Movie review: La La Land

Movie reviews

Hello!

Today, I had a chance to see the current awards front-runner – the film La La Land – so let’s review it! I have read a lot of emotional (both positive and negative) tweets about it in my feed these past few weeks, but, as usual, I decided to make up my own mind by watching it.

IMDb summary: A jazz pianist falls for an aspiring actress in Los Angeles.

I would like to begin by saying that La La Land is very much an indie picture – it won’t please the majority of the mainstream audiences and it certainly didn’t appeal to the majority of the people at my screening, who were complaining throughout the whole runtime. Despite their actions, I took La La Land for what it was – a niche musical about Hollywood – and had a great time watching it.

Writing

La La Land was written by Damien Chazelle, who also directed the picture. Chazelle is best known for directing and writing 2014’s awards winner Whiplash, but he also wrote the recent 10 Cloverfield Lane. I, personally, found La La Land’s story to be interesting. It wasn’t the most original but it was executed quite well. I, as a fan of cinema, have always enjoyed movies set in LA and Hollywood. Musicals have also always been my guilty pleasure genre. La La Land combined both of these things in a more successful way than Hail, Caesar – another recent film about Hollywood that featured some musical numbers. Lastly, I loved all the homages in La La Land, especially, the Rebel Without a Cause recreation.

Thematically, the film was also quite good. The character development was great as well – the two leads appeared as fully rounded and real characters. I saw some complaints saying that the lead female character was really unlikeable. To my mind, firstly, the characters don’t necessarily have to be likable to interesting. Secondly, I thought that not only the female lead but the male lead had some qualities that made them unlikeable. Besides, real people aren’t always likable too, so why should then the movie characters be over-idealized versions of us? I though that the main pair’s relationship had its ups and downs and that both individuals involved were damaged as well as rewarded by it. She might not have gotten to fulfill her dreams without him but neither would he have reached his goals without her. Not surprisingly, one of my favorite scenes from the writing perspective was their argument over dinner – it had great timing and a lot of emotional weight. Overall, I did enjoy the message of the film, so dream big because somebody has to.

Directing

For the most part, I really enjoyed La La Land’s directing. I loved the mixture of the long tracking shots and the speedy montages. I liked the upbeat energy of it, the dreamy atmosphere, the colorful pallet as well as the beautiful settings and the whole mise-en-scene. However, I think that the picture’s pace was a bit uneven and that the film was a tiny bit too long.

My biggest problem with La La Land was the fact that the movie was confused about its genre. Maybe this was an intentional decision and if so, I don’t think that this particular blend of genres worked. La La Land, at times, was a realistic, grounded, quite modern film, close to a drama. However, a few scenes later, it would very much remind of a filmed theater performance – the levels of overdramatization would go through the roof. This would happen a lot during the musical numbers, which sometimes made the movie seem like a live TV special, like Grease: Live! and Hairspray: Live! I wish the filmmakers would have picked one direction and followed it: either make La La Land into a fully modern or a fully traditional musical.

So, even though La La Land didn’t reach the quality of Singing in the Rain, it still had some pretty enjoyable sequences. A couple of my favorites were all the times when Ryan Gosling’s character played the main theme of the film. I also really like Gosling’s and Stone’s interaction during the ‘I ran’ performance. The dream sequence was also lovely and looked visually stunning. I liked The Messengers’ gig scene too. However, my favorite sequence was the dance with the city’s skyline in the background. 

Music

Justin Hurwitz was responsible for the soundtrack and I think he did a neat job. Although I’m not the biggest fan of jazz, I did appreciate its tunes and all the nostalgia surrounding them in this film. Other songs were beautiful as well but not catchy in that pop-music kinda way. Nevertheless, City of Stars is a magnificent song.

Acting

Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone made for a great lead duo. Their chemistry was amazing as usual, as this was not the first time they worked together – they have also started in Crazy, Stupid, Love (one of my favorite romantic comedies) and a passable thriller Gangster Squad. Both of the actors did a good job with their singing – theirs were not the best singing performances I’ve seen in a film but they weren’t the worst either. I absolutely loved the dancing, though. I don’t know if the two of them are going to win any big awards in the acting category but I could definitely spot a few scenes that were included in their awards reels. For Gosling, it could have been any of the piano playing scenes, while for Stone it was most likely the audition storytelling/singing sequence.

A few of my favorite Stone’s film are Easy A, Magic in the Moonlight, Irrational Man, and Birdman. Going forward, she has a sport’s comedy Battle of the Sexes listed for next year. Gosling’s best film are Blue Valentine, Drive, The Big Shortand The Nice Guys. He will star in the Blade Runner sequel next year.

The film’s supporting cast didn’t have much to do in the film, but I’d like to mention two individuals who stood out. First one was, of course, well-known singer John Legend – has was great. The second one – J.K.Simmons – it was nice of him to cameo in a different movie by Chazelle as Whiplash earned Simmons an Academy Award and it was nice of Chazelle to include him in the film for the same reason.

To conclude, La La Land was a gorgeous looking film with a nice story, lovely performances, and great music. However, I can’t recommend it as a must-watch as I think that only a very open minded audience would enjoy it. With musicals, like this one, you just have to go with everything and do not find the random bursting out into song moments awkward or uncomfortable.

Rate: 4/5

Trailer: La La Land trailer

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Movie review: Zootopia

Movie reviews

Hello!

Welcome to my last post in the series ‘Movie Reviews of the 2016’s films I’ve missed’. I have already discussed Hardcore Henry and Midnight Special. Today, I will be giving you my thoughts on Zootopia – that Pixar film made by Disney.

IMDb summary: In a city of anthropomorphic animals, a rookie bunny cop and a cynical con artist fox must work together to uncover a conspiracy.

Writing and Themes

Zootopia’s screenplay was written by Jared Bush (has worked on Big Hero 6 and Moana) and Phil Johnston (wrote Wreck-It Ralph), however, a bunch of people have contributed to the story, including Zootopia’s directors, former The Simpson’s director Jim Reardon and even Frozen’s Jennifer Lee among others. Thankfully, this was not the case of ‘too many cooks in the kitchen make a horrible meal’ but a complete opposite. Zootopia’s story was simple yet sophisticated and the concepts that were discussed in this supposedly kids’ movie – very adult and nuanced. The film reminded me a bit of Inside Out – that children’s movie also tackled big and serious issues.

Zootopia had a strong message about the importance of tolerance, knowledge and open-mind and showed the true awfulness of prejudice, bullying, violence, racism, and sexism. It also tackled the question of biological divide through the prey vs. predator metaphor. Zootopia portrayed the consequences of letting the biological divide become a social one and provided nice commentary on issues such as genders norms, racial, financial and religious differences. Other opposing ideas that were touched upon were conservativism vs. liberalism, idealism vs. reality, nature vs. nurture and us vs. them. The line ‘we might have evolved but we are still animals’ was an extremely telling and truthful commentary on the animalistic side of humans – I’m really happy that Zootopia’s creators were not afraid to be so blunt. In additiom., the film also encouraged its viewers to believe in themselves, to fight the self-doubt, to dream and to work towards their goals, to learn from their mistakes, to never quit and prove the nay-sayers wrong. Moreover, Zootopia showed that revenge is never an answer. Lastly, the film had a nice conclusion and wrapped up nicely – the final message that life is complicated and messy but still beautiful was a really good way to end the picture.

Zootopia also had a very strong writing for all its characters. The different species represented different types of people and the choices of species were simultaneously stereotypical and subversive. The two main characters were also very relatable. I could relate to Officer Judy Hopps on a personal level, like, I’m sure, many millennials with big dreams could, but I also understood and appreciated the sarcasm and the irony of Nick Wilde, the fox.

The picture also had amazing jokes and references. ‘Don’t call a bunny cute’ line was perfect and the extended scene with The Godfather was unbelievable. Breaking Bad reference was neat too.  The joke with the sloths was also nice as well as that moment with Nick and Assistant Mayor, a.k.a. the sheep. In general, Zootopia had a lot of funny situations that were organic. The jokes were never pushed too far but happened naturally.

Zootopia, the movie, reminded me of my favorite childhood book What do people do all day?by Richard Scarry. It’s a picture book with some lines of dialogue – probably closest to a comic but not fully a comic. Anyway, What do people do all day? shows simple activities being carried out by various animals. That book is used to introduce kids to different careers and it used to be favorite read from ages 5 till 10. I still like to flick through it when I’m feeling nostalgic.

Directing and Animation

Zootopia was directed by Byron Howard (directed Bolt and Tangled, animated Mulan, Brother Bear and Lilo&Stitch) and Rich Moore (directed Wreck-It Ralph). The two directors, as well as all the Disney’s animators, did a wonderful job. The graphics of the landscapes and the character design were marvelous and realistic. The action – exciting and that montage of Hopps arriving in Zootopia – a perfect locational step up. The attention to detail was also spectacular. For example, Hopps was using her iPhone’s (iCarrot’s) flashlight like so many people do nowadays – this little detail made the film even more realistic and contemporary. I also enjoyed the usage of Shakira’s song Try Everything. It was fun and fit the film perfectly. Basically, I feel like Zootopia transcended the animation genre and was really good buddy-cop comedy and a crime drama that just happened to be animated.

I am really happy that this film was financially and critically successful. Critical success means that it will probably be awarded an Oscar or at least nominated for it. Financial success means that a lot of people saw the film, thus, a lot of people can learn from it – ‘Change starts with all of us’.

Voice Work

All of the members of the cast did a magnificent job. The voices fit the characters perfectly. The leads, Ginnifer Goodwin and Jason Bateman, had really good chemistry. Idris Elba as Chief Bogo was also really good – I could instantly tell that that was him. Lately, Elba has been doing a lot of voice work: he voiced characters in The Jungle Book and Finding Dory. The other standout was Nate Torrence as Officer Benjamin Clawhauser, an obese cheetah. I really liked his performance and the character in general.

In short, Zootopia was an amazing film that was gorgeous to look at, but also engaged the viewers intellectually by discussing important and serious, real-world topics. The voice work was also stellar. In general, it was such a cute film (although, never call a bunny cute if you’re a not bunny!)

Rate: 5/5

Trailer: Zootopia trailer

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Movie review: Jurassic World

Movie reviews

Hello!

Welcome to another movie review of this summer movie season. Let’s just jump right into it and talk about Jurassic World.

To begin with, I would like to admit that I am a huge Jurassic Park franchise fan. I remember watching the original trilogy at home on my super small TV and still falling completely in-love with that world and being simply mesmerized by the dinosaurs. I loved dinosaurs even before I watched Jurassic Park. My favorite childhood animated movie was and probably still is The Land Before Time. Interestingly, both the animation and the Jurassic Park franchise are produced by Steven Spielberg. 

Anyway, this was my first time experienced Jurassic dinosaurs on the silver screen and I really loved the experience. I was probably as excited for this film as I was excited for the Avengers. Shockingly, both of these films are not my favorite motion picture of this summer so far, despite the the prior excitement.  While Jurassic World and Age of Ultron are sharing the 2nd place, the top spot goes to a movie that I knew nothing about – Mad Max Fury Road

So, let’s stay on topic and talk about the big comeback of the Jurassic franchise. We could call Jurassic World the beginning of the 2nd trilogy because I am sure that they are going to make more movies with all that cash flowing in because of this one. If you haven’t heard, Jurassic World had the biggest domestic opening weekend and the biggest global opening weekend.

IMDb summary: Twenty-two years after the events of Jurassic Park, Isla Nublar now features a fully functioning dinosaur theme park, Jurassic World, as originally envisioned by John Hammond. After 10 years of operation and visitor rates declining, in order to fulfill a corporate mandate, a new attraction is created to re-spark visitors’ interest, which backfires horribly.

Script

The screenplay of the film had the most problems. Some of characters’ actions seemed extremely out of place, their intentions – unclear or unexplained and their development – unfinished. Moreover, while that ending pleased my inner 3 year old, it felt quite distant from the rest of the film. Also, I was sad that this movie lacked some scientific explanations, even the made-up ones. I mean, they were creating dinosaurs from scratch and they didn’t even told us how they did that. They probably didn’t even know how they did that.

The only part of the script which I really loved was the call-backs to the original film. The small Easter Eggs were as pleasing as the opportunity to actually see the broken down original park.

The twists of the film were enjoyable. They should have been excepted but, since I usually tend to shut half of my brain down, when watching action films, I didn’t see them coming.

Visual effects

While the first Jurassic Park revolutionized the computer effects and made some great use out of the practical effects, 4th’s film’s effects were just okay. I mean they were cool to watch but we expected that. Now, practically all the movies have awesome CGI. But we, as a viewers, are getting tired of the same old thing, as did the attendees of the Jurassic World got tired of normal dinosaurs.

Directing 

The film was directed by Colin Trevorrow. He is quite an unknown director and I think he did a nice job. The scenes were interesting, the wide shots worked but there wasn’t anything revolutionary or completely breathtaking like in the first flick by Spielberg.

Acting

The movie had a lot of character and I will try to talk about the majority of them.

My favorite performance was, of course, the one by Chris Pratt. He really shined in this film and cemented himself as an A-list movie star. I liked how cool he looked and how genuinely he cared for the velociraptors. All the scenes with him and them were amazing. I want to buy an action figure of either Blue, Echo, Charlie or Delta. Or better, of all of them.

Our lead female, played by Bryce Dallas Howard was also an interesting character. I liked how she was a complete 180 of Chris Pratt’s character. Also, I applaud her for running in heels –  I cannot even walk in them properly.

Nick Robinson and Ty Simpkins played the two nephews who got lost. I wish their relationship would have been developed more. Their parents divorce story could have been caught out completely, but maybe some flashbacks to the kid’s childhood would have helped the audience to care more about them.

Vincent D’Onofrio as the Kingpin, sorry, InGen security guy was okay. His actions seemed extremely stupid but that just made me hate his character even more, so the payoff was all that sweeter.

Irrfan Khan as the owner of the Jurassic Park was the most out of place character. His last scene was also disappointing.

Omar Sy added some diversity to the cast. I liked his interactions with Chris Pratt’s character. They seemed like they really got a log well and I like when co-workers become real life friends.

B.D. Wong was the crazy doctor who created Indominus Rex. He gave of Frankenstein type of vibe and the Indominus was his monster. His smirk also just screamed “I am a Bad Guy”. He was also the only returning character from the first film.

Jake Johnson played the funniest character of the film. I wish he had more commentary scenes.

Lastly, Katie McGrath’s last scene was unexpected. I wasn’t really sure if they were gong to go there but they went the far-rest route and I kinda liked it. I at least, laughed because of it.

Themes

The main theme that I want to discuss is the fact that we, as a species, have no boundaries. We always go that extra mile too far and the we suffer some dire consequences. When will we learn how to press STOP? I know that modernization and innovations are important and I fully support them, but we cannot forget that there is a limit to everything.

Ending

SPOILER-Y PART. 

The way the movie brought back the original T-Rex was really awesome. He had a redemption arc, turning from the villain to a hero. I really loved his appearance too: he seemed old (as he should be) and the scars only added to the overall visual appeal. I also liked how the T-Rex versus the Indominus Rex represented the fight between the nature and a man. T- Rex represents the real and raw nature while the Indominus is genetically modified and nurtured to be a killing machine and to bring profit (not necessary a financial one) to the humans. As we saw from that fight, nature usually comes out on top, so maybe we should stop fighting it?

To sum up, this movie was enjoyable, it had some flaws, but, as a fan, I could close one eye and pretend that I didn’t spot them. The pacing of the film was wonky and it lacked the suspension of the original film, but I was still able to catch a glimpse of that Jurassic Park original feeling of amazement. If they would just focus up more, I am sure the sequels would turn out as good as the original film is.

Rate 4/5

Trailer: Jurassic World trailer 

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Movie review: The Huger Games Mockingjay Part 1

Movie reviews

Hello!

I have just come home from The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1 premiere at my local cinema. This is going to be my completely biased review because I am a huge fan of THG and I would much rather turn a blind eye to anything they did wrong than admit that it was wrong. SPOILERS AHEAD

Book to Movie changes

I have read all 3 The Hunger Games books by Suzanne Collins 4 years ago when they were released in my mother tongue because, back then, I couldn’t read in English well enough to understand the story. So, since I have read the books quite a long time ago, I couldn’t remember the exact events to the smallest detail. However, this made the movie even more enjoyable for me because I knew that something big was going to happen but didn’t actually know what and could be as excited as other non-readers.

Visuals and Music

The visuals, the scenery and the special effects were great. Cinematography was done by Jo Willems. The film was edited by Alan Edward Bell and Mark Yoshikawa. The district 13 looked exactly as I have imagined it. The musical score by James Newton Howard as well as Katniss’s song were also special additions to the film. Moreover, the whistling of the Mockingjay theme is my ringtone and I jump every time somebody calls me.

Directing

The director Francis Lawrence did an amazing job as with the 2d film .I wish he would have directed the 1st film as well, but they probably will reboot The Hunger Games in 20 years, so he might get his chance.

Touching moments

I have already mentioned one of my favorite touching moments – that Katniss’s song about a hanging tree. I loved how the people sang that song while going to a fight. Plus, the hospital scene and the hand sign sent shivers down my back. All the propaganda videos also contained powerful messages that were touching and terrifying at the same time.

Character by character

Jennifer Lawrence was amazing as Katniss as you would expect. I have so much respect for Lawrence as an actress and I will always be a huge fan of her and will go to see any movie she is in. Katniss is an idol to so many girls in a contemporary world. We can all find a piece of ourselves in her. I can relate to Katniss because we are both stubborn and don’t give up without a fight even if we know that we might definitely lose or at least het hurt in a process. Of course, I haven’t faced the challenges that Katniss has faced with but I channel her strength, energy and power to fight my own everyday battles.

Josh Hutcherson as Peeta: Josh had a chance to shine as an actor and he delivered for sure. Even though you saw him only through a double screen, his eyes, and his facial expressions portrayed so many emotions. And the physical and mental changes he went through were also mind boggling.

Liam Hemsworth as Gale:  I really enjoyed Gale as a character, just wish he would have gotten more screen time. Although, the scene where he is talking about the destruction of the district 12 was an extremely powerful moment.

Sam Claflin as Finnick: I am a huge fan of Sam Claflin. (Review of his last film Love, Rosie here). I really wanted to see more of Finnick on screen. The way he delivered the monologue which was used as a distraction was amazing. His eyes showed so much hate and so much disgust towards capital, although, behind the toughness you could see that he was hurt deeply.

Woody Harrelson as Haymitch: It was strange to see Haymtich sober but I loved his and Katniss dysfunctional/ loving relationship.

Elizabeth Banks as Effie: Effie has undergone so many changes through the franchise. Both her looks and her way of thinking changed tremendously. And I have to say – for the better. She looks so much better without the wigs and the make-up and the puffy dresses. Also, we all know that she grew up in the capital and her ability to see that the capital needs to be destroyed gives me hope that other capital citizens will turn to the good side too.

Philip Seymour Hoffman as Plutarch: I have a strong admiration for this actor’s work and I was really sad when I’ve heard the news about his death. The world lost a remarkable talent who will be missed.

Julianne Moore as President Coin: Moore’s performance was great. I have two completely different emotions when talking about her character. I understand that she has to be a cruel and serious president in order for the rebellion to succeed. However, her intentions seem shady to me. It might be the problem only for me because the one thing I can clearly remember from the book is that Coin is not what she seems to be.

Donald Sutherland as President Snow: I have such strong and hateful feelings towards Snow. He is a natural dictator. The biggest problem is, however, not his decisions as a dictator but the pleasure he gets from making them.

Natalie Dormer as Cressida: Natalie is such an intelligent young woman who I admire. I have recently seen the press conference and a few interviews with her about this film and she is so well spoken and so smart. I am also a huge fan of her on Game of Thrones.  Cressida was the most relatable character for me because I would like to make movies one day and I can understand that the events in real life and through a camera lens look completely different.

I also loved Willow Shields as Primrose and Stanley Tucci as Caesar.  Willow grew as an actress alongside her character and Tucci is amazing with fake acting.

Themes

This movie has so many meanings and so many layers. You can talk about it without a break.

The first and the most obvious theme is the fight against dictatorship. Throughout history my country has been occupied several times, and since I am familiar with my country’s history, I can understand the cruelty, the insanity and the inhumanity of dictatorship. But history has already happened and we live in a now and we are dreaming about the future.  This film hits the audience right where it hurts: if we don’t take actions to preserve democracy, we will end up under the iron fist of a dictator once more in a near future.

You can also draw similarities between the movie and the current actions in the Middle East, Africa, Ukraine and other countries where rebellions are rising and where people are fighting for their beliefs. I just wish their beliefs would be based on facts and not speculations and I only want the people to know what they are truly fighting for.

Another theme of the movie is the power of propaganda and the media. As I have said, the camera lenses can manipulate the truth and turn it into a weapon.

Another theme that stuck in to my mind was the inner fight of Katniss. She is dived between her personal and public goals. She wants her nation to be free but she also wants to be happy with Peeta or Gale. I have recently written an essay in my Literature class on this topic and I have come to the conclusion that you cannot succeed in both spheres, you have to pick one. And Katniss still haven’t made a clear decision but she will do it in a 4th film.

The film also portrays the war very realisticly and shows that, in war, there is no honor, no heroism, and no humanity. (This is the view of authors, painters and philosophers from the
Romanticism movement.)

These are the main themes I wanted to discuss. However, the film has so many more details and metaphorical meanings. Every character’s ark is full of examples that we can learn from. For instance, Effie shows us that the upbringing isn’t the only thing that defines a person. Gale’s story ark is all about the ability to cope with the losses and the understanding that sometimes it’s enough to be your best self.

All in all, since I am a huge fan of THG, I can’t give it a bad review even if I wanted to. But I don’t want to! I loved the movie, the themes, the acting, the visuals and, basically, everything about it. The story was smooth and it had flown perfectly, I couldn’t divide the movie into 3 separate acts. Although, some scenes could have been longer and some actors could have gotten more screen time. But I am not complaining, this was only a Part 1 and they were just laying the ground work for an epic closing chapter to this worldwide phenomenon.

Rate: 5/5 (no surprise here, huh?)

Trailer: Mockingjay trailer

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