Sunday, 25 July 2021

Film Review: "Trollhunters: Rise of the Titans" (2021).

"This Summer, they will rise" in Trollhunters: Rise of the Titans. This computer-animated science fantasy directed by Johane Matte, Francisco Ruiz-Velasco and Andrew L. Schmidt, written by Marc Guggenheim and Dan & Kevin Hageman and based on the characters created by Guillermo del Toro and Daniel Kraus. Heroes from Trollhunters, 3Below and Wizards join forces to fight a shadowy enemy threatening to take over their worlds — and reset Earth itself.

In 2019, while planning the ending of the Arcadia saga, del Toro and Guggenheim wanted it to finish with an Avengers-style crossover, debated on whether to conclude it with additional Wizards episodes or a feature film, and eventually choose to do it as a film due to a cinematic format allowing them to "tell this story on the scope that [they] wanted and have the story be as big as [they] aspired it to be". Aware that audiences watching the film would not necessarily be familiar with the rest of the saga, a recap prologue was written for the start of the film. The film was also influenced by Marvel Studios' Avengers films, the filmmakers having taken a similar approach so audiences unfamiliar with the franchise could nevertheless enjoy the film's story. According to Guggenheim, early production on the film happened while the studio was working on Wizards, which he felt gave the producers time to determine how to finish the saga's story. The Guggenheim and Dan & Kevin Hageman included references to del Toro's Pacific Rim (2013), througth they were careful to not to overload the film with Pacific Rim easter eggs. In early August 2020, it was revealed that Netflix and DreamWorks Animation were developing a finale film titled Trollhunters: Rise of the Titans with Matte, Velasco, and Schmidt as directors, del Toro, Guggenheim and Dan and Kevin Hageman as co-writers and producers, and set to be released to Netflix on July 21, 2021.

The film stars the voice talents of Nick Offerman, Tatiana Maslany, Emile Hirsch, Steven Yeun, Diego Luna, Nick Frost, Alfred Molina, Kelsey Grammer, Cheryl Hines, Jonathan Hyde and Brian Blessed, reprising their roles, with Grey Griffin, Tom Kenny and James Hong as newcomers. Like the shows, the film, thanks largely to its spectacular cast, has managed to do what so few children shows even today have: assemble a cast of characters that depicts the world as it is, with a range of identities and experiences. Which brings depth and believability.

The film doesn't come any bigger than this: the closing chapter to a five-year saga in the Arcadia Universe, told across three series. And by the end of its a hundred and six minute runtime, there will definitely be tears. The film is everything Arcadia fans could want and more. It is interesting to see how the franchise concludes with this film, but woe be upon anyone who doubts their ability to conclude and succeed mightily. As fun as the movie is, there's a somewhat undeniable hollowness at its core induced by its unwillingness to follow through on certain ideas and symbols.

Simon says Trollhunters: Rise of the Titans receives:

Also, see my review for Wizards: Tales of Arcadia.

Saturday, 24 July 2021

Film Review: "Old" (2021).

"A new trip from writer/director M. Night Shyamalan" comes Old. This supernatural mystery thriller written and directed by Shyamalan and inspired by the graphic novel Sandcastle by Pierre Oscar Levy and Frederik Peeters. This chilling, mysterious new thriller is about a family on a tropical holiday who discover that the secluded beach where they are relaxing for a few hours is somehow causing them to age rapidly - reducing their entire lives into a single day.

In October 2019, it was announced that Shyamalan was partnering with Universal Studios to release two new thriller films which he would write, produce and direct, including this film. By late September 2020, Gael García Bernal, Vicky Krieps, Rufus Sewell, Ken Leung, Abbey Lee, Alex Wolff, Embeth Davidtz, Eliza Scanlen and Thomasin McKenzie were cast. Additionally, it was announced that the film's title was Old. At the same time, principal photography commenced and wrapped in mid November. Filming took place in Playa El Valle, Samana, the Dominican Republic and will be the first Shyamalan film to be shot on 35mm film stock since The Last Airbender (2010). All his projects since have been shot digitally. This marks the first time Shyamalan has filmed entirely outside Greater Philadelphia since his first film Praying with Anger (1992). The film was shot during the height of the global Coronavirus pandemic. Cast and crew had to be tested daily for potential infections. Before production, Shyamalan screened Walkabout (1971) and Picnic at Hanging Rock (1975) for his cast and crew, which were said to be big influences on the style and tone that he wanted for the film. The film was initially set for a February 26 2021 release date, but was delayed to July 23, 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The film stars Bernal, Krieps, Sewell, Leung, Lee, Wolff, Davidtz, Scanlen and McKenzie. Thanks to the top-flight acting, the film is not a bad film, despite its goofy plot.

Old is among Shyamalan's salvageable films, in which he uses ignorance and superstition to keep a group of people in the woods away from evil creatures. Shyamalan keeps the story vague enough to work up to his plot twist, and while I won't reveal it here, I will say that I don't think the payoff is worth it. Shyamalan remains ever the master of mood and of unseen, inchoate menace; he can give depth and gravity to scenes that in other hands would be either boring or ridiculous. If you're willing to follow Shyamalan wherever he goes in his inquiry into how ageing terrifies us, he leads you into provocative, if uneven, territory. The film's biggest disservice is Shyamalan's uneven, confusing script that concludes with a surprise, but a dismal one. In a time when Hollywood is more interested in remakes and sequels than in original movies, Shyamalan continues to tell new stories. And he's really good at it. Just as The Sixth Sense meditated on those stuck in endless cycles of grief. This film shines light on another basic human truth: our lifelong fear of ageing.

Simon says Old receives:

Also, see my review for Glass.

Thursday, 22 July 2021

Special Review: "IMAX Presents: An Exclusive Look At Dune" (2021).

"Beyond fear, destiny awaits" in Dune (or Dune: Part One). This upcoming epic science fiction film directed by Denis Villeneuve, adapted by Villeneuve, Jon Spaihts and Eric Roth, based on the 1965 seminal science-fiction literary classic by Frank Herbert, and stars an ensemble cast that includes Timothée Chalamet, Rebecca Ferguson, Oscar Isaac, Josh Brolin, Stellan Skarsgård, Dave Bautista, Stephen McKinley Henderson, Zendaya, David Dastmalchian, Chang Chen, Sharon Duncan-Brewster, Charlotte Rampling, Jason Momoa, and Javier Bardem. It is the first of a planned two-part adaptation, which will cover roughly the first half of the book. A mythic and emotionally charged hero’s journey, Dune tells the story of Paul Atreides, a brilliant and gifted young man born into a great destiny beyond his understanding, who must travel to the most dangerous planet in the universe to ensure the future of his family and his people. As malevolent forces explode into conflict over the planet’s exclusive supply of the most precious resource in existence—a commodity capable of unlocking humanity’s greatest potential—only those who can conquer their fear will survive.

The exclusive IMAX look consisted of Behind-the-Scenes with the cast & crew, including Villeneuve and Chalamet. Adapting Dune for the big screen has been a lifelong dream of Villeneuve, ever since he read Herbert's novel when he was around twelve years old. He wanted to make a faithful adaptation, so he waited until he'd done sci-fi films Arrival (2016) and Blade Runner 2049 (2017) first so that he would have sufficient experience in the genre before starting work on Dune. In fact, scenes from his prior films are strongly influenced by his interpretations of scenes from the novel. Villeneuve confirmed in a Vanity Fair article that his adaptation of Dune (2021) will be split into two films in order to ensure that the original story would be "preserved and not cut into a million pieces." Also, Villeneuve's plans for the film are quite ambitious, as he hopes to make it the Star Wars he never saw. In an interview, he explained that most of the main ideas of Star Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope (1977) came from Dune so it will be a challenge to tackle this project. Villeneuve even said, "In a way, it's Star Wars for adults." Like Villeneuve, composer Hans Zimmer is a big fan of the novel Dune, and turned down working with frequent collaborator Christopher Nolan on Tenet (2020) to score this film. To musicalise the different worlds of Dune, Zimmer utilised female vocals in addition to his usual musical palette of percussion and brass instruments. The look also included surprise presentation of the first ten minutes of the film, as well as Villeneuve's favourite scene. The film is Villeneuve 's first film to be shot with large format Arri Alexa LF IMAX digital cameras with Panavision H-Series and Ultra Vista Lenses. The footage switches between 1.43 : 1, 1.90 : 1 and 2.39 : 1 aspect ratios. Finally, the look concluded with premiere of the new trailer. 

I'm sure you can sense the excitement of the nerdy fan-boy coming from this review of an exclusive look but it showed a film I have genuinely fallen in love with and was thrilled and assured to see that impossible has now been made possible and it is definitely in the most perfect hands possible. It showed an excellent well-made science fiction epic especially when compared with mediocre output of current superhero movies. Grand old fashioned spectacle. It was well balanced and stimulating, it alternated between intense action, light comedy, and sincere drama. Villeneuve's epic adaptation is an phenomenally impressive beast of a film that will capture and surpass your imagination with every single frame. It grabbed me with its meticulous world-building as well as its enormous scale and scope. It will be the beginning to one of the best movie series of all time. Villeneuve does the impossible: he makes a faithful, magical, thrilling, and-most importantly-compelling film version of Herbert's literary science fiction masterpiece. Most ambitiously, this stunning spectacle is an adaptation that's closer in spirit to an art-house film than a popcorn holiday romp. An enthusiastic visionary set loose on one of the biggest playgrounds ever constructed, Villeneuve brings more personality to the series' first installment, the film, than typically seeps into a franchise of this magnitude. Against all odds in an era of machine-made spectaculars, Monsieur Villeneuve and his collaborators have created a film epic that lives and breathes, that's swept by almost palpable weather. Villeneuve has not only attempted the most ambitious film project in modern cinema history, he's pulled it off with a breathtaking mixture of nerve and verve, too. The preview bearer well the burden of exposition and character introduction, and also featured two of the film's best action setpieces -not just visual-effects reels, but trials by fire of the camaraderie among this ragamuffin band of brothers. Putting formula blockbusters to shame, the film is impeccably cast and constructed with both care and passion. In unveiling the Holy Grail for science-fiction aficionados, Villeneuve has begun a series to rival Star Wars in the pantheon. It's finally here. The adaptation of the first installment from Herbert's Dune saga, and all I have to say is, "Wow." The filmmakers have shown great respect for their source material. I was moved by Villeneuve's passionate, caring, and human portrayals of these characters and dramas. Villeneuve's awesome (supposedly) two and a half hour film, seeming not enough time, is the most stunning science fiction film ever made. Once you've got your breath back one thought will prove hard to escape: Alejandro Jodorowsky and David Lynch might have a few sleepless nights from now onwards. After seeing the preview, it's hard to imagine any but the most nit-picky and dogmatic being disappointed by this epic, lovingly crafted movie. Only someone with a pathological aversion to science-fiction could fail to be absorbed and transported by this stunning, sincere and frequently visceral adaptation.

Simon says IMAX Presents: An Exclusive Look At Dune receives:

Also, see my review for Blade Runner 2049.

Wednesday, 7 July 2021

Film Review: "Black Widow" (2021).

From the studio the brought you Avengers: Endgame comes Black Widow. This superhero film directed by Cate Shortland, written by Eric Pearson, based on the Marvel Comics character of the same name and produced by Marvel Studios. It is the 24th film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). Natasha Romanoff aka Black Widow confronts the darker parts of her ledger when a dangerous conspiracy with ties to her past arises. Pursued by a force that will stop at nothing to bring her down. Natasha must deal with her history as a spy and the broken relationships left in her wake long before she became an Avenger.

In September 2010, while promoting the home media release of Iron Man 2, Marvel Studios President Kevin Feige stated that discussions with Scarlett Johansson had already taken place regarding a Black Widow standalone film, but that Marvel's focus was on The Avengers (2012). Johansson reprised her role in that film, as well as five other MCU films. In February 2014, Feige said that after exploring Black Widow's past in Age of Ultron, he would like to see it explored further in a solo film, which already had development work done for it. In April 2015, Johansson expressed interest in starring in a Black Widow film. Due to the development work already done, and the public support for a Black Widow film, Marvel ultimately decided that the best time to move forward with the project would be at the beginning of the "latest phase" of the MCU in 2020. In December, Jac Schaeffer was hired to the script. Several female directors such as Deniz Gamze Ergüven, Chloé Zhao, Amma Asante, Lynn Shelton, Lucrecia Martel, Maggie Betts were considered before Shortland was ultimately hired to direct in July. In February 2019, Ned Benson was hired to rewrite the script. By late May 2019, Florence Pugh, David Harbour, Rachel Weisz, William Hurt, Ray Winstone and Olga Kurylenko rounded out the film's cast. At the same time, with a budget of $200 million, principal photography commenced and wrapped in early October under the working title Blue Bayou. Filming took place in Budapest and Etyek, Hungary; Møre og Romsdal, Norway; Oxfordshire and Surrey, England, UK; and Atlanta, Georgia and Los Angeles, California, USA. The film was originally scheduled for a May 1, 2020 release date. However, in mid-March, Disney removed the film from its release schedule due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In early April, Disney announced that the film would be set for a November 6, 2020 release date, and the rest of their Phase Four slate of films were shifted to accommodate this change. In September 2020, Disney pushed the release back again to May 7, 2021, followed by a third shift in March 2021 to July 9, 2021.

The film stars Johansson, Pugh, Harbour, Weisz, Hurt, Winstone and Kurylenko. The cast, led by Johansson, play their characters with dignity and have a lot of charisma.

Good Marvel formula, with some genuinely interesting twists and strong action, but a familiar and woke groove nonetheless.

Simon says Black Widow receives:

Also, see my reviews for Berlin Syndrome and Avengers: Endgame.

Sunday, 4 July 2021

Film Review: "The Tomorrow War" (2021).

From the director of The Lego Batman Movie comes The Tomorrow War. This military science fiction film directed by Chris McKay and written by Zach Dean. Time travelers arrive from 2051 to deliver an urgent message: 30 years in the future mankind is losing a war against a deadly alien species. The only hope for survival is for soldiers and civilians to be transported to the future and join the fight. Determined to save the world for his daughter, Dan Forester teams up with a brilliant scientist and his estranged father to rewrite the planet’s fate.

In February 2019, it was announced that Chris Pratt was in negotiations to star in a military science fiction film titled Ghost Draft (later retitled as The Tomorrow War) and with McKay hired to direct. By early September, Yvonne Strahovski, J. K. Simmons, and Betty Gilpin rounded out the film's cast. At the same time, principal photography commenced and wrapped in early January 2020. Filming took place in Georgia, Atlanta and Miami, Florida, USA, as well as Iceland. The film was initially scheduled for a December 25, 2020 release date by Paramount Pictures, but due to the COVID-19 pandemic it was rescheduled to July 23, 2021, taking the release date of Mission: Impossible 7, then later pulled from the schedule again. In January 2021, Amazon Studios was in final talks to acquire the film for around $200 million. In April 2021, it was announced that Amazon had officially acquired the film, and set it to be released on Amazon Prime Video on July 2, 2021.

The film stars Pratt, Strahovski, Simmons, and Gilpin. The strength of the lead performances and the inventive use of sci-fi conventions make this better than the usual mainstream fare. This is the best we've seen from Pratt in years, and Strahovski wears her heroism well.

The first two reels are packed with energy and invention it's only when the conventions that made the story enticing are put aside in the last reel that the movie becomes a standard science fiction action flick. Unexpectedly clever surprises keep the anticipation and mystification rolling, while the action sequences are plentiful and intense. On face value, the film deals with familiar tropes - of a war for the planet and time loops and alien invasions - but it's brilliantly executed with some fantastic combat sequences. McKay deftly orchestrates the destruction, ensuring it doesn't sink into mind-numbing Transformers fare. Pratt and Strahovski invest a great deal of heart in their action heroics. The film is a fun, rip-roaring sci-fi actioner. It has explosions and gunfire and aliens, yet it's also very smart with a wicked sense of humor. Though the film threatens to become a repetitive bore, yet at each plausible juncture, its formula veers inextricably into new facets of intrigue, at least enough to keep wandering attention spans at bay. The film deserves praise and viewers. It is proof that calculated cynicism and recycled content aren't the only ways to deliver big-budget, mainstream entertainment.

Simon says The Tomorrow War receives:

Also, see my review for The Lego Batman Movie.

Monday, 28 June 2021

IFF Film Review: "I Am Love" ("Io sono l'amore") (2009).

From the director of Melissa P. and Call Me by Your Name comes I Am LoveThis Italian romantic drama film directed by Luca Guadagnino and written by Guadagnino, Barbara Alberti, Ivan Cotroneo and Walter Fasano. At a dinner -- during which her husband, Tancredi, learns that he and his son Edoardo Recchi Jr. are about to assume control of the Edoardo Recchi Sr.'s lucrative business -- Emma meets a chef named Antonio. Antonio and Emma soon find themselves in bed together. With the family already divided over the elder Recchi's unusual plans, Emma's affair is the wild card that might divide the family for good.

By June 2008, Tilda Swinton, Edoardo Gabbriellini, Alba Rohrwacher, Pippo Delbono, Diane Fleri, Waris Ahluwalia, Marisa Berenson and Gabriele Ferzetti were cast in an Italian romantic drama with Guadagnino as director. Swinton and Guadagnino developed the film and tried to get it made for eleven years. At the same time, principal photography commenced and wrapped in August. Filming took place in Milan, Lombardia, Italy and throughout Liguria, Italy, as well as London, England. Swinton learned both Italian and Russian for the part, neither of which she spoke before filming. Gabbriellini said that when he was preparing for the role of Antonio, Guadagnino told him to watch Clint Eastwood in The Bridges of Madison County (1995) and also Ninetto Davoli in the films of Pier Paolo Pasolini to get an idea of how he wanted him to play the part. The first cut of the film was approximately two hundred and ten minutes long and the film's score comprises several works by Pulitzer Prize winning composer John Adams.

The film stars Swinton, Gabbriellini, Rohrwacher, Delbono, Fleri, Ahluwalia, Berenson and Ferzetti. The actors are superbly convincing. Swintont's performance is magnificent - this is the sort of performance that stretches across a lifetime. Swinton's performance is subtle but thorough, her body language conveys so many feelings... her stare is the reflection of the love he desires. 

The film frames the honesty of human feelings with a lucidity that transcends any sexual sphere. It is a good film. A modern-day Visconti, Guadagnino grants us entry into a world not only of wealth but of culture, which can be just as liberating. The director's use of location is almost too good to be true, and will likely make you want to book at trip to Italy immediately. This film is a beautifully shot lavish love letter to Italy, but even more, the slow unfolding of a love affair that meant something to two people who never thought it would blossom. This gently provocative new film is an insightful portrait of not just the awkward ungainliness of first love, but the intensely defining nature of how its effects define identities and trajectories. A masterpiece; a wise, wonderful, and perfectly crafted romance that lingers and enchants, standing tall as one of the finest cinematic achievements in recent memory. Guadagnino's film is sumptuous, sultry, and sincere. It's soaked with sensuality but defined by restrained tension and yearning expectation.

Simon says I Am Love (Io sono l'amore) receives:

Also, see my IFF review for Two Women (La ciociara).

Sunday, 27 June 2021

Film Review: "In the Heights" (2021).

"Turn Up the Volume on Your Dreams" with In the Heights. This musical drama film directed by Jon M. Chu, adapted by Quiara Alegría Hudes and based on the stage musical of the same name by Hudes and Lin-Manuel Miranda. The scent of a cafecito caliente hangs in the air just outside of the 181st Street subway stop, where a kaleidoscope of dreams rallies this vibrant and tight-knit community. At the intersection of it all is a likable, magnetic bodega owner who saves every penny from his daily grind as he hopes, imagines, and sings about a better life.

In early November 2008, Universal Pictures announced a cinematic adaptation of Hudes and Miranda's 2005 musical with Kenny Ortega hired to direct, a budget of $37 million and a 2011 release date. However, in March 2011, the project was cancelled due to the fact Universal was looking for a "bankable Latino star" instead of unknown actors. In January 2012, Miranda stated that the film adaptation was back under discussion. In May 2016, it was announced that Miranda would co-produce the film with Harvey Weinstein and backing from The Weinstein Company. In early June 2016, Chu was hired to direct. In the aftermath of numerous sexual misconduct allegations made against Weinstein, his producer credit on the film was removed, with the rights to the film eventually auctioned off to Warner Bros. for $50 million. Warner Bros. was one of several studios wanting to produce the film—due to the success of Hamilton; to persuade Miranda and Chu, they built a backlot bodega with piragua carts and set up performances of songs from the show. By early June 2019, Anthony Ramos, Melissa Barrera, Leslie Grace, Corey Hawkins, Olga Merediz, Jimmy Smits, Gregory Diaz IV, Daphne Rubin-Vega, Stephanie Beatriz, Dascha Polanco and Miranda were cast. At the same time, principal photography commenced and took place throughout New York City, New York, including Washington Heights. Christopher Scott served as choreographer. The vocal performances in the film are a mix of the actors singing live on-set, pre-recorded audio, and re-recorded in the studio during post-production. The production team's choice to use one or the others depended on the environment of the scene and tone of the song. The film was previously scheduled for a June 26, 2020 release date , but it was delayed to June 18, 2021, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, before being moved up to June 11, and finally to June 10.

The film stars Ramos, Barrera, Grace, Hawkins, Merediz, Smits, Diaz IV, Rubin-Vega, Beatriz, Polanco and Miranda. The cast astonishes with, not only their amazing musical numbers, but also with their dramatic moments.

The music is exhilarating, but the lyrics are a big surprise. The sense, as well as the sound of the sung dialogue, has been purposely suited to each character. In the end, Miranda's impassioned narrative of one community's story becomes the collective narrative of a nation, a nation built by immigrants who occasionally need to be reminded where they came from.

Simon says In the Heights receives:

Also, see my review for Crazy Rich Asians.