Movie review: Widows

Movie reviews

Hello!

And welcome to a review of another awards’ hopeful that didn’t look like an awards’ movie from the trailer but is one because of who is involved with it in front and behind the camera. This is Widows.

IMDb summary: Set in contemporary Chicago, amid a time of turmoil, four women with nothing in common except a debt left behind by their dead husbands’ criminal activities, take fate into their own hands, and conspire to forge a future on their own terms.

Writing

Gillian Flynn, best known as a novelist (Gone Girl) rather than scriptwriter, and the director Steve McQueen wrote the screenplay of Windows. The script was based on a TV show. And that could be felt while watching the film because the movie’s narrative was oversaturated with ideas and plotlines. The movie also felt a bit like a book-adaptation by how dense it was – or that may just be Flynn’s writing style.

I really liked how unique the characters were and how they felt like real, well-rounded people rather than cliches or archetypes. I also appreciated how all the plotlines were handled: the film was complex and clear at the same time. It was also engaging, though I wasn’t completely convinced by the twist. Thematically, the movie didn’t really focus on just a couple of concepts but rather it put a mirror to the contemporary world and portrayed an interplay of issues, including women’s position in society, betrayal, criminality, politics, family, marriage, relationships, and race among others.

Directing

Steve McQueen of 12 Years a Slave directed Widows and did a good job. I appreciated his visual style, the extreme close-ups and how he played with the frame (what was in or outside of it) and depth (front v back). I’m still not entirely sure whether the film was awarded’ material. It was definitely a solid film but was it revolutionary in any way? I don’t think so. I also think it was more thriller-y than drama-y, and the Academy still values dramas above everything else.

Acting

Widows had a diverse cast, and by diverse, I mean diverse in identities that were represented and in the quality or status of actors. Viola Davis (Fences), Daniel Kaluuya (Get Out) and Colin Farrell (The Beguiled) were there to boost the awards chances of the film. Elizabeth Debicki and Michele Rodriguez are both great actresses but they are still closer to the B than the A-list (they are not main stars of their respective franchises, Marvel and FF, respectively). Liam Neeson is an action star that usually has his movies come out in January (a.k.a. the worst month?), like The Commuter. Some quality TV actors were also part of the cast, and even though they were great, they are still associated more with the small rather than the silver screen, and while that isn’t a bad thing for the audiences, it might be a hard sell when it comes to awards?

In short, Widows was a solid thriller with an engaging story and great execution of it by both the director and the actors.

Rate: 4/5

Trailer: Widows trailer

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Movie review: Rampage

Movie reviews

Hello!

And welcome to a review of another Dwayne Johnson movie. I swear his filmography is becoming a whole separate genre of cinema. This is Rampage.

IMDb summary: When three different animals become infected with a dangerous pathogen, a primatologist and a geneticist team up to stop them from destroying Chicago.

 

Writing

Rampage was written by Ryan Engle (writer of The Commuter), Carlton Cuse (Lost’s showrunner, writer of San Andreas), Ryan J. Condal (writer of Hercules), and Adam Sztykiel (a comedy writer). Quite a few previous connections to Dwayne Johnson on the part of the writing staff. This makes my introductory point sound even more truthful.

Rampage’s script is a very loose adaptation of a video game of the same name but it feels like any generic monster movie. It has some monster v. monster fights that both Godzilla and Kong: Skull Island had (and Godzilla v. Kong will definitely have) and a lot of bloodless destruction (the same amount as another very recent monster movie Pacific Rim: Uprising had). Rampage also features a brief moment of Johnson having fun in a jungle-like environment, reminding the viewer of Jumanji. His character, undoubtfully, has a family to care for but this time around it’s an animal family cause human families are just so 2015 (and so San Andreas). The film’s story also has a genetic engineering plotline, like Jurassic World. In addition to all these moments and details from other pictures, Rampage also has quite a few laughable and cheesy moments that are either incredibly far-fetched or cringe-y. The dialogue isn’t really great either and some of those one-liners and jokes fall so so flat in the movie.  Well, at least it doesn’t have a plug for a franchise at the end, like the other video game movie of 2018 – Tomb Raider.

While this is quite a harsh critique on my part, I still would not like to say that Rampage is a bad movie. It knows what it is (for the most part) and is entertaining (for the most part). Still, it is also very familiar and forgettable.

Directing

Brad Peyton, the director of San Andreas, directed Rampage and I swear these two movies have to be connected somehow. Same writer, same director, same star?! Anyways, the film’s direction was fine. The story was visualized on screen clearly and cohesively. The pacing was okay too. The action was quite enjoyable as well, though, by the end of the third act, I did sort of check out from the movie. The CGI was also fine for the most part, but some wider shots did look pretty fake.

Acting

Rampage’s cast consisted of Dwayne Johnson (Baywatch, FF8, Moana, Central Intelligence + all other movies of his that I’ve already linked to in this review) and some B-listers. Johnson was fine in the action hero type of a typical role, though, I had a hard time buying the fact that one of the most charismatic people on the planet could play a character who can’t connect/communicate with people.

On the supporting front, the movie features a lot of B-listers and even the most well known of them cannot really be seen as big move stars. They all do a good or serviceable job in the film. Naomie Harris is probably the biggest star out of the supporting cast due to her involvement with Moonlight. However, on the mainstream front, while she does have 007 franchise, she is only like a 3rd female lead in those films (behind M/Judi Dench and a revolving door of Bond girls/love interests). Malin Åkerman also stars the film – I don’t think I saw her in a movie since 2012’s Rock of AgesJeffrey Dean Morgan is big on TV with The Walking Dead but isn’t really a movie star either. Joe Manganiello has a cameo-sized role in this film too and he is Deathstroke but nobody really knows when he will get a chance to play that character, as DCEU’s future is so unclear. Jake Lacy also has a role here and, looking through his IMDb, I can notice quite a few films of his that I’ve seen, like Carol and Their Finest. The problem is that I don’t remember him in them.

In short, Rampage is a perfectly serviceable, forgivable, and forgettable action/video game movie. The video game curse is back in full force if you thought that Tomb Raider lifted it at least a bit.

Rate: 2.8/5

Trailer: Rampage trailer 

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Movie review: Peter Rabbit

Movie reviews

Hello!

And welcome to a review of another vaguely Easter-themed movie that is not really about Easter and has been out for almost a month. This is Peter Rabbit!

IMDb summary: Feature adaptation of Beatrix Potter’s classic tale of a rebellious rabbit trying to sneak into a farmer’s vegetable garden.

Writing

Peter Rabbit was written by Rob Lieber (the writer of Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day) and the director Will Gluck. The film’s script was based on the characters and tales by Beatrix Potter. I haven’t come across Potter’s stories before so this movie was my introduction to them. And I absolutely loved the experience of watching the movie, even though I certainly wasn’t its target demographic.

The adorable nature of the whole thing was just undeniable. I feel like Peter Rabbit did the same thing with rabbits as Paddington did with bears: made them cute and British. I also loved the self-referential writing of the film and how the story wasn’t afraid of owning its cliches (the character flaws, ulterior motives said out loud, journey reduced to highlights). I also loved the cheeky humor. The film had a lot of simplistic physical humor but it also had a plethora of more adult snippets, poking fun at British nature, salads, and human contact (what a group). It also had a sweet rural romance and an overall nice message to share the love. That might sound cheesy and not particularly original, but when it is executed well, I can’t complain much and can only enjoy.

Directing

Will Gluck (the director of some of my favorite comedies, like Friends with Benefits and Easy A, as well as the Annie reboot from a few years ago) directed Peter Rabbit and crafted an energetic and infectious all-ages film. The live-action and animation combination was seamless. All the woodland creatures were both realistic and cutely cartoonish – there was just a perfect balance in their design. The main rabbits were goddamn adorable. Just look at those ears!

The paintings, which were included in the film as part of the story, were a stellar nod to the origins of the tales in illustrated children’s books. The credits, drawn in a similar fashion, were neat too. Speaking about the credits, there were quite a few scenes dispersed throughout them, so make sure you don’t leave as soon as the film ends. Peter Rabbit also had an amazing soundtrack, full of older and newer pop songs that made for some great cinematic moments.

Acting

Domhnall Gleeson played the human lead in the film and was an absolute delight to watch. He is one of the few constantly working actors, who stars in everything: experimental art pictures (mother!), mainstream franchises (Star Wars 7 and 8), indies (Unbroken), biographies of various genres (American Made, Goodbye Christopher Robin), and awards films (The Revenant, Brooklyn). His co-star Rose Byrne (X-Men: Apocalypse) was also good: very relatable and sympathetic. Sam Neill (Hunt for the Wilderpeople, The Commuter) also had a fun and unexpected cameo.

On the voice front, James Corden was just brilliant as Peter Rabbit. His three sisters were voiced by three equally brilliant actresses: Daisy Ridley (Star Wars 7+8, Murder on The Orient Express), Elizabeth Debicki (Guardians of the Galaxy 2, The Man from U.N.C.L.E.), Margot Robbie (Suicide Squad, I, Tonya, Goodbye Christopher Robin, The Legend of Tarzan). A TV actor Colin Moody was also fun to listen to in the role of the cousin rabbit.

In short, Peter Rabbit was a great kids movie that I, as an adult, enjoyed immensely! Maybe a bit too much. But that’s a conversation for a different time and a different platform.

Rate: 4.2/5

Trailer: Peter Rabbit trailer

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Movie review: The Commuter

Movie reviews

Hello!

Welcome to a review of the first actual 2018 movie – The Commuter.

IMDb summary: A businessman is caught up in a criminal conspiracy during his daily commute home.

Lately, we have been getting quite a few train based movies, like The Girl on The Train and Murder on the Orient Express. While those two films were adaptations of beloved books, The Commuter is an original action film that doesn’t look like it exists purely to start another franchise. Still, it’s a Liam Neeson actioner that is coming out in January, so lower your expectations.

Writing

The Commuter was written by Byron Willinger, Philip de Blasi, and Ryan Engle and for the first half of the movie, I thought that this trio was on to something. To begin with, the premise for the train-based movie was inherently intriguing. There is something fascinating about the limited space, the constant movement while being stuck in one place, and the community of people that the daily commuters make up. Also, the script did a good job of setting up the main character – the opening sequence set up his daily routine highly effectively, while the ex-cop plotline worked to explain and justify his abilities, which were displayed throughout the film. The kickstart to the character’s quest/puzzle was kinda riddled with lucky coincidences but it still worked. The film even hinted that it was going to say something profound about human behavior. And then everything went sideways.

The more the film tried to explain its plot, the more convoluted it became. The narrative turned out to be a much ‘larger’ but I really wish that the script would have stuck to the train’s space and tried to make a self-contained story within it. The intensity and the thriller-like vibes were soon lost and replaced by a straight up action film tone. The over-the-top explosions scene was unnecessary, story-wise. The fact that the movie continued after it was also confusing. Lastly, the ending was very much ‘so neat, it only turns out this way in movies’ type of an ending. Oh, and the human behavior message – I had no idea what it was.

Directing

The Commuter was directed by Jaume Collet-Serra. He was responsible for 2016’s summer’s surprise hit The Shallows and has also worked with Liam Neeson before on some actioners. I thought that he did a really good job with the first part of the film (that part that had good writing). The opening sequence was an effective visual set up and the pacing and intensity were really good for the first 45 minutes. Then the movie started to drag a bit and didn’t really know which direction it was going. The CGI explosion was too long, messy, and cheaply looking (though, honestly, I’ve seen more expensive films that looked worse, *cough, cough*, Justice League). The majority of the action as well as the dialogue scenes were filmed in close-ups, which made sense for the limited space, but also made the movie feel a tiny bit claustrophobic. Lastly, the conclusion of the picture went on for too long. It should have wrapped up sooner.

Acting

The Commuter, for better or for worse, was a Liam Neeson show and he was good in it. This is the seasoned action star’s signature role, so he could probably do it in his sleep. However, he always looks like he is actually trying hard and is not just winging it.

 

On the supporting front, a whole bunch of moderately known actors appeared. Vera Farmiga (The Judge) played the mysterious and promising ‘villain’, but her story went nowhere. Patrick Wilson had the ‘bait and switch’ role and was fine in it. Jonathan Banks (Mudbound, Better Call Saul) and Sam Neill (Hunt for the Wilderpeople) appeared in roles that didn’t deserve them, while Downton Abbey’s Elizabeth McGovern and Game of Thrones’ Dean-Charles Chapman (Breathe) played Liam Neeson’s character’s family.

In short, The Commuter was an okay film, with a promising beginning and an underwhelming ending. Not a bad one for January, though.

Rate: 3/5

Trailer: The Commuter trailer

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