Tuesday, 15 October 2019

Film Review: "Zombieland: Double Tap" (2019).

"From the director of Venom and writers of Deadpool" comes Zombieland: Double Tap. This zombie comedy film directed by Ruben Fleischer and written by Rhett Reese, Paul Wernick, and David Callaham. It is a sequel to Zombieland (2009). In the film, through comic mayhem that stretches from the White House and through the heartland, the four slayers must face off against the many new kinds of zombies that have evolved since the first movie, as well as some new human survivors. But most of all, they have to face the growing pains of their own snarky, makeshift family.

After the release and success of Zombieland, talk of a sequel began with Reese and Wernick suggesting ideas, as well as Fleischer, Woody Harrelson, Jesse Eisenberg, Abigail Breslin, and Emma Stone voicing their desire to make a sequel. Wernick said he planned to have the cast reprise their roles with Fleischer returning to direct and that the writers had "tons of new ideas swimming in their heads." Additionally, they wanted to make the comedy into a franchise. However, the project languished in development hell for several years due to Reese and Wernick being heavily involved with other writing projects, including Deadpool (2016). But, by November 2009, the original cast and director were all set to return, with Fleischer enthusiastic about the idea of doing the sequel in 3D. However, in July 2011, Eisenberg said that he was "not sure what's happening" with the sequel but that the writers were working on a script. Harrelson said that he was also hesitant to do a sequel. But, in March 2017, it was revealed that the script for Zombieland 2 had been completed. In May 2018, Woody Harrelson confirmed Zombieland 2 would probably happen. In mid July, the film was finally greenlit by Sony Pictures, with an October 18, 2019 release date. By late January 2019, Rosario Dawson, Zoey Deutch, Avan Jogia, Thomas Middleditch, and Luke Wilson rounded out the film's cast. At the same time, principal photography commenced, and wrapped in mid March. Filming took place in Atlanta, Georgia, and was shot on Panavision (anamorphic) with ARRI Alexa cameras, unlike its predecessor which was filmed spherically with Panavision Genesis cameras in the Super 35 format.

The film stars Harrelson, Eisenberg, Breslin, and Stone, reprising their roles, with Dawson, Deutch, Jogia, Middleditch, and Wilson. The four slayers once again give another round of rip-roaring performances, despite feeling a little bit derivative of their previous performances. Whilst the new cast members breathed new life into the film, especially that of Deutch.

Just as wickedly funny, and featuring just as much gore, as its predecessor, Zombieland: Double Tap is still an undead genre. With the same quick pace and witty writing, it's another nonstop, snarky ride.  Despite a strong cast milking every once of entertainment out of its premise, this one is a rather derivative bit of fun compared to the first film. The film doesn't quite fly by as well, but it still manages to pack in more thrills and laughs than its predecessor.

Simon says Zombieland: Double Tap receives:

Also, see my review for Venom.

Friday, 11 October 2019

Film Review: "Gemini Man" (2019).

"Who will save you from yourself " This is at the heart of Gemini Man. This action thriller film directed by Ang Lee, and written by David Benioff, Billy Ray and Darren Lemke. The film centres on Henry Brogan, an elite assassin who becomes the target of a mysterious operative who can seemingly predict his every move. To his horror, he soon learns that the man who's trying to kill him is a younger, faster, cloned version of himself.

Since 1997, the film went through development hell for nearly twenty years. The concept was conceived by Darren Lemke and was originally sold to Sony, then Disney, with Don Murphy as producer. Several directors, including Tony Scott Curtis Hanson, and Joe Carnahan, were all attached at some point to direct, and numerous actors, including Harrison Ford, Chris O'Donnell, Mel Gibson, Jon Voight, Nicolas Cage, Brad Pitt, Tom Cruise, Clint Eastwood, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sylvester Stallone, and Sean Connery were set to star. At the time, Disney's now-defunct animation/visual effects department The Secret Lab developed a test short, known as Human Face Project, to create visual effects for the film, which would involve creating a younger CG clone. However, the film never progressed as the technology was not developed enough for the film to be produced. Since then Lemke's screenplay has since under gone rewrites by Billy Ray, Andrew Niccol, David Benioff, Brian Helgeland, Jonathan Hensleigh, and the writing team of Stephen J. Rivele & Christopher Wilkinson. In 2016, Skydance Media acquired the film from Disney and Fosun Pictures came on board to finance, with Jerry Bruckheimer, Skydance's David Ellison, Dana Goldberg and Don Granger as producers, and Murphy as executive producer. In April 2017, Lee was hired to direct the film, with Will Smith in the lead role with a October 19, 2019 release date. By February 2018, Clive Owen, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, and Benedict Wong rounded out the cast. A the same time, principal photography commenced, and wrapped in May. Filming took place in Glennville, Georgia, Cartagena, Colombia, and Budapest, Hungary. Like Lee's previous film Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk, the film was shot digitally at an extra-high frame rate of 120 fps, modified for 3D, this time, on modified ARRI Alexa cameras mounted on STEREOTEC 3D Rigs, in the 1.85:1 aspect ratio. The visual effects are provided by Weta Digital and supervised by Bill Westenhofer.

The film stars Smith, Winstead, Owen, and Wong. Despite their best efforts, including Smith's usual charm, their performances suffered from generic characterization, and even a lack of. Not even trying to go beyond what's already expected of them.

Gemini Man has noble goals, but lacks a strong enough screenplay to achieve them—and its visual innovations are often merely distracting. Instead of Lee trying to actually deal with the issues in the story of an elite assassin coming face-to-face with a clone of his younger self, instead he simply and solely deals with the work-in-progress visual effects and high frame rate, all in 3-D.

Simon says Gemini Man receives:

Also, see my review for Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk.

Thursday, 3 October 2019

Film Review: "Joker" (2019).

"Put on a happy face." For here comes Joker. This psychological thriller film directed by Todd Phillips, co-written by Scott Silver and Philips, and based on the DC character. The film centers around an origin of the iconic arch nemesis and is an original, standalone story not seen before on the big screen. Phillips' exploration of Arthur Fleck, a man disregarded by society, is not only a gritty character study, but also a broader cautionary tale.

Between 2014 and 2015, Joaquin Phoenix was interested in acting in a low-budget "character study" type of film about a comic book villain. Phoenix had previously declined to act in the Marvel Cinematic Universe because he would have been required to play the roles he was offered in multiple films. Similarly, Phillips had been offered to direct comic-based films a number of times, but declined because they did not interest him. The film was born from Philip's idea to create a different, more grounded comic book film. In August 2016, after the premiere of War Dogs (2016), Phillips pitched the idea to Warner Bros. He proposed that DC Films differentiate its slate from the competing Marvel Studios' by producing low-budget, standalone films. Thanks to the success of Wonder Woman (2017), DC Films decided to deemphasize the shared nature of its DC-based films. In August 2017, Warner Bros. and DC Films revealed plans for the film, with Phillips directing and co-writing with Scott Silver, and Martin Scorsese co-producing with Phillips. In September 2017, Warner Bros. was considering casting frequent Scorsese collaborator Leonardo DiCaprio as the Joker, but Phoenix was Phillips's first and only choice for the role. Phoenix said when he learned of the film, he became excited because it was the kind of film he was looking to make, describing it as unique and stating it did not feel like a typical "studio movie". However, it took Phoenix some time to commit to the role, as it intimidated him. Throughout 2017, Phillips and Silver wrote the script, and, due to concern over the content, it took some time to get approval from Warner Bros. Phillips said that while the script's themes may reflect modern society, the film was not intended to be political. The script draws inspiration from Taxi Driver (1976), Raging Bull (1980), The King of Comedy (1983), and The Man Who Laughs (1928). While the film's premise was inspired by Alan Moore and Brian Bolland's graphic novel Batman: The Killing Joke (1988), which depicts the Joker as a failed stand-up comedian, Phillips said it does not "follow anything from the comic books... We're not even doing Joker, but the story of becoming Joker." Phillips later clarified that he and Silver "picked and chose what we liked" from the character's history. Phillips and Silver found the most common Joker origin story, in which the character is disfigured after falling into a vat of acid, too unrealistic. Instead, they used certain elements of the Joker lore to produce an original story, which Phillips wanted to feel as authentic as possible. Because the Joker does not have a definitive origin story in the comics, Phillips and Silver were given considerable creative freedom.

In January 2018, following the disappointing critical and financial performance of Justice League (2017), the film was given the green-light by Walter Hamada, the new head of DC-based film production at Warner Bros. The film was titled Joker, with a October 4, 2019, release date. In addition, the film was expected to begin filming in late 2018 with a budget of $55 million. Warner Bros. described the film as "an exploration of a man disregarded by society [that] is not only a gritty character study, but also a broader cautionary tale". In July, Phoenix was officially cast in the title role after four months of persuasion from Phillips. Scorsese's longtime associate Koskoff replaced him as producer due to his preoccupation with his film The Irishman (2019). It was also confirmed that the film was expected to be the first in a new series of DC films unrelated to the DCEU. By September, Robert De Niro, Zazie Beetz, Frances Conroy, and Brett Cullen rounded the film's cast. Around the same time, principal photography commenced, under the working title Romeo. Filming took place in New York City, Jersey City and Newark. During production, the script went through heavy revisions, which resulted in the cast learning their lines on the day. In addition, Phoenix occasionally walked off-set due to loss of self-control and needed to compose himself - to the confusion of other actors, except De Niro. For the iconic laugh, Phoenix based his laugh on "videos of people suffering from pathological laughter". In August, Hildur Guðnadóttir was hired to compose the film's score. Guðnadóttir began writing music after reading the script and meeting with Phillips. She worked on the Joker score alongside the score for the drama miniseries Chernobyl (2019); Guðnadóttir found switching between the two challenging because they were so different. Filming wrapped in mid December 2018. The film ultimately became the first live-action film in the Batman film franchise to receive an R-rating.

The cast gave, probably, the best performances of their careers. In particular, Phoenix gave a tour-de-force performance as the strangely sympathetic psychopath that stands alongside with Jack Nicholson and Heath Ledger's interpretations. Phoenix's performance is not only a loving tribute to his co-star De Niro's roles as Travis Bickel and Rupert Pumpkin, but also an Oscar-worthy one.

Joker is hell, from the gritty opening to its horrific climax. Phillips wanted to us to witness Arthur Fleck's downward spiral into madness; I almost wanted to look away from his life and its horrors. But he's there, all right, and he went insane! It is a must-see film for Batman fans, comic book aficionados, and movie lovers, it is as hard-hitting as it is compelling, with Phoenix at his best. Simply the best film of the year, one of the best comic-book film of all time, and, indeed, a masterpiece.

Simon says Joker receives:

Also, see my review for War Dogs.

Tuesday, 1 October 2019

Film Review: "Dora and the Lost City of Gold" (2019).

"Unleash Your Wild Side" with Dora and the Lost City of Gold. This adventure comedy film directed by James Bobin, written by Nicholas Stoller and Matthew Robinson, and based on the Nickelodeon television series Dora the Explorer (2000-19). Having spent most of her life exploring the jungle, nothing could prepare Dora for her most dangerous adventure yet - high school. Accompanied by a ragtag group of teens and Boots the monkey, Dora embarks on a quest to save her parents while trying to solve the seemingly impossible mystery behind a lost Incan civilisation.

In late October 2017, a live action adaptation of the television series was announced with Bobin in the director's chair, Stoller and Danielle Sanchez-Witzel were hired to pen the script, and with a August 2, 2019 release date. In May 2018, Isabela Moner was cast to play a teenage version of the titular explorer. By early August, Eugenio Derbez, Michael Peña, Eva Longoria, Jeff Wahlberg, Temuera Morrison, Danny Trejo and Benicio del Toro rounded out the film's cast. Around the same time, principal photography commenced, and wrapped in early December. Filming took place in Gold Coast, Queensland, Australia.

The film stars Moner, as the titular character, Eugenio Derbez, Michael Peña, Eva Longoria, Jeff Wahlberg, Temuera Morrison, Danny Trejo and Benicio del Toro. Though the cast, and their performances, stayed true to the nature and personalities of their original cartoon counterparts, it was disappointing and not funny. And it doesn't exactly help to have Moner, Trejo and del Toro camping it up as the cartoon characters come to life in the most cringeworthy way possible.

While Dora and the Lost City of Gold continually teeters on the brink of abject corniness, it never quite topples off. Though the film stays true to the nature of the original cartoon, the script is disappointing and not funny. There's just not enough depth of thought to sustain it onscreen for 102 minutes. All of this adds up to a story we don't care about with nothing particularly involving and about two laughs both in the first ten minutes. It has sledgehammer whimsy, and it's not talking to me. For the most part, the film fails, with predictable complaints stemming from the same stretch marks that plague the original series and all the features based upon it. Its status as an event picture and insistence upon live action mar what should have been a delightful romp. After The Last Airbender, I thought it would be over now. What did we do to deserve this? So unrelentingly bad on so many levels. The film doesn't so much celebrate the old series on which it's based as cause you to wonder why you look back on it with affection in the first place. It just might be the new millennium's Howard the Duck. But if you even remotely liked the cartoon series upon which this film is based, you might just like this film. Kids will enjoy it, even if the jokes escape them.

Simon says Dora and the Lost City of Gold receives:

Also, see my review for Alice Through the Looking Glass.

Saturday, 28 September 2019

"Strike 4 Climate NZ" Protest.

"The thing the ecologically illiterate don't realise about an ecosystem is that it's a system... A system maintains a certain fluid stability that can be destroyed by a misstep in just one niche. A system has order, flowing from point to point. If something dams that flow, order collapses. The untrained might miss that collapse until it was too late. That's why the highest function of ecology is the understanding of consequences." - Frank Herbert, the author of the Dune Saga.