Movie review: Black Panther

Movie reviews

Hello!

Welcome to the review of the newest and, arguably, the most important Marvel movie! This is Black Panther!

IMDb summary: T’Challa, after the death of his father, the King of Wakanda, returns home to the isolated, technologically advanced African nation to succeed to the throne and take his rightful place as king.

As usual, before I start, my previous MCU reviews are here: Guardians 1 and 2, Avengers 2, Ant-Man, Doctor Strange, Civil War, Spider-Man: Homecoming, Thor 3.

Writing

Black Panther was written by the director of the film Ryan Coogler and Joe Robert Cole. I thought that the duo did a stellar job with the script. I’m not going to talk about the plot in detail, so as to keep this review spoiler free, other than to stay that a lot of narrative things happen in this film and a couple of them are quite unexpected. There are also a few of meaningful deaths (that might silence MCU critics who say that nobody ever dies in this universe). What I’m going to discuss more elaborately are the brilliant and multiple thematical concepts of Black Panther.

Just on the surface representational level, this film was a game changer. Black characters were elevated from the roles of the supporting friend/the funny sidekick/the one-scene cameo and were brought to the forefront. It’s also refreshing to see fictional black characters rather than real-life rebel slaves or civil rights activists (those smaller biographical movies are important too, but diversity in the blockbuster field is key as well). Also, even though this movie told a fictional story about fictional characters, it honored and paid homage to a lot of its real-world equivalents/inspirations, which raised a question for me: why haven’t we seen pictures about real, past or current, African tribes that were not documentaries???

Anyways, more on Black Panther paying homage to certain real-world ideas/events. I absolutely loved how the movie honored the connection that Africans have with their ancestors (and how in touch with their spirituality they are) as well their connection with nature (healing herbs, animals as deities). It was also great for the movie to acknowledge the violence within African culture (both the inner to the culture and the one coming from the west). Most importantly, it was just so amazing to see the Afrofuturism ideas on screen, which connected modernity with the traditional side of the culture. Scholars have been racking their brains about how to develop Africa without Westernizing it! Well, just do what Black Panther did: connect the two things rather than make one negate the other!

As the movie’s main character was a sovereign of a country, Black Panther also had some political commentary, mostly about a single country’s relation and obligation to the world. It also explored the well-known idea of the sins of the father reflecting of the children but in a royal context.  The film also had some fascinating things to say about communities, tribes or one’s ‘people’. How do we define that category? Do we draw lines based on race? Ethnicity? Nationality? Culture? Common beliefs and ideals? One of the central conflicts in the film was based on the fact that the villain and the hero of the story had different answers to that question. Speaking of the villain, Killmonger might be Marvel’s best one yet because he wasn’t just a villain but a character in his own right, whose goals were radical yet valid. The viewer could definitely understand his frustrations and reasons for his thinking.

Directing

Ryan Coogler (of Creedand Fruitvale Station) did an amazing job with Black Panther. He realized the visuals of Afrofuturism so well (with the help of production design, of course). The sets were brilliant and the costumes – absolutely impeccable and so cool as well! The action was really great too: fast-paced, intense, and meaningful for the plot. The pacing was also great!  The much-celebrated music of the movie was great (so it has been celebrated for a reason). I wanted to hear even more if it!

Acting

Black Panther assembled a stellar cast, led by Chadwick Boseman (Civil War) in a role that he was born to play. I’d love to see his involvement in the MCU leading to more non-biographical roles for him (cause I have seen him in quite a few biopics). Coogler’s collaborator Michael B. Jordan (Creed, Fantastic Four) played the villain and fully embodied the role, both physically and emotionally. I absolutely loved his character’s Americanized look too. An absolute scene stealer was Letitia Wright as the tech (and actual) princess. I loved her portrayal as a tech genius who was super excited about her creations and I also loved all her outfits and amazing sense of humor (bit cringe-y at times but so relatable). Lupita Nyong’o (The Jungle Book, The Force Awakens) also had a great role in the film – really loved seeing her in a big picture in person (not as in Star Wars, in motion capture).

Walking Dead’s Danai Gurira played an incredible role of the leader of Dora Milaje (who were all so amazing), while the breakout star of last year Daniel Kaluuya (Get Out) also had an interesting role to play (I loved how his character’s cape-like looking thing was also a shield). Winston Duke played a fun and multifaceted character too. Some more seasoned talent was also spotlighted: Angela Bassett was great as the mother of the king, while Forest Whitaker (Southpaw, Arrival, Rogue One) was perfect as an elderly statesman. Martin Freeman and Andy Serkis (War For The Planet of The Apes, The Last Jedi) also reprised their earlier roles in the MCU and were great. Freeman was a lovable CIA agent (not a word I’d use to describe a CIA agent, but, oh well), while Serkis was super crazy as one the villains of the film but it was really nice to see him in a non-motion capture performance.

Post-credits/End-credits (bit spoiler-y)

While Black Panther was mostly divorced from the MCU (it didn’t have many Easter Eggs that I could notice except of course the Stan Lee cameo), it did have a neat after-credits scene, where a fan-favorite from Civil War (‘White Wolf’) was defrosted. He seemed to be doing well in Wakanda.

The mid-credits scene was closely related to this picture and had a nice message of peaceful communication. It sounded a tiny bit naive but I can’t really fault hope.

In short, Black Panther was both a great Marvel comic book movie and a sophisticated game-changer in terms of representation for the whole context of modern cinema.

Rate: 4.8/5

Trailer: Black Panther trailer

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Movie review: The Post

Movie reviews

Hello!

Spielberg. Hanks. Streep. Need I say more? This is The Post!

IMDb summary: A cover-up that spanned four U.S. Presidents pushed the country’s first female newspaper publisher and a hard-driving editor to join an unprecedented battle between the press and the government.

Writing

The Post was written by Liz Hannah (a first-time writer on a movie) and Josh Singer (who worked on The Fifth Estate and Spotlight – two similar pictures to The Post). I thought that the writers did a really great job and I’d like to explore 3 particular aspects of their writing in a bit more detail. These are the journalism narrative, the commentary on war, and the character development.

To begin with, some of you may know that I once wanted to study journalism and this movie, with its display of amazing investigative journalism, reawakened that dream. The quote from Streep’s character, how news is the first rough draft of history, was brilliant and summed up everything that is great about true journalism. It was also incredibly interesting to see the relationship between the politicians and the press: how they not only used to be in cahoots (and started to be against each other after the events of 1971) but how members of the two occupations had personal relationships, thus, fighting against the politicians wasn’t just a job for journalists, but sometimes an attack on a friend. Hanks‘ characters line, about JFK being a friend rather than a source, perfectly encapsulated that whole conflict. In addition, The Post not only showcased the reporting side of journalism but the business parts of it too. The competition between newspapers, as well as the financial struggles of The Washington Post, were amazing to witness and helped to contextualize the particular events of the film.

The war commentary, as well as the insights into the faulty ideals of the American government, were also fascinating. The Post really showed how fragile American pride was and how the government was determined to put its citizens in jeopardy because they were afraid of embarrassment. And they still got embarrassed and have had a hard time working on that issue. Don’t even get me started on how they attempted to work around that problem with the 2016 election and dug themselves into an even deeper hole (and that’s only one of the parallels between the past events in the movie and the contemporary real ones).

The writing for Streep’s character is the third and last aspect I’d like to discuss. I found her whole character arc very interesting. To begin with, I didn’t think that Katharine Graham was a typical Streep character: she wasn’t untouchable Iron Lady. She was, at times, flustered and not always knew what to say. She was also very much part of her time: her lines about women not even knowing they could want more rang so true and opened my eyes to the fact that gender equality (and still not a full one) has not been a widespread thing for long, if the 1970s was still such a fighting ground for K. The said gender inequality was just perfectly seen in the fact that male characters would speak for her (she had to deal with a lot of manslapining); would question her decisions, or would even silence her. Lastly, the fact that journalism and all other business were dominated by white males also makes me question the legitimacy of the narrative cause it was just one kind of narrative.

Directing

Steven Spielberg (The BFG, so looking forward to Ready Player One) directed The Post and I’d place this film together with Bridge of Spies and Lincoln in his filmography. The picture opened with a battle scene and Spielberg knows how to direct those impeccably. I also loved how the initial focus of the film was on the papers and only then did it move to the actual subjects of this biography. The visualization of journalism – from looking for the sources to writing to printing to distributing – was amazing. I especially loved the sequences with the old school printing press and the one of overnight research at Hanks‘ character’s house. The gender inequality was also well visualized with that single scene of women sitting in a living room and men being left in the dining room. That rung so many visual bells to the 19th century and Downton Abbey, simultaneously. Lastly, the ending of the film – an obvious hint at the Watergate scandal – was spot-on and made me want to find out more about that it. Any recommendations for a good and somewhat accurate Watergate movie?

Acting

Meryl Streep (Suffragette, Florence Foster Jenkins) did a really stellar job with this complex role. Tom Hanks (The Circle, Inferno, Sully, A Hologram for the King, Bridge of Spies) was also really good as the confident, ‘no pulling punches’ editor. Sarah Paulson (Carol) didn’t really have much to do but she did have one great speech. Bob Odenkirk was amazing as one of the reporters at The Washington Post, while Matthew Rhys impressed as Daniel Ellsberg, the original whistleblower (he came way before Edward Snowden or WikiLeaks’ Julian Assange). It was also nice to see two Fargo’s alumni Carrie Coon (Gone Girl) and Jesse Plemons (American Made) in small roles.

In short, The Post was a complex yet straightforward biography that was well written, directed qualitatively and acted impeccably.

Rate: 4.5/5

Trailer: The Post trailer

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Movie review: Three Billboards Outiside Ebbing, Missouri

Movie reviews

Hello!

Welcome to the review of the big Golden Globe’s winner – Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.

IMDb summary: A mother personally challenges the local authorities to solve her daughter’s murder when they fail to catch the culprit.

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (amazing title, tbh) was written and directed by Martin McDonagh, known for such films as In Bruges and Seven Psychopaths. He handled both jobs extremely well.

Writing

McDonagh was inspired to write this movie by actual billboards about a crime that he has seen while traveling somewhere in the southeast of the US. Before seeing this film, I knew its premise (and thought it was super unique) but I had no idea where the narrative would go. I’m happy to report that McDonagh took this story in an unexpected and as unique as its premise direction.

Three Billboards was a story of three characters (3 billboards, 3 leads), and, through these characters’ arcs, the movie was able to explore a plethora of themes. This picture was, in my mind, more of an exploration of these three characters rather than a crime drama with them in it.

To begin with, the writing for the grieving mother was just spectacular. It was refreshing to see a character allowed to grieve openly and express her anger (it a small step from pain to anger) rather than bottling it up (our society likes us to grieve in private and be done quickly so that we could rejoin society as productive members as soon as possible). The way the film visualized pain – by focusing it on the billboards – was also super interesting. The whole interplay/juxtaposition between typically emotionless corporate advertising spaces (a.k.a. the billboards) and highly emotional plea of a grieving mother was fascinating. Also, the film did a good job of showing the extremism of Mildred (the mother) but also of making her actions understandable – the balance was just right. The flashbacks, showing the mother’s and daughter’s last moments together, also added so much depth to the story.

The second lead – the unfit police officer – was the most unexpected character for me. He began the film as an openly racist and homophobic cop – just an awful human being, but also, simultaneously, a sad little person. However, the script then added some little extraordinary details that intrigued me, like his enjoyment of comic books, ABBA, and classical music. I could not reconcile his worldview and his hobbies in my mind. Also, I expected the movie to sideline him or just use the character to build the atmosphere, but Dixon (that’s his name) actually became the main player as a story unraveled and experienced real growth. While I don’t think I agree that he had the makings of a good cop, he definitely had the capacity to become a decent person (through experience and education). In addition, Three Billboards’ writing was clever about humanizing the character without being too emphatic – found that perfect balance again.

The third lead, the town’s sheriff, was the character the easiest to sympathize with as he was portrayed as being stuck in an impossible position, mediating between a grieving mother and an unfit police force. This type of a police vs, citizen confrontation hasn’t been seen much in pictures recently, mostly because the majority of police and citizen relations have been explored through the perspective of race. Anyways, the town’s sheriff actually seemed like a good person, who cared about his job and his family. His personal arc, relating to his illness, was an unexpected but realistic inclusion, that added some layers to his character.

Three Billboards also presented an interesting dichotomy between the society and the individual: the town’s reaction to the billboards and the prejudice against Mildred and the siding with the police force were both shocking to me and didn’t paint the best picture of the middle America that is already pretty bad after the recent election (which isn’t that recent).

Lastly, the picture had a highly unexpected ending in the team-up of the mother and the police officer. Their final decision – taking justice into their owns hands without substantial proof  – was not easy to agree with. And yet, the fact that their target was spewing such horrible things at the bar and was in the military (which is supposed to consists of people working for the good of society rather than be an example of the worst of it) kinda made me understand Mildred’s and Dixon’s decision. And even though, their final resolution, as well as the previous actions of a mother, might not be the healthiest or the most societally acceptable example of how to deal with grief, it is a potential example, nonetheless. Hey, whatever works, I guess?

Directing

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, while impeccably written, was also well directed. The pacing was great – the movie was intense and emotional all throughout. The cinematography was wonderful too – the visual set-up (opening the movie with the imagery of the billboards) was highly effective and straight to the point. The mobile frame and the handheld camera throughout the rest of the film added that feeling of realism that indie movies have. The whole atmosphere of the movie was also a bit Coen-esque (more Coen-y than the Coen brothers’ own film from last year – Suburbicon). A couple of my favorite scenes in the picture (mostly because they were unexpected) were Mildred’s confrontation with the priest (if you want to find out more about her accusations, watch Spotlight – an Oscar winner from 2 years ago) and her scene with the dentist (that one was especially shocking but of the good kind of shock value).

 

Acting

  • Frances McDormand was truly brilliant as Mildred Hayes. I believe that her performance here was as good as the one in Fargo, for which she won an Oscar, and I’m hoping that she will get another Academy Award this year.
  • Woody Harrelson (Triple 9The Hunger GamesNow You See Me, The Glass Castle, War For The Planet Of The Apes) was also really good as Sheriff Bill Willoughby. His performance was short (ended quite suddenly) but one of the best of his that I’ve seen (then again, he is always good even if the movie itself is lacking).
  • Sam Rockwell delivered his greatest performance as Officer Jason Dixon – he made that character seem like a real person rather than a caricature. I’m so glad that Rockwell is finally getting the recognition he deserves – he definitely should have gotten more awards nominations in the past, especially for 2009’s Moon.
  • On the supporting front, Peter Dinklage had a cameo role and it was a bit weird seeing him here – he and Tyrion Lannister have become one in my mind (playing such an iconic character is both a blessing and a curse). A few actors from other awards nominees’ also had roles here, including Lucas Hedges (was nominated for Manchester by the Sea last year and played a similar role in this film – that of a grieving teenager; he is also in Ladybird – another huge contender this awards season) and Caleb Landry Jones (who appeared in Get Out – the most mainstream film this awards season).

 

In short, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri was a perfectly balanced and powerful drama about grief, pain, and anger that was brought to life by 3 amazing acting performances.

Rate: 4.8/5

Trailer: Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri trailer

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Movie review: Justice League

Movie reviews

Hello!

Welcome to the review of the most polarizing movie of the year. Is anyone even surprised that the said divisive film is just another entry into the DCEU? This is Justice League.

IMDb summary: Fueled by his restored faith in humanity and inspired by Superman’s selfless act, Bruce Wayne enlists the help of his newfound ally, Diana Prince, to face an even greater enemy.

Before moving on to the actual review, I wanted to give you my brief thoughts about the DCEU in general. When Man of Steel came out in 2013, I barely paid any attention to it because I wasn’t into comic book movies much (had watched some Marvel ones and enjoyed them but was still oblivious to the bigger universe). However, 3 years later (in 2016), I had already become a huge fan of MCU, had familiarized myself with the DC character on TV and had started to read comics regularly. Needless to say, I was looking forward to Batman v Superman and Suicide Squad. Both films left me sort of baffled. While I wasn’t a fan of the dark/grim atmosphere, I could understand it as a creative choice. What I couldn’t forgive was the messy and unfocused storytelling. Then Wonder Woman came along and was a breath of fresh air (with a meh third act). Now, Justice League is coming together for the first time on the big screen and I have mixed feelings even before I see it. I care about these characters, because I have been dazzled by them in the comics (I read way more of DC than I do Marvel), have caught up with them every week on TV (The Flash) or in animated films (DC animation used to be so good before it started going sideways with The Killing Joke debacle and Batman and Harley weirdness) and even though the movies themselves were flawed, I have enjoyed seeing these versions of Batman and Wonder Woman (somebody please fix Superman, though). I go into the screening hoping for the best while also worrying about the worst.

SPOILER ALERT

Writing

Justice League’s screenplay was written by Chris Terrio (the writer of Argoand BvS, while Zack Snyder helped out with the story. Joss Whedon (Avengers 1 and 2) also received a screenplay credit but it’s not really clear whether he got the credit because he actually changed some of the narrative of the film or just because he couldn’t get a co-directing credit together with Snyder. Anyways, I thought that the movie’s writing was a mixed bag.

Let’s start with the set-up. I highly enjoyed a lot of its elements but didn’t necessarily think that they all jelled well. The film’s set-up had two main goals: to introduce the new characters and the establish the team and to develop a villain for the story. The introductions of the new characters – Flash, Aquaman, and Cyborg – were brief but effective. Still, if these characters had solo movies prior to this film, I believe I’d have had a stronger connection to them. Since I already knew this universe’s version of Wonder Woman and Batman (BvS was basically his solo film), they were my favorites of the group.

The dynamics within the team were really neat. I liked the different pairings, the contrast between the rookies and the seniors, and the humor within the group. That last thing felt like an obvious influence of Joss Whedon. What I could have done without was all the sexual nods between Diana and all other members. I wouldn’t have minded a few of them, but the constant stream was not welcomed by me.

Speaking of the villain, Steppenwolf served his purpose but wasn’t amazing. What boggled me was the fact that the DCEU is or was supposed to be this realistic and sophisticated reimagining of the DC characters. And yet, all their villains have been super comic book-y and in no way fitting for the tonne of the franchise. The fact that the main villain had a disposable army, like in all the other comic book films, didn’t bode well for the picture either. Having said that, the army of parademons at least had a trait to make them more interesting – they were feeding on fear – and they also served a bigger purpose in the final act (a.k.a. took down Steppenwolf when he experienced fear).

Justice League also had a plethora of references to the future DCEU projects and I immensely enjoyed spotting them. The more into comics I get, the more Easter Eggs I recognize. I also love to research the references I didn’t spot. Honestly, a huge part of watching these films is reading/watching the coverage of them after the actual screening. Speaking about the future of the DCEU, Justice League had an ending that felt like an answer to the critique of the grimness of the franchise. The sense of hope for the future was established. Now, let’s just pray that the box office numbers allow the DCEU to deliver on their promise of course correction (the opening weekend’s numbers have not been great).

Directing

Zack Snyder (300, Watchmen, Sucker Punch) helmed the movie during the principal photography, while Joss Whedon directed the reshoots and was responsible for the final edit. The film that premiered in cinemas around the world was an amalgamation of the talents of both these filmmakers. Snyder’s input was evident in the actions scenes, while Whedon’s influence shined in the aforementioned humor of the feature.

Speaking of the action, the team had 3 big action scenes (the individual characters had some smaller action scenes in addition to the 3 team ones). The action sequence underneath the Gotham harbor was neat and a great first showcasing of the team’s powers together (I loved how the seniors Wonder Woman and Batman were doing the majority of the fighting, while the rookies Flash and Cyborg were more about helping the civilians). The Superman v League fight wasn’t bad either. The final action scene was entertaining but I wish it was more epic and more massive in scope. Well, at least they have some space to grow in the following pictures. They also have a lot of space for the improvement of the CGI: it should have been way more photorealistic. Overall, my favorite action scene did not even involve the Justice League themselves. It was the sequence on Themyscira that I found the most inventive and the most enjoyable.

The movie’s runtime has been cut short. What was supposed to be a 2.5 hours film, ended up being less than 2 hours. The set-up felt like it was missing some scenes and that’s why it might have felt choppy. However, the fact that the picture was shorter than expected, made it feel really quick and more fast-paced than it actually was/might have been. Nobody can say that it dragged.

The credits scenes

Justice League had a mid-credits scene consisting of the race between The Flash and Superman – an iconic moment from the comics that was replicated only recently on DCTV with Supergirl and The Flash. The post-credits scene was a hint for the future alliance of the villains and also introduced the viewers to Deathstroke (who just appeared on DCTV/Arrow last/this week).

Acting

The DCEU casting choices have been their best choices concerning the series. Let’s go over the main players as well as their supporting characters.

  • Ben Affleck (The Accountant, Gone Girl) was great as Bruce Wayne / Batman. I really enjoyed his speech about his lack of humanity. Jeremy Irons (High-Rise, Assasin’s Creed) was neat as Alfred Pennyworth, while J. K. Simmons (The Snowman, Renegades, Patriot’s Day, La La Land) had a couple of scenes as James Gordon. I really want that Batman solo film to materialize and see more of these actors in the iconic roles.
  • Henry Cavill (The Man from U.N.C.L.E., Sand Castle) appeared as Clark Kent / Superman, while Amy Adams (Arrival, Nocturnal Animals) reprised her role of Lois Lane (the big guns). Cavill’s infamous mustache was very noticeable and his face looked really wonky in half of the shots. Subsequently, a lot of Superman’s scenes were distracting. However, he didn’t have much of them in the film. He is the character that has appeared in the biggest numbers of movies in the franchise, so we have already been exposed to him a lot. What I did like about Cavill’s performance in Justice League particularly was the fact that he was allowed to be positive and happy to be alive (in contrast to moping and feeling sorry for oneself).
  • Gal Gadot came back as Diana Prince / Wonder Woman and was as perfect as ever. I really want to see her in more movies, outside this or Fast&Furiousfranchises. Connie Nielsen briefly appeared as Hippolyta. I loved that moment with the signal fire for Diana.
  • Ezra Miller (Fantastic Beasts) as Barry Allen / Flash was the standout of the new characters and that was mostly due to Miller’s comedic talents. His enthusiasm was infectious and his reaction faces just hilarious. His love interest Iris West was set to be played by Kiersey Clemons (Flatliners) but was cut from the final film. We did get an intro to Barry’s father Henry Allen played by Billy Crudup (Alien: Covenant), though. That The Flash solo movie might actually be really good and could compete with the TV show.
  • Jason Momoa played Arthur Curry / Aquasman. I loved Momoa in the role but wish he was given something more to do with it. I’m hopeful about his solo movie, though. Amber Heard (Magic Mike XXL, The Danish Girl), who was introduced as Mera, will also re-appear in it.
  • Ray Fisher starred as Victor Stone / Cyborg and was probably the character most integral to the plot of the film. I didn’t know much about Fisher prior to this movie but was really impressed by his performance. He brought heart and soul to Cyborg – qualities which only a good dramatic actor can portray well.
  • Ciarán Hinds (GOT’s King Beyond the Wall) did the motion capture of and provided the voice for Steppenwolf. He was good enough in the role but I do wish that the design of the character would have been more interesting.

In short, Justice League was the second best film in the DCEU (and while it’s not much, it’s something). It had some great character moments (both action and humor ones) but was still plagued by the wider problems of the whole series. Nevertheless, the future is hopeful.

Rate: 3.5/5

Trailer: Justice League trailer

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5 ideas about a movie: The Florida Project

Movie reviews

Hello!

Welcome to the indie of this weekend. This is The Florida Project!

IMDb summary: Set over one summer, the film follows precocious 6-year-old Moonee as she courts mischief and adventure with her ragtag playmates and bonds with her rebellious but caring mother, all while living in the shadows of Disney World.

  1. The Florida Project was written by the director of the film Sean Baker and Chris Bergoch. Baker has previously directed Tangerine (which was co-written and co-produced by Bergoch) – a movie that was both unique in its subject (it focused on a transgender sex worker) and in the way it was filmed (on 3 iPhone 5s). His follow-up picture is also centered around marginalized people, living on the fringes of society (both literally and figuratively – their motel is on the edge of Disney World). This type of social realism filmmaking reminds me of Andrea’s Arnold’s work, especially her last film American Honey, which focused on a traveling sales crew, hopping from motel to motel in the American Midwest.
  2. The Florida Project’s writing elicited mixed feelings out of me, like all films of this kind do. The picture’s message was clear – the society needs to attempt to understand and to help the people, living on its margins. And yet, how can the said help be given when the marginalized individuals don’t even seem to want it, act entitled (when they have no right to do that) or worse, are violent/abusive. What is the solution to this conundrum or the middle ground?
  3. The Florida Project’s story was mostly centered on the little girl and a single summer of her childhood. The movie nicely portrayed the joys of childhood – being wild and free. And yet, it also noted how that freedom of childhood might not be secure or healthy for a child. The mother-daughter relationship on display was also a complex one. While the mother obviously appeared to love her daughter, to love is not enough to be a good mother. The actual physical care and education are as important for the child’s development as the emotional connection. The movie also explored the idea of a community that the individuals on the fringes of society form. The said community was presented as a small society of its own: it had a structure and was held together by the inner relationships of its members.
  4. From the purely visual perspective, The Florida Project looked bright and vibrant. And yet, that was only the surface that hid the underlying problems from view. I loved how the camera juxtaposed the poverty and the prosperity in the wide shots, where the children would be walking past the endless dinners, gifts shops, and billboards. The whole setting was very well realized and was strikingly American. The mobile frame and the pacing were distinctly indie, while the pacing of the film was good too, even if a bit slow. Lastly, the ending sequence of the two girls running through Disney World was interesting. It made the movie seem as if it was pandering to Disney, by showing that the beloved theme park is the true magic kingdom and the land of escapism. But, maybe this positive portrayal was there so that the Mouse House would not sue the whole film, as that sequence was shot without the corporation’s knowledge or consent.
  5. The cast of The Florida Project delivered quite stellar performances. It was great to see Willem Dafoe (What Happened To Monday, Death Note, The Great Wall) in a more sophisticated/non-mainstream project and to witness his full talent on display. The newcomer Brooklynn Prince was delightful as Moonee – the girl at the center of the story. Bria Vinaite starred as Moonee’s mother – the now-actress was actually discovered on Instagram by the director. I really wonder how much of the dialogue between the children actors as well as between the characters of Moonee and her mother was in the script and how much of it was improvised.

In short, The Florida Project is an important piece of social realism that might infuriate or educate its viewers. Or both.

Rate: 4/5

Trailer: The Florida Project trailer

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Movie review: The Killing of a Sacred Deer

Movie reviews

Hello!

The reviews of the awards’ hopefuls continue. Today, we are discussing The Killing of a Sacred Deer.

IMDb summary: Steven, a charismatic surgeon, is forced to make an unthinkable sacrifice after his life starts to fall apart when the behavior of a teenage boy he has taken under his wing turns sinister.

The Killing of a Sacred Deer is director’s Yorgos Lanthimos’s and writer’s Efthymis Filippou’s follow-up movie to The Lobstera smart, sophisticated, and artistic dystopia, which I really enjoyed. Thus, I was looking forward to this film.

Writing

The Killing of a Sacred Deer’s writing was extraordinary. At the basest level, the film told a revenge story, inspired by the ancient Greek literature, especially the tragedies. However, so many unique details and topics were used to embellish this revenge story. A lot of them left me flabbergasted and puzzled, but in a good way.

The characters in the film were so peculiar. Their ‘prim and proper’ facade was very obviously just a facade. In truth, they were all deeply disturbed individuals, some more than others. They all had a weird aura of emotionlessness and eagerness about them. They blurted out sentences that ‘normal’ people don’t say. This all added up to a warped reality feeling of the film’s world.

The lead character, from the very beginning, was an unsettling one to watch. His relationship with the teenage boy also seemed inappropriate from the start, even if for different potential reasons that it ultimately turned out to be. Additionally, it was interesting to see how the movie explored the immense responsibility and the burden of doctors, even if taken to the farthest extreme.

Sticking with the theme of medicine, The Killing also commented on human psychology and introduced me to an idea of psychosomatic disorders, which I had never heard of before. Having said that, I wish that the movie had a more explicit explanation for the illnesses of the children – was it certainly related to psychology? Or was there a supernatural element? A symbolic explanation? Who knows. Maybe that’s also sorta the point, not to know completely.

The film also investigated the concept of family and family relationships. This was no positive representation of a family, but the example of parental favoritism and sacrifice (not like self-sacrifice, though, not even close). The questions of morality also sprung up from the family concept.

While I thought that the narrative, on the whole, was really strong, I also got a feeling that the writers weren’t sure how to end it. The 3rd act seemed to be winding down rather than building up to something and I’m not entirely sure that the conclusion we got was fully satisfying. Then again, when the entire movie was unsettling, why should it have a satisfying ending? Isn’t it more appropriate to carry the signature feeling till the very last frame?

Directing

I’ve seen this picture being describe as a modern take on Hitchcock and I do see some similarities to the thrillers of the beloved filmmaker.  What stood out to me the most, was how the director Lanthimos was able to take an already disturbing textual story and make it feel 10 times more creepy in a film form. The Killing of a Sacred Deer had a few very graphic and shocking images, like its opening frame, which popped out of the darkness and completely startled me. The sacral music that accompanied the image only strengthened the effect. That score, full of high pitched string orchestra sounds, deep drum noises, and a sacral/choral elements, was, in general, employed very effectively throughout the film. The long tracking shots, the zoom ins/outs, and the steady frame also contributed to that feeling that something was off or not what it seemed.

Acting

The whole cast delivered great performances, that combined the aforementioned qualities of eagerness and emotionless. Colin Farrell (Fantastic Beasts) was reunited with Lanthimos whom he worked with on The Lobster, and was just amazing to watch. Nicole Kidman (Lion, Genius), who was recently in The Beguiled with Farrell, was equally brilliant. Barry Keoghan (Dunkirk) was deeply disturbing, troubling, and just perfect for the role. Raffey Cassidy and Sunny Suljic starred as the children of Farrell’s and Kidman’s characters and were also really good. Lastly, Alicia Silverstone had a minor role and I did not even recognize her on screen. To me, she will always be stuck in a Clueless era.

 

 

In short, if mother! was the queen of creepiness than The Killing of a Sacred Deer is the king of unsettledness.

 

Rate: 4/5

Trailer: The Killing of a Sacred Deer trailer

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Movie review: Kingsman: The Golden Circle

Movie reviews

Hello!

Kingsman: The Secret Service came out of nowhere and blew everyone away back in 2014. 3 years later and the expectations are high for the sequel. Can Kingsman: The Golden Circle deliver?

IMDb summary: When their headquarters are destroyed and the world is held hostage, the Kingsman’s journey leads them to the discovery of an allied spy organization in the US. These two elite secret organizations must band together to defeat a common enemy.

Writing

The Kingsman sequel was written by the same duo who wrote the first film – Jane Goldman and the director Matthew Vaughn, based the characters by the comic book royalty – Mark Millar and Dave Gibbons (the said screenwriting duo has also written Stardust, Kick-Ass, X-Men: First Class, and X-Men: DOFP together, while Goldman’s solo writing credits also include Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children). I thought that they did a great job on writing The Golden Circle. They ticked off all the necessary boxes for a sequel: took away everything familiar from the heroes (destroyed their home and comrades), made it personal (involved significant others and long lost friends), introduced new characters and locations (Statesman, Poppy’s Land), and had plenty of callbacks to the first film (returning characters, familiar scenes recreated with a twist).

The most interesting new addition was the aforementioned Statesman organization as well as the general feeling of Americana, especially potent in the villain’s layer. This expansion of the Kingsman world to the other side of the Atlantic really worked for me. I loved seeing the differences between UK and US expressed in a fun and comic-book-y way. The obviously American aura of the film also reminded me of Logan Lucky (who also shares a song – ‘Take Me Home, Country Roads’ and an actor – Channing Tatum with The Golden Circle). Lastly, I loved how, even though the American side of the story/ characters were introduced, the British roots were not forgotten either and remained the focus of the movie.

Speaking about those British roots, I appreciated all the commentary on honor and the right kind of masculinity that this picture had. Its attempt to say something about the drug usage, law, and innocence wasn’t bad either. The villain for this film was just as campy and just as appropriate tonally as Valentine was in/for the last one.

Directing

Matthew Vaughn was back in his element with Kingsman 2. While I have been disappointed by some of his producing efforts (Fantastic Four and Kick-Ass 2), he has never let me down, when he was in a role of the director. The action was just spectacular: highly stylized, explicit, campy, and not at all realistic but just so fun and entertaining! All the gadgets were magnificent and a great parody/homage of the 007/other spy films. The filming style (cinematography by George Richmond) – handheld and smooth rather than shaky with just the right amount of slow-mo – was highly appreciated too and so dynamic (it was so fun I could forgive some wonky CGI)! The British glamour, as well as American ruggedness, were both well realized too. The score (music by Henry Jackman and Matthew Margeson) was great as well, I especially loved the instrumental version of the already mentioned ‘Take Me Home, Country Roads’ song. The only criticism that I have for this highly entertaining live-action cartoon was the fact that it’s a bit long – over two hours. If it was chopped down to 2h, the narrative might have been tighter and the criticism would not exist.

Acting

Taron Egerton (Eddie The Eagle, Testament of Youth, Legend, Sing) was great as the lead Eggsy. He had both the coolness and the vulnerability needed for the character. Colin Firth (Magic in the Moonlight, Genius) also came back (wish that wasn’t spoiled in the trailer) – his performance seemed a bit off but his character also acted a bit off. Mark Strong had a lovely arc in the film and one of the best exists of the character I have seen in a while. Hanna Alström also came back as her character. I really did not expect her to stick around for a sequel but the filmmakers kinda took that explicit ending of the first film (and the introduction of her…character) and sort of made into a cute side plotline.

Newcomers included Channing Tatum (Logan Lucky, Hail, Caesar!, The Hateful Eight, Magic Mike XXL, Jupiter Ascending), who had some fun scenes but wasn’t in the movie much. However, the conclusion of The Golden Circle promised that we will see more of him in the 3rd picture. Pedro Pascal (The Great Wall) gave a wonderful performance too: he had the coolest weapon and an awesome death scene (on par with the one on GOT). Halle Berry (DOFP) played kinda a typical role of the behind-the-scenes/tech personnel but I’m excited to follow her journey further. Jeff Bridges (Hell or High Water) also had a very minor role in the picture. He was the only actor who just seemed to be included in order to raise the profile of the film rather than to actually have him do something cool. Lastly, Julianne Moore (Mockingjay) made for a great villain. It was so fun seeing her let loose in a role!

In short, I really enjoyed Kingsman: The Golden Circle. It was as good as The Secret Service, so if you liked the first one, the sequel should also please you. Plus, if you enjoy comic book movies that truly feel like a comic book that has come to life, Kingsman 2 is the film for you!

Rate: 4/5

Trailer: Kingsman: The Golden Circle trailer

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5 ideas about a movie: Patriot’s Day 

Movie reviews

Hello!

Welcome to a review of a film which is based on the very recent real-life events. This is the review of Patriot’s Day.

IMDb summary: An account of Boston Police Commissioner Ed Davis’s actions in the events leading up to the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing and the aftermath, which includes the city-wide manhunt to find the terrorists behind it.

  1. Up until this point, the majority of movies, inspired by true events, would act as my first encounters with the said events. However, Patriot’s Day recounts the 2013 Boston Marathon bombings, which I followed extremely closely. I distinctly remember watching CNN and BBC and being completely horrified. The worst part was that that same week, I was planning on participating in a running event. Even though I was sure that nothing would happen, as my native country is too small of a target, I was still a bit scared to be in the crowd, full of runners, spectators and etc.
  2. Patriot’s Day is the 3rd collaboration between the director Peter Berg and the actor Mark Walhberg. Just a few months ago, their previous project Deepwater Horizon (also inspired by true events) came out. 2013’s Lone Survivor (also based on real life events) was their first picture together.
  3. The film’s screenplay was written by the director Peter Berg, Matt Cook, and Joshua Zetumer. I think that they managed to respectfully retell such a well known (and fresh in people’ minds) story. It had the usual great set-up/development to make the viewers care about these characters/real people. It also succeeded at showing the bombings and their aftermath from a variety of perspectives.  I was especially interested in the film’s ideas on the concept of survivor’s guilt.
  4. Peter Berg did a great job with the direction of this film. The set-up was effective, the recreation of the actual bombings – super realistic, while the investigation – suspenseful and intense. Overall, the film did have a strong emotional impact. The feels really hit home while listening to the accounts of the real individuals, who lived through the terror attack, during the credits.
  5. Although the film was advertised with Mark Wahlberg (Ted, Transformers) in the lead, I think that it was more ensemble based. And what great ensemble cast it had: John Goodman (Trumbo), J. K. Simmons (La La Land, The Accountant, Zootopia, Whiplash), Michelle Monaghan (Pixels), and Kevin Bacon (Black Mass) all starred in the picture. The casting choices for the terrorists (who weren’t even good at being terrorists) were interesting: the relative newcomers Alex Wolff and Themo Melikidze played the two bombers, while Melissa Benoist, who is most well known for being Supergirl, played the role of a terrorist’s wife. It was so interesting and unusual to see Benoist in such a contrasting role to her usual one.

In short, Patriot’s Day was a well directed and an emotional retelling of the 2013 Boston Marathon bombings. In addition, the film’s extensive cast delivered great performances.

Rate: 4.5/5

Trailer: Patriot’s Day trailer

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Movie review: Nocturnal Animals

Movie reviews

Hello!

Welcome to another Amy Adams movie review. A few back, I discussed Arrival and today, I’m giving you my thoughts on Nocturnal Animals.

IMDb summary: An art gallery owner is haunted by her ex-husband’s novel, a violent thriller she interprets as a veiled threat and a symbolic revenge tale.

In short, I would describe Nocturnal Animals as Hell or High Water and The Neon Demon put together. The more glamorous parts of the film (the bourgeoisie and the art scene), as well as the stylistic look of it, reminded me of The Neon Demon (plus, Demon was about the fashion world, Animals directed by a fashion designer), while the grittier parts – the book’s plot – were reminiscent of Hell or High Water both visually and thematically.

The fashion designer Tom Ford both wrote, directed, and produced Nocturnal Animals. This was his second attempt at making a feature film . I’ve not seen his first movie – A Single Man – but he impressed me a lot this time around, so I will most likely check out his debut movie. He successfully transitioned from designing to filmmaking and I’m excited to see what he will come up with next.

Writing and Story

I absolutely loved the clever and intriguing narrative of the film. All the different storylines – the reality, the book’s plot and the flashbacks – were separately interesting and distinctive but I also liked how they were combined and how they mirrored each other. In general,  I would say that the fipm was based on  thematical dichotomies – Texas vs. LA/NY, parents vs. children, felons vs. victims, past vs. present, and book vs. reality – and all of them were super engaging. I also liked the fact that the movie did not take sides: it critiqued both the southern traditional way of life and the uber modern and stylish world of the urban high classes.

Nocturnal Animals also appealed to me because it explored my biggest anxieties: the most obvious one was, of course, all of the events of the book (kidnap, rape, and murder). However, the fear of becoming like my parents and the anxiety which surrounds the uncertainty of my future are both very familiar and deeply personal to me as well. 

The movie had a very open ending and left some questions unanswered. Three theories immediately sprung up in my mind. 1. Maybe the film’s message was that one cannot truly change the past and it might sometimes be too late to say sorry, so that’s why the ex-husband didn’t show up. 2. Maybe, the novel’s events were just the main character’s way of dealing with the past mistakes a.k.a. putting ideas into a narrative and the ex-husband wasn’t actually a real person. 3. Maybe the book was just one big suicide note and that’s why he didn’t show up?  I’m probably totally wrong but it is fun to speculate and think about it.

Directing and Visuals

Nocturnal Animals had an interesting blend of visuals: it mixed urban lights with rural desserts. I especially loved all the landscape shots – the framed stills would make for some amazing photographs. The way modern art was used in the film was also interesting. I, personally, don’t get modern art but I can appreciate it. However, I got to say – I was a bit weirded out by the opening of the film (nudity) and wasn’t entirely sure if I was even in the right screening. However, I think that that was the point of the scene – it was meant to shock and to showcase the eccentric world of art that the film’s main character inhabited.

Nocturnal Animals was a perfect example of a successfully and tastefully stylized movie. Tom Ford’s design background and eye for textures and colors really assisted him in the choice of visuals. In addition, he dealt with the pacing of the picture very well: it was slow but never dragged – it was suspenseful and mesmerizing without beeing cliche.

Music and Soundtrack

Abel Korzeniowski did the soundtrack for the film. I really liked the instrumental score: it fit both the visuals and the narrative nicely. My favorite track was the one that sounded like the sextet from the movie Cloud Atlas. That particular track accompanied a variety of scenes and was also played during the credits.

Acting

The film had a stellar cast. Amy Adams was magnificent – I liked her performance even more than the Arrival one. Her eye-acting was mesmerizing. I also loved the way the movie played with the fact that Amy Adams’s and Isla Fisher’s look very similar. Jake Gyllenhaal was also brilliant – he lost himself in the role as he usually does. Michael Shannon was also a stand-out – loved his cool yet realistic portrayal of the detective. Lastly, Aaron Taylor-Johnson completely surprised me – this was probably his best role that I have seen yet just because it felt like the most challenging one. He was so good as the crazy, cocky, and eccentric felon. Armie Hammer also appeared in the film in his signature role of  ‘a white privileged businessman’.

Cast’s movie recommendations:

In short, Nocturnal Animals was beautifully stylized film, which also had important themes and interesting narrative ideas to match its gritty and glamorous visuals. The acting was also top-notch.

Rate: 4.5/5

Trailer: Nocturnal Animals trailer

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Movie review: The Girl on The Train

Movie reviews, Uncategorized

Hello!

The highly awaited adaptation of the best-selling thriller has finally reached cinemas, so let’s talk about it! This is the review of The Girl on The Train.

IMDb summary: A divorcee becomes entangled in a missing person’s investigation that promises to send shockwaves throughout her life.

The Girl on The Train is an adaptation of the book with the same name, written by journalist-turned-writer Paula Hawkins and published in January of 2015. It has taken Hollywood only around a year and a half to come up with the cinematic version of the same story. The book has been compared to Gone Girl – famous novel by Gillian Flynn (another former journalist, now a published author), but I would also suggest you check out the other two Flynn’s books – Sharp Objects and Dark Places – if you liked The Girl on The Train. J.K.Rowling’s first adult novel – The Casual Vacancy – might also be of some interest to you, as it explores similar topics to The Girl on The Train, namely the idea of the domestic affairs and the concept of the outside image. Another analogous book about a dysfunctional family that is on my to-read list is The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo and all its sequels.

To me, the dichotomy of private and public life was one of the most interesting aspects of the source material. The novel also appealed to my inner stalker – I, as the main character Rachel, like to watch strangers around me and imagine their lives or imagine myself in their place. I guess that tells you something about my less-than-stable mental state. I promise I’m not a drunk, though.

Last year, both Gone Girl and Dark Places have been adapted to films and The Girl with The Dragon Tattoo has been turned into a couple of movies (both in Sweden and the US) and I’m sure that the adaptation of The Girl on The Train will be compared to all of them. Some will even go as far as to compare it to Hitchcock’s classics, which isn’t really fair, in my opinion. But, enough of the introduction, let’s get into the actual review of the picture.

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!SPOILER ALERT!

Writing

The Girl on The Train’s script was written by Erin Cressida Wilson. She penned last year’s Men, Women & Children – the only recent film with Adam Sandler that I didn’t hate – I actually even enjoyed it. As per usual, some of the details of the story were changed when adapting the narrative. To begin with, the action was relocated from London to New York for no obvious  creative reason, other than to appeal more to the American audiences. I would have preferred it to be set in England – the gloomy and rainy London would have fit the story more than the city who never sleeps – NY. The screenwriter also cut a few of the creepier details that were in the book, namely a couple of messed up sex scenes. She also gave more traits to some characters: Rachel liked to draw and we actually saw her go to an AA meeting and Megan liked to go on runs. Cathy’s character was altered a bit too, while the character of Martha was an original creation for the picture. The role that the media played in the murder mystery was also diminished in the film.

Other than that, the characters pretty much stayed the same – they were all damaged people, some for a reason, others – without explanation. Then again, some people just are the way they are and there is no deeper tale behind their personality. Rachel basically was digging a hole for herself throughout the film, Megan was playing with fire and got burnt, and don’t even get me started on Anna – she was so willing to turn a blind eye to everything that she kinda made me sick. The 2 male character got a bit less of development but they were both kinda similar – abusive in one way or the other to some extent. Inspector Riley’s character was actually better in the film than in the book – she was super annoying in the novel and actually quite efficient and clever in the film, though she still went after a wrong person.

The narrative was more compressed in the movie than in the book, but all the main themes stayed the same: the desire to create a family was still the most driving plot point of the story (so stereotypical and one that I cannot understand or agree with, then again, I’ve never been family-orientated and this story only reassured my beliefs) and the private life and the public exterior were juxtaposed. The characters looked at each other for an ideal example and lived in a past way too much. The movie also showed the complexity and the dark side of relationships and love and looked at a very important aspect of the modern life – mental problems and depression.

Directing

Tate Taylor, whose previous films include The Help and Get on Up, directed The Girl on The Train and did a fine job. The camera was a bit static, but the visuals of the train in the background of various shots were nice. All the close-ups also worked to make the movie a bit more intimate experience. And yet, the film was quite slow and the numerous flashbacks didn’t really allow the story to go forward – it seemed like something was holding the movie back. The levels of intensity were also low and the buildup to the big twist was basically non-existent. Nevertheless, I did enjoy the big reveal even if I knew it beforehand. I wish that particular sequence would have been longer, though – the picture wrapped up really quickly when the real killer was announced to the audience and the characters. Overall, the directing was a bit flat and I wish Taylor would have done more with the material.

Music

The movie’s soundtrack by Danny Elfman wasn’t really noticeable (which sometimes is a good thing). I liked the instrumental score but wished they used more actual songs. For one, I really liked the trailer’s song Heartless and that comes from a person who highly dislikes Kanye West.

Acting

  • Emily Blunt (Edge of Tomorrow, Into the WoodsSicarioThe Huntsman) as Rachel Watson was absolutely amazing. She played such a believable drunk person – her performance was never over-the-top or too cartoonish. She basically carried this whole movie by herself and I really wish that her work in this film would be recognized with at least a Golden Globe nomination. Her 2 upcoming film are both animated but I’m sure that we will soon get a few announcements about her being cast in some live-action flicks.
  • Haley Bennett (Hardcore Henry) as Megan Hipwell was also really good. She reminded me a bit of both Jennifer Lawrence and Rosamund Pike. Furthermore, Bennett’s acting range is amazing – the character of Megan was completely different from her last cinematic character in The Magnificient Seven. Would love to seem more of her work.
  • Rebecca Ferguson (MI5, Florence Foster Jenkins) as Anna Watson was also great. While reading the book, I really disliked Anna and thought she acted a bit creepy and Ferguson portrayed that well.
  • Justin Theroux as Tom Watson. Theroux played a good villain – that of the worst kind. He seemed to be a good husband and father on the outside, but deep down was a manipulative liar, who managed to believe his own lies, and had no regard for other people’s mental or physical lives. While reading the book, I guessed that he was the killer when I still had around 50 pages left to the big reveal. He just seemed too normal to be a character in the book full of broken people. Going forward, Theroux will be voicing a lord in The Lego Ninjago Movie
  • Luke Evans (The Hobbit trilogy, Dracula Untold, High-Rise) as Scott Hipwell was fine in the role. I kinda feel like he was used as an eye candy for the first half of the film, though. He only said his first line in the 45th minute of the film (I checked). Nonetheless, his few emotional scenes with Blunt were my favorite parts of the movie. His next film is the live-action remake of Beauty and the Beast, which I’m super excited about!
  • Allison Janney as Detective Sgt. Riley was really good. Janney’s performance made me like the character of Riley much more than I did in the book. Coincidentally, I only just saw another film with her – she had a small role in Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children.
  • Édgar Ramírez (Joy, Point Break) as Dr. Kamal Abdic was fine. He was clearly not Bosnian (that was a big deal in the book) but they still tried to mention his ethnicity in the film which didn’t work. In the book, he was the survivor/refugee of the Yugoslavian wars and this impacted the media’s perception of him as the supposed killer. In the film, they just had Rachel throw the line ‘Where are you from?’ as a possible nod to his background in the book, but that didn’t really work.

In short, The Girl on The Train was an okay movie. The strongest part of it was the acting, while the directing and the writing had to take the back seat. It is not a must watch, but the fans of the book, as well as those who like character/actor-driven films, should check it out.

Rate: 3.5/5

Trailer: The Girl on The Train trailer

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