5 ideas about a movie: The Promise 

Movie reviews

Hello!

During the busy summer blockbuster season, I like to make time for the ‘regular’ movies too. The picture that I’m reviewing today – The Promise – falls exactly into this category.

IMDb summary: Set during the last days of the Ottoman Empire, The Promise follows a love triangle between Michael, a brilliant medical student, the beautiful and sophisticated Ana, and Chris – a renowned American journalist based in Paris.

  1. A few months ago, I raised a general question to my dad (who watches lots of movies with me): when will we run out of war stories? Well, I pretty much got my answer while watching The Promise and the short version is – never. Not only do we have lots of modern/current wars to tell stories about, but we still have a ton of untold tales from the past wars. The Promise focuses on the Armenian Genocide inside the Ottoman Empire during the First World War – not a topic that World War I movies have previously touched upon.
  2. The reason why The Promise decided to tell this particular story was because of the film’s source of funding. The entire budget was donated by an American businessman that has Armenian roots – Kirk Kerkorian – and his sole wish was to bring this story into the mainstream consciousness rather than earn money. Sadly, this film didn’t succeed at either – it was a box office bomb, which means that not a lot of people had a chance to witness this narrative.
  3. The Promise was directed by Terry George, from the script by the director himself and the screenwriter Robin Swicord. I thought that the directing was quite solid even if the film was a bit long and dragged at times. However, at the same time, I don’t think that they should have cut anything from the story – I applaud the writers for not oversimplifying the journey that these characters had to take. I would also like to praise them for creating 3 interesting leads who seemed both realistic and believable enough and were also cinematically engaging. It was also nice to see a level of objectivity in a war movie – I believe that it was really important to include a character on the Turkish side who was actually a good person rather than just to paint that whole nation as the villains.
  4. The emotional core of the film was also effective. This real-life story is tragic in itself and the dramatic love triangle (which worked and wasn’t too tearful or cliche) only added extra emotions to the script. A few of especially heart-wrenching moments were the sequence where Oscar Isaac’s character finds his village’s people slaughtered by the river and the shots of the makeshift red-cross flag, placed on the side of the mountain.
  5. The Promise had a stellar cast, full of gifted actors who delivered spectacular dramatic performances. Sadly, not a lot of them were of Armenian descent – I think it would have been nice to spotlight some lesser known Armenian talent. Oscar Isaac was absolutely wonderful – these are the types of roles that I’d like to see more of him in rather than the awful supporting roles in failed blockbusters (X-Men: Apocalypse). Having said that, I would also like to see him continuing to star in more successful big-budget pictures, like Star Wars. Christian Bale (The Big Short) was also really good, although it was quite unusual, seeing him in a role which did not require a lot of physical change. Charlotte Le Bon (The Walk, The Hundred-Foot Journey, Bastille Day) was also amazing. Probably the most well-known Armenian actress on the cast was Westworld’s Angela Sarafyan – she played a small but important role. Other non-American and non-English actors were also included (which seems better than just having Americans and Brits playing Armenians): Mexican Daniel Giménez Cacho, Iranian Shohreh Aghdashloo, Croatian Rade Sherbedgia, Dutch-Tunisian Marwan Kenzari, and Israeli actor Yigal Naor all had supporting roles in the picture.

In short, The Promise is a well-made historical drama that might not sound super original but is, nonetheless, very important, as it tells a forgotten story of the marginalized people.

Rate: 4.25/5

Trailer: The Promise trailer 

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Movie review: War Machine

Movie reviews

Hi!

As the counterprogramming to Pirates 5 and Baywatch (review coming in a few weeks cause international release schedules), Netflix released its newest original picture – War Machine. Since I’m not seeing Wonder Woman till Monday, I decided to make War Machine my movie of the weekend. I have already reviewed a Netflix film before and given you my general thoughts on Netflix’s attempt to break into the movie business. Weirdly, that picture was also a war drama – Sand Castle. I didn’t enjoy it much but I’m still hopeful about War Machine.

IMDb summary: A successful, charismatic four-star general, Glenn McMahon, leaps in like a rock star to command NATO forces in Afghanistan, only to be taken down by a journalist’s no-holds-barred exposé

Writing 

War Machine was written by the director of the film David Michôd, based on the non-fiction book The Operators by Michael Hastings. I quite enjoyed a variety of aspects of the writing for this film. To begin with, I loved the acknowledgment of the internationality of the war and the importance of the involvement of the other NATO nation’s as well as of the Afghans themselves.

I also was intrigued by the satirical air of the movie. It was so refhreshing to see a serious issue, like war, being examined with a level of irony, especially nowadays, when everybody gets offended by everything. More importantly, the satirical approach was so suitable for the topic of war because of the inherent hopelessness and even stupidity within it. The lack of final resolution to the narrative was also very appropriate as there isn’t actually a final solution to the war(s) in the Middle East.

In addition to the movie being bold in its choice of tone, it was also very daring in its message. That message sounded simple and yet it is so hard for a lot of Western nations to comprehend: ‘you cannot build a nation at gunpoint’ and ‘don’t invade a country you want to make friends with’.

War Machine was also unique in that it did not focus on the physical fighting of the war but rather looked at the paperwork, the planning, and the advertising side of it. I also loved how the team behind the general was spotlighted – I never did think how much is happening behind the scenes or behind the leader. Moreover, the divide between the military and the polity and all the miscommunication that was occuring was fascinating to see.

The writing for the main character (who is based on a real person) was also really good. I loved how idealistic he was – a sort of guy who makes you believe that there is good in the world. And yet, there were still layers to his idealism and I liked the fact that the movie questioned his motives. Were they trully as altruistic as they seemed? The conclusion to the narrative was also complex. I felt that, even though the article, written by the Rolling Stones journalist (who acted as the movie’s version of the real life author, who wrote the book the script was based on), destroyed the General’s career, this film was quite respectuful of it and him. Ultimately, he was painted in a good light, so to say.

Lastly, to end this long passage on the writing, let’s critique one aspect of the screenplay which was lacking – the structure of the narrative and the way it was presented. Of course, I am talking about narration. I do understand that the narration in this film could be sort of justified by saying that it’s the author/the journalist who is telling a story (and that actor did narrate the whole thing). However, the narration is such a cheap story device. Yes, it makes the plot very clear and is easy to understand. But it also makes it boring. I really wish the story could have been conveyed more organically and cinematically rather than just being spelled out for the viewers verbally.

Directing

David Michôd, a director of shorts and documentaries, helmed War Machine and did a good job. The movie was well-paced and the comedic/satirical atmosphere – well handled. The film did not have a lot of sequences of fighting and they weren’t missed – the dialogue and the character interactions were engaging enough. Having said that, the third act’s action sequence was well-crafted and suspenseful. Another sequence which I really liked was the conference in Germany and the stand-off between the German politician and the General. I also loved the ending shot of the film and how it represented the idea of hopelessness and the closed-loop of war. Same place, same job, different people. Doesn’t really matter who, though.

Acting

Brad Pitt (The Big Short, Allied, By The Sea) delivered career-defining performance as General Glen McMahon. The best I have seen from him in years. The performance was so complex, involving all the parts of the body and the face (especially, the eyebrows and the eyes). Also, he did some amazing voice modification for the role – the play with the accent and intonations was spectacular. I also loved how he delivered a comedic performance without being disrespectful. He should definitely get at least a Golden Globe nomination. Pitt also served as a producer – he does that a lot nowadays. He also produces films he does not star in.

The aforementioned team behind the General consisted of a bunch of actors of varying caliber, including Anthony Hayes, Emory Cohen, RJ Cyler, Daniel Betts, and Topher Grace. They all were good and their chemistry and comradeship seemed believable.

The journalist, who was inspired by the real-life writer, who wrote the book the script was based on, was played by Scoot McNairy. He also narrated the whole movie. Will Poulter and Keith Stanfield played two soldiers ‘on the ground’ who actually did the fighting. Stanfield’s character’s confusion about the war was an interesting aspect. I wish it were explored more.

Tilda Swinton also appeared in a single scene as a German politician. While I can’t comment on her German accent, I thought that she was absolutely amazing in the 5 min she was on screen.  Ben Kingsley also had a small role in the film – a quite typical one for him – that of a leader/person from an Eastern country.

In short, War Machine worked well as a biographical drama and as a war film. More importantly, the commentary provided was not only thought-provoking but presented in an entertaining way.

Rate: 3.7/5

Trailer: War Machine trailer

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5 ideas about a movie: Sand Castle

Movie reviews

Hello!

Since no new movies that interest me are premiering this week in the UK, I decided to seek out other new films that did not reach cinemas. The first one that I could find was Sand Castle.

IMDb summary: Set during the occupation of Iraq, a squad of U.S. soldiers try to protect a small village.

  1. Sand Castle is a Netflix original film. While the beloved streaming platform is known for having amazing TV shows (Orange is the New Black, Stranger Things, House of Cards, 13 Reason Why just to name a few), their movie game has not been that strong. Some of the pictures received more attention than others, but the majority of them did not leave a lasting impact. A few of the Netflix movies that I’ve seen were perfectly fine, including Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: Sword of DestinyThe Fundamentals of Caring, XOXO, ARQ, The Siege of Jadotville. Let’s see whether Sand Castle is the film that turns things around and is more than just fine.
  2. The movie’s screenplay was written by Chris Roessner and this was his first feature length script. For a debut work, it’s certainly not bad. I appreciated all the thematic concepts that the picture attempted to explore, like masculinity, patriotism (or even chauvinism) and the American culture in general. The moral questions, including why does an individual choose to join the military, were appropriately asked as well. However, although the various ideas were introduced, they didn’t go anywhere and were basically forgotten by the 2nd act, which was the weakest part of the film. The third act and the conclusion were fine, even though an attempt to go back to the film’s message in the last few scenes seemed like an afterthought.
  3. Sand Castle was directed by a Brazilian filmmaker Fernando Coimbra. He succeeded at crafting gorgeous visuals of the surroundings and the long continuous shots during the action sequences were impressive. However, the random jumps in time and the uneven pacing did damage the final product. I also thought that the idea to always keep the camera on the American soldiers, rather than to go back and forth between them and the terrorists, was an interesting, even if a bit one-sided, decision.
  4. The lead of the movie was played by Nicholas Hoult and he did a good job portraying a soldier, affected by the horrors of the war. Hoult is one of my favorite actors, so I try to follow his career pretty closely. Most people know him from the X-Men movies or Mad Max: Fury Road. I’d also suggest you check out his smaller films: Dark Places, Equals, and especially Kill Your Friends.
  5. The supporting cast included Henry Cavill (The Man from U.N.C.L.E.), Logan Marshall-Green (soon will appear in Spider-Man: Homecoming), and Glen Powell (Everybody Wants Some!!, Hidden Figures). Cavill had a pretty small role but he seemed to have more fun with it than he ever had with the role of Superman. It’s quite sad to see that his involvement with the DCEU did not result in more high-brow roles. Well, he is appearing in Mission Impossible 6, so that’s something. Marshall-Green and Powell also delivered fine performances.

In short, Sand Castle was an okay war drama that could have been so much better if it just explored the themes it introduced. It’s not the most original film about war and I probably would not have gone to see it at the cinema, but if you already have a Netflix account, it is definitely worth a watch.

Rate: 3/5

Trailer: Sand Castle trailer

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Movie review: Hacksaw Ridge

Movie reviews

Hello!

Before the year ends, I’m desperately trying to see all the movies I’ve missed and all the films that might make my top 10 list. Well, I just came back from the cinema where I saw a strong contender for it – Hacksaw Ridge.

IMDb summary: WWII American Army Medic Desmond T. Doss, who served during the Battle of Okinawa, refuses to kill people, and becomes the first man in American history to receive the Medal of Honor without firing a shot.

Writing

TV writer Andrew Knight and playwright Robert Schenkkan wrote Hacksaw Ridge’s script and did a very good job. They managed to tell a very personal story in the context of a huge global event – WWII – and have given a unique perspective on it. This film, similarly to The Birth of a Nation, was not only a war drama but a religious picture too. The power of belief and religious dogmas were contrasted to the horrors of war. The writing for the main character was really good and extensive: his upbringing and personal background really helped the viewers to sympathize and even identify with him. I especially liked the contrast between his quite violent childhood and the feeling of innocence that he maintained in his adult years before the war (the sweet flirting scenes showcased that the best). These varying scenes made him into a fully rounded character and set up his character journey neatly. The truly heartbreaking and inspiring part of his story was the fact that he managed to keep his goodness when faced with the evilest thing in the universe – war.

The most compelling part of the film, to me personally, was the second act. I found it really interesting to see how this man struggled to even get to war. The court speech was one of my favorite pieces of dialogue (the other one being the line from the 3rd act ‘Help me get one more’). The debate on whether rules or beliefs are more important was interesting too.

When watching this movie’s narrative unfold on the big screen, a couple of questions popped into my mind. The first one revolved around bullying in the army – we all know that that happens in real life and we all have seen the countless movie scenes with the Sergeant shouting at the Privates. This type of a scene has become a cliche in both the reality and in cinema. The question that bothers me is why? Why is bullying in the army seen as accepted and normal rite of passage? The second, more general movie question, has to do with war dramas. Every year, at least one WWII or WWI film reaches theaters and they all usually do pretty well, both financially and critically. I’d like to know when are we going to run our of real (and fictional) war stories to tell? When is humanity’s fascination with world wars is going to end? Maybe if one starts in real life, there won’t be any need to look for this kind of horrific violence in the cinema.

Directing

After a 10 year hiatus, Mel Gibson (Braveheart, The Passion of the Christ) came back to directing and did a magnificent job with Hacksaw Ridge. I loved how he realized all the different parts of the story (upbringing, training, and war) and how he paced them: the movie was quite slow and long but I didn’t feel like it dragged unnecessarily, the balance between drama and action was good. The way the actual war sequences were actualized was just spectacular. They were graphic, violent, and uncomfortable to look at – everything a war scene should look and feel like. From start to finish, Gibson crafted a solid and well-constructed motion picture, which was cleverly completed with the inclusion of the real life counterparts of the film’s characters. I always appreciate these real world tie-ins in the biographical dramas.

One last note before I move on to acting – I would really like to praise the sound designers of this film – their aural effects accompanied the striking visuals of war and really made an impact, this time around. The first few bomb explosions in the first few scenes of the war action really startled me – they were extremely effective.

Acting

  • Andrew Garfield played the lead and did an absolutely spectacular job. After he was replaced as Spiderman, Garfield has really turned his career around and focused more on serious and indie films rather than blockbusters. He started and produced 99 homes and was also in Scorcese’s Silence (which was yet to be released widely).
  • The supporting cast of the film featured so many familiar faces: Vince Vaughn (True Detective Season 2), Sam Worthington (Avatar, Everest), Luke Bracey (Point Break), Hugo Weaving (The Matrix, LOTR, V for Vendetta, Cloud Atlas), Rachel Griffiths (Saving Mr. Banks), Richard Roxburgh (Moulin Rouge!)Teresa Palmer (Point Break, Triple 9) and Nathaniel Buzolic (The Vampire Diaries, The Originals) had roles of varying sizes. All of them delivered great and realistic performances. One aspect in which the film lacked realism was the physical look of its soldier characters – the majority of them looked like male models rather than soldiers, but, this is Hollywood, so I should not have been that surprised.

To conclude, Hacksaw Ridge was a very strong WWII drama – the best one in recent years – coming close to even the likes of Saving Private Ryan in its levels of quality. This film had a truly amazing and unique narrative at its core, which was nicely brought to life by the main actor – Andrew Garfield –  and the main man behind the camera – Mel Gibson.

Rate: 4.5/5

Trailer: Hacksaw Ridge 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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