Movie review: 12 Strong

Movie reviews

Hello!

Welcome to a review of another January release. This time around, it’s 12 Strong!

IMDb summary: 12 Strong tells the story of the first Special Forces team deployed to Afghanistan after 9/11; under the leadership of a new captain, the team must work with an Afghan warlord to take down for the Taliban.

Writing

12 Strong – a biographical action drama – was written by Ted Tally (adapted The Silence of the Lambs all those years ago) and Peter Craig (wrote both parts of Mockingjay and the upcoming Robin Hood and Top Gun 2), based on the non-fiction book ‘Horse Soldiers’ by a journalist Doug Stanton. Overall, the film’s script was very much ‘by the books’ but it also had a couple of original and unique ideas.

The movie’s set-up was typical. It included: a reminder that 9/11 happened (and simultaneously situated this film in a the war on terrorism timeline), a couple of scenes with the family members of the soldiers (and no other character development, except maybe a few bonding scenes with the other soldiers), and a single scene to introduce the villain (and honestly, his actions in the said scene were so despicable that that one scene was enough).

The ideas, which I found original, were few but present. I really liked the warlord’s speech about the difference between a warrior and a soldier. I’ve always thought about these two words as synonyms that meant the same, but, now, I see that they do slightly differ in the reasons for fighting (whether for survival or as a job). The warlord’s (whose beliefs were presented as very Western – was that an authentic feature or did the filmmakers wanted to make him more sympathetic to the Western audiences?) concluding statement, about the US becoming just another tribe in the Middle East rung very true, knowing the events that followed the ones of depicted in this picture. I really wish that the movie had more of a ‘looking back’ perspective like the one expressed in that monologue. Lastly, some questions that this movie (like all the others of this genre) raised but didn’t necessarily answer, for me personally, were: how do the followers of Islam balance their own culture and the human rights (that’s mostly a women right’s question that is interpreted wrongly by some Muslims)? And how can the West help that region achieve freedom and peace without imposing Westernization upon them?

Directing

12 Strong was directed by Nicolai Fuglsig – Danish filmmaker and photojournalist. This was his American film debut and he certainly didn’t do a bad job. Action/terrorism movies are a hard sell and they only really capture the audiences’ atention when they have some awards backing (e.g. The Hurt Locker or, more recently, American Sniper). Fuglsig’s picture didn’t have any big names attached (Hemsworth is only a draw if he is Thor) and it’s coming out in an unfortunate month. Still, the film was quite okay. The shoot-outs were well constructed and intense. The movie aslo did a good job of visualizing the new kind of warfare by showing the choppers in the clouds and the combat on horseback combat.

 

Acting

12 Strong assembled a cast, full of quite well-known actors. Leading them was Chris Hemsworth (Thor 3, The Huntsman, Ghostbusters, In The Heart of The Sea, Avengers 2). He was joined by Michael Shannon (Midnight Special, Nocturnal Animals), another Marvel family member Michael Peña (Ant-Man, The Martian, Collateral Beauty, The Lego Ninjago, Murder on the Orient Express), and the up-and-coming Trevante Rhodes (who got everytbody’s attention with Moonlight and will soon appear in The Predator). A bunch of other actors played the other 8 (of the titular 12) soldiers but, as they didn’t really have a character arc, I don’t see the neccesity to mention them. Navid Negahban played the warlord ally of the American troops: he has played a similar role before multiple times. His next project is a bit different, though – he will be the Sultant in next year’s live-action Alladin.

In short, 12 Strong was a mediocre and by-the-numbers action/drama with some good performances and a few intersting ideas.

Rate: 3/5

Trailer: 12 Strong trailer

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5 ideas about a movie: Detroit

Movie reviews

Hello!

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

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

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

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

Rate: 4.2/5

Trailer: Detroit trailer

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Movie review: Arrival

Movie reviews

Hello, my dear readers!

An original sci-fi flick – Arrival – has landed in cinemas, so let’s review it! Since I hadn’t seen an inventive science fiction film in theaters for quite some time (I did, however, only recently watched an original sci-fi movie on Netflix, called ARQ – it was quite entertaining), I was super excited to see Arrival. Plus, I’ve also really enjoyed the previous work of the director as well as the cast.

SPOILER ALERT

IMDb summary: A linguist is recruited by the military to assist in translating alien communications.

Writing

Eric Heisserer, who has mostly written horror films, penned Arrival’s script and did an absolutely spectacular job. This movie’s narrative was so refreshing – it never went where I expected it to go.

To begin with, I appreciated the fact that this movie focused on a linguist and on the subject of languages and communication. Sci-fi films usually tend to have scientists or military personnel front and center, but this time, these types of characters were relocated to the supporting positions. As someone who studies art and humanities, I was extremely happy to see these subjects as useful in a sci-fi scenario, since usually after watching a science fiction movie, I would regret not studying physics or biology. But now, I can imagine that my language and anthropology skills can also be useful.

On the topic of anthropology, last year, in my symbolic anthropology class we studied the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis that this movie took and made true. The hypothesis states that one’s language determines one’s culture, behavior, and thinking and Amy Adams’s characters mind was heavily impacted by the alien language. On the topic, of Adams’s character – I loved how the plot played up her backstory. Those ‘flashbacks’ were not only a story-telling technique but a part of the actual story. That was amazing and mindblowing.

Like other science fiction films, Arrival explored the topic of humanity. Some of the ideas and dialogue lines sounded a bit ironic and skeptical, especially in the post-Brexit and post-U.S. election context. The notions that the world needs to work together and that peaceful communication come first rather than violent attack/defense are wonderful ideas, but I highly doubt their real-life application. The plot-points about protecting humanity by not talking to other humans seemed like a more realistic outcome of the situation. The media’s role in all of this mess was also a great and topical inclusion for the modern context. Lastly, showcasing the panic as the biggest threat to humanity was also good writing! These thematical parts of the film frustrated me quite a bit, but then again, these kinds of things frustrate me IRL, so I guess the movie just represented the contemporary world and explored its negative aspects and shortcomings really well.

Arrival, like a lot of other sci-fi films, started as a grounded science movie but then quickly escalated into the fiction territory. It asked questions and didn’t answer some of them. With these type of movies, there is always a debate going on whether there was some kind of deeper meaning and I was just too stupid to notice it or whether the film was just badly written and didn’t make much sense. Having said that, I think this debate is part of the beauty of making and writing about motion pictures – they always mean something different to different people. I also believe that Arrival is a brilliant and intriguing film to watch and discuss.

Directing

Denis Villeneuve, who is best known for making 2013’s Prisoners and last year’s Sicario, directed the film and did a wonderful job. The visuals were spectacular: the design of the ships – so simple yet so cool and the long tracking shots – awe inspiring. At first, I wasn’t completely sure about the design of the aliens, but when we got to see them whole, I was pleasantly surprised. The way the communication aspect was visualized was super cool too. I also liked all the inventive and innovative camera angles. On a personal note, I loved Amy Adams’s character’s home – would love to have a house with such a stunning view myself.

I also really liked the pacing of the film – it was slow and suspenseful and did not need some big and over-the-top 3rd act action piece to be memorable and entertaining. The music choices (by Jóhann Jóhannsson) were great as well and really helped to build thrilling, frightening and yet curious type of atmosphere.

Acting

  • Amy Adams as Dr. Louise Banks, a linguist was at the center of the film and delivered a really subtle performance. I do believe that these smaller, more indie-like films showcase her talent much more than big blockbusters (BvS). So, I suggest you check out Amy in Nocturnal Animals, American Hustle, and Big Eyes.
  • Jeremy Renner as Ian Donnelly was also great in his role of a scientist. Renner is also one of those actors that is on everyone’s radar and is constantly working but is not a complete A-lister which he should be. He is equally enjoyable to watch in popcorn flicks like Marvel movies and Mission Impossible films and in more serious pictures like The Hurt Locker, The Town, and Kill The Messenger.
  • Forest Whitaker as Colonel Weber and Michael Stuhlbarg as Agent Halpern provided great support and presented a more stereotypical government perspective to the movie. Whitaker still has Rogue One to be released in a month, while Stuhlbarg just had a small role in the recently released Doctor Strange.

In short, Arrival was a visually stunning picture, with an extremely clever and interesting story and some nice thematical concepts and great acting. It is a great conversation starter of a movie.

Rate: 4.5/5

Trailer: Arrival 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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Movie review: Triple 9

Movie reviews

Hello!

Greetings!! Today, we are talking about and analyzing the 2nd film, starring Casey Affleck, that I have watched this past weekend – Triple 9!

IMDb summary: A gang of criminals and corrupt cops plan the murder of a police officer in order to pull off their biggest heist yet across town.

Reasons/Preview

Triple 9 is a type of film that I would usually skip as I am not the biggest fan of crime dramas/heist movies. However, I have seen quite a few of them, as my dad is a fan of this genre and we would usually go to the movies together. He would patiently sit through my superhero films and, in return, I would watch a crime/action film that he had picked.

Now, I don’t live with my parents anymore, but as the saying goes, old habits die hard, because I went to see Triple 9 by myself. I think the main thing that attracted me to this film was its cast – a lot of accomplished actors play a variety of roles in the movie, as the trailer advertises. I was quite intrigued by this because Hollywood usually doesn’t cast famous actors in the roles of disposable villains, so I knew that the movie wouldn’t be completely black and white.

!SPOILERS!

Writing

The script for 999 was written by Matt Cook. I am not familiar with his previous work but I quite liked the story that he has come up with for this film. As I have mentioned, I liked that the villains of the movie – the robbers – weren’t just simple robbers, but either corrupt policeman with war past or individuals who had family ties with the criminal world and, thus, weren’t able to escape it. I also appreciated the fact that the film questioned the role of a policeman. Is being a cop really just a 9 to 5 job or something more? In addition, the twists and turns as well as all the backstabbing and the double-crossing worked well in a feature like this and wasn’t that predictable. Although, I did foresee which cop will get shot in that warehouse scene.

Lastly, while the ‘good’ policeman and the ‘bad’ policeman were at the center of this film, 999 also had a clearer antagonist – the Russian Jewish Mafia. I don’t know how this combination of nationalities made sense, but it kinda did if one bases his/hers thoughts on racial stereotypes. And, as we all know, Hollywood knows only stereotypes when it comes to creating roles of non-American characters.

Directing

Triple 9 was directed by John Hillcoat and this picture was the first movie of his that I have seen. And I got to say – he impressed my quite a bit. I thought that the movie had good pacing and the action never really stopped but was divided equally between all the acts of the film. I also enjoyed the fact that a lot of the film’s scenes were shot in the dark, as that fit the theme of the criminal underworld perfectly. The movie was also suspenseful and intense. The great example of this was the sequence were the team of cops was pursuing and chasing that Mexican/Latin American criminal in his house and later continued the chase through the whole neighborhood.

Acting

  • Casey Affleck as Chris Allen. Affleck’s role in this film reminded me of his other role in a film Gone Baby Gone (directed by the other Affleck brother). His by-the-books cop role in 999 and the role of the private investigator in Gone Baby Gone had a few similarities. I also quite liked Affleck’s Chris’s and Anthony Mackie’s character’s work-friendship or, at least, a facade of it (very Training Day like). As an actor, Affleck is leaving bigger and bigger impression on me with every movie that I see him in. Yesterday, I have reviewed a different motion picture of his – The Finest Hours – which I saw the same day as 999.
  • Woody Harrelson as Sergeant Detective Jeffrey Allen. Harrelson’s performance in this film also reminded me of a previous role of his in the TV show True Detective. I have only seen a couple of episode of the season 1 of that series, though, so I need to finish it. We will see Woody Harrelson in 5 other films this year, including Now You See Me sequel. In 2017, he will also star in the third installment of the Planet of the Apes reboot series.
  • Anthony Mackie as Marcus Atwood. I am only familiar with Mackie because he plays Falcon in the MCU films. I still need to watch The Hurt Locker for which Mackie received quite a few nominations from a variety of festivals and other institutions. He was really good in 999 as well, especially in the action scenes.
  • Norman Reedus as Russel Welch. The Walking Dead’s star played the criminal who ended up backstabbing not only the police but his robbery teammates. He portrayed the character realistically and did a nice job. I can’t really say anything else, since I don’t watch The Walking Dead. I know, don’t kill me.
  • Aaron Paul as Gabe Welch. I feel like I have seen Aaron in this role of a drug junkie before. Maybe in Breaking Bad but also in A Long Way Down and even in Need for Speed to some extent. Next, we will see Aaron in the action comedy Central Intelligence alongside Dwayne Johnson and Kevin Hart.
  • Chiwetel Ejiofor as Michael Belmont. I first found out about Ejiofor because of the film 12 Years a Slave. He was also in a more recent awards’ nominee –  The Martian. Ejiofor was amazing in 999, as one would expect, and I don’t think that he treated this project as just  a simple paycheck gig. Later on this year, we will see Chiwetel in Doctor Strange.
  • Kate Winslet as Irina Vlaslov. Winslet’s Irina was the only character that I had a few problems with. For one, her outfit was a bit too cartoonish – both the red shoes and that chunky gold necklace were just too much. Her accent was also kinda wonky and would disappear at times. Speaking about Winslet’s other projects, I do hope that she gets an Oscar for her role in Steve Jobs. I also want to check out The Dressmaker  – a smaller Australian film that she starred in last year.
  • Gal Gadot as Elena. I still don’t know how Gal Gadot got the role of the Wonder Woman. Don’t get me wrong – I am happy for her and excited about that film, but how did she manage to acquire that role is beyond me. I don’t think that I saw a single film of hers in which she didn’t play an overly sexualized character.

In short, Triple 9 was definetely not a bad film. It had an interesting story which explored the connections between the criminal underworld and the world of the law enforcement. It had exciting action, which was dispersed throughout the whole film, and really nice performances from an extensive cast of accomplished actors.

Rate: 3.65/5

Trailer: Triple 9 trailer 

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