Tuesday, 18 June 2019

Film Review: "Men in Black: International" (2019).

"The world's not going to save itself" in Men in Black: International. This science fiction action comedy film directed by F. Gary Gray, written by Art Marcum and Matt Holloway, and loosely based on the Malibu/Marvel comics of the same name by Lowell Cunningham. It is a spin-off of the Men in Black film series. The Men in Black have expanded to cover the globe but so have the villains of the universe. To keep everyone safe, decorated Agent H and determined rookie M join forces - an unlikely pairing that just might work. When aliens that can take the form of any human arrive on Earth, H and M embark on a globe-trotting adventure to save the agency - and ultimately the world - from their mischievous plans.

In June 2012, after the release of Men in Black 3, talks of a fourth Men in Black film began with various concepts including a M.I.B./Jump Street with Oren Uziel penning the script. However in February 2018, a spin-off was announced instead with Chris Hemsworth to star and Gray to direct. In March, Tess Thompson was cast. By early July, Kumail Nanjiani, Rebecca Ferguson, Rafe Spall, Laurent and Larry Bourgeois, Emma Thompson, and Liam Neeson rounded out the cast. At the same time, principal photography began and wrapped in mid October under the working title M.I.B. Filming took place in New York City, Morocco, Italy and Leavesden Studios in London, and was shot on the ARRI Alexa 65 cameras. The production itself was a troubled one due to frequent clashes between Gray and producer Walter Parkes since Sony's executive Vice President of production David Beaubaire's exit in Summer 2018. The script, which originally had an edgier and sociopolitical tone and that had gotten Hemsworth and Thompson to sign on, had gone through several major rewrites throughout pre-production and filming overseen by Parkes on a daily basis. Hemsworth and Thompson, confused and annoyed by the rewrites, hired their own dialogue writers. In addition, Parkes also stepped in on directing duties without violating Director's Guild of America rules. At several times, Gray tried to exit production but was convinced otherwise by Sony. In post-production, Parkes and Gray clashed over colour-correction and final cut, which Parkes ultimately won. The release date was pushed back from May 17 to June 14, 2019.

The film stars Hemsworth, Thompson, Nanjiani, Ferguson, Spall, Les Twins, Thompson, and Neeson.  Despite their best efforts, the cast gave performances that pale in comparison to the performances from the previous instalments. Especially that of Hemsworth and Thompson who both proved to be no match for Tommy Lee Jones and Will Smith.

Lacking the freshness of its predecessors, Men in Black: International recycles elements from its predecessors with poor results. The film is riddled with a clichéd plot, familiar-looking monsters, and a lacklustre climax. The film proves that the franchise is no longer the zenith of blockbusterism, and isn't exactly a persuasive argument for the continuation of the franchise. The film is only worth viewing once.

Simon says Men in Black: International receives:

Also, see my reviews for Men in Black 3 and The Fate of the Furious.

Monday, 17 June 2019

Film Review: "Pavarotti" (2019).

"The voice. The man. The drama. The Legend. Genius is forever." This is the story of Pavarotti. This documentary film directed by Ron Howard. Featuring never-before-seen footage, concert performances and intimate interviews, the film examines the life and career of famed opera tenor Luciano Pavarotti.

On 12th October 1935, Luciano Pavarotti, Cavaliere di Gran Croce OMRI (/ˌpɑːvəˈrɔːti/; Italian: [luˈtʃaːno pavaˈrɔtti]), was born to a baker and amateur tenor, and a cigar factory worker. He went on to become one of the most commercially successful tenors of all time with a repertoire spanning from classic Italian operas and arias to popular music. Gaining worldwide fame for the quality of his tone, and eventually established himself as one of the finest tenors of the 20th century, achieving the honorific title "Kind of the high C's." From the beginning of his professional career in 1961 in Italy to his final performance at the 2006 Winter Olympics in Turin, Pavarotti has sold over a hundred million records, with the first Three Tenors recording becoming the best-selling classical album of all time. Pavarotti was also known for his charity work on behalf of refugees and the Red Cross, amongst others. He also attracted significant controversy with his affair with his future second wife Nicoletta Mantovani, whom he would go on to have a daughter, Alice in January 2003. On 6th September 2007, he passed away from pancreatic cancer. The film was produced with the cooperation of Pavarotti's estate using family archives, interviews and live music footage. In addition to Mantovani and their daughter, he was survived by his first wife Adua and their three daughters: Lorenza, Cristina, and Giuliana.

Unearthed fan footage and gorgeously restored concert clips make Pavarotti a must-see for fans. Howard assembles the film with an eye to appeasing those knowledgeable about the most iconic tenor of the 20th century. The material is uncontroversial to say the least, but hugely enjoyable with some remastered live performances that were previously drowned out by screaming fans. For those of us who can remember, it's a deliriously evocative nostalgia trip, as well as a timely reminder of more cultured times. Ninety percent familiar and a bit hagiographic as well, but just try watching it without smiling. This doc isn't pretending to be anything but hagiographic, but despite its obvious fandom, it does a great job of reminding us just how ground breaking and popular Pavarotti really was. Like most documentaries Howard has made is a fine one, and necessary. Howard brings a narrative structure to a wealth of images and sounds, and it's a great story, even if you think you've heard it all before. The documentary's richness is so great that it doesn't even end when the final credits run. Pavarotti now belongs to an honoured past, stuck there like an obelisk, and yet here he is, alive-busting out all over, time and time again. In short, two hours of ecstasy for the fans and enjoyment for the rest of the audience.

Simon says Pavarotti receives:

Also, see my review for The Beatles: Eight Days a Week.

Saturday, 15 June 2019

2019 Auckland GI Winter Series.


Auckland Gi Winter Series - come and warm up with some of the best Jiu Jitsu the country has ever seen. Doors open at 8:30am. SJJIF Rules found here.

Also, see my video of the Women's GI Purple 81.6kg+ here.

Tuesday, 11 June 2019

Film Review: "The Secret Life of Pets 2" (2019).

"They still have their secrets" in The Secret Life of Pets 2. This computer animated comedy film co-directed by Chris Renaud and Jonathan del Val, written by Brian Lynch, and produced by Illumination. It is the sequel to The Secret Life of Pets (2016). Max is coping with some major life changes. His owner is now married and has a toddler, Liam. Max is so worried about protecting the boy that he develops a nervous tic. On a family trip to a farm, Max’s anxiety is elevated. Luckily, Max gets some guidance from Rooster, who pushes Max to ditch his neuroses, find his inner alpha, and give Liam a little more freedom. Meanwhile, while her owner is away, Gidget tries to rescue Max’s favourite toy from a cat-packed apartment with a little help from Chloe, who has discovered the joys of catnip. And crazy-but-cute Snowball gets delusions of grandeur that he’s an actual superhero after his owner starts dressing him in superhero pyjamas. But when Daisy shows up to ask for Snowball’s help on a dangerous mission, he’ll have to summon the courage to become the hero he’s only pretending to be. Can Max, Gidget and Snowball find their inner courage to face their biggest fears?

In early August 2016, Universal Pictures and Illumination announced a sequel with Renaud, Lynch, Chris Meledandri, and Janet Healy returning to direct, write and produce. In November 2017, it was announced that Louis C.K. would not reprise his role as Max after being accused of and later admitting to sexual misconduct. Joel McHale, Jason Lee, Andy Samberg, Bill Hader, David Cross, Ashton Kutcher, Sean Hayes, Jack Black, and Chris Pratt were all considered to replace C.K. In April 2018, it was announced that Patton Oswalt would replace C.K. with Kevin Hart, Eric Stonestreet, Jenny Slate, Ellie Kemper, Lake Bell, Dana Carvey, Hannibal Buress, and Bobby Moynihan all returning to reprise their roles. Additionally, Tiffany Haddish, Nick Kroll, Harrison Ford and Pete Holmes would round out the cast.

The film features the voice talents of Oswalt, Stonestreet, Hart, Slate, Kemper, Haddish, Bell, Kroll, Carvey, Buress, Moynihan, and Ford. Despite their best efforts, the cast, both old and new, provided decently stale performances that would provide very little development for both the new story and their characters.

Despite the predictable and stale plot, The Secret Life of Pets 2 offers plenty of eye-popping visual inventiveness and a number of big laughs. The new edition doesn't quite catch that inspired spark. But, armed with masses of pets and an excess of adorability, the film is guaranteed to charm anyone who's out of school and already bored. It's fun. It's cheerful. It's lollipop colorful. Best of all, it features lots of minion mischief, which guarantees plenty of laughs. But what it doesn't have is an edge. Renaud, del Val, and Lynch haven't managed to come up with a adorable plot to rival the previous film. It is consistently diverting and so cute you'll want to pet it. Yet it lacks a center.

Simon says The Secret Life of Pets 2 receives:

Also, see my reviews for The Secret Life of Pets and The Grinch.

Monday, 10 June 2019

Film Review: "X-Men: Dark Phoenix" (2019).

"The Phoenix will rise" in X-Men: Dark Phoenix. This superhero film written and directed by Simon Kinberg, based on the Marvel Comics characters of the same name and The Dark Phoenix Saga by Chris Claremont and John Byrne. It is the sequel to X-Men: Apocalypse (2016), the twelfth installment in the X-Men film series. During a life-threatening rescue mission in space, Jean is hit by a cosmic force that transforms her into one of the most powerful mutants of all. Wrestling with this increasingly unstable power as well as her own personal demons, Jean spirals out of control, tearing the X-Men family apart and threatening to destroy the very fabric of our planet.

After X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014) erased the X-Men: The Last Stand (2006) from the series' timeline, Kinberg expressed interest in a new and more faithful adaptation of The Dark Phoenix Saga in a future film. In May 2016, three weeks before the release of Apocalypse, the film was announced. By February 2017, Kinberg had completed the script with production set for June without Bryan Singer returning to the director's chair. In early June, Kinberg signed on to make his directorial debut, with James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, Nicholas Hoult, Sophie Turner, Tye Sheridan, Alexandra Shipp, Kodi Smit-McPhee, and Evan Peters set to reprise their roles. However,  Lana Condor and Olivia Munn were unable to reprise their roles due to scheduling conflicts. In addition, Jessica Chastain rounded the cast. In late June, principal photography began and wrapped in mid October. Filming took place in Montreal, Quebec, Canada, under the working title Teen Spirit. Kinberg cited Logan (2017) as a key influence for the film's less stylish, more natural and hand-held look. In December, the film entered post-production. In January 2018, Hans Zimmer was announced to score the film despite his self-imposed retirement from scoring superhero movies. In March, along with New Mutants, the film's release date was delayed from November 2, 2018 to February 15th 2019 and reshoots began following poor test screenings. In late September, after the release of the first trailer, the film was once again delayed to June 7, 2019. Since the Disney acquisition of 20th Century Fox was complete in March 2019, the film will be the first to be distributed by Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures.

The film stars McAvoy, Fassbender, Lawrence, Hoult, Turner, Sheridan, Shipp, Smit-McPhee, Peters, and Chastain. Despite their best efforts, the cast gave performances that just seemed messy and heavy. Nothing like the performances first seen in First Class, and more like the performances seen in Apocalypse.

Underwhelming action and a cliched hero-turned-villain take the focus away from otherwise strong performances and resonant themes, making X-Men: Dark Phoenix a disappointing chapter of this once venerable superhero franchise. You'd think for the second time round, Kinberg could have stuck a bit more closely to the Dark Phoenix narrative than he did. To paraphrase T. S. Elliot, "This is the way the X-Men franchise ends, not with a bang, but a whimper."

Simon says X-Men: Dark Phoenix receives:

Also, see my reviews for X-Men: Apocalypse and Deadpool 2.

Friday, 31 May 2019

Film Review: "Godzilla: King of the Monsters" (2019).

"Long Live The King" with Godzilla: King of the Monsters. This monster film directed by Michael Dougherty, co-written by Dougherty and Zach Shields, based on the franchise created by Toho Co., Ltd. It is a sequel to Godzilla (2014), the 35th film in the Godzilla franchise, and the third film in Legendary's MonsterVerse. The crypto-zoological agency Monarch face off against a battery of god-sized monsters, including Godzilla, Mothra, Rodan, and King Ghidorah. When these ancient super-speciesthought to be mere mythsrise again, they all vie for supremacy, leaving humanity's very existence hanging in the balance.

The film stars Kyle Chandler, Vera Farmiga, Millie Bobby Brown, Bradley Whitford, Sally Hawkins, Charles Dance, Thomas Middleditch, Aisha Hinds, O'Shea Jackson Jr., David Strathairn, Ken Watanabe, and Zhang Ziyi. Despite terrific performances, the human story only proved to be a minor improvement over the previous film.

In July 2014, after the successful release of Godzilla, Legendary confirmed, at San Diego Comic-Con, that they had acquired the rights to Mothra, Rodan, and King Ghidorah from Toho. For the monsters, Dougherty wanted their designs to emit a godly presence and evoke a sense of worship. For Godzilla, Dougherty wanted to tweak the design by changing the dorsal plates to resemble more the maple leaf shape seen in the 1954 iteration onwards, as well as making the claws and feet bigger. He also had the sound design team expand on Godzilla's roar by making it sound closer to the roars of the 1954 incarnation. For Rodan, Dougherty wanted Rodan's design to resemble something that "Mother Nature could have created". The designers were instructed to not just look at Pteranodons but at various birds such as vultures, eagles, and hawks. In addition, elements of volcanic rock were added to the scales and skin color to make Rodan look capable of living inside of a volcano. For Mothra, Dougherty wanted to create something that was "beautiful, and feminine, and elegant, and looked like a true goddess, but also dangerous if she had to be". He attempted to remain faithful to the color palette and design of the original 1961 incarnation. Mothra was designed to resemble real moths and given longer legs in order to defend herself against other monsters. Dougherty found Mothra to be the most difficult to design because he wished to avoid making Mothra look like a blown up moth. For King Ghidorah, Dougherty wanted to create a "unique" design but worked closely with Toho to make sure the new design respected past incarnations. Each head was given its own personality, with the center being the alpha and the others beings its lackeys. He instructed the designers to look at various animals, specifically king cobras. In addition, he told the design team to maintain an Eastern dragon influence and to avoid any Western dragon influence.

Despite some basic incongruities and its occasionally silly tone, Godzilla: King of the Monsters is genuinely the best American-made Godzilla film thus far. In terms of full-on kaiju brawls, it just doesn't get any better than this.

Simon says Godzilla: King of the Monsters receives:

Also, see my reviews for Godzilla (2014) and Krampus.

Thursday, 30 May 2019

Film Review: "Brightburn" (2019).

"Evil Has Found Its Superhero" in Brightburn. This superhero horror film directed by David Yarovesky and written by Brian Gunn and Mark Gunn. The film poses a question: What if a child from another world crash-landed on Earth, but instead of becoming a hero to mankind, he proved to be something far more sinister?

In December 2017, under the title Untitled James Gunn Horror Project, the film was announced with James Gunn producing, his cousin Mark Gunn and brother Brian Gunn penning the screenplay, and David Yarovesky directing. The film was scheduled for a November 30th 2018 release date, before it was delayed to May 24th 2019. In March 2018, Elizabeth Banks, David Denman, Meredith Hagner, Matt Jones, and Jackson A. Dunn were cast. Around the same time, principal photography commenced and wrapped in May, with filming taking place in Georgia. In early December, the first trailer was released to surprising reactions, being cited as an "Ultraman horror movie" due to its deconstructionist approach to the Superman mythos and the superhero genre.

The film stars Banks, Denman, Jones, Hagner, and Dunn. The cast gave solid performances with Banks, Denman, and Dunn giving unique interpretations of the Martha, Jonathan, and Clark Kent archetypes. Banks and Denman's portrayal of the loving and supportive human parents is touching and heartbreaking. Dunn's portrayal as the super-powered being is twisted and terrifying. Thanks to the cast's outlandishly tragic ambition, and a terrifying performance from Dunn, there are screams to be had, but it could have been a scarier tragedy.

Brightburn's intriguing premise and talented cast are drowned in a blood-red sea of graphic violence, jarring tonal shifts, and expendable characters. It's not that this type of movie shouldn't be made—this type of movie could be brilliant—but it plays like every first draft idea anyone had found its way to the screen because it made someone scared to death over a few drinks. Some really interesting ideas and the odd flash of awesomeness, but overall a misfire with some ill-judged nastiness. There's a great movie somewhere inside the film. It's an undeniably entertaining film. But there's something off about it. The film is a particularly dark tale, a twisted story, and occasionally a very good movie, just rarely at the same time. If you aren't too bothered by the sight of people getting killed with every inch of their lives, this idiosyncratic superhero horror film is for you. The film is an ingeniously nasty concoction that feeds the cult of superhero fandom back into itself. As a superhero horror film, it works reasonably well some of the time, with plenty of horror but not much superhero. Offers genuine sadism with the put-upon protagonist's journey for death and destruction, yet plays the bloody ramifications for nihilistic gloom. This movie is too pedestrian for horror, and too scattershot for a superhero film. It's difficult to tell if the filmmakers are really trying to play for screams, because so much of the horror is outlandish. The ingredients just don't mesh.

Simon says Brightburn receives: