Movie review: Battle of the Sexes

Movie reviews

Good evening,

My BFI London Film Festival series of reviews (it opened with Breathe) continues with Battle of the Sexes – another potential awards contender for the year!

IMDb summary: The true story of the 1973 tennis match between World number one Billie Jean King and ex-champ and serial hustler Bobby Riggs.

As a side note, before the actual review begins, I just wanted to tell you about a different tennis movie that already came out this year and left me pleasantly surprised. It’s Borg vs. McEnroe and I suggest you check it out! Onto Battle of the Sexes!

Writing

Battle of the Sexes was written by Simon Beaufoy (who is known for writing such movies as Slumdog Millionaire127 HoursSalmon Fishing in the YemenThe Hunger Games: Catching Fire, and Everest) and the film’s script was inspired/based on real events.

Battle of the Sexes tackled/portrayed two big concepts – the LGBTQ+ identity and the feminism/women’s rights. Sadly, both of these thematical spheres are still highly controversial and not discussed enough (or if they are debated, then only really unproductively, with zero chances of reaching a consensus between the opposing sides). Some might say that both of these issues are more topical in today’s socio-political climate than they were in the 1970s.

The movie approached these topics head-on (feminism way more than the LGBTQ+ side) and had a strong overall message. Personally, I loved it, but then again, I am a woman, a feminist, and a liberal. The general audiences, full of individuals of different genders/ideologies/beliefs, might turn on this movie because of its strong message of social justice. There was one short scene in the movie, where Emma Stone’s character confronted a journalist and clearly declared that she was not fighting to be seen as better, she just wanted to be treated equally. I wanted that idea – one of equality – to be more overtly stated in the movie because I worry that a takeaway for some audience members might be the fact that women want to be on top, rather than by side with the other genders. It is a bummer that, for some, being pro-female ultimately translates into an anti-male stance and I would hate if the cinema-goers interpreted Battle of the Sexes in such a way.

Now, let’s discuss some aspects of the writing in more detail. I thought that the presentation of Steve Carell’s character was captivating: his personal background and problems very clearly affected his actions of the tennis court. The way his gambling addiction and his work – tennis – were combined was super interesting too. It was also fascinating to see how he embellished his toxic masculinity for the public eye. The whole commentary on tennis as an activity in the middle of the spectacle v sports dichotomy was brilliant. In addition, the conflicting position of Carell’s character’s wife, played by Elisabeth Shue, was just amazing to watch: she rooted for her husband because he was her love but she also seemed to be cheering for Billie Jean and her cause.

Lastly, Battle of the Sexes also toyed with the concept of the gentlemanliness/sexism line (where one ends and the other begins). It also showcased sport as the factor that triumphed any relationship in the character’s life. The picture also did a very good job of combining feminity with feminism (which are often presented as polar opposites, which they aren’t). Oh, and the jokes were good too!

Directing

Battle of the Sexes was directed by a duo of filmmakers – Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris – who are responsible for directing one of my all-time favorite pictures Little Miss Sunshine. They did a great job with this film and its nuances and layers. Battle of the Sexes was a great biographical drama, a good sports drama, and an amazing romantic drama. The extreme close-ups of the characters made the movie seem intimate, real, and raw. The 1970s setting was well-realized, from the retro logos to the colorful vintage tracksuits. The sequences of the actual tennis play were good too, the final one was especially intense. The body doubles were hardly noticeable, so props to the directors, the cinematographer, and the camera crew for cleverly shooting around them.

Acting

Emma Stone (Magic in the MoonlightIrrational Man) and Steve Carell (The Big Short, Cafe Society) played the two lead roles. Both of these actors had quite similar careers – they started in comedy and then tried to transition to more serious roles, with varying levels of success. For Stone, this performance is her follow-up to the Oscar win for La La Land and a strong contender for at least a nomination this year. For Carrel, the involvement in Battle of the Sexes might bring him another nomination too. Emma was extremely lovable in the role and exuded both strength and relatable vulnerability. Steve was really good too – he looked exactly like the real person and also made the guy into a somewhat likable human being, even if he was sprouting nonsense most of the time.

The supporting cast was also really good. I loved Sarah Silverman as the bossy manager, she was perfectly cast. Andrea Riseborough (Nocturnal Animals) was brilliant as Billie Jean’s lover, while Austin Stowell (Bridge of Spies) brought a lot of heart to his role of Billie’s husband. Finally, I loved to hate Bill Pullman (ID: Resurgence) in his role and adored Elisabeth Shue in hers!

In short, Battle of the Sexes was a great drama about equality, freedom, and fighting. Undoubtfully, it was well executed, but whether you will agree with its message, will entirely depend on who you are as a person.

Rate: 4.3/5

Trailer: Battle of the Sexes 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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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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Movie review: The Glass Castle

Movie reviews, Uncategorized

Hello!

The Captain Fantastic-esque movie for this awards’ season – The Glass Castle – has reached theatres, so let’s see if it is as good as its predecessor.

IMDb summary: A young girl comes of age in a dysfunctional family of nonconformist nomads with a mother who’s an eccentric artist and an alcoholic father who would stir the children’s imagination with hope as a distraction to their poverty.

Writing

The Glass Castle’s script was written by the director of the picture Destin Daniel Cretton, Andrew Lanham (who wrote the 2017 religious pic The Shack), and Marti Noxon (writer on Buffy and To The Bone). It was based on the memoir of the same name by Jeannette Walls (who was played in the film by Brie Larson). The writing for the film was interesting – it had some great moments but a few flaws too. First, the narrative simultaneously unraveled in two temporal lines, past and present, and these two were connected well-enough. However, the story itself was a bit too long – there were differently quite a few moments which could have been cut and made the plot more tight and streamlined. Nevertheless, the fact that the story was so long and drawn out kinda helped to build a strong emotional core of the film.

The Glass Castle had the Interstellar syndrome of focusing on a single child’s relationship with the parents and kinda letting the other children fade into the background (but, I guess, since the movie was based on one person’s memoir, it’s okay for the film to also have a more centered focus). Thematically, the movie tackled a lot of issues. The most obvious one was the less-than-conventional lifestyle of the family (and this were the Captain Fantastic similarity came in, although, CF was more about living unconventionally, while this one was more about just living in poverty). It was depicted quite well and with enough detail. The second topic was the parent-child relationship. That discussion had the ultimate message that parents need to respect their children’s life choices, even if they might do something different in their place (at least that was my takeaway).

The third issue was the abuse in the family. This problem was depicted in both The Walls’ family and the father’s family. The first recreation of the issue (in The Walls family) was way more well-rounded, while the abuse in the father’s own family (abuse of the mother/grandma) was only just glanced at, which was the biggest flaw in the film. If that was definitely the case of pedophilia, the movie should have looked at it much more. If it wasn’t the case, all the speculations needed to be cleared out way more overtly. Lastly, The Glass Castle also presented an alcoholic character and had one of the best and most accurate representations of the issue. The withdrawal scene, as well as the irrational need for a drink, were very realistic inclusions.

While The Glass Castle did a fairly good job of presenting a variety of issues and topics, I wish it were more critical of them. I saw this being the main complaint in the reviews of the various critics and I completely agree with them. The end of the picture was mostly sugar-coated and very Hollywood-y. While forgiveness is a powerful tool to have, an ability to stand for one’s own beliefs and to cut toxic people from one’s life, no matter how close to them one used to be, are also important life lessons that I wish the film would have added.

Directing

Destin Daniel Cretton, who has previously mostly worked on short films and documentaries, directed The Glass Castle as his 3rd feature film. The pacing of the movie was really slow, and while the emotional connection between the viewer and the characters was quite successfully built, the narrative itself did drag and got too repetitive at times. The cinematography was good, very classic, drama-style one. The director also did a good job of working with the actors and pulling amazing performances out of them.

Acting

The two stand-outs from the cast were Brie Larson (Room, Kong, Free Fire) and Woody Harrelson (Triple 9, Now You See Me 1+2, War For The Planet Of The Apes). Larson has actually previously worked with this director and her involvement in his film post-Oscar win, kinda raised the movie’s profile. Anyway, Larson, once again, proved that she deserved that last Oscar that she won and I hope to see her standing on the Academy stage once more in the future. Harrelson also nailed his role. This time around his performance as an alcoholic was even more believable than in The Hunger Games. Other supporting cast members included Divergent’s Naomi Watts (she was amazing as the eccentric artist mother) and Sarah Shook (Steve Jobs), Josh Caras, and Brigette Lundy-Paine as Jeannette’s siblings. New Girls Max Greenfield also had a fun role, while Ella Anderson did a very good job as the younger version of Jeannette.

In short, The Glass Castle is an interesting biopic that should have analyzed rather than just depicted its source material. The acting is top-notch, though.

Rate: 3.5/5

Trailer: The Glass Castle trailer

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Movie review: What Happened To Monday

Movie reviews

Hello!

Welcome to the review of What Happened To Monday, posted on a Monday. The movie came out on Netflix just recently but it also had a limited release at the cinema, so I’m hesitant to call it a Netflix original, but it still is that, at least partially.

IMDb summary: In a world where families are limited to one child due to overpopulation, a set of identical septuplets must avoid being put to a long sleep by the government and dangerous infighting while investigating the disappearance of one of their own.

What Happened To Monday belongs to the once lucrative dystopian genre. Up until very recently, films like this one were made by all the studios, especially Legendary. Interestingly, the majority of the previous dystopian movies were targeted at young adults, while What Happened To Monday does not feature the letter YA anywhere on its IMDb or wiki page. Nevertheless, it looks and feels like the rest of them, be it YA or not.

Writing

What Happened To Monday was written by Max Botkin and Kerry Williamson. Botkins’s original screenplay for the film was on the 2010’s Blacklist and this picture would have been received so much better if it came out at the beginning of this decade rather than during its second half.

The script had a lot of elements, which I enjoyed. I thought that the world building, while not the most original, was efficient and impressive enough. The flashbacks, which expanded the mythology, were good too. The One Child Policy idea was also interesting and reminded me of a similar system that is used in China, where the policy is obviously not as strict but, nonetheless, exists.

Character wise, the concept of the 7 sisters and the wordplay with their names were both cool. I also enjoyed the idea to have separate vignettes/days that focused on each of the siblings. Plus, the fact that there were 7 leads actually allowed the movie to have higher stakes and kill some of them.

Now, let’s touch upon the flaws in the writing, which was, sadly, plentiful. First, there wasn’t enough characterization for or differentiation between the separate sibling personalities, they all mostly had one character trait each. Most of the time, I didn’t know who was who. The writing for the villains wasn’t great either. The main antagonist was so evil, she bordered on cartoonish, while her pawns – officers of the law – seemed, mostly, really nonchalant about killing people. Monday’s motivation – to save some of her family by betraying other members of the family – didn’t make much sense. Additionally, there were just too much of ‘lucky coincidences’ written into the narrative, like the fact that the finger the Settman siblings were missing was the exact one that unlocked the gun or that cryo-sleep wasn’t actually a thing.

Lastly, while What Happened To Monday started as a personal quest for survival of one family, it, as all dystopian films, ends up being a large scale conflict about toppling the system. I guess if I desire a personal exploration of the dystopian world, I should just watch Black Mirror (well, some of its episodes).

Directing

The Norwegian director Tommy Wirkola, who only has one other English language film Hansel & Greteldirected What Happened To Monday and did an okay job. The futuristic world was well realized visually, even if it looked like a collection of things the viewers have seen in other movies (for example, the film’s poster looked exactly like the poster for The Scorch Trials, only with a gray rather than orange-ish color scheme). The action was fine – more graphic than other dystopian films and more in line with Netflix’s other pictures, like the gruesome violence in Death Note.

Acting

  • Noomi Rapace played 7+1 roles and did a fairly good job, though her performance (in addition the writing) didn’t differ enough from sibling to sibling. Rapace is known for starring in the Swedish versions of The Girl With a Dragon Tattoo films, while the English speaking audiences might remember her from Prometheus and Alien: Covenant’s promotional material. Her next film – Bright – will also be released on Netflix.
  • Willem Dafoe (another Netflix actor, at least for now, he was just in Death Note) had a small role, which he was good in, while Marwan Kenzari (who was recently in The Mummy) also starred. Lastly, Glenn Close played the typical role that a highly respected actor usually plays in a dystopian film. Her involvement was supposed to elevate the project, though, I don’t think that actually happened, as Close herself has mostly fallen off everyone’s radar.

In short, What Happened To Monday is an okay sci-fi dystopian picture that has enough interesting and entertaining ideas to be a worth a watch but lacks originality to be a must see. And yet, if you already have a Netflix account, why not check out the movie?

Rate: 2.9/5

Trailer: What Happened To Monday 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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Movie review: Transformers: The Last Knight

Movie reviews

Hello!

While the majority of the world is already enjoying Spider-Man, I’m watching Transformers: The Last Knight, because the international release schedules hate me. Here we go.

IMDb summary: Autobots and Decepticons are at war, with humans on the sidelines. Optimus Prime is gone. The key to saving our future lies buried in the secrets of the past, in the hidden history of Transformers on Earth.

Writing

The 5th Transformers film was written by Art Marcum and Matt Holloway (Iron Man’s writers), Ken Nolan (Black Hawk Down’s writer), and Akiva Goldsman (writer of Batman & Robin, the Oscar-winning picture A Beautiful Mind, and Ron Howard’s Da Vinci Code films). For a movie with this much going on, I expected it to have at least 8 scripwriters. The narrative (sort of) continued where the last movie left off (I, honestly, barely remember Age of Extinction or the original trilogy – I reviewed all of them in 2014 and wasn’t going to suffer through all of them again this year). The story was so messy. Like I said, the film had so much going on, and yet, it still managed to be pretty boring. Neither of the 4(?) plotlines was given any room to breathe and develop, we were just jumping around them all the time. The dialogue was bland or used as a tool for forced exposition. The jokes fell flat most of the time, although they weren’t as offensive as usual.

Before going to see this film, I was actually quite excited about the promised deconstruction of history and the inclusion of the King Arthur legend (the ‘it’ myth for this summer – King Arthur 2017 review). However, I don’t think it was used in a compelling way. Nevertheless, I will give the scriptwriters one compliment – I thought that they used the Stonehenge and the supercontinent Pangaea real-world tie-ins quite neatly. The rest of the fantastical narrative didn’t make much sense but at least these tie-ins were good.

Transformers films have always had a problem with the female characters. I guess this film was the least problematic in that aspect? The teenage girl was fine in the first act and then she was kinda forgotten for the rest of the movie before reappearing in the third act for no reason. She was just mostly there for Mark Wahlberg’s character to have a replacement daughter. I was really happy that they didn’t use the girl’s scenes from the promotional material in the actual film (the ones with ‘you fight like a girl’). If they included that, I would have begged the Transformers films to go back to sexism rather than attempting to do feminism and damaging the whole cause. The adult female character was fine. I appreciated the fact that she was a scholar, although her other mannerisms made her into a walking British stereotype with a Megan Fox costume.

There was a teaser scene at the beginning of the credits: I don’t know what it means, I don’t want to know and, most importantly, I don’t want to watch more of these movies.

Directing

This was supposedly Michael Bay’s final Transformers film. Despite what you think of him creatively, I have no idea how can anyone objectively think of him as a good director from a technical standpoint. I mean, those ever changing aspect ratios. Why??? They showed immense sloppiness and carelessness. Also, what was up with the constant color and lighting shifts? The action and the CGI – the staples of this franchise – looked fine but they were also all the same: loud noises, big explosions, and quick cuts. I couldn’t tell you who was fighting who, even in the opening battle with the real humans. The two compliments for action I can give is that I liked the shots of the Transformers in car form and I also liked the scene of the different parts of the Bumblebee fighting separately and then rejoining together, while in action.

Acting

The cast of Transformers 5 was way better that the movie deserved. Mark Wahlberg (Patriot’s Day, Deepwater Horizon, Ted 1+2) returned from the 4th film for probably his last outing as the character. The actors from the original trilogy – Josh Duhamel and John Turturro – also returned in their original roles, while Stanley Tucci (Beauty and the Beast, Hunger Games), who previously appeared in the 4th film, had a new role in the 5th film. Who cares, though? Nobody on this movie cared about continuity, so why should we waste out time trying to figure this out? Anthony Hopkins (Noah) also had a role in this film. I wonder what he was promised to appear in this mess. Starlord’s mom from Guardians of the Galaxy Laura Haddock played the main female lead, while Nickelodeon’s Isabela Moner played the teenage girl in the first act, All of the actors delivered okay performances. They weren’t terrible but they didn’t seem to be trying much either, and, honestly, I don’t blame them.

In short, Transformers: The Last Knight is an incoherent mess in all aspects. Nothing can save this franchise and nothing should.

Rate: 2/5

Trailer: Transformers 5 trailer

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Movie review: Everything Everything 

Movie reviews

Hello!

Hiding behind all the summer blockbusters, are smaller drama films. This particular one is also on a mission to prove that YA movies are not dead yet. This is Everything Everything.

IMDb summary: A teenager who’s spent her whole life confined to her home falls for the boy next door.

While YA adaptations have been on a high a few years back, they have mostly fallen off the radar. Everything, Everything is the most similar to The Fault In Our Stars but no one expects it to replicate the latter’s success. And yet, it might still be a good movie on its own. As a disclaimer – I had no prior knowledge about the film, hadn’t even seen the trailer, so I’m judging it purely based on what I saw on screen.

Writing

Everything, Everything’s script was written by J. Mills Goodloe (she wrote Nicholas Sparks’s The Best of Me and another romantic drama – The Age of Adaline), based on a book of the same name by Nicola Yoon. I’ve never read the book (and do not plan to), so I can’t comment on any changes if there were any. However, I will say that the characters of the story were quite interesting and fairly realistic – at least I was able to identify with both the girl (she reads a lot and writes reviews, kinda an obvious similarity?) and the guy (me and him both have a cynical outlook on the surface). The dialogue between the two leads sounded realistic enough too. It wasn’t just cute but appropriately awkward and uncomfortable.

What annoyed me in the film the most, was the cliche of the overprotective and the abusive parents. Abuse within a family, accidental or deliberate, is a serious issue but it had been reduced to a young adult movie cliche by Hollywood. The actual concept has been long overdone but it has never been explored successfully or in a way that would elicit a change in the real world. This film just basically reduced the abuse from a guy’s dad into an inciting incident.

The girl’s side of the story was explored more widely but the movie did not delve deeper into the issue. If the legal and psychological backgrounds related to the illness that the girl’s mom has were explored, the movie would have been way more sophisticated and would have been elevated from the level of a YA romance. It would have also been interesting to see how her medical background had affected her sickness. Also, the picture should have said the name of the illness a loud –  Munchausen syndrome by proxy – cause a lot of viewers in my screening were confused by the ending. I don’t think they were entirely sure whether the mom was just malicious or whether she actually had a mental disability.

Directing

A relative newcomer to the filmmaking business, Stella Meghie directed Everything, Everything and did a fairly good job. While the cliches such as the pop songs in the soundtrack and the shots of beautiful locations during the ‘escape’ sequence (here they traveled to Hawai – really reminded me of TFIOS sequence in Amsterdam) were present in the film, it also had a couple of original-looking scenes. I especially loved the visualization of the online conversations through the prism of the girl’s architectural models – the dinner and the library. The recurring visual of the astronaut was also a nice Easter Egg within a movie. Overall, not a bad effort from a fresh director.

Acting

Amandla Stenberg, best known for her role as Rue in the first Hunger Games, played the female lead, while Jurassic World’s Nich Robinson played the male lead. He also has prior YA movie experience – he has previously starred in The Fifth Wave. While watching the film, I actually thought that he was a different actor – the one who played the oldest child in Captain Fantastic – George MacKay. Turns out, they are two different people. Weirdly enough, Stenberg, having just starred alongside Robinson, will now perform next to his doppelganger Mackay in Where Hands Touch.

A Disney Legend Anika Noni Rose (the voice of Tiana) played the role of the overprotective mother and did a good job. She did the best she could with a role that could have been rich but was really shallowly written.

In short, Everything, Everything is a good offering of the dying genre, which I doubt it will save. The cast is talented, the directing is inspiring, but the script is lacking.

Rate: 2.8/5

Trailer: Everything Everything trailer

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Movie review: Their Finest 

Movie reviews

Hello!

The first movie of the year focused on the battle of Dunkirk – Their Finest – has reached theaters, so, let’s review it.

IMDb summary: A British film crew attempts to boost morale during World War II by making a propaganda film after the Blitzkrieg.

While Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk (premiering in July) will tackle and reproduce the actual battle and the evacuation, Lone Scherfig’s film Their Finest is a story about a war propaganda film, based on a fictional story related to the real-life events at Dunkirk, produced in order to raise the patriotism of the nation. The genres and tones of the 2 movies differ vastly: one looks like a grim and serious action drama, while another one is a lighter comedy drama with some romance thrown in as well.

On top of being one of the two films about Dunkirk, Their Finest interested me for 3 reasons: 1. I wanted to see the representation of the British propaganda and how it differed or was similar to the Soviet propaganda – the kind that I’m more familiar with from history classes and from just generally growing up in Eastern/Northern Europe. 2. I have always enjoyed films about filmmaking and as this one centered on screenwriters – an occupation that I would like to pursue – my interest was peaked. 3. The movie started Sam Claflin – an actor, whose career I’ve been following pretty closely. So, let’s see if Their Finest is as ‘fine’ of a picture as the title suggests!

Writing

Their Finest was written by a TV writer Gaby Chiappe, based on novel Their Finest Hour and a Half by Lissa Evans. From the technical standpoint, the writing for the film was very nice: the narrative was well structured and rich with ideas. Whether or not the ideas worked, is a very subjective question. I, personally, really liked some of the themes but was equally frustrated by the others.

To begin with, the picture focused a lot on the relationship between Gemma Arterton’s and Sam Claflin’s characters. I highly disliked the fact that their professional relationship had to be turned into a romantic one by the end of the film. I find that this happens in a lot of stories, even in the contemporary ones. For example, the way J.K.Rowling, writing under the pseudonym Robert Galbraith, is portraying the relationship between the two main characters in her Cormoran Strike Series irritates me a lot. And yet, going back to the relationship between the characters in Their Finest, if I considered the said relationship’s romantic aspect separately, I thought that it did work and was convincing. The two individuals seemed pretty evenly matched and their sparring was entertaining to watch. The sudden end to the relationship was also emotionally effective. At first, I deemed that the end might have been too sudden but I later I’ve realized that the scriptwriters intended it to be that way and to convey a message that one never knows what might happen in war.

The second big theme of the picture was Gemma Arterton’s character’s growth as an individual. Her personal story acted very much as a symbol for a lot of women’s stories during the war – how they have finally begun to transition from the domestic spaces into the public ones. Sadly, this process is still is progress, 70+ years later. I thought that the main character was developed quite nicely – I wish we would have found out more about her background and upbringing in Wales, but I really liked her subtle journey towards independence.

Thirdly, the movie explored the screenwriting and the filmmaking business. I really loved this particular aspect of the film and just loved the fact that Their Finest celebrated the movies and tried finding positive attributes of cinema even if it was political cinema. I simply loved Sam Claflin’s character’s enthusiasm about and love for the pictures, especially since his character otherwise seemed really pessimistic and ironic. I could identify with this type of depiction very closely. The way the movie played up the uber-poshness of the actors and of the British actors, to be specific, with Bill Nighy’s character was also really fun.

Lastly, Their Finest dealt with the propaganda filmmaking, not just simple filmmaking. Not only did this type of story provided a different perspective on war, but it also proved to me that the types of propaganda don’t vary much from country to country. Like the Soviet propaganda, some of the British propaganda was very obvious but some of it was something more, just like the-picture-within-the-picture in Their Finest or a real life example, such as Sergei Eisenstein’s Battleship Potemkin. And yet, since both Their Finest and The Nancy Starling (a-movie-within-a-movie) stressed the importance of optimism and happy endings, I can’t help but wonder where exactly did the cinematic propaganda end?

Directing

Their Finest was directed by Lone Scherfig. Although the director is Danish, I thought that she nailed the British feeling of the film. She has already done that earlier with The Riot Club – that movie has really made me question my adoration of the British culture quite a bit. So, Their Finest resembled the previous historic UK-based movies that I’ve reviewed, like SuffragetteTestament of Youthand Far From The Madding Crowd. The fact that the movie was executed with the classical stationary camera work and the steady frame, also added an appropriate old-school yet timeless feel to the picture. The pacing of the picture was also very even. 

Acting

Gemma Arterton played the lead in the film and did a really good job. I hope that this is a career-changing role for her, as so far she has been starring in mostly B-level pictures, like Clash of the TitansPrince of Persia: The Sands of Time, and Hansel & Gretel: Witch HuntersI really loved how subtle yet powerful her performance was. My favorite line of hers was the last words to the boyfriend: ‘You shouldn’t have painted me that small’. Her delivery was brilliant. I also though that Arterton’s chemistry with the co-star Sam Claflin was really good and believable. I loved Claflin’s character and the actor’s performance. It was so interesting to see a writer who can express oneself well enough of paper but struggles to do the same face to face. After starting his big screen career by acting the big action flicks, like Pirates of the Caribbean 4 and The Hunger Games franchise, Claflin has mostly stuck to dramas recently, including 2014’s Love, Rosie and 2016’s Me Before You. His next film is also a historical drama – My Cousin Rachel. He has also previously collaborated with the director of Their Finest on The Riot Club.

The supporting cast included established English actors Bill NighyHelen McCroryEddie Marsan, and Richard E. GranJack Huston (American Hustle, Hail, Caesar!and Ben-Hur) also had a minor role.

In short, Their Finest is a brilliant little movie, which, sadly, will be overlooked by the majority of movie-goers and buried by the blockbusters, including the one it shares the topic with. I highly recommend this film for all those interested in history and the art of filmmaking.

Rate: 4.3/5

Trailer: Their Finest trailer

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5 ideas about a movie: Free State of Jones

Movie reviews

Hello!

Before 2016 comes to a close, I would like to catch up on smaller movies and their reviews. Some of the films that I’m going to talk about in the next two weeks might become awards contenders, so I’m basically kickstarting the reviews of the awards season early. First movie on my list – Free State of Jones.

IMDb summary: A disillusioned Confederate army deserter returns to Mississippi and leads a militia of fellow deserters, runaway slaves, and women in an uprising against the corrupt local Confederate government.

  1. Free State of Jones premiered in June and was supposed to be the summer movie season’s awards contender (there is always one film that gets released super early in the year and then pops up again during the awards season). However, the critics didn’t really like the film, so it faded into oblivion quickly. In addition, Free State of Jones was considered to be the ‘it’ American Civil War movie of the year, but it got quickly dethroned by The Birth on a Nation. Sadly, that movie fell off everyone’s radar too but because of its filmmaker’s past rather than the picture’s quality.
  2. I didn’t particularly enjoy Free State of Jones. Firstly, it is not the movie that one can enjoy in the true sense of the word – films like this usually make me really emotional, angry, and quite depressed. Secondly, from the technical filmmaking standpoint, I do not think that Free State of Jones was a well-made picture for a few reasons.
  3. Free State of Jones’s story was based on fascinating real life events. However, all the potential of this historical narrative was butchered on the big screen. The film felt unfocused and drawn out. It was slow and, frankly, bored me most of the time. The suspenseful and interesting moments would last a second and then we would get more funeral speeches, which were interesting at first but became repetitive really quickly.
  4. Gary Ross, who has received a few Oscar nominations for writing, both directed and wrote the film, so I was quite surprised that the story was one of the weakest points of the film. He is probably best known to the mainstream audiences for directing and writing the first Hunger Games movie, though. His directing of Free State of Jones was fine – the shots looked nice and I did appreciate the realism and the grit with which the Civil War was portrayed – it wasn’t a glamourized version of the war by any means. However, I think that he kinda ruined the film in the editing room – the picture felt like a collection of scattered scenes that didn’t flow together. The time jumps in the past as well as the occasional jump to scenes 85 years later didn’t make much sense either and made the film even more confusing.
  5. By far, the best aspect of Free State of Jones was the performances of the whole cast. Matthew McConaughey (Mud, Dallas Buyers Club, True Detective, Interstellar) was great in the lead. Mahershala Ali (who I loved on Luke Cage) was amazing too and showed a lot of acting range. Gugu Mbatha-Raw (Concussion) and Keri Russell (Dawn of the Planet of the Apes) were also stellar in their supporting roles.

In short, Free State of Jones was a forgettable movie that wasted its waste potential. The film’s only redeeming quality was the acting.

Rate: 2.75/5

Trailer: Free State of Jones trailer

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