Movie review: Ocean’s 8

Movie reviews

Hello!

And welcome back to the sporadic AF movie reviews. Ocean’s 8 is the topic for today.

IMDb summary: Debbie Ocean gathers an all-female crew to attempt an impossible heist at New York City’s yearly Met Gala.

Writing

Ocean’s 8 – a spin-off of the original trilogy rather than its reboot (this is no Ghostbusters) – was written by the director of the film Gary Ross and Olivia Milch (she is writing a Barbie movie next, don’t know how to react to that). There was a lot to like in the script. To begin with, I liked how this action film was kept feminine with the focus on the MetGala and diamonds. A decision to make women steal diamonds might be seen as playing into stereotypes. However, I’d argue that by keeping a feminine focus, Ocean’s 8 fights the stereotype that strong women, especially female action stars, have to be masculine. Some of them might be masculine, while others might prefer femininity (or a mixture of the two). And Ocean’s 8 showcases that by having a variety of women of different colors/shapes/sizes/styles as the core characters. While the character development isn’t plentiful, there is enough of it to make each character necessary and at least a tiny bit interesting.

Additionally, while Ocean’s 8 stands on the shoulders of the original Ocean’s trilogy, it doesn’t lean on them too hard, meaning that one can go into this movie not knowing anything of the first 3 films and completely get the plot of this one. As I wasn’t a fan of the original films, I also didn’t mind some of the developments/reveals about the original characters in this film (some fans might actually be legitimately annoyed by them). Personally, my main problem with this movie was its structure. I loved the first two acts – the pre-heist set-up and the actual heist. However, I feel like the whole 3rd act, rather than being a big finale, was a boring wrap-up that dragged immensely. The investigation and the reveals felt both rushed and like the movie was overstaying its welcome.

Directing

Gary Ross (of the first Hunger Games film and Free State of Jonesdirected Ocean’s 8, while Steven Soderbergh – the director behind Ocean’s 11,12, and 13 – stayed on as a producer. I thought that Ross handled the material well, the narrative made sense and was intense for the most part. Pacing had some issues, especially the pacing of the aforementioned third act. The glitz and the glamours of the MetGala were realized accurately.

Acting

Undeniably, the best part about Ocean’s 8 was its cast: Sandra BullockCate BlanchettAnne HathawayMindy KalingSarah PaulsonAwkwafinaRihanna, and Helena Bonham Carter. I adored the female solidarity and friendship on display. Cate Blanchett (Thor 3, Cinderella, Carol) was my absolute favorite – I loved her character’s outfits, charisma, and just effortless coolness. I also enjoyed seeing Hathaway (Alice 2) playing the gossip sites’ version of herself. I also loved seeing Bullock, back on screen in a lead role as I feel I haven’t seen her in a big movie in ages (since Gravity). Kaling (A Wrinkle in Time) and Paulson (The Post) were also really fun to see. I loved the uber contemporary vibes that Awkwafina brought to the film and I loved seeing Rihanna actually having a character to play rather than just being there to look pretty (*cough, cough*, Valerian. BTW, I’ve been to her concert some years before and wrote about that). Bonham Carter (Suffragette) was also good in the film, though I feel like she played her typical, slightly awkward and over-the-top type of a personality.

Ocean’s 8 also featured some cool celebrity cameos, some neat cameos by the original cast, and a short appearance by James Corden (Peter Rabbit), who is always a delight to see.

In short, Ocean’s 8 was a great all-female thriller. It might not please everyone, but then again, why does it have too?

Rate: 4/5

Trailer: Ocean’s 8 trailer

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5 ideas about a movie: Isle of Dogs

Movie reviews

Hello!

And welcome to a review of one peculiar little picture. This is Isle of Dogs.

IMDb summary: Set in Japan, Isle of Dogs follows a boy’s odyssey in search of his lost dog.

  1. Isle of Dogs was written and directed By Wes Anderson and was undeniably his picture. His style of filmmaking is just so unique and different that it is impossible to confuse his films with anyone else’s. While Anderson did write the screenplay himself, the story credits went to Roman Coppola, Jason Schwartzman (two of Anderson’s frequent collaborators), and Kunichi Nomura (a Japanse actor/writer who was also one of the two casting directors for this film).
  2. I have seen a lot of articles and comments online about Isle of Dogs in relation to the appropriation of Japanese culture. I certainly had a similar thought when watching the movie. I wasn’t entirely sure why the setting had to be Japan, though I found the interplay between the languages – English and Japanese – quite an interesting choice for the film. I also wouldn’t like to state that the filmmaker was definitely appropriating something as I believe that cultures should be shared. And yet, where is the line between respectful homage and appreciation versus malevolent appropriation?
  3. In my mind, Isle of Dogs’ story unfolded on two plains: the surface and the hidden one. The surface story was an elaborate but clear adventure narrative about some dogs and a boy fighting an evil empire. That story was a bit slow but the humor was still snappy (the comedic timing was quite impeccable). The deeper meaning that I took from the picture was the commentary on the modern society, which enjoys nothing more than othering and excluding people that it finds unsuitable for a whole number of reasons (a lot of which relate to the person’s identity).
  4. I highly enjoyed the format of Isle of Dogs. I have always been a fan of the stop-motion animation and I sill find it just so captivating. The amount of work that goes into this style of animation blows my mind every time I see a new film using it. The design of the animals was also great – real but not really. Every shot felt just so material: saturated with objects, colors, and textures. The symmetrical steady shots also felt very Anderson. The film was also very musical in that its score had an underlying beat, constantly ringing in the background, which provided a sort of rhythmic backdrop for the story. The animation, art, and music departments should get as much recognition for this movie as Anderson himself does.
  5. Isle of Dogs’ voice cast was full of Hollywood’s most recognizable and expressive voices that added so much to the picture. Bryan Cranston (Trumbo, Power Rangers), Edward Norton (Collateral Beauty), Bill Murray (The Jungle Book), Jeff Goldblum (ID2, Thor 3), Bob BalabanGreta Gerwig (Lady Bird), Frances McDormand (Three Billboards), Scarlett Johansson (Ghost in the Shell, MCU), and Tilda Swinton (Okja, Doctor Strange) all had roles of varying sizes.  On the Japanese front, Koyu Rankin, Kunichi Nomura, Akira Takayama and even Yoko Ono lent their voices to some characters.

In brief, Isle of Dogs was a bizarre and fascinating Wes Anderson-y ride that might or might not have been culturally insensitive.

Rate: 3.5/5

Trailer: Isle of Dogs trailer

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Movie review: Peter Rabbit

Movie reviews

Hello!

And welcome to a review of another vaguely Easter-themed movie that is not really about Easter and has been out for almost a month. This is Peter Rabbit!

IMDb summary: Feature adaptation of Beatrix Potter’s classic tale of a rebellious rabbit trying to sneak into a farmer’s vegetable garden.

Writing

Peter Rabbit was written by Rob Lieber (the writer of Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day) and the director Will Gluck. The film’s script was based on the characters and tales by Beatrix Potter. I haven’t come across Potter’s stories before so this movie was my introduction to them. And I absolutely loved the experience of watching the movie, even though I certainly wasn’t its target demographic.

The adorable nature of the whole thing was just undeniable. I feel like Peter Rabbit did the same thing with rabbits as Paddington did with bears: made them cute and British. I also loved the self-referential writing of the film and how the story wasn’t afraid of owning its cliches (the character flaws, ulterior motives said out loud, journey reduced to highlights). I also loved the cheeky humor. The film had a lot of simplistic physical humor but it also had a plethora of more adult snippets, poking fun at British nature, salads, and human contact (what a group). It also had a sweet rural romance and an overall nice message to share the love. That might sound cheesy and not particularly original, but when it is executed well, I can’t complain much and can only enjoy.

Directing

Will Gluck (the director of some of my favorite comedies, like Friends with Benefits and Easy A, as well as the Annie reboot from a few years ago) directed Peter Rabbit and crafted an energetic and infectious all-ages film. The live-action and animation combination was seamless. All the woodland creatures were both realistic and cutely cartoonish – there was just a perfect balance in their design. The main rabbits were goddamn adorable. Just look at those ears!

The paintings, which were included in the film as part of the story, were a stellar nod to the origins of the tales in illustrated children’s books. The credits, drawn in a similar fashion, were neat too. Speaking about the credits, there were quite a few scenes dispersed throughout them, so make sure you don’t leave as soon as the film ends. Peter Rabbit also had an amazing soundtrack, full of older and newer pop songs that made for some great cinematic moments.

Acting

Domhnall Gleeson played the human lead in the film and was an absolute delight to watch. He is one of the few constantly working actors, who stars in everything: experimental art pictures (mother!), mainstream franchises (Star Wars 7 and 8), indies (Unbroken), biographies of various genres (American Made, Goodbye Christopher Robin), and awards films (The Revenant, Brooklyn). His co-star Rose Byrne (X-Men: Apocalypse) was also good: very relatable and sympathetic. Sam Neill (Hunt for the Wilderpeople, The Commuter) also had a fun and unexpected cameo.

On the voice front, James Corden was just brilliant as Peter Rabbit. His three sisters were voiced by three equally brilliant actresses: Daisy Ridley (Star Wars 7+8, Murder on The Orient Express), Elizabeth Debicki (Guardians of the Galaxy 2, The Man from U.N.C.L.E.), Margot Robbie (Suicide Squad, I, Tonya, Goodbye Christopher Robin, The Legend of Tarzan). A TV actor Colin Moody was also fun to listen to in the role of the cousin rabbit.

In short, Peter Rabbit was a great kids movie that I, as an adult, enjoyed immensely! Maybe a bit too much. But that’s a conversation for a different time and a different platform.

Rate: 4.2/5

Trailer: Peter Rabbit trailer

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Movie review: Black Panther

Movie reviews

Hello!

Welcome to the review of the newest and, arguably, the most important Marvel movie! This is Black Panther!

IMDb summary: T’Challa, after the death of his father, the King of Wakanda, returns home to the isolated, technologically advanced African nation to succeed to the throne and take his rightful place as king.

As usual, before I start, my previous MCU reviews are here: Guardians 1 and 2, Avengers 2, Ant-Man, Doctor Strange, Civil War, Spider-Man: Homecoming, Thor 3.

Writing

Black Panther was written by the director of the film Ryan Coogler and Joe Robert Cole. I thought that the duo did a stellar job with the script. I’m not going to talk about the plot in detail, so as to keep this review spoiler free, other than to stay that a lot of narrative things happen in this film and a couple of them are quite unexpected. There are also a few of meaningful deaths (that might silence MCU critics who say that nobody ever dies in this universe). What I’m going to discuss more elaborately are the brilliant and multiple thematical concepts of Black Panther.

Just on the surface representational level, this film was a game changer. Black characters were elevated from the roles of the supporting friend/the funny sidekick/the one-scene cameo and were brought to the forefront. It’s also refreshing to see fictional black characters rather than real-life rebel slaves or civil rights activists (those smaller biographical movies are important too, but diversity in the blockbuster field is key as well). Also, even though this movie told a fictional story about fictional characters, it honored and paid homage to a lot of its real-world equivalents/inspirations, which raised a question for me: why haven’t we seen pictures about real, past or current, African tribes that were not documentaries???

Anyways, more on Black Panther paying homage to certain real-world ideas/events. I absolutely loved how the movie honored the connection that Africans have with their ancestors (and how in touch with their spirituality they are) as well their connection with nature (healing herbs, animals as deities). It was also great for the movie to acknowledge the violence within African culture (both the inner to the culture and the one coming from the west). Most importantly, it was just so amazing to see the Afrofuturism ideas on screen, which connected modernity with the traditional side of the culture. Scholars have been racking their brains about how to develop Africa without Westernizing it! Well, just do what Black Panther did: connect the two things rather than make one negate the other!

As the movie’s main character was a sovereign of a country, Black Panther also had some political commentary, mostly about a single country’s relation and obligation to the world. It also explored the well-known idea of the sins of the father reflecting of the children but in a royal context.  The film also had some fascinating things to say about communities, tribes or one’s ‘people’. How do we define that category? Do we draw lines based on race? Ethnicity? Nationality? Culture? Common beliefs and ideals? One of the central conflicts in the film was based on the fact that the villain and the hero of the story had different answers to that question. Speaking of the villain, Killmonger might be Marvel’s best one yet because he wasn’t just a villain but a character in his own right, whose goals were radical yet valid. The viewer could definitely understand his frustrations and reasons for his thinking.

Directing

Ryan Coogler (of Creedand Fruitvale Station) did an amazing job with Black Panther. He realized the visuals of Afrofuturism so well (with the help of production design, of course). The sets were brilliant and the costumes – absolutely impeccable and so cool as well! The action was really great too: fast-paced, intense, and meaningful for the plot. The pacing was also great!  The much-celebrated music of the movie was great (so it has been celebrated for a reason). I wanted to hear even more if it!

Acting

Black Panther assembled a stellar cast, led by Chadwick Boseman (Civil War) in a role that he was born to play. I’d love to see his involvement in the MCU leading to more non-biographical roles for him (cause I have seen him in quite a few biopics). Coogler’s collaborator Michael B. Jordan (Creed, Fantastic Four) played the villain and fully embodied the role, both physically and emotionally. I absolutely loved his character’s Americanized look too. An absolute scene stealer was Letitia Wright as the tech (and actual) princess. I loved her portrayal as a tech genius who was super excited about her creations and I also loved all her outfits and amazing sense of humor (bit cringe-y at times but so relatable). Lupita Nyong’o (The Jungle Book, The Force Awakens) also had a great role in the film – really loved seeing her in a big picture in person (not as in Star Wars, in motion capture).

Walking Dead’s Danai Gurira played an incredible role of the leader of Dora Milaje (who were all so amazing), while the breakout star of last year Daniel Kaluuya (Get Out) also had an interesting role to play (I loved how his character’s cape-like looking thing was also a shield). Winston Duke played a fun and multifaceted character too. Some more seasoned talent was also spotlighted: Angela Bassett was great as the mother of the king, while Forest Whitaker (Southpaw, Arrival, Rogue One) was perfect as an elderly statesman. Martin Freeman and Andy Serkis (War For The Planet of The Apes, The Last Jedi) also reprised their earlier roles in the MCU and were great. Freeman was a lovable CIA agent (not a word I’d use to describe a CIA agent, but, oh well), while Serkis was super crazy as one the villains of the film but it was really nice to see him in a non-motion capture performance.

Post-credits/End-credits (bit spoiler-y)

While Black Panther was mostly divorced from the MCU (it didn’t have many Easter Eggs that I could notice except of course the Stan Lee cameo), it did have a neat after-credits scene, where a fan-favorite from Civil War (‘White Wolf’) was defrosted. He seemed to be doing well in Wakanda.

The mid-credits scene was closely related to this picture and had a nice message of peaceful communication. It sounded a tiny bit naive but I can’t really fault hope.

In short, Black Panther was both a great Marvel comic book movie and a sophisticated game-changer in terms of representation for the whole context of modern cinema.

Rate: 4.8/5

Trailer: Black Panther trailer

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5 ideas about a movie: Early Man

Movie reviews

Hello!

While some people flocked to the theater to see the last Fifty Shades, I joined my favorite demographic – kids – at the cinema. This is Early Man.

IMDb summary: Set at the dawn of time, when prehistoric creatures and woolly mammoths roamed the earth, Early Man tells the story of Dug, along with sidekick Hognob as they unite his tribe against a mighty enemy Lord Nooth and his Bronze Age City to save their home.

  1. Early Man was written by Mark Burton (comedy writer) and James Higginson and directed by Nick Park (Chicken Run director). This animated feature comes from Aardman – one of the few stop-motion animation studios still working in the mainstream (the other studio being Laika). I have always loved this type of an animation style and the aforementioned style was one of the factors that drew me into the cinema to see Early Man.
  2. Having seen the trailer numerous times (they were showing it literally before every movie here in the UK, Aardman being a British company), I vaguely knew what the story was going to be and wasn’t certain how to feel about it. Part of me was thinking that it’s a good thing to educate children on the origin of humans but another part of me (the anthropology student) wasn’t sure how the film would handle the ideas of a ‘primitive’ (can’t stand that word anymore, thanks, anthropology). Anyways, Early Man’s solution to the tricky representation was to just make every character into an idiot and also, have the movie to turn out to be about something completely different: not the origin of humans but the invention of football.
  3. The whole football storyline (which was, basically, the main plotline) was where the movie shined. All the real world comparisons and jabs completely worked: starting with the instant replay puppets, unfair referee, players acting as if they were hurt and ending with Lord Nooth being a corrupt sports manager (‘Voluntary contribution…everybody has to pay’ was such a great oxymoron of a line). This whole idea to focus on football (or soccer for the US) also seemed very British/European. South America enjoys football too, so maybe this film will be financially successful down there. In addition to smart jokes, Early Man also had a plethora of really stupid ones, which I didn’t care for, but the primary audience (a.k.a. children in my screening) absolutely loved.
  4. The animation of the picture was really great and the character design stayed within the Aardman brand (more round, obviously clay-like characters in contrast to Laika’s more spindly and weirdly shaped ones). The pacing of the movie was good too and I did appreciate how quick and short it was. As all sports-movies (yes, Early Man is a sports movie), this film had a fun and quite inventive training montage. Lastly, I’d love to find out whether any of the football players in the movie were based on real athletes.
  5. Early Man’s voice cast featured some incredible British A-listers (their involvement was the second major draw to the movie for me, personally). Eddie Redmayne (Fantastic Beasts, The Danish Girl, Jupiter Ascending) was great as aloof, optimistic, and infectious lead Doug, while Tom Hiddleston (Thor 3, Kong, High-Rise) sounded like he had fun embodying such a caricaturish old-school villain. Game of Thrones’ Maisie Williams was basically voicing an animated version of Arya (only obsessed with football, not revenge). While one could definitely recognize the voices of all the actors, their accents did sound a bit thicker than usual, which seemed like an intentional choice to go with the overall tone of the film.

In short, Early Man was a lovely and neatly animated movie with a nice message of writing one’s own story. It also kinda made me want to watch a football match or even kick a ball around for a bit myself.

Rate: 4/5

Trailer: Early Man trailer

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Movie review: 12 Strong

Movie reviews

Hello!

Welcome to a review of another January release. This time around, it’s 12 Strong!

IMDb summary: 12 Strong tells the story of the first Special Forces team deployed to Afghanistan after 9/11; under the leadership of a new captain, the team must work with an Afghan warlord to take down for the Taliban.

Writing

12 Strong – a biographical action drama – was written by Ted Tally (adapted The Silence of the Lambs all those years ago) and Peter Craig (wrote both parts of Mockingjay and the upcoming Robin Hood and Top Gun 2), based on the non-fiction book ‘Horse Soldiers’ by a journalist Doug Stanton. Overall, the film’s script was very much ‘by the books’ but it also had a couple of original and unique ideas.

The movie’s set-up was typical. It included: a reminder that 9/11 happened (and simultaneously situated this film in a the war on terrorism timeline), a couple of scenes with the family members of the soldiers (and no other character development, except maybe a few bonding scenes with the other soldiers), and a single scene to introduce the villain (and honestly, his actions in the said scene were so despicable that that one scene was enough).

The ideas, which I found original, were few but present. I really liked the warlord’s speech about the difference between a warrior and a soldier. I’ve always thought about these two words as synonyms that meant the same, but, now, I see that they do slightly differ in the reasons for fighting (whether for survival or as a job). The warlord’s (whose beliefs were presented as very Western – was that an authentic feature or did the filmmakers wanted to make him more sympathetic to the Western audiences?) concluding statement, about the US becoming just another tribe in the Middle East rung very true, knowing the events that followed the ones of depicted in this picture. I really wish that the movie had more of a ‘looking back’ perspective like the one expressed in that monologue. Lastly, some questions that this movie (like all the others of this genre) raised but didn’t necessarily answer, for me personally, were: how do the followers of Islam balance their own culture and the human rights (that’s mostly a women right’s question that is interpreted wrongly by some Muslims)? And how can the West help that region achieve freedom and peace without imposing Westernization upon them?

Directing

12 Strong was directed by Nicolai Fuglsig – Danish filmmaker and photojournalist. This was his American film debut and he certainly didn’t do a bad job. Action/terrorism movies are a hard sell and they only really capture the audiences’ atention when they have some awards backing (e.g. The Hurt Locker or, more recently, American Sniper). Fuglsig’s picture didn’t have any big names attached (Hemsworth is only a draw if he is Thor) and it’s coming out in an unfortunate month. Still, the film was quite okay. The shoot-outs were well constructed and intense. The movie aslo did a good job of visualizing the new kind of warfare by showing the choppers in the clouds and the combat on horseback combat.

 

Acting

12 Strong assembled a cast, full of quite well-known actors. Leading them was Chris Hemsworth (Thor 3, The Huntsman, Ghostbusters, In The Heart of The Sea, Avengers 2). He was joined by Michael Shannon (Midnight Special, Nocturnal Animals), another Marvel family member Michael Peña (Ant-Man, The Martian, Collateral Beauty, The Lego Ninjago, Murder on the Orient Express), and the up-and-coming Trevante Rhodes (who got everytbody’s attention with Moonlight and will soon appear in The Predator). A bunch of other actors played the other 8 (of the titular 12) soldiers but, as they didn’t really have a character arc, I don’t see the neccesity to mention them. Navid Negahban played the warlord ally of the American troops: he has played a similar role before multiple times. His next project is a bit different, though – he will be the Sultant in next year’s live-action Alladin.

In short, 12 Strong was a mediocre and by-the-numbers action/drama with some good performances and a few intersting ideas.

Rate: 3/5

Trailer: 12 Strong trailer

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BEST, WORST, and MISSED movies of 2017

Movie previews, Movie reviews

Hello!!

Happy New Years Eve!

For most people, it’s a day/night of celebration: partying and drinking. Well, I’m also celebrating but in my own way – by posting my cinema round-up of the year. Like in 2015 and 2016, I’m providing you with my personal list of best and worst films (and I’m linking all of their reviews). A new development for this year is the fact that my top 5 list of obscure, small, ‘missed’ movies/honorable mentions is expanding into a 10 just because I’ve seen too many pictures this year that I want to bring to your attention once again! As always, please don’t bear any hard feelings if our lists don’t match! This post was written in the name of fun and I’m really looking forward to reading your picks in the comments!

BEST Movies:

  1. Logan
  2. Star Wars: The Last Jedi
  3. Wonder Woman
  4. Blade Runner 2049
  5. Thor: Ragnarok
  6. Beauty and the Beast
  7. Spider-Man: Homecoming
  8. War For The Planet Of The Apes
  9. Wind River
  10. It

Those who read my blog somewhat regularly probably aren’t surprised by the fact that my list contains 4 comic book movies. As much as I love the genre in general, what I loved about these particular films was the fact that they expanded the status quo: Logan brought the sophistication that we haven’t seen since The Dark Knight, while Wonder Woman was a game-changer for the female characters. Thor 3 fixed the weakest MCU trilogy, while Homecoming achieved what was deemed impossible – told the first good Spidey story in a decade. Joining the comic book films, are the three sci-fi juggernauts: Star Wars 8 (no surprise here, though, maybe it is a surprise as I seem to be one of the few who truly enjoyed the picture), Blade Runner sequel (visual and narrative masterpiece), and Apes 3 (an underappreciated finale of a great trilogy). The last 3 pictures bring some more variety genre-wise. Wind River represents drama (as well as my anthropological interests), Beauty and the Beast symbolizes my love for live-action fairytales (and my choice to remain a kid inside), while It is the biggest surprise of the year – the first horror movie that I’ve ever enjoyed.

WORST Movies:

  1. Snatched
  2. Transformers: The Last Knight
  3. Rough Night
  4. The Emoji Movie
  5. Geostorm
  6. Tulip Fever
  7. Suburbicon
  8. The Snowman
  9. American Assasin
  10. The Dark Tower

My worst list has it all: awful comedies (Snatched and Rough Night), confused dramas (Tulip Fever and Suburbicon), and underwhelming action thrillers (American Assasin and The Snowman). It also showcases a genre that should die (disaster films – Geostorm) and a franchise that should do the same (Transformers). The infamous cash grab for the millennials (The Emoji Movie) and the bad kind of Stephen King adaptation (The Dark Tower) finish of the list!

Honorable mentions/Movies you’ve MISSED:

I’ve decided not to number these and divide them into 3 levels of obscurity, from the least known to almost mainstream (or even actually mainstream) films.

To begin with, in the most obscure category, I’ve put The Death of Stalin, The Party, and Free Fire. First is a British adaptation of a French graphic novel, which itself is a reimagining of Russian history; second is more of a character piece than a movie with the shortest runtime of a feature film I’ve seen; and the third is an action movie that builds its story around the main action sequence that last the whole picture.

The second trio of more well known movies consist of The Killing of a Sacred Deer, Their Finest, and T2: Trainspotting. The first is an extraordinary revenge story from a proven director, the second – a romantic take on war and the movie business, and the last is everything I love about my adoptive country of Scotland!

Lastly, the 4 final movies that the majority of moviegoers have heard about and which couldn’t necessarily make my top 10 list but were so unique that they deserved to be mentioned are Paddington 2(a bundle of joy in these dark times), John Wick 2 (a successful sequel in a not that big of a franchise), mother!(the picture that was more fun to analyze than watch), and The Big Sick (a romantic comedy like no other).

And that is it for 2017 cinema! I hope you enjoyed reading my lists! Every year, its gets harder and harder to decide on my picks because of the sheer amount of new movies I’m able to see. Please don’t be mad if your favorite/least favorite movies were not on my lists! Also, if you missed some awards contenders in this post, they might have been excluded because I haven’t seen them yet or because I expect to talk about them a lot during the next two months. Hence, they will get enough praise then, it’s what I’m saying.

Anyways, have a happy 2018 in the cinema and in life!

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5 ideas about a movie: Molly’s Game

Movie reviews

Hello!

Yesterday, I got a chance to attend a secret preview screening as an unlimited cinema club card holder. Thankfully, the secret movie turned out to be one that I was highly looking forward to. This is Molly’s Game!

IMDb summary: The true story of Molly Bloom, an Olympic-class skier who ran the world’s most exclusive high-stakes poker game and became an FBI target.

  1. Molly’s Game was written and directed by Aaron Sorkin. I really enjoyed the last three movies that he has written – The Social Network, Moneyball, and especially Steve Jobs – so I knew that I was going to probably like the writing for his current film too (the script was based on the real life’s Molly’s book – the novel itself plays a role in the screenplay). What really peaked my interest was the fact that Sorkin directed Molly’s Game in addition to writing it (this picture was his directorial debut). What an incredible first attempt at directing!
  2. I absolutely loved the writing for Molly’s Game. The narrative unraveled over and jumped around three different time periods – Molly’s childhood/adolescence, her poker career, and her arrest/trial – that were separately amazing but even better when put together. The childhood parts (the backstory) acted as the character development (the opening skiing sequence was brief but it set up Molly’s personality super efficiently – she was and remained a fighter). The poker career was the most fascinating part and had some neat commentary about the toxicity of perfectionism (as a recovering overachiever I could relate to those ideas). The scenes involving her arrest and trial developed Molly’s character even further (she was a good person that stepped into a situation she lost control of) and had some neat thoughts about the worth of one’s name (that The Crucible comparison was appreciated by me, as an English Literature student, quite a lot.
  3. From the technical point of view, nobody could have mistaken the writer of this film. Molly’s Game had Sorkin’s signature rapid-fire narration all throughout the film and long “walk and talk” scenes. Usually, the narration in movies gets tiring but not when the content of it is so interesting. Having said that, as somebody who has never played poker, I did get a bit lost in all of the explanations of the game. Nevertheless, they sounded informative and exciting even if I couldn’t get everything. The smart jokes; the ideas about power and chance; and the differences between gamblers and poker players, were all neat additions to the script too.
  4. The direction and the editing of the picture were both amazing. Molly’s Game was a long movie but it didn’t feel like a long film because of the rapid narration and the quick editing. Having said that, the picture also had some appropriately slow emotional moments. But, it never dwelled on them for too long. The poker scenes were as good as the one in Casino Royale (my favorite poker scene in a movie ever): tense and exciting. A lot of out-sourced montages (newsreels, etc.) were also used and added that biographical drama feeling to the film.
  5. Jessica Chastain (Interstellar, The Martian, The Huntsman) absolutely shined as Molly. Everybody knows that she is a great actress and she just proved that again. Idris Elba (Beasts of No Nation, Bastille Day, Star Trek Beyond, The Dark Tower, The Mountain Between Us, Thor: Ragnarok) was also great and I’m so happy that he finally got a great dramatic role to play. Kevin Costner (Hidden Figures) had a great supporting role, while Michael Cera (The Lego Batman, Sausage Party), Jeremy Strong (The Big Short), Brian d’Arcy James (Spotlight), and Chris O’Dowd (Miss Peregrine) all appeared too, playing awful people really well. Stranger Things’ fan favorite Joe Kerry (Steve on the Netflix show) had a cameo as well.

In short, Molly’s Game was a well-directed biographical drama with a fascina story at its center.

Rate: 4,5/5

Trailer: Molly’s Game trailer

Movie review: Thor: Ragnarok

Movie reviews

Hello!

What a time to be a nerd! A new Marvel movie is in theatres every 4 months! Is this heaven or what? Without further ado, let’s discuss Thor: Ragnarok!

IMDb summary: Imprisoned, the mighty Thor finds himself in a lethal gladiatorial contest against the Hulk, his former ally. Thor must fight for survival and race against time to prevent the all-powerful Hela from destroying his home and the Asgardian civilization.

If it wasn’t obvious from my intro, I’m a huge MCU fan and have reviewed quite a few films of the franchise, thus, I’m linking the said reviews here: Captain America 1+2, Ant-Man, Guardians 1 and Guardians 2, Avengers 2, Civil War, Doctor Strange, Spider-Man: Homecoming.

This review is SPOILER FREE. The discussion involving SPOILERS is located at the end of the page.

Writing

Thor: Ragnarok was written by Eric Pearson (writer of a few MCU one-shots (I wish they were still making them) and writer on Agent Carter), Craig Kyle (comic book writer, producer the first two Thorfilms and of some of Marvel’s direct-to-video animated pictures), and Christopher Yost (longtime collaborator of Kyle, writer of Thor: The Dark World). I loved the writing for this film.

To begin with, I appreciated how dense the narrative was. So much happened in this picture and every second of that 2-hour runtime was packed with plot. It felt like this movie consisted of a couple of films, which was exactly the case. Thor: Ragnarok contained the first third of a Hulk solo movie – the middle part and the ending will probably be folded into Avengers 3and 4. I was a bit worried that the Hulk sideline will feel tacked-on but it didn’t – Bruce Banner and his green friend fit into this picture organically. I loved the fact that we got to see more of Hulk and find out about his own separate personality.

In general, the majority of the main characters had very satisfying character arcs. First of all, Thor went on a journey on finding his path again, while Valkyrie also had to re-find her purpose in life (I loved how she was both badass and had her flaws). Loki attempted to redeem himself in the most questionable and Loki-appropriate way possible and Heimdall got to do something meaningful for once in these films. Skurge’s questioning of morality was great, while Grandmaster’s hijinks were hilarious.

Speaking of the comedy in the film – it was just wonderful. The situational relatable humor, the reactions, the call-backs, the references, and the jabs at the previous MCU events were extremely funny. However, the film also had some heart to it. One particularly touching moment occurred in Norway at the beginning of the film. That scene’s location – Norway – was also a neat nod to the Norse mythology roots of these characters.

MCU films have been notorious for their lack of great villains. I didn’t think that Hela followed this trend. She was both memorable and menacing. I also loved how she had a family connection to the protagonist, and, thus, how the film got an opportunity to explore the notions of family and home. I also enjoyed seeing her be actually threatening, setting the stakes high and having a lasting impact on both Thor and Asgard (physical and emotional).

Directing

Thor: Ragnarok was directed by the incredible filmmaker from New Zealand – Taika Waititi. I was only introduced to his work last year with the awards’ nominated delightful and heartfelt comedy Hunt for the Wilderpeople. Before going to see Ragnarok, I also watched his brilliant vampire mockumentary What We Do in the Shadows. Needless to say, my expectations were high and I’m so glad to say that Waititi delivered on them 100%! Thor: Ragnarok had the heartwarming feeling of Spider-Man: Homecoming, the jokes of Guardians of the Galaxy, and the trippy visuals of Doctor Strange. Nevertheless, it wasn’t just a rehashing of elements from other films, but a refreshing, unique, and immensely entertaining take on them.

The color palette of Thor 3 was just so gorgeous and super vibrant. The location and the character designs have never looked better in a Thor film (the looks reminded me of a mixture of Star Wars, Star Trek, Lord of the Rings and just 1980s style). The action was just so dynamic and energetic. It was also varied: we got to see a couple of one-on-one fights as well as some epic scale battles and a few spaceship chases. One of my favorite action pieces was the short opening fight between Thor/Loki/Hela in the rainbow bridge. Not on it, but in its stream. The music (by Mark Mothersbaugh) was also nicely incorporated into the film. I’m gonna listen to that Led Zeppelin song every day at the gym now.

Acting

  • Chris Hemsworth (Ghostbusters, The Huntsman, In the Heart of the Sea) had his 5th and best outing as Thor. We already knew that he was great a the role of a hero, but here he also displayed all his comedic chops!
  • Tom Hiddleston (High-Rise, Kong) was sly and charismatic as Loki again (I love the character, so I’ll never complain about seeing him).
  • Cate Blanchett (Carol, Cinderella) had a snake-like quality to her performance of Hela. At the beginning, I thought that she was bordering on being too cartoonish a too bit much but I think she quickly found her footing.
  • Idris Elba (The Mountain Between Us, The Dark Tower, Star Trek Beyond, Bastille Day, Beasts of No Nation) returned as Heimdall and got a chance to do something more in the film than just stand in one room!
  • Jeff Goldblum (ID2) was perfect as Grandmaster. He was doing his Jeff Goldblum thing (I can’t explain it) and that fit the character so well! He, in my mind, had the leeway to go cartoonish and I’m glad he went there at least a bit.
  • Tessa Thompson (Creed) was wonderful as Valkyrie. I loved how Thompson portrayed her character’s flaws, regrets, and determination.
  • Karl Urban (Pete’s Dragon, Star Trek Beyond) as Skurge. I hope that Urban’s involvement with a new comic book property means that he might go back to one of his old ones – the role of Dredd. Nonetheless, I loved seeing him here.
  • Mark Ruffalo (Spotlight, Now You See Me 2) delivered a short but sweet performance as Bruce Banner / Hulk. Immense props to him for his comedic timing too!
  • Anthony Hopkins (Transformers 5) only appeared briefly as Odin but he was responsible for the most touching and the most emotionally-challenging scene of the film, as a dramatic actor of his caliber should be.

In short, Thor: Ragnarok was without a doubt the best Thor film but it also might be one of the best MCU solo films ever! Not only worthy of watching once, but repeated viewing is recommended!

Rate: 4.8/5

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SPOILER-Y PART: 

Since I saw the movie super early (thanks, UK release schedule), I didn’t want to talk about spoiler stuff in the main part of the review, so I’ll just unpack some ideas in more detail here:

  1. Thor: Ragnarok had a great cameo by Doctor Strange. Those, who saw Doctor Strange and waited for the post-credit scene of that film, knew that Sorcerer Supreme will be showing up in Thor 3. It was wonderful to see the character appear on film as being closer to his comic book counterpart – way more advanced in his skill and more in control of his powers than he was when we last saw him.
  2. Matt Damon, of all actors, had a super funny cameo as an Asgardian actor playing Loki. It’s always nice to see a great actor doing some bad acting and Damon nailed his. Stan Lee also had an amazing cameo as the hairdresser. I’m glad that he was the one who supposedly got a chance to change Thor’s look. I feel like, since that change came from Lee, it is somehow automatically canon.
  3. Hela was turned into Thor’s and Loki’s sister for the film (she is the daughter of Loki in the comics). I liked the change because it allowed the movie to explore the differences between Odin’s relationships with each of his kids. Also, the fiction vs truth idea came into play in the movie because of that change.
  4. Some of my favorite jokes, which I didn’t want to spoil were: the Sakar’s infomercial sequence; Loki’s reaction to Hulk throwing Thor around like a ragdoll – Loki experienced the same fate in Avengers; Thor’s attempt to calm Hulk down with Black Widow’s lullaby; and the jabs at Tony Stark. Even if RDJ is not in the film, his presence is always felt. Another delightful comedic part was Taika Waititi’s motion capture and vocal performance as Korg. Waititi is a great comedic actor and I’m glad he got to showcase that here in addition to directing.
  5. Lastly, Thor: Ragnarok had two end-credits scenes. The mid-credits scene was a very vague tease for Avengers: Infinity War, while the post-credits scene was just a fun nod to this particular film.

Movie review: Kong: Skull Island

Movie reviews

Good day!

Kong: Skull Island was not a film that I was excited for until I saw its first trailer. That 2-minute preview really got me hyped and raised my expectations. Let’s see if Kong can deliver!

IMDb summary: A team of explorers and soldiers travel to an uncharted island in the Pacific, unaware that they are crossing into the domain of monsters, including the mythic Kong.

Kong: Skull island is the second installment in Legendary’s MonsterVerse franchise, which begun in 2014, with the reboot of Godzilla. Legendary’s MonsterVerse should not be confused with the Universal Monsters series, which also technically begun in 2014 with Dracula Untold and is continuing later this year with The Mummy reboot (although now, that Dracula movie has been dropped from the canon). While I’m all for cinematic universes, I find these two a bit ridiculous. First, they are too similar and are definitely going to blend in the public’s consciousness. Secondly, these properties are good enough on their own – not everything has to be mixed. And yet, I was recently informed that King Kong and Godzilla have already fought against each other in a Japanese film from the 1960s made by Toho. So, is this new shared universe just another Hollywood remake of a foreign property? I, personally, found 2014’s Godzilla to be an okay movie but hopefully, Kong can get me fully on board with this franchise.

Writing

Kong: Skull Island was written by Dan Gilroy (wrote The Bourne Legacy and wrote and directed the spectacular indie film Nightcrawler) and Max Borenstein (wrote the new Godzilla). To my mind, the writing for the film was okay: not great but not bad either. As usual, since the monsters were expensive to animate, the viewer got to spend a lot of time with the human characters and yet, the character development was scarce. All of the characters had one major feature that defined them and the said defining trait was sometimes interesting and promising and very cliche in the other instances. The representation of the tribal people of the island was a bit stereotypical and from a definite Western POV (and that’s is a huge no-no for me as an anthropology student).

Story-wise, the movie had a fairly quick and interesting set-up. I liked that the film had a wide variety of characters – the military, the scientists and two leads (Hiddleston and Larson) but, as I have already mentioned, I wish they would have done more with them. The twists and turns in the plot were also fine for the most part, but the narrative did have a few too convenient moments (like the vomiting of the dog tags). The Monster vs. Monster or ‘Let them fight’ idea that begun in Godzilla was also continued here. Kong: Skull Island actually included a surprising variety of monsters: from Kong himself to the big buffalo-like looking animal to the huge spider (felt a bit squeamish watching that scene) to the tentacle monster to the giant ant and, lastly, to the actual skull crawlers.

The film’s setting in the 70s served the purpose of providing some commentary on the issue of war. It was a promising concept and they should have done more with it than they did (the portrayal of the colonel as stubborn and plainly cruel was a bit laughable or at least it played that way). The other overarching topic was man vs. nature – an obvious choice for the monster/survival movies. That whole idea about dropping bombs was really stupid but I also have a feeling that it might have been temporally accurate. The whole ‘What is it? Let’s kill it!’ topic of the movie was also kinda idiotic but also very realistic.

The film had good comedic relief. Some of the jokes landed, some didn’t. One line, in particular, stuck with me. It wasn’t supposed to be funny but it just sounded so ironic in today’s context. I’m, of course, talking about the line ‘there won’t be a more screwed up time in Washington’. Well, how about now?

Directing

The picture was helmed by Jordan Vogt-Roberts and this was only his 3rd feature film. His directorial debut was the indie coming of age drama Kings of Summer, which I really enjoyed – I remember it was recommended to me by a friend, who absolutely loved the movie. Bearing in mind that this was only the 3rd picture for the director and the first one of such a massive scale, I think he did an incredible job. While the opening plane crash CGI looked horrible, all of the following CGI of the monsters and the fights was magnificent. I loved the shot of King Kong in a fiery background as well as all the other wide, sweeping shots of the nature of the island. The northern lights also looked neat. The shots from within the helicopter during the first major action sequence were great too. I also thought that Vogt-Roberts had more visuals of Kong than Edwards did of Godzilla. Or maybe they were just dispersed throughout the film more than they were in Godzilla. The old school photo/video visuals were also a nice touch. Lastly, the fact that the first (the sun) and the last (the eye) shots of the picture were similar was also an excellent way to frame the whole thing.

The post-credits scene

Yes, you read that correctly. The post-credits scenes aren’t unique just to comic book movies. I was the only person in my screening who sat through the 10 minutes of the credits but I wasn’t disappointed that I did. The tease for the future was quite cool and made me wonder whether the actors who appeared in the teaser, will reprise their roles in the future sequels of this shared universe.

Acting

Tom Hiddleston as James Conrad. Hiddleston was good in the role even if the role itself wasn’t that great. I mean, his character was just unexplainably good at everything. The most over the top part of his arc was that scene with a sword in a gas cloud – it looked cool but didn’t make much sense and kinda came out of nowhere. I just finished watching Hiddleston in The Night Manger for which he won a Golden Globe. While his acceptance speech wasn’t the greatest, his performance was spectacular, so I’d highly recommend this mini-series. Going forward, he will reprise the role of Loki – arguably, the best villain of MCU – in Thor: Ragnarok.

Brie Larson as Mason Weave. I liked the fact that Larson’s character was a photo-journalist and that they didn’t call much attention to her gender (only in one scene, which should have been cut). Larson herself was good in the role and I’m happy that she is getting more work post her Oscar win (Room). Having said that, the majority of the acting she had to do was basically just reacting to the imaginative things around her. Nevertheless, she did have that one scene of special connection with Kong. What is up with female characters and giant monkeys? Katelyn Snow and Grodd also had a special connection on The Flash.

Samuel L. Jackson as Colonel Packard. Jackson was just recently in another jungle-based movie – The Legend of Tarzan – and I think I liked him more in that one. Here, his performance seemed a bit too much for me. But, I cannot argue that he does know how to play/appear as a menacing villain-ish character.

John C. Reilly as Hank Marlow. Reilly was supposed to be the comic-relief character, based on the trailers and, while he certainly joked around, he was also the exposition machine. Plus, the Jason Mitchell and Shea Whigham duo provided some additional comic relief which was funnier than Reilly’s.

The scientists of the film were played by John Goodman (Trumbo, Patriot’s Day), Jing Tian (The Great Wall), and Corey Hawkins. They served the purposes of their roles well and added some diversity to the cast (the last two). Toby Kebbell (Warcraft, Fan4stic, Ben-Hur) played Jack Chapman and had the emotional character arc of the movie. While I get what the film was aiming for, I didn’t really feel much for Kebbell’s character.

In short, Kong: Skull Island was an entertaining adventure monster movie. The visuals looked amazing and made up for the sorta lackluster script.

Rate: 3.5/5

Trailer: Kong: Skull Island trailer

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