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

12STRONG_Tsr_1sht

 

Advertisements

Movie review: All the Money in the World

Movie reviews

Hello!

Famous for its subject matter (the real-life events it depicts) and the behind-the-scenes story (Spacey out, Plummer in just months before the release date), can this movie stand on its own? This is All The Money In The World.

IMDb summary: The story of the kidnapping of 16-year-old John Paul Getty III and the desperate attempt by his devoted mother to convince his billionaire grandfather Jean Paul Getty to pay the ransom.

Writing

All the Money in the World was written by David Scarpa (he wrote some actions films before), based on the book Painfully Rich: The Outrageous Fortunes and Misfortunes of the Heirs of J. Paul Getty by John Pearson. I found the writing for the film to be really good. I loved that the movie managed to be both a biography of J.P. Getty’s and a crime drama about the investigation of his grandson’s disappearance. The biography part was fascinating because its subject – Getty himself – was fascinating. His relationship with money – him being both rich and frugal – was really interesting. The fact that he found safety in materialism (and, in contrast, a high risk of failure in human relationships) also made him into somewhat understandable if not relatable (unless you are a 1-percenter) character.

Getty wasn’t the only character portrayed as being in the morally grey zone. Getty’s advisor was very vocal about his flaws, while the mother character wasn’t completely untouchable either. This morally grey type of portrayal made the characters seem real – as real as their real-life counterparts. The writing for the investigation portion of the film was great too – the investigation itself had so many layers and unexpected turns (I didn’t know the story beforehand). The picture also employed a lot of flashbacks to explain the backstories of characters and managed to make all the temporally different parts seem cohesive.

Directing

Ridley Scott (The Martian) directed All the Money in the World and made me want to see more of his dramas – he should start making them instead of Alien films (give that franchise to Neill Blomkamp, please). This film was impeccably shot and well edited. The world of the 1-percenters, as well as the 1970s time period, were well realized. The pacing was excellent too – the film was intense and engaging all throughout its 2h+ runtime. Lastly, the reshoot situation was handled just seamlessly. I couldn’t spot any inconsistencies in the story or the visuals (if only Justice League would have handled its reshoot that well).

Acting

The three leads of All the Money in the World did a magnificent job. To my mind, the acting was the best part of the film.

Michelle Williams (The Greatest Showman) was amazing. I feel like she was even better than in Manchester by the Sea, for which she was nominated plenty of times during the last awards season. Mark Wahlberg (Ted, Deepwater Horizon, Patriot’s Day, Daddy’s Home 2) was great too – this is not the type of role we are used to seeing him in, but, after this movie, I wish he would do more dramas and less Transformers-type of films cause he posses the acting talents of a dramatic actor and not just an action star. Christopher Plummer (The Man Who Invented Christmas) was brilliant as J. Paul Getty too – his performance becomes even more amazing when you realize that it was a super late addition (he was cast instead of Spacey (after the allegations against him were made public) and all Getty’s scenes had to be reshot months before the release date).

On the supporting front, Charlie Plummer (no relation to the other C. Plummer on the cast) was quite good as John Paul Getty III (the grandson), while a French actor Romain Duris played one of the kidnappers – his character was also morally grey – not a full on ‘villain’ to accompany the not really ‘heroes’ of the story.

In short, All the Money in the World is a well-directed drama with great writing and even better acting. A solid awards nominee if not a sure winner.

Rate: 4.5/5

Trailer: All the Money in the World trailer

All_the_Money_in_the_World.png

5 ideas about a movie: Downsizing

Movie reviews

Hello!

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

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

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

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

Rate: 3.5/5

Trailer: Downsizing trailer

Downsizing.png

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

5 ideas about a movie: Suburbicon

Movie reviews

Hello!

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

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

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

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

Rate: 2.9/5

Trailer: Suburbicon trailer

MV5BMTA3MjA1NDkxMTReQTJeQWpwZ15BbWU4MDU2Njg3NDMy._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,639,1000_AL_

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

images

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

MV5BMzc5ODExODE0MV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNDkzNDUxMzI@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,674,1000_AL_

Movie review: Logan Lucky

Movie reviews

Hello!

Steven Soderbergh is back from retirement but the audiences don;t care much. This is Logan Lucky!

IMDb summary: Two brothers attempt to pull off a heist during a NASCAR race in North Carolina.

Writing

Logan Lucky was written by Rebecca Blunt – either a newcomer writer or somebody, working under a pseudonym. There has been speculation online that Blunt lives the UK, while some critics thought that Soderberg himself is hiding underneath that name (because he does that when crediting himself as a cinematographer (as Peter Andrews) and editor (as Mary Ann Bernard). Anyways, whoever this Blunt person is/was, they did a good job on the script. While the core narrative was quite familiar (Hell or High Water-esque – stealing for one’s family), its execution in details was brilliant.

The movie opened with a good set-up of the mundane lives of its characters and established them as people, whose lives did not turn out the way they planned (one of them peaked in high school, the other was suffering from the little brother inferiority complex).

Then, Logan Lucky moved on to showcasing the American culture (the kind that foreign people wouldn’t even dare to call culture), which consisted of children beauty pageants and rural county fairs. However, the star of the said culture and the film was NASCAR – a very American brand of motor-racing. The cherry on top was the prolonged anthem scene. Logan Lucky seemed to be driving home a message, that stuff like this, for better or for worse, happens only in the USA. This type of portrayal could have easily come across as annoying but the underlying sense of irony and satire made it work.

Speaking about the comedic side of Logan Lucky – it was great if not as extensive as I hoped, after watching the trailer. I loved the different pairings of the criminals (The Hitman’s Bodyguardesque) as well as the jokes that were central to the characters (one-handed bartender, the dumb brothers of Joe Bang). Logan Lucky also had a really funny sequence with Sebastian Stan’s driver character (who didn’t seem like he had much to do with the actual plot of the film). Another magnificent and hilarious sequence was the prison riot and the prisoners demanding all GRRM books, getting frustrated that ‘The Winds of Winter’ has yet to be released, and hating the fact that the TV show is going off books. The ‘explosive device’ sequence and the decision to stop midway and explain the chemistry were extremely funny too.

Logan Lucky also had a surprising and really heartfelt scene involving the main character’s daughter’s beauty pageant and the song ‘Take Me Home, Country Roads’ (by John Denver). That scene should have been the closing images of the picture. However, Logan Lucky did continue and had a concluding detective story that felt like an afterthought. The investigation itself was not that interesting or neccesary. However, that closing sequence did provide some revelations about the main character’s secret dealings and did have a nice ending (well, for now) with all of them sitting in a bar.

Directing

Steven Soderbergh (The Ocean’s trilogy, Magic Mike series, Haywire) did a good job with Logan Lucky but I don’t think that this was his best film. The pacing at the start was a bit slow, however, the movie did pick up its pace, when the action began. However, it started dragging again with that detective-story afterthought. What I appreciated the most about Logan Lucky (and the other films by Soderbergh) was that it felt real. Not necessarily realistic but real, grounded, self-aware, and sprinkled with irony. While the scripts that he directs (or even writes) are usually mainstream, Soderbergh addresses them with unique auteur/indie perspective.

This time around, Soderbergh also approached the distribution of the film uniquely and decided not to partner with any of the big studios. Well, that backfired. Big time. Logan Lucky didn’t win its weekend, nor it showed any staying power by dipping lower and lower in the TOP 10. I really want to know who/what is to blame. Are the audiences just not interested in Soderbergh’s work anymore? Was it the lack of advertisement? Where were all the NASCAR fans? Where were all the grown-up Pixar’s Cars fan (the ones who saw the 2006 film as children and are now adults)? Where were the fans of movies, involving cars, a la Baby Driver?

Acting

Logan Lucky had a really strong cast, lead by a new favorite of Soderbergh’sChanging Tatum (they worked together on Magic Mike, while the other recent Tatum’s films include Hail, Caesar!, The Hateful Eight, Jupiter Ascending, Jump Street). His brother was played by Adam Driver, who is constantly working on smaller, more art-house pictures in between his Star Wars gigs, like Midnight Special, Silence, and Paterson. Daniel Craig (Spectre) also had a very fun role in the film that he seemed to be having a blast while playing. He never appeared to enjoy being Bond that much and, yet, he still signed on to continue being the 007.

The supporting cast included Riley Keough (Mad Max), Katie HolmesKatherine Waterston (Fantastic Beasts), and Hilary Swank (would love to see her going back to the Million Dollar Baby type of projects and the level of success). The majority of them didn’t really play real characters but were used as devices for world-building or the lead’s character development. Seth MacFarlane (Ted, Sing) and Sebastian Stan (Marvel stuff, The Martian) also had cameo roles and their whole separate thing going on in the background.

In short, Logan Lucky was an enjoyable mixture of mainstream and indie, but it didn’t offer anything too special. Neither a disappointment nor really a win for Soderbergh.

Rate: 3.5/5

Trailer: Logan Lucky trailer

MV5BMTYyODg0NDU1OV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNjcxMzU0MjI@._V1_.jpg

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

spider-man-homecoming-1490381333042_610w.jpg

 

Movie review: Alien: Covenant

Movie reviews

Hello!

Welcome to a review of Alien: Covenant – an apology for Prometheus or its continuation?

IMDb summary: The crew of a colony ship, bound for a remote planet, discover an uncharted paradise with a threat beyond their imagination and must attempt a harrowing escape.

Writing

Alien: Covenant was written by John Logan (The Last Samurai, The Aviator, Hugo, Spectre, Genius) and Dante Harper (a production manager), based on a story by Jack Paglen (Transendence) and Michael Green (Logan and Green Lantern – what a combo). Similarly to how the previous filmography of these screenwriters is a mixed bag, Covenant is also a movie of mixed quality. It just mostly rehashes the plot of the original Alien and throws in some Prometheus themes. I, personally, liked the ideas of the film Prometheus but didn’t feel like they were executed particularly well. Same happens in Covenant – the potential is there but the attempt at the backstory of the xenomorphs just convolutes the plot too much (how many unpredictable experiments have to happen for their final version to appear?). The idea to have a crew/cast of 10+ people also means that none of them receive any development. We do find out some traits of a few characters, but I am not even sure what roles did the majority of the crew members had on a ship. They all could have been scientists or sheep herders. The couples idea is also just plain stupid. Why would you have a bunch of couples on a dangerous space mission? Wouldnt’ they judgement in a difficult situation be impacted by the fact that their significant other is also on board?

Having bashed the plot, I would now like to praise a few good moments of the film. The discussion about creation was an interesting and promising concept. The faith and rationality divide was also a good idea to introduce. The decision to include another character played by Fassbender was the best judgment that the filmmakers made. While I am not sure when did David turn so purely evil, I liked seeing the David v Walter interactions, even if they were quite creepy.

Directing

Ridley Scott has made some amazing (Blade Runner, original Alien, and Gladiator) and less than amazing (Prometheus, Exodus) films throughout his career. His last picture – 2015’s The Martian – was one of my favorite movies of that year. Alien: Covenant falls somewhere in the middle on a quality scale. Visually, the film was gorgeous: the landscapes, the scope, and the scale were just breathtaking. (Prometheus was also visually stunning – I actually visited the filming location of the opening sequence – Isle of Skye). However, I felt that the action scenes could have been better – more suspenseful and intense. There also could have been more of them to replace some of the creepy dialogue sequences. And yet, at least Covenant was way grittier, gruesome, and more stylistically in line with the original two films than the squeaky clean Prometheus.

Acting

The cast of the film was quite big but not a lot of the actors delivered memorable performances (which was partially the blame on the script). Michael Fassbender (X-Men, Assasin’s Creed, Steve Jobs), not surprisingly, was the standout in his double role, while Fantastic Beast’s Katherine Waterston was also quite good. Billy Crudup (Spotlight, Jackie) and Danny McBride (Sausage Party) were the only two other actors from the cast who I remember as doing something of significance in the film. James Franco was probably featured more in the extra promo materials than in the actual film, while Noomi Rapace had a picture cameo only.

In short, Alien: Covenant was mostly disappointing. It had some good elements, but, ultimately, everything was ruined by the awful script full of laughable but not funny moments. If you want to watch a straight-up sci-fi horror, check out Life instead (even though it is just a knock-off of the original Alien), or if you want a more PG space movie, Passengers should do.

Rate: 3/5

Trailer: Alien: Covenant trailer

IMG_20170323_0950491