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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Movie review: The Secret Life of Pets

Movie reviews

Good morning/day/evening!

The animated movies have been really dominating the box office this summer, so, let’s review one of the latest additions to the genre – The Secret Life of Pets.

IMDb summary: The quiet life of a terrier named Max is upended when his owner takes in Duke, a stray whom Max instantly dislikes.

Recently, there has been quite a few animated pictures about talking animals – we just had Zootopia and the new animated musical SING also has animals as its characters. This concept has always been popular and it is definitely not going anywhere. While the idea to show how animals act when the humans are not around is cool and clever, it is not the most original. Another recent animation that kinda did the same thing was Bolt. So, since the TSLOP can count on originality, it is all about the execution.

Writing: story and ideas

The Secret Life of Pets’ script was written by Brian LynchCinco Paul, and Ken Daurio. This trio has previously worked on other Illumination Entertainment projects like the Despicable Me films and Minions. I’m a fan of the main Despicable Me franchise but can’t really stand its spin-off. I feel like with TSLOP movie, the screenwriters mixed everything I loved about the first property with the things that annoyed me about the second brand.

The positives: 

  1. I liked how the animal characters had both animalistic and human-like features and manners. I also enjoyed how the various stereotypes were played up. Sometimes, human stereotypes were used on animals as a joke: for example, in the scene with the white Pomeranian and the telenovela. In other instances, these stereotypes were subverted and made for an even funnier moment: the poodle who likes rock music was a nice idea and the main antagonist of the film – the anarchist bunny – was also an unexpected and subversive addition to the picture.
  2. I loved the little relatable moments like the scene with the cat and the turkey. That tiny inside competition between the cats and the dogs was also a great real-world tie-in. The inclusion of concepts like the cat videos on YouTube and the vacuum cleaner to be used to get rid of the pets was neat as well.
  3. The idea to make the barking of dogs their language was obvious but still nice and super funny when showed visually on screen.

The negatives:

  1. The film didn’t have the most original narrative – it was a basic save and avenge storyline. It was still an enjoyable adventure to watch but the viewer might feel that he/she has seen it before numerous times.
  2. The picture really got dark at times and I don’t know if those ideas had a place in the film. The picture wasn’t really that sophisticated and it was definitely on a more simplistic side and aimed at the younger audiences, so I don’t think that it was a good idea to show the suffering animals like the tattooed pig or the magician’s rabbit and talk about killing the owners. Don’t get me wrong, it is important to talk about the first thing – that people are not always the nicest to the animals – but I don’t think that a mainstream kids’ movie was a place to do that, maybe if it had a more serious tone, I would have had a different opinion.

Directing: visuals and animation

TSLOP was directed by Chris Renaud and Yarrow Cheney. Renaud has previously directed the Despicable Me films and has created the voice of the Minions, who he voices in all of the movies that they appear. Cheeny has only directed a few shorts up until now but he has been a production designer on the Illumination Entertainment pictures. I really enjoyed the directing of the film for the most part. I really liked the montages at the beginning which set up the independent world of pets nicely and it was also a great idea to end the movie with corresponding montages – it tied everything together perfectly. The actual animation was also spectacular – the fur of the animals looked excellent and the NY skyline was also realized beautifully – it is so iconic and recognizable even in animated form. The actual character design of the animals was cool and cute too. TSLOP also had a good complimentary soundtrack, I liked the inclusion of the Welcome to New York song. The only sequence of the film that I disliked was that Sausage World – I felt that it was too childish even for a light children’s film and, moreover, those sausages reminded me of Minions too much.

Voice Work

The actors who voiced the animals did a good job. The stand-out for me was Kevin Hart (he voiced the rabbit) – I could instantly recognize his voice and really loved the way he delivered the lines and the one-liners. His character was definitely the funniest and I think that that was because of Hart’s involvement. I’m definitely starting to become a fan of him after this film and Central Intelligence. The great comedian  Louis C.K. voiced the main character – a Jack Russell terrier, while Eric Stonestreet really fit the voice of his character – the large and furry mongrel. Steve Coogan was great as a Sphynx cat – the British accent was somehow appropriate. Lastly, Jenny Slate was a great choice to bring the Pomeranian to life. Slate has recently voiced another animal – a sheep – in Zootopia.

In short, The Secret Life of Pets was an okay film. It was as subversive or adult-friendly as Zootopia but it did make me laugh more than a couple of times and I’m sure that the kids would have a blast watching it.

Rate: 3.7/5

Trailer: The Secret Life of Pets trailer

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Volunteering at a Paysera U16 European Basketball Championship Men 2015

Sports

Hello!

I’ve promised that my next post won’t be a movie review and I am keeping my promise. Today, I will tell you about my experience volunteering at a Division A Men’s U16 European Basketball Championship (official site), which was held in my hometown of Kaunas from the 6th to 16th of August.

First of all, let me tell how and why I became a volunteer for this particular championship. Since 2010, I have been volunteering in swimming competitions, which were organized at my sport’s school. Later, I moved to volunteering at swimming competitions held in different pools, while last summer I have volunteered/half participated in a multi-sports event – Lampetronas 2014 (post about it here). I had a lot of experience working at a small scale swimming events and that was always easy for me, because – for one – the events would last for a maximum of 2 days, secondly – I would be in my element – at a swimming competition. But I wanted something more and something different. So, when my dad found an advertisement in our local newspaper that The Union of Sport’s Volunteers was looking for new members to help with the aforementioned championship’s organization, I decided to apply.

We had a few training sessions and I passed the selection phase fairly easily. I even got the job that I wanted the most. All the volunteers could apply to different positions, for example; team attaché, accreditation center, catering, work at an info-center, transportation, media, venue maintenance and service for the spectators. Guessing from the fact that I have written the team attaché job first, you could probably understand that that is the one I got. For the whole two weeks, I was the escort and guide of the national team of England. It was my dream to be their attaché because I desperately wanted to test my English skills while communicating with real Brits.

My job started, when I had to meet the whole delegation at the airport on the 5th of August. I had to take them to the hotel, help sort out their accommodation and just generally answer all of their questions. That day was easy, the hard part started on the 6th, when I had a 14 hour work day. As time went by, the days kept getting shorter (they still lasted at least 8 hours) and the work – much easier. It was essentially the same day over and over again. Like one of the coaches said – it was like a movie Groundhog Day. My morning would start with picking the team up from the hotel and escorting them to practice, making sure that they had water and ice ready at the venue. After practice, we would go back to the hotel, the team would have a meeting in a meeting room, which I had booked for them, and I would either have a few hours of doing nothing or would be running errands. One of the more nerve-wracking errands was finding a printer cartridge for my team’s manager’s printer. But I managed to find it fairly quickly. The team would usually have its game in the afternoon or in the evening, so the attaché would escort them to the venue, help to find a locker room and bring ice and water as during the practice. Plus, it is not required, but the team attaché (myself included) would also watch all of the games of her/his team and be the biggest fan and supporter. Even though you are essentially just a worker helping the team to get around, you start to feel connected to these complete strangers.

Anyway, team attaché would also play a part of communicator between the team and the organizers of the championship as well as FIBA Europe officials. I used to be afraid of making important calls, but after these two weeks that fear is gone. I have never been responsible for other people for such a long time and I have never tried so hard to make them proud.

Volunteering at this championship was an amazing experience. Not only I was able to test drive my English skills and meet amazing people from England, I was able to befriend other volunteers, who I would have never met anywhere else. I will cherish the memories of watching the games, having lunch or just simply lying on sofas during our breaks forever. These mundane tasks and small talks which evolved into deep conversations are the most special moments to me. I hope that we will keep in touch and don’t just become strangers as we were before.

While the championship was organized very neatly, we had a few issues along the way. I will tell you about a few moments that now look funny when you remember them. For example, FIBA gifted all teams plastic drinking bottles with the championship’s logo. My team broke 5 or 6 of them. By the end of the championship, I was scared to ask organizers for more spare bottles. Also, during the first day of the championship, we had massive schedule delays. The workers broke the glass part on one of the baskets at Kaunas Sports Hall and there was a power outing that lasted more than an hour at Sabonis Basketball Center. When you look back at these small issues, you can laugh and smile, but they’ve cost all of us a lot of nerves when they happened. All big events like this one have problems and we definitely dealt well with our challenges.

While you don’t get any financial benefits from volunteering, you might get a few perks along the way. For example, my team gifted me their official pennant and a pin, which I wore all the time. I also got a few FIBA souvenirs and French Basketball Federation’s pen from the team attaché of France (thanks again for it!). All the volunteers also received a few special orange volunteer T-Shirts, which we had to wear while working. We also had accreditation cards, which allowed us to go basically everywhere. Lastly, before escorting my team to the airport to catch their flight back home to London, one of the coaches and I swapped T-Shirts. I gifted him one of my orange ones (he really wanted it) and I received an official Basketball England polo shirt, which I am very happy about.

Anyway, although I was really happy to receive some material perks to remember this championship and the team of England by, all of these physical things are nothing compared to the amazing experience. I will never forget these two weeks, which were simultaneously the hardest and the best ones of this summer. Volunteering is a wonderful way to test yourself and to help you find you passion and the thing you are good at. It also looks amazing on your resume – next month I’m moving to Scotland to study and I will be looking for a job, but, since I have no previous job experience, I can at least put volunteering on there. By the way, all of the volunteers received official certificates from Lithuanian Basketball Federation for volunteering at this event and we were also all invited to watch a friendly match between Lithuania’s and Macedonia’s Men’s Basketball Teams in a Huawei Basketball Tournament as a thank you.

So, if you get a chance to volunteer at any event, be it a championship or a music festival, definitely, take it. I will for sure try to find more events to volunteer at during my spare time or next summer when I will be done with my freshman year. Men’s U18 European Handball Championship is happening in my native town of Kaunas next year, so I would love to work as an attaché in that one as well.

Bye!

 The poster of the event. The motto of the championship was: ‘See Tomorrow’s Stars Today’

Volunteer’s T-Shirt

  Basketball England polo shirt that I got through a swap.

Volunteer’s accreditation and an Official Programme

 FIBA Europe key chain and a pen, Sport’s Volunteer’s Union pen and a French Basketball federation pen

 Team England card (I used it to greet the team at an airport and I would also put it up on the windshield of the bus that was taking the team to practice or to the game)


Basketball England pennant and a pin

Photos from the event:

Participating Countries’ Flags

Moments from Team England games

Moment from a semifinal between Lithuania and Turkey

Spectators of the final game (we had a full house!). The national men’s basketball team sat in a first row and supported the youngster. Sadly, Lithuania still lost the final game by 2 points.

The winner and the receivers of silver and bronze medals.

 Team Lithuania waiting for their medals

Bosnia&Herzegovina’s team celebrating their win

Confetti!!!

And the best volunteers in the world (with the organizers)!

Have a great week!

Sightseeing: Turkey

Sightseeing

Hello!

I hope that you are having a great Monday wherever you live. Currently, it is Monday evening in Lithuania and I am relaxing after a long hard day at school. The school stuff wasn’t really that hard but I am also sick, I have a cold and terrible headache so that certainly didn’t add anything nice to my day.

But enough of my ranting, let’s get on with a blog post. Today, I am going to tell you about my holidays in Turkey from October 2013.Since it was almost a year ago, I am sorry if I don’t remember all the details.

We started our journey in Vilnius airport. There, on a cold Monday morning we boarded a Small planet travel agency plane which took us to Antalya – one of the biggest resort cities in Turkey. Turkey’s culture is so different than Lithuania’s: there are people everywhere, they are selling stuff just on the street and they are shouting really loudly. Everything is colorful and the smells of fresh fruits are mixing with traffic fumes. It was a lot to take in at first. I wasn’t staying in Antalya. My hotel – La Mer Art – was in Goynuk – a small village near Kemer. A short bus trip took me and my parents there and when we finally got checked into a hotel it was already dinner time.

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The food was amazing. You could choose form several different cuisines, diet or vegetarian tables. And the sweets! They are so sweet, even too sweet for my taste. The same evening we wondered around for a bit and went to the beach to see how the moon was hovering above the Mediterranean Sea.

The next morning, after a very late and filling breakfast we went to the beach, sunbathed, swam and went diving until lunch. After lunch we were laying by the pool and just relaxing after yesterday’s flight. Around 4-5 o’clock when it have already gotten pretty cold (The sun would go over the mountains and the temperature would fall down about 10 degrees Celsius) me and my dad would go to the gym and exercise for a few hours (Work out until all the calories of those sweets are burned) and then go to the tennis court for a quick match. My mom would go enjoy the hotel’s spa or read a book by the pool.

After dinner, my family and another family of our friends which we were travelling with would sit in a bar or in lounge area which was filled with Russian tourists mostly. The animation team of the hotel was amazing; there were always something to do or an interesting performance to watch in the evening.

I pretty much spent all my week the same way I spent my first day. But we also visited nearby Kemer city and walked around for a bit, bought some national Turkey sweets – Turkish delight (lokum) to bring home and I also bought some commemorative postcards (photo below). (Be careful while shopping in Turkey – they like to sell a lot of fake designers’ stuff!) Plus, we also visited the Goynuk village where our hotel was situated, tasted some traditional Turkish kebab. One morning we woke up really early and went to see how the sun was rising from the sea. We also went on a water motorbike ride which was super fun and exciting.

The surrounding nature and view was astonishing. We stayed near Taurus Mountains, so you would walk out into hotel’s garden and see the sea on one side and mountains on the other side. There were also a lot of palm trees and colorful flowers as well.

I was really sad to leave Turkey. It was the best holiday’s I ever had and I definitely want to come back there again.

Collection: Mood/Inspiration Board

Uncategorized

Hello!

Welcome to part 2 of my wall decorations. Last time I told you all about my posters and other little bits and pieces that are hanging on my walls (Part 1). This time, I will show you my mood/inspiration board.

First of all, it is actually not a board, just two A4 format pieces of papers glued on the wall with a bunch of sticky notes stacked on them.

Words that are on these sticky notes are mostly inspiring quotes of famous people like: Audrey Hepburn, Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King Jr., Anne Frank, John Lennon and authors like David Mitchell (Cloud Atlas book), Michael Grant (Gone series), and John Green (TFIOS). There are also some lyrics from my favorite Lana Del Rey songs (Born to die, Blue jeans) as well as Rihanna’s Shine Bright like a Diamond. In addition, there are also some random words that mean something to me: Bravery, Vulnerability, Solidarity, Equality and so forth and a little tag that says 1960s which is my favorite era.

My obsessions also have their place above my desk: there is a Mockingjay sign and May the Odds Be Ever in Your Favor signature quote from The Hunger Games because I am the huge fan of the franchise. There is also a shadowhunter rune from The Mortal Instruments series by Cassandra Clare, Okay? Okay clouds from TFIOS, double infinity sign, a sparkly silver star, LONG LIVE THE KING saying that reminds me of Game of Thrones and Reign TV series and other random things like: GEEK, NERD pins that represent me, names of the countries I have visited and other inspirational sayings.

I hope you liked seeing my mood/inspiration board. Every time I glance at it, my spirits are automatically lifted and all the bad stuff, negative emotions and sad feelings fade away. I wish that this blog post brighten your day as well. Bye!

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