5 ideas about a movie: Molly’s Game

Movie reviews

Hello!

Yesterday, I got a chance to attend a secret preview screening as an unlimited cinema club card holder. Thankfully, the secret movie turned out to be one that I was highly looking forward to. This is Molly’s Game!

IMDb summary: The true story of Molly Bloom, an Olympic-class skier who ran the world’s most exclusive high-stakes poker game and became an FBI target.

  1. Molly’s Game was written and directed by Aaron Sorkin. I really enjoyed the last three movies that he has written – The Social Network, Moneyball, and especially Steve Jobs – so I knew that I was going to probably like the writing for his current film too (the script was based on the real life’s Molly’s book – the novel itself plays a role in the screenplay). What really peaked my interest was the fact that Sorkin directed Molly’s Game in addition to writing it (this picture was his directorial debut). What an incredible first attempt at directing!
  2. I absolutely loved the writing for Molly’s Game. The narrative unraveled over and jumped around three different time periods – Molly’s childhood/adolescence, her poker career, and her arrest/trial – that were separately amazing but even better when put together. The childhood parts (the backstory) acted as the character development (the opening skiing sequence was brief but it set up Molly’s personality super efficiently – she was and remained a fighter). The poker career was the most fascinating part and had some neat commentary about the toxicity of perfectionism (as a recovering overachiever I could relate to those ideas). The scenes involving her arrest and trial developed Molly’s character even further (she was a good person that stepped into a situation she lost control of) and had some neat thoughts about the worth of one’s name (that The Crucible comparison was appreciated by me, as an English Literature student, quite a lot.
  3. From the technical point of view, nobody could have mistaken the writer of this film. Molly’s Game had Sorkin’s signature rapid-fire narration all throughout the film and long “walk and talk” scenes. Usually, the narration in movies gets tiring but not when the content of it is so interesting. Having said that, as somebody who has never played poker, I did get a bit lost in all of the explanations of the game. Nevertheless, they sounded informative and exciting even if I couldn’t get everything. The smart jokes; the ideas about power and chance; and the differences between gamblers and poker players, were all neat additions to the script too.
  4. The direction and the editing of the picture were both amazing. Molly’s Game was a long movie but it didn’t feel like a long film because of the rapid narration and the quick editing. Having said that, the picture also had some appropriately slow emotional moments. But, it never dwelled on them for too long. The poker scenes were as good as the one in Casino Royale (my favorite poker scene in a movie ever): tense and exciting. A lot of out-sourced montages (newsreels, etc.) were also used and added that biographical drama feeling to the film.
  5. Jessica Chastain (Interstellar, The Martian, The Huntsman) absolutely shined as Molly. Everybody knows that she is a great actress and she just proved that again. Idris Elba (Beasts of No Nation, Bastille Day, Star Trek Beyond, The Dark Tower, The Mountain Between Us, Thor: Ragnarok) was also great and I’m so happy that he finally got a great dramatic role to play. Kevin Costner (Hidden Figures) had a great supporting role, while Michael Cera (The Lego Batman, Sausage Party), Jeremy Strong (The Big Short), Brian d’Arcy James (Spotlight), and Chris O’Dowd (Miss Peregrine) all appeared too, playing awful people really well. Stranger Things’ fan favorite Joe Kerry (Steve on the Netflix show) had a cameo as well.

In short, Molly’s Game was a well-directed biographical drama with a fascina story at its center.

Rate: 4,5/5

Trailer: Molly’s Game trailer

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Movie review: The Lego Ninjango Movie

Movie reviews

Hello!

Welcome to a review of the 3rd Lego movie and the 2nd one this year. This is The Lego Ninjago Movie!

IMDb summary: Shunned by everyone for being the son of an evil warlord, a teenager seeks to defeat him with the help of his fellow ninjas.

To begin with, I really loved the 2014’s original The Lego Movie and adored the 2017’s The Lego Batman Movie as both a continuation of the Lego franchise and as a parody of the comic book movie/the superhero genre. The Lego Ninjago Movie seemed like a cool expansion of the Lego cinematic series though I didn’t know anything about the Lego ninja sub-brand. Also, I had no idea why they chose to release it this year, so close to The Lego Batman.

Writing

The Lego Ninjago Movie was written by a bunch of screenwriters, way more than it should have had. The two directors Bob Logan and Paul Fisher, and the writers William Wheeler, Tom Wheeler, Jared Stern, and John Whittington. Additionally, the story credits went to Hilary Winston, Dan Hageman, and Kevin Hageman. This just seems excessive: why would not that original children’s movie need 10 writers????

Speaking about that lack of originality: The Lego Ninjago Movie was super similar to The Lego Movie. And while we applauded its originality in 2014, 3 years later and a second-time around, the same ideas just don’t seem that fresh. This film had the same type of a framing device – real-world/live-action set-up which enveloped the lego story. The message – one about encouraging the imagination, play, and the storytelling during childhood – also stayed the same but I can’t really fault it because of how positive even if repetitive it is.

Speaking about the Lego part of the narrative: it was fine but nothing new. The plot focused on the child of a villain (Disney’s Descendants?) and dealt with his experiences as a high schooler (any teen movie ever?) who has a secret superhero life (Big Hero 6?). The ninja characters, in general, seemed to have been inspired by Transformers, Power Rangers, Pacific Rim, and Ironman. I’m guessing that a lot of Japanese/samurai movies were also consulted (and their clips included in the actual film). The elemental powers were cute but old. Lastly, the whole father-son thing was very Star Wars.

The humor of the film wasn’t bad but, at times, it did feel like the movie was trying too hard to be hip and cool (and the kids are cynical these days). That ultimate weapon reveal was super dumb but still hilarious, though.

Directing

The Lego Ninjago Movie had three directors: Charlie Bean, Paul Fisher, and Bob Logan – all long time animators but new to directing.  Speaking about that part of the film which they were best at – the animation was spectacular. This animation style still amazes me and I applaud all the animators for achieving the visuals that I haven’t thought possible just a few years back. The pacing was good too, stuff was always happening for the most part and the movie’s runtime wasn’t stretched out for no reason. Also, this quick pace kinda gave a movie a video game-esque feeling, which was good. There were a lot of dances and songs included too, similarly to the other two Lego films. However, The Lego Ninjago Movie differed from its predecessors in one aspect: it actually did feel like a commercial for the Lego toys way much more than the others did. I know that both The Lego Movie and The Lego Batman Movie were ads for Lego too but at least they were not as obvious about it and had something extra (like the originality or the references) to embellish the ad. The Lego Ninjago Movie lacked that extra.

Voice work

The Lego Ninjago Movie assembled quite a stellar voice cast. Of course, one cannot make a ninja movie without Jackie Chan, so he both voiced a character and appeared on screen (I kinda think that he is still appealing to kids, while the adults don’t care much for him anymore). Dave Franco (Nerve, Now You See Me) and Justin Theroux (The Girl on The Train) voiced the son and the father and were fun to listen to. Silicon Valley’s Kumail Nanjiani (The Big Sick) and Zach Woods played the child-friendly version of their characters from the HBO show. Michael Peña (Ant-Man, The Martian, Collateral Beauty), Abbi JacobsonFred Armisen, and Olivia Munn (X-Men) rounded out the cast and delivered good aural performances too.

In short, The Lego Ninjago Movie was an okay addition to the Lego movie franchise. It mostly just rehashed the same stuff and didn’t add anything new but was still entertaining and enjoyable.

Rate: 3.2/5

Trailer: The Lego Ninjago Movie trailer

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Movie review: Spider-Man: Homecoming 

Movie reviews

Hello!

The 3rd cinematic reimagining of the Spider-Man character has reached cinemas in a form of Spider-Man: Homecoming. Let’s see whether third time’s a charm!

IMDb summary: Peter Parker, with the help of his mentor Tony Stark, tries to balance his life as an ordinary high school student in New York City while fighting crime as his superhero alter ego Spider-Man when a new threat emerges.

SPOILER WARNING

Writing

Spider-Man: Homecoming was written by 6(!) people and it wasn’t a mess. The scriptwriters included the comedy writing duo Jonathan Goldstein and John Francis Daley, the director Jon Watts, Christopher Ford (who wrote Robot & Frank), Chris McKenna (he worked on The Winter Soldier), and Erik Sommers (wrote The Lego Batman Movie).  The script was a perfect blend of two coming of ages stories: one of growing up into an adult and the other one of evolving as a hero. I loved the two narratives separately as well as how they worked together.

The Spider-Man side of the story was, thankfully, not an origin story, but still showed the character’s beginnings (Year One, basically). I loved the inclusion of the ‘Training Wheels Protocol’ and also enjoyed seeing that handful of moments of Spider-Man failing – they added a lot of realism and believability to the character. The plotlines concerning Peter Parker were also great. The advertised John Hughes-like feeling was actually present in the film and did work (we even saw a scene from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off playing on TV)! I also loved how the high school setting and the student characters were realized. Those awkward commercials were spot on, while the students weren’t just walking stereotypes – they were actually multidimensional. Flash was a popular rich kid, a bully, and a nerd (or at least a wannabe one), Liz was the ‘pretty girl’ who was also smart and a great leader, and MJ was a mixture of a nerd and a hippie. My favorite supporting character was Ned cause I could relate the most to him. I mean, I was making the Lego Star Wars figurines a day before I saw the movie. I also loved his unapologetic excitement about the amazing things that were happening to Peter cause that’s how I feel about Marvel movies. Peter’s family’s plotline also worked. I loved how the screenwriters acknowledged that everyone online loves the new Aunt May by making other characters (not just Tony Stark) flirt with her. I also liked how the death of Uncle Ben wasn’t pushed but only mentioned in passing.

The feeling of a wider MCU was also there but all the tie-ins did not overshadow the standalone narrative of the film. Iron Man was, once again, kinda to blame for the creation of a new villain (the trend continues), but the character himself did not appear much on screen. He didn’t even have a full-on action scene, only a small one. I did, however, really love his and Peper Pots’s moment at the end. In addition, the idea to set the movie’s opening during the Civil War, but to show it from Peter’s perspective, was superb. Not only was that whole sequence funny, but its format – the vlog – was so appropriate for a high schooler and the tone of the picture. The fact that Vulture’s tech was made from the scraps from the previous MCU battles was neat too. I also loved how, by the time Homecoming rolled around, he has been doing his thing for at least half a decade already. However, I wish that the new Stark’s Damage Control Firm would have consisted of the characters from Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. because there have been episodes of the show were those characters cleaned up the mess left by the Avengers. This would have a been a perfect moment to finally allow them to appear in a movie.

Finally, the two big reveals of the film were great too. I did not expect Vulture to be Liz’s dad (need to brush up on my comic book knowledge). The twist in the end fight, where Peter had to save Vulture rather than fight it, was brilliant too.

Directing

Jon Watts directed Spider-Man: Homecoming (he also co-wrote it) and did a spectacular job. This was only his 3rd feature film but he just absolutely nailed the realization of the character. The youthful vibe and the contagious energy were perfect. The sweet moments and the funky fast pace worked too. The way the intense action scenes co-existed next to the high school awkwardness was just wonderful. The action sequences were extremely cool and entertaining too (I just wish we haven’t seen big parts of them in the trailers). They had the staple Spider-Man swings but were also fresh and exciting. The 80s style credits were a nice finish as well. Watts also did a good job of integrating a character into the broader MCU while also showing the daily life and the ground level work that Spider-Man did on the streets. Homecoming was basically a PG version of the Marvel Netflix’s shows.

In summary, I can’t really explain it, but the experience of watching Spider-Man: Homecoming was one of pure fun. This film made me realize why Spider-Man is the best selling and the most popular Marvel character (or even the most popular superhero ever).

The credits scenes

Spider-Man: Homecoming, like all superhero films, had a few extra scenes during the credits. The mid-credits one worked as an epilog for the standalone story of the film and expanded on the character of Vulture, by showing that he has an honor code. The post-credits scene was a continuation of the gag involving Captain America. Cap broke the 4th wall and praised the fans for their patients, while also making a fun of them. The 4th wall breaking joke did work in a Spider-Man film because of who the character is and because of the funny tone of Homecoming (however, it wasn’t as appropriate as it were for Deadpool).

Acting

After blowing everyone away as Spider-Man/Peter Parker, Tom Holland (In The Heart Of The Sea) has grown into the character and has become the best version of the character I have seen on film. He was actually believable as a high schooler, a nerd, and the friendly neighborhood Spider-Man. Peter’s classmates, played by Jacob Batalon and Tony Revolori (The Grand Budapest Hotel), were really good too, as the best friend and the bully, respectively. Laura Harrier played the love-interest, while the highly discussed role of MJ, played by Zendaya (who will soon star in The Greatest Showman), was just a slightly bigger than a cameo. Angourie Rice (The Nice Guys) also had a cameo appearance as a potential love interest in the later films.

The ex-Batman and ex-Birdam Michael Keaton (Spotlight) donned another comic book costume inspired by a bird and nailed the villainous role. He was menacing but also someone that a viewer could identify with. Marisa Tomei was good and her aunt-nephew relationship with Peter was believable and cute. Donald Glover’s (The Martian) involvement in the film was a nice thank you for all his work in attempting to bring a Miles Morales/Spiderman film into existence. Lastly, Robert Downey Jr. (The Judge) reprised the role that has basically become an extension of himself but, thankfully, he didn’t steal the scenes he was in but rather embellished them. Jon Favreau’s (Chef, The Jungle Book) return as Happy Hogan was just delightful – he was in more of the film than RDJ and that actually worked in favor of the picture and made more sense for the story.

In short, Spider-Man: Homecoming is a triumphant return for the character of Spider-Man. Finally, the justice has been done and we have the perfect Spider-Man film. I, honestly, can’t remember the last Marvel stand-alone movie I loved this much (and Civil War doesn’t count, that was a team-up).

Rate: 4.8/5

Trailer: Spider-Man: Homecoming trailer

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Movie review: The Lego Batman Movie

Movie reviews

Hi!

With the DCEU films being critical nightmares, which do not earn as much as they should do, Ben Affleck stepping out as director of the Batman solo movie and The Flash film being completely rewritten, the Warner Bros desperately needs a win concerning its DC properties. Might The Lego Batman Movie be the win? Let’s find out!

IMDb summary: Bruce Wayne must not only deal with the criminals of Gotham City but also the responsibility of raising a boy he adopted.

Writing

The Lego Batman Movie was written by Seth Grahame-Smith (who wrote Dark Shadows, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, and the novel version of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies), Chris McKenna (a TV comedy writer), Erik Sommers (Spider-Man: Homecoming writer), Jared Stern (who provided additional story material for Wreck-It Ralph), and John Whittington (a newcomer writer who doesn’t have any significant credits on his IMDb page). The duo of writers/directors behind the uber-successful The Lego Movie – the film that started The Lego franchise – Phil Lord and Christopher Miller – helped to produce this spinoff flick as well. I, personally, absolutely loved the writing for this movie.

Let’s star with the on the nose humor as it was such a huge part of the picture. The Lego Batman was basically Deadpool for kids. Like Deadpool, this film didn’t waste its credits and began mocking the studios and the executives in the first few seconds of its runtime. It then moved on to making fun of the comic book movies cliches, such as ‘the unnecessarily complicated bombs’, ‘the villains who explain their plan aloud’ and other plot conveniences.  Plus, I laughed out loud several times when the characters would start making the shooting noise – ‘pew pew’. I also loved the funny inclusion of the comic book sound effect balloons which showed the origins of Batman. Lastly, the movie also poked fun at merchandise with that merch gun scene (I’m definitely guilty of owning some items myself – I was actually wearing my batman sweatshirt at the screening).

The narrative wise, The Lego Batman Movie didn’t bother with neither the setup nor the basic development and origins of the character and I’m actually really glad that they skipped all of that, cause everybody already knows Batman’s background. Nevertheless, the film still did some cool stuff with its main character, for example, portraying him more as an anti-hero and raising the questions of accountability and legitimacy (basically, Captain America: Civil War storyline). The movie also teased and parodied the Batman’s Rogues Gallery and also mocked his gadgets (while at the same time, showing them on screen just so that they could turn them into toys and merch, which they have also made fun of already).

In addition, this film attempted to do something with the Batman and Batgirl relationship, which was very similar to what The Killing Joke movie did. That development really angered the fans and The Killing Joke really suffered from that addition, so I was worried that this idea might damage The Lego Batman too. However, this film dragged the ship more than pushed it, so everything turned out fine in the end. On the other hand, I really liked the relationship that was created for Batman and The Joker. The were literally like an old married couple. The other little details, like Batman’s password (‘Iron Man sucks), the Hugh Hefner-like dressing gown, and his obsessions with romcoms (shout out to Jerry Maguire) were just amazing. I also loved the fact that they managed to include a Nightwing easter egg and actually used the fact that lego figurines can join together as a plot point in the film.

From the thematical standpoint, the movie explored relationships within a family and between friends as well as narcissism. It looked at the fear of human connection which arose from the possibility of being left alone. The final message of the film – that one has to let people in even if they might hurt you by leaving and disappearing – was a neat one.

Directing

Chris McKay, who worked as an animator and editor on The Lego Movie, directed The Lego Batman and did a spectacular job. I just loved the fact that he took the grimmest property from the dark and sophisticated DC and made it work as a comedy. The Lego Batman Movie was, truly, one of the best action comedies I’ve seen. It had the non-stop jokes and the fast action (the film was unbelievably energetic) but it still found time for quieter, more heartfelt moments (every animated movie needs ‘the feels’). The only few moments in the picture, which annoyed me a bit, were all the singing and rapping scenes. They juts seemed of a lower level of humor than all the wonderful meta-references and jokes.

Additionally, the animation was just striking. Every shot looked so densely animated and complex – you could just see how much work it has taken to bring this story to life in this format. The Lego Batman Movie was definitely a perfect match between the material and the format, cause I doubt that this narrative could have worked in live action. It would have just come across as stupid (mostly because of all the rapping), but now it blended the right amount of stupidity and cleverness and was, overall,  extremely fun and very enjoyable.

Speaking more about the visuals of the film, I loved seeing the recreations of all the previous Batman films in the lego form. I also really appreciated the lego versions of all the other DC and non-DC villains that cameoed in the film – crossover all the way! We got to see Voldemort, Sauron, King-Kong, The Wicked Witch, and Doctor Who’s Daleks – basically all properties that belong to WB.

I have also noticed, that the majority of DC films (both live-action and animated) are now team-ups. It also seems that one cannot have a Batman movie without Superman or the other Justice League members (that short scene was a neat surprise and maybe it was there to set-up a sort of solo Lego movies for other DC characters?).

Music

Lorne Balfe was responsible for the soundtrack and he picked some very appropriate, witty, and catchy songs for the film. While I didn’t really like the actual Batman song, I loved the updated version of ‘Man in the Mirror’ and felt that it was a more clever jab at Batman rather than the on the nose Batman song.

Voice Cast

The film had an amazing voice cast. Will Arnett (a long time voice actor and narrator) just killed it as Bruce Wayne / Batman, while Zach Galifianakis (who has also had some experience with voicing) was an equally amazing JokerMichael Cera (Sausage Party) brought a sense of innocence to Dick Grayson / Robin, while Rosario Dawson’s (who voices Wonder Woman in most of the direct to video JL films) voice really fit Barbara Gordon / Batgirl – she sounded as and actually was an efficient go-getter. Ralph Fiennes (Kubo and the Two Strings) oozed class as Alfred PennyworthJenny Slate (Zootopia, The Secret Life of Pets) was the voice of Harley Quinn. It might be the Margot Robbie effect, but I wanted Harley to sound sassier.  The filmmakers also managed to get the big name talent – Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill –  to record a few lines as Superman and Green Lantern, respectively (they voiced these characters in The Lego Movie), while Adam DeVine joined them as The Flash.

In short, The Lego Batman Movie was both a successful spin-off of The Lego Movie as well as a great parody of all the comic book movies. Extremely funny and highly enjoyable!

Rate: 4.7/5

Trailer: The Lego Batman trailer

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