5 ideas about a movie: Victoria & Abdul

Movie reviews

Hello!

The British awards contender for this year – Victoria & Abdul – has premiered in its motherland/fatherland, so, let’s review it!

IMDb summary: Queen Victoria strikes up an unlikely friendship with a young Indian clerk named Abdul Karim.

  1. Victoria & Abdul was written by a playwright and a screenwriter Lee Hall, who based the script on a book by Shrabani Basu. Halls’s last produced film was 2011’s War Horse (one of Spielberg’s recent and lesser films). Victoria & Abdul tells a true-ish story of Queen Victoria and her Indian servant Abdul Karim. I’m calling this narrative ‘true-ish’ because the movie itself stated that the events depicted happened only ‘mostly’. The plot was written as a comedy and to me, as an anthropologist-to-be, this raised a question/a problem: should the British make fun of colonialism? Are they right to depict a sort of nice side of the whole affair, while leaving out a lot of uncomfortable details? In the case of this picture, should they be allowed to make light of colonialism because they also poke fun at the ridiculousness of the British royal culture? I don’t really have answers to these questions, but they certainly sprung up in my mind while watching the movie.
  2. A few specific details that were of note in the film were: 1. the commentary on the Western civilization as being one of immense caste difference (the first thing the arrivers see – beggars) and 2. the showcasing of the artificial creation of the Oriental, specifically Indian, culture to be more exciting to the Westerners (the garments and their fake authenticity). In addition, a lot of the comedy in the movie arose from the cultural differences and the way the characters reacted to them. If not digging deeper (basically not thinking about the question I raised in point 1), on a surface level, the humor was working and the jokes were funny.
  3. The last and most important part of the film was the portrayal of friendship between the queen and her servant. I thought that the screenwriter added a lot of neat details for the two individuals to bond over, like the stories from India, the learning of the language, and etc. The friendship was very believably portrayed by Judi Dench and Ali Fazal. Their performances made the movie heartwarming and very enjoyable and almost quieted the nagging issues in my mind.
  4. Stephen Frears has directed Victoria & Abdul to follow in the footsteps of his other similar films like Philomena and Florence Foster Jenkins. He has also already made a movie about a queen, be it a more current one, in 2006, called The Queen. I thought that he did a good job with this picture: the visuals were stunning and the pacing okay too.
  5. Judi Dench has already played Victoria in Mrs. Brown as well as other royal/aristocratic/historical figures in Shakespeare in LovePride & Prejudice, and even the recent Tulip Fever. She is also the current M in the 007 films (one of the best parts about them too). Her speech in the movie about being many things but insane was phenomenal. Ali Fazal has not appeared in many English-language films but I do hope that his appearance in this one will lead to more roles for him. Tim Pigott-Smith also appeared in the movie, in the last role of his career. Lastly, The Big Sick’s Adeel Akhtar played my favorite character in the film, who was both the comic relief and the voice of reason/truth in the movie. 

In short, Victoria & Abdul is a light-hearted and heartwarming true-ish tale that is both funny/entertaining and disturbing if you just think a bit more about it.

Rate: 3.25/5

Trailer: Victoria & Abdul trailer

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Movie review: The Hitman’s Bodyguard 

Movie reviews

Hello!

With the summer movie season coming to a close, let’s discuss one of its last offerings – The Hitman’s Bodyguard!

IMDb summary: The world’s top bodyguard gets a new client, a hit man who must testify at the International Court of Justice. They must put their differences aside and work together to make it to the trial on time.

Writing

The Hitman’s Bodyguard was written by Tom O’Connor and this picture was only his second screenplay to be produced. The script had both fun and dumb moments. The set-up, as well as the shared backstory of the protagonists, was good, while the dialogue and the banter were actually quite funny. The movie also had way more emotional depth than I expected it to. However, the antagonist was quite awfully written. I’m really over Eastern European politicians or mob bosses as villains in Hollywood films, mostly because I’m from that region but also because American screenwriters tend to reduce them to cinematic caricatures instead of portraying them as actual real-life threats. The fact that the writers (or somebody behind the scenes) thought that they needed to clarify that Belarus used to be a part of the Soviet Union with that sub-heading was kinda sad too.

Directing

The Hitman’s Bodyguard was directed by Patrick Hughes, who also did The Expendables 3. The influences of his previous picture could certainly be felt in his current one: while the last of The Expendables films was an intentional homage to the 80s actioners, the critics can’t really pinpoint the exact decade Hughes was referencing with The Hitman’s Bodyguard. I saw it being called ‘a love letter’ to both the 80s and 90s, but to me, it felt like an early 2000s action film, especially because of the split-screen opening sequence. The hand-to-hand combat was choreographed quite well, while the car chases were also entertaining and exciting enough. The soundtrack by Atli Örvarsson, full of well-known old-school pop songs, was a fun addition to the film too. The movie actually had two very enjoyably-cringy musical moments – the sing-off between Reynolds and Jackson and the nun bus scene. Another humorous sequence was Reynolds’s monologue to the bartender with action happening in the background (it wasn’t the most original but still a well-executed sequence).

Acting

The best part about The Hitman’s Bodyguard was its two leads – Ryan Reynolds (Life, Deadpool) and Samuel L. Jackson (Avengers, The Hateful Eight, Kong, Tarzan, Miss Peregrine) and their amazing chemistry. It was interesting seeing Reynolds trying to play ‘the straight man’, while it was also fun to see Jackson going absolutely crazy, even though he has done that before, for example, in Kingsman. Jackson has appeared in a tonne of films lately, I wonder whether the audiences will get bored of him or whether he is actually priceless in a supporting role.

Elodie Young played Reynolds’s love interest and did a nice job. She had a very good weekend, with not only The Hitman’s Bodyguard hitting theatres, but The Defenders (where she stars as Elektra) landing on Netflix. Salma Hayek (Sausage Party) had a tiny but hilarious role as Jackson’s love interest, while Gary Oldman (Dawn), for whatever reason, played the main caricature of a villain. Joaquim de Almeida also had a cameo role and an important plot-point was kinda spoiled by his involvement in the film (he just usually plays two-sided characters so I was fairly certain that he will be shady in this movie too).

In short, The Hitman’s Bodyguard is predictable but an entertaining enough action comedy that has a very expendable villain but is elevated by its two leads.

Rate: 3.5/5

Trailer: The Hitman’s Bodyguard

Movie review: Baywatch

Movie reviews

Hello!

Welcome to a review of one of the first comedies of this summer’s movie season – Baywatch! Even though the online discussion around this movie has died down before it even started (the film flopped at the US box office), I still decided to see it because of the cast and the brand-recognition! Also, I’m almost 3 weeks late to the aforementioned discussion cause the movie only came out today, where I’m currently staying (the joys of international release schedules!).

IMDb summary: Devoted lifeguard Mitch Buchannon butts heads with a brash new recruit, as they uncover a criminal plot that threatens the future of the bay.

I vaguely remember watching some episodes of the original Baywatch TV series at least a decade ago. Besides, I have always wanted to be a lifeguard myself (especially during the summer), so seeing the shenanigans of the lifeguards had a personal appeal.

Writing

Baywatch’s screenplay was a mixed bag, like so many blockbuster scripts nowadays. What is for sure – the movie definitely did not need 6 screenwriters. The screenplay credits were awarded to Damian Shannon and Mark Swift, while Jay Scherick, David Ronn, Thomas Lennon, and Robert Ben Garant supposedly contributed to the story. Bear in mind, neither of these writers are proven or trustworthy (they haven’t had any big hits yet).

The narrative that these 6 gentlemen crafted for the film was fine. It didn’t make the most sense but I didn’t expect it too. The opening sequence worked (technically) – cause it set up the whole plot neatly (literally, every scene either introduced a character or a plotline – everything happened super mechanically and by the numbers – there was no breathing room) but it wasn’t the most interesting thing to watch. All the different plotlines – the drug smuggling, the lifeguard investigation, the lifeguard v police fight, Efron’s character’s redemption, Johnson’s character’s personal arc, the two (three?) romantic duos – did not really gel at times. The ending was also cheesy and illogical but since it was kinda entertaining and mostly funny rather than cringe-y, I could forget the storytelling flaws.

Another important aspect of the film, of course, this being a comedy, was the humour. Like the story, it was a mixed bag. Some jokes landed and seemed organic enough, while the others made the impression that the filmmakers were just trying too hard. My favourite moment, by far, was the scene where Johnson shouted to Efron: ‘Hey, High School Musical’. Actually, a lot of the nicknames by Johnson worked. The lunch table gag with the salad was good as well as the moment where Efron calls outs their plan for sounding like a plot of a TV show. Nice, 4th wall breaking wink, there. The pop culture references were mostly fine too. However, the whole arc of Ronnie (played by Jon Bass) was too awkwardly painful to watch. I really dislike cheap comic relief within a comedic movie.

The writing for characters was okay too, even if quite scarce. One thing that stuck out to me was the fact that Efron’s character – a swimmer – messed up in the Rio Olympics. That seemed like a jab at the actual real life US swimmer Ryan Lochte, who also got into a scandal in Rio. I might have been reading to much into it, though.

Directing

Horrible Bosses’ director and Pixels‘ executive producer (doesn’t sound too good, huh?) Seth Gordon directed Baywatch and was fine. The pacing was quite wonky – the film really slowed down before the third act, but the third act itself was entertaining enough. The other action sequences worked too – the nursery fight was fun and the lifeguard tryouts were cool – but the CGI could have been way better, the fire especially – it seemed so fake. The slow-mo – a staple of the Baywatch brand – was used extensively, but, in this case, I could let that slide. The final slow-mo shot with all of them running by the beach was actually quite cute, even if we have seen it in the trailers. The bloopers during the credits were also adorable – way more organic and fun than some of the actual jokes.

Acting

Baywatch had a really good cast. Dwayne Johnson (San Andres, Moana, Fast and Furious) basically played himself – a charming, likeable, and super fit man. Zac Efron also played a familiar role – he is always ‘less than clever but sweet guy that needs redemption’ in every comedy ever (Mike and Dave, Neighbours, We Are Your Friends). Efron’s and Johnson’s chemistry was okay but it was not as good as Johnson’s and Kevin Hart’s chemistry in Central Intelligence last year. Next for Johnson –  the Jumanji remake/sequel, while Efron is going back to his musical roots with The Greatest Showman.

Other supporting characters were played by Alexandra Daddario (also from San Andreas), a model Kelly Rohrbach (she was good as a replacement for Pamela Anderson – more natural looking too), Bollywood star Priyanka Chopra in one of her first Hollywood roles (she was fine but I could have done without so many lines stating that ‘oh, she is a woman’), Jon Bass (from Loving), Ilfenesh Hadera, and The Get Down’s Yahya Abdul-Mateen II (he is also gonna be in The Greatest Showman and also will have a role in Aquaman).

The two main cameos in 2017’s Baywatch were given to the two most important Baywatch TV series alumni – David Hasselhoff and Pamela Anderson. Hasselhoff’s cameo was better – he was written into the story, while Anderson’s appearance was just tacked on. Weirdly, Hasselhoff already had a cameo in a summer movie this year – he showed up in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2.

In short, Baywatch is an okay summer comedy. It is not the funniest thing but not the worst either.

Rate: 2.75/5

Trailer: Baywatch trailer

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Movie review: Their Finest 

Movie reviews

Hello!

The first movie of the year focused on the battle of Dunkirk – Their Finest – has reached theaters, so, let’s review it.

IMDb summary: A British film crew attempts to boost morale during World War II by making a propaganda film after the Blitzkrieg.

While Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk (premiering in July) will tackle and reproduce the actual battle and the evacuation, Lone Scherfig’s film Their Finest is a story about a war propaganda film, based on a fictional story related to the real-life events at Dunkirk, produced in order to raise the patriotism of the nation. The genres and tones of the 2 movies differ vastly: one looks like a grim and serious action drama, while another one is a lighter comedy drama with some romance thrown in as well.

On top of being one of the two films about Dunkirk, Their Finest interested me for 3 reasons: 1. I wanted to see the representation of the British propaganda and how it differed or was similar to the Soviet propaganda – the kind that I’m more familiar with from history classes and from just generally growing up in Eastern/Northern Europe. 2. I have always enjoyed films about filmmaking and as this one centered on screenwriters – an occupation that I would like to pursue – my interest was peaked. 3. The movie started Sam Claflin – an actor, whose career I’ve been following pretty closely. So, let’s see if Their Finest is as ‘fine’ of a picture as the title suggests!

Writing

Their Finest was written by a TV writer Gaby Chiappe, based on novel Their Finest Hour and a Half by Lissa Evans. From the technical standpoint, the writing for the film was very nice: the narrative was well structured and rich with ideas. Whether or not the ideas worked, is a very subjective question. I, personally, really liked some of the themes but was equally frustrated by the others.

To begin with, the picture focused a lot on the relationship between Gemma Arterton’s and Sam Claflin’s characters. I highly disliked the fact that their professional relationship had to be turned into a romantic one by the end of the film. I find that this happens in a lot of stories, even in the contemporary ones. For example, the way J.K.Rowling, writing under the pseudonym Robert Galbraith, is portraying the relationship between the two main characters in her Cormoran Strike Series irritates me a lot. And yet, going back to the relationship between the characters in Their Finest, if I considered the said relationship’s romantic aspect separately, I thought that it did work and was convincing. The two individuals seemed pretty evenly matched and their sparring was entertaining to watch. The sudden end to the relationship was also emotionally effective. At first, I deemed that the end might have been too sudden but I later I’ve realized that the scriptwriters intended it to be that way and to convey a message that one never knows what might happen in war.

The second big theme of the picture was Gemma Arterton’s character’s growth as an individual. Her personal story acted very much as a symbol for a lot of women’s stories during the war – how they have finally begun to transition from the domestic spaces into the public ones. Sadly, this process is still is progress, 70+ years later. I thought that the main character was developed quite nicely – I wish we would have found out more about her background and upbringing in Wales, but I really liked her subtle journey towards independence.

Thirdly, the movie explored the screenwriting and the filmmaking business. I really loved this particular aspect of the film and just loved the fact that Their Finest celebrated the movies and tried finding positive attributes of cinema even if it was political cinema. I simply loved Sam Claflin’s character’s enthusiasm about and love for the pictures, especially since his character otherwise seemed really pessimistic and ironic. I could identify with this type of depiction very closely. The way the movie played up the uber-poshness of the actors and of the British actors, to be specific, with Bill Nighy’s character was also really fun.

Lastly, Their Finest dealt with the propaganda filmmaking, not just simple filmmaking. Not only did this type of story provided a different perspective on war, but it also proved to me that the types of propaganda don’t vary much from country to country. Like the Soviet propaganda, some of the British propaganda was very obvious but some of it was something more, just like the-picture-within-the-picture in Their Finest or a real life example, such as Sergei Eisenstein’s Battleship Potemkin. And yet, since both Their Finest and The Nancy Starling (a-movie-within-a-movie) stressed the importance of optimism and happy endings, I can’t help but wonder where exactly did the cinematic propaganda end?

Directing

Their Finest was directed by Lone Scherfig. Although the director is Danish, I thought that she nailed the British feeling of the film. She has already done that earlier with The Riot Club – that movie has really made me question my adoration of the British culture quite a bit. So, Their Finest resembled the previous historic UK-based movies that I’ve reviewed, like SuffragetteTestament of Youthand Far From The Madding Crowd. The fact that the movie was executed with the classical stationary camera work and the steady frame, also added an appropriate old-school yet timeless feel to the picture. The pacing of the picture was also very even. 

Acting

Gemma Arterton played the lead in the film and did a really good job. I hope that this is a career-changing role for her, as so far she has been starring in mostly B-level pictures, like Clash of the TitansPrince of Persia: The Sands of Time, and Hansel & Gretel: Witch HuntersI really loved how subtle yet powerful her performance was. My favorite line of hers was the last words to the boyfriend: ‘You shouldn’t have painted me that small’. Her delivery was brilliant. I also though that Arterton’s chemistry with the co-star Sam Claflin was really good and believable. I loved Claflin’s character and the actor’s performance. It was so interesting to see a writer who can express oneself well enough of paper but struggles to do the same face to face. After starting his big screen career by acting the big action flicks, like Pirates of the Caribbean 4 and The Hunger Games franchise, Claflin has mostly stuck to dramas recently, including 2014’s Love, Rosie and 2016’s Me Before You. His next film is also a historical drama – My Cousin Rachel. He has also previously collaborated with the director of Their Finest on The Riot Club.

The supporting cast included established English actors Bill NighyHelen McCroryEddie Marsan, and Richard E. GranJack Huston (American Hustle, Hail, Caesar!and Ben-Hur) also had a minor role.

In short, Their Finest is a brilliant little movie, which, sadly, will be overlooked by the majority of movie-goers and buried by the blockbusters, including the one it shares the topic with. I highly recommend this film for all those interested in history and the art of filmmaking.

Rate: 4.3/5

Trailer: Their Finest trailer

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Movie review: Beauty and the Beast

Movie reviews

Hello!

The Disney’s juggernaut Beauty and the Beast has landed in theaters, so, let’s review it!

On a personal note, Belle was always the character I most closely identify with, in that we were both more interested in books than the real world. Also, weirdly enough, Disney fairytales seem to be the only romances I can stomach because l seem to prefer love stories set in a fantasy world rather than real one.

Disney has made quite a fair few of the live-action fairytales: Alice and its sequel, Oz The Great and Powerful, Maleficient, Into The Woods, Cinderella, The Jungle Book, The BFG, and Pete’s Dragon. The re-tellings started dark (almost as a comeback to the original print version of the tales) and have gotten lighter and more faithful to the Disney animated versions. The new Beauty and the Beast film is the most faithful to its animated predecessor out of all of them because the live action movie will also be a musical. While all the other live-action adaptations have featured some variations of the traditional songs neither of the previous movies have been full-on musicals.

Writing

2017’s Beauty and the Beast’s script was written by Stephen Chbosky (The Perks of Being a Wallflower) and Evan Spiliotopoulos (The Huntsman: Winter’s War). I thought that the duo of writers crafted a beautiful and faithful adaptation that was inspired by both the Disney animated version and the original French fairytale (which I, sadly, haven’t read in its original form but have definitely read a few re-tellings). I didn’t notice any big changes from the animated film but I highly appreciated all the additions. I really liked that they expanded Gaston’s character: gave him a war background and made him more cruel and villainous not just empty. I also enjoyed seeing Agatha or The Enchantress taking on a more active role in the story. Similarly, both Belle and the Prince received more development – their family backgrounds were incorporated into the narrative. That really helped The Beast’s character – his vainness was justified by his upbringing and, thus, made him more likable.

Speaking more about the writing for Belle – I really loved the fact that this time around Belle tried escaping from the very beginning and that it was explicitly stated that she find out about the curse. Moreover, I loved that they added the idea that both Belle and The Beast were outsiders and that that helped them reach a common ground.

Finally, to address the issue that a lot of people pointlessly made a big deal of – LeFou being gay or having a ‘gay moment’ in the movie (wtf that even means?). Personally, I loved all the subtle progressive additions to the plot: I absolutely loved the moment with the three musketeers being dressed in the lady’s outfits and one of the giving a positive reaction. The way that moment came into play later, during the final dance with that musketeer and LeFou briefly meeting was also nice. Even though the idea that feminity and homosexuality go hand-in-hand is bit stereotypical, it was still a nice moment and a definite step (even if a tiny one) forward. Additionally, the fact that LeFou realized that he was too good for Gaston was so important! In general, I really enjoyed what they did with the character. I applaud the filmmakers for seeing an opportunity to make a modern and sophisticated alterations/enhancement and taking it. Moreover, the screenwriters still managed to keep the comic relief aspect of the character and even made his jokes more mature and commentary-like instead of the slapstick cartoonish humor of the animation.

Directing and Visuals

Bill Condon, who has a diverse list of movies in his filmography, ranging from Twilight 3 and 4 to The Fifth Estate and Mr. Holmes, directed the picture and did a brilliant job. From the opening shot of the film, the visual were just plain gorgeous. The CGI characters and the backgrounds and the actual physical props blended seamlessly (hats off to both the production design and the special effects teams). The opulent opening sequence acted as an amazing visual set-up and explained the Prince’s greed and vainness effectively. The Sound of Music reference with Belle singing on the hill was also nice. The final action sequence appeared to be elongated and was definitely more suspenseful than the one in the animated version – I can easily see why they did that – even fairytales have to have a big 3rd act action sequence in Hollywood’s mind. My only criticism for the movie was that the second hour before the 3rd act felt a bit slow. And yet, I still understand why they had to slow down – they needed to show Belle and The Beast falling in love. In fact, I actually appreciated that the falling in love montage was longer, and, hence, more believable. In general, the picture had all the right feels – from the heartbreaking sadness to the Disney staple of eternal romance. Lastly, the animated character credits and the French translations for the credits were neat finishing touches.

Musical Numbers

Alan Menken was responsible for the music of the picture and did an amazing job. I felt that all of the musical numbers lasted for a longer time (the movie is half an hour longer than the animated picture) and I also loved the huge scope of them – they had way more extras and dancers than I expected. All the theatricality and drama of the performances was just great as well. All the old songs sounded familiar and yet brand new. I loved all the classics – Belle, Gaston, Be Our Guest, and, of course, Beauty and the Beast. The new songs – How Does a Moment Last Forever, Evermore, and Days in the Sun were also great and fit the old soundtrack well. The fact that the filmmakers got Celine Dion to sing one of the new songs during the credits was also great and a nice reference to her work on the animated film. I also really liked the Ariane Grande/John Legend version of Beauty and the Beast.

Acting

Emma Watson as Belle. Watson is always going to be Hermione in the majority of people’s minds but I hope that she will also get remember as Belle as she was stunning in the role: sweet but also tough enough. I also thought that she did a good job with the singing. Next step for her career is to star in an awards movie and maybe even snag a nomination for it.Some of her recent films include Noah, Colonia, and the upcoming The Circle.

Dan Stevens as The Beast. He was amazing. I could actually see him through all the motion capture CGI and his singing was also excellent. Steven’s career has had its ups and downs. He first got on everyone’s radar through Downton Abbey, but then he made a decision to leave the show just after a couple of seasons in order to star his movie career Well, that didn’t happen as soon as he probably planned. The role of The Beast is his most high-profile role to date but his performance 2014’s The Guest has also been positively accepted. Interestingly, Stevens also made a decision to go back to TV – be it in a very different role than the Cousin Matthew one – this time playing the titular mutant on Legion.

Luke Evans as Gaston. A perfect casting if I have ever seen one. Evans was just oozing charm as Gaston and even though I wanted to completely despise the character, I just couldn’t. Evans got his big break with The Hobbit movies and Dracula Untold and he was also recently in an indie experimental film High-Rise and The Girl on The Train big screen adaptation.

Josh Gad as LeFou was also brilliant. I really liked actually seeing him on screen after only listening to him in Frozen (he was Olaf for those not in the know).

My favorite voice actors were Emma Thompson as Mrs. Potts and Ewan McGregor as Lumière. Thompson just has a motherly sounding voice that was perfect for Mrs. Potts, while McGregor was super funny as Lumière. I can’t really comment on McGregor’s French accent or lack of it, cause I don’t speak French but I know that he had some difficulties with it. Well, I didn’t mind and actually liked how he sounded. It was also nice to hear McGregor singing cause I think that the last movie I heard him singing in was Moulin Rouge more than 15 years ago. The fact that he went from Trainspotting 2 straight to a Disney fairytale is also pretty funny.

Other cast member included Kevin Kline as MauriceIan McKellen as CogsworthAudra McDonald as Madame de GarderobeGugu Mbatha-Raw as Plumette, and Nathan Mack as Chip. All of them did a fine job. Lastly, Stanley Tucci played an original character – Maestro Cadenza. I didn’t really think that the picture needed a new character but his presence didn’t hurt the movie either. That final gag with the teeth and the piano keys was actually quite funny.

In short, Beauty and the Beast is an amazing adaptation of a beloved classic. It’s immensely entertaining and provides a great opportunity for some quality escapism into a fairytale world.

Rate: 4.8/5

Trailer: Beauty and the Beast trailer

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5 ideas about a movie: Moonlight 

Movie reviews

Hello!

Welcome to probably the last review of the awards season. Today, we are discussing the frontrunner Moonlight!

IMDb summary: A timeless story of human self-discovery and connection, the film chronicles the life of a young black man from childhood to adulthood as he struggles to find his place in the world while growing up in a rough neighborhood of Miami.

  1. Moonlight was written and directed by Barry Jenkins, based on a play ‘In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue’ by Tarell Alvin McCraney. Jenkins made his directorial debut in 2008, with the critically acclaimed indie romantic drama Medicine for Melancholy. Moonlight is only his second feature film.
  2. At its core, Moonlight is a coming of age story. However, it is a coming of age story like no other because it focuses on an individual that the mainstream media would rather forget – a poor black gay boy/teenager/man. And yet, even if a viewer’s identity falls on the other side of the spectrum, the movie still has universal appeal. The family problems, bullying, finding a life path for oneself, dealing with emotions, learning to forgive and reconnect – these are all topics of widespread appeal. The more personal issues of sexual identity and masculinity are also present. The picture paints a complex picture – it asserts that only an individual can decide who he/she wants to be, but also undermines this statement by showing a stereotypical outcome for the character of this background. Lastly, the film provides interesting commentary on the LGBTQ+ position within the black community.
  3. For such a progressive and modern movie, Moonlight has a very striking traditional structure – the film is divided into vignettes, like some movies from the past. Jenkins manages to create a deeply personal almost documentary-like feeling for the film. The long slow takes in the first part of the movie allow this story to unfold at its own pace, while the shaky and fast closeups in the other parts of the picture create a sense of disorientation and intimacy. Some pretty standard techniques, like the over the shoulder shots for the dialogue, are also implemented.
  4. In the first part of the film, the main character of Chiron, played by Alex Hibbert, takes on a passive role in order for Mahershala Ali’s Juan – the drug dealer mentor of Chiron – to shine. Juan is even the first characters that the viewer is introduced to. Ali has been getting a lot of recognition for his work in this film and that’s happening for a reason. Although he only appears in a handful of scenes, both his characters and the actor himself leave a striking mark on the picture. Juan, the drug dealer, seems to be the only positive influence on Chiron and they form a student/mentor type of relationship. The scene in which Juan teaches Chirton to swim is just beautiful. The question arises why would a Juan care for this child? Maybe because he saw a part of himself in the little boy?
  5. The teenager Chiron is portrayed by Ashton Sanders, while the adult Chiron is played by Trevante Rhodes. Rhodes does an absolutely incredible job in the third part of the film and I wish that his performance would have been rewarded much more. Nevertheless, this film really helped him to breakthrough into the business, as he was just cast in a mainstream movie – 2018’s The Predator. Janelle Monáe also appears in the film as the truth mother figure for Chiron. Her career has also kicked off to a good start – she starred in not one but two awards contenders in 2016, other being Hidden Figures. Naomie Harris also plays a small role of the actual birth mother of Chiron. Although the role is a bit stereotypical, Harris does a brilliant job. She has also probably hoped to be in 2 awards contender this year. She also recently acted in Collateral Beauty, which was supposed to be an awards movie, but that film did not materialize at all.

In short, Moonlight is a well-written and nicely directed personal story that takes the framework of a coming of age narrative and tells a unique story about an individual who has been relegated to the fringes of society for too long.

Rate: 4.5/5

Trailer: Moonlight trailer

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Movie review: Fences

Movie reviews

Hello!

The reviews of the awards season continue. Today, we are discussing Fences!

IMDb summary: A working-class African-American father tries to raise his family in the 1950s, while coming to terms with the events of his life.

Writing

The film Fences is a cinematic adaptation of August Wilson’s play by the same name. The play first premiered on Broadway in 1987 and was also revived in 2010, with Denzel Washington and Viola Davis playing the lead characters (as they do in the movie). When watching the picture, it is fairly obvious that it is based on a theatrical play because nothing much happens action-wise. The narrative is mostly dialogue driven and the dialogue itself is extremely dense, full of important backstories as well as plot points for the story. I wouldn’t even call this movie a narrative film – it is definitely more of a personal character study.

Fences touches on quite a few important topics. First of all, it shows the lives of African-Americans in a never before seen period – just before the civil rights movement kicked in (so it kinda follows the trend of a different kind of ‘race’ movie). It also doesn’t really look at the issues of the whole race of people but centers on an individual. The film also looks at the father-son relationship – how the sins of the father weigh down on the son. Fences focuses the most on the character of Troy and discusses a number of themes related to him, like being stuck in the past and not being able to move and raising high standards for others but not keeping to them himself. Troy is a flawed person and that makes him not only relatable but way more interesting.

Fences is certainly not an easy watch – I wouldn’t call this film entertaining in the simple sense of the word – but it is for sure engaging and requires a lot of attention. It looks at a daily life and the serious and the heartbreaking moments of it. Nevertheless, the film also has a few lighter and funnier bits which arise from the same daily life. Its ending is also very beautiful and touching.

Directing

Denzel Washington not only stars in the picture but also directs it (this is his 3rd movie). He has a very clear vision for the film and executes it neatly. However, I don’t think that his direction is that great. I understand his creative choices but I also don’t think that he utilizes the cinematic means of storytelling much or at all. What I mean is that Fences feels very much like a filmed play. It is set in a very limited space – one house – and this type of setting reminds of a theater stage. The long takes look impressive but, once again, they feel more theater-like than motion-picture-like. I really really wish that more visual storytelling techniques would have been used, for example, Troy’s monologs could have been used as the voiceover narrations for the flashback scenes instead of just being told directly to the camera. In short, Fences has a few super engaging dialogue moments but it also drags at times (and this maybe could have been fixed with some more visuals).

Acting

Denzel Washington (The Magnificent Seven, The Equalizer) plays the lead and does an absolutely magnificent job. This role looks like it has been written for him. Viola Davis (Suicide Squad) is also brilliant. She and Denzel play off of each other really well, probably because they have lived with these characters (as I’ve mentioned, they starred in the 2010 Broadway revival of this play). Both Washington and Davis have been nominated for the Academy Awards in the acting categories and they both starred in one mainstream movie this year, so both sides of their career (mainstream and indie) are on the rise or at least doing good.

The supporting characters of the film are played by Stephen McKinley Henderson, Jovan AdepoRussell HornsbyMykelti Williamson, and Saniyya Sidney. They do a good enough job but they also kinda fade into the background when sharing scenes with either Washington or Davis.

In short, Fences is an interesting film that requires constant attention in order to understand it. It has a distinct direction which I don’t particularly like but I cannot praise enough the acting performances of the two leads.

Rate: 4/5

Trailer: Fences trailer

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Movie review: Jackie

Movie reviews

Hi!

Welcome to a review of the best 1960s film made in the 21st century. It’s Jackie.

IMDb summary: Following the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy fights through grief and trauma to regain her faith, console her children, and define her husband’s historic legacy.

Writing and Acting: the main character and the lead actress

Like I did in the review of Elle, I’m going to combine the writing and the acting parts of this review because like Isabelle Huppert and Elle, Jackie and Natalie Portman are inseparable. Also, when watching Elle, I was sure that Huppert will take the Oscar for playing the titular character. Now, having seen Portman’s performance, I’m not that sure. Honestly, I’d be happy if either of them wins because they both deserve it. Portman already has an Academy Award for Black Swan, while it would be the first one for Huppert.

Anyways, let’s focus on Jackie. The picture’s screenplay was written by Noah Oppenheim who previously wrote some so-so YA adaptations, like The Maze Runner and Allegiant. I can’t actually comprehend how he could be the one who wrote all of these differents scripts. Not only are these films all very varied but the quality of the writing also differs drastically, with Jackie, obviously, being his best script yet. He did win ‘Best Screenplay Award’ at the 73rd Venice International Film Festival for it, so that should tell you all you need to know.

Speaking of the writing in more detail, the picture’s narrative was located in a limited timeframe and had a deep focus on the specific events. The movie was structured as a real-time interview with incorporated flashbacks. It portrayed Jackie as a complex and multifaceted individual. The differences between her public and private persona and between the pre-incident and post-incident Jackie were just fascinating to watch.

I’ve always imagined Jacqueline Kennedy as being sort of innocent, poised, and feminine figure. However, in truth, she was very much a strong-willed individual whose public appearances were always performative. Especially after the assassination, there seemed to be a certain amount of bitterness in her being that might have risen from the feelings of self-guilt. Her relationship with her husband was certainly not easy, with JFK having multiple affairs, but, in the end, she did love him and witnessed him being murdered in her arms. The film also raised the political questions of legacy (both hers and his) and also commented on the famous Camelot parable, but also showed Jackie’s more personal side through her adoration of arts and history, so kudos to the scriptwriter for showing multiple sides of the character/the real person. However, it was Natalie Portman who carried this movie and absolutely nailed the performance. The way she manipulated the different layers of the character and the way she transformed her look, behavior and speech were just magnificent to watch. Jackie would go from episodes of almost panic to showing imaginable strength in a heartbeat, so Portman was able to display a wide variety of her acting skills. She played Jackie as so much more than merely a President’s wife because she was indeed so much more than just that.

Directing

A Chilean director  Pablo Larraín, with whose previous work I’m sadly not familiar with, directed Jackie and did a spectacular job. I loved the temporarily appropriate aspect ratio and the whole old-school feeling of the film. The documentary-like handheld camera work for the flashbacks and the steady mostly 180° shots for the interview sequences also worked. The fact that the interview was shot from the straight-on perspective made the actors’ performances even more effective. The viewers could feel like Jackie was basically speaking directly to them/at them. The filmmakers’ choices of music were also interesting (soundtrack by Mica Levi). The instrumental theme of the picture was very classic with a slightly modern edge. A few moments of it reminded me of the sounds one would hear in a neo-noir thriller.

The supporting cast

The secondary roles of the film (as famous as the role of Jackie herself) were played by moderately known actors. Peter Sarsgaard starred as Robert F. Kennedy, Greta Gerwig played Nancy Tuckerman, Billy Crudup was Theodore H. White/The Journalist, and John Hurt appeared as Father Richard McSorley. The casting director also did a good job in finding an actor who looked quite similar to JFKCaspar Phillipson. Granted, he appeared in only a handful of scenes, but since everybody knows how JFK looked in real life, it was nice to see the picture trying to be as accurate and as seamlessly realistic as possible.

In short, Jackie was a great personal biopic that showed the complexities of the JFK’s assassination’s aftermath and neatly spotlighted the woman who was in the middle of all of it – Jacqueline Kennedy (Onassis)Portman’s performance as the titular character was just brilliant and spectacular.

Rate: 4.2/5

Trailer: Jackie trailer

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Movie review: Lion

Movie reviews

Good day!

Another potential awards contender – the motion picture Lion – has landed in the UK cinemas, so, let’s review it!

IMDb summary: A five-year-old Indian boy gets lost on the streets of Calcutta, thousands of kilometers from home. He survives many challenges before being adopted by a couple in Australia; 25 years later, he sets out to find his lost family.

Writing

The biographical drama Lion was written by Luke Davies (an Australian film critic, novelist, and poet) based on the memoir ‘A Long Way Home’ by  Saroo Brierley
(co-written by Larry Buttrose). The film’s narrative is divided into two parts. The first hour- long story revolves around the child Saroo. The viewer gets to see Saroo’s relationships with his birth mother, sister, and brother; and witnesses the unfortunate accident of him getting lost and trying to survive alone and away from home. This first-half of the movie is very well written: the audiences are able to form a bond with the main character and become emotionally invested in the boy’s journey.

Lion then flashes 20 years forward: Saroo is now an adult and lives with his adoptive parents in Australia. This part of the film is not as solid when it comes to writing as the first part. To begin with, the audiences don’t get to see a lot of Saroo’s life as an adult, so his change of heart (from not caring about his birth family to desperately trying to find them) seems a bit sudden. A few extra scenes, maybe showing a different stage in his life, like the teenage years, would have helped to solidify the fact that he never really felt at home in Australia and always wanted to find his family. The second part of the narrative also has two other important storylines which don’t get enough of screentime. First one is Saroo’s relationships with his adoptive mother and his adoptive brother (who might have a mental illness?) and the second one is Saroo’s relationship with his on-and-off-again girlfriend. Both of these plotlines had to be included in the film (bio-dramas try to be as accurate as possible) but I wish that they would have been given more screen time because that would have made them more compelling. Maybe the movie could have been 15 minutes longer or maybe the first story could have been shortened by the same amount (if they wanted to keep the film at 2h).

Even though I have found some problems with the technical structure of the narrative, I found the narrative itself to be very interesting and fascinating. The fact that the modern technologies actually brought people together instead of separating them was just amazing. In general, the whole Saroo’s story was both heartbreaking and hopeful. It had more than a few tear-jerker moments, especially at the end. The inclusion of real-life counterparts of the characters was nice too.

From the anthropological perspective (sorry, I can’t turn it off, if you study anthropology you are basically living it), the film was also very valuable. It mostly felt like a documentary with a higher budget and a fancier production design. Nevertheless, the ideas on privilege and poverty and on the adoption across countries/cultures are just two of the concepts that could be considered in an anthropological discussion in relation to this film.

Directing

An Australian TV and commercial director Garth Davis made his very successful feature film directorial debut with Lion. I loved how he realized the shots of the nature of India. That whole opening sequence was just beautiful and very classic. The pacing could have been neater but it didn’t bother me much. Basically, if this was his first motion picture, I can’t wait to see what he will do next.

Also, on a side note, guess whose song was playing during the credits. If you said Sia, you either read my blog a lot or just go to the movies a lot. Sia wrote a song called ‘Never Give Up’ specifically for this film. Her songs have also been used in Sing, Star Trek Beyond, The Shallows, The Neon Demon, and Finding Dory. You will also be able to hear her during Fifty Shades Darker.

Acting

Dev Patel played Saroo in the second half of the film and did an amazing job. After seeing the film, I finally realized why he is being nominated in the supporting actor category, even though he is playing the lead. Well, the answer is simple – he only plays the lead during the second hour of the film, while the viewer spends the first hour with a 5-year-old Saroo played by an adorable child actor Sunny Pawar. So, on the whole, if we add up Patel’s scenes, his screentime probably comes closer to that of a supporting rather than a lead role. Anyways, despite the fact that he is not in the first half of the film, Patel delivers his best performance yet. He has really matured as an actor since the days of Slumdog Millionaire. His best scenes that were most likely included in his awards reels were  1. the montage in which he finally reaches the breakthrough on Google Earth. The way he whispers ‘Mum’ is just breathtaking. And 2. the final meeting sequence – he showed a lot of acting skills in that one too.

Moving forward, I would love to see Patel cast in a racially blind role, meaning that I would like to see him playing a character whose ethnicity is not his main character trait. Up until this point, Patel played characters whose ethnicity was really important character feature, like in Slumdog Millionaire, The Man Who Knew Infinity and even The Exotic Marigold Hotel films. I’d like to see him take on roles similar to the one he had on Chappie, but it looks like that is not on the horizon, as his next film is also India-centric and based on true events – Hotel Mumbai.

The picture’s supporting cast also delivered brilliant performances. Rooney Mara (Carol) starred as Saroo’s girlfriend and was great in the few scenes she had. David Wenham (recognized him faster than another LOTR alumni – Viggo Mortensen in Captain Fantastic) appeared briefly as Saroo’s adoptive dad but it’s Nicole Kidman as Saroo’s adoptive mother who stole all the attention in their scenes together. Lion also spotlighted some lesser known (in the West) Indian talent (as it should): Abhishek Bharate, Divian LadwaPriyanka BoseDeepti NavalTannishtha Chatterjee, and Nawazuddin Siddiqui all co-starred and did a great job with their limited screentime.

In summary, Lion was a lovely picture with an amazing story at its core. Sadly, this story was not represent as cohesively and compellingly as it could have been. However, the flaws in writing were covered up with great directing and amazing acting performances.

Rate: 4/5

Trailer: Lion trailer

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5 ideas about a movie: Captain Fantastic

Movie reviews

Hello!

With the awards season in motion, let’s review one of the earliest contenders for this year’s awards. It’s Captain Fantastic!

IMDb summary: In the forests of the Pacific Northwest, a father devoted to raising his six kids with a rigorous physical and intellectual education is forced to leave his paradise and enter the world, challenging his idea of what it means to be a parent.

  1. To begin with, Captain Fantastic was written and directed by a longtime TV actor Matt Ross. This was only his second feature film and it is the movie that he got the most recognition for so far (mostly in the festival circuits and less so during the main awards season). I did like his directing but I mostly gonna focus on his writing, as the script is the most interesting part of the movie.
  2. I really enjoyed the unique premise and the out of the ordinary narrative of the film. The living in the woods/far from the society idea has become really popular lately with The Lobster and Hunt for the Wilderpeople also exploring it. However, I think that Captain Fantastic is the best film out of the three when it comes to the commentary on the modern world. I like the fact that this film could be used as a kick-starter for conversations on themes such as the cultural clashes (especially the cultural clashes at home) and the legitimacy of the education system (multiple vs singular way(s) of achieving intelligence). I also appreciate the fact that the movie spotlights a different way to deal with loss.
  3. Captain Fantastic also has a lot to say about capitalism. I, personally, don’t really think that capitalism is the ultimate way to structure the lives and the relationships of people but it still the best system out there. Still, it is good to talk about its flaws, so I believe that movies like Captain Fantastic should exist. And yet, knowing that this film was made in Hollywood by a big business (even if not by one the giant studios) as a product to be consumed kinda undercuts its critique on capitalism. How can one be part of the machine and also go against it? Isn’t that a bit hypocritical? I also find it funny that the movies audiences are basically the complete opposites of the film’s characters. What does that say about us or the film?
  4. Where Captain Fantastic felt short for me was in its lack of appreciation for the middle ground. I felt that, at times, it just went too far to the extreme side and, frankly, turned into a really pretentious picture. Some scenes were definitely cringe-y and uncomfortable and not in a good kind of way. In addition, even though I’m not the biggest fan of society’s norms, even I can admit that there are some great things about the human society. And even though the modern world has its problem, giving up and running away from it is not a suitable option.
  5. The one thing about the film that almost everybody can agree on is the quality of Viggo Mortensen’s performance. It took me at least half of the runtime of the film to figure out that he was the same Viggo Mortensen from Lord of the Rings and I can quite the majority of LOTR. His performance was truly transformative and I’m happy to see that he got a least a few nominations from the major awards. The film had quite an extensive supporting cast as well, as the main character had a lot of children. Young and up-and-coming TV actors took on the majority of the kids’ roles and did quite a nice job. George MacKay was definitely a stand-out performer, but all of them (Samantha IslerAnnalise Basso, Nicholas Hamilton, Shree Crooks, and Charlie Shotwell) deserve to be praised.

In brief, Captain Fantastic is a great conversation-starter of a film that has some flaws but overall is very enjoyable, especially because of the amazing performances by the lead actor and the supporting cast.

Rate: 3.9/5

Trailer: Captain Fantastic trailer

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