Movie review: The Predator

Movie reviews

Hello!

And welcome to complete newbies review of The Predator – a 4th (or 6th) movie in the series that I’m completely unfamiliar with!

IMDb summary: When a young boy accidentally triggers the universe’s most lethal hunters’ return to Earth, only a ragtag crew of ex-soldiers and a disgruntled science teacher can prevent the end of the human race.

Writing

The Predator was written by Fred Dekker and Shane Black (who also directed this film and has also starred in the original while also doing some re-writes on its script). Now, my statement in the opening of this review (that I know nothing) isn’t completely true. Having been a fan of movies almost my entire life, I have seen bits and pieces of the previous films on TV as well as come across plot-details and news about them online. Initially, I thought that I might watch the previous films before seeing The Predator but then I decided that ‘fresh eyes’ type of perspective might also be interesting. And I wasn’t disappointed in that respect – I thought that the film had enough exposition and world building for me to get the plot without having the knowledge of the previous films. I was also able to spot the most famous references as they were pretty heavy-handed with those. And that’s about the only two compliments I can give this movie’s writing.

My other two main complaints were the portrayal of autism and just the intellectual quality of the plot. First of all, portraying autism as a superpower of sorts is not a new thing and has been put to films before. And while I do get the sentiment – trying to empower people with disabilities – I think that these films, including The Predator, achieve the absolute opposite. They showcase one’s disability – autism in this case – as the defining feature that makes people special rather than portraying than as successful individuals despite their disability. Show how people can be successful having dealt with their disability rather than celebrating the disability!

My second negative point about The Predator was just its plot in general. I had so questions many questions starting with ‘why’, ‘what’, and ‘how’ that I honestly lost count. Why the film began as a pretty straight-up action film soon devolved into a mess of plot-lines of multiple Predators and multiple one-dimensional characters (if they even had a single dimension to them). The *spoiler* idea that one of the Predators was humanities savior just gave me an instant flashback to the new Alien movies and their unsuccessful attempts to play with the ideas of human creation, saint-hood, etc.

Directing

Shane Black directed The Predator, while in truth he directed at least two movies within it. A buddy-cop/soldier action comedy (which he knows how to do as The Nice Guys is amazing film) and a more serious/darker action film (which he is not great at (Iron Man 3…). The action itself was pretty decent and I liked the smaller Predator’s probably real costume – it looked intimidating and real. On the other hand, the bigger Predator looked like a cartoon doll and was most definitely CGI (and not particularly effective CGI).

Acting

The Predator’s cast consisted of a variety of lesser known actors, including as Boyd Holbrook (Logan) in the lead and Trevante Rhodes (Moonlight, 12 Strong) as his new soldier-buddy. They had other teammates too but they were highly interchangeable and forgettable. Also, their humor was quite cringe-y most of the time. Jacob Tremblay played Holbrook’s soon and was good. This wasn’t the first time he had to play a disabled person, he also did that in Wonder. His character in Room wasn’t disabled but that was still a very challenging role. Olivia Munn (X-Men: Apocalypse) was fun to watch as the scientist of the group even if her acting style didn’t fit the tone of the group at all. Sterling K.Brown was fine as the human villain too.

In short, The Predator was a lackluster blockbuster that I couldn’t enjoy as a newbie. I feel so sorry for the fans who were expecting something. Or maybe they knew what to expect?

Rate: 3.2/5

Trailer: The Predator trailer

Movie review: Basmati Blues

Movie reviews

Hello!

Welcome to a review of a movie you have never heard of. I only really find out about it when I was buying a ticket to its screening. This is Basmati Blues.

IMDb summary: A brilliant scientist is plucked out of the company lab and sent to India to sell the genetically modified rice she created – which she doesn’t realize will destroy the farmers she thinks she’s helping.

Writing and Directing

Basmati Blues was written by Dan Baron (who also directed the film), Jeff Dorchen, and Danny Thompson. These filmmakers either don’t have anything else or anything worthy of note on their IMDb pages. Also, they have made this movie back in 2012-2013 and it has been kept from release for 5 years (definitely for a reason(s)). Even now, it has only been released in a handful of countries (either in the cinema or on DVD). I think that the US premiere date is still a couple of months away and even when the picture does come out, there won’t be any advertising for it. So, how bad is it?

Story

Basmati Blues has been justified online as Hollywood’s homage to Bollywood. That justification was an answer to the critique that the movie was just appropriating the culture of India. Whether that was truly the case, I’m not entirely sure. The film seemed to be a somewhat collaborative project between the East and the West (based on a mixture of English and Hindu names in the credits), while the familiar Bollywood traits – songs, dances, bright colors, slapstick humor – seemed to have been celebrated in this picture. Nevertheless, the movie’s lead and the villain were white. The shades of the white savior narrative were present too (at least the said saviour wasn’t male so maybe that’s better? It isn’t). The idea that farmers in India would be so trusting of a Western corporation was just plain stupid. People from the East have little reason to trust the West and, if the West still doesn’t get why, we are gonna be stuck in the current global relations for a long time.

Anyways, even if you divorce the content of the film from its context, it still had problems. The fact that it was sort of a musical about science (at least in the beginning) seemed like a bizarre combo. The villain was so cartoonish – his whole evil corporation belonged in a Sunday morning animation (and he wasn’t cartoonish in a right way for the performance to be seen as a parody). The main character was annoying too – she seemed to be highly intelligent in the lab but clueless about the world, the different cultures, and just life in general. The love story aspect was cliche, cheesy, and predictable (really Hollywood-y). I guess at least from the structural point of view, the film was well-written as the plot ideas that were introduced during the first act, did come back in the third (the horse, the monkey seeds).

Visuals and Music/Dance

Basmati Blues looked okay. The views of India were nice, but then again, I could have watched a documentary to see more of them. A lot of noticeable green screens were used for musical numbers. The numbers themselves were fine. The songs weren’t that catchy and I wanted to see more choreographed dances. Again, I should probably watch a true Bollywood film rather than a Hollywood knockoff to see the things that were lacking here. Genre-wise, Basmati Blues have been classified as a comedy and while it certainly had intentional moments of humor, I was mostly laughing at the unintentional ones (which is both bad and good).

Acting

One person who wishes this film would never come out is Brie Larson, who played the lead. She wasn’t awful in the movie but she also wasn’t great. Her performance here is a far cry from her outing in Room (for which she won an Oscar) and I don’t think that it comes close to her other films either, like Free Fire, The Glass Castle or even Kong.

Somebody who should be even more ashamed of their work on this movie is Donald Sutherland, who was literally a cartoon villain. He recently played a very distinct villain in The Hunger Games but in that franchise, he had a layer of menace and sophistication. I don’t know what he was going for in this film.

The two romantic leads (cause, of course, there had to a love triangle) were played by Utkarsh Ambudkar (TV actor) and Saahil Sehgal. Both of them were as good as the script allowed them to be.

 

In short, Basmati Blues was either Hollywood’s homage to or appropriation of Bollywood. No matter which side of that argument you stand on, I think we can all agree that the final project wasn’t great. And yet, if you are somebody who can enjoy a movie ironically, you might find Basmati Blue hilarious, absurd, or both.

Rate: 2.7/5

Trailer: Basmati Blues trailer

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Movie review: Wonder

Movie reviews

Hello!

In honor of the World Kindness Day, the cinemas all over the UK put on special preview screening of Wonder and I got a chance to attend one of them. So, let’s review it!

IMDb summary: Based on the New York Times bestseller, WONDER tells the incredibly inspiring and heartwarming story of August Pullman, a boy with facial differences who enters fifth grade, attending a mainstream elementary school for the first time.

Writing

Wonder was written by Jack Thorne (a playwright and a TV writer), Steve Conrad (the writer of The Pursuit of Happyness (one of the most hopeful movies I’ve ever seen – no surprise he got this gig) and the director of the film Stephen Chbosky, based on the children’s novel of the same name by R.J. Palacio. I enjoyed the film’s writing quite a bit. I loved how the movie focused on multiple characters and had separate vignettes centered on each of them. The characters, who were chosen to be spotlighted, were not the typical ones. For example, the former friend of the main character’s sister. The typical thing would have been to turn her into a shallow bully rather than explore her backstory, which was what Wonder did. I only wish that we would have gotten more development for the parent characters and seen their struggles outside their relationship with their children.

The themes that Wonder explored and the messages it tried to spread made the picture the perfect fit for the World Kindness Day. The movie encouraged its viewers to value true friendship and family, to give people a second chance, to be the bigger person and to be kind at the same time, to be proud of one’s scars, to learn to listen and to be empathetic. Wonder’s story was heartwarming and hopeful, while still remaining grounded in the real world – not shying away from its problems, but encountering them with goodness in the mind and in the heart. The plot was also full of funny moments. I, personally, loved all the Star Wars references. I wonder whether they were in the original book or whether the film just included them because Jacob Tremblay (the actor who played the main character) is quite a fan of the franchise himself.

Directing

Wonder was directed by Stephen Chbosky – the author of The Perks of Being a Wallflower (he also wrote and directed the movie adaptation of that story) and the writer of the movie musical Rent and Disney’s live-action juggernaut Beauty and the Beast. I though that he did quite a good job with directing. I loved the visual metaphors and how science and astronomy were used to express the emotional state of the character. The vignette structure was also handled well and the film wasn’t choppy. It was a bit slow, though, but a story like this needs to evolve organically, so I wasn’t too annoyed about the pacing issues.

Acting

Wonder’s lead was played by Jacob Tremblay – one of the best young actors, in my mind. He was absolutely stellar in Room a few years back and as good in this film. He also did an incredible job acting through the make-up and the prosthetics. Julia Roberts (Money Monster) played the mother of the main character and was a pure joy to watch. Owen Wilson (She’s Funny That Way, Cars 3) starred as the dad and was appropriately funny (sometimes his roles go from comedic to stupid and I’m so glad this one wasn’t an example of that). Izabela Vidovic was really good as Tremblay’s character’s sister, while Noah Jupe, who I saw less than a week ago in Suburbicon, was great as the main character’s friend from school.

In brief, Wonder was a wonderful little film with a nice message.

Rate: 4/5

Trailer: Wonder trailer

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Movie review: The Glass Castle

Movie reviews, Uncategorized

Hello!

The Captain Fantastic-esque movie for this awards’ season – The Glass Castle – has reached theatres, so let’s see if it is as good as its predecessor.

IMDb summary: A young girl comes of age in a dysfunctional family of nonconformist nomads with a mother who’s an eccentric artist and an alcoholic father who would stir the children’s imagination with hope as a distraction to their poverty.

Writing

The Glass Castle’s script was written by the director of the picture Destin Daniel Cretton, Andrew Lanham (who wrote the 2017 religious pic The Shack), and Marti Noxon (writer on Buffy and To The Bone). It was based on the memoir of the same name by Jeannette Walls (who was played in the film by Brie Larson). The writing for the film was interesting – it had some great moments but a few flaws too. First, the narrative simultaneously unraveled in two temporal lines, past and present, and these two were connected well-enough. However, the story itself was a bit too long – there were differently quite a few moments which could have been cut and made the plot more tight and streamlined. Nevertheless, the fact that the story was so long and drawn out kinda helped to build a strong emotional core of the film.

The Glass Castle had the Interstellar syndrome of focusing on a single child’s relationship with the parents and kinda letting the other children fade into the background (but, I guess, since the movie was based on one person’s memoir, it’s okay for the film to also have a more centered focus). Thematically, the movie tackled a lot of issues. The most obvious one was the less-than-conventional lifestyle of the family (and this were the Captain Fantastic similarity came in, although, CF was more about living unconventionally, while this one was more about just living in poverty). It was depicted quite well and with enough detail. The second topic was the parent-child relationship. That discussion had the ultimate message that parents need to respect their children’s life choices, even if they might do something different in their place (at least that was my takeaway).

The third issue was the abuse in the family. This problem was depicted in both The Walls’ family and the father’s family. The first recreation of the issue (in The Walls family) was way more well-rounded, while the abuse in the father’s own family (abuse of the mother/grandma) was only just glanced at, which was the biggest flaw in the film. If that was definitely the case of pedophilia, the movie should have looked at it much more. If it wasn’t the case, all the speculations needed to be cleared out way more overtly. Lastly, The Glass Castle also presented an alcoholic character and had one of the best and most accurate representations of the issue. The withdrawal scene, as well as the irrational need for a drink, were very realistic inclusions.

While The Glass Castle did a fairly good job of presenting a variety of issues and topics, I wish it were more critical of them. I saw this being the main complaint in the reviews of the various critics and I completely agree with them. The end of the picture was mostly sugar-coated and very Hollywood-y. While forgiveness is a powerful tool to have, an ability to stand for one’s own beliefs and to cut toxic people from one’s life, no matter how close to them one used to be, are also important life lessons that I wish the film would have added.

Directing

Destin Daniel Cretton, who has previously mostly worked on short films and documentaries, directed The Glass Castle as his 3rd feature film. The pacing of the movie was really slow, and while the emotional connection between the viewer and the characters was quite successfully built, the narrative itself did drag and got too repetitive at times. The cinematography was good, very classic, drama-style one. The director also did a good job of working with the actors and pulling amazing performances out of them.

Acting

The two stand-outs from the cast were Brie Larson (Room, Kong, Free Fire) and Woody Harrelson (Triple 9, Now You See Me 1+2, War For The Planet Of The Apes). Larson has actually previously worked with this director and her involvement in his film post-Oscar win, kinda raised the movie’s profile. Anyway, Larson, once again, proved that she deserved that last Oscar that she won and I hope to see her standing on the Academy stage once more in the future. Harrelson also nailed his role. This time around his performance as an alcoholic was even more believable than in The Hunger Games. Other supporting cast members included Divergent’s Naomi Watts (she was amazing as the eccentric artist mother) and Sarah Shook (Steve Jobs), Josh Caras, and Brigette Lundy-Paine as Jeannette’s siblings. New Girls Max Greenfield also had a fun role, while Ella Anderson did a very good job as the younger version of Jeannette.

In short, The Glass Castle is an interesting biopic that should have analyzed rather than just depicted its source material. The acting is top-notch, though.

Rate: 3.5/5

Trailer: The Glass Castle trailer

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5 ideas about a movie: Free Fire

Movie reviews

Hello!

Welcome to a review of a new British indie movie Free Fire that acted as a great counter-programming to the awful Ghost in the Shell.

IMDb summary: Set in Boston in 1978, a meeting in a deserted warehouse between two gangs turns into a shootout and a game of survival.

  1. Long time readers of my blog will know that I’m a fan of British contemporary cinema. Even before I lived in the UK, I would try to watch all smaller British films that reached my then hometown’s movie theater. It’s pretty sad that the majority of these films do no interest non-European audiences. It’s especially heartbreaking that an amazing film, like Free Fire, will probably go unacknowledged by many global cinema-goers as well. I first found out about the picture in an article in an Empire magazine. The publishing focused on the logistics of the big shoot-out sequence and made me really interested to see the final product.
  2. Free Fire was written and directed by Ben Wheatley, in collaboration with the long-time creative partner – writer and editor Amy Jump. I’m very much a newcomer to Wheatley’s work. The first film of his that I saw was last year’s High-Rise. The dystopian drama was both puzzling and intriguing. It also had a magnificent cast –  Wheatley continued this trend in his next movie too.
  3. The writing for the movie was quite nice. There was no obvious narrative or a story, but the way the character interactions were included within the action was really cool. The attempts at flirting were especially inappropriate in the circumstances of the movie, and, thus, hilarious. In general, the movie was full of actually funny jokes. I laughed out loud multiple times. This group of characters with their various levels of stupidity and all the in-fighting was also super entertaining to watch on screen. Lastly, the decision to loosely tie in the film’s plot to the real historical events in Ireland/Northern Ireland in the 1970s was an interesting choice.
  4.  I also loved the visuals of the film. The big action set-piece was seamlessly executed. The visual craziness was neatly paired with quieter moments full of amazing verbal jabs. Plus, even before everything had escalated, Wheatley succeeded at building tension between the characters, so the start of the shoot-out was somewhat believable even if extremely sudden. The action itself was captured with a mixture of close-ups and wider shots and, while the said action was gritty, bloody, and brutal, it was not literally dark, so one could actually see what was happening on screen. In fact, the color palette was pretty warm – a lot of browns and yellows – a perfect match for the 1970s setting and the tacky costumes. I’m so happy that shoulder pads are no longer in style. What I’m sad about is that this film’s soundtrack and the similar style of music are no longer on the radio.
  5. The film had an amazing cast, full of accomplished and well-known actors. This time around, their ‘acting’ included playing kindergarten-like children in adult bodies and crawling around a lot. The cast’ included big name talent like Brie Larson (Room, Kong), Sharlto Copley (Blomkamp’s films, Hardcore Henry), Armie Hammer (The Man from U.N.C.L.E.The Birth of a Nation, Nocturnal Animals), Cillian Murphy (In the Heart of the Sea, Anthropoid, soon Dunkirk), and Jack Reynor (Sing Street). I loved Larson’s character as well as her interactions with Murphy’s character – they had this subtle chemistry which really worked. I also liked seeing Hammer actually having fun with the role and loosen up a bit. Reynor has been popping on my radar a lot lately, maybe that he is that one actor whose involvement in the Transformers franchise actually led to some good work? The film’s cast was rounded out by a lot of great but less well-known actors: Babou Ceesay (Eye in the Sky), Enzo Cilenti (small role on GOT), Sam Riley (Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, Maleficient), Michael Smiley (Black Mirror’s White Bear episode), Noah Taylor (small role on GOT too), Patrick Bergin (Irish screen actor), and Tom Davis and Mark Monero (TV actors).

In short, Free Fire is a super enjoyable action-comedy that works both as an action movie (the craftmanship of the big action sequence is amazing) an as a comedy (the visual jokes as well as small funny moments of dialogue pair off nicely).

Rate: 4.5/5

Trailer: Free Fire trailer

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Movie review: Kong: Skull Island

Movie reviews

Good day!

Kong: Skull Island was not a film that I was excited for until I saw its first trailer. That 2-minute preview really got me hyped and raised my expectations. Let’s see if Kong can deliver!

IMDb summary: A team of explorers and soldiers travel to an uncharted island in the Pacific, unaware that they are crossing into the domain of monsters, including the mythic Kong.

Kong: Skull island is the second installment in Legendary’s MonsterVerse franchise, which begun in 2014, with the reboot of Godzilla. Legendary’s MonsterVerse should not be confused with the Universal Monsters series, which also technically begun in 2014 with Dracula Untold and is continuing later this year with The Mummy reboot (although now, that Dracula movie has been dropped from the canon). While I’m all for cinematic universes, I find these two a bit ridiculous. First, they are too similar and are definitely going to blend in the public’s consciousness. Secondly, these properties are good enough on their own – not everything has to be mixed. And yet, I was recently informed that King Kong and Godzilla have already fought against each other in a Japanese film from the 1960s made by Toho. So, is this new shared universe just another Hollywood remake of a foreign property? I, personally, found 2014’s Godzilla to be an okay movie but hopefully, Kong can get me fully on board with this franchise.

Writing

Kong: Skull Island was written by Dan Gilroy (wrote The Bourne Legacy and wrote and directed the spectacular indie film Nightcrawler) and Max Borenstein (wrote the new Godzilla). To my mind, the writing for the film was okay: not great but not bad either. As usual, since the monsters were expensive to animate, the viewer got to spend a lot of time with the human characters and yet, the character development was scarce. All of the characters had one major feature that defined them and the said defining trait was sometimes interesting and promising and very cliche in the other instances. The representation of the tribal people of the island was a bit stereotypical and from a definite Western POV (and that’s is a huge no-no for me as an anthropology student).

Story-wise, the movie had a fairly quick and interesting set-up. I liked that the film had a wide variety of characters – the military, the scientists and two leads (Hiddleston and Larson) but, as I have already mentioned, I wish they would have done more with them. The twists and turns in the plot were also fine for the most part, but the narrative did have a few too convenient moments (like the vomiting of the dog tags). The Monster vs. Monster or ‘Let them fight’ idea that begun in Godzilla was also continued here. Kong: Skull Island actually included a surprising variety of monsters: from Kong himself to the big buffalo-like looking animal to the huge spider (felt a bit squeamish watching that scene) to the tentacle monster to the giant ant and, lastly, to the actual skull crawlers.

The film’s setting in the 70s served the purpose of providing some commentary on the issue of war. It was a promising concept and they should have done more with it than they did (the portrayal of the colonel as stubborn and plainly cruel was a bit laughable or at least it played that way). The other overarching topic was man vs. nature – an obvious choice for the monster/survival movies. That whole idea about dropping bombs was really stupid but I also have a feeling that it might have been temporally accurate. The whole ‘What is it? Let’s kill it!’ topic of the movie was also kinda idiotic but also very realistic.

The film had good comedic relief. Some of the jokes landed, some didn’t. One line, in particular, stuck with me. It wasn’t supposed to be funny but it just sounded so ironic in today’s context. I’m, of course, talking about the line ‘there won’t be a more screwed up time in Washington’. Well, how about now?

Directing

The picture was helmed by Jordan Vogt-Roberts and this was only his 3rd feature film. His directorial debut was the indie coming of age drama Kings of Summer, which I really enjoyed – I remember it was recommended to me by a friend, who absolutely loved the movie. Bearing in mind that this was only the 3rd picture for the director and the first one of such a massive scale, I think he did an incredible job. While the opening plane crash CGI looked horrible, all of the following CGI of the monsters and the fights was magnificent. I loved the shot of King Kong in a fiery background as well as all the other wide, sweeping shots of the nature of the island. The northern lights also looked neat. The shots from within the helicopter during the first major action sequence were great too. I also thought that Vogt-Roberts had more visuals of Kong than Edwards did of Godzilla. Or maybe they were just dispersed throughout the film more than they were in Godzilla. The old school photo/video visuals were also a nice touch. Lastly, the fact that the first (the sun) and the last (the eye) shots of the picture were similar was also an excellent way to frame the whole thing.

The post-credits scene

Yes, you read that correctly. The post-credits scenes aren’t unique just to comic book movies. I was the only person in my screening who sat through the 10 minutes of the credits but I wasn’t disappointed that I did. The tease for the future was quite cool and made me wonder whether the actors who appeared in the teaser, will reprise their roles in the future sequels of this shared universe.

Acting

Tom Hiddleston as James Conrad. Hiddleston was good in the role even if the role itself wasn’t that great. I mean, his character was just unexplainably good at everything. The most over the top part of his arc was that scene with a sword in a gas cloud – it looked cool but didn’t make much sense and kinda came out of nowhere. I just finished watching Hiddleston in The Night Manger for which he won a Golden Globe. While his acceptance speech wasn’t the greatest, his performance was spectacular, so I’d highly recommend this mini-series. Going forward, he will reprise the role of Loki – arguably, the best villain of MCU – in Thor: Ragnarok.

Brie Larson as Mason Weave. I liked the fact that Larson’s character was a photo-journalist and that they didn’t call much attention to her gender (only in one scene, which should have been cut). Larson herself was good in the role and I’m happy that she is getting more work post her Oscar win (Room). Having said that, the majority of the acting she had to do was basically just reacting to the imaginative things around her. Nevertheless, she did have that one scene of special connection with Kong. What is up with female characters and giant monkeys? Katelyn Snow and Grodd also had a special connection on The Flash.

Samuel L. Jackson as Colonel Packard. Jackson was just recently in another jungle-based movie – The Legend of Tarzan – and I think I liked him more in that one. Here, his performance seemed a bit too much for me. But, I cannot argue that he does know how to play/appear as a menacing villain-ish character.

John C. Reilly as Hank Marlow. Reilly was supposed to be the comic-relief character, based on the trailers and, while he certainly joked around, he was also the exposition machine. Plus, the Jason Mitchell and Shea Whigham duo provided some additional comic relief which was funnier than Reilly’s.

The scientists of the film were played by John Goodman (Trumbo, Patriot’s Day), Jing Tian (The Great Wall), and Corey Hawkins. They served the purposes of their roles well and added some diversity to the cast (the last two). Toby Kebbell (Warcraft, Fan4stic, Ben-Hur) played Jack Chapman and had the emotional character arc of the movie. While I get what the film was aiming for, I didn’t really feel much for Kebbell’s character.

In short, Kong: Skull Island was an entertaining adventure monster movie. The visuals looked amazing and made up for the sorta lackluster script.

Rate: 3.5/5

Trailer: Kong: Skull Island trailer

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Movie review: Midnight Special

Movie reviews

Hi!

Since there will be no new releases for a few weeks in the country that I’m currently staying (no big foreign releases – the distributors are pushing a domestic film that I have zero interest in) , I have decided to review a few films that I missed at the beginning of 2016 – Zootopia, Hardcore Henry, and Midnight Special. In this post, I will be taking about the last one on that list.

IMDb summary: A father and son go on the run, pursued by the government and a cult drawn to the child’s special powers.

Midnight Special is an original sci-fi drama. It is not an adaptation, a reboot or a sequel/spin-off. Original movies are unheard of in today’s Hollywood and even a few original films that we do get are usually not that great. However, Midnight Special is an exception – on top of being an original property, the picture is also interesting, intelligent and provides interesting commentary on faith, the people’s need for something to believe in, and the cult mentality. Sadly, despite having a tiny budget, it still did not earn it back.

The film was written and directed by Jeff Nichols who has previously done films like Mud and Take Shelter. This was his first studio production but it still felt like an independent picture.

Writing: The Narrative

The film’s story was kinda vague. It raised more questions than it answered. It didn’t even seem that the filmmaker knew the answers to the questions they were asking, but that also meant that the viewer could be more engaged – when there is no right answer, everyone can participate and be both right and wrong. The fact that nothing was explained fully also gave the film a scary and intense feeling/aura.

The themes explored in the film were the religion (why do we believe or don’t believe? what is the thing that we believe in? what is the power of our belief/disbelief?), home (why do we need to belong somewhere? do we find or create our homes? can you feel at home if you are different?) and family (what is the importance of the father-son relationship? can parents ever let their children go?). The film also explored various ways how people deal with stuff they don’t understand – by worshiping it, dismissing it or seeing it as a threat – fearing the unknown. The film also kinda disproved the notion that seeing is believing, because, at the end of the film, a lot of people saw that other world, but chose to disregard the information that their eyes received. The religious cult ideas also reminded me a bit of True Detective Season 1, which I started watching today.

Writing : The Characters + Acting

  • Michael Shannon as Roy Tomlin. This is the third collaboration for Shannon and Nichols. I did enjoy the conflict inside Roy – which force is stronger – his love for his son or his belief in smth greater? While Shannon did a good job playing a loving father, from the outside, he did come across as quite an unlikeable character. I wonder if a more likable, charismatic actor would have been a better choice. Recently, Shannon had a cameo in BvS.
  • Joel Edgerton as Lucas. The character of Lucas was a bit strange. I always wondered whether he had an ulterior motive or was he just along for a ride. He ended up being just a really good friend. His transition into the believer was also interesting and hopeful. Edgerton was recently in Black Mass and his next film is also a Jeff Nichols’s picture Loving.

I also liked the juxtaposition of Lucas and Roy. One was rational, another believed in supernatural. One followed science (‘he’s sick’), the other – faith (‘he’s meant for smth else’).

  • Kirsten Dunst as Sarah Tomlin. She was okay. She didn’t do much but just reacted to the events happening around her.
  • Adam Driver as Paul Sevier. He was excellent in the film. I’m so happy that he is Kylo Ren. In Midnight Special, he showed even more of his acting abilities and I loved his character arc. He went from a disbeliever to a believer, from being lost and out of his element to being basically an expert. On top of being in Star Wars, Driver will also start in Scorcese’s Silence.
  • Scott Haze as Levi. He did a good job. He wasn’t as great as Jacob Tremblay in Room, but still much better than other child actors I’ve seen. He had a really difficult job – to portray a child that is also a god-like figure. His demure look and an innocent way of acting were really appropriate choices.

Directing

I really appreciated the film’s visuals. The cinematography (by Adam Stone) was simple but refined. The color palette – similar to Gone Girl’s – interesting: cool blue, black and white tones with yellowed and golden details, shadowy or bright with white lights shots. The ambient music (by David Wingo) was also really effective. The pace of the film was also great – Nichols managed to create a slow picture that explores various themes but never drags or becomes boring. The subtle camera movements to reveal something were also great (especially the shot of the meteors falling behind the boy’s head).

The CGI was also pretty neat. It didn’t always look good – the meteor shower looked kinda fake, however, the otherworldly architecture was spectacular. Both realistic and majestic. It was not only visually pleasing but visually interesting – I noticed a lot of circular and round shapes and bent lines. With this kind of a budget, the CGI definitely looked better than I expected.

In short, Midnight Special was an impressive sci-fi film that was overlooked by the majority of cinema goers. It explored engaging topics and asked questions in a simple yet visually pleasing and interesting way.

Rate: 4/5

Trailer: Midnight Special trailer

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Movie review: The Jungle Book

Movie reviews

Hello!

A few weeks ago, the first live-action fairytale reached theaters (The Huntsman: Winter’s War). Now, let’s talk about this summer movie season’s second feature of this genre – The Jungle Book!

IMDb summary: The man-cub Mowgli flees the jungle after a threat from the tiger Shere Khan. Guided by Bagheera the panther and the bear Baloo, Mowgli embarks on a journey of self-discovery, though he also meets creatures who don’t have his best interests at heart.

Adaptation from animation

2016’s live action film is an adaptation of the 1967 animated feature, so, in preparation for this year’s film, I revisited the old animated classic. I concluded this: the 2D animation is still beautiful while the story and the premise remain timeless – I mean, who doesn’t like cute talking and singing animals? My favorite moments from the original film are all the elephant sequences (‘an elephant never forgets‘) and, of course, the iconic song – The Bare Necessities. The_Jungle_Book_poster

The character of Mowgli has originally been created by the author Rudyard Kipling in the 19th century. While I don’t remember reading any of his stories as a child, I do recall the times when I used to play a Mowgli video game. I was never much of a gamer and never really had the latest technology to play the games on, but I distinctly remember playing some kind of Mowgli game – I think you had to jump and pick up bananas or something. It was the early 2000s, so the games weren’t as advanced as they are now.

2016’s The Jungle Book is not the first, neither the last time that Hollywood is remaking the original animated picture into a live action feature. Back in 1994, Disney made a live-action version of the story with Jason Scott Lee as Mowgli. In 2018, Andy Serkis (Planet of the Apes) will finally release his Jungle Book film – that movie has been pushed back numerous times and will serve as a full directorial debut for Serkis. 2018’s film will also feature a star-studded cast, who will motion capture and voice the animals . However, the 2016’s version also has a bunch of big names, headlining the movie.

SPOILER ALERT

Writing

The Jungle Book’s screenplay was written by Justin Marks. Marks doesn’t have any big writing credits on his IMDb page. Nevertheless, he did a really nice job with the story.

To begin with, I don’t think that they changed the original story of the animated picture that much (except the very ending) – they only expanded on it a.k.a. added more details. For example, we found out that elephants were the ones who ‘created’ the jungle. The viewers were also introduced to the ideas of truce at the peace rock during the dry season and the Laws of the jungle. Shere Khan also appeared more consistently throughout the film, instead of just showing up at the end. His plan to get Mowgli to come to him was also a nice addition. Moreover, Mowgli’s parent’s backstory, which involved Shere Khan, added more depth to the characters and made the story more logical. The role of the ‘mother’ wolf was also expanded. The only gripe that I had about the narrative of the film was the question why some animals could talk while others could not.

The human village in the film also had a more prominent role – Mowgli got the fire from that village instead of getting it from the lighting, as in the animated picture. This tiny change made the story more sophisticated and more heartfelt. The film also stressed the importance of team-work, although the individual courage was also praised. The ideas of belonging and searching for identity were also explored.

The only big change that the filmmakers made to the plot was the ending  – Mowgli stayed in the jungle, while he usually goes to live in the human village in other versions of the story. However, since this film earned a lot of money during its opening weekend and the critics are loving it as well, Disney will most definitely make a sequel, so they will probably make Mowgli’s move to the human village – the main plotline of the next film.

Directing

The Jungle Book was directed by Jon Favreau. I am most familiar with his work on Marvel Phase 1 films – Iron Man 1 +2. A few years ago, he also wrote, directed and starred in comedy-drama Chef, which I quite enjoyed. I also recently watched one of Favreau’s earliest films – a Christmas comedy Elf (I did not like that film and found it extremely annoying).

Speaking about Favreau’s work on  The Jungle Book – I think he successfully brought this classic story to life, for a new generation. The film had more action than the original animated feature and the whole plot was very high energy, starting with the opening chase/run. In addition, the visuals of the scenery, as well as the realistic look of the animals, were both amazing – I was extremely impressed with the CGI. My favorite scenic sequences were the sped-up montage of the dry season and the falling waterfalls. All of the animals looked amazing, but I especially liked Baloo’s and Raksha’s spiky and soft fur versus Bagheera’s sleek looking fur. The little wolf Grey was also extremely cute. Plus, the design of the snake – Kaa –  was also pretty spectacular. I mean, that python was huge! The fire sequences, both in Kaa’s story and the 3rd act of the film, were great as well. Lastly, the ending – the closing of the book –  was very reminiscent of the original animated picture’s beginning and ending and was a nice nod to this story’s past. The way they used the visuals of the book during the actual end credits was also quite nice and entertaining way to finish the movie.

Music

John C. Debney scored the film. I really loved the fact they include the iconic ‘The Bare Necessities’ song – it fit nicely into the plot of the film. However, the other song from the original animation – ‘I Wan’na Be Like You’  – felt out of place in the live-action movie. Since this remake was not a musical, I think that one song from the original picture would have been enough. Nevertheless, I did like the end credits song – also from the original animated movie – ‘Trust in Me’ as performed by Scarlett Johansson

Acting

Favreau used computer generated imagery rather than the motion capture technology to bring this story to live, so the majority of the cast only did voice work.

  • Bill Murray as Baloo was the funniest character in the film. He was also very smart and cunning (in a good way). I loved his line about the Law of the Jungle: ‘That’s not a song, that’s propaganda!’ – it was quite an adult humor. However, other Baloo’s lines about hibernation (‘I nap…a lot’) were funny to all age groups. Murray did an amazing job with his voice work.
  • Ben Kingsley (Stonehearst Asylum) as Bagheera was the sassiest character. I especially enjoyed his line about bears and work. Kingley’s voice was very appropriate for the character and I also enjoyed listening to his narration at the beginning of the film.
  • Idris Elba (Beasts of no Nation) as Shere Khan was quite scary and furious villain. I didn’t recognize Elba at first, but his voice was very fitting to the character and really brought the tiger to live. Elba will also be voicing one the characters in the upcoming Finding Dory film.
  • Scarlett Johansson (Marvel) as Kaa was also really good. Johansson’s voice was very haunting, thus, fitting to the snake, who can hypnotize people and animals. Johansson is not a newcomer, when it comes to voice acting – she was the voice of the computer in 2013’s Her and will also be voicing one of the characters in this year’s computer-animated musical comedy Sing.
  • Lupita Nyong’o (Star Wars) voiced Raksha and did a great job – her voice was very loving and full of motherly emotions.
  • Giancarlo Esposito (The Scorch Trials) did the voice of Akela, while Christopher Walken (Eddie the Eagle) voiced King Louie – they both did a nice job in a few scenes they had.

The film’s main character was played by a newcomer Neel Sethi. Child actors have been getting better and better every year, so I don’t even think that it is appropriate to call them child actors – they are just actors. I first spotted this change with Jacob Tremblay in Room. Going back to Sethi as Mowgli: he was really really good – he was appropriately annoying yet still likable and funny. He probably spent the majority of his time on set, interacting with fake models and green screens and he still managed to do an amazing job. I wish the brightest future for this young performer.

In short, The Jungle Book was a feel-good film that put a smile on my face. I sincerely think that both adults and kids can enjoy it. It stressed the idea of being yourself no matter where you are by conveying this message through nice dialogue, spectacular visuals and a heartfelt performance of a newcomer lead actor.

Rate: 4.3/5

Trailer: The Jungle Book trailer

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The Awards Season Round-Up 2016

Movie previews, Movie reviews

Hello Hello Hello!

Welcome to the last (finally) post dedicated to the awards’ season. This time, I won’t be reviewing any nominated motion pictures (I have done that already), but I  will tell you my own personal winners and will list all the others films in a very subjective order in each category. I am listing all the films because it was very hard for me to pick a definite number 1 spot. In addition, a lot of these films would have probably made my Best movies of 2015 list if I had seen them before January 1st, so I feel the need to at least mention them here.

Now, my categories won’t have a definite number of spaces in them. I have actually picked 20 films in total that have been nominated for either a Golden Globe, a SAG, a BAFTA, an Oscar or for all 4.  Also, I will be joining adapted and original screenplay categories into one. The distinction between lead and supporting roles will also be treated subjectively and not necessarily the way that the studios wanted. At the end of each category, I will also give my more objective prediction of who will probably take home the Academy Award.

P.S. The reviews of all these movies are linked to the names of the films only once – in the first category because it just seemed irrational to link you to a single post 5 or 6 times.

Best Picture

  1. Mad Max: Fury Road
  2. The Revenant
  3. The Martian
  4. Spotlight
  5. Creed
  6. The Big Short
  7. The Hateful Eight
  8. Steve Jobs
  9. Room
  10. The Danish Girl
  11. Bridge of Spies
  12. Brooklyn
  13. Ex-Machina
  14. Concussion
  15. Joy
  16. Straight Outta Compton
  17. Trumbo
  18. Beasts of No Nation
  19. Carol
  20. 45 Years

Prediction: As much as I would love for Mad Max to get the win, it seems very unlikely that this will happen. Although, with all the backlash against the Oscars online, the Academy might want to calm the fanboys/fangirls down by giving the award to the fan favorite. If they do decide to go the traditional route, The Revenant will probably be their top pick.

Best Directing

  1. Mad Max: Fury Road – George Miller
  2. The Revenant – Alejandro González Iñárritu
  3. The Hateful Eight – Quentin Tarantino 
  4. Room –  Lenny Abrahamson
  5. The Big Short – Adam McKay
  6. Creed – Ryan Coogler 
  7. Beasts of No Nation – Cary Joji Fukunaga
  8. Bridge of Spies – Steven Spielberg 
  9. Straight Outta Compton – F. Gary Gray
  10. The Martian – Ridley Scott
  11. Steve Jobs – Danny Boyle
  12. Ex-Machina – Alex Garland
  13. Spotlight – Tom McCarthy
  14. Concussion –  Peter Landesman
  15. The Danish Girl – Tom Hooper
  16. Brooklyn – John Crowley
  17. Trumbo – Jay Roach
  18. Joy – David O. Russell
  19. Carol – Todd Haynes
  20. 45 Years – Andrew Haigh

Prediction: Again, I would love for George Miller to take the award home, but I kinda think that Iñárritu will get his second win in the row. I would be willing to let Iñárritu win if Mad Max gets the Best Picture statue.

Best Writing

  1. Spotlight – Tom McCarthy, Josh Singer
  2. The Hateful Eight – Quentin Tarantino
  3. Steve Jobs – Aaron Sorkin
  4. The Martian – Drew Goddard
  5. Creed – Ryan Coogler, Aaron Covington
  6. The Big Short – Adam McKay, Charles Randolph
  7. The Revenant – Mark L. Smith, Alejandro G. Iñárritu
  8. Mad Max: Fury Road – George Miller, Brendan McCarthy, Nico Lathouris
  9. Bridge of Spies – Matt Charman, Joel Coen, Ethan Coen
  10. Straight Outta Compton – Jonathan Herman, Andrea Berloff
  11. Ex-Machina – Alex Garland
  12. The Danish Girl – Lucinda Coxon
  13. Room – Emma Donoghue
  14. Trumbo – John McNamara
  15. Concussion – Peter Landesman
  16. Joy – David O. Russell
  17. 45 Years – Andrew Haigh
  18. Beasts of No Nation – Cary Joji Fukunaga
  19. Brooklyn – Nick Hornby
  20. Carol – Phyllis Nagy

Prediction: this is the hardest category to predict. My best bet is that the original screenplay statue will be awarded to Spotlight, while the adapted one – to The Big Short.

Best Male Performance in a Leading Role:

  1. Leonardo Dicaprio for The Revenant
  2. Eddie Redmayne for The Danish Girl
  3. Tom Hardy for The Revenant and Mad Max: Fury Road
  4. Matt Damon for The Martian
  5. Jacob Tremblay for Room
  6. Michael Fassbender for Steve Jobs
  7. Samuel L. Jackson for The Hateful Eight
  8. Michael B.Jordan for Creed
  9. Will Smith for  Concussion
  10. Bryan Cranston for Trumbo
  11. Tom Hanks for Bridge of Spies
  12. Christian Bale for The Big Short
  13. Mark Ruffalo for Spotlight
  14. Domhnall Gleeson for Ex Machina
  15. Abraham Attah for Beasts of No Nation
  16. O’Shea Jakcson Jr. for Straight Outta Compton
  17. Tom Courtenay for 45 Years

Prediction: this is one of the few categories where my objective and subjective side think the same thing. If Leo does not win this year, he should just stop trying altogether.

Best Female Performance in a Leading Role:

  1. Brie Larson for Room
  2. Alicia Vikander for The Danish Girl and Ex-Machina
  3. Charlize Theron for Mad Max Fury Road
  4. Rooney Mara for Carol
  5. Jennifer Lawrence for Joy
  6. Rachel McAdams for Spotlight
  7. Cate Blanchett for Carol
  8. Saoirse Ronan for Brooklyn
  9. Charlotte Rampling for 45 Years

Prediction: once again, I both objectively and subjectively think that Brie Larson should get the Oscar, although, I would be pleasantly surprised if Vikander gets the win. On a side note, the saddest part about this category is that out of the 20 films, I could only find 9 actresses in  leading(-ish) roles, while there 17 male leading roles.

Best Male Performance in a Supporting Role:

  1. Ryan Gosling for The Big Short
  2. Mark Rylance for Bridge of Spies
  3. Sylvester Stallone for Creed
  4. Nicholas Hoult for Mad Max Fury Road
  5. Domhnall Gleeson for The Revenant
  6. Bradley Cooper for Joy
  7. Idris Elba for Beasts of No Nation
  8. Oscar Isaac for Ex-Machina
  9. Matthias Schoenaerts for The Danish Girl
  10. Walton Goggins for The Hateful Eight
  11. Michael Keaton for Spotlight
  12. Alec Baldwin for Concussion
  13. Corey Hawkins for Straight Outta Compton

Prediction: while I would like Gosling to win, I think that the award will go to either Mark Rylance or Sylvester Stallone. I wouldn’t be sad in either case.

Best Female Performance in a Supporting Role

  1. Kate Winslet for Steve Jobs
  2. Jennifer Jason Leight for The Hateful Eight
  3. Jessica Chastain for The Martian
  4. Tessa Thompson for Creed
  5. Amber Heard for The Danish Girl
  6. Gugu Mbatha-Raw for Concussion
  7. Diane Lane for Trumbo

Prediction: I would like the win to go to Kate Winslet, but the actual award will probably find itself in the hands of Jennifer Jason Leight. On a side note, this was probably the hardest category to fill, because I put a lot of actresses in the leading role category, while the Academy and the studios said that they were playing supporting roles.

I really hope that you enjoyed this post because I worked really hard on it. I felt the most challenged not when I was compiling the actual final lists, but while I was watching and reviewing all the films. Tell me in the comments your personal winners! Bye!!

Movie review: Spotlight

Movie reviews

Hey Hey Hey!

Lately, I have been running out of ideas on how to greet you and on how to introduce the film that I am going to review. Basically, it’s another awards’ nominated movie, but one that I really really enjoyed. Let’s talk about Spotlight – another serious and slightly depressing motion picture.

IMDb summary: The true story of how the Boston Globe uncovered the massive scandal of child molestation and cover-up within the local Catholic Archdiocese, shaking the entire Catholic Church to its core.

Writing and Directing

The film was written and directed by Tom McCarthy. I haven’t seen any other film he has directed, but I did enjoy a few films that he has written scripts for. Mainly, Up and Million Dollar Arm. However, McCarthy was not the only one working on the film’s screenplay. The Fifth Estate’s scriptwriter Josh Singer was also credited for Spotlight. While I liked both Million Dollar Arm and The Fifth Estate from the writing standpoint, Spotlight’s story and plot completely blew me away.

To begin with, the saddest and the most shocking part was that the film is based on true events – these child abuse stories are a reality. The lies and the cover-ups are, sadly, real as well. And the film Spotlight treated these stories with the utter most respect and did a great job not only in bringing these narratives to the attention of the public once again, but in maybe even influencing further change in the system.

The film was thrilling without having any over-the-top action. The dialogue was superb: it gave enough exposition to let the viewer follow the story but also did not give too much away. The viewer followed the investigation step by step, the same way that team Spotlight little by little uncovered the truth. It also had very subtle character development – the audience knew just enough about the main characters in order to be compelled to follow them. And even if the filmmakers hadn’t given the viewer this knowledge about the characters, the film would still have worked, because it was a storytelling/narrative film and not a character movie.

I don’t really want to get much into the actual story, though. While it was interesting to watch on the screen, it also was scary and gave me goosebumps. I do not understand how someone could ever do something like this and how other people can just let it happen. But the again, people are known for turning a blind eye to terrible events that are happening near them. We tend to notice the flaws in strangers easily and quickly, but usually don’t want to admit that something wrong is happening near us.

One of my favorite parts of the film was Mark Ruffalo’s screaming monolog. Not only did the actor was amazing in his performance, but the words that he was saying/shouting were very well written and portrayed his emotional state (breaking down inside) accurately. I really liked that the film incorporated the idea that this type of work takes a toll on people and can turn their worlds upside down or make them crazy.

While reviewer Room, I mentioned that the way journalists were portrayed in that film reminded me, why I decided not to study journalism. However, Spotlight reminded me why I wanted to pursue the career in journalism in the first place. I really hope that there are still journalists like the Spotlight team in the real world, because, nowadays, even respected news sites and newspapers seem more like a cheap propaganda disguised as news reporting than the actual examples of journalism.

To touch upon a directing real quick: I think that McCarthy did a nice job. I was a bit to engrossed with the story and the amazing acting that I did not really look at directing that much. I gotta say – I really liked the juxtaposition of the story and its setting with the church being in the background of a lot of investigation/interview shots. I also think that the usage of a religious gospel – Silent Night- was really clever. Lastly, I liked the mise-en-scene of the Spotlight team’s office and the shots with all of the team members together but in their own spaces.

Acting

The film’s cast completely transformed into their characters – the Spotlight team. They were all unique and had a distinct way of talking and behaving but they all shared a common goal.

While watching Mark Ruffalo, I did not see Bruce Banner/The Hulk or Dylan Rhodes from Now You See Me or Dave Schultz from Foxcatcher. I saw an investigative reporter Michael Rezendes, trying his best to solve this puzzle and connect the dots. The only Ruffalo’s role that might be a bit similar to this one was when he played an inspector in David Fincher’s Zodiac – a really good but underrated film from 2007. I have always admired Ruffalo’s ability to be both a mainstream movie star and an awards contender. I can’t wait to see his future projects.

Michael Keaton starred as Walter “Robby” Robinson, while Rachel McAdams played Sacha Pfeiffer. I really liked their scenes together and the work relationships that their characters had. Keaton picked up an Academy Award for Birdman last year and while he didn’t get a nomination on his own this year, the whole ensemble cast has picked up quite a few smaller awards. Moreover, Spotlight has 6 Oscar nominations, even without Keaton being nominated. Rachel McAdams has already impressed me this year in Southpaw, but she just continues to blossom as an actress and I’m really happy that she finally was recognized by the Academy and received a nomination in the Best Supporting Actress category.

Other Spotlight members were played by Liev Schreiber (as Marty Baron), John Slattery (as Ben Bradlee Jr.) and Brian d’Arcy James (as Matt Carroll). I have recently seen Schreiber in Pawn Sacrifice – a really interesting film about chess and mental health. I still have not seen Mad Men (I know, I’m a terrible person) , so I am not that familiar with Slattery’s work. Since Brian d’Arcy James is more of a stage actor, I, sadly, cannot comment on his previous work as well.

The film had a lot of additional characters of attorneys, survivors, and religious figures. The one that had the biggest impact on the story and the one that was portrayed by a very well know actor was an attorney Mitchell Garabedian played by Stanley Tucci. I swear Tucci can play anyone and he somehow manages to find time to star in a plethora of movies every year.

All in all, Spotlight is/was a film that one would not enjoy in a literal sense of the word just because of how difficult the subject matter of the film is. However, from a filmmaking standpoint, I believe that the movie was masterfully made – the writing was perfect and the acting from the whole cast was top-notch. The motion picture definitely requires the full attention of a viewer, so if you want to snack on some popcorn or check your phone during the screening, pick a different film. Bye!

Rate: 5/5

Trailer: Spotlight trailer

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