was an old-school monster thriller/horror movie (think the original Universal Monsters Universe, Creature from the Black Lagoon) as well as an old-school romantic drama with some shades of the theatrical musical or more than just shades in one particular sequence (think Singin’ in the Rain, An American in Paris, just recently La La Land). The adult tone that I’ve mentioned in the opening sentence was that fact that the film had sexual and sensual undertones that one would not find in a more family-friendly film, like Pan’s Labyrinth (though, both that movie and The Shape of Water were rated R, so maybe Pan’s Labyrinth isn’t that all-ages appropriate as I remember).

Visually, the film looked stunning. The 1960s world of science was well realized (stellar production design) and the underwater sequences at the beginning and the end of the film were amazing (top-notch cinematography). The movie’s and the main character’s relationship to water was realized so cleverly and beautifully too. The costume design and the makeup were impeccable as well: the monster looked incredibly real.

Acting

Sally Hawkins (Paddington 2) delivered a brilliant performance that shined through the limited means of expression, a.k.a., she was amazing, even though, she barely said any lines. She seemed so endearing and had such a complex interplay innocence and maturity about her. And, although she was so great in the film, part of me wishes that the role would have been given to am an actually mute actress – I’d love to see more opportunities being extended to actors with disabilities (or special abilities). The TV show Switched at Birth has taught me that there are quite a few mute and deaf actors working in the business.

Doug Jones (a longtime collaborator of del Toro, currently part of the main cast of Star Trek: Discoveryor the Andy Serkis of practical costumes/effects was great as the creature and was definitely more than able to act through all that rubber. Michael Shannon (12 Strong, Nocturnal Animals, Loving) was also fascinating to watch even when though he played a very despicable character. Octavia Spencer (Hidden Figures, Allegiant) also had some fun scenes, while Richard Jenkins was amazing as the neighbor. Michael Stuhlbarg also had a small role in the film (and applause go to him and his agent for having three awards movie this season – The Shape of Water, Call Me By Your Name, and The Post – that join numerous other awards movies in his filmography, including the recent ones: Steve Jobs, Trumbo, and Arrival).

In short, The Shape of Water was one of those movies that made me go ‘huh?!’ and made me unsure what to feel (or think) in the best way possible.

Rate: 4,8/5

Trailer: The Shape of Water trailer

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Movie review: Maze Runner: The Death Cure

Movie reviews

Hello!

The last of the YA dystopias is coming to an end. This is Maze Runner: The Death Cure.

IMDb summary: Young hero Thomas embarks on a mission to find a cure for a deadly disease known as the “Flare”.

Writing

The Death Cure was written by T.S. Nowlin (the writer of the two previous pictures in this series and the upcoming Pacific Rim: Uprising film), based on the book of the same name by James Dashner. I’ve read the original trilogy more than 5 years ago now, so I hardly remember its plot details (I might have remembered a bit more a year ago, when this film was supposed to come out but, as it was pushed back due to Dylan O’Brien’s injury on set, I’m now more in the dark than I’ve ever was). However, this movie franchise has gone so far off the books (especially in the second film) that my background of having read and not remembering the book hardly impacts the motion picture watching experience. Having said that, I did recount two major things from the last book that managed to stay with for 5+ years and both of these developments were preserved in the film. I was quite upset that the filmmakers kept the first thing (from the selfish fan perspective) but quite glad that they retained the second one (from an objective-ish reviewer perspective). Let me elaborate. Also: SPOILERS!

The first thing I had in my mind was the death of probably my favorite character from the series – Newt. I distinctly remember being very sad after finishing the book and hoping that, when this novel will finally reach the big screen, Newt will be allowed to live. However, I’m not surprised that the screenwriter kept such an ending for one of the main character’s, as his final scene was pretty emotional and made for a great and powerful moment on screen. His nickname for Thomas – Tommy – was heartbreakingly sweet too. The second development that I’ve mentioned as having liked from a more objective point of view was the movie’s (and the book’s) ultimate ending. The film ended with all the surviving characters living on an island (a more realistic version of the safe haven from the books. In the original novels, a portal had to be taken to reach safety rather than just a boat). I’m glad that the screenwriters didn’t change the ending into fairytale/happy one but kept it ambiguous: what will Thomas do with HIS gift? In addition, I feel like a happy ending (like a sequence of the cure being spread to everyone) would have undercut all the losses that the surviving characters had to go through.

Now, having explored some of the narrative details, let’s look at some themes. One of the major topics of discussion for the film was memory (and my musings about remembering or forgetting certain details of the plot somehow feel more appropriate). Another big concept for this series has always been friendship, which was on display here once more (Thomas, Newt, and Minho are one of my favorite trios in YA fiction). The shades of the love triangle (Thomas, Teresa, Brenda) were present too, though, they weren’t on display that much.

My few slight criticism towards the writing were mainly just two and both of them had to do with the antagonists of the series. For one, I have never fully understood the hierarchy within the WCKD. In this film, Ava Paige had to ask somebody else for the permission to start the human trials of the cure as if they haven’t been experimenting on humans for years already to get the vaccine in the first place?! Also, I’m still not entirely sure whether I buy Teresa’s shifting allegiances or it might be that I just don’t understand her character and the scale she uses to judge what is right on.

 

 

Directing

Wes Ball directed The Death Cure (he also did The Maze Runner and The Scorch Trials) and did quite an amazing job, especially with only around $60 million budget. The last entry into the franchise was highly action-packed. The said action was also quite varied: the film had a variety of sets (all brown and broken but still cool looking) and a ton of CGI that looked quite good (I’ve seen movies that cost double what this one did and looked four times worse (*cough, cough*, Geostorm). The focus on the action in this film also allowed this series to finally differentiate itself from the other YA dystopias, mainly The Hunger Games. While THG finished off as more of a political thriller, TMR series seems to have always been more about the spectacle and only then about the ideas. The ideas – the attempt to go the political thriller route with the cure only being meant for the privileged – were present but they did feel like an afterthought. The Maze Runner series should not have tried to shy away from its action roots, as these sequences were the best ones in the movie. Having said that, the characters had to break into The Capitol-like city in this film, so maybe these two series aren’t that different after all. I wonder how the Divergent/Allegiant situation is going on? That series probably won’t end ever.

Anyways, the fact that this movie had a lot of action, also helped it with the pace, which was quite fast. The only dip came in the second act, however, the first and the third acts were rapid and intense.  My only critique of the action sequences was that, at times, they were filmed with a bit too much of the shaky cam. Nevertheless, those moments were far and few in between, while the majority of the action was captured by a handheld but steady enough camera, while the mobile frame helped with the intensity. I also loved how the action scenes in the first act (the maze and the grievers; the cranks) were used as a slight reminder of what happened in the previous pictures. Lastly, how nice was it that they the filmmakers (and the suits) didn’t divide the finale of the trilogy into two parts!

Acting

The Death Cure saw the return of all the favorites. Dylan O’BrienThomas Brodie-Sangster, and Ki Hong Lee were all great as my favorite trio: Thomas, Newt, and Minho, respectively. I only wish that they would have shared more scenes together. O’Brien’s TV show – Teen Wolf – has ended last year but he has been steadily racking up movie roles (in this series, Deepwater Horizon, and American Assasin) and seems to be fairing much better than the actual lead of his TV show – Tyler Posey. I really hope that the relative financial success of this franchise will allow Thomas Brodie-Sangster and Ki Hong Lee to be cast in more projects too.

Will Poulter (The Revenant, Detroit) also returned as Gally, while Dexter Darden had some neat moments (operating a crane) as FrypanKaya Scodelario (Pirates 5) was okay as Teresa, while Giancarlo Esposito’s (OkjaJorge and Rosa Salazar’s Brenda were neat to watch in their father-daughter-like relationship. On the villain side, Patricia Clarkson (The Party) was still immaculately dressed in white as Ava Paige, while Littlefinger – Aidan Gillen (Sing Street) as Janson – was doing his thing as usual. Another GOT family member (who also stars in Fast&Furious franchise) Nathalie Emmanuel (as Harriet), as well as ShadowhuntersKatherine McNamara (as Sonya), appeared too, although the film didn’t really know what to do with them, after having introduced them in The Scorch Trials as members from a different maze/test group.

In short, Maze Runner: The Death Cure was an entertaining finale to the, overall, surprisingly strong YA franchise, that pleased my heart and mind. And this praise comes from somebody who was once the biggest fan of the book and this genre in general.

Rate: 3.8/5

Trailer: Maze Runner: The Death Cure trailer

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Movie review: The Post

Movie reviews

Hello!

Spielberg. Hanks. Streep. Need I say more? This is The Post!

IMDb summary: A cover-up that spanned four U.S. Presidents pushed the country’s first female newspaper publisher and a hard-driving editor to join an unprecedented battle between the press and the government.

Writing

The Post was written by Liz Hannah (a first-time writer on a movie) and Josh Singer (who worked on The Fifth Estate and Spotlight – two similar pictures to The Post). I thought that the writers did a really great job and I’d like to explore 3 particular aspects of their writing in a bit more detail. These are the journalism narrative, the commentary on war, and the character development.

To begin with, some of you may know that I once wanted to study journalism and this movie, with its display of amazing investigative journalism, reawakened that dream. The quote from Streep’s character, how news is the first rough draft of history, was brilliant and summed up everything that is great about true journalism. It was also incredibly interesting to see the relationship between the politicians and the press: how they not only used to be in cahoots (and started to be against each other after the events of 1971) but how members of the two occupations had personal relationships, thus, fighting against the politicians wasn’t just a job for journalists, but sometimes an attack on a friend. Hanks‘ characters line, about JFK being a friend rather than a source, perfectly encapsulated that whole conflict. In addition, The Post not only showcased the reporting side of journalism but the business parts of it too. The competition between newspapers, as well as the financial struggles of The Washington Post, were amazing to witness and helped to contextualize the particular events of the film.

The war commentary, as well as the insights into the faulty ideals of the American government, were also fascinating. The Post really showed how fragile American pride was and how the government was determined to put its citizens in jeopardy because they were afraid of embarrassment. And they still got embarrassed and have had a hard time working on that issue. Don’t even get me started on how they attempted to work around that problem with the 2016 election and dug themselves into an even deeper hole (and that’s only one of the parallels between the past events in the movie and the contemporary real ones).

The writing for Streep’s character is the third and last aspect I’d like to discuss. I found her whole character arc very interesting. To begin with, I didn’t think that Katharine Graham was a typical Streep character: she wasn’t untouchable Iron Lady. She was, at times, flustered and not always knew what to say. She was also very much part of her time: her lines about women not even knowing they could want more rang so true and opened my eyes to the fact that gender equality (and still not a full one) has not been a widespread thing for long, if the 1970s was still such a fighting ground for K. The said gender inequality was just perfectly seen in the fact that male characters would speak for her (she had to deal with a lot of manslapining); would question her decisions, or would even silence her. Lastly, the fact that journalism and all other business were dominated by white males also makes me question the legitimacy of the narrative cause it was just one kind of narrative.

Directing

Steven Spielberg (The BFG, so looking forward to Ready Player One) directed The Post and I’d place this film together with Bridge of Spies and Lincoln in his filmography. The picture opened with a battle scene and Spielberg knows how to direct those impeccably. I also loved how the initial focus of the film was on the papers and only then did it move to the actual subjects of this biography. The visualization of journalism – from looking for the sources to writing to printing to distributing – was amazing. I especially loved the sequences with the old school printing press and the one of overnight research at Hanks‘ character’s house. The gender inequality was also well visualized with that single scene of women sitting in a living room and men being left in the dining room. That rung so many visual bells to the 19th century and Downton Abbey, simultaneously. Lastly, the ending of the film – an obvious hint at the Watergate scandal – was spot-on and made me want to find out more about that it. Any recommendations for a good and somewhat accurate Watergate movie?

Acting

Meryl Streep (Suffragette, Florence Foster Jenkins) did a really stellar job with this complex role. Tom Hanks (The Circle, Inferno, Sully, A Hologram for the King, Bridge of Spies) was also really good as the confident, ‘no pulling punches’ editor. Sarah Paulson (Carol) didn’t really have much to do but she did have one great speech. Bob Odenkirk was amazing as one of the reporters at The Washington Post, while Matthew Rhys impressed as Daniel Ellsberg, the original whistleblower (he came way before Edward Snowden or WikiLeaks’ Julian Assange). It was also nice to see two Fargo’s alumni Carrie Coon (Gone Girl) and Jesse Plemons (American Made) in small roles.

In short, The Post was a complex yet straightforward biography that was well written, directed qualitatively and acted impeccably.

Rate: 4.5/5

Trailer: The Post trailer

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Movie review: Pitch Perfect 3

Movie reviews

Hello!

Welcome to the end of the acapella era (more like half a decade). This is Pitch perfect 3.

IMDb summary: Following their win at the world championship, the now separated Bellas reunite for one last singing competition at an overseas USO tour, but face a group who uses both instruments and voices.

Pitch Perfect 3 originally came out during Christmas, though it didn’t feature any Christmas songs. At first, I thought that it was a stupid idea to have a musical that features covers of popular songs come out during Christmas and not feature any Christmas songs. However, since I myself was only able to watch the film in January, the lack of Christmas songs made it still watchable after the festive season has ended. So, it was a smart idea not to tie this picture to any specific time after all.

Writing

The third Pitch Perfect film was written by Kay Cannon (writer of the previous Pitch Perfect films) and Mike White (of The Emoji Movie) and I thought that they did a so-so job. The films in this franchise have always been borderline ridiculous but this one went over such border. It didn’t really do anything really original but also somewhat betrayed the brand of the franchise.

The characters of the film were soon established as being down on their luck. Let me ask you this: when have the Bellas started their films in a good place? Never! These movies all begin the same! However, this movie somewhat differed in that it attempted to developed other characters rather than just Becca (a bit late, guys). And yet, by the end of it, the movie solidified Becca as the only important and the main character (also, I’m pretty sure that they did Becca v Bellas idea in the first film already. Still, the message that true family will lift you up rather than tying you down was a cute one). Also, the fact that the other character’s arcs were wrapped up during the credits was an additional proof of how unimportant they are/were to the series.

Speaking about the betrayal of the brand – why on earth did Pitch Perfect 3 though that it could be a crime drama??? Also, why was it necessary for the Bellas to go on that military tour? It literally added nothing to the story. Plus, that whole tour plotline was full of inconsistencies. They got booed (silenced by a siren) in their first performance, then burnt a hotel room, and then they are suddenly liked by the audiences and everyone? Also, to top everything off, the movie partook in some heavy exposition (pointing out the exposition is not enough for me to forgive the fact they that employed it too). Lastly, some moments of writing were meant to be jokes but just turned out stupid. Like ‘Evermoist’. Really?!

Directing

Neither Jason Moore (director of the original) nor Elizabeth Banks (long-time producer and director of the second film) chose to come back and helm the third film, so the reins went to Trish Sie of Step Up: All In (arguably, the worst film in that franchise). I feel like she did as good of a job as she did with her last film (which means she delivered poor results). The movie felt tonally confused, choppy, and lacked a direction. The opening sequence was ridiculous but, I guess, it prepared the viewer the rest of the film. The performances were fine. Only two of them – the riff-off and the finale felt iconic to this series – because the first one belonged to their signature genre and the last one had some heart. The riff-off also presented the acapella v instruments idea that didn’t go anywhere.

One good thing about this picture was the fact that it felt like a true goodbye. It somewhat concluded all the storylines and had a fun end-credits sequence, full of behind the scenes clips from all 3 movies. It was also nice that it was fairly short, as I don’t think I would have been able to sit through another half an hour of it.

Acting 

A lot of old characters and a bunch of new ones appeared in this film and were fighting for the very limited screening. Anna Kendrick (Mike and Dave, Trolls, The Accountant) and Rebel Wilson were the best just because they had somewhat developed storylines. The other Bellas were played by Brittany SnowAnna Camp (Cafe Society), Hailee Steinfeld (had absolutely nothing to do but was there just because she is probably the biggest name in the cast), Hana Mae Lee (who spoke for the first time in the franchise), Ester Dean (who should have been given more solos because she is brilliant!), and Chrissie Fit. The commentators – John Michael Higgins and Elizabeth Banks (Magic Mike, Mockingjay, Power Rangers) came back too and their inclusion in this movie was justified by a paper-thin reason.

The new characters were played by John Lithgow (I thought that Daddy’s Home 2 was a low point for him but this was something else), Matt Lanter (who was the replacement eye candy for the female viewers), Guy Burnett (eye candy number 2), DJ Khaled (who couldn’t act even when playing himself), and Ruby Rose (the ultimate female crush of any straight girl, who also appeared in John Wick 2 recently).

In short, Pitch Perfect 3 felt flat while trying to go out on a high note.

Rate: 3/5

Trailer: Pitch Perfect 3 trailer

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