Movie review: The Dark Tower

Movie reviews

Hello!

Recently, there has been a resurgence in the popularity of westerns with both remakes (The Magnificient Seven) and reinventions of the genre (Westworld) hitting the big and the small screens alike. Let’s see whether The Dark Tower can continue the trend.

IMDb summary: The last Gunslinger, Roland Deschain, has been locked in an eternal battle with Walter O’Dim, also known as the Man in Black, determined to prevent him from toppling the Dark Tower, which holds the universe together. With the fate of the worlds at stake, good and evil will collide in the ultimate battle as only Roland can defend the Tower from the Man in Black.

Writing

The Dark Tower film is both an adaptation and a continuation of the Stephen King’s book series by the same name. Sony has tasked Akiva GoldsmanJeff PinknerAnders Thomas Jensen, and the director of the picture Nikolaj Arcel with the honor and the burden of crafting the narrative that can equal as well as complement King’s. And, as most of you already know if you read any of the earlier reviews, this group of screenwriters utterly failed. However, I can’t say I’m that surprised. Goldsman has written a lot of bad movies in his day (Batman&Robin, Insurgent, Transformers 5) and the only reasons why he is still working is the fact that he has an Oscar for A Beautiful Mind. Pinkner has already murdered one franchise before it even started by writing The Amazing Spider-Man 2 and, for some reason, he is writing the Venom solo film too. I don’t know much about Jensen’s work because he has mostly worked on Danish films before now. Arcel is also a Danish filmmaker, however, he might actually be known to the English speaking audiences more for a film A Royal Affair, which stars Alicia Vikander and Mads Mikkelsen – two Danish actors who have fully transitioned into Hollywood.

Speaking of the writing for The Dark Tower, I don’t even know where to begin. The whole screenplay just seemed so lazy and uninspired. There was no interesting set-up for a story or any attempt to build an engaging and fascinating world. Maybe the scriptwriters were hoping that all movie goers have read King’s novels and would already know all the mythology so they didn’t bother putting it in the film. The plot itself was so basic. The characters acted in a certain way just because the screenwriters wanted them to and neither their reasons nor motivations could be found in the picture. The character development wasn’t the best either. The gunslinger was reduced to a stereotypical tired hero, back from retirement for one last fight, while the child lead was a walking cliche too – a tragic figure with a heart of gold (the film even had the super overdone cliche of the parents not trusting their child). The villain – the man in black – was fine but he also could have been so much better: more ominous or well explained or explored.

Directing

Nikolaj Arcel didn’t impress anyone, I included, with his directing. The visuals were boring: there was zero originality in the location design – a couple of industrial warehouses, a bunch of disposable huts, and some fake looking and grim CGI exteriors. The action itself wasn’t that exciting either. For one, there wasn’t enough of it. The man in black should have been allowed to do more with his immense powers, while the gunslinger should have shot stuff more. Also, when you have a character whose main trait is his gun shotting skills, create some inventive and fresh gun action scenes rather than just doing the same thing that every movie does. The only cool parts involving the gunslinger were the shots of him reloading the gun as well as the final diversion bullet thing. I wanted to see more of that! The other part of the film that I can sort of compliment was/were the costumes – they looked neat but mostly because they were worn by good looking Hollywood A-listers than can pull off an outfit consisting of both a low-V shirt and a vest. Lastly, the pacing of the movie was super problematic too. The Dark Tower was only around 90 minutes long – one of the shortest blockbusters in recent years – but it dragged all the time and still felt like it was too long.

Acting

I kinda feel bad for Idris Elba (Zootopia, The Jungle Book, Bastille Day, Star Trek Beyond, Finding Dory, Beasts of No Nation) and Matthew McConaughey (Interstellar, Free State of Jones, Kubo and The Two Strings, Sing): they deserve to act in a better movie than this – but I also don’t think that they delivered their best performances that might have saved the film. McConaughey was cool as the man in black. As I have said, he looked good, he was charismatic but his energy was at an all time low. Elba was fine too but he didn’t make a big impression. Tom Taylor played the young boy and did an okay job but he wasn’t a revelation.

In short, The Dark Tower was a huge disappointment that bored me to the death. I really doubt that this franchise will continue, neither on the silver screen nor at everyone’s homes.

Rate: 2.5/5

Trailer: The Dark Tower trailer

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Movie review: Atomic Blonde

Movie reviews

Hello!

Accidentally, this week my blog has a theme – alternative (not DC or Marvel) comic book movies. On Tuesday, I reviewed Valerian (based on a French comic book) and today, we are talking about Atomic Blonde!

IMDb summary: An undercover MI6 agent is sent to Berlin during the Cold War to investigate the murder of a fellow agent and recover a missing list of double agents.

Writing

The movie Atomic Blonde is based on a 2012 graphic novel ‘The Coldest City’ by Antony Johnston and Sam Hart. The screenwriter Kurt Johnstad (writer of the 300 movies) was the one who adapted this property. It was actually quite refreshing to see a film written by a single person rather than a group of screenwriters of varying experiences. And yet, the writing was still a mixed bag. I loved the main narrative and its structure – the story was presented in a flashback with the verbal exposition being given in an interrogation room. So, the plot was both told and shown. The set-up for the story and the decision to start it from almost the very end also helped to establish the main character. In the first seconds of her appearance, we realized her occupation, her relationships, and her vulnerabilities.

The spy-world was also well realized, with some of its details being quite fascinating. I loved how the film spotlighted the way spies deal with their lives, both physically and emotionally (ice baths, drinking, smoking). The historical tie-ins – the TV announcements about the state of Berlin Wall – were cool too and help to ground the movie. The ideas of spies deceiving each other and always having multiple ulterior motives were quite neat as well.

My few gripes with the film were a single logical flaw and the conclusion of the story. The thing that didn’t make much sense was the fact that James McAvoy’s character was trusted by others when he was obviously acting shady. Plus, the picture’s motto was ‘Never Trust Anyone’, so the fact that the characters turned a blind eye to his deceptions was kinda dumb. Secondly, the film’s story had a lot of twists and turns at the end, which were really heavily piled one on top of another. I wish that these reveals would have been given earlier or handled in different a way because it felt like the movie had multiple endings and didn’t know when to stop.

Directing

The longtime stunt coordinator, stuntman, and fight choreographer who recently transitioned into directing – David Leitch – helmed Atomic Blonde. His previous directing credits include the first John Wick (with Chad Stahelski), while his upcoming project is the Deadpool sequel. Not surprisingly, Atomic Blonde has been nicknamed online as the female version of John Wick and, while the comparison is valid, Atomic Blonde is also very much its own thing. It has its own cool action scenes, which were choreographed superbly and showcased fighters using a lot of everyday props rather than guns. The way these fight scenes were modified for someone, who is physically weaker (a female body) was interesting too. I also loved the car chases with all the old, now vintage, cars (no yellow Fast&Furious Lamborghinis here). 

The overall tone of Atomic Blonde was also really cool. I’d describe it as gritty glamor. The gritty part comes from the bloody action and the truthful depiction of the life of spies. The glamor could be seen in the costumes and the hairstyle of its lead – Charlize Theron had an impeccable look with her long, classic coats and platinum blonde hair. The cool color pallet added to the glamor too. The punk influences of 1989/1990s Berlin (the combo of grit and glamor) were also felt in the movie, from the locations of the underground clubs to the visuals of the graffiti on the wall. The soundtrack of the picture also emerged up from this general feel and tone. The composer of John Wick and Guardians of the Galaxy films, Tyler Bates, did a great job on the Atomic Blonde score, by mixing together 90s English and German songs as well as their more modern reworkings.

The director Leitch also did a brilliant job of filming the action in a variety of angles. Every trick in the book was used – from long panning shots and zoom ins/outs to close-ups to handheld shots with and without the cuts. That continuous action sequence in the apartment building was especially amazing. Genre wise, Atomic Blonde certainly felt more like a drama/thriller rather than just an action film. Its pacing wasn’t super fast – the movie didn’t really drag (except maybe the ending) but it never got as exciting as it could have been.

All in all, though I had some problems with the directing of the film, I enjoyed it overall and I still think that Leitch can nail Deadpool 2. We all know that he can deliver a magnificent action sequence, I just wonder whether he can do humor and comedy.

Acting

Atomic Blonde had quite a stellar cast. Charlize Theron (The Huntsman, Mad Max, FF8, Kubo) was front and center, demanding all the attention for the best reasons. She was amazing in the role, especially in its physical aspects (she did lots of stunts herself). James McAvoy (X-Men) was cool and creepy in his role. His persona in this film felt like just another personality of his character in SplitSofia Boutella (The Mummy, Star Trek, Kingsman) was also good, though her performance was brief. John Goodman (Kong, Trumbo), Eddie Marsan (Their Finest), and Toby Jones rounded out of the cast.

In short, Atomic Blonde is a very entertaining thriller that has a lot of cool aspects but also some minor flaws. Not a perfect film but definitely worth a watch.

Rate: 3.7/5

Trailer: Atomic Blonde trailer

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Movie review: The Mummy

Movie reviews, Music

Hello!

Welcome to another movie review of a film that literally could have come out at any time in the last two decades – The Mummy!

IMDb summary: An ancient princess is awakened from her crypt beneath the desert, bringing with her malevolence grown over millennia, and terrors that defy human comprehension.

The Mummy is the official beginning of the rebooted Universal Monsters franchise, now titled Dark Universe. The first attempt to revive this classical (1920s-1950s) series happened in 2014 with the release of Dracula Untold, however, since the film underperformed, it was later made non-canon. And yet, I still feel like it might be reinstated into the franchise, as The Mummy is not fairing much better, neither critically nor financially. One last note – Universal’s Monster Dark Universe should NOT be confused with Legendary’s MonsterVerse, which has Godzilla and King Kong instead of The Invisible Man, Frankenstein, and The Mummy.

Writing

The 14th The Mummy film was written by David Koepp (who has worked on some of my favorite pictures – Jurassic Park, Mission Impossible, Panic Room; some stinkers like Indy 4 and Mortdecai; and some who were somewhere in between, like Inferno and Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit; he is also writing Indy 5), Christopher McQuarrie (who worked on The Usual Suspects and a trifecta of Tom Cruise films: Jack Reacher, Edge of Tomorrow, and MI 5; he is next both scripting and directing MI 6) and the actor Dylan Kussman (the least accomplished screenwriter on the project – this is only his 3rd project as a writer). The story credits were also given to Jon Spaihts (Prometheus, Doctor Strange, Passengers), the actress Jenny Lumet (she wrote Rachel Getting Married), and the director of the film.

I actually quite enjoyed the writing for The Mummy – it was definitely better than the writing for a few blockbusters that I’ve seen this summer movie season already. The film started on a really solid footing – the set up was good and interesting enough even if a bit heavy-handed and dense (I always liked the mixture of history and fantasy, so maybe that’s why I liked that ancient Egypt sequence)  – but the promising script fizzled out in the 3rd act (the love story and the solution to defeating The Mummy were both predictable). Also, the set-up story was repeated too many times. The viewers did not need to hear the same exposition 3 or more times.

The characters were great though – I liked the fact that we got to see the narrative through the ‘everyman’s’ perspective (even if Tom Cruise isn’t really an ‘everyman’). What I liked the most about his characters was the fact that he was a genuine idiot – let me explain – his character was a thief and not even a very good one, so the stupid actions that he had to make during the plot actually sorta made sense. It would have been illogical if a super smart person acted that certain way that action movie narratives require. I also liked the contrast between the two leads, how she was a scientist and he was totally clueless about most of the stuff except how much everything is worth on the black market. The duo of the two military partners was also good – I liked how one was an adventurer and the other wanted nothing more than not to be there. These contrasts between the characters gave rise to some funny moments. Actually, The Mummy was a way funnier movie in general than I expected it to be. A lot of the funny moments stemed from the awkward encounters or involved characters reacting to stuff – nothing too original but at least these scenes weren’t cringe-y.

Looking to the future of the series, the two main things should be kept in mind. First, Russel Crowe’s double identity (Jekyll and Hyde, good and evil) will probably come into play in the next film. He, as the head of Prodigium, is the connecting tissue for the Dark Universe, so his involvement in all the films is all but guaranteed. Second, Tom Cruise’s character’s double identity, acuired in the final act, will probably be also explored further, maybe in other Dark Universe films or perhaps in The Mummy 2, when or if that movie materializes (the future is unclear due to lukewarm reception from critics and moviegoers alike).

Directing

The Mummy was directed by the screenwriter Alex Kurtzman – this was only his second directorial attempt and it wasn’t a bad one for sure. The pacing was fine and the action sequences were serviceable too. The design of The Mummy was really cool looking as well and her powers were realized well (even if they were really vague). I especially liked that reanimation effect – it lookes appropriatelly disgusting. The world building/the visualization of mythology was fine too. The design for The Mummy’s victims-turned-zombies could have been better though – they looked like they were in/from World War Z. Overall, a good directing effort – not groundbreaking but nothing to be ashamed of either.

Acting

The Mummy had a pretty well-known cast. The biggest name was, of course, Tom Cruise, in the lead role Nick Morton. Say what you want about him as a person, but I still belive that Cruise is a good actor, especially when he is in his element – an action movie. He is good at physical stunts and charming AF. This time around, he also got a chance to show off his comedic skills – haven’t seen those in a while. His next film is Doug Liman’s American MadeAnnabelle Wallis (quite an unknow actress to me) starred as Jennifer Halsey and was good too. This was defintely her biggest role to date. She also had a small part in the new King Arthur film, which I’m finally seeing in a couple of days.

Sofia Boutella played Princess Ahmanet. She has made a name for herself by performing physically interesting or challenging roles in pictures like Kingsman and Star Trek Beyond. Those skills really helped her embody The Mummy as well. Her next film is Atomic BlondeRussell Crowe (Noah, The Nice Guys) was also good as Dr. Henry Jekyll. I like the fact that they were able to get a serious actor into this franchise – maybe that will give it more gravitas?

The comedian/actor Jake Johnson (21 Jump Street, Neighbors, Mike and Dave Need Weding Dates) starred as the sidekick to Tom Cruise’s character and did a good job being the comic relief. Lastly, Marwan Kenzari, who I just saw in The Promise a handful of days ago, played a security officer. I knew he looked familiar and I was rocking my brain, trying to remembering who he was, everytime he appeared on screen. 

In short, while The Mummy is a rocky start to Universal’s Dark Universe, it is a perfectly fine summer action movie. It doesn’t have any deeper themes, but it is also not convoluted, offensive or boring.

Rate: 3.5/5

Trailer: The Mummy trailer

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Movie review: Wonder Woman

Movie reviews

Hello!

Let me begin by saying that I don’t think I can name another recent movie that had so many external things riding on it. Wonder Woman has at least 3: 1. It has to save DCEU and finally unite the fans and the critics; 2. It has to prove that female-lead (behind and in front of the camera) superhero films and action pictures, in general, can be both of high quality and profitable; 3. It just has to be a good movie on its own.

IMDb summary: Before she was Wonder Woman she was Diana, Princess of the Amazons, trained warrior. When a pilot crashes and tells of conflict in the outside world, she leaves home to fight a war to end all wars, discovering her full powers and true destiny.

SPOILER ALERT

Writing

The first big screen adaptation of the Wonder Woman comics was written by a TV and comic book writer Allan Heinberg, who previously tried bringing Wonder Woman to the small screen in 2011-2012. Batman v Superman’s Zack Snyder and a quite unknown writer Jason Fuchs also contributed to the story.

I really enjoyed the narrative that they crafted for this film and the character development that they managed to interweave into it. I loved how the story started in the modern day with Diana looking at the picture from WW1. The said image was actually one of the first pieces of the promotional material released for this film. The flashback to her childhood and younger years on Themyscira were also fascinating. I appreciated that the film did include both of her origin stories from the comics – the clay one and the one where Zeus is her father.

The whole explanation of the backstory for the Amazons and Aries from the Greek mythology was a bit overwhelming but informative and interesting too. The set-up of the world outside of Themyscyra also worked – the scene where Steve told the Amazons about The Great War not only set up the main conflict but also showcased one of the main tools of WW in action – The Lasso of Truth. In general, a lot of my favorite moments in the movie involved the lasso.

On top having a lot of great story elements from the comics and history, Wonder Woman’s script also had a plethora of comic relief moments which did actually work. While the culture shock, which kickstarted all the funny banter, was a bit cringy at times, it was also equally cute, and, most importantly, quite realistic.

All the comedy, as well as the more dramatic moments, worked because of the characters involved. We not only got to learn Diana’s whole backstory, but we also got to witness an amazing character arc of Steve Trevor. I was really afraid that he would be relegated to the background in this movie, but he was, thankfully, front and center – an equal of Diana’s. It was really nice to see him being efficient at his jobs as a spy and his journey from dismissing to believing Diana was also awesome. Plus, I really liked the fact that both he and Diana had separate things to accomplish in the third act. Their interactions – from comedic to romantic ones – worked too and didn’t seem like they were pushed. I was quite sad to see Trevor go, especially since he is such a crucial part of Wonder Woman’s mythos. Having said that, I still think that they did an amazing job with the character in this film. Other characters in the movie were also really interesting, especially Trevor’s friends. That was one weird group of characters you don’t see together on film often.

Thematically, Wonder Woman provided the commentary on humanity and her whole emotional arc was learning to take humans for what they are, flaws and all. And yet, her signature idea of fighting prejudice on all fronts was still present in the movie. Diana’s final realization – that love is the one thing that can save this world – wasn’t campy at all and actually quite emotional. I felt that the movie earned this type of a conclusion. The big reveal of the film – who was Aries – was actually surprising (for those who did not spoil it to themselves while researching the movie). I really liked how Ares attempt at an armistice was only a ploy for more war as well.

Lastly, Wonder Woman’s story ended the way it began – in a modern day with her writing a thank-you reply to Bruce Wayne for sending her the photo. I loved how this small scene gave a feeling of a bigger universe – DCEU – existing beyond this film. I thought that the scene of her sending the email was much more organic than the video attachments from the BvS.

Directing

Patty Jenkins, whose debut film was also her last one for over a decade, directed Wonder Woman and did a spectacular job. She didn’t lose an ounce of skill that she showcased with the fascinating 2003’s picture Monster, which I only watched yesterday for the first time and was absolutely blown away. Jenkins definitely should have received more praise for it in addition to Charlize Theron, instead of the latter just getting the majority of it. Anyways, after a series of failed movie projects and some highly-regarded and successful TV ones, Jenkins agreed to direct Wonder Woman and we all should be extremely happy and thankful that she did.

First of all, she succeeded in striking a balance of tone for the movie. While BvS was too dark and Suicide Squad was trying too hard to be funny, Wonder Woman had the right amount of seriousness, comedy, and romance. More importantly, this mixture was elevated by sophistication and a level of class. The movie was also edited in a way that was cohesive – the story flowed organically rather than the film just being a collection of sequences of no relation to one another.

Visually, the film was also stunning. The way that Themyscira was realized with a distinctly Greek feeling (architecture, costumes) was just absolutely amazing.  The shots of the island and the ocean were wonderful as well. In contrast to the glamourous yet strong Themyscira, the WW1 Europe was realized as broken and dirty – very realistic. The film had a number of amazing looking shots, like the one of Diana standing on the crashed plane from Steve’s POV from underneath the water or those few shots of Diana looking up at the sky in different locations.

The action was also astounding. The style of fighting of the Amazons – a lot of flips in mid-air while holding a bow and arrow (my weapon of choice alway and forever) – was super cool. Jenkins also used a lot of slow motion but actually did it tastefully and in a way that it enhanced the action. Another epic sequence was Wonder Woman fighting in the no-man’s-land and later on in the village. She looked absolutely brilliant while doing it and I also loved how Trevor and the other characters collaborated with her by making a ramp for her to jump on. The final action sequence was also amazing. My only gripe was that I wish Ares CGI costume would have had a different design, something more inventive. Nevertheless, I loved how in that fight (and in many others), Diana used the Lasso as a weapon and it wasn’t just a tool for truth-telling. Having said that, the way Trevor took the lasso and wrapped in around his hand to make her believe that he was taking her to the front was such a clever idea!

And the last note on the visuals of the film – now I get why all the posters for the film had an orange background – it was meant to symbolize the orange mustard gas. I actually haven’t realized that prior to seeing the movie. Nevertheless, it was nice to see a continuity between the ads and the final product. The soundtrack of the picture wasn’t bad either. I love the Wonder Woman theme and it was used several times. Sia’s song ‘To be human’ played during the credits and made me ask the question: is Sia’s music going to play over the credits of all the summer movies like it did last year? Probably.

Acting  

  • Gal Gadot as Diana Prince / Wonder Woman. Gadot was absolutely amazing in the role. Firstly, she looked like the character – the right mixture of model and fitness athlete. More importantly, she did not look oversexualized. Gadot was also not only marvelous in the action scenes but handled both the dramatic and the comedic moments very well. I can’t wait to see whether this role will give her career a boost. She first rose to prominence with the Fast and the Furious films, while last year she had minor roles in thrillers Triple 9 and Criminal in addition to appearing in BvS. She also showcased her comedic chops in the 2016’s action comedy Keeping Up With The Joneses. The youngest version of Diana was played by a child actress Lilly Aspel. She was also amazing in the few scenes she was in – both cute and fierce.
  • Chris Pine as Steve Trevor is an amazing casting if I ever saw one. Pine was charming yet efficient in the role. His chemistry with Gadot was also believable. While I’m sad that Pine won’t be able to continue playing this character, I hope that we can at least watch him on Star Trek for years to come.
  • Robin Wright delivered a short but powerful performance as General Antiope. I really should watch House of CardsConnie Nielsen also worked as Queen Hippolyta.
  • Danny Huston as General Erich Ludendorff and Elena Anaya as Doctor Isabel Maru / Doctor Poison were also well cast. Huston was threatening as the General (he is probably used to this type of a role), while it was nice to see Anaya playing a character from the comics that somehow really fit into the WW1 scenario.
  • David Thewlis as Ares. The only casting choice that I wish was different. Don’t get me wrong, I though that Thewlis did a good job in the role but I wish they would have done something more interesting with the role than having it played by an older white male.
  • Some ethnic diversity was brought to the movie by a band of Trevor’s friends, played by Saïd Taghmaoui, Trainspotting’s Ewen Bremner (Scottish sniper/singer – amazing), and Eugene Brave Rock. Lucy Davis was also good as the comedic relief secretary of Trevor’s.

In short, Wonder Woman is one the best comic book origin movies, the best female lead superhero film, the best DCEU movie, and one of my favorite pictures of this year already! I highly suggest you see it before continuing to follow Diana’s story in the Justice League. Moreover, if you are interested in the behind-the-scenes backstory of the character, the biographical drama about her creator is currently in the works, titled Professor Marston & the Wonder Women.

Rate: 4.5/5

Trailer: Wonder Woman trailer

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Movie review: Guardians of the Galaxy Vol.2

Movie reviews

Hello!

The 15th MCU movie and a sequel to the 2014’s Marvel gamble – Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 2 – has premiered on my side of the world, so, I’m going to talk about it!

IMDb summary: Set to the backdrop of Awesome Mixtape #2, ‘Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2’ continues the team’s adventures as they unravel the mystery of Peter Quill’s true parentage.

Before I review the actual film, here are the links to my previous Marvel reviews, starting with GOTG Vol.1Doctor Strange, Civil War, Avengers 2, Ant-Man, Captain America 1 + 2.

SPOILER WARNING

Writing

The writer and director of the first film – James Gunn – also penned the screenplay for the sequel. Overall, I very much enjoyed seeing the continuation of the Guardians story but I did feel that the first act of the film was a bit wonky. I thought that the set-up involving The Sovereign was choppy. In addition, The Sovereign were not utilized in a useful way throughout the rest of the movie (they just popped up in the third act because the film needed to have an even bigger space battle – they were basically the sequel’s Nova Corps). Plus, the fact that Aysha was interested in Peter’s heritage and, in the very next scene, Peter’s dad Ego suddenly appeared seemed as just too much of a coincidence.

The jokes and the banter at the beginning also seemed a bit forced. They were the bad kind of cheesy. However, as the picture progressed, the humor got way better and the narrative also found its footing and started to unfold quite cohesively. GOTG 2 just needed those first 30 minutes to get going and it could afford that, being a 2h+ movie.

I also really liked the character development in the film. I loved learning more about Peter, his past, and his dad. Ego was a wonderful addition to the cast and I also really enjoyed the fact that they turned him into a villain. And he actually was a good Marvel villain – menacing and threatening! I liked the fact that his and Yondu’s backstories fit together quite organically as well. I’m just worried that the filmmakers might have overpowered Ego – I can’t imagine what will Thanos be like?

A character which surprised me a lot was Yondu – I did not think much about him in the first film but the reveal of his backstory and true feelings towards Peter made him into a wonderful character. Sucks that he met his end as soon as I started to like him. The other new addition to the Guardians (well, sort of) was Nebula – I did enjoy learning more about her and thought that her and Gamora’s relationship progressed nicely. The definite newcomer – Mantis – was also a fun new inclusion. I loved the duo she and Drax made.

Lastly, I loved the thematical core of the film – the Guardians coming to terms with the fact that they care about each other and are a family. Yes, the family angle is cheesy and overdone (Fast and Furious in space) but it still works and has a universal appeal.

Directing

James Gunn, once again, directed the movie (and he also just recently announced that he will be back to helm Vol. 3). I believe that he did a great job. The visual design was just extraordinary, especially the visual realization of Ego in his various forms. I loved the landscapes of his planet as well as his appearance as a human. The visual sequence of Ego rebuilding his human body from a skeleton to being Kurt Russell was really impressive. The fact that they actually put a face on a planet was also really cool and a neat nod to the character’s representation in the comics. Another great visual sequence was Yondu’s ‘Ravager’s funeral’: it was so colorful and actually emotional. An extremely funny visual was the space travel facial distortion – it was such an unexpected but really brilliant gag.

The ‘money shot’ – the round shot of all the Guardians standing together was also just glorious. The camera work, in general, was very vibrant and elaborate – and it made the action look amazing. The opening shot was really great too – the focus on the Baby Groot with the action happening in the background was a really inventive and funny way to kickstart the film. Generally, Baby Groot was a complete scene-stealer. Huge props to the CGI department for realizing an animated (basically) character and adding so much personality (much more than the adult Groot had) to his movements and facial expressions. I also loved the fact that his size was an asset to the team and that Baby Groot was part of a final solution, not just the cuteness relief (a cute version of comic relief). Lastly, I loved the two visual gags and how they were both part of the story and fun references to the real life – I, of course, am talking about the cameos by David Hasselhoff and Pac-Man.

Music

The film’s soundtrack was also really good – equal to the soundtrack of its predecessor. Tyler Bates was responsible for the music but I think Gunn also had a hand in picking the songs. I also appreciated the fact that the music was half-diegetic and a part of the story.

Acting/Favorite Character Moments

  • Chris Pratt (Passengers, Jurassic World, The Magnificent Seven, The Lego Movie) as Peter Quill / Star-Lord. Pratt was really good in the role – he has that infinite charm of a leading man and I can’t wait for him to appear on screen with other MCU leading men, like Robert Downey Jr. I also though that Pratt’s and Kurt Russell’s/Ego’s (The Hateful Eight) chemistry was believable. I bought them as father and son for a while and that scene with the ball was really touching and a nice callback to Peter missing out on this type of activity during childhood because of a lack of father figure.
  • Zoe Saldana (Star Trek Beyond) was also good as Gamora, my favorite shot with her was when she picked up that oversized gun. Her and Karen Gillan’s/Nebula’s (The Big Short, The Circle (premiering this weekend in the US as well)) chemistry was good and the banter – really enjoyable.
  • Dave Bautista as Drax the Destroyer. Bautista’s acting abilities have improved since the first film and his unapologetic and unironic comic relief was amazing. His budding relationship with Pom Klementieff’s Mantis was also lovely. Their scene on the steps was really moving. Klementieff was a nice addition to the cast and her performance was appropriate for the character.
  • Michael Rooker as Yondu Udonta. The scene-stealer of the film. I loved the sequence where he used the arrow to escape from the Ravagers. It was just spectacular. I would have loved to see more of Rooker’s performance in subsequent films, but, oh well.
  • Vin Diesel (Fast&Furious) as the voice of Baby Groot  I have no idea why Diesel returned to voice Groot when Baby Groot sounds nothing like Vin Diesel. Well, at least they can put his name on the adverts and posters and that will get them a lot of money in China. 
  • Bradley Cooper (War Dogs, Joy) as the voice of Rocket. Cooper’s voice somehow fits Rocket’s appearance and behavior. I loved how the actor depicted the character’s dry sense of humor.
  • Elizabeth Debicki (The Man from U.N.C.L.E.) as Aysha. While Debicki did look cool with all that gold make-up on, I don’t think she took the role seriously enough. Her acting seemed a bit cheesy but I am excited to see where her character’s story goes next, cause my favorite moment with her, performance-wise, was her delivery of a few lines during the mid-credits scene. In that scene, she sounded way more ominous and authenticate than she did in before.
  • Sean Gunn as Kraglin. I really liked the fact that we got to see more of Sean Gunn’s on-screen character during the sequel. If you didn’t know, he also does the motion capture for Rocket.

5 CREDITS SCENES

As James Gunn promised, the film had 5 scenes during the credits (that has to be some kind of record). 2 scenes played before the credits, 2 in the middle and 1 after. They were very well dispersed and the credits themselves did not feel long at all. The scenes were mostly related to the predeceasing film but they also set up some minor but long awaited stuff.

  1. The first pre-credits scene depicted Sean Gunn’s character Kraglin learning to work with Yondu’s arrow and failing at it. It was both funny and developed the story further.
  2. The second pre-credits scene showed Sylvester Stallone’s (Creed) character reforming the Ravagers out of the characters who were the original Guardians of the Galaxy in the comics. Their inclusion during the credits probably means that they will have a role to play in MCU or at least in GOTG Vol.3. It was also nice to see another scene with Stallone as he only appeared in a handful of them during the main runtime of the movie. It was basically just a cameo and if the role would not have been played by a big name talent like Stallone, no one would talk about it.
  3. The first mid-credits scene was a conclusion to The Sovereign’s plotline and a potential set up for the arrival of the long anticipated character – Adam Warlock! I really hope he finally shows up in the next film!
  4. The second mid-credits scene was probably my favorite out of all of them: it showed the teenager Groot acting as a typical teenager, while Peter attempted to be the Dad. Groot is kinda the child of the Guardians. What a dysfunctional yet lovable family.
  5. The last scene which came at the end of the credits was another Stan Lee cameo. He had a cameo in the main part of the film but it was also nice to see him again. I read online that they film a lot more scenes with Lee than they actually use, so it was quite neat that they found a place to use some more of that material.

Rate: 4.5/5

Trailer: Guardians of the Galaxy Vol.2

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2016: 100 Book Challenge

Uncategorized

Hello!

The end of the year usually means a lot of looking-back/reflection/summary posts. This one is no exception. Also, if you ever needed more proof that I am a gigantic nerd, this is it.

At the beginning of the year, I raised myself a challenge – to read 100 books and to keep track of them. I mainly did that because 1. I wanted to read more – I used to read a lot during childhood but couldn’t find time for books in later years, due to watching a lot of films and 2. since I read/watch/hear so many stories, I wanted to have a list of them so that I would not start reading a book which I have read before.

I’m glad to announce that I did achieve my goal and did finish 100 books in 12 months. I covered a variety of genres, authors, and languages.

Some statistics before I give you the list: out of the 100 books:

  • 23 were in my native Lithuanian language and 77 were in English.
  • 20 of them were for study purposes, 80 – for leisure.
  • 60 authors were covered: I read only one book by 44 authors and a few books by 16 authors. W. Shakespeare came in first with 8 repeats, T. Morrison followed second with 6 and J.K.Rowling with 5. D. Brown had 4, while A. Moore, R. Riggs, M. Strandberg and S.B. Elfrgen and Sir A. Conan Doyle all had 3. Lastly, I read 2 books by each of the following authors: A. Miller, H. Ibsen, A. Spiegelman, S. Plath, J. Conrad, J. Moyes, G. Flynn, and H. Lee.
  • 30 writers were American, 15British, 5French, 2 (each) were Lithuanian, Irish, Japanese, and Scandinavian and 1 (each) – Russian, Polish, Nigerian, and Pakistani.
  • 72 were stand-alone books, while 28 belonged to 11 series.
  • 53 were modern books, while 47 were classics.
  • 56 were prose and 2poetry books. 15 were plays, 18graphic novels, and 9memoirs.
  • 8 was my monthly average.

Before I give you the long list by genre, here is my TOP 10 in no particular order:

  • A. Spiegelman – ‘Maus’
  • A.Moore and D.Gibbons – ‘Watchmen’
  • J.K.Rowling – ‘Harry Potter and the Cursed Child’
  • S. Plath – ‘The Bell Jar’
  • H. Lee – ‘Go Set a Watchman’
  • A. Weir – ‘The Martian’
  • G. Flynn – ‘Sharp Objects’
  • E. Cline – ‘Ready Player One’
  • L. Wacquant – ‘Body and Soul: The Notebooks of an Apprentice Boxer’
  • C. McDougall – ‘Born to Run’

Now the actual list by genre:

Prose:

  1. E. A. Poe – collection of short stories titled ‘The Gold-Bug’
  2. A. de Saint-Exupéry – two storiesSouthern Mail’ and ‘Night Flight’ in one novel.
  3. M. Shelley – ‘Frankenstein’
  4. J.M.Barie – ‘Peter Pan’
  5. W. Golding – ‘Lord of the Flies’
  6. V. Nabokov – ‘Lolita’
  7. K. Ishiguro – ‘Never Let Me Go’
  8. S. Plath – ‘The Bell Jar’
  9. J. Conrad – ‘Hearth of Darkness’
  10. J. Conrad – a trio of short stories ‘An Outpost of Progress’, ‘Karan’, ‘Youth’.
  11. J. Baldwin –  ‘Giovanni’s Room’
  12. C. Achebe – ‘Things Fall Apart’
  13. T. Morrison – ‘Beloved’
  14. T. Morrison – ‘Sula’
  15. T. Morrison – ‘Song of Solomon’
  16. T. Morrison – ‘A Mercy’
  17. T. Morrison – ‘The Bluest Eye’
  18. T. Morrison – ‘Home’
  19. M. Mauss – ‘The Gift’
  20. H. Melville – ‘Moby Dick’
  21. J. Austen – ‘Sense and Sensibility’
  22. J. Moyes – ‘Me Before You’
  23. J. Moyes – ‘After You’
  24. H. Lee – ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’
  25. H. Lee – ‘Go Set a Watchman’
  26. A. Weir – ‘The Martian’
  27. G. Flynn – ‘Sharp Objects’
  28. G. Flynn – ‘Dark Places’
  29. M. Strandberg and S.B.Elfgren – ‘The Circle’
  30. M. Strandberg and S.B.Elfgren – ‘Fire’
  31. M. Strandberg and S.B.Elfgren – ‘The Key’
  32. K. Vonnegut – ‘The Breakfast of Champions’
  33. I. Fleming – ‘Casino Royale’
  34. D. Brown – ‘Angels and Demons’
  35. D. Brown – ‘The Da Vinci Code’
  36. D. Brown – ‘The Lost Symbol’
  37. D. Brown – ‘Inferno’
  38. G. DeWeese – ‘Into the Nebula (Star Trek: The Next Generation #36)’
  39. R. Riggs – ‘Miss Peregrine’s Home for the Peculiar Children’
  40. R. Riggs – ‘Hollow City’
  41. R. Riggs – ‘The Library of Souls’
  42. E. Blyton – ‘The Famous Five: Five Go Down to the Sea’
  43. E. Blyton – ‘The Famous Five: Five Go to Mystery Moor’
  44. E. Blyton – ‘The Famous Five: Five Have Plenty of Fun’
  45. E. Blyton – ‘The Famous Five: Five on a Secret Trail’
  46. K. Keplinger – ‘The Duff’
  47. P. Hawkins – ‘The Girl on the Train’
  48. J.K.Rowling – ‘The Casual Vacancy’
  49. J.K.Rowling – ‘Fantastic Beast and Where To Find Them’
  50. J.K.Rowling – ‘Quidditch Through The Ages’
  51. J.K.Rowling – ‘Tale of Beedle The Bard’
  52. Sir A. Conan Doyle – ‘The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes’
  53. Sir A. Conan Doyle – ‘The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes’
  54. Sir A. Conan Doyle – ‘The Return of Sherlock Holmes’
  55. E. Cline – ‘Ready Player One’
  56. G.R.R.Martin – ‘The World of Ice and Fire’
  57. D.Grayson – ‘Doctor Strange: The Fate of Dreams’

Poetry:

  1. S. Heaney – ‘North’
  2. S. Plath – ‘Ariel’

Plays:

  1. J.M.Synge – ‘The Playboy of the Western World’
  2. A. Miller – ‘The Crucible’
  3. A. Miller – ‘Death of a Salesman’
  4. H. Ibsen – ‘A Doll’s House’
  5. H. Ibsen – ‘Hedda Gabler’
  6. J. Lyly – ‘Galatea’
  7. W. Shakespeare – ‘The Taming of the Shrew’
  8. W. Shakespeare – ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’
  9. W. Shakespeare – ‘Twelfth Night’
  10. W. Shakespeare – ‘The Merchant ofVenice’
  11. W. Shakespeare – ‘The Tempest’
  12. W. Shakespeare – ‘Coriolanus’
  13. W. Shakespeare – ‘Hamlet’
  14. W. Shakespeare – ‘Troilus and Cressida’
  15. J.K.Rowling – ‘Harry Potter and the Cursed Child’

Graphic Novels:

  1. A. Spiegelman – ‘Maus’
  2. A. Spiegelman – ‘In The Shadow of No Towers’
  3. M. Satrapi – ‘Persepolis’
  4. J. Maroh – ‘Blue is the Warmest Colour’
  5. C. Burns – ‘Black Hole’
  6. M.Millar and S.McNiven – ‘Civil War’
  7. Various authors – ‘Marvel’s Mightiest Heroes: Wolverine’
  8. A.Moore and D.Gibbons – ‘Watchmen’
  9. A.Moore and D.Lloyd – ‘V for Vendetta’
  10. A.Moore and B.Bolland – ‘Batman: The Killing Joke’
  11. M.Anusauskaite and G.Jord – ’10 litu’
  12. Various authors – ‘The Greatest Batman Stories Ever Told’
  13. Various authors – ‘Marvel Platinum: The Definitive Iron Man’
  14. J. Sacco – ‘Palestine’
  15. C.Thompson – ‘Blankets’
  16. M.Wolfman and G.Perez – ‘Crisis on Infinite Earths’
  17. E. Brubaker – ‘The Death of Captain America’

Memoirs:

  1. D. Howell and P. Lester – ‘The Amazing Book Is Not On Fire’
  2. T. Oakley – ‘Binge’
  3. C. Franta – ‘A Work in Progress’
  4. G. Helbig – ‘Grace’s Guide: The Art of Pretending to be a Grown-Up’
  5. L. Wacquant – ‘Body and Soul: The Notebooks of an Apprentice Boxer’
  6. M.Youafzai and C.Lamb – ‘I am Malala’
  7. I.Staskevicius – ‘Maratono laukas’ (‘Marathon running’)
  8. H. Murakami – ‘What I talk about when I talk about running’
  9. C.McDougall – ‘Born to Run’

I hope you enjoyed flicking through my 2016 reading list. I really want to start writing more book-centric posts next year, so this was like a taster-post. Have a great New Year and tell me in the comments your favorite book from last year!

A snapshot of my collection

Movie review: Snowden

Movie reviews

Hi!

While everyone else is already starting to review Rogue One, I’m still catching up on films that were only just released in the UK. Sully came out 3 months late, and Snowden followed suit. So, let’s review it!

IMDb summary: The NSA’s illegal surveillance techniques are leaked to the public by one of the agency’s employees, Edward Snowden, in the form of thousands of classified documents distributed to the press.

Writing

Although I was alive when the main events depicted in this film came to light (it was 2013), I don’t necessarily remember watching or reading any media coverage of them. However, before watching  the film, I did know who Snowden was, so I must have heard or read something back in 2013.

The film’s script was written by Kieran Fitzgerald and the director of the film Oliver Stone, based on books The Snowden Files by Luke Harding and Time of the Octopus by Anatoly Kucherena. The movie’s main narrative was told in a flashback form. The filmed picked up days before the events of 2013 and told the different parts of Snowden’s live and depicted the different jobs he did in the flashbacks. The movie also did a good job with the writing for its main character: the film showed his transition from conservative to a liberal in a believable way and also humanized Snowden, by including his private personal story together with the public professional one.

I, personally, always had a stance on what Snowden did and this film didn’t change that, only reaffirmed it. Having said that, I still think that the movie fairly treated both sides of the story and didn’t necessarily have hidden agenda beneath. I did enjoy the discussion about the surveillance and the raising of the question whether it was for safety or for control. The ideas on privacy and patriotism were also interesting. I especially liked the line that stated that the government does not equal the country, which was an extremely important idea for me to remember because of all the events of 2016.

I also appreciated the fact that the movie showed how Snowden’s work had an impact on his health and relationships. The work of spies is only glamorous and cool when it’s fictional. Lastly, the movie’s story was a bit scary as well as angering because it represented the reality that we all live in. Its cautionary message should not go unheard of.

Directing

Oliver Stone, who is known for making politically and economically focused films, both documentaries and narrative pictures, directed Snowden and created another solid drama. The film was compelling and well constructed. The pacing was a bit slow, but I was intrigued enough by the story to let the slight dragging slide. Visually, one of my favorite sequences of the film was the CGI montage of the surveillance connections that ended up in Snowden’s eye. It was kinda an obvious way of explaining the mass scale of surveillance but it was done well. I do believe that this story had to be told and what better way that to tell it than in a mainstream movie – a medium that has probably the widest reach.

If you enjoyed Snowden and would like to see a similar movie, may I suggest Eye in the Sky – that film goes into more detail about the actual surveillance in the field and shows the inner working and links between the different organizations.

Acting

  • Joseph Gordon-Levitt (Inception, Looper, The Walk) played Edward Snowden and completely lost himself in the role, as usual. His voice acting was unbelievable too. Edward Snowden also appeared as himself at the end of the movie, and I did appreciate this real-world tie-in. Fun fact, I almost attended the university that he is the symbolic rector of – University of Glasgow.
  • Shailene Woodley (The DescendantsThe Fault in Our Stars, Divergent) as Lindsay Mills was amazing. This is her best performance I have seen yet.
  • Zachary QuintoScott Eastwood, and even Nicolas Cage had small supporting roles in the film. I was happy to see Quinto in another movie, as I have become a fan of his after Star Trek. Eastwood also did a good job but I still think that he works better in the supporting roles rather than in the lead – didn’t like him much in The Longest Ride but he was fine in the tiny role in Suicide Squad. Even Cage was great, although, I can only stomach him in small doses.

In short, Snowden is a well-made film that tells an important story. The acting and the directing are good, but I think that the writing is the best aspect of the film.

Rate: 4/5

Trailer: Snowden trailer

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Movie review: Doctor Strange 

Movie reviews

Hello hello hello!

The newest Marvel film – Doctor Strange – has premiered in some places around the world, and since I’m lucky enough to live in one of the places that got the movie real early , I can already give you my thoughts on it! Since this review is ahead of the wide release of the film, some of it will be spoiler-free and then I’ll give a big spoiler warning for those who want and can continue to read further. Let’s go!

IMDb summary: A former neurosurgeon embarks on a journey of healing only to be drawn into the world of the mystic arts.

First, I will begin this review by stating that I’m a Marvel fangirl, so that could color my judgment (I would love to be a DC fangirl as well, it’s just that DC doesn’t allow me to be one yet – praying that Wonder Woman will be good). I have reviewed more than a couple of Marvel films already and gonna link them for those who are interested: Guardians of the Galaxy, Avengers 2, Ant-Man, Civil War.

Also, I would like to briefly mention that, once again, the screening that I attended had a predominately male audiences, like the majority of the comic book movie screening this past year. This kind of audience breakdown explains why Marvel doesn’t want to make a Black Widow movie but I do hope that Captain Marvel will bring more girls/women to the cinema.

I was really looking forward to Doctor Strange for quite a while, I was really excited to see magic being introduced into the MCU. I was also interested to see if Marvel Studios will be able to launch another successful franchise, which revolves around a weird character. So far, their gambles (Guardians and Ant-Man) have paid off, so Doctor Strange will probably follow suit, because, let me state this loud and clear – it is an amazing movie. I will go through the different aspect of the film in and give you an informative but a spoiler free overview. Then, I will give you a spoiler warning and talk about interesting story points. Lastly, although the first part of the review will be spoiler free (I’ll try my best), I would still advise you to read it at your own discretion. It’s gonna be a long post, so get some snacks or drinks.

Writing

A few people worked on the script as well as the story of the movie, including the director Scott DerricksonC. Robert Cargill (writer of the Sinister movies) and Jon Spaihts (wrote Prometheus and these upcoming pictures: PassengersThe Mummy and Pacific Rim: Maelstrom)I wasn’t that familiar with their previous work but they impressed me a lot with the story and dialogue of Doctor Strange. Although the movie’s narrative revolved around the origin story, it was executed really well, without making it cliche or stereotypical. The dialogue and the jokes were also marvelous. All of the comic relief worked and tied the movie to brand that is Marvel (in contrast to DC). The familiar types of jokes were a reassurance that one was watching a Marvel movie since the visuals were so unique, different and nothing I’ve seen before in a Marvel film, or in any film for that matter. The dialogue and the character interactions were snappy, emotional and clever. The seeds have also been sown for future sequels and the references to the wider universe (Avengers and Infinity Stones) were also present.

My only gripe with the writing was, and I cannot believe I’m saying this, the villains. AGAIN. Marvel, come on! Either cast more appropriate actors, or have better writing for your villains. Don’t get me wrong, they were not that bad, just not quite right and as high of a quality as the rest of the film.

Directing

Scott Derrickson, who has mostly worked on horror films, directed the movie and did a spectacular job. However, half of the praise should also go to the cinematographer Ben Davis (A Long Way DownGuardians, Age of UltronGenius), because the visuals of the movie were its strongest point. They are really hard to describe and deserve to be seen on the biggest screen possible.

Despite the visuals being indescribable, I will attempt to explain them somehow. Basically, all the warping and shaping of reality gives off feelings of madness and has a slight Mad Hater/Wonderland aura. All of the folding buildings do remind a bit of Inception, but I would also say that Doctor Strange takes this type of visuals to an extreme. The mirror effects, the kaleidoscopic folding, the clockwork-like structure and the domino-like movements really make the film a sight to behold and marvel at.

The variety of different locations were also really great – they added a global aspect to the film and even more flavor. I absolutely loved the fact that the Ancient One lived in Nepal – it kinda tied the sorcerers and magic to Buddhism and monks (at least that’s the connection I made in my mind). Doctor Strange was also one of the only films in which magic and the modern world worked well together because I usually enjoy fantasy films that are set in the past more, but this picture broke that tradition. The action was also great – the movie found a balance between physical and magical fights as well as their mixture.

Lastly, I loved all the costumes of all the characters, but especially Strange’s. His cape was wonderful – not only a costume but also a tool, a living tool – so cool! Other gadgets that he had were also neat and have a lot of merchandise potential (read the spoiler part to find out what I’m definitely buying).

On a separate note, Doctor Strange was the first movie to feature the new Marvel Studios logo. This one looks more cinematic than the last one and it also has a sense of nostalgia and grandeur – something along the lines of ‘oh, look how far we’ve come’.

Acting

  • Benedict Cumberbatch as Stephen Strange / Doctor Strange was AMAZING (probably have repeated this word like 100 times in this review). His American accent was believable and his whole portrayal of the character – impeccable. He made me both like and hate Strange at first. He was funny, funky, posh, annoying, charming and charismatic – such a well-rounded performance with layers. Another great casting on Marvel’s part, another great leading man. I also loved his purely physical acting – the hand movements. I liked how all the sorcerers were moving both their hands and arms. This makes their magic appear different from Scarlet Witch’s as she relies more on the finger movements. Also, I’ve mentioned that his character’s gadgets had a lot of merchandise potential. Well, for one, I want that dimensional travel ring since I wear a lot of nerdy jewelry. Also, his costume will probably be at the top of everyone’s cosplay list, while I can at least be happy that my winter coat is the same color as his cape. Recommended actor’s movies: Sherlock, The Imitation Game, Star Trek Into Darkness, Black Mass, The Fifth Estate, The Hobbit 2.
  • Tilda Swinton as the Ancient One was superb too. Some people were annoyed that they gender flipped the character, others had racial issues. I didn’t have any problems with Swinton being cast because I really admire her fluidity as an actress – she plays with masculine and feminine a lot and I think she could probably transform into a different ethnicity for art’s sake if that wasn’t so frowned upon these days. I’m not saying that Asian actors shouldn’t be cast in Asian roles, but I also cannot agree with those that are saying that creative liberties cannot be taken when adapting a comic book to the big screen. Recommended actor’s movies: We Need to Talk About Kevin, Only Lovers Left Alive, Snowpiercer, A Bigger Splash, Hail, Caesar!.
  • Rachel McAdams as Christine Palmer was excellent as well. I liked the fact that McAdams was finally cast as a franchise character because I’m a fan of her and would like to see more of her. I liked how she played probably the only normal person in the film and how she reacted to everything that was happening around her. She was both relatable and really funny. Recommended actor’s movies: Midnight in Paris, Southpaw, Spotlight.
  • Mads Mikkelsen as Kaecilius to me, sadly, was the weakest link in the cast. His performance seemed a bit off and I cannot pinpoint why. I’ve seen Mikkelsen play a wonderful and scary villain in Casino Royale, so I’m quite annoyed and devasted that he wasn’t as good in this picture as he could have been.Recommended actor’s movies: Casino Royale.
  • Chiwetel Ejiofor was exceptional as Karl Mordo. I loved how emotional his performance was, how it could go from extremely energetic to a very subtle in a heartbeat. Would love to see more of his character and cannot wait for him to be the villain in the sequel. Recommended actor’s movies: The Martian, 12 Years a Slave, Triple 9, Z for Zachariah.
  • Benedict Wong as Wong was really nice. I liked how funny he was but, at the same time, how he could hold his own against Cumberbatch’s Strange. I would love to see more of his character’s and Strange’s friendship because the two actors had great chemistry! Recommended actor’s movies: Prometheus, The Martian.

In short, Doctor Strange is another win for Marvel. The film successfully told an interesting origin story, introduced a bunch of characters and blew me away with the visuals. I’ll most likely see it again in a few weeks time.

Rate: 4.8/5

Trailer: Doctor Strange trailer

SPOILER DISCUSSION

In this part, I would like to talk about a few plot points as well as a few action sequences that really stuck a cord with me. To begin with, let’s look at the characters and their interactions. I loved the writing for Doctor Strange – he started as a super cocky yet efficient person and had an amazing story of hero’s growth. I really liked seeing him as a surgeon, just being in his element in contrast to him being completely lost and failing miserably during his magical training. Strange’s interactions with the other doctors as well as with Christine were also amazing: funny and kinda annoying but still enjoyable. I also thought that the love story worked and wasn’t forced. It seemed organic and was full of both bad times (the fight in the apartment – amazing back and forth dialogue) and nicer ones (Christine saving Strange’s life). I loved Strange’s relationship with his mentor – the Ancient One – too and I liked the pep-talk that she gave him before dying. I also enjoyed the ideas and lines that the scriptwriters wrote for her character, including ‘Not everything makes sense, not everything has to’. Strange’s and Mordo’s relationship was also interesting and had more than a few moments of foreshadowing. The biggest hint at what will happen in the future was, of course, the post-credits scene, in which Mordo was seen stealing powers from the other sorcerers. This probably means that he will be the main villain the sequel .

As I have said, the movie had plenty of jokes and quips. Some of the best ones came from Strange’s and Wong’s interactions: ‘Wang? Like Adele?…Or Aristotle?…Or Eminem?’; ‘Try me, Beyonce’, followed by a shot of Wang listening to the song Single Ladies; ‘People used to think I was funny. Did they work for you?’. The wifi moments from the trailer was still funny as well, despite the fact that I’ve seen it numerous times. The mid-credits scene’s self-refiling pint of beer was extremely entertaining too.

All of the action sequences were amazing and they were all also kinda distinct. Doctor Strange’s first encounter with the Astro plane was crazy – so cool and so mad.  That taster we got in Ant-Man was nothing compared to this. It got a bit creepy at times, though, especially with those tiny hands (Deadpool?!).  The fight in the Astro plane in the hospital was cool too and expanded on the idea that we are now dealing with multiple realities (that voltage and magic relation – great). Same with that mirror world – I liked the fact that we got to travel to it and through it quite a lot.

The time gem, which is the eye of Agamotto, really came into play in the last act of the film and was utilized well. I liked the turning back of time, the stopping time, the time loop and the breaking the laws of nature plot-points quite a bit.

The villains of the film were my biggest and only issue. The way that Dormammu was realized seemed a bit cliche and, for such a powerful being, he seemed to be defeated to easily. I hope he comes back in the sequel. The character of Kaecilius was only okay, while he could have been amazing. He had reasons to be angry and also had a kinda personal relationship to the Ancient One but he just didn’t seem to be used fully.

Moving forward, Doctor Strange will definitely show up in the Infinity War and his time gem will have to get stolen during the first part of the Avengers 3. The mid-credits scene with Thor might also be an indication Strange will show up in Thor Ragnarok – that would actually be really cool, would love to see Strange and Loki interacting!

So, that’s it for the spoiler part. I would love to hear what you liked and disliked about the movie in the comments!

Doctor-Strange-Poster.jpg

Movie review: Hell or High Water

Movie reviews

Hello!

Today, we are talking about one of the most critically acclaimed indie films of 2016. It’s the review of Hell or High Water.

IMDb summary: A divorced dad and his ex-con brother resort to a desperate scheme in order to save their family’s ranch in West Texas.

Writing

Actor-turned-screenwriter Taylor Sheridan wrote Hell or High Water’s script and did an amazing job. This screenplay was actually the winner of 2012’s Black List and I’m really happy that it was turned into a movie, even if 4 years later than it should have been. Sheridan also penned the script for last year’s Sicario – a standout movie of 2015. Both Sicario and Hell or High Water share some similarities: the two stories are both set in the southern states of the US and the particular setting has a role in the narrative. Also, both movies are quite slow – the plots are allowed to unravel by themselves, the films are never rushed and the important moments aren’t just montaged through.

Hell or High Water’s story is also really successful in its emotional appeal. It deals with the universal topic of family and explores the relationship between two brothers superbly. It also does a good job of making the viewers sympathize with all the characters. I, personally, wanted the brother to succeed, even though they were criminals, and I also wanted the two rangers to succeed in their quest.

These sympathies arose from the subtle character development, which was dispersed throughout the whole film. By listening to the dialogue and seemingly random banter we find out a lot about the characters: we discovered the reason for the heists and why the brothers seemed to have an estranged relationship. The friendly teasing between the rangers helped us to get a few hints into the history of the two law-enforcers – we uncovered the ancestry of one of them and the approaching retirement of the other.

Lastly, I really loved the way the ending of the film was written. I always enjoy this type of open-ending when it is done right. Sometimes, when the movie just ends abruptly, without answering any questions, the whole story falls flat but, when the film leaves you with just one or few unresolved issues, like Hell or High Water did, the narrative both finishes and is permitted to live on in the minds of those who witnessed it. Both the characters and the viewers will be haunted by this story.

Directing

A Scottish director David Mackenzie did a magnificent job directing Hell or High Water. He utilized the setting of Texas splendidly and showed the rural areas, the open spaces and the little beat-up towns in long and extremely long tracking shots. He also gave the story a lot of breathing room – although every scene was carefully and beautifully crafted, the movie seemed to flow very organically and naturally. The feature’s color plate was also really nice – warm tons filled the screen and made every shot look like an old vintage photograph.

I also loved all the shots were the modernity and the traditional old-school ways of life were juxtaposed. The setting of Texas, where people still live in old ranches and work with cattle and horses but also have modern gas pumps, was an appropriate location for this juxtaposition. To me, the scene in the gas station was amazing – not only did it have us that unexpected fight but we also got a frame with both a horse and a cowboy and a new sports car with two fake gangster youngsters. Lastly, the fact that everybody seemed to have a gun in the film was not only a funny aspect of the movie but also a very realistic one.

Music

Hell or High Water’s soundtrack by Nick Cave and Warren Ellis really added to the atmosphere of the film. Fitting to the setting of Texas, the film’s visuals were accompanied by cool country music. The picture also had this really nice instrumental theme to supplement the long tracking shots of the characters driving or moving through a frame in any other way.

Acting

  • Jeff Bridges as Marcus Hamilton, a Texas Ranger was amazing. The way he delivered the jokes and teased other characters was truly enjoyable to watch. It’s probably one of Bridges best performances out of the recent years because he did have a few flops lately, like The Giver or Seventh Son. I hope this role is the signal that he is back on track and I do hope that his contribution to Kingsman 2, coming out next year, will be worth the wait.
  • Chris Pine as Toby Howard was also really good. I’m starting to like Pine more and more in these rugged, less clean-cut and more challenging roles. Yes, he is also good in Hollywood blockbusters, like Star Trek and Into the Woods, but is more fun to see him try something different. A few recent smaller films of his that I suggest you watch are Z for Zachariah and The Finest Hours. Of course, let’s not forget to check out his blockbuster work too – Wonder Woman is only 10 months away.
  • Ben Foster as Tanner Howard was also really good. I’ve only recently started noticing him in films, the last one being The Program, in which he played the lead role of Lance Amstrong. In a few weeks, Foster will also play the main antagonist in Inferno, which I’m also looking forward too.
  • Gil Birmingham as Alberto Parker, Hamilton’s partner was also really good. I hope that the teases that his character received weren’t too offensive to both Mexicans and Native Americans. I really loved his speech about how the white colonialists took everything from his character’s people, only to lose the winnings of the pillage to the banks.

In short, Hell or High Water is one of the best films of the year so far. It’s masterfully crafted and slow, but immensely engaging. The acting is amazing, the writing is spectacular and the directing – excellent. A must watch for any fans of Westerns and heist movies.

Rate: 5/5

Trailer: Hell or High Water trailer

P.S. Weirdly, my next movie review will also be that of a Western – The Magnificient Seven.

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Movie review: Pete’s Dragon

Movie reviews

Hello!

Welcome to the last movie review of this summer! We close the blockbusters season with another live-action fairy tale from Disney – Pete’s Dragon!

IMDb summary: The adventures of an orphaned boy named Pete and his best friend Elliot, who just so happens to be a dragon.

Pete’s Dragon is quite an unusual film for Disney because it is quite small – both budget wise and story/scope wise. However, small doesn’t mean bad – it just another type of picture. It is actually quite refreshing to see Disney spending time and money on newer and lesser known projects. Of course, I have to mention that Pete’s Dragon is not an original film but a remake of a musical with the same name from the 70s. I haven’t seen the 1977’s picture and I doubt that I’ll watch it because it is not a timeless Disney classic and it doesn’t have that good of a rating. Moreover, the new Pete’s Dragon more than satisfied all my wishes.

Writing

The film was written by the director of the feature David Lowery and the screenwriter/producer Toby Halbrooks. Halbrooks has written a few shorts and is also writing a script for 2018’s Peter Pan for Disney to be directed by Lowery. In addition to having his next directing gig sorted out, Lowery will also be writing the script for a war film The Yellow Birds. 

I really enjoyed the story that the duo penned for Pete’s Dragon. It was simple, yet well-crafted. The ideas about family and finding a place where you belong were classic Disney themes but they did actually work because of their universality and wide appeal.

The character development was also quite pleasant. I loved how Pete and Bryce Dallas Howard’s character Grace felt connected through nature. I also enjoyed the father-daughter relationship between Grace and her father, played by Robert Redford. The friendship between the main character Pete and his pet dragon Elliot was also cute and reminded me of other great films where children befriend various animals/beings – Max and E.T. are just two of many.  The main antagonist of the film was a cliche character but he served his purpose well in this family adventure picture.

Lastly, I kinda thought that Pete’s Dragon was a spiritual succesor to another live-action fairy tale of 2016 – The Jungle Book. If at the end of Mowgli’s story, he would have been found by humans and Baloo would have gone looking for him, we would most likely have gotten a Pete’s Dragon type of a situation.

Directing

David Lowery, who has only recently started to dip his toes into the blockbuster business, did quite a nice job with the film. The action scenes were entertaining, the mise-en-scene (the forest and the mountains) – gorgeous and the movie’s direction good as well.

The character design of Elliot – the dragon – was a bit weird. He didn’t really look like a dragon, more like a furry dog or a soft teddy bear that could also fly. I heard that a lot of people hated that the dragon was fury and didn’t have any scales. Personally, this change didn’t bother me – I think that it actually helped Elliot to stand out as a different kind of dragon. Also, from the business standpoint, a furry dragon is way more marketable and more merchandise friendly – what kid doesn’t want another soft plushie toy to his/her collection?

I saw the film in 3D but, honestly, it didn’t add anything to it. The effect actually made the whole film darker and, since a lot of scenes were already happening during the night, the 3D only made it harder for me to see the human characters and Elliot.

Music

The 1977’s Pete’s Dragon was a musical, but the studio decided to remake it as a drama/adventure film and drop the songs. However, the 2016’s film still had an interesting soundtrack by Daniel Hart. It seemed to me that the flick had more of a country-music inspired soundtrack and vibe. It was quite refreshing to hear some deep voices and guitar sounds after a lot of EDM and pop music in all of the other films this summer.

Acting

The main character of the film – Pete – was played by Oakes Fegley. When did the child actors have gotten this good? He was excellent in the role – sweet, relatable to children but still able to display acting chops that some adult actors lack. He has a bright future ahead.

Jurrasic World’s Bryce Dallas Howard played the adult-lead Grace and did a nice job. Grace was very different from Dallas Howard’s Jurassic World’s persona – more motherly and way more nature-orientated. Going forward, the actress has a drama thriller Gold coming up. Also, funny fact, I only recently realized that she was the one playing Gwen Stacy in Spider-Man 3. I did not recognize her with the red hair.

Karl Urban played the main antagonist of the film and was okay. Since I’ve only seen him in Star Trek as the caring doctor Bones, it was quite strange to view him as this unlikeable douchebag. He will be one of the villains in Thor 3, so, I guess, I’d better get used to this.

The cast also included Wes Bentley (We Are Your Friends, Interstellar), Oona Laurence (Southpaw, Bad Moms) and Robert Redford (Captain America: The Winter Soldier) among others. Bentley didn’t have much to do – he mostly reacted to stuff that was happening around him. Laurence was good too, while Redford was also believable as loving but a bit weird grandpa/father.

All in all, Pete’s Dragon was a good movie from Disney. It was well-written and nicely crafted. The film was not groundbreaking or the most original but it still made for some pretty good time at the cinema.

Rate: 4/5

Trailer: Pete’s Dragon trailer

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