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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Movie review: Allied

Movie reviews

Hello!

Today, I’m reviewing Allied – the movie that ‘broke’ Brangelina, the ‘it’ couple of Hollywood. Okay, I’m kidding –  I don’t actually believe or care much about the rumors. To me, Allied is, first and foremost, a film by a director that is of my native descent (Zemeckis is half-Lithuanian).

IMDb summary: In 1942, an intelligence officer in North Africa encounters a female French Resistance fighter on a deadly mission behind enemy lines. When they reunite in London, their relationship is tested by the pressures of war.

Writing

Steven Knight wrote the screenplay for Allied. So far, his accomplishments have been a bit average: I absolutely loved his small film Locke and really enjoyed the stories of The Hundred-Foot Journey and Pawn Sacrifice. However, Knight also penned the script for the so-so picture Burnt and wrote the completely awful Seventh Son as well. His next film will be a different Brad Pitt picture – Wold War Z 2. Speaking of the writing for this film, quality-wise, Allied was a mixed bag , just like Knight’s track record.

I felt that Allied contained two distinct stories which could have been explored in two separate movies. The first suspenseful act of the two characters falling in love on a mission was cool and interesting. It was a successful homage to Casablanca and the Golden Age of Hollywood. The second story – the home life and the investigation – was much slower and less interesting than the preceding set-up. Nevertheless, I did enjoy the fact that this film focused more on the romance and less on the war because I have already seen enough historical films, in which the romantic aspect is relegated to the sidelines and feels out of place. Allied made a decision to be a romantic movie first and a war drama second and stuck with it. I, as I have mentioned, enjoyed and liked this idea, but I can also understand that some people might see it as too sappy and melodramatic. I, personally, found it touching and heartbreaking, although not Casablanca level heartbreaking (Allied didn’t reach the levels of ‘We’ll always have Paris’ is what I’m saying).

Having said that, Allied still did have some pretty nice lines of dialogue and some rather cool concepts. I don’t really know why but I liked the trailer line: ‘Being good at this kind of job is not very beautiful’. I also enjoyed the ideas about love in war – the problem isn’t the action of getting involved, it is feeling something about the involvement. Lastly, I liked how the film underscored that the two main characters could never be trusted, as they were trained to lie.

Directing

Robert Zemeckis, who is responsible for creating a whole slew of cinematic classics – Back To The Future trilogy, Who Framed Robert Rabbit, Forrest Gump, and Cast Away and whose latest films include The Walk and Flight, directed Allied and did quite a good job. The film looked beautiful visually, although the CGI at the beginning (the desert) seemed a tiny bit fake and took me out of the film. Other historical settings were realized nicely, though. Zemeckis also used a lot of time jumps in the film and they did make sense for the most part. Lastly, I did like his long takes that some critics panned. At first, they seemed unnecessarily long to me as well, but then I realized that they were this long for a reason and were meant to show or to indicate something extra.

Acting

I think that the lead duo – Brad Pitt and Marion Cotillard – did an amazing job. First, they had crazy good chemistry and made a believable couple – their back and forth dialogue was superb, especially in the first act. Secondly, I think that the two actors nailed the ‘fake’ spy acting and didn’t make it seem cartoony. I was also quite surprised to see Lizzy Caplan in a supporting role and thought that her character was interesting, although, I question the motives behind the decision to include her character. A trio of actors, who seem to constantly appear in historical movies – Jared Francis Harris, Matthew Goode, and Simon McBurney, rounded up the cast of Allied and brought solid performances too.

Actors’ film recommendations:

  • Brad Pitt: Seven, Fight ClubMr. & Mrs. Smith (why not, it is still a good movie), Inglorious Basterds, Fury, The Big Short, By The Sea (even more ironic, as this one is directed by Jolie).
  • Marion Cotillard: Macbeth, The Dark Knight Rises, Inception, Big FishLa Vie en Rose for which she won an Oscar should also be on this list, even though I haven’t seen it yet. 
  • Lizzy Caplan: Now You See Me 2, Mean Girls (what a throwback).
  • Jared Harris: Benjamin Button, Lincoln, The Man from U.N.C.L.E.
  • Matthew Goode: Downton Abbey, The Imitation Game, Watchmen.
  • Simon McBurney: MI:Rogue Nation, Magic in the Moonlight, The Theory of Everything, Jane Eyre.

In brief, Allied was a solid romantic war drama. It had good acting and a decent story and visuals. However, the film was not groundbreaking, which it could have been, knowing who was involved in its making, both in front and behind the camera.

Rate: 3,75/5

Trailer: Allied trailer

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Movie review: Eye in the Sky

Movie reviews

Hello!

I’ve just come back from the cinema, after watching one of the best movies I have seen this year or possibly ever and I can’t wait to talk about it. Without further ado, let’s discuss the war drama/thriller – Eye in the Sky.

IMDb summary: Col. Katherine Powell, a military officer in command of an operation to capture terrorists in Kenya, sees her mission escalate when a girl enters the kill zone triggering an international dispute over the implications of modern warfare.

SPOILER ALERT

Writing: story and themes

Eye in the Sky’s script was written by Guy Hibbert, who has mainly created screenplays for TV movies. The story that he crafted for this film as well as the dialogue, which was used to tell this story, was truly spectacular. The film doesn’t have any action (almost) in the literal sense of the word, but it is still extremely engaging and suspenseful.

The movie is set during a wartime – in the midst of the contemporary war, where armies are replaced by drones and computers. Nonetheless, the aforementioned modern technologies are still operated by military individuals. I do not think that we have seen many films about the practices of modern warfare, and since this issue is very important to all present and future generations, it’s about time that mainstream movies began contributing to the conversation or at least helped to kickstart the discussion.

Eye in the Sky opened with a quote by the ancient Greek playwright Aeschylus: In war, truth is the first casualty. To my mind, this quote was a tiny bit misleading, because the movie dealt more with the questions of ethics rather than truth. On the other hand, truth and morality are too closely related or even intertwined value and the loss of one of them, results in the loss of the other as well.

Eye in the Sky succeeded in portraying the story of a single mission not only in an entertaining but in also realistic way: it showed how many parties (located in different countries and time zones all around the globe) are actually involved in making a decision – it was an example of true democracy – a good kind of democracy. However, it also showed the inefficiency of liberal democracy at times like these and people’s inability to make the important decisions. But can we really blame the officials who tried to avoid the responsibility when the stakes were this high – human lives were at risk. Nonetheless, maybe the officials who were avoiding the important decisions were doing this for personal reasons (so as to avoid possible culpability) rather than ethical ones?

Not only did the movies explored the process of decision making but it also touched upon the question of modern war propaganda (possibility of the footage being leaked). It also asked the viewers to considered the worthiness of human life. Lastly, Eye in the Sky showed the psychological effects on people who actually have to make the decision and, more importantly, execute it. In the end, military and army officials are still people, who are only doing their job.

Eye in the Sky was also a very emotional movie, and the end credits of the motion picture only increased the overall emotional impact of the film. I do not remember the last time I cried in a movie and this film definitely made me tear up.

The only thing that took me out of the picture’s story a tiny bit were the bird and bug drones. They seemed too futuristic to me and were a little unbelievable. However, I do not know whether this type of technology really exists. If it does, then I am really scared about the level of surveillance that we, as a species, have already reached.

Directing: visuals and sound

Eye in the Sky was directed by Gavin Hood, who has previously won an Oscar for the film Tsotsi (Best Foreign Language Film in 2006). However, Hood’s last two films (before Eye in the Sky) were X-Men Origins: Wolverine and Ender’s Game. I did not enjoy these two films and I do not believe that a lot of people did. However, I feel that Hood has at least partially redeemed himself with Eye in the Sky. Although the film’s plot was mostly very spatially confined, the shots were never too dense or too repetitive. The visuals of the drone, as well as the footage of the various computers, were also extremely believable. The cinematography by Haris Zambarloukos (Mamma Mia! (ultimate guilty pleasure film), ThorLockeJack Ryan: Shadow Recruit and Cinderella) was really nice as well. Lastly, the music by Paul Hepker and Mark Kilian was also very haunting and a perfect fit for the film.

Moreover, one of the film’s producers was actor Colin Firth (Kingman(!))- I actually did not know that, in addition to acting, he produced movies. Did you?

Acting

The film had a huge ensemble cast and I would even go as far as to say that this probably is one of my favorite ensemble movies in recent memory. Everest was probably the last ensemble movie that I really enjoyed.

So, the film’s cast consisted of Helen Mirren, Aaron Paul, Alan Rickman, Barkhad Abdi, Jeremy Northam, Iain Glen, Phoebe Fox, Armaan Haggio, Aisha Takow, Richard McCabe, Carl Beukes, Kim Engelbrecht and the director Gavin Hood himself. I won’t be able to talk about all the actors in this list, but I will try my best to discuss at least a few of them.

To begin with, I loved the fact that Helen Mirren’s character was the one calling the shots. Film’s don’t tend to focus on female military officers, so that was a nice change. I also loved how determined and relentless her character was. Mirren is an extremely accomplished actress and I am embarrassed to say that I have only seen her most recent films, like Trumbo, The Hundred-Foot Journey and Woman in Gold. I also would like to watch The Queen in which Miller plays… well… the Queen (for the 4th time).

Breaking Bad’s alumni Aaron Paul is probably fairing a bit better that his past co-star Bryan Cranston (I see Paul in more movies than Cranston). I really liked Paul in the role in Eye in the Sky – he didn’t do much bodily acting but his facial expressions were magnificent. Earlier this year, I saw Aaron in Triple 9 and I have also reviewed a few of his films from 2014 – Need for Speed and A Long Way Down.

Alan Rickman also started in Eye in the Sky. It was quite a bitter-sweet feeling, seeing him in the film, since I will dearly miss him as an actor. I grew up with him as Snape in Harry Potter films and only yesterday watched him in 1995’s Sense and Sensibility. Eye in the Sky was Rickman’s last physical role and, once again, he proved what an amazing actor he was (and will remain in our minds). I wonder whether the scenes, where his character was buying that doll, were meant to show his human side or whether it symbolized his indifference to all children. His character did seem kinda ruthless, especially with the shiver-inducing deliverance of his last line Never tell a soldier that he doesn’t know the cost of war. Later this year, we will hear Rickman in his last role (overall) in the Alice sequel.

Barkhad Abdi, who burst onto the scene a few years ago with Captain Phillips, was also really good in the role. Game of Thrones’s Iain Glen also had a few scenes that were intended to be funny and I don’t really know if that comic relief was necessary – it felt out of place. Lastly, Aisha Takow played the little girl, whose presence in the film made the biggest emotional impact, and I think that she did a nice job.

All in all, Eye in the Sky was an extremely engaging film, which showed the complexities of war and raised questions of morality and ethics. The answers to these moral and ethical dilemmas were not fully given by the film or its characters, but it encouraged the members of the audience to make up their own minds. The directing, the cinematography and the music of the film all worked together to created a highly compelling feature, which was brought to life by an amazing and extensive cast.

Rate: 4.9/5

Trailer: Eye in the Sky trailer

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Movie review: The Walk

Movie reviews

Hello!

Sorry for the flood of movie reviews on my blog these past few days, but I promise you will get a break after this review. For now, let’s review The Walk – a film about walking on a high wire a few hundred meters in the air. To me, this seems like a ludicrous idea, since I easily trip and fall while walking on a solid ground.

IMDb summary: In 1974, high-wire artist Philippe Petit recruits a team of people to help him realize his dream: to walk the immense void between the World Trade Center towers.

Directing

The reason why I want to start this review with the director – Robert Zemeckis – is because he is the reason that I went to see this film. As you may know, my country of origin is Lithuania (I’ve moved to the UK a few months ago) and Zemeckis has Lithuanian roots, so I felt obliged to support my fellow Lithuanian or half Lithuanian. Moreover, he is a pioneer of visual effects and has made a lot of amazing films including Back to the Future trilogy, Who Framed Roger Rabbit, Forrest Gump, and Cast Away. However, I do not believe that The Walk is his best film or even close to this.

I have mixed feelings regarding this movie. On one hand, some CGI effects looked really fake (the towers at the beginning and the painfully obvious green screen during the exposition inserts – I wonder how did these scenes looked on IMAX) while other sequences were breathtaking (the actual walk or more accurately the walks). The ending sequence with an imaginary wire and the NY skyline dissolving into the black was my favorite shot. The black and white opening with some colorful details was an interesting choice as well. I just wish that this movie was edited more neatly so that beginning and ending would have had a bit more coherence.

Story

The Walk’s screenplay was based on real life events from 1974 when the real life Philippe Petit performed his dangerous and illegal stunt. Zemeckis himself, with the help of Christopher Browne, wrote the script, which could have benefited from the revision (the same with the visuals). Film’s story was really unfocused during the first half of the film and did not engage the viewer fully. It felt both rushed (characters did not receive any development) and the way too slow (lots of time passed with nothing really happening). There was no indication of the passage of time, so the audience couldn’t really tell how much time has passed between scenes – a day or a year? However, as much as I critic this film, I have to admit that the motion picture really shined during the second half when it found its focus: the preparation for walk sequence was even more interesting than the actual walk(s) scene because it had amazing suspense, which later carried on to the actual performance.

Though, while the 2nd part of the film was very enjoyable, some questionable choices were taking me out of the film throughout the whole run-time. For example, the exposition on top of the Statue of Liberty and the breaking of the 4th wall seemed like unnecessary and distracting additions to the film. Moreover, while I loved the European flavor of the film, their explanation of why the characters should speak English instead of French seemed quite stupid to me. Also, the fact that the character of Petit only did a few walks and trained for a bit and was prepared for the walk between the World Trade Center Towers was a bit unbelievable. However, according to google, World Trade Center Walk was only the 4th walk that Petit did IRL, so the movie stuck to the reality in that case. Lastly, while this film was based on real life events and might have wanted to stay as truthful to the real story as possible, some of the details of the plot were quite weird. For instance, why would you allow a guy who has a fear of heights on your team if you are planning to walk on a wire hundreds of meters in the air? It just seemed to be an unnecessary obstacle for Petit’s purpose and the comedic relief that it added was not worth it.

Acting

  • Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Philippe Petit was the star of this film. I have always been on the fence when it comes to Gordon-Levitt as an actor and I still remain on the fence. He has done some great films but he never really stuck out to me in any of them. I also had quite a lot of issues with his character in this film. I don’t know whether real-life Petit is like this, but the film’s Petit seemed like a very selfish and arrogant man (thief and troublemaker) and just and unlikable character who the viewer had to force himself/herself to like and root for. Furthermore, the way he held himself above the circus artists was not a nice thing to do. Also, why couldn’t they just cast a French actor to play this role? Levitt looks nothing like real life Petit, so it was definitely not the reason why he got the part. Also, I think they CGI-ied his face a bit but that just made it look weird and fake. However, the fakest thing of it all was the Gordon-Levitt’s accent, which took some time to get used to. Lastly, I would be interested to know, how much of the actual wire walking did Gordon-Levitt do and who was his stunt man.
  • Ben Kingsley as Papa Rudy and Charlotte Le Bon as Annie Allix were the two supporting characters, which received some development and I wish we could have spent more time with them since they seemed to be interesting. What mind boggles me the most, is the fact that they managed to cast a French actress in a lead female role but not the male one. Why? Speaking about Kingsley, I mostly remember him as Marvel’s The Mandarin, though he has done some better films than Iron Man 3. The last Le Bon’s film, which I’ve watched, was The Hundred-Foot Journey – I quite liked it. Plus, I have found out that she voiced Joy in the French version of Inside Out.
  • Clément Sibomy, James Badge Dale, César Domboy, Ben Schwartz, Benedict Samuel, and Steve Valentine also had supporting roles in the film. Sadly, they looked like really one-dimensional caricatures of real life people.

To sum up, The Walk was an okay film and so far – my least favorite film of the fall and the least likely candidate for any awards. The plot was messy, the visuals could have been neater and the choices for the actors and their characters – questionable. However, the suspense of the Walk(s) and the CGI of the final sequence made up for the previous shortcomings at least a bit.

Rate: 3.5/5

Trailer: The Walk trailer

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Movie reviews: Chef + The Hundred Foot Journey

Movie reviews

Hello!

How is your weekend coming a long? I hope that you have already eaten your breakfast/lunch or dinner because you are about to read two very delicious movie reviews!

Chef (2014)

I have finally watched this small budget Jon Favreau’s movie with a couple of big stars in it. (Mostly I mean Scarlet Johansson and Robert Downey Jr. but Sofia Vergara is also in it). For those of you who don’t know, Jon Favreau directed the first two Iron Man films and started in them as Iron Man’s bodyguard Happy Hogan. So it was extremely nice to see big movie stars helping out Jon with his independent movie which felt like Iron Man 2 reunion. Black widow is working with Happy and Tony Stark is the same as always – rich, witty and sure of himself.

Summary: An out-of-work L.A. chef (writer/director Jon Favreau) opens a food truck in a bid to realize his culinary potential and reconnect with his estranged family in this indie ensemble comedy co-starring Robert Downey Jr., Scarlett Johansson, Sofía Vergara, John Leguizamo, and Bobby Cannavale. ~ Jason Buchanan, Rovi

First of all, do yourself a favor and do not watch this movie with an empty stomach because I did this mistake and by the middle of the film I was starving.The movie explores one huge problem that today’s social media community is facing with – going viral for stupid things which stay on the Internet forever. The comedy/drama also deals with family problems and explores father-son relationship.

All in all, I enjoyed the movie, story was simple but quite nice and acting was excellent. Rate 4/5

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The Hundred Foot Journey (2014)

Second movie this year that has a similar premise to Chef finally reached my country’s cinemas.

Summary: A story of Indian family who (by accident) moves to France and opens an Indian restaurant across the street form Michelin-starred French restaurant.

First of all, this movie had a completely different vibe than Chef. While that one was completely American from food to people, this one had an Indian flavor with a pinch of French culture.

I love India as a country, all the spices and colorful outfits. I really want to visit it one day. I love France as well so this movie was the best of both worlds. Last summer, I have actually lived in France for two weeks and I wasn’t staying in Paris or other big city but lived in small village like the one in the movie, so that was a nice reminder of my visit there.  French lines in the movie also made me want learn French even more; I know couple of words and phrases and it was nice to catch them in the movie.

I also enjoyed the variety of characters we got – I believe that white, black or even Asian people are represented in Hollywood movies much more that Indians. The main actor Manish Dayal was super-hot! The plot wasn’t too complicated; it was simple, pleasant story about a family. The film showed importance of heritage and family values and repeated the best cliché of life: Everything happens for a reason. Rate 4/5

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P.S. Even the posters of the movies kinda look the same!

Photos: Google Images