Monday, 5 February 2018

Film Review: "The Cloverfield Paradox" (2018).



"The future unleashed every thing." This is thanks to The Cloverfield Paradox. This science fiction horror film directed by Julius Onah, written by Oren Uziel and Doug Jung, and produced by J. J. Abramss. It is the third installment in the Cloverfield franchise, following Cloverfield (2008) and 10 Cloverfield Lane (2016). Orbiting a planet on the brink of war, scientists test a device to solve an energy crisis, and end up face-to-face with a dark alternate reality.

In 2012, it was first announced that Paramount Pictures and Bad Robot Productions had acquired a spec script entitled God Particle by Oren Uziel, and to be directed by Julius Onah. The pick-up occurred around the same time that Paramount and Bad Robot bought the rights to The Celler, which ultimately became 10 Cloverfield Lane. When it was acquired, Abrams said the script had "the DNA" that made it a potential film in the Cloverfield universe. In March 2015, it was initially planned as part of Paramount’s low-budget InSurge distribution label, but was ultimately expanded as a Paramount-distributed film. In February 2016, the yet-named Cloverfield film was set for a planned February 2017 release date. However, the film faced several delays afterwards throughout production. By May, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, David Oyelowo, Elizabeth Debicki, Daniel Brühl, Chris O’Dowd, Zhang Ziyi, John Ortiz, and Aksel Hennie were announced as members of the cast. With a budget of $45 million, filming began in June and wrapped in September. The film was shot in Los Angeles, under the titles of God Particle and Clean Pass. During this time, Uziel was required to rewrite and shoot additional scenes to help the film connect to the Cloverfield universe, and due to negative test audience results. On February 4 2018, a surprise trailer aired during Super Bowl LII, revealing its title, on the same night it was to be released only a few hours after. Though specific details of Netflix's acquisition of distribution rights were not known, industry analysts believe Netflix's involvement helped to make an otherwise lackluster film profitable for Paramount, whereas a more traditional theatrical release would have ended in a loss.

The film stars Brühl, Debicki, Hennie, Mbatha-Raw, O'Dowd, Ortiz, Oyelowo, and Zhang. The cast gave performances that proved that they were at the top of their game, despite lacking solid characterizations. Mbatha-Raw was the only cast member given any true characterization, whilst others appeared as either archetypes or plot devices.

The Cloverfield Paradox does what it needs to do: make you sit and squirm and want very badly to know. It has the appeal of the suspense and science fiction pictures of the 1950s. There are a number of intense sequences all heightened by actors at the top of their game. It’s a decent film that shows what you can do with confident tension, editing, and a handful of shocking moments. Despite because Cloverfield being invoked in the title, and its unique marketing and publicity, it’s ultimately a dumb move and a lot of people expected a certain type of follow-up.

Simon says The Cloverfield Paradox receives:


Friday, 19 January 2018

Film Review: "Godzilla: Planet of the Monsters" ("ゴジラ: 怪獣惑星") (2017).



"Who will be extinct, Humanity or Godzilla?" This is the question asked in Godzilla: Planet of the Monsters (ゴジラ: 怪獣惑星). This Japanese computer-animated science fiction kaiju film co-directed by Kōbun Shizuno and Hiroyuki Seshita, written by Gen Urobuchi, produced by Toho Animation, and animated by Polygon Pictures. This is the 32nd film in the Godzilla franchise, the 30th Godzilla film produced by Toho, and the first animated film in the franchise. Years into the future and the human race has been defeated several times by the new ruling force of the planet: "kaijus". And the ruler of that force is Godzilla, The King of the Monsters. Humanity is in such defeat, plans to leave the planet have been made, and several people have been chosen to look at a new planet to see if it is inhabitable. Realizing it's not, though, the human race resorts to plan B: to defeat Godzilla and take back their planet.

In August 2016, Toho announced that an animated Godzilla film was being developed, targeted for a 2017 release. In addition, this will be the first entry in a trilogy, with the second and third installments tentatively scheduled for release in 2018. Ironically, it was originally envisioned as an anime series, but the success of Shin Godzilla's Japanese theatrical release convinced the creators to combine the narrative into a trilogy of movies and put them into cinemas in Japan. Gen Urobuchi, and Kobun Shizuno and Hiroyuki Seshita were announced as the writer, and co-directors, as well as Polygon Pictures providing the animation. In January 2017, Urobuchi announced the main cast on his twitter account, which included Mamoru Miyano, Takahiro Sakurai, Tomokazu Sugita, Junichi Suwabe, Kenta Miyake, Kana Hanazawa, Yūki Kaji, Daisuke Ono, Kenyu Horiuchi, Kazuya Nakai, and Kazuhiro Yamaji. In March 2017, Toho announced that the film would be the first film in a new trilogy. About the production, co-director Shizuno stated, "From the start, we had the blessing of Toho to not be constrained by previous entries in the franchise, and with the freedom of imagination offered by animation I feel we have come up with a cool new form for Godzilla." On Godzilla's new design, co-director Seshita stated, "With his masses of muscle fibers and unique body tissue to support his enormous bulk, this is an extraordinarily rugged-looking physique. It was an overwhelming presence that reverberated through the whole project, like a fearsome deity that even we who created it must prostrate ourselves before. That is our Godzilla."

For Godzilla: Planet of the Monsters, directors Shizuno and Seshita, and writer Urobuchi, unleashed all of their potent excesses back into the world of Godzilla, for better and/or worse. Chilling and occasionally thoughtful exploration of the mythology of Godzilla with an environmental perspective, gratifying character interactions, terrific action scenes and production design. If you're looking for a story with loyalty to the Godzilla lore, you won't find it here, but as darkly-tinged sci-fi action monster romps with a unique concept and premise go, you could do much worse.

Simon says Godzilla: Planet of the Monsters (ゴジラ: 怪獣惑星) receives:


Saturday, 13 January 2018

Film Review: "The Post" (2017).



"'In the First Amendment the Founding Fathers gave the free press the protection it must have to fulfill its essential role in our democracy. The press was to serve the governed, not the governors.'" This is at the heart of The Post. This political thriller film directed by Steven Spielberg, and written by Liz Hannah and Josh Singer. The film explores the unlikely partnership between The Washington Post’s Katharine Graham, the first female publisher of a major American newspaper, and editor Ben Bradlee, as they race to catch up with The New York Times to expose a massive cover-up of government secrets that spanned three decades and four U.S. Presidents. The two must overcome their differences as they risk their careers – and their very freedom – to help bring long-buried truths to light.

In October 2016, Amy Pascal won a bid for the rights to Liz Hannah's first produced screenplay, which featured on the 2016 Black List of the most-liked scripts of the year. In March 2017, it was announced that Spielberg was in negotiations to direct and produce the film after halting pre-production of The Kidnapping of Edgardo Mortara, with Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks to star. Spielberg wanted to make and release the film as quickly as possible given the parallels between its theme and the burgeoning political 'fake news' climate in the U.S. The film would mark the first collaboration between, Spielberg, Streep, and Hanks. Spielberg worked on the film while post-production work continued on the visual effects-heavy Ready Player One (2018), a method he had previously used during the concurrent productions of Jurassic Park and Schindler's List in 1993. Josh Singer was hired to re-write the screenplay ten weeks before filming. Principal photography on the film began in late May in New York. In early June, it was announced that the project, retitled The Papers. In addition, Alison Brie, Carrie Coon, David Cross, Bruce Greenwood, Tracy Letts, Bob Odenkirk, Sarah Paulson, Jesse Plemons, Matthew Rhys, Michael Stuhlbarg, Bradley Whitford, and Zach Woods were cast. Filming concluded and post-production began in late July. In late August, the film's title reverted to The Post. Spielberg finished the final cut of the film in early November 2017, with the final sound mix also completed with the musical score a week later, in mid November. The gestation from script to final cut lasted a modest 9 months.

The film stars Streep and Hanks, with Paulson, Odenkirk, Letts, Whitford, Greenwood, Coon, Rhys, Brie, Cross, Letts, Plemons, Stuhlbarg, and Woods. The cast proved to be the best ensemble in any Spielberg film, even though their characterizations were razor-thin. Streep and Hanks proved to be solid leads together, and magnetic whenever they were in the scenes. 

The Post is a taut, solidly acted paean to the benefits of a free press and the dangers of unchecked power, made all the more effective by its origins in real-life events. A superbly crafted and engrossingly detailed account of The Washington Post journalists and their attempts to publish the Pentagon Papers.

Simon says The Post receives:


Wednesday, 10 January 2018

Film Review: "I, Tonya" (2017).



"There's no need to have class when you have talent." This perfectly encapsulates I, Tonya. This biographical film directed by Craig Gillespie and written by Steven Rogers. Based on the unbelievable, but true events, this is a darkly comedic tale of American figure skater, Tonya Harding, and one of the most sensational scandals in sports history. Though Harding was the first American woman to complete a triple axel in competition, her legacy was forever defined by her association with an infamous, ill-conceived, and even more poorly executed attack on fellow Olympic competitor Nancy Kerrigan.

Screenwriter Steven Rogers was inspired to write the film after watching a documentary about ice skating which mentioned Tonya Harding. Rogers successfully managed to secure interviews with Harding and ex-husband Jeff Gillooly. Both remembered the events of the 1994 attack on Nancy Kerrigan very differently. Rogers never had experience interviewing a real-life subject before the film. He initially called her agent to obtain the life rights to her story and got a Motel 6. When he finally tracked her down, he found her extremely forthcoming over a two-day interview. Harding didn't feel like she had anything to lose at that point. However, Rogers failed to secure an interview with Harding's mother LaVona Golden after tracking her down. The script was featured on the 2016 Black List of the most-liked scripts of the year. The script caught the attention of Robbie, who did not realize it was based on a real event until after she finished reading it. Immediately prior to filming, Robbie flew to Portland, Oregon to meet with Harding. Although a member of an amateur ice hockey league, Robbie didn't have that much skating experience before taking on the role. To prepare for the role and the skating scenes, Robbie trained for four months. Robbie trained with Sarah Kawahara - Nancy Kerrigan's former choreographer. Principal photography began in late January 2017 in Macon, Georgia. Throughout the shoot, Robbie suffered from a herniated disc in her neck, and had routine MRIs to ensure it was safe for her to continue filming skating scenes. Although Robbie trained for the role, she wasn't be able to do Harding's triple Axel, as very few people in the world are able to. Thus the choreography was achieved through Robbie's skating doubles, Heidi Munger and Anna Malkova, and CGI. Filming wrapped in March, with pickups in Atlanta in May.

Robbie stars as Harding, with Sebastian Stan, Allison Janney, Julianne Nicholson, Caitlin Carver, and Bobby Cannavale. The cast gave incredible performances from start to finish. Robbie gives an iconic turn as the fiery Harding. Janney gives a tour-de-force performance as Harding's acid-tongued mother. Both performances are sure to have awards coming their way.

Absurd, self-referential, and irreverent to a fault, I, Toyna finds Margot Robbie at their most infectiously dynamic. The film wants us to be interested in characters who appear to be dull people to start with, but made interesting by their delusions because what they did and what they truly are.

Simon says I, Tonya receives:


Monday, 25 December 2017

Film Review: "All the Money in the World" (2017).



"J. Paul Getty had a fortune. Everyone else paid the price." This is All the Money in the World. This crime thriller film directed by Ridley Scott, written by David Scarpa, and adapted from John Pearson's 1995 book Painfully Rich: The Outrageous Fortunes and Misfortunes of the Heirs of J. Paul Getty. It is the story of the kidnapping of 16-year-old John Paul Getty III and the desperate attempt by his devoted mother to convince his billionaire grandfather Jean Paul Getty to pay the ransom.

In March 2017, it was reported that Ridley Scott would direct the film. In the same month, it was reported that Michelle Williams and Kevin Spacey were considered for the role of Gail Harris and J. Paul Getty, while Mark Wahlberg was in talks for an unspecified role. Initially, Angelina Jolie, Natalie Portman, Jack Nicholson, Gary Oldman, and Christopher Plummer were considered for the lead roles. By June, Timothy Hutton, and Charlie Plummer joined the cast. In the same month, with a budget of $40 million, filming began. Locations included Elveden, Suffolk, England, and Morocco. Filming concluded in August. 

Beginning in late October, numerous sexual allegations were made against Spacey. This resulted in the film's planned premiere at the AFI Fest being cancelled, as well as the film's Oscar campaign being reworked. In November, Sony and the film's production team unanimously opted to replace Spacey with Plummer. The decision was made just over a month prior to the December 22nd wide release. The decision to reshoot meant that 22 scenes had to be reshot. It also meant that Wahlberg and Williams had to return to Rome during the Thanksgiving holiday. The reshoots needed began on November 20 and ended on the 29th, and took eight days to film at a cost of $10 million. Plummer claimed he was prepared to replace Spacey on short notice because he had previously been considered for the role and had read the script. He had less than two weeks to memorize his lines, but did have the advantage of researching Getty. After Plummer signed on, Scott decided not to show Plummer any footage of Spacey in character, or even tell him how Spacey played the scenes. When finished, Scott found both performances to be quite different and equally effective in their own particular styles. Scott said that one interesting aspect was that Spacey played J. Paul Getty as a more explicitly cold and unfeeling character, while Plummer's take on the role showed both a warmer side to the billionaire and the same unflinching refusal to simply pay off his son's kidnappers.

The film stars Williams, Christopher Plummer, Wahlberg, Romain Duris, Charlie Plummer, Andrew Buchan, and Hutton. The cast gave terrific performances, especially that of Williams, Plummer and Wahlberg. Who each gave charismatic performances that commanded the screen whenever they were present.

While not a masterpiece on par with Scott's best works, All the Money in the World is a fine example of his craft, and further proof that defines Scott as one of the greatest directors working today. The superb crime thriller paints its world with a wholeness and complexity you rarely see in film.

Simon says All the Money in the World receives:


Friday, 15 December 2017

Film Review: "Star Wars: The Last Jedi" (2017).




"This is not going to go the way you think!"
This is definitely true with Star Wars: The Last Jedi (or Star Wars Episode VIII - The Last Jedi). This epic space opera film written and directed by Rian Johnson. It is the second film in the Star Wars sequel trilogy, following Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015). Rey develops her newly discovered abilities with the guidance of Luke Skywalker, who is unsettled by the strength of her powers. Meanwhile, the Resistance prepares to do battle with the First Order.

In June 2014, director Rian Johnson was reported to be in talks to write and direct Episode VIII, and to write a treatment for the third film, Episode IX. Johnson was originally considered to direct The Force Awakens. In August, Johnson confirmed that he would direct Episode VIII. According to Johnson, the story begins immediately after the last scene of The Force Awakens. Initially, The Force Awakens co-writer Lawrence Kasdan wrote a story outline for the film. However, when Johnson signed on as director, he requested to be allowed to scrap Kasdan's story and write his own script from scratch, which the producers consented to, as Kasdan's outline no longer matched up with the finished storyline of the previous film. For inspiration, Johnson was influenced by films such as Gunga Din (1939), Letter Never Sent (1960), Sahara (1943), The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957), Three Outlaw Samurai (1964), and Twelve O'Clock High (1949) while developing ideas, and he even arranged for screenings for the crew prior to filming. In September 2015, Disney shortlisted the female cast members to Gina Rodriguez, Tatiana Maslany, and Olivia Cooke. Later that month, Benicio Del Toro was announced to be playing a villain in the film. Originally, Joaquin Phoenix was considered for the role. In addition, Mark Hamill was confirmed to reprise his role as Luke Skywalker. Ironically, after reading the script for the film, Hamill told director Johnson, "I pretty much fundamentally disagree with every choice you've made for this character [Luke Skywalker]. Now, having said that, I have gotten it off my chest, and my job now is to take what you've created and do my best to realize your vision." In October, Gugu Mbatha-Raw was rumored to have been cast in the film. In November, Lucasfilm president Kathleen Kennedy announced at the London premiere for The Force Awakens that the entire cast, including Adam Driver, Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Andy Serkis, Lupita Nyong'o, Domhnall Gleeson, Anthony Daniels, and Gwendoline Christie, would return for Episode VIII, along with "a handful" of new cast members. In February 2016, at the start of filming, it was confirmed that Laura Dern and Kelly Marie Tran had been cast in unspecified roles. 

In September 2015, Second unit photography began during pre-production at Skellig Michael in Ireland. But due to poor weather and rough conditions, the first day of filming was canceled and lasted four days. In the same month, del Toro revealed that principal photography would begin in March 2016. However, Kennedy later stated that filming would begin in January 2016. Production on the film began in November. In January 2016, due to script rewrites and an upcoming strike between the Producers Alliance for Cinema and Television and the Broadcasting, Entertainment, Cinematograph and Theatre Union, the production was delayed until February 2016. Due to this, and the successful release of The Force Awakens, the original release date of May 26, 2017 was rescheduled for December 15, 2017. In February, principal photography finally began, under the working title Space Bear. In addition to Skellig Michael in Ireland locations also included Pinewood Studios in England, and Dubrovnik, Croatia. During production, Prince William and Prince Harry visited the set, they were escorted on a VIP tour of Pinewood Studios by Daisy Ridley. Principal photography wrapped in July 2016. In August, Star Wars composer John Williams confirmed that he was scheduled to start scoring Episode VIII. Williams said he would begin recording the score "off and on" in December 2016 until March or April 2017. In December 2016, Carrie Fisher unexpectedly passed away after suffering a cardiac arrest. Marking this film as her last film. After her death, None of Fisher's scenes in the movie were cut. Prior to her death, Fisher had been expected to appear in Episode IX. Though Fisher's family granted the rights to use recent footage of Fisher for Star Wars: Episode IX, Fisher will not appear in the film and Lucasfilm will not digitally generate new footage of her. In January 2017, the title for the film was revealed. In February, it was confirmed that recording was underway, with Williams conducting. In March, footage of the film was shown to Disney shareholders, which was met with overwhelmingly positive reactions. In April, the first teaser trailer was released.

The film stars Hamill, Fisher, Driver, Ridley, Boyega, Isaac, Serkis, Nyong'o, Gleeson, Daniels, and Christie, with Marie Tran, Dern, and Del Toro. Both recurring and new cast members gave confident performances that took their characters in surprising directions that no one would expect.

Darker, and ultimately even more surprising than The Force Awakens, Star Wars: The Last Jedi defies viewer expectations, and takes the series to heightened emotional levels and unexpected directions. The film is a richly imaginative, engrossing and spectacular motion picture from Rian Johnson. A marvellous space fantasy full of dazzling spectacle, exciting adventure, strange creatures and the mythic clash between good and evil. Unlike its predecessor, it is no bland derivative. It has all the freshness and exuberance of an original. It is a confident piece of work that carries the new Star Wars tradition forward. The film is an immense amount of fun - big and splashy and breathtaking in its display of cinematic genius by a huge group of marvellously talented people. However, the film is not without its drawbacks. The film may not top either The Empire Strikes Back (1980) or A New Hope (1977), but it certainly makes one curious to whatever new surprises Disney and Lucasfilm can conjure up for us.

Simon says Star Wars: The Last Jedi receives:


Tuesday, 12 December 2017

Film Review: "Darkest Hour" (2017).



"A man with the heart of a nation." This is Darkest Hour. This British war drama film directed by Joe Wright, and written by Anthony McCarten. Set within the days of becoming Prime Minister of Great Britain, Winston Churchill must face one of his most turbulent and defining trials: exploring a negotiated peace treaty with Nazi Germany, or standing firm to fight for the ideals, liberty and freedom of a nation. As the unstoppable Nazi forces roll across Western Europe and the threat of invasion is imminent, and with an unprepared public, a skeptical King, and his own party plotting against him, Churchill must withstand his darkest hour, rally a nation, and attempt to change the course of world history.

In February 2015, it was announced that Working Title Films had acquired Darkest Hour, a speculative screenplay and passion project by The Theory of Everything screenwriter Anthony McCarten. In March 2016, it was reported that Joe Wright was in talks to direct the film. In April 2016, Gary Oldman was reported to be in talks to play Churchill. In September 2016, it was announced that Focus Features would release the film in the United States on 24 November 2017, while Ben Mendelsohn, Kristin Scott Thomas, Lily James, and Stephen Dillane joined the cast as King George VI, Clementine Churchill, Elizabeth Layton, and Edward Wood, 3rd Viscount Halifax respectively. In November 2016, principal photography began. For his role as Churchill, Oldman spent over 200 hours having make-up applied, and smoked over 400 cigars, roughly £50 each (more than $20,000 USD), during filming. At the end of filming, he had nicotine poisoning and spent a holiday getting a colonoscopy. The film marks the final screen credits of Benjamin Whitrow (28th September 2017), Robert Hardy (August 3rd, 2017), and John Hurt (25th January 2017), who all died before the film's release. By a sad irony, Hurt was ill with cancer when he was initially set to portray British prime minister Neville Chamberlain, who himself was dying of cancer in 1940. According to Oldman, Hurt was undergoing treatment for being so ill, therefore was unable to attend the read-throughs and never got to film a scene. Ronald Pickup assumed the role of Chamberlain instead, and Hurt died from cancer in January 2017. The movie was still dedicated to Hurt, as it would have been his final film.

The film stars Oldman as Churchill, with Mendelsohn, Thomas, James, Dillane, and Pickup. The cast gave terrific performances, none more so than Oldman himself. Oldman has found the man within the caricature. Only an actor of Oldman's stature could possibly capture Churchill's essence and bring it to the screen. It's a performance of towering proportions that sets a new benchmark for acting. It is impossible not to be disturbed by Oldman's depiction of the legendary British prime minister.

Gary Oldman's performance as Winston Churchill in Darkest Hour is reliably perfect, but it's mired in standard, self-important storytelling. Awards should be coming Oldman's way; yet his brilliance rather overshadows the film itself.

Simon says Darkest Hour receives: