Sunday, 17 May 2020

Film Review: "Have a Good Trip: Adventures in Psychedelics" (2020).


From Netflix comes Have a Good Trip: Adventures in Psychedelics. This documentary film directed by Donick Cary. Explore hallucinogenic highs and lows a celebrities share funny, mind-blowing tales via animations, reenactments and more in this documentary. Mixing comedy with a thorough investigation of psychedelics, the film explores the pros, cons, science, history, future, pop cultural impact, and cosmic possibilities of hallucinogens.

Born on October 22, 1920, American psychologist and writer, Timothy Francis Leary, was born and would go on to become a polarising figure due to his strong advocacy for psychedelic drugs. As a clinical psychologist at Harvard University, Leary worked on the Harvard Psilocybin Project from 1960–62 (LSD and psilocybin were still legal in the United States at the time), resulting in the Concord Prison Experiment and the Marsh Chapel Experiment. Leary believed that LSD showed potential for therapeutic use in psychiatry. He used LSD himself and developed a philosophy of mind expansion and personal truth through LSD. The scientific legitimacy and ethics of his research were questioned by other Harvard faculty because he took psychedelics along with research subjects and pressured students to join in. Leary and his colleague, Richard Alpert (who later became known as Ram Dass), were fired from Harvard University in May 1963. Most people first heard of psychedelics after the Harvard scandal. After leaving Harvard, he continued to publicly promote the use of psychedelic drugs and became a well-known figure of the counterculture of the 1960s. He popularized catchphrases that promoted his philosophy, such as "turn on, tune in, drop out", "set and setting", and "think for yourself and question authority". He also wrote and spoke frequently about transhumanist concepts of space migration, intelligence increase, and life extension (SMI²LE). Leary developed the eight-circuit model of consciousness in his book Exo-Psychology (1977) and gave lectures, occasionally billing himself as a "performing philosopher". Opinions of Leary are polarized, ranging from bold oracle to publicity hound. Allen Ginsberg called Leary "a hero of American consciousness." Where as President Richard Nixon described Leary as "the most dangerous man in America". During the 1960s and 1970s, he was arrested often enough to see the inside of thirty-six prisons worldwide.

The film aims to entertain, not educate, as it presents a star-studded parade of celebrity reminiscences about taking hallucinogenic drugs. Mostly, it succeeds. However, listening to celebrities recount their dreams, these anecdotes primarily give the impression that you had to be there (and in that state of mind) to get it. Although the result is mildly amusing, it emanates the distinctive odor of a project that's funnier for the participants than the viewers. Anyone hoping Cary's film might lead to the wider, weirder history of the subject matter - the CIA, youth culture, so on - will be disappointed. Don't come to the film looking for answers, or even much information about psychedelics. But it is a friendly, entertaining and likeably brief collection of yarns and recollections. If nothing else, the film recenters this weirdness in our current reconception of psychedelia.

Simon says Have a Good Trip: Adventures in Psychedelics receives:


Thursday, 14 May 2020

Film Review: "Natalie Wood: What Remains Behind" (2020)


"The greatest roles of her life were behind the scenes." This is Natalie Wood: What Remains Behind. This documentary film directed by Laurent Bouzereau. The film explores Wood’s life and career through the unique perspective of her daughter, Natasha Gregson Wagner, and others who knew her best. The film features previously unseen home movies, photographs, diaries, letters and artifacts, as well as intimate interviews with her friends, family, co-stars and colleagues; re-examining her personal and professional triumphs and challenges, which have often been overshadowed by her tragic death at age forty-three.

On July 20, 1938, Natalie Wood was born Natalia Nikolaevna Zakharenko in San Francisco, California. The Russian-American began acting in films at age four and was given a co-starring role at age eight in Miracle on 34th Street (1947). As a teenager, she earned a nomination for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for her performance in Rebel Without a Cause (1955), followed by a role in John Ford's The Searchers (1956). Wood starred in the musical films West Side Story (1961) and Gypsy (1962), and she received nominations for the Academy Award for Best Actress for her performances in Splendor in the Grass (1961) and Love with the Proper Stranger (1963). Her career continued with films such as Sex and the Single Girl (1964), Inside Daisy Clover (1964), and Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice (1969). During the 1970s, Wood began a hiatus from film and had a child with husband Robert Wagner, whom she had previously married and divorced. Wagner and Wood remarried after she divorced her second husband. She appeared in only three films throughout the decade, but did act in several television productions, including a remake of the film From Here to Eternity (1979) for which she received a Golden Globe Award. Wood's films represented a "coming of age" for her and for Hollywood films in general.

Critics have suggested that her cinematic career represents a portrait of modern American womanhood in transition, as she was one of the few to take both child roles and those of middle-aged characters. On November 29, 1981, at the age of forty-three, Wood drowned off Catalina Island. The events surrounding her death have been explained by conflicting witness statements, prompting the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department, under the instruction of the coroner's office, to list her cause of death as "drowning and other undetermined factors" in 2012. In 2018, Wagner was named as a person of interest in the ongoing investigation into her death.

A stimulating, entertaining and vast documentary in the exploration of a legendary Hollywood star. As informative and captivating as all the material on display here is, it rushes by far too quickly. This could be seen as a positive: so engrossing is the film that you won't believe how quickly it's over. Natalie Wood: What Remains Behind is, in the end, a compelling examination of Natalie Wood - her on-screen persona, her personal life, and her legacy.

Simon says Natalie Wood: What Remains Behind receives:



Also, see my review for Five Came Back.

Wednesday, 13 May 2020

Film Review: "Capone" (2020).


"We all pay for our crimes in the end." This is true for Capone. This biographical film written, directed and edited by Josh Trank. A ruthless businessman and bootlegger who ruled Chicago with an iron fist, Al Capone was the most infamous and feared gangster of American lore. At the age of 47, following nearly a decade of imprisonment, dementia rots Capone’s mind and his past becomes present as harrowing memories of his violent and brutal origins melt into his waking life.

After the critical and commercial failure of Fantastic Four (2015), Trank, in an interview with The New York Times, recalled that he "went from my phone ringing all day and getting emails", after the success of Chronicle (2012), "to just dead silence in a really jarring way. I was left with a lot of confusion, and I felt really numb. I sat still outside, chain-smoking cigarettes for a good two months without speaking to anybody. At some point during my internal meditative state, I started to think about the story I knew from years of reading about Al Capone. I kept thinking about Capone at the end of his life, sitting outside, smoking a cigar, not knowing what’s going on, dying from syphilitic dementia. It was a place that I went to in my head to reconcile with the things that I was feeling." In October 2016, the film, originally entitled Fonzo, was announced with Trank as writer, director and editor and with Tom Hardy to star as the infamous Chicago gangster. Filming was initially eyed to begin in the summer of 2017, with Hardy stating it would be released sometime in 2018. However, in 2017, Hardy instead ended up filming Venom (2018). By March 2018, Hardy announced that Fonzo would be his next project. In addition, Linda Cardellini, Matt Dillon, Kyle MacLachlan, Al Sapienza, Kathrine Narducci, Noel Fisher, and Jack Lowden rounded out the film's cast. At the same time, with a budget of $20.6 million, principal photography commenced, and wrapped in mid May. Filming took place in New Orleans, Louisiana, and was shot in the 2.35:1 aspect ratio. In late April, The Run The Jewels MC/producer El-P was hired to compose the film's score. In mid April 2020, the trailer for the film was released with its new title, Capone. The film was originally intended to have a theatrical release, however it was eventually released on VOD due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The film stars Hardy, Cardellini, Dillon, MacLachlan, Sapienza, Narducci, Fisher, and Lowden. The cast's performances are highly accomplished. Hardy is startlingly off-kilter, his performance a veritable textbook example of deranged.

Capone may be a beautifully structured and well-acted movie, but it certainly's isn't an easy film to watch. Still, if you like horror movies, this one will keep you on the edge of your seat, albeit squirming every minute. It is not a fun or particularly upbeat film, but it does grab you by the collar and it sucks you right into the screen.

Simon says Capone receives:



Also, see my review for Fantastic Four (2015).

Sunday, 26 April 2020

Film Review: "The Turning" (2020).


"Keep an eye on the children" in The Turning. This supernatural horror film directed by Floria Sigismondi, adapted by Carey and Chad Hayes, and based on the 1898 horror novella The Turn of the Screw by Henry James. Kate Mandell takes a job as a nanny for two young orphans at an isolated Gothic mansion in the Maine countryside. She soon learns that the children - Miles and Flora - are emotionally distant and unstable. When strange events start to plague Kate and the siblings, she begins to suspect that the estate's dark corridors are home to a malevolent entity.

In early March 2016, a modern film adaptation of James' 1898 horror literary classic, then entitled Haunted, first entered development as a passion project for Steven Spielberg as he wanted to be involved in a horror film again. Ultimately, Spielberg backed out as director and remained as an executive producer instead. Ultimately, Juan Carlos Fresnadillo was hired to direct, with a script penned by the Hayes Brothers. By August, Alfre Woodard and Rose Leslie were cast. In late September, five weeks before filming was set to begin, Spielberg personally pulled the plug on the project because Scott Z. Burns' page-one rewrite caused seismic changes in the story's fabric, altering characters, action, and even the title, and it no longer resembled the project the studio had signed on to make. Spielberg and DreamWorks decided the best course of action was to fire Fresnadillo and Burns, and resume using Hayes' original script, looking to start fresh development with a new director despite $5 million having been spent of the $17 million budget. In late August 2017, Deadline reported that Amblin Entertainment had set Floria Sigismondi to direct the film, now entitled The Turning, with a new draft rewritten by Jade Bartlett. Production was expected to start in early 2018. By mid February, Mackenzie Davis, Finn Wolfhard, Brooklynn Prince, Joely Richardson, Barbara Marten, Niall Greig Fulton, and Denna Thomsen were cast. At the same time, principal photography finally commenced, and wrapped in early April. Filming took place at Killruddery House in County Wicklow, Ireland. Universal Pictures had originally scheduled the film for a February 22, 2019 release date. However, in September, the film was moved back to January 24, 2020.

The film stars Davis, Wolfhard, Prince, Richardson, Marten, Fulton, and Thomsen. Looking terrified and insane is really all that's required in the Hayes Brother's inane script. The cast are basically helpless with this.

When you're not yawning at the digital ghosts, you're watching a cast of fine actors dogpaddling in cliches and terrible dialogue. The people who made this movie forgot one simple rule of horror: It is what we don't know, and what we cannot see that leaves us quaking in our boots. Most of the blame for this butchery goes to Sigismondi, who shows less interest in relating a simple haunted-house story than in engineering a theme-park ride of pure overkill. This all-flash, no-substance--and no scare--thriller is a textbook example of soulless, money-burning Hollywood hype products.

Simon says The Turning receives:


Film Review: "Extraction" (2020).


From the Russo Brothers, directors of Avengers: Endgame, comes Extraction. This action-thriller film directed by Sam Hargrave, in his feature debut, adapted by Joe Russo, and based on the graphic novel Ciudad by Ande Parks, Fernando León González, Eric Skillman, Russo and his brother Anthony Russo. Tyler Rake is a fearless black market mercenary with nothing left to lose when his skills are solicited to rescue the kidnapped son of an imprisoned international crime lord, but, in the murky underworld of weapons dealers and drug traffickers, an already deadly mission approaches the impossible, forever altering the lives of Rake and the boy.

In late August 2018, it was announced that Hargrave would direct Dhaka written by Joe Russo with Chris Hemsworth was set to star. In November 2018, Randeep Hooda, Golshifteh Farahani, David Harbour, Pankaj Tripathi, Priyanshu Painyuli, and Rudhraksh Jaiswal rounded out the film's cast. At the same time, principal photography commenced, and wrapped in March 2019. Filming took place in Ahmedabad and Mumbai, India; as well as Ban Pong and Ratchaburi, Thailand under the new working title Out of the Fire. In late February 2020, the film's title was finally revealed to be Extraction.

The film stars Hemsworth, Hooda, Farahani, Harbour, Tripathi, Painyuli, and Jaiswal. The cast get to make vivid impressions, but of course it's Hemsworth who must carry this swiftly paced picture. As rugged as ever and attractively weathered, he does so with ease. The dialogue between the cast and Hemsworth's entertaining performance make this action worth seeing.

A slightly underwhelming action thriller derivative of the great Escape from New York. But not without its cheesy only-in-the-1980s charm. The film is too preposterous to be a good one. But in keeping with its title, it does provide a couple of hours of entertaining escapism. Hargrave's debut feature isn't smart, it doesn't have anything to say about the human condition and it never takes itself remotely seriously, but none of that matters with a film this much fun. Hargrave's vision of modern Dhaka, Bangladesh is a go-for-broke action extravaganza that satirizes the genre at the same time it's exploiting it. Not exactly the movie that would rescue Hargrave's sagging career, but it makes for an entertaining Saturday matinee show nonetheless. Intermittently clever ideas are rarely executed to full effect, but the film moves reasonably well on its way to surround-sound pyrotechnics amid a climactic aerial attack. An adrenaline fuelled amalgamation of frantic thrill-per-minute action with the claustrophobic tension of a modern action thriller. They don't make 'em like this anymore, except when they do and you remember why they stopped. Daft, but broadly enjoyable if you're in a charitable mood. Lean, fun, and always equipped with a one-liner, the film is refreshingly free of the bull**** that plagues so many genre films. It is a film derivative of several notable genre classics, but the film does offer some entertainment value. Nothing in this Russo Brothers-produced Netflix-filler is at all novel or particularly well-orchestrated, so it's down to an enjoyably sarcastic script to come to its rescue.

Simon says Extraction receives:


Sunday, 19 April 2020

Series Review: "Devs" (2020).


From the writer and director of Ex Machina and Annihilation comes Devs. This science fiction thriller television miniseries created, written, and directed by Alex Garland. A young software engineer, Lily Chan, investigates the secret development division of her employer, a cutting-edge tech company based in Silicon Valley, which she believes is behind the murder of her boyfriend.

In mid March 2018, the series was announced with Garland as creator, writer and director, and that FX had given the production a pilot order. In early August, during the Television Critics Association's annual summer press tour, FX announced that they had decided to bypass the pilot process and instead were giving the production a straight-to-series order consisting of eight episodes. By August, Sonoya Mizuno, Nick Offerman, Zach Grenier, Stephen McKinley Henderson, Cailee Spaeny, Karl Glusman, Alison Pill, Linnea Berthelsen, and Jefferson Hall were cast. At the same time, principal photography commenced, and filming took place in Marin County, Santa Cruz, and San Francisco, California, as well as London, Manchester, and Cumbria, England. In November 2019, it was announced the show would premiere on Hulu instead of FX, as part of "FX on Hulu". In early January 2020, it was announced that the series would premiere on March 5, 2020.

The series stars Mizuno, Offerman, Grenier, Henderson, Spaeny, Glusman, Pill, Berthelsen, and Hall. Excellent performances from the cast elevate this compelling material even further. The cast, especially Mizuno and Offerman, are equally effective at conveying the ethical perils posed by a future that could be closer than we are prepared to admit. Mizuno's ability to give her character an emotional edge is a major reason why this works - asking the audience to invest in her journey.

What's amazing about Devs is Garland's precise control over the audience both visually and through a singularly perfect script. The characters and the audience are both captive, processing the slightest information as fast as they can. Beautifully told, stunning with occasional outbursts of humour, it will leave you reeling. Garland's finest achievement may be his old-fashioned faith in science-fiction as an engine for profound parables about the state of humanity. It is a smart, slow-burning and fascinating sci-fi thriller that deals with themes of humanity and morality against a truly luscious backdrop. There are many questions raised in this enthralling psychological drama that begins with a meteor strike, a shimmer and a secret mission to a terrifying but wondrous world where astonishing possibilities are on display. Don't miss it! Absorbing and hypnotic, it is the best kind of sci-fi series - the kind that challenges and subverts the genre, all the while introducing new ideas that you'll see in films to come. It's certain that the astonishing special effects would have worked better on a larger cinema screen, and it's a shame to lose their impact. It is a smart and intelligent series. It's super ambitious and maybe a bit tedious. The movie requires patience and at times gets a bit too showy.

Simon says Devs receives:



Also, see my review for Annihilation.

Sunday, 12 April 2020

Film Review: "Tigertail" (2020).


From Netflix comes Tigertail. This drama film written and directed by Alan Yang. In this poignant multi-generational drama, Pin-Jui is a free-spirited yet impoverished young Taiwanese factory worker, who makes the difficult decision to leave his homeland - and the woman he loves - behind in order to seek better opportunities in America. But years of monotonous work and an arranged marriage devoid of love or compassion leave an older Pin-Jui a shadow of his former self. Unable to sympathize with his daughter Angela and at risk of living out his retirement in solitude, Pin-Jui must reconnect with his past in order to finally build the life he once dreamed of having.

In May 2018, it was revealed that Yang would write and direct a Taiwanese American drama film for Netflix. By late August, Tzi Ma, Joan Chen, Hong Chi-Lee, Yo-Hsing Fang, Fiona Fu, Kunjue Li, Christine Ko, Hayden Szeto, Margot Bingham, Yang Kuei-mei, and John Cho were cast. At the same time, principal photography commenced, and took place throughout New York and Taiwan. All of the flashback scenes were shot on film with the Arricam LT camera with Panavision G-Series and Zeiss Super Speed Lenses, while all the present day scenes were shot on digital.

The film stars Tzi Ma, Joan Chen, Hong Chi-Lee, Yo-Hsing Fang, Fiona Fu, Kunjue Li, Christine Ko, Hayden Szeto, Margot Bingham, and Yang Kuei-mei. So well-acted, you felt it. I thought it was a really, really solid movie, and I was very surprised by it. Yang and his fine ensemble of actors will soon enfold you in a journey of delightful twists and turns. And in the end, a romance you'll long remember. What makes a movie like this work is how much you care for the characters, and each one here is very well-drawn and fully dimensional. Playing a character who allows endless opportunities to speak his heart pass her by, Ma displays his full heartbreaking range dealing with the worst situation imaginable.

A richly textured drama about the tensions across two generations of a Taiwanese family, Tigertail typifies the filial focus of Yang. A wise and touching piece that matches the films of Wong Kar-wai and Ang Lee in its depiction of character and family dynamics as a source of human examination. The film is seasoned with humor and has a brisk pace. It's pleasing to the eye and stocked with zesty performances all the way around. This is a startlingly superior piece of craftsmanship, with the flavour of life and richness of the script conveyed via uniformly wonderful performances. The film is tender without being mushy, sweet without being syrupy -- and surprising in ways that can only make you feel moved. The film wins fans with its serious disposition as it turns a contemporary story about unrequited love into a deft Confucius farce and humanist drama. What the film isolates so incisively is a sense of cultural melancholia specific to the immigrant experience, a mourning for something lost in the process of existing between worlds.

Simon says Tigertail receives: