Tuesday, 7 September 2021

Film Review: "Untold: Breaking Point" (2021).

From the directors of Untold: Crimes & Penalties comes Untold: Breaking Point. This documentary film directed by Chapman and Maclain Way. Under pressure to continue a winning tradition in American tennis, Mardy Fish faced mental health challenges that changed his life on and off the court.

On December 9, 1981, the American former professional tennis player, Mardy Simpson Fish, was born. Fish is the son of a tennis teaching professional and a housewife, Tom and Sally Fish. At the age of two, he was hitting tennis balls from the baseline over the net. In 1997, Fish's family moved to Boca Prep in Boca Raton, Florida, for his junior and senior years of high school. He, Andy Roddick, and Jesse Levine all attended Boca Prep International School. During 1999, he lived with Roddick's family, and the two played on the same tennis and basketball teams. As a junior, Fish compiled a fifty eight–twenty five singles win/loss record (thirty two–nineteen in doubles), reaching as high as No. 14 in the world in 1999 (and No. 19 in doubles). In 2000, Fish turned professional at the age of eighteen. He spent his first few years as a pro playing in the Challenger and Futures circuits. In 2002, he earned his first title on the ATP Tour playing doubles in the U.S. Men's Clay Court Championships in Houston, Texas, with Roddick. Fish won six tournaments on the main ATP Tour and reached the final of four Masters Series events: Cincinnati in 2003 and 2010, Indian Wells in 2008, and Montreal in 2011. His best results at Grand Slam tournaments are reaching the quarterfinals of the 2007 Australian Open, the 2008 US Open, and the 2011 Wimbledon Championships. At the 2004 Summer Olympic Games, Fish reached the final in the men's singles, losing to Nicolás Massú. In April 2011, Fish overtook Roddick to become the American No. 1 in the ATP rankings, reaching a career-high singles ranking of world No. 7 in August 2011. He then played in the year-end tournament for the only time in his career. Fish went down in the second round of the 2012 Australian Open. He made it to the third round of Indian Wells, before being defeated. He reached the quarterfinals in Miami, but was defeated. Citing fatigue, he did not play any of the European clay-court season and withdrew from the 2012 French Open. What he did not tell the media until later is that immediately after his last match in Miami, he was taken to the hospital with severe cardiac arrhythmia. After the 2015 US Open, he retired. In January 2019, Fish replaced Jim Courier as captain of the United States Davis Cup team.

We think we all know the story of Mardy Fish, but the Untold entry on his life and career is still a valuable and insightful biopic. Breaking Point may not be a game-changing film but it shows that Netflix has potential to rival ESPN in the sports documentary department.

Simon says Untold: Breaking Point receives:

Also, see my review for Untold: Crimes & Penalties.

Tuesday, 31 August 2021

Film Review: "Untold: Crimes & Penalties" (2021).

From Netflix and the directors of Wild Wild Country comes Untold: Crimes & Penalties. This documentary film directed by Chapman and Maclain Way. They were the bad boys of hockey - a team bought by a man with mob ties, run by his seventeen-year-old son, and with a rep for being as violent as they were good.

On April 1, 2004, the Danbury Trashers were founded as an expansion team in the United Hockey League (UHL) by James Galante, a garbage disposal mogul, who paid a $500,000 franchise fee to the league. Galante purchased the franchising rights after seeing the enthusiasm for hockey in Danbury at his seventeen year old son A. J.'s high school games. He also wanted to give A. J. experience in how to manage a professional sports franchise, naming him president and General Manager. According to UHL commissioner Richard Brosal some around the league thought it was an April Fools' Day joke. After graduating high school Galante attended Manhattanville College while maintaining his organizational duties. The new team was named the Trashers, a reference to the elder Galante's main business, with the logo being designed by A. J.'s friends. The Trashers were to play in the Danbury Ice Arena, a seven hundred and fifty-seat ice rink, used for the local hockey leagues. As part of the franchising agreement the arena needed the maximum capacity expanded. Galante invested an additional $1.5 million to renovate the arena, turning it into a three-thousand seat facility. Galante brought in Garrett Burnett, Rumun Ndur, Brad Wingfield, Jim Duhart, Brent Gretzky, and Michael Rupp. For the goaltender Galante acquired Scott Stirling, and as for the coaches, Galante hired Todd Stirling and Bob Stearns. In their first season, the Trashers set a league record for penalty minutes. The season witnessed two separate brawls and multiple player suspensions. Danbury finished second in their division and were eliminated in the playoffs by eventual Colonial Cup champions, the Muskegon Fury. In their second year, the Trashers won the Eastern Division and reached the finals. Though they lost the championship, Danbury handed the Kalamazoo Wings their only loss of the playoffs. At the end of the team's second season, Galante was arrested on seventy-two various charges including conspiring to violate the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO). He pleaded guilty, was sentenced to eighty-seven months of imprisonment, and had to forfeit his ownership interests in twenty-five trash hauling companies. During the same time the Trashers disbanded, citing financial concerns, including travel costs.

We think we all know the story of the Danbury Trashers, but the Untold entry on their lives and career is still a valuable and insightful biopic. It was pure madness and there was plenty of blame to go around - but Crimes & Penalties does a journalistically sound job of putting events in perspective. Crimes & Penalties may not be a game-changing film but it shows that Netflix has potential to rival ESPN in the sports documentary department.

Simon says Untold: Crimes & Penalties receives:

Also, see my review for Wild Wild Country.

Sunday, 15 August 2021

Film Review: "Stillwater" (2021).

"Secrets run deep" in Stillwater. This crime drama film directed by Tom McCarthy and written by McCarthy, Marcus Hinchey, Thomas Bidegain and Noé Debré. The film follows an American oil-rig roughneck from Oklahoma who travels to Marseille to visit his estranged daughter, in prison for a murder she claims she did not commit. Confronted with language barriers, cultural differences, and a complicated legal system, Bill builds a new life for himself in France as he makes it his personal mission to exonerate his daughter.

In July 2019, it was announced that Matt Damon was set to star in a crime drama film loosely based on the Amanda Knox story penned and to be directed by McCarhy. By August, Abigail Breslin, Camille Cottin and Deanna Dunagan rounded out the film's cast. At the same time, principal photography commenced and took place throughout Oklahoma, USA and in Marseille, France. McCarthy explained in an interview how he and Matt Damon immersed themselves in the culture of Oklahoma oil "roughnecks" for the film. The film was previously scheduled for a November 6, 2020 release date, but it was later pulled from the schedule and delayed to July 30, 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The film stars Damon, Breslin, Cottin and Dunagan. It's those characters, and the performances given by the cast (especially Damon), who gave the rhythm to the story, they make the heart of the movie beat.

The film is a taut, pulse-pounding thriller. The all-star cast delivers realistic and transformative performances. The film is a nearly perfect example of what happens when the perfect filmmaker works with the perfect script and acquires the perfect cast and crew to bring a story to life. The film reminds us the relevance of truth in a society where the search for truth has been kidnapped by fallacies. The script is a marvel of conveying a dense amount of information and characterization with intelligence, grace, and a surprising amount of tension. For people who care about justice and the value of a just society, the film is a master class on how things should be done. The film has everything you need from a night at the movies - gripping, enlightening, shocking, distressing, triumphant. The film treats the subject of the investigation with the utmost respect and gives it the weight that it deserves. As a much-needed ode to the type of media coverage this country is desperately, painfully, ominously in need of, the film is an important film. Absorbing and understated, the film handles its complex subject matter with class, restraint and, vitally, balance. The film isn't the kind that just changes some facts; it's one where the most general plot summary contradicts what happened. It's clearly a salient story to tell, and the earnestness of the production makes it trundle along breezily enough to its predictable conclusion. The film reminds us all we should never take things at face value, our hearts should always search for the truth.

Simon says Stillwater receives:

Also, see my review for Timmy Failure: Mistakes Were Made.

Saturday, 14 August 2021

Film Review: "Evangelion: 3.0+1.0 Thrice Upon a Time" ("シン・エヴァンゲリオン劇場版:𝄂") (2021).

"Bye-bye, all of Evangelion." This is Evangelion: 3.0+1.0 Thrice Upon a Time (シン・エヴァンゲリオン劇場版:𝄂). This Japanese animated science fiction film co-directed by Hideaki Anno, Kazuya Tsurumaki, Katsuichi Nakayama and Mahiro Maeda, written by Anno and produced by Studio Khara. It is the fourth and final film in the Rebuild of Evangelion film series of the Neon Genesis Evangelion franchise. Misato and her anti-NERV group WILLE arrive at Paris, a city now red from core-ization. Crew from the flagship Wunder land on a containment tower. They only have seven hundred and twenty seconds to restore the city. When a horde of NERV Evas appear, Mari’s improved Eva 8 must intercept. Meanwhile, Shinji, Asuka and Rei wander about Japan.

In 2008, the film was announced as the fourth and final part of the Rebuild series under the working title Evangelion: Final. After delays of the first three films, the film was expected for a 2015 release date. However, Anno was very reluctant to return to work on the film. In 2014, Anno announced that due to other commitments, the film would be further delayed to an unknown date. In 2015, following the troubled production of the third film, Anno became depressed and stated publicly that he could not work on another film. As part of his recovery, Anno had also worked on Studio Ghibli's The Wind Rises (2013) and Toho's Godzilla reboot, Shin Godzilla (2016), which also contributed to the delay on the film. Financial reasons also played a part. In 2014, Anno's Studio Khara loaned his former company Studio Gainax one hundred million yen ($916,400). In 2016, Anno filed a claim for debt collection, fearing not only for the return of the money but also because of Gainax selling production materials to third parties, after a precedent of other sales of intellectual property without informing him. This was part of several legal issues surrounding Gainax and Evangelion. In late 2016, production on Evangelion resumed after the production of Shin Godzilla ended. After a formal apology, Takeshi Honda stated that the last film had resumed development. In early April 2017, Studio Khara tweeted that development was going smoothly. In May 2018, the studio put out a job listing for animation staff to work on 3DCG, VFX, and 2D animation starting in late June. By March 2019, Megumi Ogata, Yūko Miyamura, Kotono Mitsuishi, Fumihiko Tachiki, Megumi Hayashibara, Maaya Sakamoto, Yuriko Yamaguchi, Akira Ishida, Tomokazu Seki, Tetsuya Iwanaga, Junko Iwao, Miki Nagasawa, Kōki Uchiyama, Motomu Kiyokawa, Kōichi Yamadera, Ryunosuke Kamiki, Mariya Ise, Miyuki Sawashiro, Takehito Koyasu, Akio Otsuka, Anri Katsu, Hiro Yuuki and Sayaka Ohara were cast. In addition, dialogue for Parts A and B, set after AVANT, started recording. As there were several changes to the plot, many voice actors had to come back and record lines again. In 2020, due to the COVID-19 pandemic restrictions, production slowed down further and recording was mostly done by the voice actors separately as many dozens of takes were necessary, and they organized themselves through a Line group. This created a bond between the cast that was unprecedented in previous productions. At the end of recording, Anno thanked the cast for their contributions. By early October 2020, animation was going through the final check. In late November, dialogue recording wrapped. In mid December, Studio Khara announced that compositing and editing work had finished. In late 2019, the film was scheduled for a June 27, 2020 release date but received two delays due to concerns over the COVID-19 pandemic, first scheduled for a January 23, 2021 release date, before being released on March 8, 2021. Later, Amazon Prime Video acquired exclusive streaming rights to the film; it is scheduled for an August 13, 2021 international release date, excluding Japan. However, in late July 2021, Amazon Prime Video announced that it will also stream the film in Japan on the same day as its international release.

The film stars the voices talents of Ogata, Miyamura, Mitsuishi, Tachiki, Hayashibara, Sakamoto, Yamaguchi, Ishida, Seki, Iwanaga, Iwao, Nagasawa, Uchiyama, Kiyokawa, Yamadera, Kamiki, Ise, Sawashiro, Koyasu, Otsuka, Katsu, Yuuki and Ohara. Thanks to the performances given by the talented voice cast, this newest Evangelion installment just succeeds in engaging us with characters that we can root for.

If the previous films documents the process by which these characters are worn down to nothing, then this is what happens when they're reduced to exposed nerves. It's a Lynchian picture of the tormented mind, depression's figurative end of the world made literal. Nine years after the release of its predecessor, Evangelion remains one of the few franchises that covered depression well and, perhaps, is the strongest example in cinema. Perhaps one of the most nihilistic, avant-garde and devastating endings to an anime series ever conceived. It is the best and worst of everything that is Evangelion combined to create a finale that is unlike anything that had come before it. Best when it becomes a representation of anger, depression, embarrassment, and fear that rips apart animation from the guts and reassembles it according to a brand new set of rules. The film adapts the original story with new, cutting edge, CG-assisted animation that proves to be the pinnacle of the format thus far. Thankfully, all of these new bells and whistles haven't tarnished the story. This is mighty perplexing nerd kibble, its highfalutin' philosophical and psychological banter way too outlandish to seriously engage. Yet as a visceral experience, it's entrancing. However, the convoluted plot will make any neophyte more confused than a dog in space. Desiccated by its pretensions, it's freeze-dried melodrama. Nonetheless, it is an exhilarating adventure that offers compelling characters, a wonderfully imaginative story and dazzling special effects. Newbies might feel slightly perplexed, though. You don't have to be a giant Evangelion fan to enjoy the film, it asks whether it's possible to take on grown-up responsibilities and stay human at the same time. And the answer is as complicated as the mystery of the angels.

Simon says Evangelion: 3.0+1.0 Thrice Upon a Time (シン・エヴァンゲリオン劇場版:𝄂) receives:

Also, see my review for Shin Godzilla (シン・ゴジラ).

Friday, 13 August 2021

Film Review: "Free Guy" (2021).

"The world needed a hero. They got a guy" in Free Guy. This science fiction action comedy film directed by Shawn Levy and written by Matt Lieberman and Zak Penn. A bank teller who discovers he is actually a background player in an open-world video game, decides to become the hero of his own story... one he rewrites himself. Now in a world where there are no limits, he is determined to be the guy who saves his world his way... before it is too late.

The script was included in the 2016 Black List of "most liked" scripts. Levy originally read the script in 2016 but passed on it. Several years later, Levy was introduced to Reynolds by Hugh Jackman, a mutual friend, and the pair decided to work on the film after re-reading the script together. By mid May, Reynolds, Jodie Comer, Lil Rel Howery, Joe Keery, Taika Waititi were cast. At the same time, principal photography commenced and wrapped in late July. Filming took place throughout Massachusetts, USA. The film was originally scheduled for a July 3rd, 2020 release date but was delayed to December 11th, 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In early November 2020 the film was postponed indefinitely, before being rescheduled for May 21st, 2021. The film is now scheduled to release on August 13th, 2021.

The film stars Reynolds, Comer, Howery, Keery, Waititi. No characters, lead or supporting, feel fully drawn out or have complete arcs. The character development and emotional stakes may be undercooked, but it's such a thrill to watch a cast of this film's pedigree unrestrained and having fun.

While it won't blow you away with its plot, the film delivers enough fun and adventure to more than justify the price of admission. The setting of the film allows for some truly spectacular action set pieces and these are the strongest parts of the film. While the video game preoccupation is adequately and thoroughly visualized, the real world has plenty of missing details. It's a film to watch and enjoy once, but probably not to return to again and again. It's fixated on easter eggs and it's like an easter egg itself: shiny and pretty, inducing a brief sugar high, but ultimately hollow. While it's doubtful the film will ever occupy a sacred place in the pantheon of its influences and it occasionally struggles to evoke that same feeling you had watching one of the many films it channels. There are definitely seeds of an interesting premise here, but unfortunately, they degenerate into a bundle of clichés overloaded with pop culture allusions. If you're willing to enjoy the film superficially you'll have a good time. If you spend longer than five minutes thinking about it you'll consider it a crime against cinema. So in the end, my opinion on the film is that it was a fun ride that especially kids will love. But there are other films that are better. That's my story and I'm sticking to it.

Simon says Free Guy receives:

Also, see my review for Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb.

Friday, 6 August 2021

Film Review: "The Suicide Squad" (2021).

"They're dying to save the world" in The Suicide Squad. This superhero film written and directed by James Gunn and based on the DC Comics team Suicide Squad. It is a standalone sequel to Suicide Squad (2016) and the tenth film in the DC Extended Universe (DCEU). Supervillains Harley Quinn, Bloodsport, Peacemaker and a collection of nutty cons at Belle Reve prison join the super-secret, super-shady Task Force X as they are dropped off at the remote, enemy-infused island of Corto Maltese.

In March 2016, despite the difficult production and eventual polarizing response, a sequel to Suicide Squad (2016) was expected with David Ayer and Will Smith expected to direct and star for a 2017 filming start after completing their work on Bright (2017). However, ultimately, Ayer left the project. By mid February 2017, Warner Bros. began searching for a new director for the sequel, and were considering Mel Gibson, Ruben Fleischer, Daniel Espinosa, Jonathan Levine, David S. Goyer and Guy Ritchie to direct the sequel. In March, Adam Cozad was hired to pen the script. In early July, Jaume Collet-Serra became the new frontrunner to direct, Zak Penn had pitched a new story treatment for the film to Warner Bros., and both Smith and Robbie were set to reprise their roles. However, later in July, Collet-Serra left the project to direct Jungle Cruise (2021). In August, it was announced that production was not expected to begin until Smith completed his work on Aladdin (2019) and Gemini Man (2019). In September, Gavin O'Connor was hired to direct and co-write the film with Anthony Tambakis. However, in early October, O'Connor left the project to direct The Way Back (2020). In October 2018, Gunn was hired to write and possibly direct. Warner Bros. had been interested in recruiting him for the DC Extended Universe (DCEU) immediately after his dismissal by Disney as director of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 (2023) for his old controversial tweets. The day after he was hired by Warner Bros., Disney decided to reinstate him as director of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3. In January 2019, the film was officially titled The Suicide Squad and was scheduled for release on August 6, 2021. In late February, Smith was revealed to no longer be in the film due to scheduling issues. By late September, it was announced that Margot Robbie, Joel Kinnaman, Viola Davis and Jai Courtney would reprise their roles, with Idris Elba, John Cena, Sylvester Stallone, Peter Capaldi, David Dastmalchian, Michael Rooker, Alice Braga, Pete Davidson, Nathan Fillion, Sean Gunn, Taika Waititi and Storm Reid as newcomers. At the same time, principal photography commenced and wrapped in late February 2020. Filming took place at Pinewood Atlanta Studios in Atlanta, Georgia, as well as Panama and Havana.

The characters are great and the movie is often very funny thanks to the talented cast who couldn't be more perfectly cast.

The film can be very emotionally affecting and disturbing, which might not suit everyone's tastes, but it's also an absorbing, entertaining and sometimes funny deviation from the usual superhero fodder.

Simon says The Suicide Squad receives:

Saturday, 31 July 2021

Film Review: "Jungle Cruise" (2021).

From the studio that brought you The Pirates of the Caribbean series comes Jungle Cruise. This period fantasy adventure film directed by Jaume Collet-Serra, written by Michael Green, Glenn Ficarra, and John Requa, and based on Walt Disney's theme park attraction of the same name. Intrepid researcher Dr. Lily Houghton travels from London, England to the Amazon jungle and enlists wisecracking skipper Frank Wolff's questionable services to guide her downriver on La Quila - his ramshackle-but-charming boat. Lily is determined to uncover an ancient tree with unparalleled healing abilities - possessing the power to change the future of medicine. Thrust on this epic quest together, the unlikely duo encounters innumerable dangers and supernatural forces, all lurking in the deceptive beauty of the lush rainforest. But as the secrets of the lost tree unfold, the stakes reach even higher for Lily and Frank and their fate - and mankind’s - hangs in the balance.

In September 2004, it was announced that a film loosely based on the Walt Disney theme park attraction would be developed for Mandeville Films, penned Josh Goldstein & John Norville. In February 2011, it was announced that Tom Hanks and Tim Allen would star in the long-gestating film from a new script penned by Roger S. H. Schulman. However, the film never progressed and entered into. development hell. In August 2015, it was announced that Walt Disney Pictures was redeveloping the film, with Dwayne Johnson attached to star and with Requa and Ficarra penning a new script. In April 2017, Johnson expressed his interest in having Patty Jenkins helm the project, but in July 2017, Collet-Serra was hired to direct. In January 2018, Emily Blunt was cast and Green was hired to rewrite the script, previously rewritten by Patrick McKay and J.D. Payne. By mid May 2018, Édgar Ramírez, Jack Whitehall, Jesse Plemons and Paul Giamatti rounded out the film's cast. At the same time, principal photography commenced and wrapped in mid September. Filming took place in Kaua'i, Hawaii and Atalanta, Georgia, USA. In late January 2019, it was announced that James Newton Howard was hired to compose the film's score. The film was initially slated for an October 11, 2019 release date before being moved to July 24, 2020, and was delayed to July 30, 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In early May 2021, Disney announced that the film would be released simultaneously in theaters and on Disney+ with Premier Access, with Deadline Hollywood reporting that after being given multiple options by Disney, the filmmakers made the decision to go with the simultaneous release due to the continued closure of theaters in markets like Brazil and Europe due to surges in COVID-19 cases.

It's Johnson and Blunt who both steal the show, creating swashbuckling personas so outrageously regaling it would single-handedly guarantee sequels.

Were it not for Johnson and Blunt's reassured character creations of a wisecracking skipper and an intrepid researcher, there would be nothing to relish in this overlong and witless waste of celluloid based on a Disneyland ride.

Simon says Jungle Cruise receives:

Also, see my review for The Commuter.