Sunday, 19 January 2020

Film Review: "Bombshell" (2019).

"Based on a Real Scandal." This is Bombshell. This biographical drama film directed by Jay Roach and written by Charles Randolph. When Gretchen Carlson slaps Fox News founder Roger Ailes with a lawsuit alleging sexual harassment, not a soul could predict what would happen next. Her decision leads to Fox News correspondent Megyn Kelly coming forward with her own story, as well as multiple other women, inciting a movement that reverberates around the world.

In mid May 2017, after Ailes' death, it was announced that Annapurna Pictures was in the early stages of developing a film centred on the Fox News Scandal with Randolph penning the script. In late May, it was announced that Roach had been hired to direct, and that Charlize Theron had entered negotiations to portray Kelly. The project was originally brought to Theron's production company, with the intention of her producing and possibly starring in the film. Once Theron decided to star as Kelly, Margot Robbie and Nicole Kidman were her top picks for the roles of Kayla Pospisil and Carlson, respectively. In early August 2018, it was reported that Kidman had begun negotiations to star as Carlson and that Robbie was in talks to play Pospisil, with Theron confirmed to star. Later that month, it was announced that John Lithgow had been cast as Ailes. In early October, it was announced that Annapurna had dropped out of producing the film, reportedly due to concerns over the film's growing budget. At the time of the announcement, it was confirmed that Bron Studios was staying on board the film and that producers were reportedly looking at Focus Features, Participant Media, and Amblin Entertainment to potentially help finance the film. Additionally, Lionsgate began negotiating to join the production after Focus Features and Amblin Entertainment passed on the project. By the end of the month, Lionsgate was reported to be closing a deal to distribute the film. At the same time, Connie Britton, Rob Delaney, Mark Duplass, Allison Janney, Malcolm McDowell, Kate McKinnon, Nazanin Boniadi, Andy Buckley, Michael Buie, P. J. Byrne, D'Arcy Carden, Alice Eve, Spencer Garrett, Ashley Greene, Tricia Helfer, Marc Evan Jackson, Richard Kind, Amy Landecker, Ben Lawson, Josh Lawson, Jennifer Morrison, Mark Moses, Ahna O'Reilly, Tony Plana, Elisabeth Röhm, Stephen Root, Brooke Smith, Holland Taylor, Alanna Ubach, Robin Weigert, and Madeline Zima rounded out the film's cast. Additionally, principal photography commenced, and took place in Los Angeles, California under the working title Fair and Balanced.

The film features an ensemble cast that includes Theron, Kidman, Robbie, Lithgow, Britton, Delaney, Duplass, Janney, McDowell, McKinnon, Boniadi, Buckley, Buie, Byrne, Carden, Eve, Garrett, Greene, Helfer, Jackson, Kind, Landecker, Lawson, Lawson, Morrison, Moses, O'Reilly, Plana, Röhm, Root, Smith, Taylor, Ubach, Weigert, and Zima. The cast, especially Theron, Kidman, Robbie, and Lithgow, gave incredible performances that gave us fascinating insights into the real-life figures and the situation.

Bombshell serves as an honourable and well-acted examination to the insane sexual allegations against Roger Alies and Fox News, even if it doesn't quite achieve the historical accuracy that we had hoped.

Simon says Bombshell receives:

Also, see my review for Trumbo.

Monday, 13 January 2020

Film Review: "1917" (2019).

"Time is the enemy" in 1917. This epic war film directed by Sam Mendes, and Mendes and Krysty Wilson-Cairns. Set during World War I, two British soldiers, Lance Cpl. Schofield and Lance Cpl. Blake, receive seemingly impossible orders. In a race against time, they must cross over into enemy territory to deliver a message that could potentially save sixteen hundred of their fellow comrades, including Blake's own brother.

In June 2018, it was announced that Amblin Partners and New Republic Pictures have acquired the World War I script written by Mendes and Wilson-Cairns, with Mendes directing. The story is based on Mendes' grandfather's experience detailed in WWI: "The Autobiography of Alfred H. Mendes 1897-1991. In September, Tom Holland was reported to be in talks to star. However, due to scheduling conflicts, Holland turned down the opportunity. In October, George MacKay and Dean-Charles Chapman entered negotiations to star in the film. By early April 2019, Mark Strong, Andrew Scott, Richard Madden, Claire Duburcq, Colin Firth, and Benedict Cumberbatch rounded out the film's cast. At the same time, principal photography commenced, and wrapped in June. Filming took place throughout Surrey and Teesdale, England, and Govan, Scotland, as well as Shepperton Studios. Prior to filming, concerns were raised by conservationists who felt the production could disturb potentially undiscovered remains in Salisbury Plain, requesting a survey be conducted before any construction for sets began on the land. Over fifty-two hundred feet of trenches, just under one mile, were dug for the film. The production staff had to install signs warning walkers in the area not be alarmed by the bodies strewn around the site as they were prosthetic. As many as five hundred background extras were required for some shots. Filming was accomplished with long takes and elaborately choreographed moving camera shots to give the effect of one continuous take.

The film stars MacKay, Chapman, Strong, Scott, Madden, Duburcq, Firth, and Cumberbatch. The cast gave terrific performances, especially with MacKay and Chapman giving performances that epitomised the courageous heroics of men during war.

A thrilling leap forward for Mendes, 1917 is an ambitious technical showcase powered by a layered story and outstanding performances from the cast, led by MacKay and Chapman. Mendes has delivered all the spectacle of a big-screen tentpole, ratcheting up both the tension and heroism through his intricate and occasionally overwhelming cinematography. The film serves up emotionally satisfying spectacle, delivered by a filmmaker in full command of his craft and brought to life by a gifted ensemble cast that honours the fact-based story. By the end of the film, what stands out the most isn’t its inspirational message or everyday heroism. It’s the small indelible, unshakeable images that accumulate like the details in the corner of a mural. This is not only the best WWI film since Paths of Glory (1957), it is very simply one of the greatest war movies ever made. The film was a tour de force of cinematic craft and technique. It was just really beautifully written and stunningly performed and beautifully made.

Simon says 1917 receives:

Also, see my review for Spectre.

Monday, 6 January 2020

Film Review: "The Gentlemen" (2020).

"Criminal. Class." This is The Gentlemen. This action crime film written and directed by Guy Ritchie. Mickey Pearson is an American expatriate who became rich by building a marijuana empire in London. When word gets out that he's looking to cash out of the business, it soon triggers an array of plots and schemes from those who want his fortune.

In early May 2018, at the Cannes Film Festival, it was announced that Ritchie would be writing and directing a film that would be in the same spirit as Ritchie’s earlier films Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels (1998) and Snatch (2000). Filming was expected to begin in October. By November, Matthew McConaughey, Charlie Hunnam, Henry Golding, Michelle Dockery, Jeremy Strong, Eddie Marsan, Colin Farrell and Hugh Grant were cast. Kate Beckinsale was originally cast but dropped two days after shooting commenced. Dockery ultimately replaced her. At the same time, principal photography commenced, and took place at West London Film Studios, London, England.

The film stars McConaughey, Hunnam, Golding, Dockery, Strong, Marsan, Farrell and Grant. Despite good intentions, the performances came off as both crude and annoying. Of the ensemble, only McConaughey truly shows his class, delivering an amusing yet emotive performance amongst a group of actors who, at best, are pandering to laddish culture. While ostensibly rooted in the London underworld, McConaughey's drug dealer was probably the most interesting element of the plot and the film's clearest predecessors were all American: Dick Tracycomics, Damon Runyon stories, and zany Marx Brothers comedies.

The Gentlemen is a grimy, crude, and derivative twist on the Tarantino hip gangster formula. Though perhaps a case of style over substance, Ritchie's return to form crime caper is full of snappy dialogue, dark comedy, and interesting characters. What am I to say of Ritchie's new film, which follows the formulas of his earlier films so slavishly it could be like a new arrangement of the same song? Ritchie seems to be stepping backward when he should be moving ahead. Ritchie may be skilled at generating controlled chaos, but his surprise-a-minute strategy ultimately holds no surprises. There's just not a lot of fun to be had here. The plot is too convoluted, too filled with double-reversals and twists for us to turn our brains off, relax and watch Ritchie's kinetic visual style. What we have here is a gaudy mess. At times it feels like it's being made up as it goes along. The best one can say is that it's a smart cartoon, and a fairly exhausting viewing experience. The humour is as rude and crude as the characters, but the picture certainly isn't lacking in energy. There are far too many tokenistic soundtrack and cinematographic throws of the dice. If only it could have resisted revelry in its own style and violence, it might have been one 1999's best films, due to its performances and clever plot twists. The film is not boring, but it doesn't build and it doesn't arrive anywhere.

Simon says The Gentlemen receives:

Also, see my review for Aladdin (2019).

Wednesday, 1 January 2020

Film Review: "Little Women" (2019).

"Own your story." This is Little Women. This coming-of-age period drama film adapted and directed by Greta Gerwig, and based on Louisa May Alcott's 1868 novel of the same name. It is the seventh adaptation of Alcott's literary classic. The film follows the lives of four sisters, Amy, Jo, Beth and Meg, as they come of age in America in the aftermath of the Civil War. Though all very different from each other, the March sisters stand by each other through difficult and changing times.

In October 2013, Sony Pictures announced a new film adaptation of Alcott's novel. In March 2015, Amy Pascal began developing the new adaptation, with Sarah Polley hired to pen, and potentially direct, the adaptation. However, despite reports, Polley's involvement never went beyond initial discussions. In August 2016, Gerwig was hired to pen the adaptation. In June 2018, in light of her awards season success with Lady Bird, Gerwig was hired to direct as well. In addition, it was announced that Emma Stone, Saoirse Ronan, and Florence Pugh had been cast as Meg, Jo, and Amy March. In July, Eliza Scanlen was cast as Beth March. In addition, Stone dropped out of the project due to scheduling conflicts. Ultimately, Emma Watson replaced her. By early October, Laura Dern, Timothée Chalamet, Meryl Streep, Tracy Letts, Bob Odenkirk, James Norton, Louis Garrel, and Chris Cooper rounded out the film's cast. At the same time, principal photography commenced, and wrapped in mid December. Filming took place throughout Massachusetts. Gerwig was six months pregnant with her first child by the time filming ended and went into labor forty-eight hours after turning in her rough edit. She succeeded in keeping her pregnancy under wraps so well that nobody on set knew she was expecting. In early April 2019, it was announced that Alexandre Desplat had been hired to compose the film's score.

The film stars an ensemble cast that includes Ronan, Watson, Pugh, Scanlen, Dern, Chalamet, Streep, Letts, Odenkirk, Norton, Garrel, and Cooper. The cast, especially Ronan, Watson, Pugh and Scanlen, so impeccably transported these characters from page to screen that the film, like the book, has become a familiar haven of warmth to be visited again and again.

Thanks to a powerhouse lineup of talented actresses, Gerwig's take on Alcott's Little Women proves that a timeless story can succeed no matter how many times it's told. The film is an outstanding version of Alcott's perennial, one that surpasses even the best previous rendition, Gillian Armstrong's 1994 outing starring Wynona Ryder. The film is, in short, a joy to behold. But beyond the eye-candy, there is real substance in Gerwig's screenwriting. It's her naturalistic approach to a story she clearly loves that brings this beautiful film to life. The film is meticulously crafted and warmly acted. It is one of the rare Hollywood studio films that invites your attention, slowly and elegantly, rather than propelling your interest with effects and easy manipulation. Ladies, get out your hand-hemmed handkerchiefs for the loveliest Little Women ever on screen.

Simon says Little Women receives:

Also, see my review for Lady Bird.

Monday, 30 December 2019

Film Review: "Happy New Year, Colin Burstead" (2018).

From the director of High-Rise comes Happy New Year, Colin Burstead. This British comedy-drama film written and directed by Ben Wheatley. The film follows Colin, who hires a lavish country manor for his extended family to celebrate New Year. Unfortunately for Colin his position of power in the family is under serious threat from the arrival of his estranged brother David.

Loosely based on the Shakespearian tragedy, based on the life of the legendary Roman leader Caius Marcius Coriolanus. Coriolanus is the name given to a Roman general after his military success against various uprisings challenging the government of Rome. Following this success, Coriolanus becomes active in politics and seeks political leadership. His temperament is unsuited for popular leadership and he is quickly deposed, whereupon he aligns himself to set matters straight according to his own will. The alliances he forges along the way result in his ultimate downfall. After seeing Tom Hiddleston playing Coriolanus while casting High-Rise (2015), Wheatley wrote the script. He reduced the plot to its bare bones and rebuilt it in a modern context. The film's working title was Colin You Anus. By the beginning of 2018, Neil Maskell, Hayley Squires, Sam Riley, Doon Mackichan, Joe Cole, and Charles Dance were cast. At the same time, principal photography commenced, and took place at Pennsylvania Castle at the Isle of Portland, Dorset, England.

Wheatley has made smart choices here, notably by surrounding Maskell with a strong secondary cast. The other actors do their best to help Maskell define this curious anti-hero. Incapable of playing the role of peacetime compromiser, his Coriolanus archetype comes across as a son who simply can't function without conflict. Maskell leads a cast that, at least in the major roles, is uniformly powerful. The performances are uniformly excellent, and Maskell owns the role, conceiving of him as a son with his descent into wilfully family activities.

Visceral and visually striking, Wheatley's version of Coriolanus proves Shakespeare can still be both electrifying and relevant in a modern context. Happy New Year, Colin Burstead not only finds all the contemporary parallels, it reiterates the tragedy of the endlessly exploited individual who hopes to earn love at the end of a barrel. It's writing that entertains while tapping into enduring human truths. The play's inherent difficulties notwithstanding, the film is a perfectly sound achievement. While setting Shakespeare in modern times is nothing new, Wheatley's bruising, brutal take is both refreshing in its honesty and may be true to the Bard's spirit. Wheatley's choice to adapt the play as a modern political power struggle is sometimes successful in its union of Shakespeare's prose to contemporary sociopolitical unrest, but also reveals itself to be a stale, pale echo of the bard's original play. The film is a determinedly grim but smart, resonant, faithful to the tone of the original, done with some skill and conviction. This play very rarely gets performed in any medium, so for Shakespeare enthusiasts I'd say it's a must-see but you can skip it if that's not your bag.

Simon says Happy New Year, Colin Burstead receives:

Also, see my review for Free Fire.

Wednesday, 25 December 2019

Film Review: "Cats" (2019).

"You will believe" with Cats. This musical fantasy film directed by Tom Hooper, adapted by Hooper and Lee Hall, and based on the stage musical of the same name by Andrew Lloyd Webber and the 1939 poetry collection Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats by T. S. Eliot. The film follows a tribe of cats who must decide yearly which one will ascend to the Heaviside Layer and come back to a new life.

In the 1990s, an animated adaptation was initially planned by Amblimation, but was abandoned with the studio's closure. Soon afterwards Universal Pictures had purchased the film rights, and the project then lingered in development hell. In December 2013, Webber teased that Universal was putting the project into active development. In May 2016, it was announced that Hooper was hired to direct. In January 2018, Hooper began officially casting for the film, while looking into the technical aspect of whether the film would be entirely live-action or computer generated or a mix of both. In addition, Lloyd Webber announced that he would be writing a new song for the film adaptation. By mid December, James Corden, Judi Dench, Jason Derulo, Idris Elba, Jennifer Hudson, Ian McKellen, Taylor Swift, Rebel Wilson, Les Twins, Ray Winstone, and newcomer Francesca Hayward were cast. At the same time, with a budget of $95 million, principal photography commenced, and wrapped in early April 2019. Filming took place at Warner Bros. Studios in Leavesden, Hertfordshire, England. In late July 2019, the first trailer was released, and received overwhelmingly negative reactions from viewers. Many viewers were unsettled by the mix of CGI and live-action used to portray the cats, and cited the effects as an example of the uncanny valley. In late October 2019, it was announced that the new song is titled Beautiful Ghosts, written by Swift and Webber.

The film features an ensemble cast that includes Corden, Dench, Derulo, Elba, Hudson, McKellen, Swift, Wilson, Les Twins, Winstone, and Hayward. Flaws - and there are a great many that would have never made the cut were this a perfectible studio recording - are conveniently swept under the rug of candid expression. The cast brought nothing. It wasn't that they were choosing to sing like that, they just couldn't do anything else. They could have done better with their amazing talents. Why couldn't the film cast actors who could actually sound good? The singing was so distracting at times it pulled me out. Hooper can be very good with actors. But his inability to keep any actor in line was, without a shadow of a doubt, pathetic and tragic.

Cats is something quite rare in movies these days - an unqualified disaster. The film was as though one was forced to ingest a toxic combination of LSD and Magic Mushroom. It fails so completely that you might suspect Mr. Hooper sold his soul to the devil to obtain the success of the theatre production and the Devil has just come around to collect.

Simon says Cats receives:

Also, see my review for The Danish Girl.

Sunday, 22 December 2019

Film Review: "Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker" (2019).

"The Saga Concludes" with Star Wars: The Rise of the Skywalker (or Star Wars: Episode IX – The Rise of Skywalker). This epic space-opera film directed by J. J. Abrams, co-written by Abrams and Chris Terrio, and based on the characters and universe created by George Lucas. It is the third installment of the Star Wars sequel trilogy, following The Force Awakens (2015) and The Last Jedi (2017). The film follows the surviving Resistance as they face the First Order once more in the final chapter of the Skywalker saga.

In August 2015, Colin Trevorrow was hired to direct and pen the last installment with Derek Connolly. In February 2016, Disney CEO Bob Iger confirmed that pre-production on Episode IX had begun. In late December, Carrie Fisher died. In January 2017, Lucasfilm stated that there were no plans to digitally generate Fisher's performance as they had for Rogue One (2016). In April, Fisher's brother Todd revealed that Fisher's daughter, Billie Lourd, had granted Disney the rights to use recent footage of Fisher. In addition, Disney announced a May 24, 2019 release date. In August, it was announced that Jack Thorne would rewrite the script. In early September, Lucasfilm stated that Trevorrow had left the project due to creative differences. The Hollywood Reporter reported an unmanageable working relationship with Kathleen Kennedy. Rian Johnson was rumored as the top choice to replace Trevorrow. However, it was announced that Abrams would return to direct the film, penning a new script with Terrio, and that the film's release date would be moved to December 20, 2019. In early January 2018, it was confirmed that John Williams would return to compose and conduct the film. In February, Williams announced that it would be the last Star Wars film for which he would compose the score. In July, Abrams announced that unused footage of Fisher from The Force Awakens would be used to help complete the story. By early August, Mark Hamill, Adam Driver, Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Anthony Daniels, Domhnall Gleeson, Lupita Nyong'o, Joonas Suotamo, Kelly Marie Tran, Ian McDiarmid, Billy Dee Williams, Billie Lourd, and Greg Grunberg returned to reprise their roles. Naomi Ackie, Richard E. Grant, Keri Russell, and Dominic Monaghan were cast. At the same time, principal photography commenced, and wrapped in mid February 2019. Filming took place at Pinewood Studios in Buckinghamshire, England, and Wadi Rum, Jordan. In April, at Star Wars Celebration in Chicago, the title was announced.

Despite the best effort of the cast, they couldn't stick the landing for their characters and arcs, with some of them feeling incomplete and unearned.

While it honours the saga's rich legacy, it doesn't at all add anything new — and doesn't at all deliver on the emotionally-rich conclusion that fans had hoped for. It is nothing more than the work of a talented mimic or ventriloquist who can just about cover for the fact that he has nothing much to say. In the end, it didn't justify a return to the universe.

Simon says Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker receives:

Also, see my review for The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi.