Movie review: Pacific Rim: Uprising

Movie reviews

Hello!

Welcome to a review of Pacific Rim: Uprising – a sequel to a movie I liked but didn’t think warranted a sequel.

IMDb summary: Jake Pentecost, son of Stacker Pentecost, reunites with Mako Mori to lead a new generation of Jaeger pilots, including rival Lambert and 15-year-old hacker Amara, against a new Kaiju threat.

Writing

Pacific Rim: Uprising was written by Emily Carmichael (a writer of short movies and TV series, is also supposed to write Jurassic World 3), Kira Snyder (a TV writer and producer), T.S. Nowlin (the writer of The Maze Runner series), and the director Steven S. DeKnight. I thought that the film’s writing was a mixed bag, like in so many cases with action movies nowadays.

The movie opened on a promising note. I liked the short summary of the first film as well as the background set-up of the main character (though, he was a bit too similar to the main character of the first film – both were great but hesitant pilots because of personal reasons). Still, I liked the fact that the main character for this film had a connection to the characters in the first movie. I also appreciated how this picture expanded the mythos of the world by showcasing new possibilities relating to both Jaegers and Kaiju, aliens and humans. I mean, the mash-up of the two (in each of the pairs) was a kinda obvious but undeniably awesome next step. For the most part, I also didn’t mind the actual plot of this movie: I found the story engaging and unexpected. For a minute, I thought that the movie will go one way (maybe do something with abuse of capitalism and power) but it quickly pulled back and picked a monster-y villain to fight against.

While the movie didn’t have a post-credits scene, it did have a post-logo tease (like Tomb Raider did just last week) about the next movie, suggesting a trip to the alien dimension in Pacific Rim 3 (if or when it happens). I wouldn’t mind seeing that but I’m not holding my breath either.

Directing

Pacific Rim was directed by the now Oscar winner Guillermo del Toro (The Shape of Water) but he did not return to direct the sequel. Instead, the reins were passed over to Steven S. DeKnight – a TV producer and director, to whom Uprising was a directorial feature debut. He did quite a good job with the movie. The pace was a bit uneven but the action was pretty great. I liked the designs of all the monsters and robots as well as the actual fight sequences. I also appreciated the fact that they were set during the day and one could actually see stuff. I guess the often repeated line from the script – ‘Bigger the Better’ – was sort of true in the case of the action in this film. I only say ‘sort of’ the case because the final action sequence was a bit senseless and overblown, which leads me to my only gripe with this movie (and a lot of PG-13 action movies) – the bloodless destruction porn that the action sequences result in. The viewers have become desensitized to the destruction, so they don’t care much for it anymore: its entertaining to look at but there is no longer any emotional investment. On the believability side – the realism has been gone from action movies since probably the 80s. Massive injuries result in zero bloody wounds, while the aforementioned massive destruction kills nobody. Hmmm…How long will that be the thing? Probably forever.

Acting

Pacific Rim: Uprising assembled an international cast to pander to global audiences (especially China). I didn’t really mind that as I think inclusivity is fun and good for business (and Hollywood is, first and foremost, a business). I thought that John Boyega (SW7, SW8, The Circle, Detroit) was a charming lead and I’m really glad that he got a chance to showcase his comedic chops. Scott Eastwood was fine too, though, I feel like I have seen him in a straight-laced military person in supporting role in many movies before (like Fast and Furious 8, Suicide Squad). Newcomer Cailee Spaeny and Jing Tian (The Great Wall) was good too.

Rinko KikuchiCharlie Day, and Burn Gorman all returned from the first film and had arcs that actually made sense in this movie. Weirdly, Charlie Hunnam did not return – his character would have had a place in the story, so it was probably a behind the scenes issue that sealed his exclusion from the film (maybe the reason was the poor financial performance of King Arthur?).

In short, Pacific Rim: Uprising is, or less, up to par with the first film, so if you liked that one, you will probably enjoy this one. Also, if you like Transformers, Power Rangers, Godzilla/Kong, or all of the above, you will probably find some enjoyment out of this picture too.

Rate: 3.5/5

Trailer: Pacific Rim: Uprising trailer

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5 ideas about a movie: Downsizing

Movie reviews

Hello!

Welcome to January – the month of great awards movies and awful mainstream ones. I don’t know how many reviews of the latter I’m going to be posting but you can be sure that the awards’ film reviews will be plentiful. For example, you are reading one now – this is Downsizing.

IMDb summary: A social satire in which a man realizes he would have a better life if he were to shrink himself to five inches tall, allowing him to live in wealth and splendor.

  1. Downsizing was written and directed by Alexander Payne (of The Descendants and Nebraska). Payne’s long-time collaborator Jim Taylor was also credited as a writer and a producer. To begin with, I thought that these two filmmakers had a genius premise for a movie. I haven’t really seen a social satire that tackled overpopulation as the main problem and definitely haven’t seen a film that had such a cheeky yet somehow believable solution to the problem. The opening sequence of the film was really good – it effectively set up the idea of downsizing as well as it global outreach – I instantly started to believe in the world of the movie. Then, the picture flashed to its main character and that’s where the problems started to arise.
  2. While I don’t necessarily think that the main character was bad, I do strongly believe that the story of the main character was too simplistic (for such an incredible premise, the narrative should have been more unique too). The wife’s decision to leave the husband was such a cliche way to create conflict. The fact that the movie started with one love story and ended with another was not the best decision either because by focusing so much on the romance, Downsizing forgot to explore a multitude of concepts that it introduced.  I wanted less predictability and more time spent on the economic, political, and social implications of downsizing; the abuse of the new technology (cause there always is a darker side behind a shiny billboard), and just the problem of overpopulation itself.
  3. Alexander Payne did a good job directing Downsizing. He realized the world of the story well and visually blended the small and the big worlds almost seamlessly (those visuals had a surrealist feeling to them which was interesting). In addition, Downsizing was billed as a comedy, and, while there were certainly some chucklesome moments, the film definitely wasn’t a laugh-out-loud type of a comedy. My favorite visual (as well as narrative) sequence was the prep for and the actual procedure of downsizing. As I’ve mentioned in the previous part, I wanted to see more of it rather than the love story.
  4. Matt Damon (The Martian, Jason Bourne, The Great Wall) played the lead and was good, but I don’t think that this role will result in any awards’ nominations let alone wins (it’s zero for two for Damon this season as Suburbicon was panned by the critics). Christoph Waltz (Tarzan, Spectre, Tulip Fever) was fun to watch as he was playing an eccentric and creepy character – one straight out of Waltz’s wheelhouse. Kristen Wiig (mother!, Ghostbusters) and Jason Sudeikis had very minor roles but they were great in those and proved to me that I definitely prefer seeing these two actors in more dramatic roles rather in their full-on comedic ones.
  5. The stand-out from the cast, who deservedly is getting all the awards’ recognition for this film was Hong Chau. While her character first appeared to be a comedic stereotype (mostly because of the broken English aspect), she was so much more than that. Chau’s performance was compelling and emotional, innocent yet sophisticated. I’d love to see her winning an Oscar as well as getting more opportunities in Hollywood (she has previously appeared on Big Little Lies and in the picture Inherent Vice).

In short, Downsizing wastes an amazingly original concept on a predictable love story. The cast is good overall but the standout is definitely Hong Chau.

Rate: 3.5/5

Trailer: Downsizing trailer

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5 ideas about a movie: The Florida Project

Movie reviews

Hello!

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

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

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

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

Rate: 4/5

Trailer: The Florida Project trailer

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5 ideas about a movie: Suburbicon

Movie reviews

Hello!

Once a sure awards contender, now a rotten tomato, Suburbicon has landed in theatres. Let’s see what it has to offer.

IMDb summary: A home invasion rattles a quiet family town.

  1. Suburbicon was directed by George Clooney (this was his 6th directorial outing but the first time that he did not star in a film he directed) from a script by the Coen brothers (Hail, Caesar!, Bridge of Spies, Unbroken), George Clooney himself, and Grant Heslov (actor-turned-producer/writer). Just looking at the list of talent involved behind the camera, this movie should have been great. And while it was surprising in the fact that it was not what I expected thematically, it was also not what I expected quality-wise.
  2. Suburbicon appeared to have two separate storylines that had little to do with one another, except maybe were there to be contrasted. The film opened with the event of an African American family moving into an idyllic white neighborhood. The racist undertones of the community’s reaction to their new neighbors quickly evolved into a racist attack and a riot – things that we should have left in the 1960s but which feel very contemporary. Another, supposedly main storyline, involved Matt Damon’s character. That plotline came a bit out of nowhere – we didn’t even meet Damon’s character in the set-up. The idealized facade of his family was never believable – the secrets that were supposed to be hidden could very easily be predicted. Suburbicon wasn’t subtle, let’s just say that. The parent-child dynamics and the husband cheating with his wife’s twin sister were both interesting concepts to explore but that didn’t really happen.
  3. The whole writing of the film started off quite simplistic and, while it did get more complex and compelling as the narrative unraveled, it never really reached the level of quality that was desirable. The two storylines never connected in the movie itself, they could only be brought together by the viewer. I interpreted the decision to have these two family plotlines side by side as an attempt to make a statement on race and society. The perfect facade of a white family hid deep perversion underneath, while the loving African American family was seen as unacceptable. The truth and appearances didn’t add up and I took the film’s message to be a slight warning for today’s society. I didn’t anticipate any of that to be in the movie from its trailer – that’s what I meant when I said that Suburbicon was thematically unexpected.
  4. Visually, Suburbicon looked quite nice and neat. In general, I find the 1960s setting aesthetically pleasing, so it was cool to see it realized quite well in this picture. The opening sequence in a style of a fairytale book was also good. The slow pace was a bit of a drag. Suburbicon also felt like a weird mashup of an old-school crime drama and a modern thriller. Some of its scenes of violence were very conservatively left out of frame – filmed as a shadow or only focusing on the characters’ feet, while some other violent scenes were extremely graphic – like the scenes one would expect to see in an R-rated modern thriller.
  5. Suburbicon had a great cast that deserved better material to work with. Matt Damon (The Martian, Jason Bourne, The Great Wall, soon Downsizing – now his only film for the awards season) and Julianne Moore (Kingsman 2, Mockingjay) were both really good, but a standout to me was Oscar Isaac (Star Wars, X-Men, The Promise) – I loved his spunky and charismatic insurance investigator character. The child lead of the film – Noah Jupe – was also quite good. I swear the child actors, in general, have never been as good as they are now.

In short, Suburbicon was a mediocre film that was not thrilling enough to be a crime thriller or funny/ironical enough to be a black comedy or stylized enough to be seen as an art metaphor.

Rate: 2.9/5

Trailer: Suburbicon 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: Kingsman: The Golden Circle

Movie reviews

Hello!

Kingsman: The Secret Service came out of nowhere and blew everyone away back in 2014. 3 years later and the expectations are high for the sequel. Can Kingsman: The Golden Circle deliver?

IMDb summary: When their headquarters are destroyed and the world is held hostage, the Kingsman’s journey leads them to the discovery of an allied spy organization in the US. These two elite secret organizations must band together to defeat a common enemy.

Writing

The Kingsman sequel was written by the same duo who wrote the first film – Jane Goldman and the director Matthew Vaughn, based the characters by the comic book royalty – Mark Millar and Dave Gibbons (the said screenwriting duo has also written Stardust, Kick-Ass, X-Men: First Class, and X-Men: DOFP together, while Goldman’s solo writing credits also include Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children). I thought that they did a great job on writing The Golden Circle. They ticked off all the necessary boxes for a sequel: took away everything familiar from the heroes (destroyed their home and comrades), made it personal (involved significant others and long lost friends), introduced new characters and locations (Statesman, Poppy’s Land), and had plenty of callbacks to the first film (returning characters, familiar scenes recreated with a twist).

The most interesting new addition was the aforementioned Statesman organization as well as the general feeling of Americana, especially potent in the villain’s layer. This expansion of the Kingsman world to the other side of the Atlantic really worked for me. I loved seeing the differences between UK and US expressed in a fun and comic-book-y way. The obviously American aura of the film also reminded me of Logan Lucky (who also shares a song – ‘Take Me Home, Country Roads’ and an actor – Channing Tatum with The Golden Circle). Lastly, I loved how, even though the American side of the story/ characters were introduced, the British roots were not forgotten either and remained the focus of the movie.

Speaking about those British roots, I appreciated all the commentary on honor and the right kind of masculinity that this picture had. Its attempt to say something about the drug usage, law, and innocence wasn’t bad either. The villain for this film was just as campy and just as appropriate tonally as Valentine was in/for the last one.

Directing

Matthew Vaughn was back in his element with Kingsman 2. While I have been disappointed by some of his producing efforts (Fantastic Four and Kick-Ass 2), he has never let me down, when he was in a role of the director. The action was just spectacular: highly stylized, explicit, campy, and not at all realistic but just so fun and entertaining! All the gadgets were magnificent and a great parody/homage of the 007/other spy films. The filming style (cinematography by George Richmond) – handheld and smooth rather than shaky with just the right amount of slow-mo – was highly appreciated too and so dynamic (it was so fun I could forgive some wonky CGI)! The British glamour, as well as American ruggedness, were both well realized too. The score (music by Henry Jackman and Matthew Margeson) was great as well, I especially loved the instrumental version of the already mentioned ‘Take Me Home, Country Roads’ song. The only criticism that I have for this highly entertaining live-action cartoon was the fact that it’s a bit long – over two hours. If it was chopped down to 2h, the narrative might have been tighter and the criticism would not exist.

Acting

Taron Egerton (Eddie The Eagle, Testament of Youth, Legend, Sing) was great as the lead Eggsy. He had both the coolness and the vulnerability needed for the character. Colin Firth (Magic in the Moonlight, Genius) also came back (wish that wasn’t spoiled in the trailer) – his performance seemed a bit off but his character also acted a bit off. Mark Strong had a lovely arc in the film and one of the best exists of the character I have seen in a while. Hanna Alström also came back as her character. I really did not expect her to stick around for a sequel but the filmmakers kinda took that explicit ending of the first film (and the introduction of her…character) and sort of made into a cute side plotline.

Newcomers included Channing Tatum (Logan Lucky, Hail, Caesar!, The Hateful Eight, Magic Mike XXL, Jupiter Ascending), who had some fun scenes but wasn’t in the movie much. However, the conclusion of The Golden Circle promised that we will see more of him in the 3rd picture. Pedro Pascal (The Great Wall) gave a wonderful performance too: he had the coolest weapon and an awesome death scene (on par with the one on GOT). Halle Berry (DOFP) played kinda a typical role of the behind-the-scenes/tech personnel but I’m excited to follow her journey further. Jeff Bridges (Hell or High Water) also had a very minor role in the picture. He was the only actor who just seemed to be included in order to raise the profile of the film rather than to actually have him do something cool. Lastly, Julianne Moore (Mockingjay) made for a great villain. It was so fun seeing her let loose in a role!

In short, I really enjoyed Kingsman: The Golden Circle. It was as good as The Secret Service, so if you liked the first one, the sequel should also please you. Plus, if you enjoy comic book movies that truly feel like a comic book that has come to life, Kingsman 2 is the film for you!

Rate: 4/5

Trailer: Kingsman: The Golden Circle trailer

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5 ideas about a movie: American Assasin

Movie reviews

Hello and welcome to the third and the last movie review of this weekend!

In this post, we are discussing American Assasin: one generic monstrosity of a film that was so basic that I couldn’t even come up with an interesting introduction for its review. I could have called it just ‘another movie in the line of films that all have the word ‘American’ plus a random noun in their titles’ (American MADE, BEAUTY, PSYCHO, GRAFITTI, etc.)

IMDb summary: A story centered on counterterrorism agent Mitch Rapp.

  1. American Assasin, as a story, first originated in a book format, written by Vince Flynn. 7 years and 4 screenwriters later (Stephen Schiff (writer of 1990s’ pictures like True Crime and Lolita, who now mostly works on the small screen), Michael Finch (wrote Hitman: Agent 47), Edward Zwick (TV writer), and Marshall Herskovitz (writer of The Great Wall and Jack Reacher 2), this narrative reached the silver screen. Now, I haven’t read the book, so I can’t comment on the similarities/differences between the version of the plot in the film and in the novel. However, I can tell you that, as a motion picture, American Assasin was completely unoriginal, predictable, bland, uninspiring, and, frankly, boring. It is also mind-boggling to see 4 scriptwriters credited for the writing of the movie. They seriously couldn’t come up with anything better?
  2. American Assasin didn’t bring anything new to the table when it comes to movies about terrorism (it even resulted in being just as the same old white male vs white male fight). It didn’t have anything new to say neither about the mentor-mentee relationship nor the world of the military/CIA/secret-ops and their rogue agents. It also didn’t practice what it preacher: everything was personal and nobody followed the rules. Lastly, the twists and turns could be seen a mile away, while the dialogue lines were super recycled, and, thus, cringe-y.
  3. A couple of compliments I could award the screenplay was that I liked seeing the transition of Dylan O’Brien’s character: from a millennial who would film his proposal (the acting made that moment sweet rather than eye-roll worthy) to an assassin with a personal (and almost justified) vendetta. I also loved the idea of the virtual training. The IRL training sequence (the one with the re-created shop) was also neat.
  4. Michael Cuesta, TV director and producer and the director of Kill the Messenger, helmed American Assasin and did as good of a job as he could. The script didn’t really give him much to work with but at least he made the hand-to-hand combat seem somewhat exciting. The pacing was fine too. The generic setting of the various European and non-European cities was well realized, but, still generic (Americans seem to enjoy wreaking havoc on the old continent).
  5. Inarguably, the best part about this film was the performances of its two leads. Dylan O’Brien has really begun his final transition from the YA-movies (a la The Maze Runner, which he still has one to promote and oversee the release of) and the young adult TV (Teen Wolf is also airing its last episodes, which he scarcely appears in). He has also had a small role in Deepwater Horizon. His performance here was believable and likable. Michael Keaton (Spider-Man: Homecoming, Spotlight) was also great: there were shades of ‘let’s get nuts’ level of craziness in his performance. Taylor Kitsch was fine as the villain too, though there wasn’t anything particularly interesting about his performance. The few female supporting characters were lazily written but performed well enough by Sanaa Lathan (who was, sadly, just the exposition machine) and Shiva Negar (or the film’s lazy attempt at the female empowerment and diversity).

In short, American Assasin is an action film that you have already seen numerous times. If you like the two leads (Keaton and O’Brien) you might watch it for them, other than that – I don’t recommend it. Maybe as a rental or a free TV rerun.

Rate: 2.5/5

Trailer: American Assasin trailer

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Movie review: The Great Wall

Movie reviews

Hello!

Welcome to a review of the movie that is either groundbreaking or just a continuation of the oldest Holywood tradition. It’s The Great Wall!

IMDb summary: European mercenaries searching for black powder become embroiled in the defense of the Great Wall of China against a horde of monstrous creatures.

My introductory point about this film possibly being groundbreaking has to do with the circumstances of its creation. The Great Wall is the first major co-production between US and China (Kung Fu Panda 3 was also a co-production and came before this movie, but it was an animated project rather than a live-action one). And yet, this movie has also been accused of whitewashing – the old trend for Hollywood, which only recently started receiving some backlash. So, can this film be a start of something new or is just the same old thing?

Writing

The picture’s script was written by Carlo Bernard and Doug Miro (writers of the Prince of Persia movie), and Tony Gilroy (writer of the first 4 Bourne films and Rogue One). The combined previous filmography of these screenwriters is of mixed quality and the writing for The Great Wall is also kinda mixed, mostly leaning towards mediocre.

To begin with, the whole decision to have a white lead was not explained that well during the runtime of the picture. It made sense to have a white lead and a supporting cast, full of Chinese actors, from the business standpoint, but it didn’t make much sense story-wise. The film, at least, stated that Matt Damon was not supposed to be playing a Chinese character but a European explorer, who is looking for gunpowder, so Damon’s casting cannot necessarily be called whitewashing. However, the decision to focus on a European hero, who saves China, brought up the whole ‘white savior’ debate. The fact the character’s arc begun with him wanting to steal the gunpowder didn’t paint the best picture either. Is the film, then, only reaffirming colonial thinking or is trying to tell a historical story accurately?  In short, I, personally, didn’t think that the picture gave a good enough explanation for having a European lead (played by an American) in a foreign setting. Even the film The Last Samurai came up with a better reason.

Speaking about the other aspects of the writing – I did enjoy quite a few of them. I liked the world-building and the mythology that the film was inspired by. I loved the idea to have a variety of specialized parts of the army. I liked that the lead character was written as an archer, because of my personal fondness of archery. I appreciated the fact that two languages were used in the film – it made the movie seem more as a co-production in contrast to it appearing as if Hollywood just hijacked another foreign story. I also loved that so many female warrior characters were written into the story. I don’t actually know if that is historically accurate, but I didn’t care much, in the moment of watching the movie. The picture’s attempt to have an underlying important theme – the opposition between paid participation and the true loyalty – was also commendable. While this debate wasn’t really treated as fully as it should have been, I like the fact that the film at least tried to be something more than it ended up to as.

And that final something is the fact that the film’s story was just kinda meh. The narrative was simple and straightforward – nothing one hasn’t seen before. It had two obvious plotlines – the first about fighting the monster and the other about stealing the gunpowder – which converged in the end. The main character’s change of heart during the finale was predictable and cliche. Basically, for a movie that did something very different with its financing and production, The Great Wall should have also done something new and interesting with its story.

Directing

The Great Wall was directed by Zhang Yimou. The majority of his films act as Chinese submissions for the Academy Awards in the Best Foreign Language category, so he is an accomplished director. His direction for this movie was quite nice too and I do think he did the best he could with the given material.  The action scenes looked cool and I liked the massive scope of them. The film had some impressive long takes too. The historical setting, as well as the different sections of the army, were also realized well enough. Plus, the design of the monsters was varied and quite interestng (they kinda reminded me of the zombies from World War Z because of their movement and the sounds they emitted). However, the CGI definitely could have been more photorealistic, especially in this day and age.

My favorite action sequence was the first battle, mostly because it was reminiscent of the final battle from The Lord Of The Rings: The Two Towers, although not as good. I also really liked the smaller corrida-type (Spanish bull-fighting) fight scene, in which Pedro Pascal’s character was luring the monster and Matt Damon’s character was trying to shoot it with an arrow. I also loved that the battle scenes had a diegetic beat – the drumming within a story provided a rhythm for both the characters, who were fighting, and the viewers, who were just enjoying the soundtrack. Lastly, the scene with the Chinese lanterns also looked lovely but, as weird as this sounds, it didn’t felt unique. These lanterns are now used all over the world for various celebrations (or in movies, like Tangled), so their usage in an actual Chinese setting didn’t seem as unique as it should have.

Acting

Matt Damon played the lead and did as good a job as he could have. Honestly, he has never been my first choice for a historical movie but he did make the role work. Even with all the whitewashing backlash, Damon will be fine, as his career has been going great. While his return to the role of Jason Bourne wasn’t as positive as it could have been, his work on The Martian is still on everyone’s minds. Besides, in addition to acting, Damon’s producing work has been going great, as the film he recently produced – Manchester by the Sea – is a big awards nominee this season.

Pedro Pascal played a supporting role and brought a tiny bit of a different kind of diversity into the picture. Pascal impressed everyone on a single season of Game of Thrones and I am kinda surprised that his work on GOT didn’t lead to more roles for him. Nevertheless, I really liked his The Great Wall’s character’s sass – it pleasantly reminded me of Oberyn.

Willem Dafoe also appeared in the movie and didn’t have much to do, while the Chinese part of the cast delivered great performances. Jing Tian was amazing as the female lead, while Andy Lau and Zhang Hanyu did a good enough job with what they were given as well. I really wish that I knew more about these actors and their previous filmography.

In brief, The Great Wall was a film, whose behind the scenes story was more interesting than its on-screen plot. While it might have broken grounds from the business standpoint, it was nothing more than average from the creative one.

Rate: 3/5

Trailer: The Great Wall trailer

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Movie review: Jason Bourne

Movie reviews

Hello!

Hollywood just resurrected one of its spy action franchises, so let’s discuss its latest entry – Jason Bourne.

IMDb summary: The most dangerous former operative of the CIA is drawn out of hiding to uncover hidden truths about his past.

I have told you numerous times that the two spy action series that I’ve followed closely are Mission Impossible and James Bond. I never really knew much about The Bourne franchise or other lesser-known spy projects like Jack Ryan or Jack Reacher. Before going to see Jason Bourne, I did my homework and checked out the original trilogy of the early 2000s as well as The Bourne Legacy spin-off (sort of) that didn’t stick with audiences, which kinda sucks since I’m a fan of Jeremy Renner (just give him his own franchise, don’t bring him in as a replacement). Speaking of the original films – Identity, Supremacy, and Ultimatum – I would summarize them as a collection of handheld and/or shaky camera cinematography, amnesia plotlines, old computers as props, white old men characters and the signature ‘Come Alone’ line of dialogue. Jokes aside, I did like all of the movies and appreciated their realism and ruggedness. The 3rd picture was my favorite because it was the most intense, had the best action sequences as well as a few subtle heartbreaking character moments.

Writing

The director Paul Greengrass and the editor Christopher Rouse wrote the script for Jason Bourne and did an okay job. I think if they would have brought another screenwriter, the narrative might have been better. Basically, I felt that the movie contained two stories: one was about Jason Bourne and his family, while the other revolved around the CIA and a new kind of spying platform – a social media site. The two plots didn’t have much in common until they were forced together in the 3rd act. Both of these narratives were really interesting separately – the Jason Bourne family secrets would have made for a great personal story, similar to the story of The Bourne Identity. The public safety v private rights story would have made for a great political and modern thriller, kinda like Captain America: The Winter Soldier.

The writing for the characters was much better that the actual story. I liked the fact that Bourne was a morally gray hero who has gotten his hands dirty numerous times. Alicia Vikander’s character was also impressive – she was an interesting blend of conservativism and liberal ideas: she did want to change the system but didn’t pick the best approach to do so. I also liked that, this time, the film had only one agent/asset hunting Bourne because by having only one supporting character of this kind, you can give him development and that’s exactly what they did – he wasn’t just some disposable tool of the villain but an actual character who had personal reasons to dislike Bourne.

Directing

Paul Greengrass, who did Supremacy and Ultimatum as well as Captain Phillips, did a good job directing Jason Bourne. The visual recap of the previous films set the tone and the universe nicely for the following movie. The setting of the Athens during all those protests made the film even more grounded and real-looking. The last car chase was absolutely crazy in a good way. The cinematography by Barry Ackroyd (The Hurt Locker) also worked – it did create an intense feeling of urgency and allowed the movie to have a non-stop pace. This type of handheld cinematography, reminiscent of documentary features, is not my favorite but I appreciate how unique it is in the market oversaturated with over-polished and too perfect looking Hollywood flicks. The Bourne films actually try to do something interesting and different with their visual storytelling, while the other Hollywood action movies are built in the way that an infant could follow and understand them .

Acting

  • Matt Damon as Jason Bourne. Damon has made the character of Bourne his own but I was actually surprised that he returned for this movie as he did sat the 4th film out, so I was thinking that he was done with this franchise, especially bearing in my mind that his career is currently blossoming – he just did the awards’ nominated The Martian. However, maybe coming back for Jason Bourne and its possible sequel was a good idea on Damon’s part as it looks like his next film will crash and burn – The Great Wall’s trailer got a lot of backlash for whitewashing. 
  • Tommy Lee Jones starred as Robert Dewey and was another white old male villain. I honestly don’t know if The Bourne franchise will ever have a different villain. I also don’t know if Lee Jones will ever play a different character than an older white male businessman/politician/doctor/general who is not that likable or good.
  • Alicia Vikander as Heather Lee was a standout member of the cast and I couldn’t be happier. She nailed her dialogue completely. In addition, I’m so proud of her for winning an Oscar for The Danish Girl and really want to see what will she do next. Her upcoming two films The Light Between Oceans and Tulip Fever are on my must-watch list and she has also been cast as the new Lara Kroft.
  • Vincent Cassel as the Asset was okay. He worked well in the action scenes.
  • Julia Stiles appeared, once again, as Nicky Parsons and was good. It was nice to see Stiles in a big film because I don’t think that she had a lot of substantial roles in the recent years. She had a supporting role in Silver Linings Playbook but that was back in 2012.
  • Riz Ahmed as Aaron Kalloor was also a nice addition to the cast. A few years back Ahmed was in Nightcrawler and later this year he will be in Rogue One.

All in all, Jason Bourne was a fun action film. Its narrative seemed confused and without a clear direction, but the action sequences did make up for it and made watching the film and overall entertaining experience.

Rate: 3.75/5

Trailer: Jason Bourne trailer

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