Movie review: Bright

Movie reviews

Hello!

A Netflix Christmas offering – Bright – has landed on the beloved streaming platform. Let’s see whether it will make Christmas better or worse.

IMDb summary: Set in a world where mystical creatures live side by side with humans. A human cop is forced to work with an Orc to find a weapon everyone is prepared to kill for.

Writing

Bright was written by Max Landis – a screenwriter who is known for being ‘promising’ rather than for actually delivering quality work. In fact, only his debut Chronicle was worthy of attention, while the follow-ups American Ultra and Viktor Frankenstein were lackluster. Sadly, Bright is joining that list of disappointments.

Bright’s script had a lot of interesting layers, however, not all of the layers meshed together. To begin with, I appreciated the fact that Landis attempted to marry fantasy and modernism – two concepts that rarely work together, at least in my opinion. He also did a good enough job of building the world of his story, though, at times, the movie’s mythology seemed to have been made up as the story went along. The magic wand idea was silly but worked as a plot device. The idea of a bright or basically, a wizard, was an example of an old concept given a new name. The orcs and elves were cool additions, though I wanted to find out more about them – also, I’d have loved if they differed from humans more than just in their appearance.

Speaking about orcs, elves, human, and faeries – these different species provided the movie with some commentary on race and/or caste. Separate human racial comments also seemed to have been present in the film (a few lines about Mexicans being blamed for something suggested to me that there are separations not only between species but within human race itself too). The fact that elves were the top and orcs – the bottom castes made Bright seem a bit like Lord of the Rings in the modern era. Since the antagonism between the species appeared to have been rooted in history, one could theorize that Lords of the Rings is an imaginary prequel to Bright.

At its basic, Bright was a crime thriller with two cops (a rookie and a seasoned one – a Training Day pair) at its center. The focus on police officers allowed the movie to explore real problems within the force – discrimination, corruption, and coverups – in a fictional story. However, the movie’s narrow focus on its two leads was also a hindrance as all of the other characters were painted as one-dimensional villains to the two ‘heroes’. Bright had a tone of supporting characters with their own agendas and their sidelines did not jell well in the film but just sort of converged accidentally and resulted in a messy narrative.

Directing

David Ayer directed the film and did an okay job. He used to be a highly acclaimed critical director (the aforementioned Training Day, End of Watch, and even Fury were all critical hits), however, his career started going downhill with Suicide Squad and is not gonna fair any better after Bright (it has been deemed rotten, plus, the fact that Netflix is distributing it automatically makes it a lesser film to a lot of traditional people in the business). It’s a shame that Ayer wasn’t able to make Bright work as well as he could have as this movie was his safe space – a crime thriller – a genre he has worked and succeeded in before.

I loved the beginning of the visual world building – the opening sequence with the graffiti. However, I wanted Bright to have more unique settings throughout the rest of the picture. The action was good too, though it was mostly just typical gunfights. The pacing of the film wasn’t bad – Bright didn’t drag much.

Acting

The two leads of the film were played by Will Smith (Collateral Beauty), who I have already seen in this role many times, and Joel Edgerton (Midnight Special, Loving), who was the standout despite all that heavy make-up and prosthetics. The multiple villainous characters were played by Noomi Rapace (What Happened To Monday), who barely had any lines and was just mostly fighting – wonder how much of that was done by her and how much by the stunt double; Édgar Ramírez (Point Break, The Girl on The Train), who looked great – a real dapper elf – but didn’t have much to do; Lucy Fry, who had a somewhat redeeming role; Ike Barinholtz (he co-wrote Central Intelligence), whose character was absolutely repugnant, and Alex Meraz, who played a interesting gang leader, who seemed like the most unique chracter in the film.

In short, Bright was an okay picture at best that set out to accomplish a lot of things but felt short with most of them.

Rate: 3/5

Trailer: Bright trailer

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5 ideas about a movie: The Florida Project

Movie reviews

Hello!

Welcome to the indie of this weekend. This is The Florida Project!

IMDb summary: Set over one summer, the film follows precocious 6-year-old Moonee as she courts mischief and adventure with her ragtag playmates and bonds with her rebellious but caring mother, all while living in the shadows of Disney World.

  1. The Florida Project was written by the director of the film Sean Baker and Chris Bergoch. Baker has previously directed Tangerine (which was co-written and co-produced by Bergoch) – a movie that was both unique in its subject (it focused on a transgender sex worker) and in the way it was filmed (on 3 iPhone 5s). His follow-up picture is also centered around marginalized people, living on the fringes of society (both literally and figuratively – their motel is on the edge of Disney World). This type of social realism filmmaking reminds me of Andrea’s Arnold’s work, especially her last film American Honey, which focused on a traveling sales crew, hopping from motel to motel in the American Midwest.
  2. The Florida Project’s writing elicited mixed feelings out of me, like all films of this kind do. The picture’s message was clear – the society needs to attempt to understand and to help the people, living on its margins. And yet, how can the said help be given when the marginalized individuals don’t even seem to want it, act entitled (when they have no right to do that) or worse, are violent/abusive. What is the solution to this conundrum or the middle ground?
  3. The Florida Project’s story was mostly centered on the little girl and a single summer of her childhood. The movie nicely portrayed the joys of childhood – being wild and free. And yet, it also noted how that freedom of childhood might not be secure or healthy for a child. The mother-daughter relationship on display was also a complex one. While the mother obviously appeared to love her daughter, to love is not enough to be a good mother. The actual physical care and education are as important for the child’s development as the emotional connection. The movie also explored the idea of a community that the individuals on the fringes of society form. The said community was presented as a small society of its own: it had a structure and was held together by the inner relationships of its members.
  4. From the purely visual perspective, The Florida Project looked bright and vibrant. And yet, that was only the surface that hid the underlying problems from view. I loved how the camera juxtaposed the poverty and the prosperity in the wide shots, where the children would be walking past the endless dinners, gifts shops, and billboards. The whole setting was very well realized and was strikingly American. The mobile frame and the pacing were distinctly indie, while the pacing of the film was good too, even if a bit slow. Lastly, the ending sequence of the two girls running through Disney World was interesting. It made the movie seem as if it was pandering to Disney, by showing that the beloved theme park is the true magic kingdom and the land of escapism. But, maybe this positive portrayal was there so that the Mouse House would not sue the whole film, as that sequence was shot without the corporation’s knowledge or consent.
  5. The cast of The Florida Project delivered quite stellar performances. It was great to see Willem Dafoe (What Happened To Monday, Death Note, The Great Wall) in a more sophisticated/non-mainstream project and to witness his full talent on display. The newcomer Brooklynn Prince was delightful as Moonee – the girl at the center of the story. Bria Vinaite starred as Moonee’s mother – the now-actress was actually discovered on Instagram by the director. I really wonder how much of the dialogue between the children actors as well as between the characters of Moonee and her mother was in the script and how much of it was improvised.

In short, The Florida Project is an important piece of social realism that might infuriate or educate its viewers. Or both.

Rate: 4/5

Trailer: The Florida Project trailer

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Movie review: Murder on the Orient Express 

Movie reviews

Hello!

A glamorous whodunit has landed in theatres. This is Murder on the Orient Express.

IMDb summary: A lavish train ride unfolds into a stylish & suspenseful mystery. From the novel by Agatha Christie, Murder on the Orient Express tells of thirteen stranded strangers & one man’s race to solve the puzzle before the murderer strikes again.

Prior to seeing the film, I had some knowledge about Hercule Poirot: I and my aunt used to play a Poirot video game, where you had to either assist the detective in solving a mystery or you were playing as the detective. In addition, while I haven’t seen any of the previous adaptations of this book, I did go straight to the source and read an original novel by Agatha Christie. I would love to read more of her writings about Poirot but that extensive list is a bit overwhelming.

Writing

Agatha Christie’s detective novel Murder on the Orient Express was adapted to the screenplay format by Michael Green (the writer of 3 (not counting this one) big movies of 2017: Logan, Alien: Covenant, and Blade Runner 2049). I thought that he did a fairly competent job. Since I have read the book only recently, I noticed a few changes in the story, mostly in the set-up, the locations, and the character traits. Other than these small details, the narrative stayed the same and the ending, which I was a bit disappointed by while reading the book, also stayed the same. In the film form, I did not mind the ending that much. I’m just wondering whether that complex reveal and its various tie-ins were explained well enough for a viewer, who wasn’t familiar with the story in the first place, to grasp.

I quite enjoyed the character development that Poirot received. I don’t think these particular details of his past were in the original book but I’m sure they were taken from one of the other Christie’s books of the same series. The emotional vulnerability that the character exhibited in the film made me believe his final decision (the one that came from the heart) more believable. The other characters did not receive much character development unless it was directly related to the case. Since the plot also involved a lot of performative elements, even the character development that was given could not be fully trusted.

Last few points on the script: I feel like it had a more overtly political tone than the book had, or at least elements relating to race, nationality, and governance, were more noticeable in the film. Murder on the Orient Express also had a fair few of chucklesome moments and a surprisingly big amount of sexual innuendos.

Directing

Murder on the Orient Express was directed by Kenneth Branagh, who has quite a lot of experience directing adaptations of classical books (mostly Shakespeare). He has also worked with the fantasy, action, and fairytale genres with Thor, Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit, and Cinderella. Overall, I thought he did a great job with this movie. I believe that the glamour of the setting was well realized, while the limits of it were used for the benefit of the film. The picture had quite a few impressive looking long tracking shots and also a couple of very unique looking straight-overhead/from the top shots. A couple of scenes of more obvious action-y nature were added to keep up the pace of the film, while the extensive interviews of the book were placed in various inventive locations around the train to make them more interesting. The black and white flashback sequences were a nice touch. My only gripe with the visuals of the film was the fact that some wide exterior shots looked really fake and too obviously CGI.

Acting

Kenneth Branagh was quite spectacular as Hercule Poirot. When a director plays the lead in his own film, I always get a bit worried, but I think Branagh handled the challenge well. I think he portrayed the character eccentrically enough but didn’t go into the cartoon territory (which was my worry). Poirot actually seemed like a serious and real person with some unique quirks.

The supporting cast of the film was quite extensive and full of big-name talent. The actors all delivered good enough performances with their limited screen time. Johnny Depp (Pirates 5, Fantastic Beasts, Black Mass, Alice 2) had his most ‘normal’ performance, so maybe the audience members, who have been turning away from him and his over the top roles, will come back? It was also really nice to see Daisy Ridley in a non-Star Wars role and Josh Gad (Beauty and the Beast, Pixels) in another live-action rather than voice role. It was also interesting to spot Michelle Pfeiffer and Judi Dench (Tulip Fever, Spectre) doing something more mainstream after mother! and Victoria&Abdul, respectively.

Penélope CruzWillem Dafoe (Death Note, What Happened To Monday, The Great Wall, TFIOS), Hamilton’s Leslie Odom Jr.Derek JacobiMarwan Kenzari (The Mummy, The Promise, Ben-Hur), Olivia Colman (The Lobster + she is taking over the role of the queen on The Crown), Lucy Boynton (Sing Street), Manuel Garcia-Rulfo (The Magnificent Seven), Sergei Polunin (he is a ballet dancer, so the count’s jumping kicks were legit), and Tom Bateman all starred in the roles, ranging from small to tiny, but the limited size of their roles did not limit the quality of their performances.

In short, Murder on the Orient Express was quite an enjoyable old-school thriller.

Rate: 3.75/5

Trailer: Murder on the Orient Express trailer

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Movie review: What Happened To Monday

Movie reviews

Hello!

Welcome to the review of What Happened To Monday, posted on a Monday. The movie came out on Netflix just recently but it also had a limited release at the cinema, so I’m hesitant to call it a Netflix original, but it still is that, at least partially.

IMDb summary: In a world where families are limited to one child due to overpopulation, a set of identical septuplets must avoid being put to a long sleep by the government and dangerous infighting while investigating the disappearance of one of their own.

What Happened To Monday belongs to the once lucrative dystopian genre. Up until very recently, films like this one were made by all the studios, especially Legendary. Interestingly, the majority of the previous dystopian movies were targeted at young adults, while What Happened To Monday does not feature the letter YA anywhere on its IMDb or wiki page. Nevertheless, it looks and feels like the rest of them, be it YA or not.

Writing

What Happened To Monday was written by Max Botkin and Kerry Williamson. Botkins’s original screenplay for the film was on the 2010’s Blacklist and this picture would have been received so much better if it came out at the beginning of this decade rather than during its second half.

The script had a lot of elements, which I enjoyed. I thought that the world building, while not the most original, was efficient and impressive enough. The flashbacks, which expanded the mythology, were good too. The One Child Policy idea was also interesting and reminded me of a similar system that is used in China, where the policy is obviously not as strict but, nonetheless, exists.

Character wise, the concept of the 7 sisters and the wordplay with their names were both cool. I also enjoyed the idea to have separate vignettes/days that focused on each of the siblings. Plus, the fact that there were 7 leads actually allowed the movie to have higher stakes and kill some of them.

Now, let’s touch upon the flaws in the writing, which was, sadly, plentiful. First, there wasn’t enough characterization for or differentiation between the separate sibling personalities, they all mostly had one character trait each. Most of the time, I didn’t know who was who. The writing for the villains wasn’t great either. The main antagonist was so evil, she bordered on cartoonish, while her pawns – officers of the law – seemed, mostly, really nonchalant about killing people. Monday’s motivation – to save some of her family by betraying other members of the family – didn’t make much sense. Additionally, there were just too much of ‘lucky coincidences’ written into the narrative, like the fact that the finger the Settman siblings were missing was the exact one that unlocked the gun or that cryo-sleep wasn’t actually a thing.

Lastly, while What Happened To Monday started as a personal quest for survival of one family, it, as all dystopian films, ends up being a large scale conflict about toppling the system. I guess if I desire a personal exploration of the dystopian world, I should just watch Black Mirror (well, some of its episodes).

Directing

The Norwegian director Tommy Wirkola, who only has one other English language film Hansel & Greteldirected What Happened To Monday and did an okay job. The futuristic world was well realized visually, even if it looked like a collection of things the viewers have seen in other movies (for example, the film’s poster looked exactly like the poster for The Scorch Trials, only with a gray rather than orange-ish color scheme). The action was fine – more graphic than other dystopian films and more in line with Netflix’s other pictures, like the gruesome violence in Death Note.

Acting

  • Noomi Rapace played 7+1 roles and did a fairly good job, though her performance (in addition the writing) didn’t differ enough from sibling to sibling. Rapace is known for starring in the Swedish versions of The Girl With a Dragon Tattoo films, while the English speaking audiences might remember her from Prometheus and Alien: Covenant’s promotional material. Her next film – Bright – will also be released on Netflix.
  • Willem Dafoe (another Netflix actor, at least for now, he was just in Death Note) had a small role, which he was good in, while Marwan Kenzari (who was recently in The Mummy) also starred. Lastly, Glenn Close played the typical role that a highly respected actor usually plays in a dystopian film. Her involvement was supposed to elevate the project, though, I don’t think that actually happened, as Close herself has mostly fallen off everyone’s radar.

In short, What Happened To Monday is an okay sci-fi dystopian picture that has enough interesting and entertaining ideas to be a worth a watch but lacks originality to be a must see. And yet, if you already have a Netflix account, why not check out the movie?

Rate: 2.9/5

Trailer: What Happened To Monday trailer

 

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