Monday, 18 September 2017

TIFF Film Review: "The Shape of Water" (2017).



"A Fairy Tale for Troubled Times." This is The Shape of Water. This romantic fantasy film directed by Guillermo del Toro, and written by del Toro and Vanessa Taylor. The film is an other-worldly fairy tale, set against the backdrop of Cold War era America circa 1962. In the hidden high-security government labyrinth and oratory where she works, lonely Elisa is trapped in a life of isolation. Elisa's life is changed forever when she and co-worker Zelda discover a secret classified experiment.

The idea for The Shape of Water formed during del Toro's breakfast with Daniel Kraus (whom he would later co-write the novel Trollhunters) in 2011. Del Toro then began working on the film, he self-financed a crew that designed both the creature and the world. Del Toro called it the most difficult movie he and his team have ever designed. Del Toro would go on to work on this film for the next several years, and developed it before he began production on Pacific Rim (2013). Eventually, he chose to direct this film instead of Pacific Rim: Uprising (2018). It was finally confirmed in March 2016 when The Hollywood Reporter reported that the film was in development which would star Sally Hawkins and Octavia Spencer, and which del Toro would write, produce and direct for Fox Searchlight Pictures. The film would be set in the Cold War era. Del Toro originally wanted to shoot the film in black and white, but due to budget restraints, decided against it. Del Toro first pitched the film to Hawkins when they first met at the 2014 Golden Globes, and pitched the film to her while being intoxicated; "I was drunk and it's not a movie that makes you sound less drunk". Ironically, when she was offered the lead role in this film, Hawkins herself was working on a script for a short film about a woman who turns into a fish. Hawkins researched Charles Chaplin, Stan Laurel, Oliver Hardy, Buster Keaton and Audrey Hepburn for her part. Del Toro bought her a Blu-ray collection featuring the performers prior to filming. By May, Michael Stuhlbarg and Michael Shannon had joined the cast. In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, del Toro confirmed his frequent collaborator Doug Jones would play the creature in the film. Jones commented: "...I played a creature in it, in a full rubber, you know, transformation from head to toe. ... Sally Hawkins is like the lead of the movie, and the one I had most of my scenes with." Jones spent three hours every day getting into the costume. According to him, it was nothing compared to previous costumes he has worn in other films by del Toro. Filming began in August 2016 in Toronto and Hamilton, Ontario, with a budget of $30 million. Filming took twelve weeks, and it wrapped in November 2016. In December 2016, Alexandre Desplat was announced to score the film. Desplat's whistling can be heard in the soundtrack. Del Toro wanted the score to feature whistling because it contrasted how many scenes of the film feature water. In July 2017, the first trailer for the film was released. Despite visual similarities, del Toro has denied that this film has any connections to Hellboy (2004). The film was screened in the main competition section of the 74th Venice International Film Festival and premiered on August 31, 2017. It would later win the main award, The Golden Lion, the first English-language movie since Somewhere (2010).

The film stars Sally Hawkins, Michael Shannon, Richard Jenkins, Doug Jones, Michael Stuhlbarg, and Octavia Spencer. The cast gave terrific performances that was outer worldly and more multi-lated than one would expect. Both Hawkins and Jones gave incredibly physical performances that radiated soulfulness and outer worldly beauty without uttering a single word. Performances that harken back to performances of the silent era to the performances of the golden age of horror films. They were just simply wondrous. Shannon's multi-layered performance was the key throughout the film, as his character in the film epitomizes the human theme of the film. He has joined the rank of del Toro's greatest antagonists, a character who is both unsettling and chivalrous. Stuhlbarg, Jenkins and Spencer gave scene-stealing performances that is sure to get some award buzz.

The Shape of Water is Beauty and the Beast for grown-ups, with the horrors of both reality and fantasy blended together into an extraordinary, spellbinding fable like Pan's Labyrinth. The film is another epic, poetic vision from Guillermo del Toro in which a love story is set in a period of history that examined what made America great and horrible. It is a fairy tale of such potency and awesome beauty that it reconnects the adult imagination to the primal thrill and horror of the stories that held us spellbound as children. It works on so many levels that it seems to change shape even as you watch it. Del Toro has crafted a masterpiece, a visually wondrous fairy tale love story for adults that blends the beloved del Toro fantasy elements and the melodrama of Douglas Sirk into one of the most magical films to come along in years. It is so breathtaking in its artistic ambition, so technically accomplished, so morally expansive, so fully realized that it defies the usual critical blather. See it, and celebrate that rare occasion when a director has the audacity to commit cinema. The film is one of those rare beasts, with a sense of genuine permanency. It beds down in your mind, like it is preparing to live there for a while. It is not pretty, but it is, sometimes, very beautiful. But even in a year where cinema is not at its finest, I'm unable to see everything. And I'm still not finished with my 2017 discoveries. I'm still looking for more movies to watch until the end of the year. Nothing I am likely to see, however, is likely to change my conviction that the year's best film is The Shape of Water. It's simply bewitchingly bonkers.

Simon says The Shape of Water receives: 


Sunday, 17 September 2017

TIFF Film Review: "The Death of Stalin" (2017).



"The fight for leadership begins." This is The Death of Stalin. This period comedy-drama film directed by Armando Iannucci, adapted by Iannucci, David Schneider, Ian Martin, and Peter Fellows, based on the French graphic novel of the same name by Fabien Nury and Thierry Robin. The film follows the Soviet dictator's last days and depicts the chaos of the regime after his death.

The project first gained momentum during the 2016 Cannes Film Festival. Armando Iannucci was set as director and co-writer, alongside his regular collaborators David Schneider (The Thick of It co-writer), Ian Martin and Peter Fellows. Production began in late June 2016, with Jeffrey Tambor, Steve Buscemi, Olga Kurylenko, Michael Palin, Simon Russell Beale, Paddy Considine, Andrea Riseborough, Adrian Mcloughlin, Rupert Friend, Jason Isaacs and Paul Whitehouse all confirmed to be in the cast. In September 2017, a high-ranking Russian official with the culture ministry said the Russian authorities were considering a ban on the upcoming film, which, he alleged, could be part of a "western plot to destabilise Russia by causing rifts in society."

The film stars an ensemble cast that includes Jeffrey Tambor as Georgy Malenkov, Steve Buscemi as Nikita Khrushchev, Olga Kurylenko as Maria Yudina, Michael Palin as Vyacheslav Molotov, Simon Russell Beale as Lavrentiy Beria, Paddy Considine as Comrade Andreyev, Andrea Riseborough as Svetlana Stalina, Rupert Friend as Vasily Stalin, Jason Isaacs as Georgy Zhukov, Adrian McLoughlin as Joseph Stalin, Paul Whitehouse as Anastas Mikoyan, Paul Chahidi as Nikolai Bulganin, and Dermot Crowley as Lazar Kaganovich. Every single one of the cast gave performances that rides the thin line between hilarity and insanity. Every moment throughout the film, all the performances were hilarious and insane to the point where I actually, and literally, fell on the floor of the theatre laughing my ass off. All the jokes by the cast were funny as hell and the entire ensemble is great.

There had been nothing in comedy like The Death of Stalin ever before. All the gods before whom the Russia of the stolid, paranoid 50s had genuflected went into the wood-chipper and never got the same respect ever again. Armando Iannucci's brilliant Soviet Union satire is funny and razor-sharp. The film is arguably one of the best political satire of the century. By a whopping margin, this is Iannucci's most radical film and greatest dramatic gamble. Like most of his work, Iannucci's insane satirical comedy-thriller on the death of Joseph Stalin madness and its possible effects has aged well. Perhaps Iannucci's most perfectly realized film, simply because his satirical vision of the danger of power and human stupidity is wedded with comedy. The pre-eminent satire of the troubling times of the Soviet Union, the film is a hilarious and harrowing fable of systemised madness. The film does what so few comedies do today: it challenges us, provokes us, unsettles us while also making us laugh. A slick satire of Stalin's death, and one that succeeds in brilliantly lampooning the hands that guide the world.

Simon says The Death of Stalin receives:


Saturday, 16 September 2017

TIFF Film Review: "The Day After" ("그 후") (2017).



The 21st film by the Korean Woody Allen - The Day After (그 후). This South Korean drama film written, produced, and directed by Hong Sang-soo. The film centres on Bongwan, who runs a small publishing house in Seoul, wakes up early, very early this morning. Why is that so? To his wife who asks him for an explanation, Bongwan answers only elusively. He then sets off for work and while walking through the dark streets, he thinks of the woman who left him a month before. Later on, at the office, he meets Areum, his new secretary, a pretty young woman who takes on her first day of work. Meanwhile, at home, Bongwan's wife discovers a love poem written by him. She sees red and rushes like a fury into the publishing office. Mistaking poor Areum for her husband's mistress, she physically attacks her.

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). But one can not ignore the fact that the film is an indictment for the director's extramarital affair with his leading lady, Kim Min-hee. In June 2016, Hong was reported to be having an extramarital affair with the actress since shortly after their first collaboration on the director's 2015 film Right Now, Wrong Then (지금은맞고그때는틀리다). Hong, who was 54, was in relations with a woman 21 years his junior. Rumours of their affair started circulating since the release of Kim's 2016 film The Handmaiden. At the Seoul premiere of On the Beach at Night Alone (밤의 해변에서 혼자) in March 2017, both Hong and Kim openly admitted their affair. By March 2017, it was reported that Hong had financially cut off his daughter for the affair, Hong's wife had confronted the actress in public, and that Hong's wife has refused to divorce Hong as she believed that he'll come back to her. She commented: "She put us in hell but my husband looks at Kim Min Hee with such a happy expression. My husband looks like a boy who fell in his first love. But we used to live so well together..."

The film stars Kwon Hae-hyo, Kim Min-hee, Kim Sae-byeok, and Jo Yoon-hee. 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.

The Day After is a simple story where director Hong Sang-soo addresses complex issues through extensive dialogues. Hong has a unique ability to create relationship studies that are both charming and puzzling. Every one of Hong Sang-soo's efforts has their delights. In its quiet, pensive manner, the movie plays like a cogent stanza in the ever-flowing lyricism of Hong's career. Even though the film is plotless, its wryly likeable study of human emotions. A melancholic honesty blows through every haunted frame of Hong Sang-soo's film.

Simon says The Day After (그 후) receives:


Tuesday, 12 September 2017

Film Review: "It" (2017).



"You'll float too". Prepare for It (or It: Chapter One) (2017). This supernatural horror film directed by Andy Muschietti, adapted by Chase Palmer, Cary Fukunaga, and Gary Dauberman, based on the 1986 novel of the same name by Stephen King. It is intended to be the first installment in a planned duology. When children begin to disappear in the town of Derry, Maine, a group of young kids are faced with their biggest fears when they square off against an evil clown named Pennywise, whose history of murder and violence dates back for centuries.

The project first entered development in 2009. In March 2009, Variety reported that Warner Bros. would bring Stephen King’s 1986 novel to the big screen as a single feature film, with David Kajganich as screenwriter, and Dan Lin, Roy Lee and Doug Davison as producers. In June 2012, The Hollywood Reporter revealed that Cary Fukunaga was brought on to direct and co-write the script with Chase Palmer. In addition, Seth Grahame-Smith and David Katzenberg were added to the producing roster. In May 2014, it was announced that Warner Bros. had moved the film to its New Line Cinema division. In December, in an interview with Vulture, Dan Lin announced that the film would be split into two films, with the first film would be a coming-of-age story about the children tormented by It. Whilst the second will skip ahead in time as those same characters band together to continue the fight as adults. Also, Lin mentioned that the production was set for principle photography in the Summer of 2016. In March 2015, Fukunaga noted that his goal was to find the "perfect guy to play Pennywise", and, in May, it was officially announced that Will Poulter had been cast to play Pennywise, after Ben Mendelsohn, Ike Barinholtz, Richard Armitage, and Mark Rylance had all turned down the role. In the same month, Ty Simpkins was considered to play Bill Denbrough. Afterwards, it was reported that Fukunaga had suddenly dropped out of the project over creative differences. After Fukunaga's departure, King wrote, "The remake of IT may be dead—or undead—but we'll always have Tim Curry. He's still floating down in the sewers of Derry."

In July, it was announced that Andy Muschietti was in negociations to replace Fukunaga as director. Muschietti’s sister and collaborator, Barbara, was also brought on as producer. In October, Muschietti noted that the production would start shooting next Summer during an interview with Variety. In February 2016, Roy Lee confirmed that Fukunaga and Chase Palmer's original script had been rewritten. In April, it was indicated that Poulter had dropped out of the project due to scheduling conflicts. In addition, New Line Cinema were meeting with actors to replace Poulter, and had set the film for a September 8th 2017 release date. In June, both Bill Skarsgård and Jaeden Lieberher were both confirmed to portray Pennywise and Bill Denbrough, with a cast that included Finn Wolfhard, Jack Dylan Grazer, Wyatt Oleff, Chosen Jacobs, Jeremy Ray Taylor, and Sophia Lillis as the Loser Club. By the end of June, the rest of the cast was rounded out. In July, during an interview with Northumberland News, Barbara Muschietti revealed that filming locations for the film would take place throughout Toronto, Ontario, Canada. Principal Photography on the film began in Ontario, locations included Toronto, Port Hope, Oshawa, and Riverdale. Principal Photography wrapped in September, and Post-Production began in the same month. In July, the first offical image of Pennywise debuted. In August, the first full costume image of Pennywise was released in Entertainment Weekly. In February 2017, during the press tour for The Lego Batman Movie, Lin confirmed that It would be rated R. In March, New Line released the official teaser poster, and then a 139-second teaser trailer the following day. The trailer reached 197 million views in its first 24 hours, setting a new record as the trailer with the most views in one day. Beating out The Fate of the Furious (2017). 

The film stars Bill Skarsgård, Jaeden Lieberher, Jeremy Ray Taylor, Sophia Lillis, Finn Wolfhard, Wyatt Oleff, Chosen Jacobs, and Jack Dylan Grazer. Each of the seven young actors each gave unique performances that carried the film forward and made the horrors they faced even more terrifying. Giving performances that were sweet, strong, ribald, outrageous, funny, a bit rough around the edges, and pure. Simply one of the film's greatest treasures that absolutely must not be missed. But the key performance came from none other than Mr. Skarsgård. Who gave a terrifying tour-de-force performance that moves Pennywise away from Tim Curry's interpretation into much darker territory. Every great hero needs a great villain. And in 2017, the Loser's Club found theirs in Skarsgård's demented dervish, Pennywise. His sinister and frightening performance constantly upstaged the young performers, as well as being mesmerizing. He threw himself completely into the role, and will now rank among cinema's greatest villains.

A sensationally effective action picture, It (2017) is a terrifying horror flick that works all the better because it's populated with characters that have been developed into human beings. It exquisitely captures the vulnerability of youth. Gracefully blending raucous comedy with intense terror, the film is about the loss of innocence, as well as the fears and anxieties of childhood. Director Andy Muschietti is blessed with a talent that is absurdly absent from most American filmmakers these days: this man actually knows how to tell a story on screen. It speaks well of this director's gifts that some of the most frightening sequences in It are those where we follow the young leads on their journey through the darkness and horrors of childhood. Nerve-frying, for the most part, It is a gripping horror film that works beautifully in every department. Kubrick's The Shining aside, this is the best horror Stephen King adaptation of the bunch. The film is a terrifying motion picture of the highest order. Good luck looking at clowns the same way again, folks.

Simon says It (2017) receives:


Saturday, 26 August 2017

Film Review: "Death Note" (2017).






"The name and the face is all you have to have." This is Death Note (2017). This American version of the Japanese fantasy horror thriller franchise of the same name created by Tsugumi Ohba and by Takeshi Obata. The film is directed by Adam Wingard, and written by Charles Parlapanides, Vlas Parlapanides and Jeremy Slater. Light Turner, a bright student, stumbles across a mystical notebook that has the power to kill any person whose name he writes in it. Light decides to launch a secret crusade to rid the streets of criminals. Soon, the student-turned-vigilante finds himself pursued by a famous detective known only by the alias L.

In April 2009, Variety reported that Warner Bros., the distributors for the original Japanese live-action films, had acquired the rights for an American remake, with Charley and Vlas Parlapanides as screenwriters, and Roy Lee, Doug Davison, Dan Lin, and Brian Witten as producers.  In 2009, Zac Efron was rumoured to play the lead role until he shot down these rumours. In January 2011, it was announced that Shane Black was hired to direct the film, with the script being re-written by Anthony Bagarozzi and Charles Mondry. In July 2014, Gus Van Sant was rumoured to replace Black as the film's new director. In April 2015, The Hollywood Reporter revealed that Adam Wingard would direct the film, that Lin, Lee, Jason Hoffs and Masi Oka would produce. The producers have stated the film will receive an R rating. In April 2016, TheWrap reported that Warner Bros. put the film into turnaround but allowed Wingard to take the project elsewhere. Within 48 hours, Wingard was reportedly approached by nearly every major film studio. In the same month, it was confirmed that Netflix had bought the film from Warner Bros. with a budget of $40–50 million and a recent draft of the script being written by Jeremy Slater. Production officially began in British Columbia in June 2016. By August 2016, the film's cast was rounded out with Nat Wolff, Margaret Qualley, Keith Stanfield, Paul Nakauchi, Shea Whigham and Willem Dafoe. The casting announcements, like all other Hollywood productions based on Japanese properties, proved to be controversial. In response, producers Roy Lee and Dan Lin stated that "Our vision for Death Note has always been to...introduce the world to this dark and mysterious masterpiece. The talent and diversity represented in our cast, writing, and producing teams reflect our belief in staying true to the story’s concept of moral relevance — a universal theme that knows no racial boundaries."

The film stars Wolff, Stanfield, Qualley, Whigham, Nakauchi, and Dafoe. The cast gave confident performances despite the lack of characterization that made their characters appealing in the first place. The only performance that stood out was one other than from Mr. Dafoe himself. He embodied the role of Ryuk perfectly.

Death Note (2017) boasts cool visuals and a show-stealing performance from Willem Dafoe, but the end result lacks the magic of the movie's classic source material.

Simon says Death Note (2017) receives:


Sunday, 30 July 2017

'A Tree in Water: My Journey From Aotearoa to The Great White North' Chapter 20.

I had one of the most interesting days today. Twenty-four days after I have arrived here, my opportunity had finally arrived to finally get my foot in the Canadian film industry. Enthusiastically, I dragged myself out of bed early and got myself prepared for my meeting with Robert Nowacki. Mr. Nowacki is one of the most respected Art Directors working in Toronto. His credits include the late George A. Romero’s Land of the Dead, Vincenzo Natali’s Splice, Covert Affairs, Nikita, Shadowhunters and Designated Survivor. He also happened to be the brother of my bnb host’s roommate. So you get the idea of how we got connected.

So I got my best suit on and got myself all the way to the restaurant where we were going to meet up, The Craft Brasserie & Grill. And I got there twenty minutes early, too. I was excited. I was nervous. I was both excited and nervous. This wasn’t the most helpful feeling in this type of situation, but nonetheless it was a natural human insecurity. I’m sure I can get over it without screwing it up in the end. I hope. You know what would really suck? If Mr. Nowacki turns out to be an asshole and he has nothing to say to me except that I should go back home. You’d think that him not showing up would be the worst, but nope, my worst fear was the worst I could have imagined. This thought plagued me. I’d be able to avoid screwing up this meeting when I stop thinking about this worst-case scenario.

When the moment finally came, when I finally met the man and shook his hand, the feeling kind of lowered. In the end, we had a good time. Two, three hours went by and we talked about all kinds of things, particularly movies and the industry. It only took about the last thirty minutes of the conversation for Mr. Nowacki to finally give me some generous advice and directions to get my foot in the door since he couldn’t directly give me a job. I’ll always remember this day and look back at it. And, to be honest… I was kind of expected that it wasn’t going to go all according to plan. But should I regret this day? I don’t think so.

Friday, 28 July 2017

'A Tree in Water: My Journey From Aotearoa to The Great White North' Chapter 19.

I spent most of the day hanging out with Rachel and, to my great surprise, Kevin Min. It was an incredibly exciting day, but it came out of left field. Nonetheless, it was exciting. I never could’ve imagined that I would see Kevin today, considering he now resides in Cleveland, Ohio.

I invited Rachel out for lunch. Number one reason was to thank her for helping me out while I am here. I felt pretty confident about having a nice lunch and have a good time with her, because I spent the previous few days planning it and finally ask her, and it went pretty much according to plan. Then when I got to the restaurant, Pai, and that’s when things started to go off a little off course. Not too much mind you but a little bit. Firstly, her train was running twenty minutes late, so I had to wait in front of the restaurant for while like a schoolboy waiting in line to get into the classroom. No problem… I guess. Then twenty minutes went agonizing by, still she was no show. She called to tell me that she would take an extra ten minutes to walk from the station to the restaurant, and that someone was joining us. There I didn’t know whether to be a tiny bit upset or confused. Then came the critical time… I checked my phone. It took about a minute or two until she finally showed up with, to my surprise, Kevin. I was pleasantly surprised too see him. As I said, it’s been ten years since I’ve seen either of the Mins.

With a surprised mindset, I was excited to enter the restaurant and spend some quality time with them and catching up, just like old times. I had dozens of questions I wanted to ask them both, especially Kevin (since he was only here during his tight two week break), and we had a lot of time to talk about what happened since they left ten years ago. Then when we wrapped up lunch, Rachel ended up paying for it. And it was pretty upsetting for me since this whole thing was my idea. So what happened? Well it’s simple. Since I’m a recent immigrant with no job and little money, and since she is a successful woman with a job in the arts, she felt pity for me and decided to pay herself. Sweet but unnecessary. I decided to get over it as quickly as possible, and continue to have fun with them. I know what you’re thinking, shouldn’t I just be grateful that I didn’t have to pay for it. I guess you’re right. But this whole thing was my idea. But there’ll be another day to do that I suppose. Next time, I’m just going to have to be pretty sneaky. It’s kind of a good thing that it happened. Now I know what to do next time.

These all started as a day for me to hang out with my old friends, just like how I did back in my childhood, and have a good time. Other than the fact that I couldn’t see the third Min, Johnny, and not being able to pay for the lunch, I had a good time just as I intended. Quite a bit happened today. I had a good time and meal with my friends whom I hope we’ll rekindle our friendship for the rest of my days here. Let’s keep our fingers crossed and hope for the best.