Tuesday, 3 December 2019

Film Review: "Frozen II" (2019).

"Be strong, confront your fears" in Frozen II. This 3D computer-animated musical fantasy film co-directed by Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee, written by Lee, and produced by Walt Disney Animation Studios. It is the 58th animated film produced by the studio, and the sequel to the 2013 film Frozen. The film follows Elsa, the Snow Queen, and her sister Anna as they embark on an adventure far away from the kingdom of Arendelle. They are joined by friends, Kristoff, Olaf, and Sven.

By November 2014, producer Peter Del Vecho, Disney chairman Alan F. Horn, Disney CEO Bob Iger, as well as Lee and Buck stated that a sequel was not in development but was in consideration. However, in mid March 2015, at Disney's annual meeting of shareholders in San Francisco, Iger, Chief Creative Officer John Lasseter, and Josh Gad officially announced the sequel was in development with Buck and Lee returning as directors. By late September 2017, both Gad and Idina Menzel confirmed that they would return to reprise their roles. In an October 2017 interview with CinemaBlend, Kristen Bell said that there will be some new characters. In the same month, on the British talk show Lorraine, Jonathan Groff confirmed that he too would return to reprise his role, and had started recording for the film in August. In March 2018, Kristen Anderson-Lopez revealed in an interview that she and her husband, Robert Lopez, would return to write new songs for its sequel, having already recorded a song for the sequel with star Kristen Bell. In August 2018, Allison Schroeder was hired to assist Lee with penning the script after Lee succeeded Lasseter as Disney Animation's chief creative officer. At the 2019 D23 Expo, the directors said that the sequel will answer the questions that were left open by the original film. In addition, it was revealed that there would be seven new songs. Fans campaigned for Elsa to receive a female love interest in the film, Anderson-Lopez confirmed that Elsa will have no love interest in the movie.

The film features the voice talents of Menzel, Bell, Groff, Gad, and CiarĂ¡n Hinds, who return to reprise their roles, with Sterling K. Brown, Evan Rachel Wood, Alfred Molina, Martha Plimpton, Jason Ritter, Rachel Matthews, and Jeremy Sisto as new additions. Despite the talented cast and the expressive and detailed computer character animation, both the old and new characters are just not that great, where the characterisations struggle to be front and centre. Which is what you would expect from a sequel that tries to expand upon from the previous film.

Frozen II doesn't quite live up to its predecessor with a forced, overly-schmaltzy and cliched sequel that barely expands its colourful universe while barely focusing on its core characters and relationships. The songs aren't good enough to stick in your head and aren't good enough to be iconic as the first, even though the first film's song were about the same. In the end, I was disappointed.

Simon says Frozen II receives:

Also, see my review for Frozen.

Film Review: "Midway" (2019).

"One battle turned the tide of war." This is Midway. This war film directed by Roland Emmerich, and written by Wes Tooke. The film centers on the Battle of Midway, a clash between the American fleet and the Imperial Japanese Navy which marked a pivotal turning point in the Pacific Theater during WWII. It, based on the real-life events of this heroic feat, tells the story of the leaders and soldiers who used their instincts, fortitude and bravery to overcome the odds.

In late May 2017, it was reported that Emmerich would be directing a World War II film entitled, Midway, a passion project. Due to its potential lofty budget of $125 million, Emmerich had trouble getting the film greenlit. When no major studio would bankroll the project, he cut down on potential battle sequences and turned to individuals for the funds, resulting in $76 million; he then got an additional $24 million in equity, mostly from Chinese investors, resulting in the film's $100 million budget. It is one of the most costly independent films ever made. Emmerich has previously attempted to mount the film at Sony Pictures in the '90s, with William Goldman becoming interested in the project. However, as with the final rendition, executives balked at the proposed $100 million budget ($152 million, adjusted for inflation), and Emmerich moved on to direct The Patriot (2000). By late September 2018, Ed Skrein, Patrick Wilson, Luke Evans, Aaron Eckhart, Nick Jonas, Dennis Quaid, Woody Harrelson, Jake Weber, Tadanobu Asano, Jun Kunimura, Peter Shinkoda, and Mandy Moore were cast. At the same time, principal photography commenced, and wrapped in early December. Filming took place in Honolulu, Hawaii, and Montreal, Quebec. Scanline VFX and Pixomondo, with Derek Spears and Laurent Taillefer as visual effects supervisors, provided the visual effects for the film.

The film stars an ensemble cast that includes Skrein, Wilson, Evans, Eckhart, Jonas, Quaid, Harrelson, Weber, Asano, Kunimura, Shinkoda, and Moore. The cast are talented actors, but they can't animate this moldy battle-filled drama. Nearly every line of the script drops from the actors' mouths with the leaden clank of exposition, timed with bad sitcom beats. It requires a lot of patience for an audience to sit through the dithering. They're nice to watch and all that, but they don't exactly claw madly at one another. Besides, megahistory and personal history never integrate here.

Midway tries to be the new Pearl Harbour of war movies, and just like that film, it's just a tedious romance filled with laughably bad dialogue. Ships, planes and water combust and collide in the film, but nothing else does in one of the wimpiest wartime dramas ever filmed. But, having said that, here is the ironic twist in my acceptance of the film - the parts I liked most are the parts before and after the digital destruction of Pearl Harbor by the Japanese carrier planes. The film is not so much about World War II as it is about movies about World War II. And what's wrong with that?

Simon says Midway receives:

Also, see my review for Independence Day: Resurgence.

Thursday, 28 November 2019

Film Review: "The Irishman" (2019).

"Time Changes Nothing" in The Irishman. This epic crime film directed by Martin Scorsese, written by Steven Zaillian, and based on the 2004 book I Heard You Paint Houses by Charles Brandt. This is an epic saga of organized crime in post-war America told through the eyes of World War II veteran Frank Sheeran, a hustler and hitman who worked alongside some of the most notorious figures of the 20th century. Spanning decades, the film chronicles one of the greatest unsolved mysteries in American history, the disappearance of legendary union boss Jimmy Hoffa, and offers a monumental journey through the hidden corridors of organized crime: its inner workings, rivalries and connections to mainstream politics.

In 2007, development on the project commenced after Robert De Niro read Brandt's book with Scorsese set to direct, and De Niro, Al Pacino and Joe Pesci set to star. According to Deadline, before accepting the role of Russell Bufalino, Pesci refused multiple times to come out of retirement in order to appear in this film. Some sources say the actual number of refusals was fifty. In July 2009, Brandt received a phone call from De Niro. In August, Brandt then met with Scorsese and Zaillian. The project was initially set up at Paramount Pictures, who was planning to release it domestically, as well as Media Asia, who picked up Chinese distribution, and STX Entertainment, who took international rights. However, the project fell into development hell due to new plot materials, rewrites, scheduling conflicts, and budget concerns, and led to Paramount losing confidence in the film. Scorsese couldn't get a Hollywood studio to back the film, claiming nobody was interested in making a film with him and De Niro anymore. Ultimately, Netflix acquired the film rights for $105 million and agreed to finance the film's proposed $125 million budget with a projected release date of October 2019. Scorsese went on to direct Hugo (2011), The Wolf of Wall Street (2014) and Silence (2016) instead. In September 2014, Pacino confirmed that the film would be his next project after Silence. In October 2015, De Niro stated that the film was still happening, and Zaillian was hired to pen the script. In July 2017, it was reported that the film would be presented as a series of flashbacks of an older Frank Sheeran, depicted as recollecting his many criminal activities over several decades, with De Niro appearing "as young as 24 years and as old as 80." 

By mid September 2017, Ray Romano, Bobby Cannavale, Anna Paquin, Stephen Graham, Harvey Keitel, Stephanie Kurtzuba, Kathrine Narducci, Jesse Plemons, Jack Huston, and Domenick Lombardozzi rounded out the film's cast. At the same time, with a finalised budget of $159 million, principal photography commenced, and wrapped in early March 2018. Filming took place in a hundred and seventeen different locations throughout New York and Long Island. The film was shot on both 35mm film and digital with the Arricam ST & LT cameras, as well as the RED Helium cameras. The latter was utilised for the de-aging sequences, and they required de-aging effects were shot digitally with a custom three-camera rig. Industrial Light & Magic and visual effects supervisor Pablo Helman handled the effects for the film. De-aging was facilitated by infrared makeup and flesh-colored tracking markers glued to the actors' skin. These tracking marks were then illuminated with infrared light, invisible to the main Helium camera but visible to the two witness-cameras attached to the rig. The two auxiliary witness-cameras captured facial performance data based on these infrared markers and allowed a portion of the complex de-aging process to be automated. A posture coach was brought on set to offer tips to De Niro, Pacino, and Pesci on how to comport themselves like much younger men. 

In February 2019, it was reported that Netflix would possibly give the film a wide theatrical release, at the request of Scorsese. However, due to Netflix's financial backing, the film had some serious side effects with regards to its theatrical release. The film would receive a limited theatrical release on November 1, 2019 in the United States. As part of the continuing tensions between the film markets for direct to digital streaming and theatrical releases and distribution of films, several theater chains protested the policy of Netflix for the film's release. The film will not play at the theaters owned by AMC, Cinemark, Regal or Cineplex, because the "four week progression to SVOD remains unacceptable to those chains." The heads of several theater chains, including AMC's Adam Aron, who refused to play Roma the previous November, said they would only be open to playing the film if Netflix "respects the decades old theatrical window, that suggests that movies come to theaters first for a couple of months, and then go to the home." Two major chains offered to exhibit the film if given an exclusivity window of 60 days, approximately two weeks shorter than the typical window, but could not reach an agreement with Netflix.

All of the performances are first-rate; De Niro is just stellar, Pacino is steals the show, Pesci stands out with his surprisingly subdued manner, and Romano, Cannavale, Paquin, Graham, and Keitel are strong as strong can be. The film has been beautifully cast from the leading roles to the bits. 

Hard-hitting and stylish, The Irishman is, and will be, a gangster classic - and will arguably be one of the high point of Scorsese's career. No finer film has ever been made about organized crime. More than any earlier Scorsese film, the film is memorable for the ensemble nature of the performances. Despite the three and a half-hour length, it is Scorsese's triumph, and the film offers the most immersive and sharpest ride in recent film history. Every crisp minute of this long, teeming movie vibrates with outlaw energy. Big, rich, powerful and explosive. One of Scorsese's best films! It is great entertainment. The film is, without a doubt, great cinema—and also a whopping good time both on Netflix and in the cinemas.

Simon says The Irishman receives:

Sunday, 24 November 2019

Film Review: "Knives Out" (2019).

"Everyone has a motive. No one has a clue" in Knives Out. This mystery film written and directed by Rian Johnson. When renowned crime novelist Harlan Thrombey is found dead at his estate just after his 85th birthday, the inquisitive and debonair Detective Benoit Blanc is mysteriously enlisted to investigate. From Harlan's dysfunctional family to his devoted staff, Blanc sifts through a web of red herrings and self-serving lies to uncover the truth behind Harlan's untimely death.

In May 2005, after the completion and release of his debut film Brick, Johnson came up with the basic concept for the film. In June 2010, he expressed interest in making an Agatha Christie-inspired murder mystery film, and that he wanted to make the film after finishing Looper (2012). However, Johnson's next film project after Looper turned out to be Star Wars: The Last Jedi (2017). In September 2018, the film was announced with Daniel Craig starring. Johnson cited several classic mystery thrillers and mystery comedies as influences on the film, including Something's Afoot, The Last of Sheila (1973), Murder on the Orient Express (1974), Murder by Death (1976), Death on the Nile (1978), The Private Eyes (1980), The Mirror Crack'd (1980), Evil Under the Sun (1982), Deathtrap (1982), Clue (1985), and Gosford Park (2001). By late October, Chris Evans, Ana de Armas, Jamie Lee Curtis, Michael Shannon, Don Johnson, Toni Collette, Lakeith Stanfield, Katherine Langford, Jaeden Martell, Noah Segan, Edi Patterson, Riki Lindhome, K Callan, Frank Oz, M. Emmet Walsh, and Christopher Plummer rounded out the film's cast. At the same time, principal photography commenced, and wrapped in late December. Filming took place in Boston, Massachusetts.

The film stars an ensemble cast that includes Craig, Evans, de Armas, Lee Curtis, Shannon, Johnson, Collette, Stanfield, Langford, Martell, Segan, Patterson, Lindhome, Callan, Oz, Emmet Walsh, and Plummer. The cast were credible in their roles. Craig was a very, very funny as the American, somewhat prissy, take-off on the Hercule Poirot archetype. Curtis, Shannon, Johnson, and Lindhome were marvelous as Linda, Walter, and Richard, though they haven't enough to do.

Knives Out is a very good silly-funny Neil Simon-esque satirical comedy, with a super all-star cast cavorting as recognizable pulp fiction detectives gathered at the home of Plummer, wealthy novelist fed up with despicable characters. It also has one of the nicest, breeziest screenplays I've seen to date. A mixture of all the great whodunnit mysteries; and perceptive social commentary, the film ranks among director Johnson's best. It's the sort of film one could see more than once and pick up on comedy bits unnoticed at first. It's a comic study of ancient and honorable human defects, including greed, envy, lust, pride, avarice, sloth, and falsehood. Nathan Johnson's music is another highlight. It wants to mislead us at every turn, confound all our expectations, and provide at least one moment when we levitate from our seats and come down screaming. It succeeds, more or less. Generally successful send-up of classic mysteries with a solid finale.

Simon says Knives Out receives:

Also, see my review for Star Wars: The Last Jedi.

Tuesday, 19 November 2019

Film Review: "Ford v Ferrari" (2019).

"They took the american dream for a ride." This is Ford v Ferrari. This sports drama film directed by James Mangold, and written by Jez Butterworth, John-Henry Butterworth, and Jason Keller. Based on the remarkable true story of the visionary American car designer Carroll Shelby and the fearless British-born driver Ken Miles, who together battled corporate interference, the laws of physics, and their own personal demons to build a revolutionary race car for Ford Motor Company and take on the dominating race cars of Enzo Ferrari at the 24 Hours of Le Mans in France in 1966.

A film based on the rivalry between Ford and Ferrari had lingered in development hell at 20th Century Fox. Initially, under the working title Go Like Hell, Tom Cruise and Brad Pitt were set to star  with a script by Keller and Joseph Kosinski set to direct. But the project fell apart. At the same time, Michael Mann was developing a Enzo Ferrari biopic with Christian Bale originally set to play Ferrari. But Bale dropped out to due concerns he had regarding gaining the proper weight in time. The project was ultimately shelved. In early February 2018, it was announced that Mangold had been brought on board to direct the film after the success of Logan (2017). The Butterworths were hired to provide rewrites. In March 2018, Christian Bale and Matt Damon were eyed for the lead roles. Damon said the number one reason he wanted to do the film was to work with Bale. In preparation for his role, Bale took race driving lessons at the Bondurant High Performance Driving School founded by the friend of Miles. By early July, Jon Bernthal, Caitriona Balfe, Tracy Letts, Josh Lucas, Noah Jupe, Remo Girone, and Ray McKinnon rounded out the film's cast. At the same time, with a budget of $100 million, principal photography commenced, and took place in Savannah, Georgia, and Los Angeles, California. In order to recreate the 1960s Le Mans circuit, the scenes had to be shot in five different locations. This proved a challenge in terms of continuity as not only the cars had to be correctly placed for each shot but the weather had to be consistent as well. VFX was critical in fixing a variety of continuity errors some of which were as simple as adjusting clocks to the right time. In North America, the film is marketed as Ford v Ferrari, whilst, in most other countries, it was marketed as Le Mans 66.

The film stars Damon, Bale, Bernthal, Balfe, Letts, Lucas, Jupe, Girone, and McKinnon. Strong performances were given by the cast, especially from Damon and Bale. Even if occasionally it stalls because of its sometimes heavy-handed treatment of Ford and Ferrari's rivalry. Also if its two protagonists were behaving like little more than boys with very fast toys.

A sleek, slick, well-oiled machine, Ford v Ferrari is a finely crafted sports drama with exhilarating race sequences and strong performances from Damon and Bale.

Simon says Ford v Ferrari receives:

Also, see my review for Logan.

Monday, 11 November 2019

Film Review: "Last Christmas" (2019).

"Sometimes you've just gotta have faith." This is Last Christmas. This British romantic comedy film directed by Paul Feig, and written by Bryony Kimmings and Emma Thompson. Kate is a young woman subscribed to bad decisions. Her last date with disaster? That of having accepted to work as Santa's elf for a department store. However, she meets Tom there. Her life takes a new turn. For Kate, it seems too good to be true.

In 2010, Thompson, Kimmings, and Greg Wise first started working on a romantic comedy script set in London during Christmas. In September 2018, it was reported that Emilia Clarke and Henry Golding would star, with Paul Feig was announced to direct. Feig was originally not interested in doing another Holiday-comedy, after his previous entry, Unaccompanied Minors (2006), was a critical and commercial failure. However, after reading the script, personally sent to him by Thompson, he was convinced. In October, it was announced that Thompson would be starring, and that the film would feature the music of the late singer George Michael, including Last Christmas and previously unreleased tracks. By late November, Michelle Yeoh and Peter Serafinowicz were cast. At the same time, principal photography commenced, and wrapped in February 2019. In late October, Thompson and Wise published a collection of personal essays about the meaning of Christmas in a book also called Last Christmas. Contributors include Andy Serkis, Caitlin Moran, Olivia Colman and Emily Watson. The proceeds from the book went to two charities, Crisis and The Refugee Council.

The film stars Clarke, Golding, Yeoh, Thompson, and Serafinowicz. The film contains a toasty, star-packed cast that's going to make a lot of holiday romantics feel very, very good; watching it; I felt a little cozy and charmed myself. Although, it is disturbing to see Clarke's range and subtlety so shamelessly trashed, and to see Thompson's intelligence similarly abused.

Last Christmas is a sugary tale overstuffed with too many cliches. Still, the cast charms. The film is a roundly entertaining romantic comedy, a doggedly cheery confection, and a package that feels as luxuriously appointed and expertly tooled as a Rolls-Royce. Its cheeky wit, impossibly attractive cast, and sure-handed professionalism, along with its all-encompassing romanticism should make this a highly popular early holiday attraction for loners anywhere. The film loves British style, handicapped slightly by corny circumstance and populated by colorful neurotics. The film is a belly-flop into the sea of romantic comedy. It's only flaw is also a virtue: It's jammed with cliches, warmth and laughs, until at times Feig, Kimmings, and Thompson seem to be working from a checklist of obligatory movie love situations and doesn't want to leave anything out. It feels a little like a gourmet meal that turns into a hot-dog eating contest. Feig's cake of comedy, slathered in eye-candy icing and set mostly during Christmas, serves sundry slices of love - sad, sweet and silly—in all of their messy, often surprising, glory. A vibrant romantic comedy that's warm, bittersweet and hilarious. Prepare to be smitten.

Simon says Last Christmas receives:

Also, see my review for A Simple Favor.

Sunday, 10 November 2019

Film Review: "Doctor Sleep" (2019).

"The next chapter in The Shining story." This is Doctor Sleep. This horror film adapted and directed by Mike Flanagan, and based on the 2013 novel of the same name by Stephen King. It is a sequel to King's 1977 novel The Shining, and to Stanley Kubrick's 1980 film of the same name. Still irrevocably scarred by the trauma he endured as a child at the Overlook, Dan Torrance has fought to find some semblance of peace. But that peace is shattered when he encounters Abra, a courageous teenager with her own powerful extrasensory gift, known as the "shine." Instinctively recognizing that Dan shares her power, Abra has sought him out, desperate for his help against the merciless Rose the Hat and her followers, The True Knot, who feed off the shine of innocents in their quest for immortality. Forming an unlikely alliance, Dan and Abra engage in a brutal life-or-death battle with Rose. Abra's innocence and fearless embrace of her shine compel Dan to call upon his own powers as never before—at once facing his fears and reawakening the ghosts of the past.

In late 2013, shortly after its publication, Warner Bros. began developing a film adaptation of King's 2013 novel of the same name. In 2016, writer-producer Akiva Goldsman was hired to pen the script. In late 2017, after the release and box-office success of It, another King adaptation, led the studio to fast-track production of the film. In January 2018, Flanagan was hired to rewrite Goldsman's script and direct. Flanagan said that the film would try and reconcile the differences between King's novel and Kubrick's film. Flanagan had to convince King that, despite his own distaste for Kubrick's film, audiences were more familiar with that version, and largely preferred it to King's 1997 mini-series. As such, this film had to be a sequel to Kubrick's film and include some direct references to it. Flanagan ultimately received King's blessing. By September, Ewan McGregor, Rebecca Ferguson, Cliff Curtis, Carl Lumbly, Zahn McClarnon, Bruce Greenwood, Jacob Tremblay, Alex Essoe, Henry Thomas, and Kyliegh Curran were cast. Dan Stevens, Chris Evans, Matt Smith, Jeremy Renner, and John Cusack were considered for the role of Danny Torrance, and have met with the director for the lead role. McGregor was ultimately cast with King's blessing. At the same name, principal photography commenced, and wrapped in December. Filming took place in Atlanta, Georgia. Flanagan painstakingly recreated the sets of the Overlook hotel from blueprints acquired from Kubrick's estate.

Like the film itself, the cast gave terrific performances that paid great tribute/homages to both King's novel and Kubrick's film. McGregor made a terrific older Danny, and Ferguson was the perfect terrifying adversary.

Doctor Sleep struggles to escape from the shadow of Kubrick's horror masterpiece, but offers a terrifying adventure in a more straightforward voyage to the Overlook. It may not match the poetry and the mystery of Kubrick's film, but it does continue the story, and it offers sound, pragmatic explanations for many of the strange and visionary things in King's novel.

Simon says Doctor Sleep receives:

Also, see my reviews for Gerald's Game and The Shining: Extended Cut.