Movie review: Pacific Rim: Uprising

Movie reviews

Hello!

Welcome to a review of Pacific Rim: Uprising – a sequel to a movie I liked but didn’t think warranted a sequel.

IMDb summary: Jake Pentecost, son of Stacker Pentecost, reunites with Mako Mori to lead a new generation of Jaeger pilots, including rival Lambert and 15-year-old hacker Amara, against a new Kaiju threat.

Writing

Pacific Rim: Uprising was written by Emily Carmichael (a writer of short movies and TV series, is also supposed to write Jurassic World 3), Kira Snyder (a TV writer and producer), T.S. Nowlin (the writer of The Maze Runner series), and the director Steven S. DeKnight. I thought that the film’s writing was a mixed bag, like in so many cases with action movies nowadays.

The movie opened on a promising note. I liked the short summary of the first film as well as the background set-up of the main character (though, he was a bit too similar to the main character of the first film – both were great but hesitant pilots because of personal reasons). Still, I liked the fact that the main character for this film had a connection to the characters in the first movie. I also appreciated how this picture expanded the mythos of the world by showcasing new possibilities relating to both Jaegers and Kaiju, aliens and humans. I mean, the mash-up of the two (in each of the pairs) was a kinda obvious but undeniably awesome next step. For the most part, I also didn’t mind the actual plot of this movie: I found the story engaging and unexpected. For a minute, I thought that the movie will go one way (maybe do something with abuse of capitalism and power) but it quickly pulled back and picked a monster-y villain to fight against.

While the movie didn’t have a post-credits scene, it did have a post-logo tease (like Tomb Raider did just last week) about the next movie, suggesting a trip to the alien dimension in Pacific Rim 3 (if or when it happens). I wouldn’t mind seeing that but I’m not holding my breath either.

Directing

Pacific Rim was directed by the now Oscar winner Guillermo del Toro (The Shape of Water) but he did not return to direct the sequel. Instead, the reins were passed over to Steven S. DeKnight – a TV producer and director, to whom Uprising was a directorial feature debut. He did quite a good job with the movie. The pace was a bit uneven but the action was pretty great. I liked the designs of all the monsters and robots as well as the actual fight sequences. I also appreciated the fact that they were set during the day and one could actually see stuff. I guess the often repeated line from the script – ‘Bigger the Better’ – was sort of true in the case of the action in this film. I only say ‘sort of’ the case because the final action sequence was a bit senseless and overblown, which leads me to my only gripe with this movie (and a lot of PG-13 action movies) – the bloodless destruction porn that the action sequences result in. The viewers have become desensitized to the destruction, so they don’t care much for it anymore: its entertaining to look at but there is no longer any emotional investment. On the believability side – the realism has been gone from action movies since probably the 80s. Massive injuries result in zero bloody wounds, while the aforementioned massive destruction kills nobody. Hmmm…How long will that be the thing? Probably forever.

Acting

Pacific Rim: Uprising assembled an international cast to pander to global audiences (especially China). I didn’t really mind that as I think inclusivity is fun and good for business (and Hollywood is, first and foremost, a business). I thought that John Boyega (SW7, SW8, The Circle, Detroit) was a charming lead and I’m really glad that he got a chance to showcase his comedic chops. Scott Eastwood was fine too, though, I feel like I have seen him in a straight-laced military person in supporting role in many movies before (like Fast and Furious 8, Suicide Squad). Newcomer Cailee Spaeny and Jing Tian (The Great Wall) was good too.

Rinko KikuchiCharlie Day, and Burn Gorman all returned from the first film and had arcs that actually made sense in this movie. Weirdly, Charlie Hunnam did not return – his character would have had a place in the story, so it was probably a behind the scenes issue that sealed his exclusion from the film (maybe the reason was the poor financial performance of King Arthur?).

In short, Pacific Rim: Uprising is, or less, up to par with the first film, so if you liked that one, you will probably enjoy this one. Also, if you like Transformers, Power Rangers, Godzilla/Kong, or all of the above, you will probably find some enjoyment out of this picture too.

Rate: 3.5/5

Trailer: Pacific Rim: Uprising trailer

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Movie review: Tomb Raider

Movie reviews

Hello!

And welcome to Hollywood’s gazillionth try at making video game movies into a thing. This is Tomb Raider!

IMDb summary: Lara Croft, the fiercely independent daughter of a missing adventurer, must push herself beyond her limits when she finds herself on the island where her father disappeared.

Writing

Tomb Raider was written by Evan Daugherty (of Divergent, The Huntsman, and TMNT), Geneva Robertson-Dworet (according to IMDb, hasn’t written any movies before this one but has 7 announced projects including MCU’s Captain Marvel), and Alastair Siddons (writer of Trespass Against Us – a movie with Michale Fassbender/new Lara Croft’s real-life husband. Fun connection). This film is based on the famous game series (which I have never played) and also acts as the reboot of the previous Lara Croft movie franchise from the early 2000s (which I don’t remember at all but plan on rewatching in April when I have some more free time). The writing for the new Tomb Raider wasn’t bad but it also wasn’t great either. The narrative itself was structured well enough and the story was interesting too. However, all of us have seen this movie before and more than once. We have also previously heard a good portion of the film’s by the numbers dialogue too.

The movie started promising. The set-up was interesting and I did like how contemporary it was (Lara being a deliveroo type of food courier). The only part of the set-up that sort of came out of nowhere was the invention of the villain – Trinity organization was mentioned in passing and was never developed more throughout the film. There were a plethora of hints at it in the closing scenes of the picture but whether the sequel will happen for those hints to result in anything substantial is a big question. No one is sure whether we will get to see Lara with her two signature guns either, which she acquired in the last scene of the film (I did like her with bow and arrows a lot, though). Thematically, Tomb Raider toyed with the ideas of history and the supernatural. I did like the historical quest/puzzle element of the film and I do appreciate the fact that they didn’t go the full supernatural route like The Mummy did. In general, the picture was an okay origin story and a good-enough reintroduction of the character but with so many other big franchises currently being produced, I don’t really know whether there is space for Lara Croft.

Directing

Tomb Raider was directed by a Norwegian director Roar Uthaug and, as far as I can tell, this film was his English language/Hollywood debut. I thought he did a good job realizing the flawed script. The pacing was okay too. I mostly had problems with the tone and the action of the film. The in-camera/on-location action was executed really well and made the movie feel like a tight action film. I especially liked the opening bike chase sequence, the chase on the boats in Hong Kong, and all the hand-to-hand combat in general. However, some other action scenes were really CGI heavy and had so many unbelievable moments that made them laughable. The shipwreck scene was super dark and filmed in a really shaky fashion, while the plane/river sequence just had way too many lucky coincidences. Those over the top, unrealistic action sequences made Tomb Raider feel like a video game movie, which I guess was the point. The final action sequence in the tomb was a mixed bag of good realistic action of an action movie and over the top CGI of a video game movie. I can’t really comprehend why somebody would make a movie lean more towards video game-ness, when the quality and the reaction to all the previous video games was so poor and when that same movie would be so much much better if it went the more classical/grounded action movie route.

Acting

Alicia Vikander played the lead and was actually really good as Lara Croft. Just the physical shape alone that the actress was able to achieve for this role was incredible, worthy of praise, and a bit inspiring. Made me want to do a couple of more extra crunches at the gym. I have always been impressed with Vikander’s indie/awards’ work (like The Danish Girl for which she won an Oscar and even Tulip Fever – the film was bad but she was good in it) and I was really glad to see her cast in a more mainstream/bigger budget/higher profile film. She has had supporting roles in mainstream films before, like – The Man From U.N.C.L.E. and Jason Bourne, but this is the first time she is headlining a movie of this scale and hopefully, a whole franchise. Still, I do doubt whether this movie will spawn a franchise but I also don’t think that it will damage Vikander’s career in any way if it doesn’t.

Walton Goggins (The Hateful Eight) was fine as the typical power hungry and blind-to-everything villain and I think I have seen Goggins in this role before (like in The Death Cure just a month ago). Dominic West (Genius, Money Monster) played the role of an equally delirious man and was okay in it. The writing didn’t make either of these characters sympathetic or understandable in any way, shape or form. Daniel Wu (Geostorm) had a small supporting role in the picture and, while he had some neat moments, his character was also forgotten in the third act. Wu has already starred in one video game movie – WarcraftKristin Scott Thomas (Darkest Hour, The Party) appeared too with the promise of a bigger role in the sequel (when and if it happens).

In short, Tomb Raider was an entertaining but forgettable film. It didn’t do much for the video game movie genre but didn’t damage it further (if that is even possible) either.

Rate: 3.3/5

Trailer: Tomb Raider

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Movie review: Maze Runner: The Death Cure

Movie reviews

Hello!

The last of the YA dystopias is coming to an end. This is Maze Runner: The Death Cure.

IMDb summary: Young hero Thomas embarks on a mission to find a cure for a deadly disease known as the “Flare”.

Writing

The Death Cure was written by T.S. Nowlin (the writer of the two previous pictures in this series and the upcoming Pacific Rim: Uprising film), based on the book of the same name by James Dashner. I’ve read the original trilogy more than 5 years ago now, so I hardly remember its plot details (I might have remembered a bit more a year ago, when this film was supposed to come out but, as it was pushed back due to Dylan O’Brien’s injury on set, I’m now more in the dark than I’ve ever was). However, this movie franchise has gone so far off the books (especially in the second film) that my background of having read and not remembering the book hardly impacts the motion picture watching experience. Having said that, I did recount two major things from the last book that managed to stay with for 5+ years and both of these developments were preserved in the film. I was quite upset that the filmmakers kept the first thing (from the selfish fan perspective) but quite glad that they retained the second one (from an objective-ish reviewer perspective). Let me elaborate. Also: SPOILERS!

The first thing I had in my mind was the death of probably my favorite character from the series – Newt. I distinctly remember being very sad after finishing the book and hoping that, when this novel will finally reach the big screen, Newt will be allowed to live. However, I’m not surprised that the screenwriter kept such an ending for one of the main character’s, as his final scene was pretty emotional and made for a great and powerful moment on screen. His nickname for Thomas – Tommy – was heartbreakingly sweet too. The second development that I’ve mentioned as having liked from a more objective point of view was the movie’s (and the book’s) ultimate ending. The film ended with all the surviving characters living on an island (a more realistic version of the safe haven from the books. In the original novels, a portal had to be taken to reach safety rather than just a boat). I’m glad that the screenwriters didn’t change the ending into fairytale/happy one but kept it ambiguous: what will Thomas do with HIS gift? In addition, I feel like a happy ending (like a sequence of the cure being spread to everyone) would have undercut all the losses that the surviving characters had to go through.

Now, having explored some of the narrative details, let’s look at some themes. One of the major topics of discussion for the film was memory (and my musings about remembering or forgetting certain details of the plot somehow feel more appropriate). Another big concept for this series has always been friendship, which was on display here once more (Thomas, Newt, and Minho are one of my favorite trios in YA fiction). The shades of the love triangle (Thomas, Teresa, Brenda) were present too, though, they weren’t on display that much.

My few slight criticism towards the writing were mainly just two and both of them had to do with the antagonists of the series. For one, I have never fully understood the hierarchy within the WCKD. In this film, Ava Paige had to ask somebody else for the permission to start the human trials of the cure as if they haven’t been experimenting on humans for years already to get the vaccine in the first place?! Also, I’m still not entirely sure whether I buy Teresa’s shifting allegiances or it might be that I just don’t understand her character and the scale she uses to judge what is right on.

 

 

Directing

Wes Ball directed The Death Cure (he also did The Maze Runner and The Scorch Trials) and did quite an amazing job, especially with only around $60 million budget. The last entry into the franchise was highly action-packed. The said action was also quite varied: the film had a variety of sets (all brown and broken but still cool looking) and a ton of CGI that looked quite good (I’ve seen movies that cost double what this one did and looked four times worse (*cough, cough*, Geostorm). The focus on the action in this film also allowed this series to finally differentiate itself from the other YA dystopias, mainly The Hunger Games. While THG finished off as more of a political thriller, TMR series seems to have always been more about the spectacle and only then about the ideas. The ideas – the attempt to go the political thriller route with the cure only being meant for the privileged – were present but they did feel like an afterthought. The Maze Runner series should not have tried to shy away from its action roots, as these sequences were the best ones in the movie. Having said that, the characters had to break into The Capitol-like city in this film, so maybe these two series aren’t that different after all. I wonder how the Divergent/Allegiant situation is going on? That series probably won’t end ever.

Anyways, the fact that this movie had a lot of action, also helped it with the pace, which was quite fast. The only dip came in the second act, however, the first and the third acts were rapid and intense.  My only critique of the action sequences was that, at times, they were filmed with a bit too much of the shaky cam. Nevertheless, those moments were far and few in between, while the majority of the action was captured by a handheld but steady enough camera, while the mobile frame helped with the intensity. I also loved how the action scenes in the first act (the maze and the grievers; the cranks) were used as a slight reminder of what happened in the previous pictures. Lastly, how nice was it that they the filmmakers (and the suits) didn’t divide the finale of the trilogy into two parts!

Acting

The Death Cure saw the return of all the favorites. Dylan O’BrienThomas Brodie-Sangster, and Ki Hong Lee were all great as my favorite trio: Thomas, Newt, and Minho, respectively. I only wish that they would have shared more scenes together. O’Brien’s TV show – Teen Wolf – has ended last year but he has been steadily racking up movie roles (in this series, Deepwater Horizon, and American Assasin) and seems to be fairing much better than the actual lead of his TV show – Tyler Posey. I really hope that the relative financial success of this franchise will allow Thomas Brodie-Sangster and Ki Hong Lee to be cast in more projects too.

Will Poulter (The Revenant, Detroit) also returned as Gally, while Dexter Darden had some neat moments (operating a crane) as FrypanKaya Scodelario (Pirates 5) was okay as Teresa, while Giancarlo Esposito’s (OkjaJorge and Rosa Salazar’s Brenda were neat to watch in their father-daughter-like relationship. On the villain side, Patricia Clarkson (The Party) was still immaculately dressed in white as Ava Paige, while Littlefinger – Aidan Gillen (Sing Street) as Janson – was doing his thing as usual. Another GOT family member (who also stars in Fast&Furious franchise) Nathalie Emmanuel (as Harriet), as well as ShadowhuntersKatherine McNamara (as Sonya), appeared too, although the film didn’t really know what to do with them, after having introduced them in The Scorch Trials as members from a different maze/test group.

In short, Maze Runner: The Death Cure was an entertaining finale to the, overall, surprisingly strong YA franchise, that pleased my heart and mind. And this praise comes from somebody who was once the biggest fan of the book and this genre in general.

Rate: 3.8/5

Trailer: Maze Runner: The Death Cure trailer

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5 ideas about a movie: The Party 

Movie reviews

Hello!

It’s nice to sometimes take a break from the mainstream cinema and see something super unique and very obviously indie. This is The Party.

IMDb summary: A comedy wrapped around a tragedy. It starts as a celebration and ends with blood on the floor.

  1. The Party was written and directed by Sally Potter, whose previous movies have all been indies/experimental or art films in the short or the feature-length format. So, The Party – a real-time, black and white, just over an hour long picture was very much a continuation of her style. What a brilliant film it was, though.
  2. The Party’s narrative unfolded over a single hour. Its story was full of major personal dramas for each of the characters. All the issues that were touched upon were all directly related to the domestic space, and, while I’ve never been particularly interested in those types of topics, I was extremely into The Party. The film explored the concepts like politics, marriage, friendship, love, family, money, life, and death. It also had an extremely smart dialogue: the most intelligent small talk ever put to film. It was also full of real-life situational humor.
  3. The Party’s 7 characters made for a weird bunch. An idealist politician, a cynic and ironic best friend, a spiritualist life coach, a cheating and ill husband, a money-driven capitalist druggie, and a lesbian couple, consisting of an academic and a pregnant-with-triplets woman all found themselves present at the same party. The whole plot was all about them so there was plenty of character development. Also, that title – The Party – had a double meaning of both a political party and a social gathering. Thus, I’ve seen the picture interpreted as a metaphor for the modern Britain – a country in turmoil, incapable of reconciling its differences.
  4. The movie was filmed in black and white (don’t think I’ve ever seen a movie in B&W in a cinema), so the play between the shadows and the light was super important and interesting to notice. The real-time setting of the plot was exciting and extraordinary. The mobile frame and the handheld shots were authentically indie. All these features also made the movie seem a bit like a play. I guess the closest film I’ve ever seen to this one is Fences, which also felt like a filmed stage production (cause it was based on a play).
  5. The Party had a stellar international cast and was a brilliant display of acting. Emily MortimerCillian Murphy (Dunkirk, Free Fire, In The Heart of The Sea), Kristin Scott ThomasCherry JonesTimothy SpallPatricia Clarkson (The Maze Runner), and Bruno Ganz put on incredible dramatic (both tragic and comedic) performances. Murphy and Clarkson were my favorite.

In short, The Party is a great film about a really bad party. Short, smart, sophisticated and satisfying.

Rate: 4,5/5

Trailer: The Party trailer

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5 ideas about a movie: American Assasin

Movie reviews

Hello and welcome to the third and the last movie review of this weekend!

In this post, we are discussing American Assasin: one generic monstrosity of a film that was so basic that I couldn’t even come up with an interesting introduction for its review. I could have called it just ‘another movie in the line of films that all have the word ‘American’ plus a random noun in their titles’ (American MADE, BEAUTY, PSYCHO, GRAFITTI, etc.)

IMDb summary: A story centered on counterterrorism agent Mitch Rapp.

  1. American Assasin, as a story, first originated in a book format, written by Vince Flynn. 7 years and 4 screenwriters later (Stephen Schiff (writer of 1990s’ pictures like True Crime and Lolita, who now mostly works on the small screen), Michael Finch (wrote Hitman: Agent 47), Edward Zwick (TV writer), and Marshall Herskovitz (writer of The Great Wall and Jack Reacher 2), this narrative reached the silver screen. Now, I haven’t read the book, so I can’t comment on the similarities/differences between the version of the plot in the film and in the novel. However, I can tell you that, as a motion picture, American Assasin was completely unoriginal, predictable, bland, uninspiring, and, frankly, boring. It is also mind-boggling to see 4 scriptwriters credited for the writing of the movie. They seriously couldn’t come up with anything better?
  2. American Assasin didn’t bring anything new to the table when it comes to movies about terrorism (it even resulted in being just as the same old white male vs white male fight). It didn’t have anything new to say neither about the mentor-mentee relationship nor the world of the military/CIA/secret-ops and their rogue agents. It also didn’t practice what it preacher: everything was personal and nobody followed the rules. Lastly, the twists and turns could be seen a mile away, while the dialogue lines were super recycled, and, thus, cringe-y.
  3. A couple of compliments I could award the screenplay was that I liked seeing the transition of Dylan O’Brien’s character: from a millennial who would film his proposal (the acting made that moment sweet rather than eye-roll worthy) to an assassin with a personal (and almost justified) vendetta. I also loved the idea of the virtual training. The IRL training sequence (the one with the re-created shop) was also neat.
  4. Michael Cuesta, TV director and producer and the director of Kill the Messenger, helmed American Assasin and did as good of a job as he could. The script didn’t really give him much to work with but at least he made the hand-to-hand combat seem somewhat exciting. The pacing was fine too. The generic setting of the various European and non-European cities was well realized, but, still generic (Americans seem to enjoy wreaking havoc on the old continent).
  5. Inarguably, the best part about this film was the performances of its two leads. Dylan O’Brien has really begun his final transition from the YA-movies (a la The Maze Runner, which he still has one to promote and oversee the release of) and the young adult TV (Teen Wolf is also airing its last episodes, which he scarcely appears in). He has also had a small role in Deepwater Horizon. His performance here was believable and likable. Michael Keaton (Spider-Man: Homecoming, Spotlight) was also great: there were shades of ‘let’s get nuts’ level of craziness in his performance. Taylor Kitsch was fine as the villain too, though there wasn’t anything particularly interesting about his performance. The few female supporting characters were lazily written but performed well enough by Sanaa Lathan (who was, sadly, just the exposition machine) and Shiva Negar (or the film’s lazy attempt at the female empowerment and diversity).

In short, American Assasin is an action film that you have already seen numerous times. If you like the two leads (Keaton and O’Brien) you might watch it for them, other than that – I don’t recommend it. Maybe as a rental or a free TV rerun.

Rate: 2.5/5

Trailer: American Assasin 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: What Happened To Monday

Movie reviews

Hello!

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

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

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

Writing

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

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

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

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

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

Directing

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

Acting

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

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

Rate: 2.9/5

Trailer: What Happened To Monday trailer

 

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Movie review: Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales

Movie reviews

Hello!

The summer movie season is already in full swing. Let’s see what it has to offer in Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales also known as Salazar’s Revenge.

IMDb Summary: Captain Jack Sparrow searches for the trident of Poseidon.

Let’s start with a disclaimer: I have always been a fan of this franchise despite its flaws. The third’s film is my favorite (and I’m definitely in the minority) and its third act – one of my most rewatched action sequences. Also, the role of Jack Sparrow is the only kooky role that I still like Johnny Depp in.

Writing:

Pirates 5’s screenplay was written by Jeff Nathanson (Catch Me If You Can, Indiana Jones 4, next project – the live action Lion King) with some input on the story by Terry Rossio (who had a hand in creating these characters in the first place). In general, I have mixed feelings about the quality of writing for this film and wish it was better because it could have been (like the writing for so many blockbusters these days – come on, Hollywood, just hire some amazing TV writers!).

To begin with, I thought that the set-up for the narrative was too reliant on coincidences, while the twists and turns in the plot – just way too convenient. The film was also going all over the place with the multiple plotlines that were just thrown together. It was nice to see all the old characters and the new one were good too but I just wish they all would have fit into the narrative more organically. Another problem with the reveals in the story is that they came out of nowhere. They were surprising, for sure, but not in a good way. Not in a way ‘I didn’t see it coming but I can retrace the steps of the reveal now’ but more like ‘Oh, so you have come up with this like a year ago and not when you released the previous movies in the series’.

Having critiqued the script, I would now like to mention a few neat writing moments which really impressed me. First, I loved seeing the young Jack Sparrow. In addition to the de-aging technology being really impressive, it was really nice to see Sparrow as an efficient and clever sailor and not just drunk and babbling, even if lovable, idiot. The explanation of how he got the iconic costume and the name was also much appreciated. I also liked the fact that the story of The Turners was continued through their son. The new female lead was also a well-enough written character – I liked that she was a person of science who was confronted by the irrational legends and myths. The feminism aspect could have been handled better, though. The writing for the villain – Salazar – was also quite good. He is no Davy Jones, but then again, Jones had 2 movies worth of development while Salazar had only half of that. Jones might also get even more (further on that in the After-Credits section). Lastly, I also enjoyed the attempt at expanding the mythology of this world.

Directing

The Norvegian directing duo – Joachim Rønning and Espen Sandberg – best known for their Kon-Tiki film (about an expedition on a raft across the Pacific Ocean) helmed Pirates of the Caribbean 5 and did a good job. Having previous experience with water-centric films definitely helped them because the movie did look gorgeous. The locations themselves and the way they were realized on screen were just spectacular. The action wasn’t bad either – it was definitely entertaining and exciting, just not as impressive as it used to be before. This might be because I have seen too many Pirates of the Carribean movies or just action films in general. One particular action sequence – the first one centered on the robbing of the bank – really reminded me of the 3rd act heist in Fast Five but only done with horses instead of the fast cars. The visuals of the map in the final act (the island that’s the perfect image of the sky) were really cool-looking too.

No Pirates of the Carribean review cannot not mention the soundtrack of the film. It was really nice to hear the iconic theme music as well as the rest of the soundtrack, which, this time around was not done by Hans Zimmer but by his long-time collaborator/student Geoff Zanelli.

Acting

Johnny Depp (Transcendence, Alice, Black Mass) was fine in the movie. He was doing the same thing he always does, but I have already said, this is the only role of his that I can stomach his eccentrics in. Please, God, don’t let him screw up Grindewald in the Fantastic Beasts sequel.

The two new leads this movie introduced were both YA alumni – Brenton Thwaites (of The Giver) and Kaya Scodelario (of The Maze Runner). They were better replacements to Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley than the romantic couple from the previous film – On Stranger Tides – played by Sam Claflin and Àstrid Bergès-Frisbey. I hope that Thwaites’s and Scodelario’s careers can get a boost from this movie but I don’t think we will see more of them in these roles. Maybe in a supporting part in a sequel but I don’t see them getting a solo/duo spin-off (more on that in Post-Credits section).

The villain of the picture – Salazar – was played by Javier Bardem – Hollywood’s go-to Spanish actor for villainous roles (No Country For Old Men, Skyfall). Well, one can’t argue that Bardem is really good at playing these types of characters and he was truly menacing as Salazar – the hunter of pirates. His next project is Aronofsky’s Mother!. 

Geoffrey Rush was also, once again, back in the role of Barbosa. While I felt that his character was kinda tacked on, it was nice to see a different side of him. His demise, however, was mostly wasted and should have been built-up more (both story-wise and emotionally).

David Wenham also appears in a film, playing a secondary villain and a high-ranking officer in the British Navy. He is basically just a replacement for the character that Tom Hollander played (and in a much better way) in the original trilogy.

Post-Credits

If you sit through the 10 minutes of the credits, full of digital artists’ names, you will be treated to a potential teaser for a Will Turner spin-off. I really liked the character in the original trilogy and Orlando Bloom does not seem to be doing much, so a Will Turner or a Turner family-centered spin-off might actually be quite good or could at least happen. Maybe Keira Knightley could also be in it and actually get a few speaking lines (she just cameos and says nothing in Dead Men Tell No Tales). Thwaites’s Henry Turner and his new girlfriend, played by Scodelario, might also have a place in that picture.

In short, if you are a fan of the franchise, you will probably be able to overlook the problems with the movie (like you did many times) and will enjoy it for what it is. For all the regular movie goers – Pirates 5 is a good enough time at the movies but not a required viewing.

Rate: 3.3/5

Trailer: Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales trailer

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Movie review: Fast & Furious 8

Movie reviews

Hello!

The latest FF film – The Fate of the Furious or Fast & Furious 8 – has driven into theaters, so, let’s discuss it!

I can’t actually believe that I have never reviewed a Fast and Furious movie before as I have been a fan of them since I was a child. 2006’s Tokyo Drift was probably the first nonanimated movie that I saw at the cinema and have been hooked ever since. I and my dad would always watch these movies together and bond over the fast cars and the crazy action. And that’s what I have come to expect from these films: the amazing action and the funny jabs between the cast members (or a family, wink wink) that have real chemistry. I am not looking for Oscar-worthy performances or original stories. However, I have to give immense props to the 7th film for dealing with Paul Walker’s death in such a gracious and poised way. I don’t think anyone expected a Fast and Furious movie to show so much class but it did. Well, enough talking about the previous entries in the franchise, let’s see what the 8th picture can offer! Has anyone ever believed that this series would have eight installments with 9th and 10th ones already planned ???

IMDb summary: When a mysterious woman seduces Dom into the world of terrorism and a betrayal of those closest to him, the crew face trials that will test them as never before.

Writing

FF8‘s script was written by Chris Morgan, who penned all the previous films, except the first two. The narrative was exactly what one thinks it was: just a collection of expositional scenes to further the story and a sprinkling of funny jabs and interactions between the characters. The film’s plot referenced the events and the characters from the previous 3 films quite a lot too, which was really fun for longtime viewers of the franchise and not that surprising, knowing that all of the referenced entries were written by the same screenwriter. It was also nice that the said references didn’t seem pushed but happened quite organically. Thus, The Fate of the Furious seemed like a true continuation of the same story arc that more or less started with the 5th picture.

The interactions between the characters were brilliantly ridiculous as well. I wonder how much of that was written and how many jokes were just improvised on the spot by Dwayne Johnson and Jason Statham, Tyrese Gibson and Ludacris. The love triangle jokes were funny too. The attempt to give characters more development was also fine. The main theme of the series – family – was present in this film more than in any other entries before. Similarly to Dom having to make a choice between family and his criminal/car chasing past in this movie, the same choice now has to be made by this franchise when moving forward. And the picture did leave a few opportunities open for the same plotline to be continued.

Directing

Fast & Furious 8 was helmed by a newcomer director to the franchise – F. Gary Gray, best known for directing Straight Outta Compton. He did a good enough job with the movie and utilized the FF staples – the exotic locations and the butts. I appreciated the first, could have done without the second, but it looks like the two were a packaged deal. Speaking of the third staple of the series – the crazy action set pieces excecuted with the help of gorgeus and extremely expensve cars – they were not the best of the franchise but were still quite inventive and, most importantly, explosive, energetic, and entertaining. Yes, the technology was far-fetched and, yes, the explosions – unsurvivable and unbelievable. But you can’t argue that they didn’t look cool and absolutely kickass and that’s all I wanted. The visuals were nicely paired with a good soundtrack too, although I can’t pinpoint an iconic song that will be on the radio all summer, similarly how I See You Again was everywhere after the 7th film, We Own It after the 6th and Danza Kuduro after the 5th.

Acting

Fast and Furious was one of the first film series to have a truly diverse cast and the franchise is continuing the trend. While the 8th flick didn’t really introduce any new characters apart from revealing Charlize Theron (The Hunstman, Mad Max, Kubo) as the big bad behind the last few films, it had a ton of fun cameos and comebacks. Speaking of Theron – she was a great addition to the cast and a good villain, I would even dare to say the best of the franchise. I think her distinct look really helped her to stand out – those white dreads and V-neck T-shirts looked effortestly cool.

All of the familair faces, except Jordana Brewster, were back. Vin Diesel (Guardians), Michelle Rodriguez, Dwayne Johnson (San Andreas, Central Intelligence, Moana), Tyrese Gibson, Ludacris, and Nathaniel Emmanuel (Game of Thrones, The Maze Runner) appeared to be genuinely having fun on screen, both as their characters and as the actors themselves. The return of Jason Statham (Transporter films, Spy) was also actually appreciated by me, even though I have never been much of a fan of his. I never thought that I would want to see Dwayne Johnson and Jason Statham just absolutely dragging each other non-stop. Gibson’s, Ludacris’s and Emmanuel’s characters’ interactions were good too, I loved the rivalry and the shades of the love triangle. Gibson’s action moment was good too and a nice touch for the character, who usually ends up being a butt of a joke.

Kurt Russell (The Hateful Eight, Deepwater Horizon) also reprised his role and took Scott Eastwood along for a ride this time as his assistant/trainee. Eastwood’s character was a bit annoying at the beginning but he was supposed to be like that and actually turned out to be a not that bad addition to the cast. He certainly had more to do in this film than in a similar role in Suicide Squad.

In short, Fast and Furious 8 was exactly what I wanted it to be – a cheesy nonsensical fun. This franchise is certainly not done and still has some steam left.

Rate: 4/5

Trailer: Fast and Furious 8 trailer

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SPOILERS

The film unexpectedly had quite a few reveals and twists and turns in the story which I didn’t want to spoil in the main review but still wanted to mention. I expected the leverage that Cypher had on Dom to be Bryan’s and Mia’s child but the movie instead presented us with Dom’s and Elena’s (5th movie) son – a new family member for a character obsessed with having a family. The way the child was named at the end was also a cute and touching moment – I do love the fact that FF franchise remembers its roots and how much Paul Walker and his character Bryan did for the series.

The same topic of family was continued with the return of Jason Statham’s (7th film) character (that babysitting action scene was amazing), but this time around his mother made an apperance, played by Helen Mirren (Eye in the Sky, Collateral Beauty, Trumbo). Her inclusion was enjoyable and I loved the few scenes she was in. Staham’s character’s brother Owen (6th movie), played by Luke Evans, also cameod. Evans’s performance in Beauty and the Beast has really solidified me as a fan of his, so I was extremely happy to see his cameo.

Movie review: Jackie

Movie reviews

Hi!

Welcome to a review of the best 1960s film made in the 21st century. It’s Jackie.

IMDb summary: Following the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy fights through grief and trauma to regain her faith, console her children, and define her husband’s historic legacy.

Writing and Acting: the main character and the lead actress

Like I did in the review of Elle, I’m going to combine the writing and the acting parts of this review because like Isabelle Huppert and Elle, Jackie and Natalie Portman are inseparable. Also, when watching Elle, I was sure that Huppert will take the Oscar for playing the titular character. Now, having seen Portman’s performance, I’m not that sure. Honestly, I’d be happy if either of them wins because they both deserve it. Portman already has an Academy Award for Black Swan, while it would be the first one for Huppert.

Anyways, let’s focus on Jackie. The picture’s screenplay was written by Noah Oppenheim who previously wrote some so-so YA adaptations, like The Maze Runner and Allegiant. I can’t actually comprehend how he could be the one who wrote all of these differents scripts. Not only are these films all very varied but the quality of the writing also differs drastically, with Jackie, obviously, being his best script yet. He did win ‘Best Screenplay Award’ at the 73rd Venice International Film Festival for it, so that should tell you all you need to know.

Speaking of the writing in more detail, the picture’s narrative was located in a limited timeframe and had a deep focus on the specific events. The movie was structured as a real-time interview with incorporated flashbacks. It portrayed Jackie as a complex and multifaceted individual. The differences between her public and private persona and between the pre-incident and post-incident Jackie were just fascinating to watch.

I’ve always imagined Jacqueline Kennedy as being sort of innocent, poised, and feminine figure. However, in truth, she was very much a strong-willed individual whose public appearances were always performative. Especially after the assassination, there seemed to be a certain amount of bitterness in her being that might have risen from the feelings of self-guilt. Her relationship with her husband was certainly not easy, with JFK having multiple affairs, but, in the end, she did love him and witnessed him being murdered in her arms. The film also raised the political questions of legacy (both hers and his) and also commented on the famous Camelot parable, but also showed Jackie’s more personal side through her adoration of arts and history, so kudos to the scriptwriter for showing multiple sides of the character/the real person. However, it was Natalie Portman who carried this movie and absolutely nailed the performance. The way she manipulated the different layers of the character and the way she transformed her look, behavior and speech were just magnificent to watch. Jackie would go from episodes of almost panic to showing imaginable strength in a heartbeat, so Portman was able to display a wide variety of her acting skills. She played Jackie as so much more than merely a President’s wife because she was indeed so much more than just that.

Directing

A Chilean director  Pablo Larraín, with whose previous work I’m sadly not familiar with, directed Jackie and did a spectacular job. I loved the temporarily appropriate aspect ratio and the whole old-school feeling of the film. The documentary-like handheld camera work for the flashbacks and the steady mostly 180° shots for the interview sequences also worked. The fact that the interview was shot from the straight-on perspective made the actors’ performances even more effective. The viewers could feel like Jackie was basically speaking directly to them/at them. The filmmakers’ choices of music were also interesting (soundtrack by Mica Levi). The instrumental theme of the picture was very classic with a slightly modern edge. A few moments of it reminded me of the sounds one would hear in a neo-noir thriller.

The supporting cast

The secondary roles of the film (as famous as the role of Jackie herself) were played by moderately known actors. Peter Sarsgaard starred as Robert F. Kennedy, Greta Gerwig played Nancy Tuckerman, Billy Crudup was Theodore H. White/The Journalist, and John Hurt appeared as Father Richard McSorley. The casting director also did a good job in finding an actor who looked quite similar to JFKCaspar Phillipson. Granted, he appeared in only a handful of scenes, but since everybody knows how JFK looked in real life, it was nice to see the picture trying to be as accurate and as seamlessly realistic as possible.

In short, Jackie was a great personal biopic that showed the complexities of the JFK’s assassination’s aftermath and neatly spotlighted the woman who was in the middle of all of it – Jacqueline Kennedy (Onassis)Portman’s performance as the titular character was just brilliant and spectacular.

Rate: 4.2/5

Trailer: Jackie trailer

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