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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Movie review: Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children

Movie reviews

Good morning/day/evening!

Another YA adaptation from a once visionary director has hit theaters, so, let’s take it apart! This is the review of Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children!

IMDb summary: When Jacob discovers clues to a mystery that stretches across time, he finds Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. But the danger deepens after he gets to know the residents and learns about their special powers.

Allow me to begin by saying that I think that this movie (and the book) has one of the coolest names ever. Yes, it is quite long, weird, and hard to remember, but that’s what makes it special. Just the name alone tells you a lot about the story, but, at the same time, doesn’t give anything away. I wanted to start this review with a compliment because I imagine I will be quite hard on the film in the following paragraphs since I had a number of problem with it.

SPOILERS AHEAD

The narrative: the book, the changes, and the screenplay

The trilogy of books by Ransom Riggs that inspired this film was one of the two YA series that I checked out this year, other being the Engelsfors series by M.Strandberg and S.Bergmark Elfgren. I have always been a fan of fantasy, so I knew that I would enjoy the novels. I also really liked the role that the old vintage photographs played in the making of the books and how they were used in the final product. Those pictures really made the series stand out from the other numerous YA franchises out there.

However, before going to see this film, I questioned whether it can become a successful cinematic trilogy since YA adaptations have been going down both in quality and in the box office numbers. Mockingjay Part 2 was a disappointing finale that didn’t earn as much as expected, Allegiant absolutely crashed and burn – didn’t even earn enough to get the final entry in the franchise made into a film and the release of The Maze Runner‘s final movie had to be postponed due to Dylan O’Brien’s injury on set. Will the audiences still want to see The Death Cure a year later? Will they show up to support an altogether new franchise? I guess, we’ll have to wait and see.

The film’s script was written by Jane Goldman – a long time co-writing partner of Matthew Vaughn. Together, they have worked on movies such as Kingsmen: The Secret Service, X-Men: First Class, Stardust and Kick-Ass. Miss Peregrine Home for Peculiar Children was her second solo writing project, first being the period horror picture The Woman in Black.

As usual, when adapting a piece of literature to the big screen, some (or a lot) of details of the narrative are changed. Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children was no exception. For the first two acts, the film followed the book pretty closely but it did create a completely new and different 3rd act. Concerning the smaller alterations, I’ll try to list as much of them as I could spot:

  1. Emma’s and Olive’s abilities were switched. Emma had the power of air instead of fire, while Olive controlled fire rather than being able to float.
  2. Bronwyn was aged down, while Olive aged up. I understand why they did this: Regarding Bronwyn –  it is more striking to see a little girl lift huge weight rather than a teenager, whereas Olive had to be a teenager for them to have a second romantic couple in the film.
  3. The underwater ship scene went down a different way in the book. They probably wanted to make it more visually interesting in the film and I also think that this scene was the reason they switched Emma’s and Olive’s peculiarities.
  4. Miss Avocet’s involvement in the main narrative was altered.
  5. Jacob’s only normal human friend was cut from the beginning of the story and, in general, in the picture, Jacob was made into an even more of a social outcast than he was in the book.
  6. The hollows were eating the eyes of the peculiars instead of their souls. Since eyes are the window to the soul, this might have been the filmmakers’ attempt to visualize a soul as something material.
  7. Miss Peregrine’s kidnapping was altered and basically, all the 3rd act, which followed the kidnapping, went completely away from the book. The film’s final act had different locations than the book’s (the action happened in the house, on a big ship and in the circus, rather than on a small boat on a sea) and it was also more action-y in the cliche Hollywood way. The decision to use the ship allowed Emma to do more stuff and was a cool effect, but everything that happened after that fell flat. Personally, I think that the modern setting and fantasy don’t mix well, so the whole sequence in the circus in 2016 just seemed ridiculous. It might have looked cool and clever on paper but it appeared childish and stupid on screen. I also get why some people complain that the plot was hard to follow during the 3rd act because it actually was a jumbled mess.

A few other points on the script of the feature. To begin with, the film had an awful amount of obvious exposition. The characters would just sit around listening to each other tell important points of the backstory. Half of that exposition could have been incorporated more organically. Secondly, the writing for Jacob was quite awful – he mostly stood around asking questions or reacting to stuff. He was quite a useless hero – it there will be a sequel, I want him to take charge of his situation much more. Actually, he kinda did that at the end of the film, although we didn’t see it because they just montaged through his individual travels. Thirdly, the writing for Jacob’s parents was paper-thin. They were super one dimensional – their one character trait was the fact that they don’t really care about their son. Lastly, gonna end on a positive note and praise the picture for adding a couple of interesting moments to the story: one, Peregrine shooting the hollow was a cool scene and, two, young Abraham’s call was a nice emotional detail.

Although I try my best to always allow the movie to stand on its own, this time, I’m just gonna come out and say that I liked the book’s story better. I’d love to see a sequel that is closer to the second book’s (Hollow City) plot but I doubt it’s possible since the narrative has gone into a way different direction.

Directing

Tim Burton used to be an imaginary and fantastic director but he seems to have run out of steam lately. I have even done a separate post on his filmography before Alice 2 came out earlier this year. Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children and Tim Burton seemed like a match made in heaven between the source material and the director, however, the movie was just fine. Nothing spectacular or special. The visuals were great, I liked how the film opened with the photos and the letters – it was a nice optical callback to the photographs in the book. The CGI and the design of the monsters were cool too. The slight steampunk vibes were also appreciated. However, the decision to allow (or make) the actors overdramatize some line and scenes, the awkward and choppy editing and the pacing problems (rushing through the setup, dragging in the middle, rushing in the end) were just a few of the flaws of the flick that Burton should have fixed.

Acting

  • Eva Green (Casino Royale, Dark Shadows, 300: Rise of an Empire) as Miss Peregrine. Green is a fabulous actress and she should have been great as Peregrine but her whole performance seemed a bit off to me. She was younger than I imagined Peregrine to be in the book and she also portrayed the character more as a quirky but cool aunt, rather than strict but caring grandma. Nevertheless, she did seem more friendly and open in the movie, which I liked, though, her shaky introduction and the signature Tim Burton crazy/dead eyes weren’t great.
  • Asa Butterfield (Ender’s Game, Hugo, X+Y) as JacobButterfield is one of the most promising young actors working today but his performance here was a bit stiff and low energy. The writing for Jacob was problematic and the performance didn’t save the character either.
  • Ella Purnell (Maleficient) as Emma was good. She and Butterfield did have some chemistry, although, I still think that their love story was creepy and forced. Grandad and grandchild having the same girlfriend. Really!? It is kinda a Twilight type of a coupling, just with switched genders.
  • Lauren McCrostie as Olive was good. She didn’t have much to do, but I’d like to see more of her. Since they aged up the character, they should’ve used her more.
  • Finlay MacMillan as Enoch. Enoch was one of my favorite parts of the books. He could have been such a cool sarcastic character on screen but the actor just portrayed him as super annoying, which was a disappointment.
  • Samuel L. Jackson (Kingsman, The Hateful Eight, Marvel) as Mr. Barron. Jackson is a great actor but here he was kinda a caricature. He was funny and his portrayal of the character did work for the film, but, on its own, the performance would be considered a complete parody.

In summary, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children was promising but didn’t really fulfill any of the promises as much as it could have. The story started out good but fell flat in the 3rd act, the directing was disjointed and the acting – only so-so.

Rate: 2.7/5

Trailer: Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children trailer

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Movie review: Deepwater Horizon

Movie reviews

Hello!

Welcome to another film review. This time, we’re discussing the latest Berg-Wahlberg collaboration – Deepwater Horizon!

IMDb summary: A story set on the offshore drilling rig Deepwater Horizon, which exploded during April 2010 and created the worst oil spill in U.S. history.

Deepwater Horizon’s story was based on true events that actually happened on an oil rig called Deepwater Horizon back in 2010. Although this particular platform was located in the Gulf of Mexico, a similar disaster has also happened near the city that I currently live. I’m talking about Aberdeen, also known as the oil capital of Europe. The oil rig called Piper Alpha, located 120 miles to the northeast of the city, exploded in 1988, killing 167 crew members. while only 11 lost their lives at Deepwater Horizon.

This movie shares certain similarities with other biographical survival dramas. All pictures like this follow a formula – they developed the characters and form an emotional connection between the characters and the viewers, only to then allow the members of the audience to feel utterly helpless while watching how the characters on screen are trying (and failing) to overcome various challenges. If you’d like to see more films like Deepwater Horizon, you can check out 2015’s Everest, which had a similar fall release date. Last year, we also had The Finest Hours, which told the story of an oil disaster as well, only this time on a ship rather than on a rig.

Now, let’s move on to discussing the various aspects of the feature that this review is for.

Writing

Deepwater Horizon’s screenplay was written by two Matthews: Matthew Michael Carnahan and Matthew Sand. Carnahan wrote the World War Z big screen adaptation and has also worked with the director of the film Peter Berg on another movie called The Kingdom. Sand hasn’t really worked much, although, he did write 2009 film Ninja Assassin. Deepwater Horizon’s script was based on The New York Times article Deepwater Horizon’s Final Hours, written by David BarstowDavid Rohde, and Stephanie Saul.

As I have mentioned, the narrative of the film was formulaic. However, it did work. The set-up was fairly clear (some of the specific terms went over my head) and the character development – sufficient and efficient. The picture had more than a few nice instances of friendly banter between the co-workers and was also really attentive to detail, for example, in showing the OCD of the main character through his orderly office. There were also a few subtle and less than subtle foreshadowing moments – one with the can of coke and the other with that safety award.

Deepwater Horizon also had some interesting commentary on capitalism and big business. It very obviously established the hierarchy based on money – rich owners and executives lived and had all the charges dropped, even though they were the ones who allowed this disaster to happen, while the innocent workers lost their lives. I also liked that idea about how any business consists of thousands of moving parts. Well, it seems like all of those parts stopped working on Deepwater Horizon that fatal night in April of 2010. The ideas of who is accountable and who has the right to order the evacuation and a shutdown were also fascinating to watch.

Directing

Peter Berg, the creator of Friday Night Lights and the director of such films as Battleship and Lone Survivor, directed the film and did a good job. He had some really amazing visual effects and some scarily beautiful shots of the old rig on fire. Moreover, everything looked uber realistic, except the CGI on the inside of the pipe. The real recording of the hearings as well as the actual footage of the rig burning were nice additions to the film. Not only did a decision to add them both at the beginning and at the end of the film tied everything together, but it also connected the film’s narrative to the actual real life events.

Deepwater Horizon felt like a quite a short movie. Despite its runtime being over 100 minutes, the fast pace of the film made it seem more like a 1h feature. The set up was a bit long but it didn’t drag. Furthermore, when the disastrous action started to happen, the time just flew by. The wrap-up was also quite speedy.

Berg managed to craft a fine film, which was both emotional, sad, and difficult to watch. The last few scenes – the aftermath of the disaster – were the most moving. Seeing the characters on screen deal with the horrors that they endured made my eyes water, I’m not gonna lie. The instrumental score also contributed a lot to the feelings that arose while watching this film.

Acting

The movie had an ensemble cast, but a few stand-outs were, of course, Mark WahlbergKurt Russell, John MalkovichGina Rodriguez and Dylan O’Brien.

For Wahlberg, this was his second collaboration with Berg (first being Lone Survivor) and they also have another movie coming out this year – Patriot’s Day, based on the 2013 Boston Marathon Bombing. He was really good in the lead, I liked his chemistry with Kate Hudson, who played his character’s wife and the cute moments with his character’s daughter. Kurt Russel was amazing too. Lately, he seems to be re-establishing himself on the big screen once again, starting with last year The Hateful Eight. He will also be in the next Fast and Furious film and will play a crucial role in Guardians of the Galaxy 2.

Another silver-screen veteran John Malkovich was also great – his character was an awful person but Malkovich did a marvelous job making me hate him. The two younger members of the cast were also excellent. Jane the Virgin’s Gina Rodriguez had some nice lines and her final moment with Wahlberg’s character was just amazing, while Dylan O’Brien played his usual likable and a little bit quirky boy-next-door type of a character. O’Brien is best known for starring in the MTV series Teen Wolf, but he has also played the lead in The Maze Runner series, whose final installment has been pushed back because of a serious injury that Dylan sustained on set. Nevertheless, he seems to be back on his feet and working.

In short, Deepwater Horizon was a fine film. It had solid writing and directing and wonderful acting. It is not a type of picture to rewatch multiple times, but if you enjoy good movies, I suggest you check it out at least once. Besides, it is a sorta original film (still an adaptation) in a sea of remakes and sequels.

Rate: 4/5

Trailer: Deepwater Horizon trailer

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5 ideas about a movie: Money Monster

Movie reviews

Hello!

Welcome to a review of one the smaller and more serious films of the summer – Money Monster.

IMDb summary: Financial TV host Lee Gates and his producer Patty are put in an extreme situation when an irate investor takes over their studio.

  1. Money Monter was written by a TV writer Alan Di Fiore, Jim Kouf, who has written a lot of independent films and Dear John’s writer Jamie Linden. This diverse group of screenwriters has crafted a really interesting narrative, full of amazing and intense dialogue. The story was simple enough to understand for those who don’t know anything about economics (me) and yet still complex, intense and exciting. The comic relief and the jokes were organic and not forced. The themes: ‘value of the human life’ (refusing to help Clooney by not buying the stocks), ‘the broken capitalism’ (‘business is just business’) and ‘life goes on’ (shot of the table football) were also interesting. The plot seemed to be of a very small scale,  but in truth, the overarching story was much bigger and broader. At the end of the film, it seemed that the notion that ‘the rich can get away with anything’ will be proved once again, but the inclusion of the online backlash really subverted this notion and made the movie more connected to the contemporary world.
  2. The film was directed by Jodie Foster, who went the Elizabeth Banks route – from acting to directing. But, to be fair, Foster started directing TV shows and movies way earlier than Banks – back in the 90s. However, then she took a couple of decades break from directing and only started getting behind the camera in the 2010s. She did a great job with Money Monster: the stakes felt high, the pace was fast and the visuals – colorful and unique. I also enjoyed the small time frame – the movies plot started and was resolved in a single day. In general, the film was well-constructed and a solid economic thriller – it actually felt like an action movie but made with dialogue instead of explosions. The end credits song – What Makes the World Go ‘Round (MONEY!) – was also really appropriate and a neat way to finish the film.
  3. I also really enjoyed seeing the behind the scenes or the production side of a TV program. I would like to be a producer or even a director one day and Money Monster showed how the professionals deal with difficult situations.
  4. Money Monster also had a great cast, full of accomplished actors: George Clooney (Hail, Caesar!, Tomorrowland), Julia Roberts, Jack O’Connell (Unbroken), Dominic West (Testament of Youth), Caitriona BalfeChristopher Denham, and Giancarlo Esposito (The Maze Runner). All of the actors performed their lines really well, especially Clooney, Roberts and O’Connell. O’Connell’s character acted believably desperate and Clooney’s and Robert’s snappy back-and-forth bickering was one of the best parts of the picture. The way Clooney’s character was trying to talk himself out of the situation was also pretty nice.
  5. If you  enjoyed Money Monster, a few films that I’d like to recommend are The Big Short – a really funny economic drama and The Ides of March – a political thriller, starring and directed by Clooney.

In short, Money Monster was interesting, intense, complex but easily understandable economic drama. The performances, as well as the directing, were both solid but the film’s writing was the best part of it.

Rate: 4/5

Trailer: Money Monster trailer

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Marathon: 5 km for Lithuania

Sports

Hello!

Welcome to another short descriptive post about a running event that I participated in – 5 km fun for Lithuanians of the World. Without further ado, let’s begin!img_0636-1On June 4th, I ran 5 km for my country alongside other Lithuanians from all over the world. Let me explain. Every year, during summer, amateur Lithuanian runners (that live in their native country as well as abroad) run a 5 km distance in order to celebrate their heritage and to strengthen their bond to the motherland. Less than 3 million people live in Lithuania and probably the same amount of Lithuanians live abroad, mainly in the UK (like I do), US, Ireland, Germany, France and a bunch of other countries. So, the fact that they/we (both those staying in Lithuania and the emigrants) can all come together and celebrate their/our country, while doing something that they/we love – running – is pretty magical.

Since I’m home for the summer, I didn’t get a chance to participate in this run in a foreign city (the full map of all the running locations worldwide is here). However, I still did the run in my native town. Only around 50 people ran with me and I was one of the last ones to finish, but I was still really happy with my result – it was the best one of this season.

All the runners received athlete’s numbers, commemorative certificates and medals from the organisers. We ran in the park, so the route was pleasant and quite easy (no steep hills).

If you would like to find out more info about this event and if you are a Lithuanian or a friend of any Lithuanians, I suggest you participate in this wonderful movement! Bye!