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Big Little Lies (2017)
Black Widows (2016) meets Mikra Anglia (2013).
8/10 (strong) Small spoilers present, nothing that will ruin the viewing experience.
In short: If you like realistic and slow drama in beautiful settings captured skillfully - do not miss it. There is no mistaking this - someone has noticed the series Mustat Lesket (2014) later reproduced in Sweden as Black Widows (2016) and brought it to Hollywood while skillfully mimic'ing the cinematography from Mikra Anglia (2013).
In longer: Two individually great titles, even though the latter is a lot more accomplished. The symbolicism and (especially) allegoric beauty does not translate all the way through, but enough reaches close enough to the shore. The key soundscore is dead on point, the only time it is lacking is when the actors are supposed to sing and the sound is clearly overlayed (a big misstake when you relate it to the rest of the series).
The dialogue isn't always there, but the actors often compensate owning it and making it more. And when it comes to that, the cast is good, a story like this (slow, beautiful and emotional) thrives with unknown names and faces that lets the story be the only thing in the center - even so the actors do a lot better than anticipated. With known actors it would have been hard to cast better. Witherspoon plays confident, morally right well, Shailene Woodley aces her 70's inspired character ambivalent position and keeps the doubt around it alive. Kidman and Alexander illustrates more of the problematic situation some women are in, in a manner that seems realistic.
Pro's Plot line Cinematography Production Cast
Con's The original series had more comedy to it, which shouldn't be forced it but should be noted as lacking nonetheless. Too well known cast (don't get me wrong; the cast performs very well) Alexander Skarsgård could have been more brutish to raise the impact of his actions on me as a viewer.
End notes: It's not the first Frankenstein's movie/series of late (last 5-10 years, yes the re-use goes back a lot further than that but this is in the last few years when it's not formally aknowledged and movies are mixed together in "silence") coming out of Hollywood, but this is one of the ones that has worked the best so far. If you like character studies this is recommended.
Ghost in the Shell (2017)
New benchmark for effects though dropping the ball on depth in the storyline.
Pre-word: This movie is not depicting one movie or series from the Ghost in the Shell enterprise. It draws from most of them in clear ways with clear "classical" scenes. There is likely to be of one of three reasons;
The producers wants to make sequels - telling the writers to combine story lines. The idea to make a complex movie in line with the original one (as most scenes are in line with that) was scrapped by producers thinking it would be to complicated for the audience, which meant a new unoriginal story. The writers and director wanted to maximize the core audience by giving all of them "a piece of the movie".
In short: Those watching the movie as a first contact with the enterprise and decide to take it further (watch the original after, which is the order i recommend) will most likely be happy they did so. For those not new there is a big risk of disappointment on the storyline even though the effects and actors almost completely measure up. The sound was OK, but could have been a lot better.
Overall there was a great storyline (or rather several great story lines) to choose from and instead of picking one and following it someone made the choice to weave in multiple threads from the original movie, the second movie and both series*. So instead of making one of the complicated story lines come through well several were mashed together. As a result the storyline is the foremost let down and underwhelms you at most turns in the movie. The CGI, staging and effects can't weigh up for that even though they basically set the new benchmark for movies (moving beyond the last Star Trek). Also regarding the effects they overtake the symbolism and depth you still had in the movies (aka colordistinction is played down), don't get me wrong - it actually ads to the realistic side but it also detracts from the depth.
In longer SPOILERS BELOW: Regarding the cinematography it is pretty much aced, there are some weaker spots but not many. You can also see where the inspiration of some of the elements comes from; Total Recall (2012) (the elevated roads foremost), Robocop (2014) (tanks, weaponry, parts of the new storyline) and Star trek: Beyond (2016) (cityscape - though taking it one level further as a finished product).
Regarding the storyline: In defense of Rupert Sanders I do think it was in an attempt to give the followers more of the epic moments of the story, but by cherrypicking out (the right moments) without having the same storyline and editing in new elements into them it falls short and underwhelms me often. What i would have wanted was one of the movies or a series presented in one movie. Not several woven together, the feeling is not one of a complete movie but of several combined in a too short space. It's somewhat close, but by dropping the ball on the depth in the storyline this goes from what could have been a real classic sci-fi right in time to another Star Trek: Beyond (2016)where effects are there for the cause of the effects and the storyline comes second.
CGI The cinematography is pretty much there. The creation of a "new" world works, the fascistic dystopian future feels real enough, and is on par with a movies such as Sleepy Hollow (2013) in creating a reliable world. But there are misstakes, one of the larger ones is missing making the inner symbolism from the original Ghost in the Shell where the outside (City) reflects the inner system (read; ghost or soul) laid clear with Motoko's cyborg body and thus cybernetic (software a la matrix) connection. In the original movie it was clearly marked out with the streets in bright orange and the cityscape becoming bluer and darker the higher you went. Here the reflection of the sky and Motoko's swimming (odd hobby for a cyborg) comes into play (whoever decided to ruin that shot with CGI, I'm not your fan - it could easily have been done in a real shot).
SPECIFIC SPOILERS BELOW *There are parts of "classical moments" captured, as when the arms break, the Yakuza hotel, the fight with active camouflage and crossing a bridge to mention a few. There are also parts of "classical moments" that have been more or less ruined in this version (which entails several as the new storyline unfolds). Seeing as so many parts of the enterprise was now tied in (the depiction of Motoko's cyborg body differentiates between the movies/series) you could now make the argument of whitewashing legitimately. SPECIFIC SPOILERS ABOVE
Pro's CGI and effects (some effects taking movies to a new level) Budget Possibly a trilogy in the works
Con's Storyline (missing depth) by trying to weave several complicated threads together in too short space Classical moments redone Too harsh cut Origa is missing PG-13 - missing gore
End notes: It's probable that it's wrapped this hastily because of a trilogy is in the works (the combination of storyline into one broader plot and the section 9's pre-shoot training camp, for relatively short time on screen together hints that) IF the first movie does sell well. It's ironical that by trying to tie the story lines together by combining several complicated story lines they maybe created the very thing that would make that project not happen (a first movie that makes less revenue than arguebly needed). On the other hand a lot of the rather complex details have been solved so I wouldn't rule one out just yet as it can probably be made a lot cheaper. One direct connection to reality is made about consent (whoever reads the EULA through?) and the five eyes - strong for a large movie like this.
The UK Gold (2015)
Not deep, but for those who do not know of City of London it's worth watching
In short: Nothing new, nothing to deep but some overlook for those not initiated into how City of London works (like the trading outposts of old to circumvent laws). You get to follow a minister who tries to make a difference by trying to partake in the broken shadow system. The change won't come until people rise up, the model for UK in the modern world is to be a tax haven for the rich which both centralises informal power, influence and crime.
The docu. downplays the state of affairs (with width of it all) and how some nations (two or more) have tremendous funds to destabalise nations who do not follow suit in corruption and crime.
In longer: The actual number mentioned (32 Trillion i think it was) of money in tax havens is a drop in the sea (the initial ICIJ report mentioned $62 trillion, which later got corrected to 30 something, which later got lowered once more - formally the error was counting the same money several times, this later got named the Panama leak - that is ONE regional instance of tax avoidance). The point in time when ICIJ got access to the information was right before the leaks of the totalitarian shadow gov. et al surveillance systems came out, it then took a year to be released to the public.
The debt throughout the world would probably be history if those who benefit most from society carried their part, or at least as much as the average company/worker. Constructed ("Natural") debt is used to suppress social mobility and keep a lot of people in line (not all).
Pro's Basic run-over over City of London. Message - You as an individual have to act (with today's surveillance the cost is higher than ever) Realistic outlook - unless YOU act, things will not chance, the people are many, many doing little will in over time beat few doing much Naive outlook, being naive is needed, doing good in a bad world is.
Con's Shallow Limited outlook on cause of events ("...bird of the nigh" shadow gov. and the creation of it) Sound is used to manipulate the viewer (to effect; bad actions = bad music/sound...).
End Notes: 7 is still a strong grade, one star for the effort and 1 to encourage people looking into the subject. The information about City of London could easily have been made a lot deeper simply by looking around casually for it.
Zhui xiong zhe ye (2016)
A worthy interpretation - Rashomon once again comes to life
End notes contains spoilers (nothing from the actual plot but regarding how the movie is built).
Pretext: If you are a fan of crime/thriller this is highly recommended. This is an interpretation of Rashomon of Akira Kurosawa (which is the person that Sergio Leone and a few other productions of Westerns and a lot of other movies have copied since) and his movie Rashomon.
In short: Brings back Rashomon with strength, there have been tries earlier and with a lot larger budgets (one example being Vantage Point 2008), this is simply better. 3 perspectives on a crime and on cause and events, three stories unfold and in the end - what is there? Realistic, with one comedic element breaking up the slow paced movie with dead on accuracy.
In longer: Cinematography is average, what shines here is the editing - which is above average but not perfect (one example being a cut mid-scene early on during a chase). However it is suitable to the storyline depicted - as different environments are shown so does partially the type of shots (actively adapting the cinematography without overdoing it). The simplicity in act changes stands out (keeping effects simple when that is in line with the story), if something flashy had been used it would have killed the impression of the subtle evolution of the plot line. The acting is good (with less than a handful of weaker points), in the start there are a few moments of overacting but as the movie moves on the acting is pretty much solid throughout. And finally the characters are also given time to grow (as they should when the movie circles around perception of cause and events) which with solid actors really brings it up a notch. Because of the song and showing outtakes during the credits i almost rated this one star lower. It definitively weakend my impression of the movie.
Pro's Editing Character development Acting Cinematography A worthy interpretation.
Con's A few momentary mistakes Song's son; Tao's (Wang Yunhui) crying near the end should have been skipped (edited out) Ending song (way too upbeat) & outtakes during credits - spoiled the impression quite a bit (a really bad call in my book)
End notes: Although it carries another message and doesn't have an open ending it gives you a sentiment not often seen in movies in these days of widespread fascism.
For those who wanted to see Rashomon end differently i strongly recommend watching this movie.
A tale with an original plot line.
Recommended (be wary slightly slowpaced & relatively low budget)
I exspected a fantasy and got a history/action (possibly slightly sci-fi to it as well).
It's a good watch, it is slow at times, but the story is given time to evolve as it should. The effects are not all there even though costume possibly pulled off an incredible feat (depending on budget). However it still isn't fully enough as some helmets does not suit it's bearer and some extras does not fill the shoes as well as they should. Gore and grit is pretty much there, which is a big plus. The cast is alright, the lead (pretty unknown to me) is alright but does not excell - however does not remove realism from it either which is mostly down to the dialogue (which is well written). The acting overall could be a little better but isn't below average for similar movies, rather slightly above.
Pro's Script Dialogue (up and down but mostly solid) Original plot line (or at least have the feeling thereof) Costume & scenery Director (which probably made ends meet)
Con's Budget (?) - doesn't reach all the way Some elements are slightly improved upon by modern norms/rationale
End notes: This isn't Braveheart, on the other hand it does not have a white van it in either. I liked it, it shows that you can do quite big historical movies with a relatively small budget. -It's quite well crafted for similar movies and delivers on originality.
My War (2016)
Propaganda for war "the other way"
Contains smaller spoilers but nothing specific that will ruin the plot.
Usually I do not give these kinds of movies a high score and this is not different.
In short: What is different is that it is Chinese propaganda - the kind a lot more well known from Hollywood regarding the USA. It still seems a lot more real when it comes down to details of the actual "war". The plot lines are the classics, a group of friends (not too unsimilar to saving private Ryan), but there is the love story too.
In long: No one can make the misstake to see this for something else than it is, nationalistic propaganda - it is almost shocking to see it for another nation than the USA with these kinds of effects and how it is produced. The telling of the backdrop the events gives us are seemingly accurate even though the heroes might not be. The effects are good and the explosions are often real, the firefights with tracershots etc are quite good at a few times (but overall not that great). The cinematography is very much in line with Saving Private Ryan but with a little more "red" for explosions and elsewhere.
Pro's Effects (real effects over CGI when possible) Budget Some of the acting
Con's Forced story lines Propaganda Exaggeration (more realism could have made it a really good movie)
End notes: Overall it can be a good watch, there are at least one very seeworthy scene and a few moments of good acting and action - if nothing else to be awaken that there are actually more nations doing these kinds of movies on a grande scale now.
Killing Ed (2015)
8/10: If correct settles USA involvement in the Turkish Coup d'état.
Recommended! Democracy and a good society or informal interest group(s) controlling the agenda. Pick one.
This is one of those documentaries that gives you a look behind the veil of what is supposed to be democracy, letting you see what the large informal interest group(s) are up to for YOUR (sarcasm) best. If this doesn't win a prestigeous price (asuming its claims are accurate) something is wrong with the world. It clearly illustrates that when it comes between maintaining the plutocracy (rich for rich) it goes ahead of religions for those who claim it doesn't/wouldn't.
The main idea is to give better insight into USA ties to Fethullah Gülen and expose ties into yet another overthrowing of democracy. The presented intention before viewing this was (as far as i could tell) about privatisation of property owned by the people and selling out public schools, it does mention Gülen but more as an anecdote. What is revealed is state agencies setting thousands of children's lives second in granting Gülen space to collect funds through missmanaged schools.
Pro's Fresh Gives what i perceive to be new information that quells any doubts about the Coup d'état in Turkey (if correct). Has a contemporary (the irony of calling it contemporary in the context of USA foreign policy does not elude me) international impact.
Con's Could have better documented at parts (showing the addresses on the buildings/roads as one example) Not linking the Department of Foreign Affairs or the CIA to it.
End notes: Neo-imperialistically speaking the Coup d'état in Turkey most likely were to put EU's traderoutes in a worse position (paraphrased: "destined" to fail) after TTiP (and it's fascistic circumvention of accepted practises and laws became public) fell through. Turkey is the key to the middle east and putting Erdogan on odds with EU would strengthen USA relative to EU.
Level Up (2016)
6-7/10 The Game (1997) meets Run Lola Run (1998) etc
In short: This is "The Game (1997)" adapted to the society we live in now (1984) with some extra (read; unnecessary) layers that makes it feel a little as inception. It tries to be several things, and it does quite a decent job at it. This is not a bad movie and for me it is a strong 6.
In long: The lighting is good, the editing is alright and you can't fault the soundscore. It really only misses a binding soundtrack and using one would negate the feel of reality of the movie (though urgency can be expressed with music quite well - Run Lola Run 1998, which is likely to be another movie that has inspired this movie).
The downside is that it has a somewhat weak ending (where the several layers come in and a badly hid undertone about who's surveilling the ones doing the surveillance in the first place) - which is out of place even though it is in line with the message - question what the reality is and how you affect it.
Pro's Cast (unknown which is in line with the plot line) Action sequences (and not forcing it on the movie every time possible) Rationality is alright and better depicting the notion of what manipulation of actions has the potential to do.
Con's Messy ending Could build tension better Acting performances aren't top notch ALL the time (which is important in building tension and urgency)
End notes: Not top notch but overall a solid watch.
Night Swim (2014)
Horror illustrated - builds momentum FAST.
Very short short, but still an excellent watch - captures the horror momentum well and builds tension in a very short period of time. For those who like horror this is a short must watch that will remind you how good horror should be made and that it's still out there.
Pro's Using pauses well Leaving out the "foe" to imagination Using an associative context (it's easy to draw connotations to a night swim). No bad CGI.
Con's Short (making it too short, even though the point came across) The largest misstake is not showing the body drowned in the pool at the end - who she sees on land is herself drowned - so it makes no sense having the body disappear unless she wants to literally die - which you do not get the feeling she does.
End notes: Horror is about building momentum, it's "easily" done by using pauses and leaving out things to be interpreted (imagined) by the viewer. It is not a 9 because it simply is too short to clearly illuminate if it was a once off (which i doubt but can't rule out). Exspect to hear about Rod Blackhurst again - possibly keep an eye out for "North (2017)".
8/10: Experience a journey.
No direct spoilers but reading the long version might impact viewing experience.
In short: If you played the game Backpacker and liked it this might give you that same feeling it was intended to give - of discovery while on a journey.
In long: Maybe just a story about a girl (woman) on a special day. Maybe a life passing by as the final moments of it approach. A note in itself for your discovery that started (read; starts) "here" where you are, one light - one life.
For me the symbolism seems to stem from the second part. The waves erasing the tracks in the sand, the bright dress - it draws connotation to Tabula Rasa (every person comes into this world as an empty slate). The memories shown and cinematography seems quite similar to Eternal sunshine of the spotless mind (2004) but without the same cynicism, it seems as more of a comment that it is a journey to embrace and go on rather then one to be forced into.
It is cinematographically capturing, still shots of beautiful sentimental frames that captures moods of exploration, slow pans that follows the subject into the new frame where new environments await - that instills traveling or going on a journey. For me this style of shooting is clearly chosen intentional and made to emphasize the plot without affecting the silent story. I also liked most of the composition of the movie. The downplayed soundtrack with clear environmental sounds draws you into the mood. The lighting is pretty much perfect throughout (no matter if it's waiting for natural light or not).
Pro's Well directed - overall simply well made. It still contains an element of playfulness or rather enjoyment which really raises this up above others similar shorts.
Con's Instrumental music could have been very suitable at some point. One or two "flashy" (moreso) shots of empty exotic environments (destitute or constructed) could have been used to effect (yes, that could impact the symbolism negatively if done badly). The transitions were not always smooth, which goes against the earlier expression - slightly better (read; smoother) transitions would impact positively.
End notes: Why so many negatives? Because it wasn't that far from perfection for what it is presenting. Someone might call it pretentious, I wouldn't because to me it seems clear that this is about a journey - even if it is not the one intended. For those who like similar movies they can be found here and there; as wide apart on the spectrum as Mikra Anglia (2013), Melancholia (2011) to cinematographically (at times) Spring Breakers (2012).