Wednesday, 21 November 2018

Film Review: "Widows" (2018).

"Left with nothing. Capable of anything." This is Widows. This heist film directed by Steve McQueen, adapted by McQueen and Gillian Flynn, based upon the 1983 ITV series of the same name by Lynda La Plante. The film tells the story of four women with nothing in common except a debt left behind by their dead husbands’ criminal activities. Set in contemporary Chicago, amid a time of turmoil, tensions build when Veronica, Linda, Alice and Belle take their fate into their own hands and conspire to forge a future on their own terms.

In late March 2015, it was announced that a project based on the 1983 British TV series was in development, with a script written by McQueen and Flynn, with McQueen attached to direct. Originally set in London, England, McQueen and Flynn moved the setting to Chicago, U.S.A. In September 2016, Viola Davis joined the cast as Veronica. In November, Cynthia Erivo joined the cast as Belle. In February 2017, Elizabeth Debicki and Michelle Rodriguez were cast as Alice and Linda. Originally, it was reported that Jennifer Lawrence was approached for Alice, but, due to scheduling conflicts, had to decline. By May, Daniel Kaluuya, Liam Neeson, Colin Farrell, Robert Duvall, Garret Dillahunt, Jacki Weaver, Manuel Garcia-Rulfo, Lukas Haas, Brian Tyree Henry, Carrie Coon, and Jon Bernthal joined the cast. In the same month, Principal photography began in Chicago, Illinois. Principal photography began on May 8, 2017 in Chicago, Illinois.

The film features an ensemble cast that includes Davis, Rodriguez, Debicki, Erivo, Farrell, Henry, Kaluuya, Dillahunt, Weaver, Coon, Duvall, Garcia-Rulfo, Bernthal, Haas, and Neeson. The cast gave poignant and gripping performances, especially from its four leading ladies who proved that anything a man can pull off, they can do it too. The ladies carrie the film from start to finish with utter beauty and badassness.

Widows is a sleek, accomplished piece of work, meticulously controlled and completely involving. The dark end of the street doesn't get much more inviting than this. The film  is uncommonly literate, with its psychological insight into the symbiotic relationship and fractured intimacy between women and men. It's not just an action picture. Above all, the dialogue is complex enough to allow the characters to say what they're thinking: They are eloquent, insightful, fanciful, poetic when necessary. They're not trapped with cliches. Of the many imprisonments possible in our world, one of the worst must be to be inarticulate - to be unable to tell another person what you really feel. Stunningly made and incisively acted by a large and terrific cast, McQueen's ambitious study of the relativity of women and men stands apart from other films of its type by virtue of its extraordinarily rich characterizations and its thoughtful, deeply melancholy take on modern life. McQueen's action scenes have an existential, you-are-there jitteriness, but the heist-planning and political-talking scenes are just dry and talky. Overall, it is one of the most intelligent crime-thrillers to come along in years.

Simon says Widows receives:

Also, see my review for 12 Years a Slave.

Tuesday, 20 November 2018

Film Review: "Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald" (2018).

"Who will change the future?" The ultimate question presented in Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald. This fantasy film directed by David Yates and written by J. K. Rowling. It is the sequel to Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (2016), and the second instalment in the Fantastic Beasts film series, and the tenth overall in the Wizarding World franchise. Since the last film, Gellert Grindelwald was captured by MACUSA with the help of Newt Scamander. But, making good on his threat, Grindelwald escaped custody and has set about gathering followers, most unsuspecting of his true agenda: to raise pure-blood wizards up to rule over all non-magical beings.

In October 2014, a second Fantastic Beasts film was announced, and, in July 2016, Rowling confirmed she had completed the script. In October, Rowling has confirmed on Twitter that Eddie Redmayne, Katherine Waterston, Dan Fogler, Alison Sudol, and Ezra Miller would return. In addition, she confirmed that Newt Scamander is still going be the main character in the following movies. In November, Depp was cast as Grindelwald, which caused some controversy due to domestic violence allegations recently made against him. Rowling, however, defended the casting choice. In April 2017, Law signed on as Dumbledore. Other actors considered for the role included Christian Bale, Benedict Cumberbatch, Mark Strong, and Jared Harris (son of Richard Harris, who played Dumbledore in the first two Harry Potter films). In July, principal photography began, and concluded in December. Filming took place at the Warner Bros. Studios in Leavesden, England, as well as London, Switzerland, and Paris. For the characters, Rowling had the cast and crew refer to them by code names due to the top secret nature of the script. In addition, Rowling gave all of the cast members extremely secret details about their characters individually and in private. As for the creatures, a set of puppeteers physically took the place of the animals which were then finalized in post production thanks to the visual effects. The puppets were of different sizes and materials depending on the beast: for example, small bags of marbles were used to double the Niffler and his babies. And the enormous Zouwu required no less than three puppeteers, one manipulating his large sculpted head while the others moved his body and tail nearly three meters long that they swayed at the end of a pole. As with the first film, animal making required months of graphic, pattern, and animation testing to determine the appearance, behavior, movements, attitude, and personality of each creature. 

The film features an ensemble cast that includes Redmayne, Waterston, Fogler, Sudol, Miller, Zoë Kravitz, Callum Turner, Claudia Kim, William Nadylam, Kevin Guthrie, with Law, and Depp. Despite terrific performances, this time round, the cast suffered from unsatisfactory character developments and/or characterizations largely thanks to the confusing character histories conjured by Rowling.

Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald benefits from an increased emphasis on thrilling action. However, they're undercut by a convoluted plot and underdeveloped characters.

Simon says Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald receives:

Also, see my review for Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.

Tuesday, 13 November 2018

Film Review: "The Girl in the Spider's Web" (2018).

"The Past Never Forgets" in The Girl in the Spider's Web. This crime thriller film directed by Fede Álvarez, adapted by Álvarez, Steven Knight, and Jay Basu, based on the novel of the same name by David Lagercrantz, and based on characters by Stieg Larsson. The film acts as both a soft-reboot and a sequel to David Fincher's The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011), as well as the second installment in the American-produced Millennium film series. Young computer hacker Lisbeth Salander and journalist Mikael Blomkvist find themselves caught in a web of spies, cybercriminals and corrupt government officials.

In December 2011, the creative team behind The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011) planned to film The Girl Who Played with Fire and The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets' Nest, "back to back" with a 2013 release date. By August 2012, it was delayed due to rewrites by Andrew Kevin Walker. The following year, Fincher stated that a script for the sequel had been written and that it was "extremely different from the book," and that despite the long delay, he was confident that the film would be made given that the studio had "already has spent millions of dollars on the rights and the script". Though contractually signed on to reprise her role, Mara was less optimistic about the production of the sequels. In November 2015, The Hollywood Reporter announced that Sony was planning to develop The Girl in the Spider's Web instead. In the same month, it was announced that Fincher, Mara, and Daniel Craig would not be returning for this film. Knight was announced to be in talks to adapt the novel. It was reported that Felicity Jones and Alicia Vikander were being considered for the role of Salander. In November 2016, Variety reported that Sony was in negotiations with Álvarez to direct. In March 2017, it was announced that production was set to begin in September 2017. In May, it was reported that Claire Foy was the frontrunner to replace Mara. In September, Foy was officially cast in the film. By December, Sverrir Gudnason, LaKeith Stanfield, Sylvia Hoeks, Stephen Merchant, Vicky Krieps, and Cameron Britton were cast. In January 2018, Principal photography began, and ended in April. Locations included Berlin, Germany and Stockholm, Sweden.

The film stars Foy, Gudnason, Stanfield, Hoeks, Merchant, Krieps, and Britton. The cast gave terrific performances despite not quite living up to their roles, in particular Foy. While Foy can play the titular character as well as Noomi Rapace and Mara, her particular incarnation leaves her marooned in situations that are characterized by too little tension and too much nonsense.

Director Álvarez manages to inject some new life into The Girl in the Spider's Web with wonderful action set pieces, but otherwise the film is a bore. The script is exceptionally tiresome and hard-to-swallow. Once again, certain standby plot elements - the high-level government corruption, the bad-ass, law-breaking heroine, and her personal connection to the antagonist - are recycled, and not to good effect.

Simon says The Girl in the Spider's Web receives:

Also, see my reviews for Don't Breathe and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011).

Monday, 12 November 2018

Film Review: "The Grinch" (2018).

The Grinch is "stealing Christmas 2018." The 3D computer-animated Christmas comedy film co-directed by Yarrow Cheney and Scott Mosier, adapted by Michael LeSieur and Tommy Swerdlow, based on the 1957 Dr. Seuss book How the Grinch Stole Christmas!, and produced by Illumination Entertainment. The film tells the story of a cynical grump, who lives a solitary life inside a cave on Mt. Crumpet with only his loyal dog. Each year at Christmas they disrupt his tranquil solitude with their increasingly bigger, brighter, and louder celebrations. When the Whos declare they are going to make Christmas three times bigger this year, the Grinch realizes there is only one way for him to gain some peace and quiet: he must steal Christmas.

In February 2013, it was announced that Illumination Entertainment was developing a 3D animated feature film based on the Dr. Seuss book, with the working title How the Grinch Stole Christmas, later shortened to The Grinch. This would be the third screen adaptation of the story, following the television special from 1966 and the live-action feature-length film from 2000. It also marks Illumination's second Dr. Seuss film adaptation, following The Lorax (2012). Peter Candeland and Cheney were originally set to direct, however Mosier took over from Candeland. In April 2016, Benedict Cumberbatch was cast as the titular character. By September 2018, Rashida Jones, Kenan Thompson, Cameron Seely, Angela Lansbury, and Pharrell Williams rounded out the cast. In November 2017, Danny Elfman was revealed to be composing the film's score. Originally scheduled for a November 10, 2017 release date, the film was eventually moved to November 9, 2018, in June 2016, presumably to avoid competition with Sony Animation's The Star (2017), another animated Christmas-related film.

It stars the voices of Cumberbatch as the Grinch, Jones as Donna Lou Who, Thompson as Bricklebaum, Seely as Cindy Lou Who, Lansbury as Mayor McGerkle, and Williams as the Narrator. The cast gave entertaining performances, particularly that of Cumberbatch. Who was perfect to play this role. He carries nearly every scene. In fact, if he's not in the scene, there is no scene. He works as hard as an actor has ever worked in a movie, to considerable avail. Adults may appreciate Carrey's remarkable performance in an intellectual sort of way and give him points for what was obviously a supreme effort. Nobody could play the Grinch better than Cumberbatch, whose cunning antics and maniacal sense of mischief are so well suited to this film. Dr. Seuss himself might have turned to Cumberbatch as an inspiration for the classic curmudgeon had the actor been around in 1957.

Cumberbatch shines as the Grinch. Unfortunately, it's not enough to save this movie. You'd be better off watching the 1966 TV cartoon. However, he brings enough life to the animation. He enables Illumination's version of the classic story to come across as anything but a complete pointless re-tread. There is a jollier production design and a brighter look overall, but it's just not much fun.

Simon says The Grinch receives:

Also, see my review for Despicable Me 3.

Saturday, 3 November 2018

Film Review: "Suspiria" (2018).

"Tremble tremble!!! The witches are back" with Suspiria (2018). This supernatural horror film directed by Luca Guadagnino, written by David Kajganich, based on the 1977 Italian film directed by Dario Argento. A darkness swirls at the center of a world-renowned dance company, one that will engulf the artistic director, Madame Blanc; an ambitious young dancer, Susie Bannion; and a grieving psychotherapist, Dr. Josef Klemperer. Some will succumb to the nightmare. Others will finally wake up.

In 2008, a remake was first announced after Guadagnino had acquired the option from the original film's writers, Argento and Daria Nicolodi. Guadagnino set up the project for David Gordon Green to direct, with Natalie Portman set to play Suzy Bannion, and Isabelle Huppert as Madame Blanc. But it was canceled due to financing conflicts. In September 2015, at the 72nd Venice Film Festival, Guadagnino was confirmed to direct, with Tilda Swinton and Dakota Johnson confirmed to star in late November. The project was described as a "homage" to the original rather than a direct remake. Kajganich was set to pen the script, setting the film during the German Autumn of 1977 to explore themes of generational guilt in Germany during the Cold War. Additionally, it focuses on themes of motherhood, evil, and the dynamics of matriarchies. By October 2016, Mia Goth, Angela Winkler, Ingrid Caven, Chloë Grace Moretz, as well as original star Jessica Harper had rounded out the cast. In December, four months after finishing work on Call Me by Your Name (2017), Guadagnino began filming. Principal photography began in late October, and was completed in early March 2017. Locations included Varese, Italy and Berlin, Germany, and like the original, the film was shot on 35mm film stock. However, unlike the original, the film uses exaggerated colours, Guadagnino conceived it as "winterish" and bleak, absent of primary colours. The film incorporates stylized dance sequences choreographed by Damien Jalet, which form part of its representation of witchcraft. Kajganich wanted the dance to directly reflect women's movements and emotions, so the inspiration for the choreography came from female dancers Mary Wigman, Pina Bausch, and Sasha Waltz. The film features the debut score from Radiohead frontman Thom Yorke, who succeeds fellow band members Jonny Greenwood and Phil Selway into film scoring. For the score, Yorke took inspiration from the krautrock created around the time of the film's setting.

The film stars Johnson, Swinton, Goth, Winkler, Caven, Moretz, and Harper. The cast gave tour de force performances, particularly that of Johnson and Swinton. Johnson, like her character, showed stunning physicality. Where as Swinton showed incredible versatility and proved that she's still one of the actresses of her generation working today.

The horror seeps freely in Guadagnino's Suspiria, a bleak, minimalistic horror epic that is just as grandiose and glorious as the original. When you sit down to watch the film, you sit down with normal expectations of being diverted, perhaps even being gripped, but not being undermined. But the film undermines you in powerful and inchoate ways.

Simon says Suspiria (2018) receives:

Also, see my review for Call Me by Your Name.

Tuesday, 30 October 2018

Film Review: "Johnny English Strikes Again" (2018).

"When only the best will do. And no-one else is available." Get ready, Johnny English Strikes Again. This action comedy film directed by David Kerr, written by William Davies, based on the characters by Davies, Neal Purvis, and Robert Wade. It is a sequel to Johnny English Reborn and the third instalment in the Johnny English series. The new adventure begins when a cyber-attack reveals the identity of all active undercover agents in Britain, leaving Johnny English as the Secret Service's last hope. Called out of retirement, English dives head first into action with the mission to find the mastermind hacker. As a man with few skills and analog methods, Johnny English must overcome the challenges of modern technology to make this mission a success.

In May 2017, it was announced that Rowan Atkinson would be reprising the role of Johnny English in the sequel to Johnny English Reborn. Marking Atkinson's first movie trilogy. It's rumoured that this will be the last Johnny English movie and that Atkinson will play the role for the last time after 15 years. In early August 2017, Working Title Films announced that they had begun production and filming with the director David Kerr. Ben Miller, Olga Kurylenko, Jake Lacy, and Emma Thompson rounded the cast. Miller reprises his role as Bough from Johnny English (2003). He did appear in Johnny English Reborn, however his scenes were cut. Kurylenko was cast in leading role that would be a spoof of her Bond girl in Quantum of Solace (2008). Thompson was cast in a supporting role, which was kept a secret during production. Which was not revealed until the debut of the theatrical trailer. Principal photography took place in Welham Green, Hertfordshire; Gloucestershire; and the Saint Aygulf beach, Var, France. Like the previous films, the production utilized one of Atkinson's car. This time it's an Aston Martin V8 Vantage classic. In an interview, Atkinson told that he bought the car just six months before shooting, and had the car in mind for the film. In early April 2018, the title was revealed to be Johnny English Strikes Again, with a teaser trailer released the day after.

It stars Atkinson, Miller, Kurylenko, Jake Lacy, and Thompson. The cast may not have given the best performances but it was performances that were hilarious.Atkinson gave another hilarious performance as the "iconic" spy. , Miller like Atkinson, also gave a hilarious performance who always seems to keep English in check most of the time. Kurylenko gave a sleek performance despite her lack of chemistry with Atkinson. Lacy proved to be one of the least threatening villains in the series, despite being a slight improvement on the last one. Finally, Thompson gave a more contrasted performance to Atkinson, despite leaving behind moments of very sardonic humour.

While the film is messy and doesn't make much sense, Johnny English Strikes Again, the third instalment of the franchise, contains enough inspired bits to entertain. Definitely funnier than its predecessor.

Simon says Johnny English Strikes Again receives:

Also, see my review for Johnny English Reborn.

Tuesday, 23 October 2018

Film Review: "Halloween" (2018).

"Face your fate" with Halloween (2018). This slasher film directed by David Gordon Green, and written by Green, Jeff Fradley, and Danny McBride. It is the eleventh installment in the Halloween film series, and a direct sequel to the 1978 film of the same name, while retconing of all previous sequels. It's been 40 years since Laurie Strode survived a vicious attack from crazed killer Michael Myers on Halloween night. Locked up in an institution, Myers manages to escape when his bus transfer goes horribly wrong. Laurie now faces a terrifying showdown when the masked madman returns to Haddonfield - but this time, she's ready for him.

In 2011, a new Halloween movie was in development from Patrick Lussier and Todd Farmer, as well as well as Patrick Melton and Marcus Dunstan. However, in December 2015, after failing to develop a new Halloween movie in time, Dimension Films lost the production rights for a sequel. Ultimately, the rights reverted back to Miramax. In May 2016, Miramax partnered with Blumhouse Productions to co-finance, with original co-creator John Carpenter to shepherd the film, and with Universal Pictures distributing. In early February 2017, David Gordon Green and Danny McBride were announced as director and co-writers. In mid September, Jamie Lee Curtis announced on Twitter that she would be reprising her role as Laurie Strode for the film. Making this Curtis' fifth portrayal of Laurie Strode after Halloween (1978), Halloween II (1981), Halloween H20: 20 Years Later (1998), and Halloween: Resurrection (2002). In late December, it was announced that Nick Castle, who had portrayed Michael Myers in the original film, would reprise his role, with actor and stuntman James Jude Courtney set to portray Myers as well. By late July, Will Patton, Virginia Gardner, Haluk Bilginer, Jefferson Hall, Rhian Rees, and Toby Huss rounded out the cast, with Judy Greer and Andi Matichak winning the coveted roles of Laurie's daughter and granddaughter, Karen and Allyson. In October, it was announced that Carpenter would compose the score with his son Cody and his godson Daniel Davies. The film marks the return of Carpenter to composing since Ghost of Mars (2001). Principal photography commenced in mid January 2018, and concluded in mid February, under the working/production title of Uncle Orange. Filming took place in Charleston, South Carolina, lasting twenty-eight days.

The film stars Curtis, Greer, Matichak, Patton, Gardner, Bilginer, Hall, Rees, Huss, and Castle. Robust performances were given by the cast, particularly that of Curtis who returned to the role that defined her career and the Final Girl archetype. Instead of giving us the same Laurie from the first film, Curtis gave us a more prepared, well-armed, and bad-ass version, akin to Sarah Connor in Terminator 2: Judgement Day.

With Halloween, Green and McBride obviously know the franchise well and they built a film with the properly terrifying Halloween atmosphere through a well-crafted narrative. It's the most effective entry. Perhaps not quite so resonant as the original to which it pays due homage, but it nevertheless breathes the same air.

Simon says Halloween (2018) receives:

Also, see my review for Stronger.