Movie review: Wonder

Movie reviews

Hello!

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

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

Writing

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

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

Directing

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

Acting

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

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

Rate: 4/5

Trailer: Wonder trailer

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Movie review: 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: The Lego Ninjango Movie

Movie reviews

Hello!

Welcome to a review of the 3rd Lego movie and the 2nd one this year. This is The Lego Ninjago Movie!

IMDb summary: Shunned by everyone for being the son of an evil warlord, a teenager seeks to defeat him with the help of his fellow ninjas.

To begin with, I really loved the 2014’s original The Lego Movie and adored the 2017’s The Lego Batman Movie as both a continuation of the Lego franchise and as a parody of the comic book movie/the superhero genre. The Lego Ninjago Movie seemed like a cool expansion of the Lego cinematic series though I didn’t know anything about the Lego ninja sub-brand. Also, I had no idea why they chose to release it this year, so close to The Lego Batman.

Writing

The Lego Ninjago Movie was written by a bunch of screenwriters, way more than it should have had. The two directors Bob Logan and Paul Fisher, and the writers William Wheeler, Tom Wheeler, Jared Stern, and John Whittington. Additionally, the story credits went to Hilary Winston, Dan Hageman, and Kevin Hageman. This just seems excessive: why would not that original children’s movie need 10 writers????

Speaking about that lack of originality: The Lego Ninjago Movie was super similar to The Lego Movie. And while we applauded its originality in 2014, 3 years later and a second-time around, the same ideas just don’t seem that fresh. This film had the same type of a framing device – real-world/live-action set-up which enveloped the lego story. The message – one about encouraging the imagination, play, and the storytelling during childhood – also stayed the same but I can’t really fault it because of how positive even if repetitive it is.

Speaking about the Lego part of the narrative: it was fine but nothing new. The plot focused on the child of a villain (Disney’s Descendants?) and dealt with his experiences as a high schooler (any teen movie ever?) who has a secret superhero life (Big Hero 6?). The ninja characters, in general, seemed to have been inspired by Transformers, Power Rangers, Pacific Rim, and Ironman. I’m guessing that a lot of Japanese/samurai movies were also consulted (and their clips included in the actual film). The elemental powers were cute but old. Lastly, the whole father-son thing was very Star Wars.

The humor of the film wasn’t bad but, at times, it did feel like the movie was trying too hard to be hip and cool (and the kids are cynical these days). That ultimate weapon reveal was super dumb but still hilarious, though.

Directing

The Lego Ninjago Movie had three directors: Charlie Bean, Paul Fisher, and Bob Logan – all long time animators but new to directing.  Speaking about that part of the film which they were best at – the animation was spectacular. This animation style still amazes me and I applaud all the animators for achieving the visuals that I haven’t thought possible just a few years back. The pacing was good too, stuff was always happening for the most part and the movie’s runtime wasn’t stretched out for no reason. Also, this quick pace kinda gave a movie a video game-esque feeling, which was good. There were a lot of dances and songs included too, similarly to the other two Lego films. However, The Lego Ninjago Movie differed from its predecessors in one aspect: it actually did feel like a commercial for the Lego toys way much more than the others did. I know that both The Lego Movie and The Lego Batman Movie were ads for Lego too but at least they were not as obvious about it and had something extra (like the originality or the references) to embellish the ad. The Lego Ninjago Movie lacked that extra.

Voice work

The Lego Ninjago Movie assembled quite a stellar voice cast. Of course, one cannot make a ninja movie without Jackie Chan, so he both voiced a character and appeared on screen (I kinda think that he is still appealing to kids, while the adults don’t care much for him anymore). Dave Franco (Nerve, Now You See Me) and Justin Theroux (The Girl on The Train) voiced the son and the father and were fun to listen to. Silicon Valley’s Kumail Nanjiani (The Big Sick) and Zach Woods played the child-friendly version of their characters from the HBO show. Michael Peña (Ant-Man, The Martian, Collateral Beauty), Abbi JacobsonFred Armisen, and Olivia Munn (X-Men) rounded out the cast and delivered good aural performances too.

In short, The Lego Ninjago Movie was an okay addition to the Lego movie franchise. It mostly just rehashed the same stuff and didn’t add anything new but was still entertaining and enjoyable.

Rate: 3.2/5

Trailer: The Lego Ninjago Movie trailer

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Movie review: Blade Runner 2049

Movie reviews

Hello!

The long-awaited (by some) sequel to another 1980s hit – Blade Runner 2049 – has reached theaters, so, let’s see whether it was worth the wait and all the hype.

IMDb summary: A young blade runner’s discovery of a long-buried secret leads him to track down former blade runner Rick Deckard, who’s been missing for thirty years.

The original Blade Runner has been a cult classic for years but I’ve never expected it to get a sequel 3 decades later because of the lack of mainstream success. Undoubtedly, it has aged well: the story is still solid and is open to as many different interpretations as there are versions of the film. The pacing is a bit slow but that can be seen as a feature of the time. The effects are great too even if you can tell that they have that particular 1980s futuristic style. Even though I did like the original film, I wouldn’t have been as excited about its sequel if they hadn’t gotten Dennis Villeneuve to direct it. His attachment to the project was the factor that immensely increased my interest the movie! Besides, the marketing shorts, which filled in the 30-year-old gap between the two feature films – the anime Black Out 2022, and the live action shorts 2036: Nexus Dawn and 2048: Nowhere to Run – have acted as great tasters for the sequel and doubled the hype as well!

SPOILER ALERT

Writing

Blade Runner 2049 was written by Hampton Fancher (the writer of the original) and Michael Green (the writer of Logan, Alien: Covenant, and the upcoming Murder on the Orient Express, the co-creator of American Gods). This duo of scriptwriters did an amazing job: they paid homage to the original (both the plot and the thematic concepts) and expanded upon it/them extremely successfully.

The first two acts of the sequel were structured as a mystery: a smart yet straightforward one man’s quest for answers. The third act upped the complexity: it had a tonne of exciting reveals and a bunch of sidelines converging with the main one. The writing for the lead character was just brilliant too. Every act of the film had some kind of twist relating to him: either the fact that he was a replicant at the beginning, a potential offspring of a replicant in the second act and just a decoy for the actual child in the end. It was amazing to see a character go from not knowing who he was to finding actual answers but quickly realizing that he was asking the wrong questions in the first place. He both found and lost an identity before our eyes in the time span of two hours. It was such a great and different character arc.

Two huge thematic concepts that 2049 introduced were the virtual/holographic humans and the procreation ability of the replicants. These two ideas pushed the question of ‘what is humanity ?’ so much farther than I ever dream it could go. I still can’t wrap my head around these two concepts.

Directing

Denis Villeneuve, who has quickly become one of the most critically acclaimed directors of our time with films like Prisoners, Sicario, and especially last year’s Arrival, directed the Blade Runner sequel and did a spectacular job. To begin with, he stayed faithful to the original with the pacing and the style of the visuals. Having said that, Villeneuve also built upon what was already there. 2049 was a really long and quite a slow film, however, it never dragged. It was always intense, intriguing, and exciting – way more than the original ever was.

When it comes to visuals, they were just breathtaking. The set design (by Alessandra Querzola + production design by Dennis Gassner), the costume design (by Renée April), the lighting and the cinematography (by Roger Deakins) – all these different departments just brought their A-game and created such a cohesive masterpiece. The scope was epic and awe-inspiring. The shots were composed so beautifully, you could just freeze them and frame every single image. The colors were so vibrant and just popped off the screen. The shots also lingered a lot (that’s why the movie was so long) but the combination of the visuals and the amazing score made them so impactful, powerful, and effective. In general, the soundtrack (by Benjamin Wallfisch and none other than Hans Zimmer) was so cool and that new instrumental theme was so heart wrenching.

A lot of films have tried to emulate a similar style but none of them have come close to Blade Runner 2049 (Ghost in the Shell looked good but wasted the visuals on an awful story). A few of noteworthy sequences in this picture were: 1. the interplay between the shadows and the light in the pyramid; 2. the memory-construction scene – such a brilliant example of storytelling within a bigger story; 3. the zoom/enhance effect carried over from the first film; 4. a very unique sex scene (not an adjective I’ve ever thought I’d use to describe a sex scene; and 5. an impeccable looking de-aging moment – that technology has never looked better.

Acting

Blade Runner 2049 had quite an extensive cast, full of fan-favorite actors in roles of varying sizes. At the centre of it was Ryan Gosling, who has lent his talents to a variety of genres throughout his career, including but not limited to musicals (La La Land), art films (Only God Forgives), indies with mainstream appeal (Drive), mainstream romantic dramas (The Notebook), arty romantic dramas (Blue Valentine), comedies (Crazy,Stupid,Love), political dramas (The Ides of March), action comedies (The Nice Guys), biopics (The Big Short), and crime dramas (Gangster Squad). Finally, he has added sci-fi to this extensive list with the lead role in Blade Runner 2049, which he was just absolutely brilliant in: powerful, vulnerable, dramatic, emotional. Totally marvelous.

Harrison Ford has come back to another role from his younger days. He has already retired Han Solo and will be back as Indiana Jones in 2020. In Blade Runner 2049, he only appeared in the third act but that was enough to make an impression.

The film also had quite a few female characters. Ana de Armas (War Dogs) was amazing as the virtual girlfriend, Sylvia Hoeks (Renegades) was wonderful as the warrior replicant, Robin Wright (Wonder Woman) was a badass police chief,
Mackenzie Davis (Black Mirror’s ‘San Junipero’ episode) had a fun appearance and, lastly, Carla Juri had a surprisingly important role. Guardians of the Galaxy’s Dave Bautista appeared in a short but the most dramatically challenging role of his career so far, while Captain Phillips’s and Eye in the Sky’s Barkhad Abdi also had a cameo (wish he got more roles). Lastly, Jared Leto (Suicide Squad) played the main antagonist and, although his role was unsettling and quite creepy, it seemed quite normal by Leto’s standards. He was great in it, though.

In short, Blade Runner 2049 was one of those wow pictures that stays with you, long after you are done watching it. Gorgeously looking, carefully written, brilliantly acted sequel that is *gasp* better than the original.

Rate: 4.8/5

Trailer: Blade Runner 2049

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5 ideas about a movie: Goodbye Christopher Robin

Movie reviews

Hello!

One of the early potential awards contenders has premiered, thus, let’s evaluate its chances. This is the review of Goodbye Christopher Robin.

IMDb summary: A behind-the-scenes look at the life of author A.A. Milne and the creation of the Winnie the Pooh stories inspired by his son C.R. Milne.

  1. Goodbye Christopher Robin was written by a novelist and a British TV/movie writer Frank Cottrell-Boyce and a TV producer Simon Vaughan and directed by Simon Curtis (who previously directed My Week With Marilyn – one of my favorite films about the movie business). Curtis’s directing was very competent. He paced the movie neatly and made it feel like an old-school classical drama. The way he shifted the focus from one character to the next (from the father to the son) in the two halves of the movie was also an interesting choice.
  2. The script tackled a lot of topics and concept that all made up the incredible real-life story behind Winnie-the-Pooh. To being with, although, ultimately, this narrative was one of hope and happiness, it was framed by a feeling of dread and loss: the filmed opened with a scene that made the viewer believe that the real Christopher Robin had died at war, thus, the following long flashback (the rest of the film) felt like it was destined to end badly. However, the opening scene turned out to be bait-and-switch and the picture indeed had sort of happy ending – as happy as you can get in the real world.
  3. Additionally, Goodbye Christopher Robin had a lot to say about the middle/upper-class family relationships in the 20th century (and also now). First, the role of the nanny as ‘the true parent’ was portrayed explicitly. Also, an engaging message about motherhood was stated: how giving birth does not equal motherhood – one has to earn the right to call oneself a mother. The film also did a good job of portraying Milne’s PTSD and his ideas about/against the war(s).
  4. The film also examined the issues of creativity and commerce. The sequence of the writing of the books was really pleasant and sweet: it was also nice to notice the real-life details that inspired the plot-points in the books. The movie also did a good job of portraying the jealousy and the damage that comes with fame at a young age. Billy’s childhood was similar to that of contemporary children on reality TV (Toddlers and Tiaras, Dance Moms, etc.). Did the father appropriate his child’s childhood for profit? Was he right to do so in order to bring happiness to the masses? Is the happiness of many more worthy than the happiness of one? Robin’s experiences as a child and his desire for anonymity in the army as an adult sure made for a heartbreaking example cause and effect.
  5. Fox Searchlight has definitely assembled a stellar cast for this film, which delivered impeccable performances. Domhnall Gleeson (Anna Karenina, The Revenant, Star Wars, American Made, Mother!, Brooklyn, Unbroken) shined as the frustrated artist and the difficult father. Margot Robbie (Suicide Squad, Tarzan) was equal amounts likable and despicable as Daphne. Kelly Macdonald (T2: Trainspotting) was amazing as the voice of reason and the source of heart (the nanny). However, all three of them seemed like they barely aged over the 3 decades – better make-up or some CGI would have been beneficial. Christopher Robin was played by two actors: the young Will Tilston, who looked like a real-life version of his character’s book counterpart (just brilliant casting), while Alex Lawther handled the more challenging grown-up scenes and displayed his acting talent that some of us have already had a glimpse of on Black Mirror (the ‘Shut Up and Dance’ episode).

In short, Goodbye Christopher Robin was well-made biographical drama, whose subject-matter was complex, layer, and fascinating. I’ll never look at Winnie-the-Pooh the same (a.k.a. as optimistically)….and I have its face of my duvet cover (waking up wrapped in depression?).

Rate: 4/5

Trailer: Goodbye Christopher Robin trailer 

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Movie review: mother!

Movie reviews

Hello!

While I’m definitely more of a mainstream pictures kinda cinephile, I’m not against more arty/experimental films. Darren Aronofsky represents both: while his style is very much unique, his name is well-known to even the most casual moviegoers. Let’s see what his latest movie – mother! – has to offer.

IMDb summary: A couple’s relationship is tested when uninvited guests arrive at their home, disrupting their tranquil existence.

Writing

mother! was written by Aronofsky himself. Now, going into the film, I knew what to expect and what not to expect. I didn’t think I was going to see a simple story – neither in its structure nor message. I was right: mother!’s narrative was quite complex (and looped) and it had an abundance of layers of meaning. While I think I understood some of the ideas the script was trying to portray, I’m sure a tonne of others just went completely over my head. Also, the meaning I got might not have been the meaning intended by the filmmaker or understood in the same way by the other viewers. This begs the question – if one makes a movie that is super hard to understand, isn’t he/she just being pretentious? Also, if one makes a movie that only a small percentage of audiences can understand, isn’t one damaging his/her career prospects (art films don’t pay much).

Anyways, let me tell you what mother! was about as explained by people smarter than me online (I’ll tell you my personal interpretation afterward). Supposedly, mother! was a metaphor of a film about the relationship between the mother nature (Lawrence’s mother character) and Judeo-Christian god (Bardem’s Him). The crowds symbolized Christians, while Adam, Eve, Cain, and Abel also appeared. Lawrence’s and Bardem’s child was a symbolic version of the baby Jesus. When put in relatively simple terms and while looking back at the picture, I do get that general idea and how it was portrayed. However, while watching the movie, only the Jesus similarly came to my mind. I’m not a religious person (actually, an opposite of that), so I don’t actively search for sacramental imagery or metaphors in the films I watch, so that’s probably why I missed it.

I, personally thought that mother! tried exploring the topics of inspiration and creation of both life and art. I also believed that its main concern was the differences between the female and the male creation (which kinda goes in line with the female mother nature and the masculine God portrayal).

Additionally, just looking on a surface level, I was quite frustrated with the main character of mother! because I perceived her to be a very much traditional (old-school) female figure. She was depicted as needy, dependent, and solely family orientated. If not for the later realization of the mother nature connection, I would have been (still kinda am) disappointed by this portrayal that didn’t achieve much in terms of moving the female characters forward. Why couldn’t mother nature be seen as strong and powerful and completely able to discipline its children a la humans?

Lastly, the commentary that I comprehend the most and was the most intrigued by was the one about fame, cult following, and celebrity worship. These things were portrayed as addictive and damaging: a cautionary tale. However, it looks like I misinterpreted the belief in god for the obsession with celebrities (and, honestly, they aren’t that much different). Besides, if one thinks of mother! as portraying celebrity culture, it’s interesting to note than Aronofsky would then be seen as being both cautious of and partaking in it by going to the film festivals and the premieres, by signing autographs or taking pictures.

Directing

I have highly enjoyed some of the previous films by Aronofsky (The Wrestler and Black Swan, specifically), respected others (Requiem for a Dream and The Fountain) and been angered by some too (Noah). Now, mother! encompassed all of the feelings mentioned.

I really loved the way the movie was filmed – by following the titular character and keeping the focus of the camera mostly on her.The handheld style and the mobile frame are generally very much indie/small budget films’ staples but here, they seemed refined, high-end, glamorous and expensive. mother! did not have a score, only diegetic sounds were heard. This added to the overall distinct ambiance of the film. The close-ups of eyes, the heart-imagery, and the fire/life effects were all interesting and disturbing visuals too. Lastly, there were quite a few tonal shifts in the film. In a heartbeat, mother! would go from low energy creepiness but almost normalcy to complete exaggeration and total escalation.

Acting

Jennifer Lawrence and Javier Bardem delivered stunning performances and basically carried this movie. It was so nice to see Bardem finally starring in a film worthy of his talents, instead of wasting them on Pirates 5. Lawrence was also really good. I loved her look – her grayish blonde hair both made her seem older, more sophisticated but also somewhat timeless/ageless too. I think she should just probably continue doing art/indie films (Joy) because she really doesn’t seem to enjoy the more mainstream work (The Hunger Games, X-Men, or Passengers). Ed Harris and Michelle Pfeiffer were also really good. I’m so happy that they too finally got a chance to showcase the full extent of their acting chops. Domhnall Gleeson (The Revenant, Star Wars, Brooklyn, Anna Karenina, Unbroken, American Made), his actual brother Brian Gleeson, and Kristen Wiig (The Martian, Ghostbusters) all had cameo appearances as well.

In short, mother! was a unique film that both frustrated and intrigued me with its metaphors. Just now, while finishing this review, I came across another potential symbol in the movie and I imagine that I’ll find new ones the longer I think about it. If that’s your forte, then mother! is for you. If you want an easier but no less smart scary thriller, watch It again or for the first time.

Rate: ?/5 (I can barely put this film into words, let alone a single number)

Trailer: mother! trailer

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5 ideas about a movie: Detroit

Movie reviews

Hello!

The race issue has always been a prominent theme for the awards’ season. Nowadays, this problem has re-established itself as a contemporary issue and, with the street riots and the public displays of violence back in the news, Kathryn Bigelow’s cinematic return – Detroit – is more topical than ever.

IMDb summary: Fact-based drama set during the 1967 Detroit riots in which a group of rogue police officers responds to a complaint with retribution rather than justice on their minds.

  1. Detroit was written (and produced) by Mark Boal, who has also written Bigelow’s two previous features. The script was based on real events, while the characters were also inspired by real people. The film opened with a 2D animated sequence, which gave a brief history of the larger issue. However, the picture itself focused on the specific events in Detroit and on a group of people, in various positions, who got caught up in the event. This limited focus helped to go deep into the matter, while the inclusion of a wide variety of characters presented multiple sides of it. The film didn’t paint one said as inherently bad or good. Both of them seem to be operating in a gray area. For one, not all the police officers were abusive. Similarly, not all the rioters were actually fighting for anyone’s rights – they just looted and spread chaos for the sake of it.
  2. I really appreciated the human perspective on the riots, meaning that the personal lives of the characters took the front seat, while the riots were only the background setting. These two layers came together in the middle of the film, for the main sequence in the hotel, which was really hard to watch because of the blatant police brutality as well as stupidity (e.g. not even knowing how intimidation tactics work). One of the most despicable moments in the picture was a police officer tampering with the crime scene to spin the story in a positive light for him. It was also interesting to see how those police officers weren’t necessarily painted as racist but just simply awful people in general.
  3. It was also fascinating to see the differences in the portrayal of the local vs the state police vs the national guard and made me question the training and the background checks of the lowest tier of the police officers. There were some policeman in the film (from all levels) who actually attempted to help the people and I wish that there was maybe more of that type of representation for a more balanced view to be formed (unless there weren’t actually many police officers helping IRL instead of doing the damage). And the damage has been done in excess: by taking lives or ruining them; by making incorrect assumptions; by painting the innocent as the enemy because of their skin color; and by distorting and perverting justice. The ending of Detroit drove home the point that, while life goes on, the consequences – both physical and psychological scars – remain.
  4. Although Kathryn Bigelow hasn’t made a movie since 2012’s Zero Dark Thirty (and 2008’s The Hurt Locker before that), she has not lost an ounce of her style. Detroit’s visuals had her signature mobile frame and quicks zoom ins/outs – basically, a narrative picture’s interpretation of the documentary style. The structure of the film was good too – I liked how she relocated the main event from its usual 3rd act into the middle of the film.
  5. Detroit had a great cast full or both familiar and fresh faces. John Boyega (Star Wars VII, The Circle) was really good as the intermediator between the two sides, while Will Poulter (The Maze Runner, The Revenant, War Machine) was absolutely stellar – while Poulter has already played bullies, I have never hated him as much as I did in this film. The singers Algee Smith and Jacob Latimore (Collateral Beauty) had small roles, while Jason MitchellHannah Murray (GOT’s Gilly), and Kaitlyn Dever also co-starred. Jack Reynor appeared as well: he has been doing quite good, career-wise, by booking pictures like Sing Street and Free Fire – that Transformers 4 gig, thankfully, hasn’t done a lot of damage. Lastly, Anthony Mackie (Marvel, Triple 9) had a borderline cameo role too, he has previously worked with Bigelow on The Hurt Locker.

In short, Detroit was a great crime drama and also a great biographical picture, that told both the personal stories of the people and the communal facts of the event. The watching experience itself was quite heavy on a heart but incredibly engaging to the mind.

Rate: 4.2/5

Trailer: Detroit trailer

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Movie review: Logan Lucky

Movie reviews

Hello!

Steven Soderbergh is back from retirement but the audiences don;t care much. This is Logan Lucky!

IMDb summary: Two brothers attempt to pull off a heist during a NASCAR race in North Carolina.

Writing

Logan Lucky was written by Rebecca Blunt – either a newcomer writer or somebody, working under a pseudonym. There has been speculation online that Blunt lives the UK, while some critics thought that Soderberg himself is hiding underneath that name (because he does that when crediting himself as a cinematographer (as Peter Andrews) and editor (as Mary Ann Bernard). Anyways, whoever this Blunt person is/was, they did a good job on the script. While the core narrative was quite familiar (Hell or High Water-esque – stealing for one’s family), its execution in details was brilliant.

The movie opened with a good set-up of the mundane lives of its characters and established them as people, whose lives did not turn out the way they planned (one of them peaked in high school, the other was suffering from the little brother inferiority complex).

Then, Logan Lucky moved on to showcasing the American culture (the kind that foreign people wouldn’t even dare to call culture), which consisted of children beauty pageants and rural county fairs. However, the star of the said culture and the film was NASCAR – a very American brand of motor-racing. The cherry on top was the prolonged anthem scene. Logan Lucky seemed to be driving home a message, that stuff like this, for better or for worse, happens only in the USA. This type of portrayal could have easily come across as annoying but the underlying sense of irony and satire made it work.

Speaking about the comedic side of Logan Lucky – it was great if not as extensive as I hoped, after watching the trailer. I loved the different pairings of the criminals (The Hitman’s Bodyguardesque) as well as the jokes that were central to the characters (one-handed bartender, the dumb brothers of Joe Bang). Logan Lucky also had a really funny sequence with Sebastian Stan’s driver character (who didn’t seem like he had much to do with the actual plot of the film). Another magnificent and hilarious sequence was the prison riot and the prisoners demanding all GRRM books, getting frustrated that ‘The Winds of Winter’ has yet to be released, and hating the fact that the TV show is going off books. The ‘explosive device’ sequence and the decision to stop midway and explain the chemistry were extremely funny too.

Logan Lucky also had a surprising and really heartfelt scene involving the main character’s daughter’s beauty pageant and the song ‘Take Me Home, Country Roads’ (by John Denver). That scene should have been the closing images of the picture. However, Logan Lucky did continue and had a concluding detective story that felt like an afterthought. The investigation itself was not that interesting or neccesary. However, that closing sequence did provide some revelations about the main character’s secret dealings and did have a nice ending (well, for now) with all of them sitting in a bar.

Directing

Steven Soderbergh (The Ocean’s trilogy, Magic Mike series, Haywire) did a good job with Logan Lucky but I don’t think that this was his best film. The pacing at the start was a bit slow, however, the movie did pick up its pace, when the action began. However, it started dragging again with that detective-story afterthought. What I appreciated the most about Logan Lucky (and the other films by Soderbergh) was that it felt real. Not necessarily realistic but real, grounded, self-aware, and sprinkled with irony. While the scripts that he directs (or even writes) are usually mainstream, Soderbergh addresses them with unique auteur/indie perspective.

This time around, Soderbergh also approached the distribution of the film uniquely and decided not to partner with any of the big studios. Well, that backfired. Big time. Logan Lucky didn’t win its weekend, nor it showed any staying power by dipping lower and lower in the TOP 10. I really want to know who/what is to blame. Are the audiences just not interested in Soderbergh’s work anymore? Was it the lack of advertisement? Where were all the NASCAR fans? Where were all the grown-up Pixar’s Cars fan (the ones who saw the 2006 film as children and are now adults)? Where were the fans of movies, involving cars, a la Baby Driver?

Acting

Logan Lucky had a really strong cast, lead by a new favorite of Soderbergh’sChanging Tatum (they worked together on Magic Mike, while the other recent Tatum’s films include Hail, Caesar!, The Hateful Eight, Jupiter Ascending, Jump Street). His brother was played by Adam Driver, who is constantly working on smaller, more art-house pictures in between his Star Wars gigs, like Midnight Special, Silence, and Paterson. Daniel Craig (Spectre) also had a very fun role in the film that he seemed to be having a blast while playing. He never appeared to enjoy being Bond that much and, yet, he still signed on to continue being the 007.

The supporting cast included Riley Keough (Mad Max), Katie HolmesKatherine Waterston (Fantastic Beasts), and Hilary Swank (would love to see her going back to the Million Dollar Baby type of projects and the level of success). The majority of them didn’t really play real characters but were used as devices for world-building or the lead’s character development. Seth MacFarlane (Ted, Sing) and Sebastian Stan (Marvel stuff, The Martian) also had cameo roles and their whole separate thing going on in the background.

In short, Logan Lucky was an enjoyable mixture of mainstream and indie, but it didn’t offer anything too special. Neither a disappointment nor really a win for Soderbergh.

Rate: 3.5/5

Trailer: Logan Lucky trailer

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Movie review: War For The Planet Of The Apes

Movie reviews

Hello, 

The third and final installment in the rebooted Apes franchise – War For The Planet Of The Apes – is upon us, so let’s review it.

IMDb summary: After the apes suffer unimaginable losses, Caesar wrestles with his darker instincts and begins his own mythic quest to avenge his kind.

SPOILER ALERT

Writing

War For The Planet Of The Apes broke the trend that most blockbusters follow nowadays and was written by only 2 people instead of a bunch of them. Mark Bomback (who wrote The Wolverine, Insurgent, and the previous entry in the trilogy Dawn) and the director Matt Reeves were the only two screenwriters responsible for the script and, to my mind, that was one of the factors that lead to War’s screenplay being a major success that only had a few minor flaws.

To begin with, I loved the neat recap that played with the titles of the films (Rise, Dawn, War). I also very much enjoyed the direction that this story took with the humans devolving and losing the traits that make them human. The scene in which Woody Harelson’s character exposed that concept was a bit exposition heavy but the idea itself was so interesting that I didn’t care that much. In general, the issues of humanity were even more prevalent than in the previous films and were handled really well. Moreover, I adored the final twists in the plot, where the final battle was more about the human vs human conflict with the apes caught in the middle. Additionally, the idea to have mother nature as the winning agent was a genius one and also helped the action-y third act to tie into Harrelson’s character’s story-idea that apes are more adapted for survival.

Other themes, like Caesar’s struggles of leadership (to stay with the group or be the lone wolf/ape), his drive for revenge and/or survival, and his feelings of guilt and responsibility, were great additions to the narrative that elevated the film. Speaking about Caesar, his death at the end of the movie was quite emotional – he was one of the most memorable sci-fi characters ever that we had a privilege of seeing grow and develop in three, near damn perfect, films.

The new characters in War were excellent additions. The bad ape character was an obvious ploy for comedic relief but he was actually funny (wonder how much of that was improvised and how much was written). The child human character was also really good – she was like a beacon of real humanity and goodness in a war film. Lastly, the few gripes with the picture’s writing I had were mostly illogical gaps in the narrative. For one, the soldier characters were kinda awful at their job, not noticing the little girl or that the apes were gone. Secondly, I wish that the ape characters would have been made to utilize their ape skills more. When Caesar and the band went looking for the colonel, why not make them smell the territory rather than just barge in? Thirdly, this is not really a logical flaw, but I wish that the flower moment with the ape and the girl and that ape’s death scene would have been further apart. It would have given us more time to really get to know the character and would have made the untimely demise even more emotional.

Directing

Matt Reeves took over Rupert Wyatt (he directed Rise) on the second film Dawn and also helmed the final installment War. I loved the continued direction that he first chose for the second film – to treat the movie as a thriller or even a drama but to also have spectacular action moments. War was intense and slow but crafted with such care. The only time the film slowed down too much was the sequences with the apes in the camp before they started planning the escape. Nevertheless, that part had to be in the picture because Caesar had to go through a period of muddled motivations and had to re-find his purpose.

The visuals were amazing: the surroundings of nature were just impeccable and a character in their own right, while the CGI of the apes was absolutely unbelievable as well and even better than it was before (and it was already great). The long takes were awe-inspiring and emotionally driven, like the shot of apes kneeling before Caesar in his introduction or the sweeping shots of the battle. Another emotional moment was the scene of the ‘Apes Together Strong’ sign. Ir really reminded me of The Hunger Games ‘Three Finger Salute’.

Generally, I loved what Reeves did with the final installment in this trilogy and I’m now way more trusting in the fact that he can absolutely nail The Batman solo movie. He recently replaced Ben Affleck as the director of that project and his is also rewriting the script.

Acting

Andy Serkis (LOTR, Star Wars 7, Avengers 2) was back in his element as Caesar and just did his job to perfection. He portrayed so much emotion through all the CGI: some actors can’t even do that with their real faces. He is a mastermind of motion capture and his work must be rewarded or at least recognized. Academy, prove to us that you are not as old fashioned as we think.

Although other actors had to compete with Serkis, they did do a good job with their motion capture performances too. The comedian Steve Zahn was brilliant as the Bad Ape, while the returning talent Karin Konoval and Terry Notary were also really good. I really wish that their motion capture work would lead to more on-screen acting gigs for them. The humans, this time around, were played by Woody Harrelson (Triple 9, Now You See Me 2) – he was great in the villainous role and the young TV actress Amiah Miller – she was a delight to watch as well.

In short, War For The Planet Of The Apes might be the best thriller of this summer and one of the best blockbusters too. It’s smartly written, well-acted, and directed with care on top of being an incredible showcase of what can be achieved with CGI in this day and age.

Rate: 4.5/5

Trailer: War For The Planet Of The Apes trailer

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5 ideas about a movie: The Promise 

Movie reviews

Hello!

During the busy summer blockbuster season, I like to make time for the ‘regular’ movies too. The picture that I’m reviewing today – The Promise – falls exactly into this category.

IMDb summary: Set during the last days of the Ottoman Empire, The Promise follows a love triangle between Michael, a brilliant medical student, the beautiful and sophisticated Ana, and Chris – a renowned American journalist based in Paris.

  1. A few months ago, I raised a general question to my dad (who watches lots of movies with me): when will we run out of war stories? Well, I pretty much got my answer while watching The Promise and the short version is – never. Not only do we have lots of modern/current wars to tell stories about, but we still have a ton of untold tales from the past wars. The Promise focuses on the Armenian Genocide inside the Ottoman Empire during the First World War – not a topic that World War I movies have previously touched upon.
  2. The reason why The Promise decided to tell this particular story was because of the film’s source of funding. The entire budget was donated by an American businessman that has Armenian roots – Kirk Kerkorian – and his sole wish was to bring this story into the mainstream consciousness rather than earn money. Sadly, this film didn’t succeed at either – it was a box office bomb, which means that not a lot of people had a chance to witness this narrative.
  3. The Promise was directed by Terry George, from the script by the director himself and the screenwriter Robin Swicord. I thought that the directing was quite solid even if the film was a bit long and dragged at times. However, at the same time, I don’t think that they should have cut anything from the story – I applaud the writers for not oversimplifying the journey that these characters had to take. I would also like to praise them for creating 3 interesting leads who seemed both realistic and believable enough and were also cinematically engaging. It was also nice to see a level of objectivity in a war movie – I believe that it was really important to include a character on the Turkish side who was actually a good person rather than just to paint that whole nation as the villains.
  4. The emotional core of the film was also effective. This real-life story is tragic in itself and the dramatic love triangle (which worked and wasn’t too tearful or cliche) only added extra emotions to the script. A few of especially heart-wrenching moments were the sequence where Oscar Isaac’s character finds his village’s people slaughtered by the river and the shots of the makeshift red-cross flag, placed on the side of the mountain.
  5. The Promise had a stellar cast, full of gifted actors who delivered spectacular dramatic performances. Sadly, not a lot of them were of Armenian descent – I think it would have been nice to spotlight some lesser known Armenian talent. Oscar Isaac was absolutely wonderful – these are the types of roles that I’d like to see more of him in rather than the awful supporting roles in failed blockbusters (X-Men: Apocalypse). Having said that, I would also like to see him continuing to star in more successful big-budget pictures, like Star Wars. Christian Bale (The Big Short) was also really good, although it was quite unusual, seeing him in a role which did not require a lot of physical change. Charlotte Le Bon (The Walk, The Hundred-Foot Journey, Bastille Day) was also amazing. Probably the most well-known Armenian actress on the cast was Westworld’s Angela Sarafyan – she played a small but important role. Other non-American and non-English actors were also included (which seems better than just having Americans and Brits playing Armenians): Mexican Daniel Giménez Cacho, Iranian Shohreh Aghdashloo, Croatian Rade Sherbedgia, Dutch-Tunisian Marwan Kenzari, and Israeli actor Yigal Naor all had supporting roles in the picture.

In short, The Promise is a well-made historical drama that might not sound super original but is, nonetheless, very important, as it tells a forgotten story of the marginalized people.

Rate: 4.25/5

Trailer: The Promise trailer 

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