Saturday, 22 January 2022

Film Review: "Spencer" (2021).


"Every fairy tale ends" in Spencer. This biographical drama film directed by Pablo Larraín and written by Steven Knight. The marriage of Princess Diana and Prince Charles has long since grown cold. Though rumors of affairs and a divorce abound, peace is ordained for the Christmas festivities at the Queen’s Sandringham Estate. There's eating and drinking, shooting and hunting. Diana knows the game. But this year, things will be profoundly different.

In mid June 2020, it was announced that Larraín would direct a film, inspired by Princess Diana's decision to end her marriage to Prince Charles and leave the British royal family, with Kristen Stewart to star as Princess Diana. Later that month, it was reported that Neon had acquired the rights to distribute the film in the United States in a deal worth more than $4 million. By late January 2021, Timothy Spall, Sean Harris, Sally Hawkins, Richard Sammel and Amy Manson rounded out the film's cast. At the same time, principal photography commenced and wrapped in late April. Filming took place throughout Germany and at Sandringham House, Sandringham, Norfolk, England. Prior to filming, Stewart trained for six months to perfect her accent. Moreover, Larraín had Stewart watch Gena Rowlands' performance in A Woman Under the Influence (1974) to prepare for her role. Additionally, Stewart watched The Crown (2016-Present) to prepare her role.

The film stars Stewart, Spall, Harris, Hawkins, Sammel and Manson. Stewart delivers a tremendous performance in a movie that marches to its own beat without ever taking its eye off the ball. Stewart is so incredibly Diana it's tough to imagine anyone else in the role. We are facing a historical film that will be remembered forever as the admirable biopic in which Stewart did justice to the legend of Princess Diana.

A visually-stunning and emotionally-moving film, but the people of color in this film were used as background and not one had a speaking role. The film is a stunning profile of an iconic British woman's personal fortitude at a time of extreme grief. The film is beautifully crafted and Stewart's performance is superb. The film isn't just a convincing and riveting depiction of a 21st century icon; it's also a heart-rending portrait of a troubled woman trying to regain control when the life she knows is suddenly and cruelly being twisted. Larrain and Stewart seem to pull off the impossible in Jackie: to make an incredible internal film about the importance of grandeur. The film is one about the legacy of Diana but it's also a part of it. It's as beautifully and evidently staged as the tour the Princess herself gave on primetime television. Perfectly timed for interesting political times, the film is about as heartbreaking a portrayal of Princess Diana's history and legacy as you could imagine. The director took a very minimalist approach resulting in a film that feels deeply intimate and personal. Larraín's second English-language feature, the battle between privacy and public expectation is at the heart of this staggering movie.

Simon says Spencer receives:



Also, see my review for Lisey's Story.

Friday, 21 January 2022

Film Review: "Belle" ("竜とそばかすの姫") (2021).


From the director of Mirai (未来のミライ) comes Belle (竜とそばかすの姫). This Japanese animated science fantasy film written and directed by Mamoru Hosoda and produced by Studio Chizu. It is inspired by the 1756 French fairy tale Beauty and the Beast by Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont. Suzu, is a seventeen-year old high school girl, who lives in the countryside of Kochi Prefecture with her father, after losing her mother at a young age. She loves singing with her mother more than anything else, but as a result of her mother’s death was no longer able to sing. It wasn’t long before she and her father grew more and more distant from each other, and Suzu closed her heart to the rest of the world. When Suzu felt that writing music was her only purpose left in life, she then discovers the massive online space known as "U," where she takes on her persona, Belle. Suzu quickly realizes that when she is inside "U" as her avatar, Belle, she can sing quite naturally. As she continues to showcase her own music in the virtual world, she fast becomes the rising star of "U." Nonetheless, that surprise is short-lived. Suddenly, a mysterious dragon-shaped creature appears before her…

Hosoda initially intended for Belle to be a musical, but considered the idea difficult due to Japan not having a culture of making musicals. However, he still wanted music to be central to the film, so he searched for a protagonist that could sing. He stated that he preferred the same person doing both speaking and singing voices to make it convincing, and searched for a singer who could express their feelings though song and move people, even if they don't understand Japanese. He then found Kaho Nakamura, whom he considered relatively unknown, but a perfect choice for the role. Hosoda stated that Nakamura was also involved in writing lyrics, so she could feel the lyrics she was singing.

The film stars the voice talents of Kaho Nakamura, Takeru Satoh, Kōji Yakusho, Lilas Ikuta, Ryō Narita, Shōta Sometani, Tina Tamashiro, Toshiyuki Morikawa, Fuyumi Sakamoto, Kenjiro Tsuda, Mami Koyama, Mamoru Miyano, Michiko Shimizu, Ryoko Moriyama, Sachiyo Nakao, Yoshimi Iwasaki, Sumi Shimamoto and Ken Ishiguro. Thanks to the strong performances given by the cast, the characters are entirely credible and likable, the simply drawn figures highly effective against the lush background artwork. The virtual world has rarely seemed so joyous.

The film reflects the passage of categories in search of universality without forgetting to leave a space for fantasy in the everyday. That's the Hosoda touch. An enjoyably trippy Japanese animated feature from director Mamoru Hosoda, the film combines real-world drama (school crushes, testy relatives) with virtual-world dramatics. I didn't know everything about all of the previous incarnations and/or source materials, but I flat-out love this movie. It's "deliberately paced" rather than slow, and beautiful rather than flashy.

Simon says Belle (竜とそばかすの姫) receives:



Also, see my review for Mirai (未来のミライ).

Thursday, 20 January 2022

Film Review: "Nightmare Alley" (2021).


From the director of The Shape of Water comes Nightmare Alley. This neo-noir psychological thriller film directed by Guillermo del Toro, adapted by del Toro and Kim Morgan, and based on the 1946 novel of the same title by William Lindsay Gresham. An ambitious carny with a talent for manipulating people with a few well-chosen words hooks up with a female psychiatrist who is even more dangerous than he is.

In December 2017, del Toro revealed that he would be attached to write and direct a new film adaptation of Gresham's novel. The film marks a departure for del Toro, as it contains no "supernatural" elements, as opposed to his previous films. Del Toro considered this to be a new standalone adaptation of Gresham's novel, as opposed to a remake of the 1947 film version. In April 2019, Leonardo DiCaprio entered negotiations to star in the film. However, DiCaprio opted out when negotiations fell through due to not reaching a financial agreement. In June 2019, Bradley Cooper entered early negotiations to replace DiCaprio. By mid September, Cate Blanchett, Toni Collette, Willem Dafoe, Richard Jenkins, Rooney Mara, Ron Perlman, Mary Steenburgen, David Strathairn, Holt McCallany, Clifton Collins Jr., Tim Blake Nelson and Jim Beaver rounded out the cast. At the same time, principal photography commenced and wrapped in early December. Filming took place in Toronto, Ontario, Canada and Buffalo, New York. In March 2020, Del Toro himself shut down production on the film after rising concerns regarding the COVID-19 pandemic. Production resumed in September. The film was originally scheduled for a December 3, 2021 release date, but was rescheduled to December 17, 2021.

The film stars Cooper, Blanchett, Collette, Dafoe, Jenkins, Mara, Perlman, Steenburgen, Strathairn, McCallany, Collins Jr., Nelson and Beaver. Cooper delivers a terrific performance as a natural conman whose charming veneer shatters as we're introduced to his ever-escalating schemes in the most brutal fashion. Cooper's commitment to such a morally detestable character displays a fearlessness that is rarely seen in cinema today.

Horror Maestro, Del Toro, has got closer than most to the bleak spirit of his film's source - Gresham's 1946 novel. No mean feat. The film's depth of darkness and amorality that grips. Definitely not for all, especially those easily disturbed by sheer, raw violence. Del Toro is all about commentary and debate and this vicious character study attempts to strip away the fable of the American dream. Fascinating, but not for the squeamish. This is compelling and challenging cinema, punctuated with genuinely shocking moments, by a director and a cast of actors who are right at the top of their game. Sometimes works, sometimes scores a near-hit and sometimes doesn't work at all, but is invariably fascinating throughout. Like much of Del Toro's genre-hopping, this venture into film noir fits him surprisingly well the first time he slips it on; though it could still do with a few alterations. If in the end it doesn't fully capture the malignant brilliance of its source...there's enough Gresham in it to make Stan Carlisle a guy worth spending a couple of hours with.

Simon says Nightmare Alley receives:



Also, see my review for The Shape of Water.

Friday, 14 January 2022

Film Review: "The Tragedy of Macbeth" (2021).


From the director of No Country for Old Men and The Ballad of Buster Scruggs comes The Tragedy of Macbeth. This historical thriller film adapted and directed by Joel Coen and based on the play Macbeth by William Shakespeare. A Scottish lord becomes convinced by a trio of witches that he will become the next King of Scotland. His ambitious wife will do anything to support him in his plans of seizing power.

In March 2019, it was announced that Joel Coen, in a rare solo effort, was set to write and direct a new take on Shakespeare's classic play. By early February 2020, Denzel Washington, Frances McDormand, Corey Hawkins, Brendan Gleeson, Harry Melling, Moses Ingram, Ralph Ineson and Stephen Root were cast. At the same time, principal photography commenced and wrapped in late July. Filming took place in Los Angeles, California. In late March, filming had been halted due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and resumed in late July. In April, Coen announced that the film will officially be titled The Tragedy of Macbeth. The film was shot in black-and-white.

The fim stars Washington, McDormand, Hawkins, Gleeson, Melling, Ingram, Ineson and Root. The film presents powerhouse performances, especially from Washington as the troubled Prince and McDormand as the devious Princess. Washington has all the makings of a terrific Macbeth - the intensity, the towering melancholy, the warrior attitude and physique - and he duly delivers, as does McDormand as his partner in medieval crime.

Joel Coen's effort with Macbeth should be honored. The merits are obvious. But his film has great moments which repay a visit. The graphic intensity of Coen's black-and-white film of one of Shakespeare's legendary plays, then, isn't merely for show, but a carefully considered symbolist staging for screen, meant to complement the Bard's immortal poetry. There is force in this rough, hasty rendering; the sheer speed of the pacing gives it a quality of crushing delirium. A familiar story in a more traditional setting, but still manages to bring forth a new, bolder version of Macbeth that Michael Fassbender does a brilliant job delivering. Even if it stumbles somewhat over its historical appreciation of Shakespeare's drama, this Macbeth, at its best, conveys a genuine sense of the corruption and barbarism of our own times. What catches the attention in the film is how it can become extremely theatrical and, at the same time, imposingly cinematic. Performance, setting, look, and sound successfully come together to generate the drama and monumental scale required of Coen to do justice to Shakespeare's work. One cannot fault the outstanding cinematic style of this Macbeth, which succeeds admirably in creating mood. Coen have adapted Shakespeare's text intelligently and agree or disagree with their various elisions and interpretations, it is good to see the boldness of their decisions. Fashioning an aesthetic which is both highly stylised and naturalistic, Coen crafts a rich banquet of a film (intended!). One of the director's most personal creations, it's a courageous experiment with a craggy barbaric splendor all its own.

Simon says The Tragedy of Macbeth receives:



Also, see my review for The Ballad of Buster Scruggs.

Wednesday, 12 January 2022

Film Review: "Scream" (2022).


"It's Always Someone You Know". This is Scream. This slasher film directed by Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett, written by James Vanderbilt and Guy Busick, and based on the characters created by Kevin Williamson. Though billed as a relaunch of the franchise, the film is a direct sequel to 2011's Scream 4 and serves as the fifth installment of the Scream film series. Twenty-five years after a streak of brutal murders shocked the quiet town of Woodsboro, a new killer has donned the Ghostface mask and begins targeting a group of teenagers to resurrect secrets from the town's deadly past.

In 2011, before the release of Scream 4, Wes Craven confirmed he was contracted to work on a fifth and sixth installment, if the fourth film was successful. Williamson also confirmed he had contractual obligations for Scream 4Scream 5 and Scream 6. In May 2011, after the release of the fourth film, Harvey Weinstein confirmed that a sequel was possible as he was happy with the fourth film's box office gross. However, in February 2012, Williamson stated at the time that he did not know if it would be made. In late June 2015, Weinstein firmly denied the possibility of a fifth installment or any further continuation of the film franchise. Following Craven's death on August 30, 2015, and the closure of The Weinstein Company in the wake of numerous sexual misconduct allegations against Harvey Weinstein, the fate of the Scream franchise was in limbo. Until... in November 2019, Spyglass Media Group acquired the rights to make a new Scream film. It was unknown at the time if it would be a sequel, reboot, or remake, and that if Williamson would return. In December, it was announced that the film would feature a new cast but could possibly feature appearances from previous main cast members. In March 2020, it was announced that Bettinelli-Olpin and Gillett were hired to direct the fifth film. In May, Vanderbilt and Busick were hired to pen the installment. In June, it was reported that the film was set to be distributed by Paramount Pictures and was initially aiming for a 2021 release date. By late September, Neve Campbell, David Arquette, Courteney Cox, Marley Shelton and Roger L. Jackson were confirmed to reprise their roles. Dylan Minnette, Jack Quaid, Jenna Ortega, Mikey Madison, Kyle Gallner, Jasmin Savoy Brown, Mason Gooding and Melissa Barrera rounded out the film's cast as newcomers. At the same time, principal photography commenced and wrapped in mid November. Filming took place in Wilmington, North Carolina. The production was originally scheduled to begin in May 2020, but was delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and thus delayed the film's release date to 2022. In late November, Williamson revealed that the film's official title is Scream.

Unexpectedly entertaining performances were given by the cast, both new and old. However, everybody is still a suspect and everybody is still a victim, but narrowing down our Ghostface has become easier than ever.

Despite being not as prescient as the original, the film is a marvelous return to form for the franchise with some razor-sharp commentary and thrilling bloodshed. Welcome back, Scream.

Simon says Scream receives:



Also, see my review for Ready or Not.

Friday, 7 January 2022

Film Review: "The King's Man" (2021).


From the director of Kingsman: The Secret Service and Kingsman: The Golden Circle comes The King's Man. This spy action film directed by Matthew Vaughn, written by Vaughn and Karl Gajdusek, and based on the comic book The Secret Service by Mark Millar and Dave Gibbons. It serves as a prequel to 2014's Kingsman: The Secret Service and is the third installment in the Kingsman film series. As a collection of history's worst tyrants and criminal masterminds gather to plot a war to wipe out millions, one man must race against time to stop them. Discover the origins of the very first independent intelligence agency in The King's Man.

In June 2018, Vaughn announced that a prequel film was in active development, stating that the plot would take place during the early 1900s and would depict the formation of the spy agency and that the project would film back-to-back with "the third regular Kingsman film" which was scheduled to be released in 2021. By late January 2019, Ralph Fiennes, Gemma Arterton, Rhys Ifans, Matthew Goode, Tom Hollander, Harris Dickinson, Daniel Brühl, Djimon Hounsou, Charles Dance, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Alexandra Maria Lara, Valerie Pachner, August Diehl, Stanley Tucci and David Kross were cast. At the same time, principal photography commenced and took place throughout the United Kingdom and Italy under the working title of The Great Game. The film was originally scheduled for a 8 November 2019 release date, but was pushed back first to 15 November 2019, then to 14 February 2020, and then to 18 September 2020. The release date was again pushed back by Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures to 26 February 2021, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Following the delay of Marvel Cinematic Universe: Phase Four films, the film was moved up two weeks to 12 February 2021, before being moved again to 12 March 2021. In January 2021, the release date was delayed again to 20 August 2021. In March 2021, it was further delayed to the December 2021 date.

The film stars Fiennes, Arterton, Ifans, Goode, Hollander, Dickinson, Brühl, Hounsou, Dance, Taylor-Johnson, Lara, Pachner, Diehl, Tucci and Kross. With a few too many villains and seemingly wasted big stars, the cast still puts a fun spin on the spy genre.

As Merlin once said, this is whiskey compared to single-malt scotch. It'll give you a slight buzz at times, but that doesn't mean it was distilled with enough time or care. Apparently, Vaughn is working on a third installment. At this point, I'm not sure whether to be excited or irritated by that. He's a good filmmaker, and he can absolutely do better than this. Think of a film like The Hangover and then remember how its unfunny sequels actually made the first part seem less funny in retrospect. If you enjoyed the first, then the film won't disappoint you. It's just as fun, even if its shiny shoes have been slightly scuffed. Overall, fans of the original will find more than enough to like here, and even casual moviegoers are likely to get a couple kicks from it.

Simon says The King's Man receives:



Also, see my review for The Kingsman: The Golden Circle.

Thursday, 6 January 2022

Film Review: "The Addams Family 2" (2021).


"Unhappy to see you again." This is The Addams Family 2. This computer-animated supernatural black comedy road film co-directed by Greg Tiernan, Conrad Vernon, Laura Brousseau and Kevin Pavlovic, written by Dan Hernandez, Benji Samit, Ben Queen, and Susanna Fogel, and based on the characters created by Charles Addams. Morticia and Gomez are distraught that their children are growing up, skipping family dinners, and totally consumed with "scream time." To reclaim their bond they decide to cram Wednesday, Pugsley, Uncle Fester and the crew into their haunted camper and hit the road for one last miserable family vacation. Their adventure across America takes them out of their element and into hilarious run-ins with their iconic cousin, It, as well as many new kooky characters. What could possibly go wrong?

In mid October 2019, following the 2019 film's successful release, it was announced that a sequel to the film was scheduled for an October 22, 2021 theatrical release date, and that Tiernan and Vernon would return to direct the film. At the same time, most the original cast; Oscar Isaac, Charlize Theron, Chloë Grace Moretz, Nick Kroll, Bette Midler and Snoop Dogg, were confirmed to reprise their roles. However, Finn Wolfhard could not reprise his role due to his voice changing, so Javon Walton replaced him. Bill Hader, and Wallace Shawn rounded out the film's voice cast.

The film stars the voice talents of Isaac, Theron, Moretz, Kroll, Walton, Midler, Dogg, Hader, and Shawn. All the casting here, like the film itself, feels too marketing driven, and the latter is obviously an excuse for a bad hip-hop remix of the classic TV show theme song. However, the cast repeat some of the first film's favorite schtick without wearing out their welcome, and they sustain much more exuberance than a sequel might be expected to have.

Somehow, the new production fails to sustain the creepy, kooky, mysterious, spooky and altogether ooky visual sweep that held the first film together. Though this sequel probably has more creative energy than its predecessor, the constant stream of one-liners and sight gags is very much hit or miss. Like the first of the Addams chronicles, this is an essentially lazy movie, too often settling for easy gags and special effects that don't come to any really funny point. If you haven't yet seen the first film, rent that instead, or, better yet, go pick up a volume of the original Addams cartoons. A few sparkling performances and funny moments save this from being a complete waste of time, but it's not a promising way to start the Halloween movie season. We are left with a decent cutesy film that expands the Addams' universe, but does little to help it progress towards something greater or new. The film's simplistic and episodic plot put a major dampener on what could have been a welcome breath of fresh air for family animation. It has monsters doing/saying weird things and humans acting like huge jerks but when that's all you've got for ninety-three minutes, the novelty quickly wears thin.

Simon says The Addams Family 2 receives:



Also, see my reviews for The Addams Family.