Movie review: Widows

Movie reviews

Hello!

And welcome to a review of another awards’ hopeful that didn’t look like an awards’ movie from the trailer but is one because of who is involved with it in front and behind the camera. This is Widows.

IMDb summary: Set in contemporary Chicago, amid a time of turmoil, four women with nothing in common except a debt left behind by their dead husbands’ criminal activities, take fate into their own hands, and conspire to forge a future on their own terms.

Writing

Gillian Flynn, best known as a novelist (Gone Girl) rather than scriptwriter, and the director Steve McQueen wrote the screenplay of Windows. The script was based on a TV show. And that could be felt while watching the film because the movie’s narrative was oversaturated with ideas and plotlines. The movie also felt a bit like a book-adaptation by how dense it was – or that may just be Flynn’s writing style.

I really liked how unique the characters were and how they felt like real, well-rounded people rather than cliches or archetypes. I also appreciated how all the plotlines were handled: the film was complex and clear at the same time. It was also engaging, though I wasn’t completely convinced by the twist. Thematically, the movie didn’t really focus on just a couple of concepts but rather it put a mirror to the contemporary world and portrayed an interplay of issues, including women’s position in society, betrayal, criminality, politics, family, marriage, relationships, and race among others.

Directing

Steve McQueen of 12 Years a Slave directed Widows and did a good job. I appreciated his visual style, the extreme close-ups and how he played with the frame (what was in or outside of it) and depth (front v back). I’m still not entirely sure whether the film was awarded’ material. It was definitely a solid film but was it revolutionary in any way? I don’t think so. I also think it was more thriller-y than drama-y, and the Academy still values dramas above everything else.

Acting

Widows had a diverse cast, and by diverse, I mean diverse in identities that were represented and in the quality or status of actors. Viola Davis (Fences), Daniel Kaluuya (Get Out) and Colin Farrell (The Beguiled) were there to boost the awards chances of the film. Elizabeth Debicki and Michele Rodriguez are both great actresses but they are still closer to the B than the A-list (they are not main stars of their respective franchises, Marvel and FF, respectively). Liam Neeson is an action star that usually has his movies come out in January (a.k.a. the worst month?), like The Commuter. Some quality TV actors were also part of the cast, and even though they were great, they are still associated more with the small rather than the silver screen, and while that isn’t a bad thing for the audiences, it might be a hard sell when it comes to awards?

In short, Widows was a solid thriller with an engaging story and great execution of it by both the director and the actors.

Rate: 4/5

Trailer: Widows trailer

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The Awards Season Round-Up 2017

Movie previews, Movie reviews

Hello!

With the Oscars happening tomorrow and the 2017 awards season coming to a close, I decided to do my own annual awards round-up type of a post.

Like I did last year (2016 round-up), I have combined the nominees from the various awards shows. Although the Oscar nominees make up the basis for all the categories, I have also added nominees from the Golden Globes, the Critics Choice Awards, the BAFTAs and the various guild awards (SAG, DGA, PGA, WGA) that the Academy overlooked. I allowed myself up to 10 nominees in every category except the best picture one – it was expanded to 12. I have not only noted my personal winners in each category but I also ranked all the runner-ups. Below, I have also written down my guesses of who will actually win an Academy Award in each category, because my subjective preferences not necessarily fit my more objective picks. Lastly, all the full reviews of the movies have also been linked.

Best Picture:

  1. Hidden Figures
  2. Arrival
  3. Hacksaw Ridge
  4. La La Land
  5. Hell or High Water
  6. Manchester by the Sea
  7. Moonlight
  8. The Lobster
  9. Nocturnal Animals
  10. Fences
  11. Lion
  12. Sully

The objective pick: While I’d be very happy if any of my top 3 films win the big award of the night, neither of them will. Best Picture will probably go to La La Land. Moonlight is my other guess.

Best Lead Actor:

  1. Andrew Garfield – Hacksaw Ridge
  2. Denzel Washington – Fences
  3. Casey Affleck – Manchester by the Sea
  4. Collin Farrel – The Lobster
  5. Ryan Gosling – La La Land
  6. Chris Pine – Hell or High Water
  7. Viggo Mortensen – Captain Fantastic
  8. Joel Edgerton – Loving
  9. Tom Hanks – Sully

The objective pick: the top three frontrunners for the award are Affleck, Gosling, and Washington. Gosling would be my choice because of the wide variety of skills required for his particular role (playing piano, dancing, and singing on top of acting).

Best Lead Actress:

  1. Isabelle Huppert – Elle
  2. Taraji P. Henson – Hidden Figures
  3. Ruth Negga – Loving
  4. Natalie Portman – Jackie
  5. Emma Stone – La La Land
  6. Amy Adamas – Arrival/Nocturnal Animals
  7. Meryl Streep – Florence Foster Jenkins
  8. Emily Blunt – The Girl on the Train

The objective pick: My personal winners – Huppert, Portman, and Stone – are the frontrunners for the Oscar. Stone will most likely take it even though Huppert does have a chance of stealing it. Portman deserves the win as well but she already has an Oscar.

Best Supporting Actor:

  1. Mahershala Ali – Moonlight
  2. Jeff Bridges – Hell or High Water
  3. Aaron Taylor-Johnson – Nocturnal Animals
  4. Lucas Hedges – Manchester by the Sea
  5. Dev Patel – Lion
  6. Michael Shannon – Nocturnal Animals
  7. Simon Helberg – Florence Foster Jenkins
  8. Hugh Grant – Florence Foster Jenkins

The objective pick: Ali should win this one. Patel, coming off of BAFTA win, might prove to be a legit competitor. Bridges or Hedges could also possibly steal the win.

Best Supporting Actress:

  1. Viola Davis – Fences
  2. Janelle Monae – Hidden Figures
  3. Naomie Harris – Moonlight
  4. Octavia Spencer – Hidden Figures
  5. Michelle Williams – Manchester by the Sea
  6. Nicole Kidman – Lion

The objective pick: this is one of the two categories, where my subjective and objective choices are one and the same. Davis has won all the important awards up until now and it is obviously her time to finally get an Oscar.

Best Director:

  1. Damien Chazelle – La La Land
  2. Denis Villeneuve – Arrival
  3. Mel Gibson – Hacksaw Ridge
  4. Barry Jenkins – Moonlight
  5. Tom Ford – Nocturnal Animals
  6. Kenneth Lonergan – Manchester by the Sea
  7. David Mackenzie – Hell or High Water
  8. Denzel Washington – Fences
  9. Garth Davis – Lion

The objective pick: the other category, where the objective and subjective winners coincide. Chazelle did a great job directing La La Land and, even if the film wasn’t my favorite of the year, his excellent work should be rewarded.

Best Original Screenplay:

  1. Yorgos Lanthimos and Efthimis Filippou – The Lobster
  2. Taylor Sheridan – Hell or High Water
  3. Kenneth Lonergan – Manchester by the Sea
  4. Damien Chazelle – La La Land
  5. John Carney – Sing Street

The objective pick: La La Land has won a few screenwriting awards but, if it wins the Academy Award, I will be furious. The story was the weakest part of the film and I’ll, genuinely, be happy if any other picture wins.

Best Adapted Screenplay:

  1. Eric Heisserer – Arrival
  2. Allison Schroeder and Theodore Melfi – Hidden Figures
  3. August Wilson – Fences
  4. Tom Ford – Nocturnal Animals
  5. Jeff Nichols – Loving
  6. Luke Davies – Lion
  7. Barry Jenkins and Tarell Alvin McCraney – Moonlight
  8. Todd Komarnicki – Sully

The objective pick: This category has the most equal race. Honestly, any nominated film deserves it. The Academy might give this win to Hidden Figures as they probably not gonna give it any other awards.

Best Animated Feature: 

  1. Zootopia
  2. Kubo and the Two Strings
  3. Moana
  4. Sing
  5. Finding Dory
  6. Trolls

The objective pick: I haven’t seen the 2 indie picture that were nominated but, that doesn’t really matter because Zootopia will take the win, as it should.

I hope you enjoyed flicking through my list of winners. Are you planning on watching the big show tomorrow or are you just gonna check who wins online, like I’m planning to do?

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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: Suicide Squad

Movie reviews

Hi!

In 2014, on my birthday, I went to the Guardians of the Galaxy premiere. A year later, I celebrated my entry into adulthood (18th birthday) with Ant-Man. Well, today, I’m continuing this tradition and watching a comic book movie – Suicide Squad – on/around my birthday.

The majority of my knowledge about the actual Task Force X comes from the TV series Arrow. I was really disappointed when WB stop allowing Suicide Squad characters to be featured in the Arrowverse because they were making a movie, so all of these iconic characters were killed off like Red Shirts. If you want something to watch to prepare yourself for the film, I suggest Batman: Assault on Arkham animated movie and the Mad Love episode of the Batman TV series. Also, Gotham TV show has a few nice moments involving these characters. Lastly, I’ve read a few issues of the Suicide Squad comics but definitely would love to read some more, so leave your suggestions in the comments.

IMDb summary: A secret government agency recruits imprisoned supervillains to execute dangerous black ops missions in exchange for clemency.

The reviews, that have been coming in, have been pretty terrible and made me actually terrified to see the film because I desperately wanted it to be good. Sadly, I think we have another BvS situation on our hands. I didn’t hate Batman v Superman when I first saw it but had a lot of problems with it. Since I loved the concept of that film so much I didn’t want to give up on it, so I watched the Ultimate Edition and absolutely loved it. Suicide Squad feels like a BvS theatrical version – it is missing a ton of stuff that has been cut, including a lot of scenes showed in the trailers, so we will probably see another version of this film released in a near future.

David Ayer

David Ayer has only directed 5 feature-length pictures before he undertook the Suicide Squad project. For the most part, his films have been both critically and commercially successful, except the flop of Sabotage. Nevertheless, Ayer has shown that he can create intense action sequences in limited spaces (Fury and End of Watch). He has also demonstrated his writing skills – just listen to the Training Day’s dialogue – it’s snappy, funny and has a message. Until now, Ayer has made small-scale, more intimate, character-driven films (e.g. Fury – a group of soldiers stuck in a tank, End of Watch – 2 police officers in a car). Suicide Squad is his biggest film to date both cast-wise, story-wise, and budget-wise.

Sadly, I really think that David Ayer should have brought in an additional screenwriter or a co-director because I believe that he bit off more than he could chew. The actual writing on the film was fine but its execution and presentation on screen lacked quality. Moreover, the editing was all over the place again, like with the Batman v Superman.

SPOILER ALERT

The characters

The picture had way too many characters and didn’t give all of them enough of backstory or if it did give the characters some development, it did it in a rushed and really tacked-on way. Deadshot and Harley received the majority of development – Waller just basically told the viewer about them and there were also a few montages of flashbacks. The same happened with Rick Flag and June Moone, the only difference was that they received even less of any actual development. Captain’s Boomerang’s and Killer Croc’s backstories were mostly skipped. Slipknot was only there to be killed off, so no one even bothered to introduce him in any interesting way. Katana felt like an after-thought and didn’t have anything significant to do either, but at least she wasn’t an actual member of the squad, so at least that allowed her to stand out. The only character, whose development seemed to be organic and came out of the story, was El Diablo – he had an emotional monolog in the middle of the story.  I was also surprised by how quickly the Squad became friends or maybe they were just acting that way?

We also had two cameos: Batman appeared in Deadshot’s and Harley’s backstories, while The Flash – in Captain Boomerang’s. The Joker was also in a film – I really liked him as an updated modern gangsta, with a great fashion sense and a lot of sex appeal – and felt that he had a place in Harley’s backstory. However, his appearance in the present day was so-so. He showed up, did some stuff and went away again. And then popped up at the end, again. Didn’t make much sense.

I think that the main character of the Suicide Squad film was probably Amanda Waller – she had the most scenes and an actual place in the plot. The picture also had another soldier character, played by a sort-of well-known actor, but, given that that character’s part in the narrative was minimal, I think the role could have been played by anyone.

I was kinda worried that the movie wouldn’t be able to handle all of its characters, but really hoped that it would find a way to do it, but, sadly, my worries came true. Don’t get me wrong, I loved Harley’s and Joker’s scenes, I loved Rick’s and June’s scenes, I liked seeing Deadshot with his daughter – all of these elements were brilliant separately, but their organization and the way they were put together was just off. The whole first act felt like a big rushed montage, consisting of non-related 10 seconds long scenes, that was just cramming information left and right, without having any cohesion or flow.

So, let’s talk more about those character moments I liked:

Firstly, Joker’s and Harley’s relationship – I loved how it was changed during its transition from the comics to the big screen. Yes, their relationship was still abusive, obsessive and just plain crazy. But, it was not longer one sided – Joker actually seemed to care about Harley, as he should, since he was the one who made her crazy. I loved their moment in the helicopter but, unfortunately, it was cut short. The subtle hints at a possible Harley’s, Joker’s and Deadshot’s love triangle were also there. I would actually love to see this idea portrayed on the big screen. I usually hate love triangles in films because they tend to be extremely cliche, however, when the people involved in the love triangle are a nutjob, a crazy former psychiatrist and a criminal who can’t miss – I’m on board.

Secondly, June Moone’s and Rick Flag’s relationship was nice and I also liked the fact that, when June turned into Enchantress, who became the big bad of the film, at least one member of the squad had personal reasons to go after her/the villain. This made the final fight more emotional. However, Enchantress’s brother seemed like a weird addition. I don’t really know how I feel about him. He did look very cool visually (Enchantress also looked magnificent) but he kinda appeared out of nowhere. Is he a character from the comic books or an original creation?

Thirdly, I loved the back and forth between Deadshot and Rick Flag. Their inside competition and moments of one-liners were extremely entertaining. Captain Boomerang was also a nice addition because his comic relief was on-point.

Finally, I loved that almost all the characters’ reason to fight was their loved ones: Harley had Joker, Deadshot – his daughter, Rick – June, Katana – her husband, and El Diablo – his dead family

The narrative

The actual ‘quest’ of the movie or the mission that the Suicide Squad had to complete was fine. It wasn’t the most inventive but it did kinda work. However, I didn’t understand while the villain had to use a beam of light to destroy the world AGAIN. I just complained about this in my Ghostbusters review.

The visuals and the action

The action of the picture was fine – there were some nice sequences in the 2nd act and the final fight was cool looking, but there wasn’t anything special. I don’t feel like I have to go see the film again just because that one part was amazing. Also, in addition to investigating the editing choices and their negative effects on the story, I question some of the editing arrangements purely from a visual perspective. The slow-motion to fast-motion thing was fine in a few scenes, but got boring real quick. The color filter was also an interesting choice that didn’t necessarily work .

The character costumes were nice. I loved the look of Enchantress, as I’ve said. Her transition shot with the hand as well as that mirror shot were amazing.  The ‘money shot’ where the whole Squad was walking in the street at the end of the second act was also cool. The bar scene was nice and emotional, although it was missing a few intro shots that we’ve seen in the trailer. The darker tone also worked for the benefit of the film because it was paired with humor.

Lastly, I saw the movie in 3D – it was the first film I saw in 3D in a long time – and didn’t think that it added anything. I never was a fan of 3D, always felt that it was a financial gimmick. Are any of you fans of 3D? Can you recommend me a film that has to be watched with 3D because this effect makes it better?

The music

Suicide Squad’s soundtrack was created by Steven Price (Fury, Gravity). All of the song choices were nice but I don’t think that, on the whole, this collection of songs worked as a soundtrack. In some scenes, the music really added something special, in others – it was just distracting. I feel like they tried to make the soundtrack of the film  a character in its own right, similarly to what Guardians of the Galaxy did. However, I think that the music in Guardians was used more subtly and it at least fit the theme, while Suicide Squad’s songs were from all over the place.

The mid-credits scene

Suicide Squad had one mid-credits scene that involved Bruce Wayne, obtaining information from Waller. This was a nice Justice League set-up: now we know how Batman will able to find other meta-humans. We can see him doing just that in the first trailer for the feature, released during comic-con.

Acting

The whoel cast did a good job portraying their characters. Viola Davis (The Help) slay-ed the role of Amanda Waller. Will Smith (The Pursuit of Happyness, Focus, Concussion) was Deadshot – a badass with a heart of gold underneath the mask of a villain. Margot Robbie (Wolf of Wall Street, Whiskey Tango Foxtrot, Focus, Legend of Tarzan) was Harley Quinn – the crazy, funny but intelligent psychatrist/psychopath. Jared Leto (Dallas Buyers Club, Requiem for a Dream, Mr. Nobody) was a great Joker. It took me a second to get used to him, but now I really want to see more of him as the character. There probably isn’t another actor like Leto. He just completely loses himself in the role and tranfroms both physically and psychologically or at least performs in that way.

Joel Kinnaman (Child 44) was also great as Rick Flag. I didn’t know anything about the actor before, so didn’t really know what to expect, but he blew me away. Cara Delevingne (Paper Towns, upcoming Valerian) also worked as Enchantress. While she isn’t the most experienced actress, I can see why they cast her for this role – Enchantress’s had to be portrayed through bodily movements and eyes and that’s what models do every day in their field of work. Jai Courtney (Divergent, Terminator Genisys) as Captain Boomerang was amazing. This is the best work I’ve seen from Courtney. Jay Hernandez (upcoming Bad Moms) as El Diablo and Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje (Trumbo) as Killer Croc were both really good too. I liked Hernandez’s performance in that emotional scene and Akinnuoye-Agbaje did a fine job acting through all that makeup and face paint. Scott Eastwood (Fury, The Longest Ride, upcoming Snowden and Fast 8) was also fine in the pictue – he didn’t have much to do but did okay with what he was given.

In short, I was a bit disappointed by Suicide Squad. Maybe it is my fault – I had too high expectations. I wanted to love this picture completely but couldn’t not notice its flaws. I did love the characters, I liked the story, I appreciated the action and some of the music. However, the way that this whole movie was put together a.k.a edited flabbergasted me – it was missing a lot of connective tissue and a few montages definitely could have been changed into more organic storytelling methods.

Rate: 3.5/5

Trailer: Suicide Squad trailer

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