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: The Great Wall

Movie reviews

Hello!

Welcome to a review of the movie that is either groundbreaking or just a continuation of the oldest Holywood tradition. It’s The Great Wall!

IMDb summary: European mercenaries searching for black powder become embroiled in the defense of the Great Wall of China against a horde of monstrous creatures.

My introductory point about this film possibly being groundbreaking has to do with the circumstances of its creation. The Great Wall is the first major co-production between US and China (Kung Fu Panda 3 was also a co-production and came before this movie, but it was an animated project rather than a live-action one). And yet, this movie has also been accused of whitewashing – the old trend for Hollywood, which only recently started receiving some backlash. So, can this film be a start of something new or is just the same old thing?

Writing

The picture’s script was written by Carlo Bernard and Doug Miro (writers of the Prince of Persia movie), and Tony Gilroy (writer of the first 4 Bourne films and Rogue One). The combined previous filmography of these screenwriters is of mixed quality and the writing for The Great Wall is also kinda mixed, mostly leaning towards mediocre.

To begin with, the whole decision to have a white lead was not explained that well during the runtime of the picture. It made sense to have a white lead and a supporting cast, full of Chinese actors, from the business standpoint, but it didn’t make much sense story-wise. The film, at least, stated that Matt Damon was not supposed to be playing a Chinese character but a European explorer, who is looking for gunpowder, so Damon’s casting cannot necessarily be called whitewashing. However, the decision to focus on a European hero, who saves China, brought up the whole ‘white savior’ debate. The fact the character’s arc begun with him wanting to steal the gunpowder didn’t paint the best picture either. Is the film, then, only reaffirming colonial thinking or is trying to tell a historical story accurately?  In short, I, personally, didn’t think that the picture gave a good enough explanation for having a European lead (played by an American) in a foreign setting. Even the film The Last Samurai came up with a better reason.

Speaking about the other aspects of the writing – I did enjoy quite a few of them. I liked the world-building and the mythology that the film was inspired by. I loved the idea to have a variety of specialized parts of the army. I liked that the lead character was written as an archer, because of my personal fondness of archery. I appreciated the fact that two languages were used in the film – it made the movie seem more as a co-production in contrast to it appearing as if Hollywood just hijacked another foreign story. I also loved that so many female warrior characters were written into the story. I don’t actually know if that is historically accurate, but I didn’t care much, in the moment of watching the movie. The picture’s attempt to have an underlying important theme – the opposition between paid participation and the true loyalty – was also commendable. While this debate wasn’t really treated as fully as it should have been, I like the fact that the film at least tried to be something more than it ended up to as.

And that final something is the fact that the film’s story was just kinda meh. The narrative was simple and straightforward – nothing one hasn’t seen before. It had two obvious plotlines – the first about fighting the monster and the other about stealing the gunpowder – which converged in the end. The main character’s change of heart during the finale was predictable and cliche. Basically, for a movie that did something very different with its financing and production, The Great Wall should have also done something new and interesting with its story.

Directing

The Great Wall was directed by Zhang Yimou. The majority of his films act as Chinese submissions for the Academy Awards in the Best Foreign Language category, so he is an accomplished director. His direction for this movie was quite nice too and I do think he did the best he could with the given material.  The action scenes looked cool and I liked the massive scope of them. The film had some impressive long takes too. The historical setting, as well as the different sections of the army, were also realized well enough. Plus, the design of the monsters was varied and quite interestng (they kinda reminded me of the zombies from World War Z because of their movement and the sounds they emitted). However, the CGI definitely could have been more photorealistic, especially in this day and age.

My favorite action sequence was the first battle, mostly because it was reminiscent of the final battle from The Lord Of The Rings: The Two Towers, although not as good. I also really liked the smaller corrida-type (Spanish bull-fighting) fight scene, in which Pedro Pascal’s character was luring the monster and Matt Damon’s character was trying to shoot it with an arrow. I also loved that the battle scenes had a diegetic beat – the drumming within a story provided a rhythm for both the characters, who were fighting, and the viewers, who were just enjoying the soundtrack. Lastly, the scene with the Chinese lanterns also looked lovely but, as weird as this sounds, it didn’t felt unique. These lanterns are now used all over the world for various celebrations (or in movies, like Tangled), so their usage in an actual Chinese setting didn’t seem as unique as it should have.

Acting

Matt Damon played the lead and did as good a job as he could have. Honestly, he has never been my first choice for a historical movie but he did make the role work. Even with all the whitewashing backlash, Damon will be fine, as his career has been going great. While his return to the role of Jason Bourne wasn’t as positive as it could have been, his work on The Martian is still on everyone’s minds. Besides, in addition to acting, Damon’s producing work has been going great, as the film he recently produced – Manchester by the Sea – is a big awards nominee this season.

Pedro Pascal played a supporting role and brought a tiny bit of a different kind of diversity into the picture. Pascal impressed everyone on a single season of Game of Thrones and I am kinda surprised that his work on GOT didn’t lead to more roles for him. Nevertheless, I really liked his The Great Wall’s character’s sass – it pleasantly reminded me of Oberyn.

Willem Dafoe also appeared in the movie and didn’t have much to do, while the Chinese part of the cast delivered great performances. Jing Tian was amazing as the female lead, while Andy Lau and Zhang Hanyu did a good enough job with what they were given as well. I really wish that I knew more about these actors and their previous filmography.

In brief, The Great Wall was a film, whose behind the scenes story was more interesting than its on-screen plot. While it might have broken grounds from the business standpoint, it was nothing more than average from the creative one.

Rate: 3/5

Trailer: The Great Wall trailer

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Movie review: Eye in the Sky

Movie reviews

Hello!

I’ve just come back from the cinema, after watching one of the best movies I have seen this year or possibly ever and I can’t wait to talk about it. Without further ado, let’s discuss the war drama/thriller – Eye in the Sky.

IMDb summary: Col. Katherine Powell, a military officer in command of an operation to capture terrorists in Kenya, sees her mission escalate when a girl enters the kill zone triggering an international dispute over the implications of modern warfare.

SPOILER ALERT

Writing: story and themes

Eye in the Sky’s script was written by Guy Hibbert, who has mainly created screenplays for TV movies. The story that he crafted for this film as well as the dialogue, which was used to tell this story, was truly spectacular. The film doesn’t have any action (almost) in the literal sense of the word, but it is still extremely engaging and suspenseful.

The movie is set during a wartime – in the midst of the contemporary war, where armies are replaced by drones and computers. Nonetheless, the aforementioned modern technologies are still operated by military individuals. I do not think that we have seen many films about the practices of modern warfare, and since this issue is very important to all present and future generations, it’s about time that mainstream movies began contributing to the conversation or at least helped to kickstart the discussion.

Eye in the Sky opened with a quote by the ancient Greek playwright Aeschylus: In war, truth is the first casualty. To my mind, this quote was a tiny bit misleading, because the movie dealt more with the questions of ethics rather than truth. On the other hand, truth and morality are too closely related or even intertwined value and the loss of one of them, results in the loss of the other as well.

Eye in the Sky succeeded in portraying the story of a single mission not only in an entertaining but in also realistic way: it showed how many parties (located in different countries and time zones all around the globe) are actually involved in making a decision – it was an example of true democracy – a good kind of democracy. However, it also showed the inefficiency of liberal democracy at times like these and people’s inability to make the important decisions. But can we really blame the officials who tried to avoid the responsibility when the stakes were this high – human lives were at risk. Nonetheless, maybe the officials who were avoiding the important decisions were doing this for personal reasons (so as to avoid possible culpability) rather than ethical ones?

Not only did the movies explored the process of decision making but it also touched upon the question of modern war propaganda (possibility of the footage being leaked). It also asked the viewers to considered the worthiness of human life. Lastly, Eye in the Sky showed the psychological effects on people who actually have to make the decision and, more importantly, execute it. In the end, military and army officials are still people, who are only doing their job.

Eye in the Sky was also a very emotional movie, and the end credits of the motion picture only increased the overall emotional impact of the film. I do not remember the last time I cried in a movie and this film definitely made me tear up.

The only thing that took me out of the picture’s story a tiny bit were the bird and bug drones. They seemed too futuristic to me and were a little unbelievable. However, I do not know whether this type of technology really exists. If it does, then I am really scared about the level of surveillance that we, as a species, have already reached.

Directing: visuals and sound

Eye in the Sky was directed by Gavin Hood, who has previously won an Oscar for the film Tsotsi (Best Foreign Language Film in 2006). However, Hood’s last two films (before Eye in the Sky) were X-Men Origins: Wolverine and Ender’s Game. I did not enjoy these two films and I do not believe that a lot of people did. However, I feel that Hood has at least partially redeemed himself with Eye in the Sky. Although the film’s plot was mostly very spatially confined, the shots were never too dense or too repetitive. The visuals of the drone, as well as the footage of the various computers, were also extremely believable. The cinematography by Haris Zambarloukos (Mamma Mia! (ultimate guilty pleasure film), ThorLockeJack Ryan: Shadow Recruit and Cinderella) was really nice as well. Lastly, the music by Paul Hepker and Mark Kilian was also very haunting and a perfect fit for the film.

Moreover, one of the film’s producers was actor Colin Firth (Kingman(!))- I actually did not know that, in addition to acting, he produced movies. Did you?

Acting

The film had a huge ensemble cast and I would even go as far as to say that this probably is one of my favorite ensemble movies in recent memory. Everest was probably the last ensemble movie that I really enjoyed.

So, the film’s cast consisted of Helen Mirren, Aaron Paul, Alan Rickman, Barkhad Abdi, Jeremy Northam, Iain Glen, Phoebe Fox, Armaan Haggio, Aisha Takow, Richard McCabe, Carl Beukes, Kim Engelbrecht and the director Gavin Hood himself. I won’t be able to talk about all the actors in this list, but I will try my best to discuss at least a few of them.

To begin with, I loved the fact that Helen Mirren’s character was the one calling the shots. Film’s don’t tend to focus on female military officers, so that was a nice change. I also loved how determined and relentless her character was. Mirren is an extremely accomplished actress and I am embarrassed to say that I have only seen her most recent films, like Trumbo, The Hundred-Foot Journey and Woman in Gold. I also would like to watch The Queen in which Miller plays… well… the Queen (for the 4th time).

Breaking Bad’s alumni Aaron Paul is probably fairing a bit better that his past co-star Bryan Cranston (I see Paul in more movies than Cranston). I really liked Paul in the role in Eye in the Sky – he didn’t do much bodily acting but his facial expressions were magnificent. Earlier this year, I saw Aaron in Triple 9 and I have also reviewed a few of his films from 2014 – Need for Speed and A Long Way Down.

Alan Rickman also started in Eye in the Sky. It was quite a bitter-sweet feeling, seeing him in the film, since I will dearly miss him as an actor. I grew up with him as Snape in Harry Potter films and only yesterday watched him in 1995’s Sense and Sensibility. Eye in the Sky was Rickman’s last physical role and, once again, he proved what an amazing actor he was (and will remain in our minds). I wonder whether the scenes, where his character was buying that doll, were meant to show his human side or whether it symbolized his indifference to all children. His character did seem kinda ruthless, especially with the shiver-inducing deliverance of his last line Never tell a soldier that he doesn’t know the cost of war. Later this year, we will hear Rickman in his last role (overall) in the Alice sequel.

Barkhad Abdi, who burst onto the scene a few years ago with Captain Phillips, was also really good in the role. Game of Thrones’s Iain Glen also had a few scenes that were intended to be funny and I don’t really know if that comic relief was necessary – it felt out of place. Lastly, Aisha Takow played the little girl, whose presence in the film made the biggest emotional impact, and I think that she did a nice job.

All in all, Eye in the Sky was an extremely engaging film, which showed the complexities of war and raised questions of morality and ethics. The answers to these moral and ethical dilemmas were not fully given by the film or its characters, but it encouraged the members of the audience to make up their own minds. The directing, the cinematography and the music of the film all worked together to created a highly compelling feature, which was brought to life by an amazing and extensive cast.

Rate: 4.9/5

Trailer: Eye in the Sky trailer

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Movie review: Rise+Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

Movie reviews

Hello!

I remember watching Tim Burton’s Planet of the Apes as a child and not sleeping for a few days afterwards. With these bad memories from childhood I decide to challenge myself and try the newest Apes’ edition. I hope you enjoy my reviews!

Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011).

From quite inexperienced director Rupert Wyatt comes this science-fiction reboot of the beloved franchise. I have seen Tim Burton try to do justice to this series but unfortunately I haven’t seen the original one. I probably should watch it.

Speaking about Rise I really liked this movie. 

James Franco, in my opinion, is one of the greatest actors nowadays and I always enjoy his performance. He fits perfectly in this role as a scientist and a loving son. I felt an emotional connection with Caesar through him.

The film has an amazing premise and it also shows that humans and apes are not as different as we might think.

Human kind is always using animals to try out medicine, makeup and all kinds of stuff and it is no surprise that apes are not happy about it. The movie shows that everything that happens is people’s fault and that they are to blame for all that madness. Apes are just avenging their own kind. And you cannot argue that revenge is not a human emotion, so as a result, you can’t see apes as villains. In this case, they are more like victims, even thought, they are killing humans.

From production point: monkeys jumping though windows looked super cool. Caesar speaking for the first time was such a powerful scene. Action was also great – not too overboard, stayed quite realistic.

Other notes: Young Caesar was such a cute monkey. What is more, I do not know who I hated more Draco Malfoy in HP or Dodge Landon in this movie (both played by Tom Felton). I guess props go to the actor behind these characters – he knows how to provoke strong feelings, particularly hatred.

The first half hour of the movie was super positive and then everything went sour. The first hour and the second half hour are completely different parts of the movie – everything just changes so quickly.

One last thing: Monkeys’ voices are super intimidating and annoying, though, I have a huge interest in them as animals or perhaps I should say as creatures almost equal to human race but exciting and unique in their own way.  

When I had finished the movie I realized that I have seen it before, probably in the movie theater when it came out. However, I enjoyed it as much as the first time around. Rate 4.5/5

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (2014)

I have finally found the time to see this movie.  I really enjoyed it but I also have some criticism.

Short summary: The movie picks up 10 years after the events of the first film. Apes are living peaceful life in the forest while humans are destroying themselves with the virus that made apes smarter and also there is a general chaos in the whole wide world. The events of this movie start with a group of people that try to find a dam to produce electricity in the apes’ forest. By accident one of the apes is killed and the Dawn stars.

Let’s start with negative stuff. To my mind, the beginning of the film was too slow and overall the first hour was kinda boring to me. It was interesting to see the culture of apes but the human problems with electricity was the weak spot. And all the human characters were overpowered by apes. Mainly by Caeser and Koba.

Andy Serkis is a genius at playing motion capture characters. He gains a lot of money for his work but he definitely deserves every penny he gets. And he also deserves at least an Oscar nomination if not the win. I wish the Academy would recognize motion capture actors as other ‘real ‘ones.  Of course, we also need to talk about Koba played by Toby Kebell. He was the scene stealer of the century. The plot was pretty slow at first but in the end the movie surprised me in the good way. All the CGI effects and motion capture were amazing as I have previously mentioned.

I loved that the movie got deeper into the theme that humans and apes are alike: they have the same father-son problems, fights growing up; they care about their family and home. My favorite scenes in the movie were, of course, the ending shot of Caesar’s eyes (I also loved the fact that all the apes had human like eyes) and the full circle shot with Koba on a tank. That was really well done.

In comparison with the first film, I think that it was stronger than this one. So Dawn is 4/5 while Rise is 4.5/5. 

Trailer: Dawn of the Planet of the Apes trailer Rate 4/5

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Captain America 1&2

Movie reviews

So recently, I started to get into superhero – comic book type movies. Right now I am watching all the Marvel universe ones and then I am going to move on to D.C. ones.

I have seen the first film (Captain America: The First Avenger) couple of months ago so I don’t remember all the details. However, I really enjoyed the fact that they connected this fantasy superhero story-line with true events a.k.a World War II.

Captain America: The Winter Soldier The script and writing for this movie were really good. I loved overall story-line and character development. I also enjoyed the fact that there was this really great connection between the 1st and 2nd movies; it gave a strong feeling of continuity. This was truly a sequel to a first movie and not just another action film with the same main character. I also loved the fact that, despite this being a fantasy movie, they showed a real life problem -massive governments control over all military equipment and misuse of personal information.

I also really enjoyed all the bromances: The new one between Steve and Sam was so nice. In my opinion, Sam is a great trustworthy friend that will always have Steve’s back. The closing shot practically gave away the fact that we are going to see this bromance continued to a 3rd film. “On your left” Another friendship that I really enjoyed was between Captain America and Winter Soldier/Steve Rogers and Bucky Barnes. I loved the way they brought back the character of Bucky and once again showed us that Captain America fights for people and for his friends even if they are against him. “Cause I am with you till the end of a line”.
The pairing of Captain America and Black Widow was also fun and fresh.

The Shield and Hydra plot line was also very interesting and exciting. It showed us that we always need to be careful because the evil might lurk in the unexpected places. Speaking about the opening shot of the movie, did you know that Captain’s “to do” list is different in the all the countries movie is screened? The last 5 items are the same but first 5 are different. It is a nice detail and shout out to all the different countries. You can read all the different versions here: http://sploid.gizmodo.com/captain-americas-to-do-list-is-different-depending-on-1562463536

The Captain America 3 is planned to be released on May 6, 2016. My favorite video reviews: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C8j-hFXaNkE https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BicG3dDbbDA

UPDATE: Cap’s 3rd movie will be based on Civil War storyline and Robert Downey Jr. will join the cast as Iron Man.

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