Movie review: Their Finest 

Movie reviews

Hello!

The first movie of the year focused on the battle of Dunkirk – Their Finest – has reached theaters, so, let’s review it.

IMDb summary: A British film crew attempts to boost morale during World War II by making a propaganda film after the Blitzkrieg.

While Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk (premiering in July) will tackle and reproduce the actual battle and the evacuation, Lone Scherfig’s film Their Finest is a story about a war propaganda film, based on a fictional story related to the real-life events at Dunkirk, produced in order to raise the patriotism of the nation. The genres and tones of the 2 movies differ vastly: one looks like a grim and serious action drama, while another one is a lighter comedy drama with some romance thrown in as well.

On top of being one of the two films about Dunkirk, Their Finest interested me for 3 reasons: 1. I wanted to see the representation of the British propaganda and how it differed or was similar to the Soviet propaganda – the kind that I’m more familiar with from history classes and from just generally growing up in Eastern/Northern Europe. 2. I have always enjoyed films about filmmaking and as this one centered on screenwriters – an occupation that I would like to pursue – my interest was peaked. 3. The movie started Sam Claflin – an actor, whose career I’ve been following pretty closely. So, let’s see if Their Finest is as ‘fine’ of a picture as the title suggests!

Writing

Their Finest was written by a TV writer Gaby Chiappe, based on novel Their Finest Hour and a Half by Lissa Evans. From the technical standpoint, the writing for the film was very nice: the narrative was well structured and rich with ideas. Whether or not the ideas worked, is a very subjective question. I, personally, really liked some of the themes but was equally frustrated by the others.

To begin with, the picture focused a lot on the relationship between Gemma Arterton’s and Sam Claflin’s characters. I highly disliked the fact that their professional relationship had to be turned into a romantic one by the end of the film. I find that this happens in a lot of stories, even in the contemporary ones. For example, the way J.K.Rowling, writing under the pseudonym Robert Galbraith, is portraying the relationship between the two main characters in her Cormoran Strike Series irritates me a lot. And yet, going back to the relationship between the characters in Their Finest, if I considered the said relationship’s romantic aspect separately, I thought that it did work and was convincing. The two individuals seemed pretty evenly matched and their sparring was entertaining to watch. The sudden end to the relationship was also emotionally effective. At first, I deemed that the end might have been too sudden but I later I’ve realized that the scriptwriters intended it to be that way and to convey a message that one never knows what might happen in war.

The second big theme of the picture was Gemma Arterton’s character’s growth as an individual. Her personal story acted very much as a symbol for a lot of women’s stories during the war – how they have finally begun to transition from the domestic spaces into the public ones. Sadly, this process is still is progress, 70+ years later. I thought that the main character was developed quite nicely – I wish we would have found out more about her background and upbringing in Wales, but I really liked her subtle journey towards independence.

Thirdly, the movie explored the screenwriting and the filmmaking business. I really loved this particular aspect of the film and just loved the fact that Their Finest celebrated the movies and tried finding positive attributes of cinema even if it was political cinema. I simply loved Sam Claflin’s character’s enthusiasm about and love for the pictures, especially since his character otherwise seemed really pessimistic and ironic. I could identify with this type of depiction very closely. The way the movie played up the uber-poshness of the actors and of the British actors, to be specific, with Bill Nighy’s character was also really fun.

Lastly, Their Finest dealt with the propaganda filmmaking, not just simple filmmaking. Not only did this type of story provided a different perspective on war, but it also proved to me that the types of propaganda don’t vary much from country to country. Like the Soviet propaganda, some of the British propaganda was very obvious but some of it was something more, just like the-picture-within-the-picture in Their Finest or a real life example, such as Sergei Eisenstein’s Battleship Potemkin. And yet, since both Their Finest and The Nancy Starling (a-movie-within-a-movie) stressed the importance of optimism and happy endings, I can’t help but wonder where exactly did the cinematic propaganda end?

Directing

Their Finest was directed by Lone Scherfig. Although the director is Danish, I thought that she nailed the British feeling of the film. She has already done that earlier with The Riot Club – that movie has really made me question my adoration of the British culture quite a bit. So, Their Finest resembled the previous historic UK-based movies that I’ve reviewed, like SuffragetteTestament of Youthand Far From The Madding Crowd. The fact that the movie was executed with the classical stationary camera work and the steady frame, also added an appropriate old-school yet timeless feel to the picture. The pacing of the picture was also very even. 

Acting

Gemma Arterton played the lead in the film and did a really good job. I hope that this is a career-changing role for her, as so far she has been starring in mostly B-level pictures, like Clash of the TitansPrince of Persia: The Sands of Time, and Hansel & Gretel: Witch HuntersI really loved how subtle yet powerful her performance was. My favorite line of hers was the last words to the boyfriend: ‘You shouldn’t have painted me that small’. Her delivery was brilliant. I also though that Arterton’s chemistry with the co-star Sam Claflin was really good and believable. I loved Claflin’s character and the actor’s performance. It was so interesting to see a writer who can express oneself well enough of paper but struggles to do the same face to face. After starting his big screen career by acting the big action flicks, like Pirates of the Caribbean 4 and The Hunger Games franchise, Claflin has mostly stuck to dramas recently, including 2014’s Love, Rosie and 2016’s Me Before You. His next film is also a historical drama – My Cousin Rachel. He has also previously collaborated with the director of Their Finest on The Riot Club.

The supporting cast included established English actors Bill NighyHelen McCroryEddie Marsan, and Richard E. GranJack Huston (American Hustle, Hail, Caesar!and Ben-Hur) also had a minor role.

In short, Their Finest is a brilliant little movie, which, sadly, will be overlooked by the majority of movie-goers and buried by the blockbusters, including the one it shares the topic with. I highly recommend this film for all those interested in history and the art of filmmaking.

Rate: 4.3/5

Trailer: Their Finest trailer

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Movie review: Life

Movie reviews

Hello!

Welcome to a review of the annual space movie. For the year 2017, it’s Life.

Life follows in the vein of the sci-fi space films, like 2013’s Gravity, 2014’s Interstellar, 2015’s The Martian, and, I guess, 2016’s Passengers. It’s also kinda similar to the earlier pictures, such as 2009’s Moon and 2007’s Sunshine. Life is the most similar to the last one because both films feature diverse groups of astronauts stuck on a space ship and have horror/slasher elements in addition to the sci-fi themes.

IMDb summary: A team of scientists aboard the International Space Station discover a rapidly evolving life form, that caused extinction on Mars, and now threatens the crew and all life on Earth.

Writing

Life was written by Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick (the duo previously co-wrote Zombieland and Deadpool). Story wise, the movie was not the most original but the narrative was still interesting and exciting. The two major themes were human intervention and survival. The character development was minimal but there were still a few nice character moments dispersed throughout. In fact, the movie’s main star was the alien – all the set-up focused on it rather than the humans. Life definitely depicted life beyond earth in an old-school way: the creature was instantly violent rather than communicative like the ones in Arrival. Whether the actual alien of this movie was just the rip-off of the Allien, I don’t know. It definitely appeared similar to that one and it was probably a good idea for this film to come out before Allien: Covenant.

In addition to there being some scenes to depict the character’s backgrounds, the picture also had a couple of sequences of the astronauts doing both scientific experiments and publicity for ISS. I really loved those parts and appreciated the fact that the scriptwriters attempted to show a variety of activities done by the astronauts. The ending of the movie was also interesting. I don’t know whether they didn’t explain what actually happened with the pods (how did they switch?) because they are hoping for a sequel or because they wanted to leave it open for speculation/discussion?

Directing

The Swedish director Daniel Espinosa directed Life. This was his second US-based picture, but he has also directed Child 44 in the UK (really enjoyed that one) and made a couple of films in both Denmark and Sweden. I quite liked what he did with Life. The visuals were just absolutely gorgeous and not once did I think that we weren’t in the real ISS. The pacing and the intensity were also great. The horror elements of the action weren’t cheesy either and didn’t rely too much on the jump scares but used the technique of suspense building and the visceral imagery to elicit a reaction. In fact, some of the scenes were quite gruesome and uncomfortable to watch but they were effective so I can’t fault a movie for that. The camera work was also pretty impressive, especially one of the early long shots that seemingly went all through the space station. The alien POV was also a neat effect.

Acting

The film had a very diverse cast for a narrative reason rather than just for a financial one. The astronauts were played by Jake GyllenhaalRebecca FergusonRyan ReynoldsHiroyuki SanadaAriyon Bakare, and Olga Dihovichnaya.

Seeing Gyllenhaal on screen in yet another movie made me realize that he is one of a few actors who is constantly working. He never seems to fall off the radar even if his pictures don’t earn much. A few of his recent films that I enjoyed are Everest, Southpaw, and, especially, Nocturnal Animals. It was also really nice to see Ferguson in yet another American film (she began her career in Sweden, but has already appeared in MI5, Florence Foster Jenkins, and The Girl on The Train) and I’m excited to continue following her career. For Reynolds, this was his first post-Deadpool film and I think that his role in the marketing campaign for Life was expanded because he is the man behind the Merc with a Mouth. The ad campaign led me to believe that he will be an important part of the picture so I was quite surprised with his character’s story arc.

Sanada, weirdly enough, portrayed a character in Life who very closely resembled his character in Sunshine – a movie which I already mentioned in this review because of its and Life’s similar stories. What a coincidence that these films share an actor too. Bakare has mostly done TV work before now, but he also had cameos in big films like Rogue One and The Dark Knight. Lastly, Dihovichnaya is a newcomer to the Western mainstream cinema but is an established actress in Russian-speaking indie cinema market. I hope that her work in Life will provide her with more opportunities in the West.

In short, Life was a well-made space horror flick. It had a great cast and neat, suspenseful action, which will entertain the majority of the cinema -goers, and an open ending for those who appreciate the intellectual layer in their sci-fi.

Rate: 4/5

Trailer: Life trailer

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Movie review: Fences

Movie reviews

Hello!

The reviews of the awards season continue. Today, we are discussing Fences!

IMDb summary: A working-class African-American father tries to raise his family in the 1950s, while coming to terms with the events of his life.

Writing

The film Fences is a cinematic adaptation of August Wilson’s play by the same name. The play first premiered on Broadway in 1987 and was also revived in 2010, with Denzel Washington and Viola Davis playing the lead characters (as they do in the movie). When watching the picture, it is fairly obvious that it is based on a theatrical play because nothing much happens action-wise. The narrative is mostly dialogue driven and the dialogue itself is extremely dense, full of important backstories as well as plot points for the story. I wouldn’t even call this movie a narrative film – it is definitely more of a personal character study.

Fences touches on quite a few important topics. First of all, it shows the lives of African-Americans in a never before seen period – just before the civil rights movement kicked in (so it kinda follows the trend of a different kind of ‘race’ movie). It also doesn’t really look at the issues of the whole race of people but centers on an individual. The film also looks at the father-son relationship – how the sins of the father weigh down on the son. Fences focuses the most on the character of Troy and discusses a number of themes related to him, like being stuck in the past and not being able to move and raising high standards for others but not keeping to them himself. Troy is a flawed person and that makes him not only relatable but way more interesting.

Fences is certainly not an easy watch – I wouldn’t call this film entertaining in the simple sense of the word – but it is for sure engaging and requires a lot of attention. It looks at a daily life and the serious and the heartbreaking moments of it. Nevertheless, the film also has a few lighter and funnier bits which arise from the same daily life. Its ending is also very beautiful and touching.

Directing

Denzel Washington not only stars in the picture but also directs it (this is his 3rd movie). He has a very clear vision for the film and executes it neatly. However, I don’t think that his direction is that great. I understand his creative choices but I also don’t think that he utilizes the cinematic means of storytelling much or at all. What I mean is that Fences feels very much like a filmed play. It is set in a very limited space – one house – and this type of setting reminds of a theater stage. The long takes look impressive but, once again, they feel more theater-like than motion-picture-like. I really really wish that more visual storytelling techniques would have been used, for example, Troy’s monologs could have been used as the voiceover narrations for the flashback scenes instead of just being told directly to the camera. In short, Fences has a few super engaging dialogue moments but it also drags at times (and this maybe could have been fixed with some more visuals).

Acting

Denzel Washington (The Magnificent Seven, The Equalizer) plays the lead and does an absolutely magnificent job. This role looks like it has been written for him. Viola Davis (Suicide Squad) is also brilliant. She and Denzel play off of each other really well, probably because they have lived with these characters (as I’ve mentioned, they starred in the 2010 Broadway revival of this play). Both Washington and Davis have been nominated for the Academy Awards in the acting categories and they both starred in one mainstream movie this year, so both sides of their career (mainstream and indie) are on the rise or at least doing good.

The supporting characters of the film are played by Stephen McKinley Henderson, Jovan AdepoRussell HornsbyMykelti Williamson, and Saniyya Sidney. They do a good enough job but they also kinda fade into the background when sharing scenes with either Washington or Davis.

In short, Fences is an interesting film that requires constant attention in order to understand it. It has a distinct direction which I don’t particularly like but I cannot praise enough the acting performances of the two leads.

Rate: 4/5

Trailer: Fences trailer

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Movie review: The Lego Batman Movie

Movie reviews

Hi!

With the DCEU films being critical nightmares, which do not earn as much as they should do, Ben Affleck stepping out as director of the Batman solo movie and The Flash film being completely rewritten, the Warner Bros desperately needs a win concerning its DC properties. Might The Lego Batman Movie be the win? Let’s find out!

IMDb summary: Bruce Wayne must not only deal with the criminals of Gotham City but also the responsibility of raising a boy he adopted.

Writing

The Lego Batman Movie was written by Seth Grahame-Smith (who wrote Dark Shadows, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, and the novel version of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies), Chris McKenna (a TV comedy writer), Erik Sommers (Spider-Man: Homecoming writer), Jared Stern (who provided additional story material for Wreck-It Ralph), and John Whittington (a newcomer writer who doesn’t have any significant credits on his IMDb page). The duo of writers/directors behind the uber-successful The Lego Movie – the film that started The Lego franchise – Phil Lord and Christopher Miller – helped to produce this spinoff flick as well. I, personally, absolutely loved the writing for this movie.

Let’s star with the on the nose humor as it was such a huge part of the picture. The Lego Batman was basically Deadpool for kids. Like Deadpool, this film didn’t waste its credits and began mocking the studios and the executives in the first few seconds of its runtime. It then moved on to making fun of the comic book movies cliches, such as ‘the unnecessarily complicated bombs’, ‘the villains who explain their plan aloud’ and other plot conveniences.  Plus, I laughed out loud several times when the characters would start making the shooting noise – ‘pew pew’. I also loved the funny inclusion of the comic book sound effect balloons which showed the origins of Batman. Lastly, the movie also poked fun at merchandise with that merch gun scene (I’m definitely guilty of owning some items myself – I was actually wearing my batman sweatshirt at the screening).

The narrative wise, The Lego Batman Movie didn’t bother with neither the setup nor the basic development and origins of the character and I’m actually really glad that they skipped all of that, cause everybody already knows Batman’s background. Nevertheless, the film still did some cool stuff with its main character, for example, portraying him more as an anti-hero and raising the questions of accountability and legitimacy (basically, Captain America: Civil War storyline). The movie also teased and parodied the Batman’s Rogues Gallery and also mocked his gadgets (while at the same time, showing them on screen just so that they could turn them into toys and merch, which they have also made fun of already).

In addition, this film attempted to do something with the Batman and Batgirl relationship, which was very similar to what The Killing Joke movie did. That development really angered the fans and The Killing Joke really suffered from that addition, so I was worried that this idea might damage The Lego Batman too. However, this film dragged the ship more than pushed it, so everything turned out fine in the end. On the other hand, I really liked the relationship that was created for Batman and The Joker. The were literally like an old married couple. The other little details, like Batman’s password (‘Iron Man sucks), the Hugh Hefner-like dressing gown, and his obsessions with romcoms (shout out to Jerry Maguire) were just amazing. I also loved the fact that they managed to include a Nightwing easter egg and actually used the fact that lego figurines can join together as a plot point in the film.

From the thematical standpoint, the movie explored relationships within a family and between friends as well as narcissism. It looked at the fear of human connection which arose from the possibility of being left alone. The final message of the film – that one has to let people in even if they might hurt you by leaving and disappearing – was a neat one.

Directing

Chris McKay, who worked as an animator and editor on The Lego Movie, directed The Lego Batman and did a spectacular job. I just loved the fact that he took the grimmest property from the dark and sophisticated DC and made it work as a comedy. The Lego Batman Movie was, truly, one of the best action comedies I’ve seen. It had the non-stop jokes and the fast action (the film was unbelievably energetic) but it still found time for quieter, more heartfelt moments (every animated movie needs ‘the feels’). The only few moments in the picture, which annoyed me a bit, were all the singing and rapping scenes. They juts seemed of a lower level of humor than all the wonderful meta-references and jokes.

Additionally, the animation was just striking. Every shot looked so densely animated and complex – you could just see how much work it has taken to bring this story to life in this format. The Lego Batman Movie was definitely a perfect match between the material and the format, cause I doubt that this narrative could have worked in live action. It would have just come across as stupid (mostly because of all the rapping), but now it blended the right amount of stupidity and cleverness and was, overall,  extremely fun and very enjoyable.

Speaking more about the visuals of the film, I loved seeing the recreations of all the previous Batman films in the lego form. I also really appreciated the lego versions of all the other DC and non-DC villains that cameoed in the film – crossover all the way! We got to see Voldemort, Sauron, King-Kong, The Wicked Witch, and Doctor Who’s Daleks – basically all properties that belong to WB.

I have also noticed, that the majority of DC films (both live-action and animated) are now team-ups. It also seems that one cannot have a Batman movie without Superman or the other Justice League members (that short scene was a neat surprise and maybe it was there to set-up a sort of solo Lego movies for other DC characters?).

Music

Lorne Balfe was responsible for the soundtrack and he picked some very appropriate, witty, and catchy songs for the film. While I didn’t really like the actual Batman song, I loved the updated version of ‘Man in the Mirror’ and felt that it was a more clever jab at Batman rather than the on the nose Batman song.

Voice Cast

The film had an amazing voice cast. Will Arnett (a long time voice actor and narrator) just killed it as Bruce Wayne / Batman, while Zach Galifianakis (who has also had some experience with voicing) was an equally amazing JokerMichael Cera (Sausage Party) brought a sense of innocence to Dick Grayson / Robin, while Rosario Dawson’s (who voices Wonder Woman in most of the direct to video JL films) voice really fit Barbara Gordon / Batgirl – she sounded as and actually was an efficient go-getter. Ralph Fiennes (Kubo and the Two Strings) oozed class as Alfred PennyworthJenny Slate (Zootopia, The Secret Life of Pets) was the voice of Harley Quinn. It might be the Margot Robbie effect, but I wanted Harley to sound sassier.  The filmmakers also managed to get the big name talent – Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill –  to record a few lines as Superman and Green Lantern, respectively (they voiced these characters in The Lego Movie), while Adam DeVine joined them as The Flash.

In short, The Lego Batman Movie was both a successful spin-off of The Lego Movie as well as a great parody of all the comic book movies. Extremely funny and highly enjoyable!

Rate: 4.7/5

Trailer: The Lego Batman trailer

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Movie review: Hidden Figures

Movie reviews

Hello!

Welcome to a review of a movie that would have been on my Top 10 films of 2016 if I have seen it before the end of the year (when will the studios realize the benefits of the global day-in-day releases?). This is Hidden Figures!

IMDb summary: Based on a true story. A team of African-American women provide NASA with important mathematical data needed to launch the program’s first successful space missions.

Similarly to Loving and Fences, Hidden Figures is a different kind of movie that spotlights the African-American talent. It’s set during the civil rights movements but doesn’t directly relate to it, even if some of the movement’s ideas are addressed in the film in a really powerful way. This movie also stands out as one of the major female-driven films of the awards season. It has been praised by critics but most importantly it managed to debut at the top of the box office list in the US, meaning that a lot of mainstream moviegoers saw it!

Writing

Hidden Figures was written by Allison Schroeder and the director of the picture Theodore Melfi, based on the book of the same name by Margot Lee Shetterly. I absolutely adored the film’s story. I knew about Katherine Goble Johnson before seeing the film (thank you, SciShow on Youtube) but I loved getting to know more about her as well as other African-American women working at NASA. I immensely enjoyed seeing all the different parts of NASA (the 3 of them worked in different departments – calculations, engineering, and computing) and the space race through their distinct perspective. It was actually really interesting to finally see a Cold War movie that didn’t focus on the local conflicts in Vietnam, Korea or Berlin, but a one which looked at the more passive but no less interesting space race.

In addition, I liked that not only the professional but also the private lives of the 3 main characters were presented. This made them all into more well-rounded and realistic characters. Hidden Figures’ writing also focused a lot on the importance of education, portraying it as a key to a better life. I have always been a strong believer of this statement, so the film automatically appealed to me. It was also quite cool that the picture underlined the importance of mathematics, as it is usually the most hated subjects in school (I actually quite liked it). The film’s story, even though set in 1960s, was also contemporary and very topical, if you think about its possible relation to the Women in STEM program.

Lastly, Hidden Figures tackled all kinds of discrimination, mainly sexism and racism but also general discrimination in the work place. Even though half a century has passed, all of these types of bullying are still happening today and should be stopped. Hidden Figures contributes to this conversation by a lot. And even though the film deals with serious topics, it still ends on a positive note and has a very satisfying ending. Katherine, Dorothy, and Mary are not just heroes to all girls or African-Americans. They should be idols to all underdogs and, let’s be frank, we are all underdogs in one field or another.

Directing

Hidden Figures was directed by Theodore Melfi and he did a superb job with his 2nd feature (St.Vincent was his directorial debut). The movie was balanced and well-paced, both entertaining and intellectually engaging. It was compelling, suspenseful, and intense and these feelings were only strengthened by the fact that it told a real and not a fictional story. The picture had a few very powerful scenes, like Taraji P.Henson’s character’s speech about the bathroom discrimination as well as Janelle Monáe’s courtroom speech. The film also has a few more personal and touching moments to counteract the powerful and serious scenes, like Mahershala Ali’s character’s proposal to Taraji P. Henson character.

Hidden Figures also had a magnificent soundtrack by Hans Zimmer, Pharrell Williams (he also produced the film), and Benjamin Wallfisch. It was upbeat and fun and really helped to lighten up the serious mood of the picture. When watching the film, I didn’t know who composed the movie’s music, but now, seeing who was involved, I’m not at all surprised that I liked the soundtrack. I mean, Hans Zimmer and Pharrell Williams!? Such a great combo of class and pop!

Acting

The three leading ladies of the film were played by Taraji P.Henson (Empire), Octavia Spencer (The Help, Snowpiercer, Zootopia, Divergent) and the newcomer Janelle Monáe. I absolutely loved the individual performances of all the actresses as well as their chemistry in the group scenes. In my mind, the cast is the film’s strongest element so it is not surprising that the movie received a lot of SAG nominations. Octavia Spencer has been getting the majority of the recognition but I would have preferred if they would have spotlighted Taraji P. Henson in the lead actress category instead. Spencer already had her big win with The Help andmore importantly, I thought that Henson’s performance was stronger. If the voters wanted to only reward the film’s in the supporting actress category (like they are doing now),  Janelle Monáe should have received a nomination instead of Octavia Spencer. Monáe is a true breakout star of 2016, as she was also in Moonlight. Don’t get me wrong, Spencer was great too but it would have just been nice to reward the other two actresses as well or instead.

The picture also has a splendid array of secondary characters who were brought to life by great actors. Big Bang Theory’s Jim Parsons played a familiar role (he can’t seem to escape the nerdy scientist part) and did a great job. His character was the one that bullied Katherine the most, but I think that he would have been jealous of anyone. Sadly, Katherine’s gender and skin color made her an easy target. Kirsten Dunst (Midnight Special) also played a part in the film and had an amazing line that just summed up the movie perfectly. I, of course, mean her statement about how the USA are fast to space but slow when it comes to the progress on the ground. Mahershala Ali, who was in Moonlight too, also had a small role and did a nice job. The mainstream audiences know him best from Luke Cage, so his career, both the mainstream and the indie parts of it, are on the rise. Lastly, even Kevin Costner (Draft Day, McFarland, USAdelivered his best and the most interesting performance in years.

In short, Hidden Figures was an excellent film that told an important and fascinating story but did that in an entertaining way. The movie was really well-made behind the scenes and it also had the best on-screen ensemble I’ve seen in a couple of years.

Rate: 4.8/5

Trailer: Hidden Figures trailer

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Movie review: Snowden

Movie reviews

Hi!

While everyone else is already starting to review Rogue One, I’m still catching up on films that were only just released in the UK. Sully came out 3 months late, and Snowden followed suit. So, let’s review it!

IMDb summary: The NSA’s illegal surveillance techniques are leaked to the public by one of the agency’s employees, Edward Snowden, in the form of thousands of classified documents distributed to the press.

Writing

Although I was alive when the main events depicted in this film came to light (it was 2013), I don’t necessarily remember watching or reading any media coverage of them. However, before watching  the film, I did know who Snowden was, so I must have heard or read something back in 2013.

The film’s script was written by Kieran Fitzgerald and the director of the film Oliver Stone, based on books The Snowden Files by Luke Harding and Time of the Octopus by Anatoly Kucherena. The movie’s main narrative was told in a flashback form. The filmed picked up days before the events of 2013 and told the different parts of Snowden’s live and depicted the different jobs he did in the flashbacks. The movie also did a good job with the writing for its main character: the film showed his transition from conservative to a liberal in a believable way and also humanized Snowden, by including his private personal story together with the public professional one.

I, personally, always had a stance on what Snowden did and this film didn’t change that, only reaffirmed it. Having said that, I still think that the movie fairly treated both sides of the story and didn’t necessarily have hidden agenda beneath. I did enjoy the discussion about the surveillance and the raising of the question whether it was for safety or for control. The ideas on privacy and patriotism were also interesting. I especially liked the line that stated that the government does not equal the country, which was an extremely important idea for me to remember because of all the events of 2016.

I also appreciated the fact that the movie showed how Snowden’s work had an impact on his health and relationships. The work of spies is only glamorous and cool when it’s fictional. Lastly, the movie’s story was a bit scary as well as angering because it represented the reality that we all live in. Its cautionary message should not go unheard of.

Directing

Oliver Stone, who is known for making politically and economically focused films, both documentaries and narrative pictures, directed Snowden and created another solid drama. The film was compelling and well constructed. The pacing was a bit slow, but I was intrigued enough by the story to let the slight dragging slide. Visually, one of my favorite sequences of the film was the CGI montage of the surveillance connections that ended up in Snowden’s eye. It was kinda an obvious way of explaining the mass scale of surveillance but it was done well. I do believe that this story had to be told and what better way that to tell it than in a mainstream movie – a medium that has probably the widest reach.

If you enjoyed Snowden and would like to see a similar movie, may I suggest Eye in the Sky – that film goes into more detail about the actual surveillance in the field and shows the inner working and links between the different organizations.

Acting

  • Joseph Gordon-Levitt (Inception, Looper, The Walk) played Edward Snowden and completely lost himself in the role, as usual. His voice acting was unbelievable too. Edward Snowden also appeared as himself at the end of the movie, and I did appreciate this real-world tie-in. Fun fact, I almost attended the university that he is the symbolic rector of – University of Glasgow.
  • Shailene Woodley (The DescendantsThe Fault in Our Stars, Divergent) as Lindsay Mills was amazing. This is her best performance I have seen yet.
  • Zachary QuintoScott Eastwood, and even Nicolas Cage had small supporting roles in the film. I was happy to see Quinto in another movie, as I have become a fan of his after Star Trek. Eastwood also did a good job but I still think that he works better in the supporting roles rather than in the lead – didn’t like him much in The Longest Ride but he was fine in the tiny role in Suicide Squad. Even Cage was great, although, I can only stomach him in small doses.

In short, Snowden is a well-made film that tells an important story. The acting and the directing are good, but I think that the writing is the best aspect of the film.

Rate: 4/5

Trailer: Snowden trailer

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5 ideas about a movie: Sing Street

Movie reviews

Hello!

I’m continuing my series of ‘catch up’ movie reviews. Today, the focus is on the critically acclaimed indie picture Sing Street.

IMDb summary: A boy growing up in Dublin during the 1980s escapes his strained family life by starting a band to impress the mysterious girl he likes.

  1. John Carney (who I only knew as the director of the musical drama Begin Again) wrote and directed this picture. At the core of Sing Street, he placed a coming of age tale, that everybody has seen before. However, he executed this particular kind of story  immaculately. It felt very personal and relatable – maybe because it was semi-autobiographical. Sing Street centered on young adults in Ireland in the 80s, which alone helped the film to stand out (the only other film that has relations to Ireland that I can name is Brooklyn). In addition, the narrative was very clear and cohesive, while the set-up – quick but not rushed.
  2. Sing Street managed to find a balance between fun and seriousness. It was an upbeat and inspiring story placed in a grim setting of poverty, abuse, and family drama. It’s quirky and dorky in the best way possible. Sing Street was a celebration of art and artistry and it showed that rebellion against the societal norms is not a new thing. I also loved the fact that this feature focused on the relationship between brothers and portrayed the elder brothers as guides and trailblazers.
  3. As I have mentioned, John Carney directed Sing Street and did a neat job. I loved the personal aspect he brought to the film with some handheld camera shots. I liked how he realized the setting of the 80s Ireland (enjoyed the wacky fashion especially) and how he paid homages to the pop culture of the time. Back To The Future homage sequence was both cool and entertaining.
  4. Sing Street featured some amazing tunes from the 80s as well as original songs by the titular band of the film.  A whole bunch of people worked on the music for the picture, including veteran composer Gary Clark, some members of the band Relish, Graham Henderson, Zamo Riffman and even Maroon5’s Adam Levine. As a fan of 80s music, I really loved all the songs. Moreover, it was interesting and refreshing to see a film which focused on more traditional styles of music in contrast to the recent films that had EDM as their subject (We Are Your Friends, XOXO).
  5. Sing Street also had a great and diverse cast. The majority of the young actors, like Ferdia Walsh-Peelo and Lucy Boynton, were/are quite unknown but they did such a good job that I think this situation will soon be fixed. A few familiar faces also appear in the film, including Game of Thrones’s Aidan Gillen and Transformers 4’s Jack Reynor who completely surprised me, as I had basically already written him off after the last Transformers movie. Turns out, he is actually a pretty good actor.

In brief, Sing Street was both light and serious coming of age tale, with a unique temporal and spatial setting. The music was also top-notch.

Rate: 4.25/5

Trailer: Sing Street trailer

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Movie review: Allied

Movie reviews

Hello!

Today, I’m reviewing Allied – the movie that ‘broke’ Brangelina, the ‘it’ couple of Hollywood. Okay, I’m kidding –  I don’t actually believe or care much about the rumors. To me, Allied is, first and foremost, a film by a director that is of my native descent (Zemeckis is half-Lithuanian).

IMDb summary: In 1942, an intelligence officer in North Africa encounters a female French Resistance fighter on a deadly mission behind enemy lines. When they reunite in London, their relationship is tested by the pressures of war.

Writing

Steven Knight wrote the screenplay for Allied. So far, his accomplishments have been a bit average: I absolutely loved his small film Locke and really enjoyed the stories of The Hundred-Foot Journey and Pawn Sacrifice. However, Knight also penned the script for the so-so picture Burnt and wrote the completely awful Seventh Son as well. His next film will be a different Brad Pitt picture – Wold War Z 2. Speaking of the writing for this film, quality-wise, Allied was a mixed bag , just like Knight’s track record.

I felt that Allied contained two distinct stories which could have been explored in two separate movies. The first suspenseful act of the two characters falling in love on a mission was cool and interesting. It was a successful homage to Casablanca and the Golden Age of Hollywood. The second story – the home life and the investigation – was much slower and less interesting than the preceding set-up. Nevertheless, I did enjoy the fact that this film focused more on the romance and less on the war because I have already seen enough historical films, in which the romantic aspect is relegated to the sidelines and feels out of place. Allied made a decision to be a romantic movie first and a war drama second and stuck with it. I, as I have mentioned, enjoyed and liked this idea, but I can also understand that some people might see it as too sappy and melodramatic. I, personally, found it touching and heartbreaking, although not Casablanca level heartbreaking (Allied didn’t reach the levels of ‘We’ll always have Paris’ is what I’m saying).

Having said that, Allied still did have some pretty nice lines of dialogue and some rather cool concepts. I don’t really know why but I liked the trailer line: ‘Being good at this kind of job is not very beautiful’. I also enjoyed the ideas about love in war – the problem isn’t the action of getting involved, it is feeling something about the involvement. Lastly, I liked how the film underscored that the two main characters could never be trusted, as they were trained to lie.

Directing

Robert Zemeckis, who is responsible for creating a whole slew of cinematic classics – Back To The Future trilogy, Who Framed Robert Rabbit, Forrest Gump, and Cast Away and whose latest films include The Walk and Flight, directed Allied and did quite a good job. The film looked beautiful visually, although the CGI at the beginning (the desert) seemed a tiny bit fake and took me out of the film. Other historical settings were realized nicely, though. Zemeckis also used a lot of time jumps in the film and they did make sense for the most part. Lastly, I did like his long takes that some critics panned. At first, they seemed unnecessarily long to me as well, but then I realized that they were this long for a reason and were meant to show or to indicate something extra.

Acting

I think that the lead duo – Brad Pitt and Marion Cotillard – did an amazing job. First, they had crazy good chemistry and made a believable couple – their back and forth dialogue was superb, especially in the first act. Secondly, I think that the two actors nailed the ‘fake’ spy acting and didn’t make it seem cartoony. I was also quite surprised to see Lizzy Caplan in a supporting role and thought that her character was interesting, although, I question the motives behind the decision to include her character. A trio of actors, who seem to constantly appear in historical movies – Jared Francis Harris, Matthew Goode, and Simon McBurney, rounded up the cast of Allied and brought solid performances too.

Actors’ film recommendations:

  • Brad Pitt: Seven, Fight ClubMr. & Mrs. Smith (why not, it is still a good movie), Inglorious Basterds, Fury, The Big Short, By The Sea (even more ironic, as this one is directed by Jolie).
  • Marion Cotillard: Macbeth, The Dark Knight Rises, Inception, Big FishLa Vie en Rose for which she won an Oscar should also be on this list, even though I haven’t seen it yet. 
  • Lizzy Caplan: Now You See Me 2, Mean Girls (what a throwback).
  • Jared Harris: Benjamin Button, Lincoln, The Man from U.N.C.L.E.
  • Matthew Goode: Downton Abbey, The Imitation Game, Watchmen.
  • Simon McBurney: MI:Rogue Nation, Magic in the Moonlight, The Theory of Everything, Jane Eyre.

In brief, Allied was a solid romantic war drama. It had good acting and a decent story and visuals. However, the film was not groundbreaking, which it could have been, knowing who was involved in its making, both in front and behind the camera.

Rate: 3,75/5

Trailer: Allied trailer

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5 ideas about a movie: The Accountant 

Movie reviews

Hello!

An original thriller – The Accountant – finally premiered in the UK, so, let’s review it!

IMDb summary: As a math savant uncooks the books for a new client, the Treasury Department closes in on his activities and the body count starts to rise.

  1. The Accountant is an original thriller, written by Bill Dubuque, who has previously penned the script for RDJ’s The Judge. I absolutely loved the narrative of this film from a thematical point of view. The movie felt fresh because it had a unique character – an accountant – in the lead (usually, thrillers tends to focus on ex-military personnel, former spies, even politicians). Moreover, the personal background of the character was out of the ordinary and new. The story also had a good mix of personal and professional narrative ideas. Plus, I loved the fact that they made accounting seem interesting, similar like The Big Short made the housing crisis exciting rather than dull. The twists and turns were also unexpected but much appreciated. My only gripe with the screenplay is that I wish the movie would have explained some stuff sooner. There was around 10 min of expositional dialogue full of information just before the 3rd act started and I think that if the scriptwriter would have dispersed that info into a few scenes, the plot would have flowed a bit better.
  2. Gavin O’Connor, whose last two films were Warrior (one of my favorite sports films ever) and Jane Got a Gun, directed The Accountant and did a magnificent job. I loved how subtle his directing was and how he found a good balance between drama and action in a thriller. The visuals, as well as the handling of the mise-en-scene (props and setting used for the purposes of the narrative ) were nice and neat as well. The picture unraveled slowly but was extremely engaging.
  3. Ben Affleck (BvS, Gone Girl) played the lead character and did a spectacular job. I believed that he had the highly-functioning autism and I also appreciated the fact that they spotlighted this type of an individual in a movie. I also applaud the film for trying to show that autistic people are not lesser than everyone else – they are just different and special in their own way. Huge props to the movie and to Ben Affleck for attempting to break social stigmas associated with this supposed illness/condition. I, personally, could also relate to the character, because even though I’m not autistic, I’m quite shy and anti-social, so seeing all the problems that the characters had while communicating with people made me cringe a bit as well as sympathize since it hit so close to home.
  4. Anna Kendrick (Pitch Perfect, Mike and Dave, Trolls) and Jon Bernthal (WAYF, Sicario) played two supporting characters that had relations to the main character. Kendrick did a nice job with the few scenes she had and I did love her optimism in contrast to Affleck’s calmness and serenity. Bernthal was also great – I did not predict his character’s twist. His character shared some similarities with The Punisher, so I could see why Bernthal wanted to play this role, as I think he really enjoyed playing The Punisher. His solo series is coming out next year.
  5. J.K. Simmons and Cynthia Addai-Robinson played the government personnel and brought a different perspective into the movie. For Simmons, this is one of his 10 movies this year. Two other notable pictures which have premiered at festivals, but haven’t had wide releases are La La Land and Patriot’s Day. I’m also excited for Simmons’s role in next year’s Justice League.  Addai-Robinson was also really good in her role – I was excited to see her on a big screen, as she has mostly done TV until now. I first became a fan of her after she appeared as Amanda Waller on Arrow before Suicide Squad‘s storylines had to be scratched from the small screen.

In short, The Accountant was a great original film that didn’t deserve to be panned by the critics as much. It had good directing, amazing acting and a thematically strong and important story.

Rate: 4/5 

Trailer: The Accountant trailer

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Extraordinary Cinema Review I (Son of Saul + Mustang)

Movie reviews

Hello!

Throughout the summer and the rest of 2016, movie audiences have expressed a general dissatisfaction with the quality of the mainstream films. The critics disagreed with the viewers on the same topic multiple times as well. Looking at the statistics, the box office numbers have also not been the greatest.

I have also heard a lot of people say that the best movies they have seen this year have all been indie releases. So, I have decided to tell you about the best independent movies that I have seen this year thus far. On top of being non-studio films, these pictures have also been produced outside of the English-speaking world, however, they should be fairly familiar to the Western audiences. Lastly, these films have not necessarily been made or released this year – it’s just that I got a chance to see them in 2016.

I don’t know if this post will spark a broader series of foreign reviews but I would really like if it did because I want to widen my horizons and want to help bring more foreign films to the forefront. I will review 2 pictures in this post and the other two tomorrow.

The first film that I’d like to mention is the Hungarian WW2/Auschwitz concentration camp drama Son of Saul. It was directed by László Nemes and stars Géza Röhrig as Saul. The film won a bunch of awards at various festivals last season and also received the Academy Award in the category of the Best Foreign film.

Son of Saul’s story was not easy to watch, even though I have seen quite a few films about concentration camps. Nevertheless, this picture showed the horror of the situation so vividly that you could almost feel like you were in the camp. A lot of that came from the extraordinary cinematography by Mátyás Erdély – the handheld long continuous close-up shots of Saul’s face made the viewer feel claustrophobic and scared. Because of the limited frame, the audiences couldn’t actually see much of the camp or the gas chambers. However, one didn’t actually need to see the broader mise-en-scene to imagine what was happening outside of the frame. The decision to have such a narrow point-of-view also reminded me something that Art Spiegelman stated about the visualization of the genocide (he is the author of the critically acclaimed graphic novel Maus which also deals with the events that happened at Auschwitz). Like the Son of Saul filmmakers, Spiegelman also chose not to show the inside of the gas chambers in his comic because no-one came out alive of these chambers, so no-one knows how they actually looked and it might be disrespectful to the people who lost their lives in there to fictionalize these rooms in one way or the other.

The lead of the film – Géza Röhrig – was spectacular. His face took up the bigger part of the frame throughout the whole film, so his emotions and face-acting were extremely important and he absolutely nailed his performance. Son of Saul didn’t really focus on the plot but explored the heartbreaking journey of a single character. In addition, the lack of music added a lot of realism to an already realistic movie, while the ambiguous ending was equal parts satisfying and horrifying.

Rate: 5/5

Trailer: Son of Saul trailer

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The second auteur feature that I want to talk about is the Turkish coming of age drama Mustang by the director Deniz Gamze Ergüven. It was nominated for a variety of awards during the festival season and also received the Best Foreign Film Oscar nomination but lost to the previously discussed picture.

Mustang revolves around 5 sisters, played by Güneş Şensoy, Doğa Doğuşlu, Elit İşcan, Tuğba Sunguroğlu and İlayda Akdoğan, who have reached puberty, thus, according to the traditions of Islam, they have to get married. The sisters’ parents are dead, they grew up with their uncle and grandmother. Their life so far has been quite independent: they went to school, socialized with boys and led quite a Western-style life. However, from the very beginning of the film the viewers and the sisters realize that everything has changed.

All films, which revolve around Islam and women’s place in this particular religion, spark dual feelings inside of me. On one hand, I’m angered that females around the world still have to suffer the oppression. The concept of arranged marriage simply infuriates me. However, as an anthropologist-in-training, I’ve to attempt to look at a different culture through the lenses of that culture. Nevertheless, I know enough about Islam (definitely not from the Western media) to tell you that the female subordination by males is not in the Quran. The theoretical religious concepts highly differ from the religious beliefs that are practiced in the Islamic world – they have been radicalized to the extreme.

Mustang is an independent but narrative film, so it can definitely appeal to the mainstream movie goers more than some other art cinema pictures. The 5 leading ladies are all amazing and the 5 sisters, though related, are all very unique and different. The picture also shows a variety of diverse consequences of arranged marriages: these outcomes range from happy and relieving to extremely sad and tragic.

Rate: 5/5

Trailer: Mustang trailer

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