Thursday, 13 September 2018

TIFF Film Review: "Hotel by the River" ("강변 호텔") (2018).



The 23rd film by the Korean Woody Allen - Hotel by the River (강변 호텔). This South Korean drama film written, produced, and directed by Hong Sang-soo.The film centres on the interactions of a struggling poet, his estranged sons, and two female friends. Feeling, for no apparent reason, like he is going to die, an old poet, staying for free in a riverside hotel, summons his two estranged sons. After being betrayed by the man she was living with, a young woman gets a room at the same hotel. Seeking support, she asks a friend to join her.

Once again, the film is another addition to director Hong's study on human relationship that has been synonymous to the director's career since his 1996 debut film The Day a Pig Fell into the Well (돼지가 우물에 빠진 날). Filming took place between January and February 2017, in Hong Sang-soo's usual breakneck shooting style.

The film stars Ki Joo-Bong Ki, Kim Min-hee, Kwon Hae-hyo, Song Seon-mi, and Yoo Joon-Sang. The cast gave terrifically slight, contained, but ineffably soulful performances that portrays the subtleties, fragility and the brutal melancholy of people caught in a tangled web of complicated relationships.

Hotel by the River may not be a particularly great film, but it does feel like a necessary one. It is amusingly bittersweet yet quietly resplendent. Even though it feels like an undeveloped drama about relationships and identity. The premise is less interesting than Hong Sang-soo’s precise execution and presentation of the material, and the simple but brilliant script makes this an unpretentious, authentic moral tale, if a bit slight. Hong’s priorities are different from other filmmakers; he eschews an adherence to film language decorum in favour of interrogating emotions and ideas that are important to him, in ways that make sense to him. Hong tells the story in long and dislogue-filled takes, done in a soft black-and-white that feels like pencil drawings, to extract deep and earnest confessions with a graceful touch that shudders with the life-shaking emotions at their core. While dealing with the trope of "relationships", Hong Sang-soo’s films have always been very philosophical without being moralistic. As in other Hong Sang-soo movies, time is malleable and capricious. The film has all the hallmarks of something unostentatious - except, it isn’t. This is actually trickster Hong Sang-soo working in his element, albeit more surreptitiously than we’re used to seeing. It is an oeuvre whose variations on a self-reflexive theme have increasingly become more revealing, more raw, and also more devastating. Elegantly shot in glorious, chilly, silky digital black-and-white, it plays with chronology in a way that seems both casual and musically precise. The film is buoyed by the cast’s nuanced performances that show that relationships don’t always turn out the way you expect. Hong Sang-soo’s films homes in on the essence of conversations, mining them for a drama of autobiographical rumination. It is a bit slight, which isn’t a problem, just an observation that it’s incredibly slice-of-life.

Simon says Hotel by the River (강변 호텔) receives:


Wednesday, 12 September 2018

TIFF Film Review: "Killing" ("斬") (2018).


From the director of Tesuo: The Iron Man and Fires on the Plain comes Killing (斬). This Japanese drama film written and directed by Shinya Tsukamoto. Set during the tumultuous mid-19th century Edo period in Japan, the film follows a restless ronin who is eager to leave his peaceful, quiet, and tranquil countryside life behind when the winds of war and conflicts begin to blow.

Serving as a companion piece to his previous effort, Tsukamoto made this film that focused on "his fears that, not just Japan after seven years of peace, but the world all over was moving slowly towards a state of war." He further added: "So when I made Fires on the Plain, thought that I had clearly expressed my fear, and that fear being received by many people all over the world. So perhaps I thought my fears and anxieties would subside, but it's been years, and my fears and anxieties are still there." Inspired by the films of his master, Akira Kurosawa, Tsukamoto's Killing stems from an idea the director had a few years ago: "A young ronin stares at his sword with ardour," questioning whether he'd be capable of killing a man with it, even if ordered to do so by his master. Tsukamoto said the stylish movie was a cry for peace. Tsukamoto said: "As I took in the current state of the world, I had an urge to let out (the film) like a scream." Tsukamoto then added: "The act of killing in the Edo Period was quite normal. I found many connections with our age, in which more and more people think that violence is an answer... I asked myself how a young person today would react if they found themselves in that period — would they be able to kill without hesitation?" Tskuamoto finally concluded: "That’s why I created a samurai that doesn’t want to kill anymore." The film features the final compositions and collaboration of Chu Ishikawa, who passed away on December 21, 2017, during the post-production stage. The score comprised of all the music he had composed throughout his career, as well as unreleased music, which Tsukamoto had to "piece it together."

The film stars Sosuke Ikematsu, Yū Aoi, Ryūsei Maeda, and Tsukamoto, who all gave powerful and remarkable performances that were attack on the senses and emotions, whilst providing modern takes on classic samurai film characters and archetypes. Ikematsu portrays a warrior without a war to fight. Aoi portrays the peasant girl who makes her feeling known for the hero, Maeda portrays the hot-blooded farmer's son who dreams of one day becoming a valiant samurai, and Tsukamoto himself portrays the mild-mannered, skilful ronin.

Never have I seen a more emotionally and physically visceral film than Killing. It is so purposely powerful, so full of violence and humanity, that I doubt if anyone can sit through it without feeling a little bit affected, whether psychologically and/or physically. That's how amazing it is.

Simon says Killing (斬) receives:


Friday, 7 September 2018

TIFF Film Review: "The Predator" (2018).


"The hunt has evolved" in The Predator. This science fiction horror action film directed by Shane Black and written by Black and Fred Dekker. It is the fourth installment in the Predator film series, following Predator (1987), Predator 2 (1990), and Predators (2010). From the outer reaches of space to the small-town streets of suburbia, the hunt comes home. Now, the universe's most lethal hunters are stronger, smarter and deadlier than ever before, having genetically upgraded themselves with DNA from other species. When a young boy accidentally triggers their return to Earth, only a ragtag crew of ex-soldiers and a disgruntled science teacher can prevent the end of the human race.

Talks for a new Predator installment began in June 2014, with Black confirmed as director and co-writer with Dekker, and John Davis as producer. After the success of Iron Man 3 (2013), Black was approached by 20th Century Fox with an Iron Man 3-sized budget to direct a new Predator movie. Initially conceived as a reboot of the franchise until Black came onboard and confirmed he would be making a sequel instead that would be fresh and reimagine the franchise in a "different, interesting way." In February 2016, Black confirmed the title would be The Predator, as well as the fact that the movie is set in the present day. By March 2017, Boyd Holbrook, Trevante Rhodes, Keegan-Michael Key, Olivia Munn, Thomas Jane, Alfie Allen, Sterling K. Brown, Augusto Aguilera, Jacob Tremblay, Yvonne Strahovski, and Jake Busey had signed on. Arnold Schwarzenegger turned down the opportunity to return as Dutch. Initially, Benecio del Toro and Edward James Olmos were originally supposed to star. However, due to scheduling conflicts, del Toro was replaced Holbrook, whereas Olmos was cut from the final movie, to reduce the movie's long running time. In continuity to the series, Busey plays the son of Peter Keyes, the government official from Predator 2. Peter Keyes was played by Gary Busey, Jake's real life father. Filming took place between February and June, in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, with the entire third act being reshot, in March 2018, following poor test screenings. Originally slated for a February 9, 2018 release date, it was however pushed to March 2, 2018, then once again to August 3, 2018, then finally to September 14, 2018. The movie premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival on September 7, 2018 as part of the festival's Midnight Madness section.

The film stars Holbrook, Rhodes, Key, Munn, Jane, Allen, Brown, Aguilera, Tremblay, Strahovski, and Busey. The movie boasts an all-star collection of larger-than-life characters - and the result is anything but mediocre. Every cast was given an opportunity to steal the show and were not at all wasted.

After 31 years and a string of subpar sequels, director Shane Black's The Predator is a bloody, action-packed, and humour-injected reboot that finally delivers a solid sequel to the Arnold Schwarzenegger B-movie classic, and takes the franchise back to its pulpy roots.

Simon says The Predator receives:



Also, see my review for The Nice Guys.

Wednesday, 5 September 2018

Film Review: "Searching" (2018).


"David Kim's daughter is missing. He can't find out where she is until he finds out who she is." This is Searching. This thriller film directed by Aneesh Chaganty, and written by Chaganty and Sev Ohanian. After David Kim's sixteen-year-old daughter goes missing, a local investigation is opened and a detective is assigned to the case. But thirty-seven hours later and without a single lead, David decides to search the one place no one has looked yet, where all secrets are kept today: his daughter's laptop. David must trace his daughter's digital footprints before she disappears forever.

Searching is the feature film directional debut of Chaganty, who set out to make the "Memento of screen movies." A far cry from other films with the same web-centred approach, such as Unfriended (2015). A thriller that would be entirely told through the point-of-view of screens, but at heart it would be a simpler story about a single dad trying to track down his missing daughter. The idea was first pitched to John Cho, who, ironically, had serious reservations after Chaganty "botched" his call with Cho. However, Chaganty did not give up, he then decided to arrange a FaceTime session, and then ultimately meet in person. The second time round, Cho readily agreed and joined the project. The project would ultimately be completed in a two-year window, with only a thirteen-day shooting schedule, due to pre-production and post-production work. With a seven-week head start on shooting, Chaganty and producer Sev Ohanian hired the editors and together they made a rough version of the film, with Chagnaty playing all of the characters, that lasted for an hour and forty minutes. They showed this version of the film to the crew before shooting began, in order to give everyone a feel for what they were making. While the film features computer operating systems, programs and (mostly) websites, they were re-created from scratch and animated. The film ultimately premiered at the Sundance Film Festival, where it would win multiple awards - including the Audience Award - and was scooped up by Sony’s Screen Gems division for $5 million. It was released in limited showings the second-to-last weekend of August, where it found itself in conversation with Crazy Rich Asians. Suddenly two very different films found themselves part of #AsianAugust.

The film stars Cho, Debra Messing, Joseph Lee, and newcomer Michelle La. The cast gave terrific performances that left every character under a digital microscope, shrouded in a haze of mystery and intrigue, as well as presenting unexpected factoids as the film delves deeper into the screens and its digital web.

Searching subverts the cliches to deliver a surprising entry in the mystery thriller genre with a technological twist. At times, the film can exasperating, in which we are trafficked to each reveal - through multi-screen clicking, copying, pasting and re-sizing, basically all-around multi-tasking. It can be trying to sit through, and I liken it to sitting over someone's shoulder watching them web-surf... endlessly. However, it was clever and innovative nonetheless.

Simon says Searching receives:


Tuesday, 28 August 2018

Film Review: "BlacKkKlansman" (2018).


"Dis joint is based upon some fo' real, fo' real sh*t." This is the crazy, outrageous, incredible true story of BlacKkKlansman. This biographical comedy-drama joint directed by Spike Lee, adapted by Charlie Wachtel, David Rabinowitz, Kevin Willmott, and Lee, based on the 2014 memoir Black Klansman by Ron Stallworth. In the midst of the 1970s civil rights movement, Ron Stallworth becomes the first black detective on the Colorado Springs Police Department. He sets out to prove his worth by infiltrating the local chapter of the Ku Klux Klan and convinces his Jewish colleague to go undercover as a white supremacist.

In July 2015, Stallworth's 2014 memoir about his successful infiltration of the Ku Klux Klan was discovered by Wachtel and Rabinowitz. Intrigued with its hooky high concept, the potential for both suspense and comedy, a compelling lead character, and political undertones, Wachtel and Rabinowitz interviewed Stallworth. After several phone interviews, they received his blessing. Soon after, they wrote a spec screenplay, which they then pitched to producers Shaun Redick and Ray Mansfield. In September 2016, with great enthusiasm, Redick and Mansfield then brought the project to QC Entertainment, which would go on to co-produce the successful 2017 social-horror film Get Out. In Summer 2017, QC once again teamed up with Jason Blum's company Blumhouse Productions, and Get Out's Jordan Peele's company Monkeypaw Productions, to produce the project. In September, Spike Lee signed on as director. In the same month, John David Washington, son of Lee's four-time collaborator, Denzel Washington, was in negotiations to star. Coincidentally, the younger Washington made his film debut as a six-year-old Harlem classroom student in Lee's Malcolm X (1992), starring his father. Stallworth had originally wanted Denzel to play him, but was ecstatic when he found out that John David got the role. By December, Adam Driver, Laura Harrier, Jasper Pääkkönen, Ryan Eggold, Paul Walter Hauser, Ashlie Atkinson, Corey Hawkins, and Topher Grace had joined the cast. With a budget of $15 million, filming began in October 2017. Ossining, New York stood in as Colorado Springs. This was the first Spike Lee film since Oldboy (2013) to be shot on film. Although the past three or four films of his were all digital, Lee expressed his passion for shooting on celluloid film.

The film stars Washington, Driver, Harrier, Pääkkönen, Eggold, Hauser, Atkinson, Hawkins, and Grace. Despite the serious subject matter, the cast gave terrifically entertaining performances, especially that of Washington, Driver, and Grace, who gave the performances of a lifetime. The three men gave insightful and well-rounded portraits of Stallworth, Zimmerman, and Duke. Their characters are often eccentric; their language is consistently unpleasant; and all have complicated views on race-related violence. Yet they are attractive and even beguiling in many ways, too, with large amounts of humour and intelligence. The film benefits from these lively performances that are thoughtful and insightful renderings that promises to educate generations about the real-life figures. In the leading man category, John David Washington managed to deliver one of the best performances of the decade. He commands the screen, and brings the legend to life. He becomes Ron Stallworth. He battled with race-relations the way we imagine Stallworth battled them.

Smart, vibrant and urgent without being didactic, BlacKkKlansman is one of Spike Lee’s most fully realized efforts – and one of the most important films of the decade. It is an exceptional film, a film that wisely deprives you of the cozy resolutions and epiphanies so often manufactured by Hollywood. The film is complex, bravura movie making. It is also hugely entertaining, since fortunately for us, Lee’s seditious method is to use humour to carry his biting message. The richest and most thorough cinematic exploration of racism and white supremacy I fear may eventually be the end of humanity. The film is Lee’s most complex, heartfelt and disturbing film to date, a drama about racism that is more shockingly outspoken than any I’ve seen since Lee’s Do the Right Thing (1989). The film’s volatile nature has overshadowed the fact that it is quite funny and a technically superb picture that easily ranks among one of the best films Lee has made. It is as urgently topical and satisfyingly ambitious as it is wildly uneven – and it contains some of Lee’s smartest, sharpest, and all-around entertaining late-period work. Strong and powerful, the film dares us to be interested, dares us to never look away. It is refreshing to talk about a thoughtful film in a summer full of fluff. The film is confidently acted, brilliantly written and thoroughly provocative. Lee had succeeded again. Lee and company have performed a powerful service: they have brought Ron Stallworth’s story very much to life, and to the big screen. Visual and dramatic, Lee pulls out all the stops, but it’s Washington’s performance that really energizes the film, and he’s an exhilarating presence throughout. Lee returns to engaging enraged form with BlacKkKlansman, combining social commentary, anger, humour, dramatics, and over-the-top style in a spectacular mix that uses every trick necessary to put a spotlight on America’s poisonous affair with white supremacy. Lee’s film is worth seeing for its bombastic excess, and if you’re looking for a tactful visual response to the white supremacist Charlottesville rally and the American struggle on racism, this is it. The film is never subtle, always strident, and absolutely necessary. There’s always a moment where the film is alive. This is a deeply serious, biting picture that also has humour at the forefront. The story and language are eccentric but realistic. Even if you find this blunt imagery offensive, make no mistake; it creates a necessary and powerful message. BlacKkKlansman is an in-your-face explosion of anger and humour. Overall, the best thing one can say for Lee is that he takes risks, like all true artists. For unlike most of today’s filmmakers, he’s not afraid to really challenge a movie audience to some serious thinking. If you see only one movie in this season of blockbusters, make it BlacKkKlansman. You won't regret it.

Simon says BlacKkKlansman receives:



Also, see my review for Chi-Raq.

Tuesday, 21 August 2018

Film Review: "Crazy Rich Asians" (2018).


"The only thing crazier than love is family." This is Crazy Rich Asians. This romantic comedy-drama film directed by Jon M. Chu, adapted by Peter Chiarelli and Adele Lim, based on the 2013 novel of the same name by Kevin Kwan. The story follows native New Yorker Rachel Chu as she accompanies her longtime boyfriend, Nick Young, to his best friend's wedding in Singapore, and meet his family.

Interest in a film adaptation began shortly after the publication of Kwan's comedic novel on June 11, 2013. In August, producer Nina Jacobson acquired the film rights. Initially one of the producers proposed to cast a Caucasian actress in the role of Rachel Chu, which prompted Kwan to option his novel for just $1 in exchange for a major role in the creative and development process. The producers' goal was to produce the film outside the studio system and to structure financing for development and production from Asia and other territories outside the United States. In 2014, the US-based Asian film investment group Ivanhoe Pictures partnered with Jacobson to finance and produce the film. Soon afterwards, Lim and Chiarelli were hired to adapt the novel. In May 2016, Chu entered negotiations to direct. He was hired soon afterwards after giving executives a visual presentation about his experience as a first-generation Asian-American. In October, Warner Bros. Pictures acquired the project after what Variety called a "heated" bidding war. Netflix reportedly fervently sought worldwide rights to the project, offering "artistic freedom, a greenlighted trilogy and huge, seven-figure-minimum paydays for each stakeholder, upfront." However, Chu and company wanted a wide theatrical release. Constance Wu, newcomer Henry Golding, legend Michelle Yeoh, Gemma Chan, Lisa Lu, Awkwafina, Ken Jeong, Chris Pang, and Sonoya Mizuno rounded the film's cast. Making it the first Western-produced film with an exclusively Asian cast since The Joy Luck Club (1993). Principal photography began in late April 2017. The film was shot on location in Malaysia and Singapore.

The film stars Wu, Golding, Yeoh, Chan, Lu, Awkwafina, Jeong, Pang, and Mizuno. One of the film's illuminating elements is its cast, whom all gave elegant performances that will resonate with all ethnicities and generations. It presents images of Asians outside the narrow range of exotically oriental, subordinate, and submissive stock supporting / side characters.

Crazy Rich Asians is a superb achievement, thanks to director Jon M. Chu's impressive visual skills, and its emotionally heart-rending study of family. Making it a well-done propaganda for cultural diversity, and a well mounted adaptation of the best seller. It gives a refreshing, and poignant, dimension to Asian culture and society. The film covers primal issues of Asian culture, such as family, responsibility, love, and self-respect, that pounds you with pathos. Despite the cultural-specific nature of the story, there are a lot of overriding themes explored here that have a universal scope and appeal. Even if its meanings are limited or wanly inspirational at times. Overall, it is one of the most satisfying step forward for screen representation.

Simon says Crazy Rich Asians receives:


Tuesday, 14 August 2018

Film Review: "The Meg" (2018).


The Meg is "opening wide." This science fiction thriller film directed by Jon Turteltaub, adapted by Dean Georgaris, Jon Hoeber, and Erich Hoeber, loosely based on the 1997 book Meg: A Novel of Deep Terror by Steve Alten. After escaping an attack by what he claims was a 70-foot megalodon shark, Jonas Taylor must confront his fears to save those trapped in a sunken submersible.

The film rights to the book were initially acquired by Disney's Hollywood Pictures in 1996, initially developing it as a George Clooney vehicle. Tom Wheeler was first hired to adapt the book, but was ultimately rejected by the studio. The studio then hired Jeffrey Boam to pen a new draft, which was also resulted in being rejected. By 1999, development on the project had stalled, and the rights reverted back to Alten, due to Disney getting caught cold feet about competing with Warner's 1999 killer shark pic Deep Blue Sea (1999). By 2005, frustrated at the lack of movement on the project, Alten wrote his own draft which he showed to Nick Nunziata and New Line Cinema. Nunziata and the studio in turn delivered the project to Guillermo del Toro. Which led del Toro to present the project to Lawrence Gordon and Lloyd Levin, who then brought on director Jan De Bont to helm the film. Shane Salerno was then hired to pen a new script. However, due to budgetary concerns, the project was once again cancelled. The rights reverted to Alten again, and the film remained in development hell. In 2015, it was announced that the project was eventually greenlit by Warner Bros. with a new script by Dean Georgaris, and with Eli Roth as director. However, Roth left the project due to creative differences, and was replaced by Jon Turteltaub in early 2016. By September, Jason Statham, along with Li Bingbing, Rainn Wilson, Ruby Rose, Winston Chao, Cliff Curtis, Shuya Sophia Cai, and Masi Oka, rounded out the cast. In late October, Principal photography on the film began, and concluded in early January 2017. Locations included West Auckland, New Zealand, and Sanya City, Hainan, China.

The film stars Statham, Li, Wilson, Rose, Chao, Curtis, Cai, and Oka. Like other popcorn monster movies, the film is populated with dumb but fun caricatures of real people who were to face an absurd but extraordinary situation such as trying to hunt down and kill a megalodon. Statham is the cheesiest that he's ever been in the role of Taylor, delivering everything from the "tough-guy" attitude to the cheesy but awesome one-liners.

Aside from a few problems, The Meg is dumb but fun. It might not be Turteltaub's finest two hours, but he managed to build something that gives you great excitement every few minutes. The film is essentially one well-done action sequence after another. It knows its audience, and it knows how to use timing, suspense, and especially surprise to get them going. It's a great popcorn movie, and it's what summer at the cineplex is all about.

Simon says The Meg receives: