Movie review: Flatliners 

Movie reviews

Hello!

The 90s are back in theatres with the remake of Flatliners. Let’s see how dead this movie about the near-death experiences is. Disclaimer: I haven’t seen the original, so I’m giving this movie as fair of a shot as they get.

IMDb summary: Five medical students, obsessed by what lies beyond the confines of life, embark on a daring experiment: by stopping their hearts for short periods, each triggers a near-death experience – giving them a firsthand account of the afterlife.

Writing

2017’s Flatliners was written by Ben Ripley (a newcomer screenwriter) and he did a very good job for the first half of the film. I really liked the set-up of the med school and how the movie showcased the strains of it. The science (barely?) parts of the actual procedures that the characters undertook were interesting too (the question is, how accurate were they?).

Speaking of the characters – they were not the best. The 5 leads were just stereotypes: the lead, the smart one, the wannabe smart one, the party-boy, and the good girl. Their afterlife visions could be seen as an attempt to develop their characters more deeply, but then again, those sequences only added a single extra feature – a sin from the past – to embellish the pre-existing stereotype. The personal arcs of all the character ended exactly how they always do. The lead was the ‘inciting incident’ (twice), the competitive intellectuals realized they love each other, the good girl went rogue and the party-boy grew up. Also, on a side note, all of them were more or less damaged in some way because of their actions in the past and they all decided to become doctors? Why? To fix others as they are not able to fix themselves? I feel like I’m digging way deeper than the scriptwriter ever did.

Also, on a side note, all of them were more or less damaged in some way because of their actions in the past and they all decided to become doctors? Why? To fix others as they are not able to fix themselves? I feel like I’m digging way deeper than the scriptwriter ever did.

The second part of the film was where Flatliners fell flat. The supernatural/subconscious horror went unexplained and the movie never committed to an answer of who/what was happening to the characters. That whole borderline-magical second part also seemed jarring after the more sci-fi (and quite solid) opening. Additionally, that ‘inner demons’ concept, could be comparable to a similar idea in It (which, BTW, is gonna murder this film at the weekend box office). Lastly, the conclusion that one should forgive oneself and take up responsibility was a nice message but it was also an extremely typical one.

Directing

Niels Arden Oplev, a Danish TV director (he helmed Mr.Robot’s pilot episode), was responsible for the Flatliners remake and did an okay job. The set-up and the first part of the film (the sci-fi) one were well realized and exciting enough but the second half’s jump scares and the unexplained horror cheapened and undermined the overall product. The opening title sequence felt very 90s, which, I guess, was an appropriate choice for a remake of a 90s film (an homage?). The scenes of the students partying/having fun seemed like they belonged to The Hangover remake, though. Basically, the movie was fine and somewhat enjoyable. If it weren’t a remake and were an original property, I’d praise it.

Acting

The main reason why I went to see 2017’s Flatliners was its cast. I was really interested to see whether Diego Luna’s English-speaking career will go anywhere after Rogue One and I guess it is, even if it’s not soaring high as I wanted it to. He has a Woody Allen project lined up as well as that Scarface remake (bummer, that it is another remake).

Another actor who drew me into the cinema was Nina Dobrev. I watched her on The Vampire Diaries for years as a teenager and was a bit disappointed when she decided to leave the show to start a movie career, which did not get off the ground quickly or even at all. This was probably her best big-screen work to date, as her appearance on the third XXX movie was atrocious. Weirdly, her med-student character here reminded me a lot of her TVD’s Elena character, who wanted to be a doctor at one point of the show. Also, another side note, her character in this movie was supposed to be a swimmer (at least I got that impression) and, as somebody who practices this sport IRL, I could not take her seriously because of that super-sexy and not at all training appropriate swimming suit and that cap, that elderly women wear to the water aerobics.

Other cast members of the film were: Ellen Page (X-Men) – the biggest name-talent attached to this film, who also had the best performance; British TV actor James Norton, and Kiersey Clemons (DCEU’S Iris West). Kiefer Sutherland had a few scenes (he played the lead in the original), while Awkward’s Beau Mirchoff also cameoed as basically his character from that MTV show.

In short, Flatliners was fun but unexceptional film, that started out quite promising but fell apart in the end.

Rate: 3/5

Trailer: Flatliners trailer

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Movie review: Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets

Movie reviews

Hello!

Welcome to another birthday movie review! For the past 3 years, I have spent my birthdays at the cinema, always watching a comic book movie. In 2014, it was Guardians of the Galaxy, in 2015 – Ant-Man, and just last year – Suicide Squad. Well, this year, neither DC nor Marvel are releasing films in August, so, I’m branching out and giving a chance to Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets – a film, based on a French comic book Valerian and Laureline, advertised by the director Luc Besson as ‘the ‘it’ European blockbuster’, that is as good as its Hollywood counterparts.

IMDb summary: A dark force threatens Alpha, a vast metropolis and home to species from a thousand planets. Special operatives Valerian and Laureline must race to identify the marauding menace and safeguard not just Alpha, but the future of the universe.

Luc Besson

The French filmmaker, known for 1990s’ classics Léon: The Professional and The Fifth Element and that Scarlett Johansson Black Widow addition film – Lucy, both wrote and directed Valerian. Besson was a fan of the comic book by Pierre Christin and Jean-Claude Mézières growing up but didn’t seriously consider adapting the property until Avatar showed him what can be done with CGI. I, personally, was quite interested in the film as I love the sci-fi genre as well as the previous work of the director. However, I seemed to have been the only one, as Valerian didn’t really click with the critics, nor the audiences. To be fair, even if the audiences liked the movie, no amount of the box office money could have justified the insanely huge budget. The decision to cast financially unproven leads didn’t help the film either.

Writing and Story

The writing for the film was quite a mixed bag. The story itself was actually quite interesting, however, it was way too drawn out. A lot of the plotlines truly felt like an excuse for the CGI team and the director to showcase more of the spectacular effects. If a lot of the scenes of the characters, aimlessly wandering around, would have been cut, the final product would have had a much tighter and more exciting adventure narrative. I didn’t hate the expositional scenes, though. I actually quite liked the silent opening of the film – the establishment of Alpha – and I did appreciate that the characters spelled out the plot points to the audience during the third act because the walking (or running) around scenes made me kinda lose track of the purpose of their journey.

Thematically, the two leads weren’t bad. I enjoyed the fact that the two of them represented different ideas – Valerian was all about the rules, while Laureline was more rebellious. Nevertheless, the character of Valerian bugged me because of how inconsistent he seemed. Although all the promotional booklets that I received prior to this film (one at the cinema and one during the Free Comic Book Day) introduced Valerian as super ambitious and career-driven major, in the picture, he seemed more interested in advancing his relationship with Laureline rather than getting to a higher career level. In truth, the whole romantic aspect of the movie wasn’t fully working for me and seemed a bit pushed.

Directing and Visuals

The visuals have been the most universally praised part of the film and I feel confident in seconding those praises. Valerian looked magnificent – from the character and the location designs to the scope, the CGI was both inventive and of good quality. It didn’t look photo-realistic, but it was a brilliant realization of a vision of fantasy. The sweeping shots of the market at the begging as well as the sequence of Valerian’s chasing the intruders through the Alpha station were two of my favorite parts of the film. The scene with Rihanna – her performance – was too long. Also, I wanted it to have more of the amazing transformations and fewer elements of a strip club-like dance. Lastly, the runtime (which I already mentioned) – Valerian was way way way too long. Honestly, halfway through the film, I could already feel its self-indulgence.

Acting

However unproven this cast was as the box office draws, I still mostly enjoyed them in the roles. I’ve been a fan of Cara Delevigne (Paper Towns, Suicide Squad) before she started acting and I always believed that she had a natural kind of charisma that shines through her acting. That might be because a lot of the characters are extensions of herself (rebellious, charming, and beautiful). Even though I think she is quite charismatic on her own, her chemistry with the co-star Dane DeHaan was not to be found. On his own, DeHaan hasn’t really blown me away as of yet and I still feel the same after Valerian. He was bearable in the role and I doubt that his career will get much of a boost. More importantly, if his box office numbers don’t improve, he might not get another chance. He might actually be better off sticking with smaller dramas than big actioners. 

The involvement of more serious, indie and niche actors, like Clive OwenEthan Hawke (Boyhood), and Sam Spruell (Sand Castle) was supposed to give this movie more gravitas, but I’m not entirely sure that that plan worked. These serious actors did seem a bit like caricatures of themselves, acting with all that green screen. Rihanna (Battleship, soon Ocean’s Eight) was fine in the brief cameo performance. (Fun fact: I saw her live at a concert almost exactly a year ago). However, her appearance in the film should have been played up way more – that might have been the only saying grace of this movie’s ad campaign. Speaking about the things that still might save this film – that’s Chinese audiences and the Chinese star Kris Wu, who has a small yet stereotypically crucial (plot-wise) role in the film. He made his Hollywood debut just earlier this year, in XXX: Return of Xander Cage

In short, Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets is a grand and gorgeous film, with a runtime (and story) that’s even longer than the film’s name.

Rate: 3/5

Trailer:  Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets trailer 

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Movie review: Fast & Furious 8

Movie reviews

Hello!

The latest FF film – The Fate of the Furious or Fast & Furious 8 – has driven into theaters, so, let’s discuss it!

I can’t actually believe that I have never reviewed a Fast and Furious movie before as I have been a fan of them since I was a child. 2006’s Tokyo Drift was probably the first nonanimated movie that I saw at the cinema and have been hooked ever since. I and my dad would always watch these movies together and bond over the fast cars and the crazy action. And that’s what I have come to expect from these films: the amazing action and the funny jabs between the cast members (or a family, wink wink) that have real chemistry. I am not looking for Oscar-worthy performances or original stories. However, I have to give immense props to the 7th film for dealing with Paul Walker’s death in such a gracious and poised way. I don’t think anyone expected a Fast and Furious movie to show so much class but it did. Well, enough talking about the previous entries in the franchise, let’s see what the 8th picture can offer! Has anyone ever believed that this series would have eight installments with 9th and 10th ones already planned ???

IMDb summary: When a mysterious woman seduces Dom into the world of terrorism and a betrayal of those closest to him, the crew face trials that will test them as never before.

Writing

FF8‘s script was written by Chris Morgan, who penned all the previous films, except the first two. The narrative was exactly what one thinks it was: just a collection of expositional scenes to further the story and a sprinkling of funny jabs and interactions between the characters. The film’s plot referenced the events and the characters from the previous 3 films quite a lot too, which was really fun for longtime viewers of the franchise and not that surprising, knowing that all of the referenced entries were written by the same screenwriter. It was also nice that the said references didn’t seem pushed but happened quite organically. Thus, The Fate of the Furious seemed like a true continuation of the same story arc that more or less started with the 5th picture.

The interactions between the characters were brilliantly ridiculous as well. I wonder how much of that was written and how many jokes were just improvised on the spot by Dwayne Johnson and Jason Statham, Tyrese Gibson and Ludacris. The love triangle jokes were funny too. The attempt to give characters more development was also fine. The main theme of the series – family – was present in this film more than in any other entries before. Similarly to Dom having to make a choice between family and his criminal/car chasing past in this movie, the same choice now has to be made by this franchise when moving forward. And the picture did leave a few opportunities open for the same plotline to be continued.

Directing

Fast & Furious 8 was helmed by a newcomer director to the franchise – F. Gary Gray, best known for directing Straight Outta Compton. He did a good enough job with the movie and utilized the FF staples – the exotic locations and the butts. I appreciated the first, could have done without the second, but it looks like the two were a packaged deal. Speaking of the third staple of the series – the crazy action set pieces excecuted with the help of gorgeus and extremely expensve cars – they were not the best of the franchise but were still quite inventive and, most importantly, explosive, energetic, and entertaining. Yes, the technology was far-fetched and, yes, the explosions – unsurvivable and unbelievable. But you can’t argue that they didn’t look cool and absolutely kickass and that’s all I wanted. The visuals were nicely paired with a good soundtrack too, although I can’t pinpoint an iconic song that will be on the radio all summer, similarly how I See You Again was everywhere after the 7th film, We Own It after the 6th and Danza Kuduro after the 5th.

Acting

Fast and Furious was one of the first film series to have a truly diverse cast and the franchise is continuing the trend. While the 8th flick didn’t really introduce any new characters apart from revealing Charlize Theron (The Hunstman, Mad Max, Kubo) as the big bad behind the last few films, it had a ton of fun cameos and comebacks. Speaking of Theron – she was a great addition to the cast and a good villain, I would even dare to say the best of the franchise. I think her distinct look really helped her to stand out – those white dreads and V-neck T-shirts looked effortestly cool.

All of the familair faces, except Jordana Brewster, were back. Vin Diesel (Guardians), Michelle Rodriguez, Dwayne Johnson (San Andreas, Central Intelligence, Moana), Tyrese Gibson, Ludacris, and Nathaniel Emmanuel (Game of Thrones, The Maze Runner) appeared to be genuinely having fun on screen, both as their characters and as the actors themselves. The return of Jason Statham (Transporter films, Spy) was also actually appreciated by me, even though I have never been much of a fan of his. I never thought that I would want to see Dwayne Johnson and Jason Statham just absolutely dragging each other non-stop. Gibson’s, Ludacris’s and Emmanuel’s characters’ interactions were good too, I loved the rivalry and the shades of the love triangle. Gibson’s action moment was good too and a nice touch for the character, who usually ends up being a butt of a joke.

Kurt Russell (The Hateful Eight, Deepwater Horizon) also reprised his role and took Scott Eastwood along for a ride this time as his assistant/trainee. Eastwood’s character was a bit annoying at the beginning but he was supposed to be like that and actually turned out to be a not that bad addition to the cast. He certainly had more to do in this film than in a similar role in Suicide Squad.

In short, Fast and Furious 8 was exactly what I wanted it to be – a cheesy nonsensical fun. This franchise is certainly not done and still has some steam left.

Rate: 4/5

Trailer: Fast and Furious 8 trailer

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SPOILERS

The film unexpectedly had quite a few reveals and twists and turns in the story which I didn’t want to spoil in the main review but still wanted to mention. I expected the leverage that Cypher had on Dom to be Bryan’s and Mia’s child but the movie instead presented us with Dom’s and Elena’s (5th movie) son – a new family member for a character obsessed with having a family. The way the child was named at the end was also a cute and touching moment – I do love the fact that FF franchise remembers its roots and how much Paul Walker and his character Bryan did for the series.

The same topic of family was continued with the return of Jason Statham’s (7th film) character (that babysitting action scene was amazing), but this time around his mother made an apperance, played by Helen Mirren (Eye in the Sky, Collateral Beauty, Trumbo). Her inclusion was enjoyable and I loved the few scenes she was in. Staham’s character’s brother Owen (6th movie), played by Luke Evans, also cameod. Evans’s performance in Beauty and the Beast has really solidified me as a fan of his, so I was extremely happy to see his cameo.

Movie review: John Wick: Chapter 2

Movie reviews

Hello!

A non-comic book movie sequel, which the audiences were actually looking forward to and which was not panned by the critics, has hit theaters, so, let’s review it. It’s John Wick: Chapter 2! 

2014’s John Wick was the biggest cinematic surprise of that year. Nobody expected it to be any good but the movie blew everyone away. The whole old-school revenge story worked and actually felt fresh (it was neat and simple but still had some interesting world-building involved), the action looked great (no shaky-cam or quick cuts!) and Keanu Reeves’s performance was a true comeback to form. Now, can the second chapter deliver, since the expectations are high? It absolutely can and did!

SPOILER ALERT

Writing

John Wick: Chapter 2 was written by Derek Kolstad, who also scripted Chapter 1. Since both films were written by the same person, their narratives blended seamlessly: the sequel first dealt with the repercussions from the first movie and only then organically set-up the next story, while simultaneously expanding the mythology of the film’s world. I loved the addition of the medallion, which symbolized an oath between the assassins, and I also enjoyed learning more about their code of honor. We got to see a new Continental hotel too, which showcased the global aspect of this community. The usage of the variety of languages, including the sign language, was very cool and went in line with the worldwide theme as well.

The immaculate attention to the detail in the writing was on full display during John Wick’s preparatory sequence. I really liked the fact that we got to see where do assassins get their intel, suits, and gadgets – a lot of the movies just gloss over this. The scene with the open contract was also cool to see – I loved that they actually included secretaries into the story. Plus, the whole homeless network thing was a neat addition to this world – kinda reminded me of Sherlock. I also loved how through that storyline the scriptwriter started stripping John of all his devices – he only got 7 rounds for his gun for the final fight but that is nothing compared to the fact that in the next film, he won’t have anything (because of the choice he made at the hotel, which I did not see coming). I also didn’t expect a variety of other twist and turns that the plot took. I did not think that the Italian lady will commit suicide, I did not suspect that the first fight between John and Cassian would be abruptly cut by them falling into the hotel/the territory of peace and I did not see it coming that the Italian mobster would double-cross Wick.

Directing

The first film was a directorial debut for the stuntman Chad Stahelski and David Leitch (although Leitch wasn’t credited as a director, only as a producer). The sequel was only directed by Stahelski, but Leitch shouldn’t feel too bad, as he is now helming Deadpool 2. I really enjoyed the direction of this picture. I loved how the world building was realized visually: the preparatory sequence (which I already mentioned in the writing portion of this review) was amazing and one of my favorite parts of the movie (kinda reminded me of a similar scene in Kingsman). I also loved the glamorous yet gritty action set pieces: all of them – from the opening car chase (I love old-school American cars like the one Wick has and was kinda sad to see it totally destroyed) to the art exhibition finale – looked stunning and were immensely entertaining. This is partially because of the same sleek camera work and partially because of the great fight choreography in both the hand-to-hand combat scenes and the big shoot-out sequences. All of them felt energetic and explosive and even unexpected – the knife to the aorta and the knife stopped by going through a hand moments were really neat and fresh additions to the choreography. 

I also loved how the picture was edited: it had a good balance of action sequences and of slower character moments. The calmer moments didn’t feel like filler material: all of the scenes were relevant and included for a purpose. For example, the scene in which John discovered that he broke his phone during the fight – this incident appeared mundane yet it meant so much for the character, as that phone had the video of his dead wife on it. 

A few of my favorite scenes from the film were the various meetings between John and Cassian. I enjoyed their exchanges during their first meeting as well as during the bar scene. My favorite action sequence was the shoot-out in the catacombs. I loved how the historical setting – the catacombs – was paired with a modern EDM score (the whole soundtrack by Tyler Bates and Joel J. Richard was actually really great). Other small scenes which I absolutely loved were, one, Cassia and John shooting at each other through a fountain and, two, John using a pencil to kill two assains – it was such a great callback to an earlier scene, where some of the characters were discussing the fact that John had previously killed somebody with a pencil. Lastly, the movie also had short but sweet opening credit sequence, which involved the medallion – it not only looked cool but was actually related to the plot.

Acting

Keanu Reeves’s career track record has been mixed at best. In some films, the viewers loved him but, at times, they have also avoided him (Reeves has had his fair share of box office flops). But now, it looks like he broke the bad streak and is back in the game with this franchise. While he doesn’t have the biggest range as an actor, it can’t be argued that he isn’t a great action star. His stiff delivery of lines actually does work for the character of John Wick. His Russian accent was not the best though definitely not the worst one I heard in a Hollywood movie either. I wonder, what do the native or fluent speakers of Italian think about his Italian language skills?

The supporting cast of the movie had a few nice additions. Common starred as Cassian and Ruby Rose as Ares – two very skilled assassins. I loved their fight scenes with Reeves as well as Common’s and Reeves’s chemistry in those few dialogue scenes. Rose did an incredible job playing a mute character. She was just oozing charisma and she didn’t even have to say a word.

Laurence Fishburne, John Leguizamo, Riccardo Scamarcioas, and Ian McShane were all also great. Plus, they added some diversity to the cast, in terms of ethnicity, nationality, and even age.

In short, John Wick: Chapter 2 was absolutely amazing: it had sleek action, an interesting story, and pretty good acting. What more can you want from an action flick? I really do hope that we will get a third movie, as this one kinda set it up. Maybe we will get to see the Chinese mobsters next time, as we already saw the other members of the high table (Russians in the first film and Italians in the second picture).

Rate: 4.7/5

Trailer: John Wick: Chapter 2 trailer

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