Movie review: Inferno

Movie reviews

Hello, my dear readers!

The latest Dan Brown/Ron Howard/Tom Hanks collaboration – Inferno – has reached cinemas, so, let’s review it!

IMDb summary: When Robert Langdon wakes up in an Italian hospital with amnesia, he teams up with Dr. Sienna Brooks, and together they must race across Europe against the clock to foil a deadly global plot.

I have done a preview post for this film where I talked about all the books as well as the previous films of the franchise (you can find it here). As usual, I’ll try to list as many book-to-movie changes as I could spot, although it has been a few months since I’ve read the novel, so I might not have noticed everything. Once again, the critics are ripping this movie apart (like the earlier movies of the series), so I’ll also try to defend it from a fan’s perspective.

SPOILERS AHEAD

Writing

The screenwriter David Koepp adapted Dan Brown’s novel to the big screen and did a fairly good job. Koepp’s track record has been mixed. Although the movies he has written have been very financially profitable, not all of them were liked by the movie goers or the critics. He has contributed to such successes as Jurassic ParkMission: Impossible and Panic Room. However, he also co-wrote the horrible Indiana Jones 4 and directed one of the worst films of Johnny Depp’s career – Mordecai. Koepp has also written the second film of the Robert Landon franchise – Angels & Demons – it used to be my favorite, but I think Inferno has taken its place.

For the bigger part of the movie, narrative alterations have been minimal. Even the third act and the finale went down in a similar way in the book, however, the final end-game of the story was changed completely.

To begin with, the book started with Langdon already in the hospital, while the movie added an explanatory set-up (and yet ‘Would you press a button’ idea came from the book). The picture immersed the viewers into the film’s world first and then dropped Langdon in it, while the book used Langdon as the reader’s lens into the world of the story. The screenwriter also modernized the narrative by showing Zobrist giving a Ted talk like presentation and by using a drone to look for Langdon and Sienna.

The scriptwriter also added some shared history for Sienna and Langdon (met when she was a kid), introduced an idea that Langdon might be a carrier of the virus, and also added a new character of Christoph Bouchard – the inclusion of him allowed the film to explore the plot-line of a virus possibly being stolen and sold. Furthermore, Koepp cut Sinskey’s personal background and added some shared backstory for her and Langdon. He also streamlined the story and made it more linear, as usual for book-to-movie adaptations.

The film’s finale happened in the same location as did the book’s. The premise was also similar – Langdon + W.H.O. and Sienna were separately looking for the bag. However, that’s where the similarities ended. In the film, Sienna had mini bombs to break the bag – she didn’t have them in the book. However, the biggest change was the fact that the virus was actually contained in the movie, while the book explained that the bag has dissolved a week ago and that the virus was already out in the world. The film only talked about the virus killing half of the population, while, in the book, this was only a false facade to hide the fact that the virus would sterilize a third of world’s population. The book also had Sienna’s character surviving the whole thing and she even ends up working for World Health Organization to research the virus, though the book also made it explicit that the sterilization of some humans might be a good thing. The movie cut this kinda controversial ending and finished the picture with the good guys winning and Sienna dying for basically nothing. I wish the filmmakers would have had the courage to keep the novel’s ending.

The film had a lot of expositional dialogue and monolog – some of it worked well and seemed organic, some appeared forced and out-of-place. The character development through dialogue was good: e.g. Sienna mentioning her childhood and Langdon saying that he had a fear of tight spaces and a bad past relationship. However, before the 3rd act of the film began and all the characters had to get on the same page, that part of the exposition was a bit cliche and an extremely obvious plot device.

Directing

Ron Howard (Rush, In The Heart of The Sea) directed the picture, like the two previous features of the franchise and did a solid job. The pacing was really good for the majority of the film, but the movie did slow down during the Sienna/Zobrist flashback and before the 3rd act. The dream montages were effective and quite scary and Langdon’s disorientation was also portrayed well through the shaky cam, close-ups, and quick cuts. I also liked how the classical music was incorporated into the finale – it wasn’t just an outside soundtrack but an actual diegetic musical score. I also found it amusing that the 3rd act’s action happened in the water – fitting for Langdon’s swimming/water polo background.

Acting

  • Tom Hanks as Robert Langdon was good as always. I’m one of a few people who actually like Hanks as this character and I also cannot ever find anything wrong with his acting abilities – in my opinion, he is one of the best and most reliable actors (quality-wise) of today. I don’t think that I would be able to pick my favorite movie of his because I have seen so many and all of them have been great, so I’m just gonna list his latest and upcoming performances. Hanks recently starred in Bridge of Spies, A Hologram for the King, and Sully (which will only premiere in the UK in December – so annoying). Going forward, he will star and produce The Circle and will also come back to voicing Woody in Toy Story 4
  • Felicity Jones as Dr. Sienna Brooks was great as well. Since I knew the big twist of her character, I think I noticed a few hints at it in Jones’s performance. She had a weird look here and a strange expression there, so I was expecting the reveal and was mostly sure that it wouldn’t be cut. I was first introduced to Jones in The Theory of Everything, since then she has moved to way bigger things. On top of being in Inferno and another possible awards’ contender for this year – A Monster Calls – she will also play the lead in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story.
  • Ben Foster as Bertrand Zobrist was good. He didn’t get a lot of screen-time – he actually mostly appeared in flashbacks or in videos. Nevertheless, he played a solid mad genius. Foster’s recent performances include The ProgramThe Finest HoursWarcraft and one of my favorite movies from this year Hell or High Water.
  • Omar Sy (The IntouchablesJurassic Worldas Christoph BouchardSidse Babett Knudsen (A Hologram for the King) as Elizabeth Sinskey and Irrfan Khan (Life of Pi, Jurassic World, The Jungle Book Hindi version) as Harry Sims were also great in their supporting roles. Khan probably stood out the most out of the three of them just because his character was so interesting – wish we could have explored his backstory and his company more.

In short, Inferno was a solid action adventure film with some art history sprinkled on top. It had an okay writing, good directing and nice performances. It wasn’t a special or groundbreaking movie, but I still had fun with it and definitely do not understand why critics hate it so much.

Rate: 3.5/5

Trailer: Inferno trailer

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Movie review: Hell or High Water

Movie reviews

Hello!

Today, we are talking about one of the most critically acclaimed indie films of 2016. It’s the review of Hell or High Water.

IMDb summary: A divorced dad and his ex-con brother resort to a desperate scheme in order to save their family’s ranch in West Texas.

Writing

Actor-turned-screenwriter Taylor Sheridan wrote Hell or High Water’s script and did an amazing job. This screenplay was actually the winner of 2012’s Black List and I’m really happy that it was turned into a movie, even if 4 years later than it should have been. Sheridan also penned the script for last year’s Sicario – a standout movie of 2015. Both Sicario and Hell or High Water share some similarities: the two stories are both set in the southern states of the US and the particular setting has a role in the narrative. Also, both movies are quite slow – the plots are allowed to unravel by themselves, the films are never rushed and the important moments aren’t just montaged through.

Hell or High Water’s story is also really successful in its emotional appeal. It deals with the universal topic of family and explores the relationship between two brothers superbly. It also does a good job of making the viewers sympathize with all the characters. I, personally, wanted the brother to succeed, even though they were criminals, and I also wanted the two rangers to succeed in their quest.

These sympathies arose from the subtle character development, which was dispersed throughout the whole film. By listening to the dialogue and seemingly random banter we find out a lot about the characters: we discovered the reason for the heists and why the brothers seemed to have an estranged relationship. The friendly teasing between the rangers helped us to get a few hints into the history of the two law-enforcers – we uncovered the ancestry of one of them and the approaching retirement of the other.

Lastly, I really loved the way the ending of the film was written. I always enjoy this type of open-ending when it is done right. Sometimes, when the movie just ends abruptly, without answering any questions, the whole story falls flat but, when the film leaves you with just one or few unresolved issues, like Hell or High Water did, the narrative both finishes and is permitted to live on in the minds of those who witnessed it. Both the characters and the viewers will be haunted by this story.

Directing

A Scottish director David Mackenzie did a magnificent job directing Hell or High Water. He utilized the setting of Texas splendidly and showed the rural areas, the open spaces and the little beat-up towns in long and extremely long tracking shots. He also gave the story a lot of breathing room – although every scene was carefully and beautifully crafted, the movie seemed to flow very organically and naturally. The feature’s color plate was also really nice – warm tons filled the screen and made every shot look like an old vintage photograph.

I also loved all the shots were the modernity and the traditional old-school ways of life were juxtaposed. The setting of Texas, where people still live in old ranches and work with cattle and horses but also have modern gas pumps, was an appropriate location for this juxtaposition. To me, the scene in the gas station was amazing – not only did it have us that unexpected fight but we also got a frame with both a horse and a cowboy and a new sports car with two fake gangster youngsters. Lastly, the fact that everybody seemed to have a gun in the film was not only a funny aspect of the movie but also a very realistic one.

Music

Hell or High Water’s soundtrack by Nick Cave and Warren Ellis really added to the atmosphere of the film. Fitting to the setting of Texas, the film’s visuals were accompanied by cool country music. The picture also had this really nice instrumental theme to supplement the long tracking shots of the characters driving or moving through a frame in any other way.

Acting

  • Jeff Bridges as Marcus Hamilton, a Texas Ranger was amazing. The way he delivered the jokes and teased other characters was truly enjoyable to watch. It’s probably one of Bridges best performances out of the recent years because he did have a few flops lately, like The Giver or Seventh Son. I hope this role is the signal that he is back on track and I do hope that his contribution to Kingsman 2, coming out next year, will be worth the wait.
  • Chris Pine as Toby Howard was also really good. I’m starting to like Pine more and more in these rugged, less clean-cut and more challenging roles. Yes, he is also good in Hollywood blockbusters, like Star Trek and Into the Woods, but is more fun to see him try something different. A few recent smaller films of his that I suggest you watch are Z for Zachariah and The Finest Hours. Of course, let’s not forget to check out his blockbuster work too – Wonder Woman is only 10 months away.
  • Ben Foster as Tanner Howard was also really good. I’ve only recently started noticing him in films, the last one being The Program, in which he played the lead role of Lance Amstrong. In a few weeks, Foster will also play the main antagonist in Inferno, which I’m also looking forward too.
  • Gil Birmingham as Alberto Parker, Hamilton’s partner was also really good. I hope that the teases that his character received weren’t too offensive to both Mexicans and Native Americans. I really loved his speech about how the white colonialists took everything from his character’s people, only to lose the winnings of the pillage to the banks.

In short, Hell or High Water is one of the best films of the year so far. It’s masterfully crafted and slow, but immensely engaging. The acting is amazing, the writing is spectacular and the directing – excellent. A must watch for any fans of Westerns and heist movies.

Rate: 5/5

Trailer: Hell or High Water trailer

P.S. Weirdly, my next movie review will also be that of a Western – The Magnificient Seven.

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Movie review: Florence Foster Jenkins 

Movie reviews

Good morning/day/evening!

Although the awards’ season doesn’t fully start until the late fall, some potential awards contenders have already had their premieres. I was lucky enough to attend one of such screenings, so, let’s talk about a movie that could possibly get some high brow nominations just because of who is involved in it, both in front and behind the camera. This is the review of Florence Foster Jenkins.

IMDb summary: The story of Florence Foster Jenkins, a New York heiress who dreamed of becoming an opera singer, despite having a terrible singing voice.

Writing

Florence Foster Jenkins was written by a TV screenwriter Nicholas Martin. This British comedy was based on a quite fascinating true story. The film mainly focused on its titular character, so the writing for the movie was essentially the writing for a specific character.

Florence Foster Jenkins is not a character or an actual person that anyone can like but that anyone can be intrigued by. She was a sweet eccentric. The first act of the film kinda made her into a laughable caricature – a singer that didn’t know that she couldn’t sing. However, the following two acts really added depth to her character and showed that she was actually a caring, friendly and generous individual that had been hurt in the past but didn’t allow these past troubles to define her. Of course, these positive appearances and the optimistic aura were only kept up because she was sheltered from all criticism. Moreover, nobody ever said no to her. Was that because she was sick or because she was rich? The cynic in me is leaning towards the second option but I really do hope that Florence had people in her life, who were taking caring of her out of the goodness of their hearts and not out of the emptiness of their pockets.

I, as a realist/pessimist, don’t think that being exposed to only good things is beneficial to anyone. However, it was advantageous to Florence – she lived her dream and died in it. She might haven’t known how to sing but nobody can’t say that she didn’t sing. I haven’t seen many films who presented music and life in a way that Florence Foster Jenkins did.

Directing

The film was directed by Stephen Frears, who previously directed such pictures as 2006’s awards contender and winner The Queen, 2013’s awards’ contender Philomena and last year’s Lance Armstrong biopic The Program. I wouldn’t be surprised if Florence Foster Jenkins gets a few nominations as well because it is a solid comedy with a very specific atmosphere. This atmosphere will either make you hate or love the movie. Basically, the movie Florence Foster Jenkins was oversaturated with poshness and aristocratic and rich aura. The sense of entitlement and high-class privilege were also abundant. This whole thing was quite laughable in today’s time or in any time for that matter. Since I don’t come from a background like this, that whole affair made me chuckle more than a couple of times. That’s why I think that Florence is a picture for a very specific audience, which is hard to define. If you come from a middle-class background, you will either love the movie and laugh a lot or you will hate it and be offended by it. I wonder how would the viewers from the upper class feel about it – would they see themselves on screen and love it? Or would they see this film as making fun of them?

As I have mentioned, I laughed a lot during this film. Not only did the actual singing scenes and the whole atmosphere were both funny – the reaction shots of the other characters were hilarious as well. Florence Foster Jenkins was both a feel-good and a heartbreaking movie that made me laugh and then put a sad smile on my face. It was nicely tied up with the photos of the real-life Florence during the credits.

Acting

Meryl Streep, of course, is the main awards’ whisperer for this film. She has been nominated for an Oscar 19 times and has won 3 times, the last one being in 2012. I would not be surprised if she gets another nomination because she was is magnificent in the film. It was very interesting to see arguably the best actress of this and the previous generation playing the role  of a terrible actress/singer. My first introduction to Streep as a performer was in the movie musical Mamma Mia – my favorite guilty pleasure film. In the past few years, she has gone back to this genre, with 2014’s Into The Woods, 2015’s Ricki and the Flash and now with Florence Foster Jenkins. Streep has also proved everyone that she can pick any role she likes and just nail it. I also think that if anybody else would have played Florence in this feature, I would have been super annoyed by her as a character. However, Streep added a lot of emotional depth to a seemingly vain caricature and actually made me care about Florence and her first world problems.

Hugh Gran starred as Florence’s last husband St Clair Bayfield. Their relationship was extremely interesting. Throughout the movie, I couldn’t fully figure out if St Clair and their whole friend circle were gold-diggers or did they actually cared about Florence? St Clair did have a girlfriend on a side but he was also always there for Florence – even on her death bed, so there are arguments both for and against the matter. A few of Grant’s films that I have been watching lately were Sense and Sensibility from the 90s as well as the last summer’s The Man from U.N.C.L.E. He also has co-starred in one of my favorite films of all time – Cloud Atlas.

The last main member of the cast – the pianist Cosmé McMoon was played by Simon Helberg. His reaction faces were both super awkward and marvelous. The way he was trying not to laugh was also amazing. I felt that the character of Cosmé was a stand-in for the viewer in the picture. The actor who played this role – Simon Helberg – is a talented TV comedian that has been part of the critically acclaimed The Big Bang Theory since 2007. 

In short, Florence Foster Jenkins was an extremely entertaining film that also made me think. I still have conflicting feelings about it and its narrative. I do wish that somebody would have told Florence the truth but, at the same time, I am happy that nobody did it and that she was allowed to live happily and freely as long as possible.

Rate: 4,5/5

Trailer: Florence Foster Jenkins trailer

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