Monday, 25 December 2017

Film Review: "All the Money in the World" (2017).



"J. Paul Getty had a fortune. Everyone else paid the price." This is All the Money in the World. This crime thriller film directed by Ridley Scott, written by David Scarpa, and adapted from John Pearson's 1995 book Painfully Rich: The Outrageous Fortunes and Misfortunes of the Heirs of J. Paul Getty. It is the story of the kidnapping of 16-year-old John Paul Getty III and the desperate attempt by his devoted mother to convince his billionaire grandfather Jean Paul Getty to pay the ransom.

In March 2017, it was reported that Ridley Scott would direct the film. In the same month, it was reported that Michelle Williams and Kevin Spacey were considered for the role of Gail Harris and J. Paul Getty, while Mark Wahlberg was in talks for an unspecified role. Initially, Angelina Jolie, Natalie Portman, Jack Nicholson, Gary Oldman, and Christopher Plummer were considered for the lead roles. By June, Timothy Hutton, and Charlie Plummer joined the cast. In the same month, with a budget of $40 million, filming began. Locations included Elveden, Suffolk, England, and Morocco. Filming concluded in August. 

Beginning in late October, numerous sexual allegations were made against Spacey. This resulted in the film's planned premiere at the AFI Fest being cancelled, as well as the film's Oscar campaign being reworked. In November, Sony and the film's production team unanimously opted to replace Spacey with Plummer. The decision was made just over a month prior to the December 22nd wide release. The decision to reshoot meant that 22 scenes had to be reshot. It also meant that Wahlberg and Williams had to return to Rome during the Thanksgiving holiday. The reshoots needed began on November 20 and ended on the 29th, and took eight days to film at a cost of $10 million. Plummer claimed he was prepared to replace Spacey on short notice because he had previously been considered for the role and had read the script. He had less than two weeks to memorize his lines, but did have the advantage of researching Getty. After Plummer signed on, Scott decided not to show Plummer any footage of Spacey in character, or even tell him how Spacey played the scenes. When finished, Scott found both performances to be quite different and equally effective in their own particular styles. Scott said that one interesting aspect was that Spacey played J. Paul Getty as a more explicitly cold and unfeeling character, while Plummer's take on the role showed both a warmer side to the billionaire and the same unflinching refusal to simply pay off his son's kidnappers.

The film stars Williams, Christopher Plummer, Wahlberg, Romain Duris, Charlie Plummer, Andrew Buchan, and Hutton. The cast gave terrific performances, especially that of Williams, Plummer and Wahlberg. Who each gave charismatic performances that commanded the screen whenever they were present.

While not a masterpiece on par with Scott's best works, All the Money in the World is a fine example of his craft, and further proof that defines Scott as one of the greatest directors working today. The superb crime thriller paints its world with a wholeness and complexity you rarely see in film.

Simon says All the Money in the World receives:


Friday, 15 December 2017

Film Review: "Star Wars: The Last Jedi" (2017).




"This is not going to go the way you think!"
This is definitely true with Star Wars: The Last Jedi (or Star Wars Episode VIII - The Last Jedi). This epic space opera film written and directed by Rian Johnson. It is the second film in the Star Wars sequel trilogy, following Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015). Rey develops her newly discovered abilities with the guidance of Luke Skywalker, who is unsettled by the strength of her powers. Meanwhile, the Resistance prepares to do battle with the First Order.

In June 2014, director Rian Johnson was reported to be in talks to write and direct Episode VIII, and to write a treatment for the third film, Episode IX. Johnson was originally considered to direct The Force Awakens. In August, Johnson confirmed that he would direct Episode VIII. According to Johnson, the story begins immediately after the last scene of The Force Awakens. Initially, The Force Awakens co-writer Lawrence Kasdan wrote a story outline for the film. However, when Johnson signed on as director, he requested to be allowed to scrap Kasdan's story and write his own script from scratch, which the producers consented to, as Kasdan's outline no longer matched up with the finished storyline of the previous film. For inspiration, Johnson was influenced by films such as Gunga Din (1939), Letter Never Sent (1960), Sahara (1943), The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957), Three Outlaw Samurai (1964), and Twelve O'Clock High (1949) while developing ideas, and he even arranged for screenings for the crew prior to filming. In September 2015, Disney shortlisted the female cast members to Gina Rodriguez, Tatiana Maslany, and Olivia Cooke. Later that month, Benicio Del Toro was announced to be playing a villain in the film. Originally, Joaquin Phoenix was considered for the role. In addition, Mark Hamill was confirmed to reprise his role as Luke Skywalker. Ironically, after reading the script for the film, Hamill told director Johnson, "I pretty much fundamentally disagree with every choice you've made for this character [Luke Skywalker]. Now, having said that, I have gotten it off my chest, and my job now is to take what you've created and do my best to realize your vision." In October, Gugu Mbatha-Raw was rumored to have been cast in the film. In November, Lucasfilm president Kathleen Kennedy announced at the London premiere for The Force Awakens that the entire cast, including Adam Driver, Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Andy Serkis, Lupita Nyong'o, Domhnall Gleeson, Anthony Daniels, and Gwendoline Christie, would return for Episode VIII, along with "a handful" of new cast members. In February 2016, at the start of filming, it was confirmed that Laura Dern and Kelly Marie Tran had been cast in unspecified roles. 

In September 2015, Second unit photography began during pre-production at Skellig Michael in Ireland. But due to poor weather and rough conditions, the first day of filming was canceled and lasted four days. In the same month, del Toro revealed that principal photography would begin in March 2016. However, Kennedy later stated that filming would begin in January 2016. Production on the film began in November. In January 2016, due to script rewrites and an upcoming strike between the Producers Alliance for Cinema and Television and the Broadcasting, Entertainment, Cinematograph and Theatre Union, the production was delayed until February 2016. Due to this, and the successful release of The Force Awakens, the original release date of May 26, 2017 was rescheduled for December 15, 2017. In February, principal photography finally began, under the working title Space Bear. In addition to Skellig Michael in Ireland locations also included Pinewood Studios in England, and Dubrovnik, Croatia. During production, Prince William and Prince Harry visited the set, they were escorted on a VIP tour of Pinewood Studios by Daisy Ridley. Principal photography wrapped in July 2016. In August, Star Wars composer John Williams confirmed that he was scheduled to start scoring Episode VIII. Williams said he would begin recording the score "off and on" in December 2016 until March or April 2017. In December 2016, Carrie Fisher unexpectedly passed away after suffering a cardiac arrest. Marking this film as her last film. After her death, None of Fisher's scenes in the movie were cut. Prior to her death, Fisher had been expected to appear in Episode IX. Though Fisher's family granted the rights to use recent footage of Fisher for Star Wars: Episode IX, Fisher will not appear in the film and Lucasfilm will not digitally generate new footage of her. In January 2017, the title for the film was revealed. In February, it was confirmed that recording was underway, with Williams conducting. In March, footage of the film was shown to Disney shareholders, which was met with overwhelmingly positive reactions. In April, the first teaser trailer was released.

The film stars Hamill, Fisher, Driver, Ridley, Boyega, Isaac, Serkis, Nyong'o, Gleeson, Daniels, and Christie, with Marie Tran, Dern, and Del Toro. Both recurring and new cast members gave confident performances that took their characters in surprising directions that no one would expect.

Darker, and ultimately even more surprising than The Force Awakens, Star Wars: The Last Jedi defies viewer expectations, and takes the series to heightened emotional levels and unexpected directions. The film is a richly imaginative, engrossing and spectacular motion picture from Rian Johnson. A marvellous space fantasy full of dazzling spectacle, exciting adventure, strange creatures and the mythic clash between good and evil. Unlike its predecessor, it is no bland derivative. It has all the freshness and exuberance of an original. It is a confident piece of work that carries the new Star Wars tradition forward. The film is an immense amount of fun - big and splashy and breathtaking in its display of cinematic genius by a huge group of marvellously talented people. However, the film is not without its drawbacks. The film may not top either The Empire Strikes Back (1980) or A New Hope (1977), but it certainly makes one curious to whatever new surprises Disney and Lucasfilm can conjure up for us.

Simon says Star Wars: The Last Jedi receives:


Saturday, 18 November 2017

Film Review: "Justice League" (2017).



"You can't save the world alone." But the Justice League can. This superhero film directed by Zack Snyder, written by Chris Terrio and Joss Whedon, based on the DC Comics superhero team of the same name. The film is the fifth instalment in the DC Extended Universe. Fueled by his restored faith in humanity and inspired by Superman's selfless act, Bruce Wayne, with Diana Prince, must now face an even greater threat. Together, they work quickly to recruit a team to stand against this newly awakened enemy. Despite the formation of an unprecedented league of heroes - it may be too late to save the planet from an assault of catastrophic proportions.

In April 2014, it was announced that Snyder would be directing the film with a script by David S. Goyer. In July, Warner Bros. was reportedly courting Terrio to rewrite the script, after having been impressed with his rewrite of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. In October 2014, Warner Bros. originally announced that the film would be released in two parts, with Part One releasing on November 17, 2017, and Part Two on June 14, 2019. Snyder would direct both films. However, in June 2016, Snyder announced that both films would be two stand-alone stories. In July 2015, EW revealed that Terrio had completed the script for Justice League Part One. By June 2016, Henry Cavill, Ben Affleck, Gal Gadot, Jesse Eisenberg, Jeremy Irons, Diane Lane, and Amy Adams were all confirmed to reprise their roles. Ezra Miller, Ray Fisher, Jason Momoa, Amber Heard, and J. K. Simmons were all added to the cast. With a budget of $275 million, Principal photography commenced in April 2016 and ended in October 2016. Locations included Warner Bros. Studios in Leavesden, England, as well as London, Scotland, Los Angeles and Djúpavík, Iceland. In May 2017, extensive reshoots took place in London and Los Angeles, with an additional budget of $25 million. Snyder hired Joss Whedon to write scenes for the reshoots. In the same month, Snyder left the project following the death of his daughter. Whedon then took over the reshoots and the remainder of post-production. Snyder received sole director credit for the film, with Whedon receiving a screenplay credit in post. In addition, Danny Elfman took over from Junkie XL to score the film. Due to the running time backlash of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, Warner Bros. demanded the film come under 2 hours. The final running time for Justice League is 120 minutes. Making the film the shortest DCEU film to date.

It features an ensemble cast that includes Affleck, Cavill, Gadot, Miller, Momoa, Fisher, Irons, Adams, Lane, Simmons and Ciarán Hinds. Though the cast gave performances that would silicify as the definitive cinematic iterations of their comic-book counterparts, the lack of characterization failed to make the audience root for them when they're off saving the world.

After decades of buildup, Justice League has finally arrived and it is horrendously average. Even after its two hour running-time, audiences will leave the theatre unsatisfied. The film has unquestionably squandered the potential of its source material and cast.

Simon says Justice League receives:



See my review for Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice at http://ss-film.blogspot.ca/2016/03/film-review-batman-v-superman-dawn-of.html

Tuesday, 14 November 2017

Film Review: "Murder on the Orient Express" (2017).



"Everybody is a suspect" in Murder on the Orient Express. This mystery drama film directed by Kenneth Branagh, adapted by Michael Green, based on the 1934 novel of the same name by Agatha Christie. A lavish train ride unfolds into a stylish & suspenseful mystery. From the novel by Agatha Christie, Murder on the Orient Express tells of thirteen stranded strangers & one man's race to solve the puzzle before the murderer strikes again.

Two stories on the legendary train partly inspired Agatha Christie's novel. The story was inspired partly by an incident in 1929 when the Orient Express was trapped in a blizzard in Çerkezköy, Turkey, where it was marooned for six days. Two years later Christie was involved in a similar scenario when she was travelling on the Orient Express and the train got stuck for a period of time due to heavy rainfall and flooding, which washed part of the track away. In real life there was one actual murder on The Orient Express. Maria Farcasanu was robbed and murdered by Karl Strasser, who pushed her out of the moving train, one year after Agatha Christie's book was published. However, the novel was mostly inspired by the Charles A. Lindbergh kidnapping case, in which Lindbergh's 20-month old son was taken and held for a $50,000 ransom. The ransom was paid, but unfortunately Lindbergh's son was found already dead.

In December 2013, 20th Century Fox announced a new film adaptation of Murder on the Orient Express. Michael Green was hired to write the screenplay. In June 2015, it was reported Fox was in talks with Kenneth Branagh to direct. It was finally confirmed that Branagh would direct and star as the Belgium detective Hercule Poirot. In the same month, it was reported that Angelina Jolie was in early talks to co-star in the film. However, in August, Variety reported that Stacey Snider, CEO of 20th Century Fox, broke off negotiations with Jolie after several months due to her insistence on significant script changes on what was a relatively small part. Charlize Theron was then courted, but ultimately, Michelle Pfeiffer was cast. By January 2016, the cast was rounded out. In the same month, it was revealed that Michael Peña had dropped out of the film and that Manuel Garcia-Rulfo had replaced him. Principal photography on the film began in November 2016, in the United Kingdom, and wrapped in May 2017. The film is Branagh's second movie to be shot on 65mm film. The first was Hamlet (1996). The film would receive a limited 70mm engagement, making it the fourth film of the decade to be shot on 65mm and projected in 70mm, following The Master (2012), The Hateful Eight (2015) and Dunkirk (2017).

The film features an ensemble cast that includes Branagh Penélope Cruz, Willem Dafoe, Judi Dench, Johnny Depp, Josh Gad, Derek Jacobi, Leslie Odom Jr., Michelle Pfeiffer, and Daisy Ridley. The cast gave unique and varied performances that carried the entire film. Without each and every one of them, the film would have faltered.

Kenneth Branagh's Murder on the Orient Express provides a good time, high style, a loving salute to an earlier period of epic filmmaking despite lacking any surprises and originality.

Simon says Murder on the Orient Express (2017) receives:



Tuesday, 7 November 2017

Film Review: "Thor: Ragnarok" (2017).



"Let The Games Begin." This is Thor: Ragnarok. This superhero film directed by Taika Waititi, written by Eric Pearson, Craig Kyle and Christopher Yost, based on the Marvel Comics character of the same name, and produced by Marvel Studios. It is the sequel to Thor (2011) and Thor: The Dark World (2013), and is the seventeenth film of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). Imprisoned on the other side of the universe, Thor finds himself in a deadly gladiatorial contest that pits him against the Hulk. Thor's quest for survival leads him in a race against time to prevent the all-powerful Hela from destroying his home world and the Asgardian civilization.

In January 2014, Marvel announced that Craig Kyle and Christopher Yost would write the screenplay for a third film. In the same month, Kyle and Yost began working on the screenplay. In October 2014, Feige announced that the film would be titled Thor: Ragnarok, with a July 28, 2017 release date, and confirmed that Hemsworth and Tom Hiddleston would be reprising their roles. Feige called the film "a very important movie" in Phase Three of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), and stated that it would set up Avengers: Infinity War (2018). He also confirmed that, in the context of the film, the word Ragnarok means "the end of all things". In February 2015, Marvel pushed back the release date to November 3, 2017. Both Thor and The Dark World directors Kenneth Branagh and Alan Taylor confirmed that they would not be return. Ruben Fleischer, Rob Letterman, and Rawson Marshall Thurber were considered to direct the film. Ultimately, Taika Waititi entered negotiations, and was confirmed to direct in October 2015. In January 2016, with the film began pre-production. Waititi stated that he was working on the script "a little bit", mainly adding humor to the screenplay, with Eric Pearson joining the project. Waititi described the film as a "1970s and 80s science fiction fantasy, the most 'out there' of all the Marvel movies." He cited Big Trouble in Little China (1986) as a major influence on the film. Waititi said that he also wanted to showcase Hemsworth's comedic talent in this film. By May, Cate Blanchett, Mark Ruffalo, Tessa Thompson, Jeff Goldblum, and Karl Urban were added to the cast. In addition, Idris Elba, Tadanobu Asano, Ray Stevenson, Zachary Levi, and Anthony Hopkins were confirmed to reprise their roles. Principal photography began in July 2016 and concluded in October. Filming took place in Village Roadshow Studios Oxenford, Gold Coast, Queensland, Australia.

The film stars Hemsworth, Hiddleston, Blanchett, Elba, Goldblum, Thompson, Urban, Mark Ruffalo, and Hopkins. The recurring cast gave another round of terrific performances this time round, and were further injected with renewed, even overly comedic, energy thanks to the new cast members.

With the help of its charismatic lead, some impressive action sequences, and even a few surprises, Thor: Ragnarok is a strong, witty, and entertaining adventure. The film is brimming with energy and packed with humor. It also distills 1980s science fiction fantasy movies as affectionately as it subverts them.

Simon says Thor: Ragnarok receives:

Friday, 6 October 2017

Film Review: "Blade Runner 2049" (2017).





"The key to the future is finally unearthed..." Here comes Blade Runner 2049. This neo-noir science fiction film directed by Denis Villeneuve, and written by Hampton Fancher and Michael Green. The film is the sequel to Blade Runner (1982). Thirty years after the events of the first film, a new blade runner, LAPD Officer K, unearths a long-buried secret that has the potential to plunge what's left of society into chaos. K's discovery leads him on a quest to find Rick Deckard, a former LAPD blade runner who has been missing for 30 years. 

Original Blade Runner director Ridley Scott considered developing a sequel, and stated his interest while attending San Diego Comic Con in 2007. In June 2009, The New York Times reported that Scott and his brother, director Tony Scott, were working on a Blade Runner prequel set in 2019. However, in February 2010, it was announced that production on the prequel had ceased, due to rights and funding problems. In August 2011, it was announced that Scott would lead the production of a new Blade Runner film, although work would not begin until at least 2013. Producer Andrew A. Kosove suggested that Harrison Ford, the star of the original film, was unlikely to be involved. Scott said that the film was "liable to be a sequel" but without the previous cast, and that he was close to finding a writer that "might be able to help [him] deliver". Scott said in November 2014 that he would not direct the film and would instead produce; that filming would begin in late 2014 or 2015, and that Ford's character would only appear in "the third act" of the sequel. 

In February 2015, the sequel was confirmed, with Denis Villeneuve as director. Ford was confirmed to be return; as well as original writer Hampton Fancher. The film was expected to enter production in mid-2016. Initially, Villeneuve was against the concept of a sequel, as he felt it could violate the original. But after reading the script, he ultimately commited to the project, "because I feel that I can do it." Villeneuve noted that he's fully aware of the immense pressure he's under: "… I'm aware of that and I respect that, and it's okay with me because it's art. Art is risk, and I have to take risks. It's gonna be the biggest risk of my life.. For me it's very exciting... I've been dreaming to do sci-fi since I was 10 years old, and I said 'no' to a lot of sequels. I couldn't say 'no'. I love it too much, so I said, 'Alright, I will do it and give everything I have to make it great.'" With various versions of Blade Runner over the years, it is fair to ask which version would be considered "canon" going into the sequel. Villeneuve replied: "The movie will be autonomous and at the same time there will be some link..." Ever since the original hit theaters, there has been a divide among its fans about whether or not Ford's Rick Deckard is a human or a replicant. It's a question that the film leaves up to the viewer, though director Scott, Ford, and everyone else has chimed in with their own thoughts on the subject. With the sequel, there will certainly be more fuel on the fire of Deckard's true identity. Villeneuve did go on to say that the mystery will be something they address in the film and that re-contextualizing the original film with any answers they present in the sequel is a concern of his: "The thing I must say is that I love mystery. I love shadows. I love doubts. I would just want to say to the fans that we will take care of that mystery. I will take care of it."

In April 2015, Ryan Gosling first entered negotiations, and was confirmed in November 2015. Principal photography was set to begin in July, with Warner Bros. distributing the film domestically, and Sony Pictures Releasing distributing internationally. In February 2016, an official release date of January 12, 2018 was announced. In March 2016, Robin Wright entered negotiations, and in April, Dave Bautista posted a picture of himself with an origami unicorn, hinting at a role in the film. Bautista and Wright were both confirmed in April, and a filming start date of July was established. In late April 2016, the film's release date was moved up to October 6, 2017, as well as Ana de Armas and Sylvia Hoeks being added to the cast. Carla Juri was cast in May 2016. In June, Mackenzie Davis and Barkhad Abdi were cast, with David Dastmalchian, Hiam Abbass and Lennie James joining in July. Jared Leto was cast in the film in August. In March 2017, Edward James Olmos confirmed to return. Principal photography took place between July and November 2016 in Budapest, Hungary. In early October 2016, Warner Bros. announced that the film would be titled Blade Runner 2049. Post-Production commenced in December in Los Angeles. Jóhann Jóhannsson, Villeneuve’s regular composer, was announced to score the film. However, in July 2017, Hans Zimmer and Benjamin Wallfisch replaced Jóhannsson.

The film stars Ryan Gosling, Ana de Armas, Sylvia Hoeks, Robin Wright, Mackenzie Davis, Carla Juri, Lennie James, Dave Bautista and Jared Leto with Harrison Ford and Edward James Olmos, both reprising their roles as Rick Deckard and Gaff. The cast were outstanding, with Gosling and Ford giving the best performances of their careers, de Armas and Hoeks giving break-out performances, and Leto and Olmos giving a memorable performances despite minimal screen time.

Packed with gorgeous visuals and populated by both familiar faces and fresh energy, Blade Runner 2049 successfully recalls the original's revolutionary world while injecting it with a new spirit. Like the original, the film is a visually remarkable, achingly human sci-fi masterpiece. It is an extraordinary rarity, not just one of the best films of the year but also one of the best sequels ever made, period.

Simon says Blade Runner 2049 receives:

Wednesday, 27 September 2017

'A Tree in Water: My Journey From Aotearoa to The Great White North' Chapter 21.

It’s been six months since I met my first celebrity, and now I’m about to meet my second, and my first director. As I always had hoped, my opportunity to meet one of my heroes had finally come true during my time here in Toronto. Then it became the best day of my life when I finally shook hands, bear-hugged, as well as got an autographed book and a photo with Guillermo del Toro at AGO. For those who are not familiar with the Master of Horror, Guillermo del Toro is a renowned Mexican Filmmaker known for his Horror Fantasy and Genre-bending films such as Cronos (1992), Mimic (1997), The Devil’s Backbone (2001), Blade II (2002), Hellboy (2004), Pan’s Labyrinth (2006), Hellboy II: The Golden Boy (2008), Pacific Rim (2013), Crimson Peak (2015), and The Shape of Water (2017). Del Toro’s works is characterised by a strong connection to fairy tales and horror, with an effort to infuse visual and/or poetic beauty. He has a lifelong fascination with monsters, which he considers symbols of great power.

The artist and the man, like Hans Zimmer, was a humble, funny and a genuine human being. It is no wonder why both artists are highly respected in their fields. But, unfortunately, all opportunities have their flaws and, like all good things, must come to an end. Even though I got to shake the master’s hand, got the biggest bear-hug from him and got an autographed book and a photo with him, I never got to talk to him at length, tell him how much he and his contributions to cinema means to me as an aspiring filmmaker, and never got to ask him my question. This was due to the fact that the line was LONG and security only allowed each person a short window of time with him. However, thanks to a friend I had met in line, the end of my time at AGO got better when I was invited to attend a VIP preview of del Toro’s exhibition before it opened to the public. Naturally, I couldn’t turn down the opportunity. Even though I went to his exhibition at LACMA in Los Angeles, the exhibition was similar to the LA exhibition; everything I had seen before and had expected was present. Yet, at the same time, it was certainly a different iteration of the exhibition and had its own elements that made it stand out from all the other iterations of the exhibition so far.

So once again, to recap, I became one of the luckiest guys in Toronto, having got the opportunity to meet one of my heroes. In addition, I got to shake his hand, got a bear hug from him, got my Guillermo del Toro sketchbook autographed and gotten a photo with him. All of which I will treasure for the rest of my life. I sincerely hope I will get another opportunity to see him again, only next time I hope we’ll be colleagues. I felt the happiest and the most optimistic I had ever been that day. For the first time in my life, I felt that I could be able to do anything I wanted. With that in mind, I also felt that good things would come my way.