Saturday, 29 May 2021

Film Review: "Cruella" (2021).

"Brilliant. Bad. A little bit mad." It's Cruella. This crime comedy-drama film directed by Craig Gillespie, written by Dana Fox and Tony McNamara, and based on the character Cruella de Vil created by Dodie Smith. The film explores the rebellion early days of one of cinema's most notorious - and notoriously fashionable - villains, Cruella de Vil. Set in 1970s London amidst the punk rock revolution, the film follows a young grifter names Estella and reveals the series of events that cause her to embrace her wicked side and become the raucous and revenge-bent Cruella.

The titular villain was first introduced in Smith's 1956 novel The Hundred and One Dalmatians and was immortalised in Walt Disney's 1961 animated classic One Hundred and One Dalmatians. In 2011, a live-action Cruella de Vil film was announced with Aline Brosh McKenna penning the script. In early January 2016, Emma Stone was cast in the titular role. In August 2016, Jez Butterworth was hired to rewrite the script. In November 2016, it was reported that Alex Timbers was hired to direct. However, in December 2018, it was revealed that Timbers had left the film due to scheduling conflicts and Gillespie was hired to direct. In May 2019, McNamara and Fox were hired to pen a new script. By late August, Emma Thompson, Joel Fry, Paul Walter Hauser, Emily Beecham, Kirby Howell-Baptiste and Mark Strong rounded out the film's cast. Nicole Kidman, Charlize Theron, Julianne Moore, and Demi Moore were in consideration for Thompson's role, while Dev Patel was considered for the role of Roger Dearly. At the same time, principal photography commenced and wrapped in late November. Filming took place throughout London, England. The film was originally scheduled a December 23, 2020 release date, but it was delayed to May 28, 2021 as filming began. In late March 2021, it was announced that the film will be released simultaneously on Disney+ with Premier Access in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Additionally, it was announced that Nicholas Britell was hired to compose the film's score.

The film stars Stone in the title role, with Thompson, Fry, Hauser, Beecham, Howell-Baptiste and Strong. Being one of the few Hollywood actresses willing to risk, Stone makes the protagonist a woman as repellent as fascinating. However, Stone is too over-the-top to be Cruella but still pulls it off. Thompson is exceptional and memorable as The Baroness.

A frustrating and often troubling tonal nightmare that skates on thin ice for so long that it's always going to slip up. The film all reminds me of a punk teenager: She dresses in black leather, circles her eyes with mascara and constantly angry in her room, all the time with no idea what she's so angry about. There are so many threads running through the film that none get the opportunity to be pulled through to the end, and all feel incomplete. The film is a beautiful but simplistically shallow tale of one woman's downward spiral, tacked on to a recognisable cinematic icon. 

Simon says Cruella receives:

Also, see my review for I, Tonya.

Saturday, 22 May 2021

Film Review: "Army of the Dead" (2021).

"Survivors Take All" in Army of the Dead. This zombie heist action thriller film directed by Zack Snyder and written by Snyder, Shay Hatten and Joby Harold. After a zombie outbreak in Las Vegas, a group of mercenaries takes the ultimate gamble by venturing into the quarantine zone for the greatest heist ever.

In March 2007, the project was first announced with Matthijs van Heijningen Jr. hired to direct and Universal Studios and Warner Bros. onboard to co-produce it. But, in January 2019, after lingering in development hell for a number of years, Netflix acquired the distribution rights to the project from Warner Bros. with Snyder attached to direct and to pen the script with Hatten and Harold. By mid July, Dave Bautista, Ella Purnell, Omari Hardwick, Ana de la Reguera, Theo Rossi, Matthias Schweighöfer, Nora Arnezeder, Hiroyuki Sanada, Tig Notaro, Raúl Castillo, Garret Dillahunt, and Samantha Win were cast. At the same time, with a budget of $90 million, principal photography commenced and took place in Los Angeles, California and Albuquerque, New Mexico, as well as Atlantic Club Casino Hotel in Atlantic City, New Jersey, which had been closed since mid January 2014. The film was shot with custom-made Red Digital Cinema cameras and Snyder served as his own cinematographer. In August 2020, it was announced that D'Elia was to be cut from the film due to sexual misconduct allegations. In March 2021, Tig Notaro ultimately replaced D'Elia and was to be inserted into the film through a combination of reshooting scenes opposite an acting partner and also using digital compositing to insert her into the scene. In September, it was announced that a prequel film and an anime-style television series are in development to expand the franchise. The prequel film will be titled Army of Thieves and will take place before the events of Army of the Dead and focuses on Schweighöfer's character, Ludwig Dieter. The anime-style series will be titled Army of the Dead: Lost Vegas and will center around some of the characters from Army of the Dead during the early phases of the zombie outbreak.

The film stars Bautista, Purnell, Hardwick, de la Reguera, Rossi, Schweighöfer, Arnezeder, Sanada, Notaro, Castillo, Dillahunt, and Win. Bautista does prove to be a a formidable action hero, but he is also one of a rare group of action heroes in film that delivers on the drama and emotions, he doesn't just hold his own, he owns the movie.

Eschewing the claustrophobic foreboding of the film, Snyder takes all the anxieties and fears that had been built in the original and refracts it through his action movie sensibilities to create a smart action thriller. They could've avoided a few infuriating things, but regardless of all that, very very entertaining. The action, and pacing of the film, very well-done. When things ramp up, they ramp up fast, but even in the dull moments, there's something bubbling. Beyond dispute, however, is the film's timeless worth as a cathartic work, especially in terms of its accidentally commentary on the current social issues.

Simon says Army of the Dead receives:

Also, see my review for Zack Snyder's Justice League.

Saturday, 15 May 2021

Film Review: "Those Who Wish Me Dead" (2021).

"From the writer of Sicario and the co-creator of Yellowstone" comes Those Who Wish Me Dead. This neo-Western survival action thriller film directed by Taylor Sheridan, adapted by Sheridan, Michael Koryta and Charles Leavitt, and based on Koryta's novel of the same name. The film follows Hannah, a smoke jumper who is reeling from the loss of three lives she failed to save from a fire, and comes across a traumatized twelve‐year‐old boy with nowhere else to turn.

By May 2019, Angelina Jolie, Nicholas Hoult, Aidan Gillen, Jon Bernthal, Tyler Perry, Jake Weber, Tory Kittles and Finn Little were cast in an adaptation of Koryta's novel of the same name with Sheridan, Koryta and Leavitt penning the adaptation and Sheridan as director. Sheridan was initially brought on to just rewrite the script, but when the original direct dropped out of the project, he ultimately hired to direct. At the same time, principal photography commenced and wrapped in July. Filming took place in Albuquerque, Santa Clara, Bernalillo, and Rio Arriba County, New Mexico. Warner Bros. Pictures and New Line Cinema scheduled the film for a May 14, 2021 release date. As part of its plans for all of its 2021 films, Warner Bros. will also stream the film simultaneously on the HBO Max service for a period of one month, after which the film will be removed until the normal home media release schedule period.

The film stars Jolie, Hoult, Gillen, Bernthal, Perry, Weber, Kittles and Little. Jolie proves as safe a pair of hands as ever, grounding the emotion and making this into much more than the formulaic pic it could've become.

After directing Wind River, Sheridan makes his sophomore effort, blending suspense thriller, western ruggedness, and crime meditations in a unique setting. Like the land in which it takes place, the film is a harsh and relentless one. It's an intense slow burn that leads to a climax that gives up its revelation in a quick and explosive burst. As a writer, Sheridan has already proven himself. As a director, I consider this somewhat of a practice round. A taut, cold mystery, and a strong directorial offering, especially for a filmmaker with only one other feature under his belt. The film features a tense, atmospheric mystery, drama sustained by the protagonist. It's an exercise in great storytelling, character development, superior acting, and establishing a sense of location that brings us unsettlingly close to facing our own prejudices. The film is as much of a gritty thriller as it is a character study. While the former sometimes suffers in service of the latter, the film is, in the end, greater than the sum of its parts. An ambitious film, a little sloppy, but invigorating, well-made, well-acted, gorgeously photographed. It's poetic in its visuals and, as is tradition with Westerns, its justice. More predictable than it is a disappointment, the film may not be incredibly nuanced, but is more often than not enjoyable.

Simon says Those Who Wish Me Dead receives:

Also, see my review for Wind River.

Film Review: "The Woman in the Window" (2021).

"She has nothing to prove but what's real" in The Woman in the Window. This psychological thriller film directed by Joe Wright, adapted by Tracy Letts, and based on the 2018 novel of the same name by Daniel Mallory (under the pseudonym A. J. Finn). Confined to her home by agoraphobia, a psychologist becomes obsessed with her new neighbors — and solving a brutal crime she witnesses from her window.

In September 2016, Fox 2000 Pictures acquired screen rights to Mallory's novel of the same name. In March 2018, it was announced that Wright was hired to direct, with Letts peening the adaptation. In April, Amy Adams was attached to star. By early August, Gary Oldman, Anthony Mackie, Fred Hechinger, Wyatt Russell, Brian Tyree Henry, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Julianne Moore and Letts rounded out the film's cast. At the same time, principal photography commenced and wrapped in late October. Filming took place in New York City. 20th Century Fox originally scheduled the film for an earlier 2019 release date. But, in early July 2019, it was reported by The Hollywood Reporter that the film was delayed to May 15, 2020 as the film was being retooled after the film left test audiences confused. It was then revealed that producer Scott Rudin had hired Tony Gilroy to do rewrites and write the reshoots. Originally, Atticus Ross and Trent Reznor were hired to score the film. After the film's release was delayed and the film went back into production, it was announced that they were replaced by Danny Elfman. It became be final film to be released under the Fox 2000 label after the Walt Disney Company's acquisition of 21st Century Fox. In mid March 2020, the film was removed from the release calendar because of the COVID-19 pandemic, with the intent to reschedule it for later in 2020. In early August 3, it was announced that Netflix was in final talks to acquire the distribution rights to the film.

The film stars Adams, Oldman, Mackie, Hechinger, Russell, Henry, Leigh, Moore and Letts. Features a superb turn by Adams, though the characterization is generally so unfavorable that she'll be hard-pressed to gain much critical recognition. If not for Adams' and the rest of the cast's fantastic performance, the film would have come across as a quickie capitalizing on the novel's popularity.

The film, in trying to get us into its protagonist's shattered psyche, goes too far, alienating us from its very soul. Calling a film "manipulative" is not necessarily an insult (see: Alfred Hitchcock and Rear Window), but when the manipulation is as openly cynical as the film, it spoils the fun. The film becomes laughably insipid, degrading the intelligence of its audience and any kind of authenticity for its characters. As far as thrillers go, the film works hard to make every player seem suspicious but the result isn't as juicy. The film spends so much time on shock value, it neglects the aspects of fluid, substantial storytelling.

Simon says The Woman in the Window receives:

Also, see my review for Darkest Hour.

Saturday, 8 May 2021

Series Review: "The Sons of Sam: A Descent Into Darkness" (2021).

"A Closed Case Is Only The Beginning" in The Sons of Sam: A Descent into Darkness. This crime documentary series directed by Joshua Zeman. The Son of Sam case grew into a lifelong obsession for journalist Maury Terry, who became convinced that the murders were linked to a satanic cult.

On June 1, 1953, American serial killer, David Richard Berkowitz (born Richard David Falco), also known as Son of Sam and the .44 Calibur Killer was born. By July 1977, he killed six people and wounded seven others using a .44 caliber Bulldog revolver. The killing spree terrorized New Yorkers and gained worldwide notoriety. As the number of victims increased, Berkowitz eluded the biggest police manhunt in the history of New York City while leaving letters that mocked the police and promised further crimes, which were highly publicized by the press. On the night of August 10, 1977, Berkowitz was taken into custody by New York City Police Department homicide detectives in front of his Yonkers apartment building. He was subsequently indicted for eight shooting incidents. He confessed to all of them, and initially claimed to have been obeying the orders of a demon manifested in the form of a dog belonging to his neighbor "Sam." Despite his explanation, Berkowitz was found mentally competent to stand trial. He pled guilty to second-degree murder and was incarcerated in state prison. He subsequently admitted that the dog-and-devil story was a hoax. In the course of further police investigations, Berkowitz was also implicated in many unsolved arsons in the city. Intense coverage of the case by the media lent a kind of celebrity status to Berkowitz, which he seemed to enjoy, as noted by some observers. In response, the New York State Legislature enacted new statutes, known popularly as "Son of Sam laws", designed to keep criminals from financially profiting from the publicity created by their crimes. The statutes have remained law in New York despite various legal challenges, and similar laws have been enacted in several other states. Berkowitz has been incarcerated since his arrest and is serving six consecutive life sentences. During the mid-1990s, he amended his confession to claim that he had been a member of a violent Satanic cult that orchestrated the incidents as ritual murder. A few law enforcement authorities have said that his claims might be credible, but he remains the only person ever charged with the shootings. A new investigation of the murders began in 1996, but was suspended indefinitely after inconclusive findings.

The series powerfully portrays Maury Terry, a mild-mannered writer whose life unravels as his paranoid quest to track down clues behind The Son of Sam. The series really takes its time, but does a masterful job of showing how these killings didn't just destroy the lives of the victims and their families, but how the case became a burden to almost everyone involved. Still, the case remains open and continues to fascinate and intrigue. As will this film, if you let it take its time to uncover the clues.

Simon says The Sons of Sam: A Descent into Darkness receives:

Also, see my review for Murder Mountain.

Saturday, 1 May 2021

Film Review: "Wrath of Man" (2021).

From the director of Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels and The Gentlemen comes Wrath of Man. This action thriller film directed by Guy Ritchie, written by Ritchie, Ivan Atkinson and Marn Davies, and based on the 2004 French film Cash Truck by Nicolas Boukhrief. A mysterious and wild-eyed new cash truck security guard surprises his coworkers during a heist in which he unexpectedly unleashes precision skills. The crew is left wondering who he is and where he came from. Soon, the marksman’s ultimate motive becomes clear as he takes dramatic and irrevocable steps to settle a score.

In October 2019, it was announced that Ritchie was writing and directing an English language remake of Boukhrief's 2004 French Thriller Cash Truck, with Jason Statham set to star. By November, Holt McCallany, Josh Hartnett, Eddie Marsan, Jeffrey Donovan, Laz Alonso, Scott Eastwood, DeObia Oparei, Josh Cowdery, Andy García and Rob Delaney rounded out the film's cast. At the same time, principal photography commenced and took place in Los Angeles, California and London, England. The film was originally set for a January 15, 2021 release date, but was pulled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. It was later rescheduled for April 23, before being pushed to May 7.

The film stars Statham, McCallany, Hartnett, Marsan, Donovan, Alonso, Eastwood, Oparei, Cowdery, García and Delaney. It's the actors' conviction, no matter how bloody or ridiculous the plot turns, that gives the movie much of its loony premise.

Its central chess-game conceit is over-convoluted and infuriating, finally sliding into risible silliness in the third act. An unwieldy, short-circuiting film, packing "more tricks than a clown's pocket" yet imbued with brute spiritual force. Given Ritchie's penchant for flashy, in-your-face twists, we trust all will be revealed in good time. But as the film rolls on -- and on and on and on -- it becomes painfully apparent that Ritchie's firing blanks. Ritchie has packed the film with so much 'substance' that it completely overwhelms his still somewhat charming style. And I mean it when I say the rest of this thing is a nonsensical mess. An absurd combination of Stanley Kubrick, Robert Siodmak and Roger Corman, this film can't decide what it is or what it wants to be. The problem with the film is that it is Ritchie's first attempt at a 'serious' look at the American police world, but the result is so ridiculous and muddled it's almost a little embarrassing. Under all the stylistic flash and dash, his movie is barely comprehensible; its big surprise ending is no surprise at all; and its coda almost seems like an insult. Ritchie remains hopelessly inept at delivering a caper flick that's as fun as it is flashy, but now he looks like a one trick pony too. Ritchie returns to his crime-pulp roots, only this time he gets all ridiculous, too. It's a deadly combination. The film can come off like Death Wish crossed with a police procedural. But I suspect that not many other people will agree.

Simon says Wrath of Man receives:

Also, see my review for The Gentlemen.

Film Review: "Tom Clancy's Without Remorse" (2021).

"From the author of Rainbow Six" comes Tom Clancy's Without Remorse. This action thriller film directed by Stefano Sollima adapted by Taylor Sheridan and Will Staples, and based loosely based on the 1993 novel of the same name by Tom Clancy. An elite Navy SEAL uncovers an international conspiracy while seeking justice for the murder of his pregnant wife in Without Remorse, the explosive origin story of action hero John Clark – one of the most popular characters in author Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan universe.

In 1993, after the novel's publication, Savoy Pictures first bought the film rights for $2.5 million. Although the film failed to meet its expected December 1995 release date, it was fast tracked after John Milius joined the production with the intent to write and direct the film, working in close consultation with the original book's author Tom Clancy. Variety magazine reported that Laurence Fishburne and Gary Sinise were later attached to star in the adaptation; however, production was shut down for script problems and financial woes with the production company. The film went under development hell for years until Christopher McQuarrie signed on with Paramount Pictures to direct the adaptation in 2012. Tom Hardy was approached by Paramount to play Clark, and Kevin Costner was slated to reprise his role as mentor William Harper from another Clancy-based film, Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit (2014), but this version was most likely scrapped. In 2017, it was announced that Akiva Goldsman signed on to produce a film adaptation of Rainbow Six. In late September 2018, Michael B. Jordan was announced to be playing Clark in a two-part film series, which will be composed of Without Remorse and Rainbow Six. In December 2018, Sollima was hired to direct. In early January 2019, Variety announced that Taylor Sheridan would rewrite the script. By late October, Jamie Bell, Jack Kesy, Colman Domingo, Guy Pearce and Cam Gigandet rounded out the film's cast. At the same time, principal photography commenced and wrapped in late October 2020. Filming took place at Studio Babelsberg, Potsdam, Brandenburg, Germany, as well as Santa Clarita, California and Washington, District of Columbia, USA. Paramount Pictures originally scheduled the film for a September 18, 2020, but delayed to October 2, 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and again to February 26, 2021. In July 2020, Amazon Studios entered talks to acquire the distribution rights to the film and release it digitally on Prime Video.

The film stars Jordan, Bell, Kesy, Domingo, Pearce and Gigandet. The actors, especially Jordan, really carry this film. Jordan is so good in this and the action so compelling that you almost forget how over the top and problematic the story is. Almost.

The film is engrossing in a very direct action way. But there are enough hot button issues floating around in this movie that I was hoping for something more than just a glorified "blow things up real big" action movie. While it wouldn't be fair to advise potential viewers to just say no to the film, it would be acceptable to recommend that they approach it with lofty expectations held in check.

Simon says Tom Clancy's Without Remorse receives:

Also, see my review for Sicario: Day of the Soldado.