Sunday, 15 March 2020

Film Review: "Color Out of Space" (2019).

From author H. P. Lovecraft, the producers of Mandy and the director of Hardware comes Color Out of Space. This science fiction cosmic horror film directed by Richard Stanley, adapted by Stanley and
Scarlett Amaris, and based on Lovecraft's 1927 cosmic horror short story The Colour Out of Space. After a meteorite lands in the front yard of their farm, Nathan Gardner and his family find themselves battling a mutant extraterrestrial organism as it infects their minds and bodies, transforming their quiet rural life into a technicolor nightmare.

Stanley is a huge Lovecraft fan thanks to his mother, Penny Miller. She read Lovecraft's works to Stanley when he was young. At the age of twelve or thirteen, he read The Colour Out of Space. When his mother suffered from cancer, Stanley read Lovecraft's works to her in her declining years. Since 2011, Stanley nurtured the idea of bringing the short story to the screen, but always had trouble finding financing. In July 2013, he pitched the project to investors at Fantasia Film Festival with a proof of concept trailer, but was met with no success. However, in September 2015, things changed when it was announced that production company SpectreVision had came on board to produce with a projected start date of early 2016. After three years of silence, in December 2018, while doing promotional interviews for Mandy (2018), producer Josh C. Waller surprised everyone announcing that the project was still alive and kicking with Stanley as director and Nicholas Cage set to star, and it would begin production in early 2019. The film would mark Stanley's first feature film in more than twenty years since his infamous exit from The Island of Dr. Moreau (1996). By late January 2019, Joely Richardson, Madeleine Arthur, Brendan Meyer, Julian Hilliard, Elliot Knight, Q'orianka Kilcher, and Tommy Chong rounded out the film's cast. At the same time, principal photography commenced, and wrapped in early March. Filming took place throughout Portugal.

The film stars Cage, Richardson, Arthur, Meyer, Hilliard, Knight, Kilcher, and Chong. Strong performances were given by the cast, especially Cage. Cage is exceptional and more memorable than past performances, but this is only due to the world that Stanley has crafted for him to coexist within.

Color Out of Space backs up its sci-fi visual wonders and visceral genre thrills with an impressively ambitious - and surprisingly strange - exploration of challenging themes that should leave audiences pondering long after the end credits roll. Kudos to Cage and the rest of the cast, but bravo to Richard Stanley. Apparently you knew a masterpiece when you saw it, and you made sure we were able to see it as well. Stanley need make no apologies. It's a bracing brainteaser with the courage of its own ambiguity. You work out the answers in your own head, in your own time, in your own dreams, where the best sci-fi puzzles leave things. Even as it relies on horror tropes for shape the film's mission is to plumb the depths of Lovecraftian existential fear.

Simon says Color Out of Space receives:

Sunday, 8 March 2020

Film Review: "Dark Waters" (2019).

"The Truth Has a Man on the Inside"
in Dark Waters. This legal thriller film directed by Todd Haynes, written by Mario Correa and Matthew Michael Carnahan, and based on the 2016 The New York Times Magazine article The Lawyer Who Became DuPont's Worst Nightmare by Nathaniel Rich, the 2015 article Welcome to Beautiful Parkersburg, West Virginia by Mariah Blake, and the memoir Exposure by Robert Bilott. A tenacious attorney uncovers a dark secret that connects a growing number of unexplained deaths to one of the world's largest corporations. While trying to expose the truth, he soon finds himself risking his future, his family and his own life.

In late September 2018, it was announced that Haynes would direct the film, then titled Dry Run, from a script penned by Carnahan. In November 2018, Mark Ruffalo was officially set to star. By mid January 2019, Anne Hathaway, Tim Robbins, Bill Camp, Victor Garber, William Jackson Harper, and Bill Pullman rounded out the film's cast. At the same time, principal photography commenced, and took place in Cincinnati, Ohio.

The film stars Ruffalo, Hathaway, Robbins, Camp, Garber, Harper, and Pullman. The cast is outstanding, and the performances are so good I simply got caught up. As for Ruffalo, he is seriously, seriously good. Here, his performance is passionate, subtle and right on the money. Ruffalo gave the strongest performance of his career.

Dark Waters is one of the most sharply scripted films of 2019, with an engrossing premise and faultless acting. Haynes succeeds not only in capturing the audience's attention, but holding it until the credits roll. The film is a morally alert, persuasively realistic and increasingly suspenseful melodrama, impeccably acted and handsomely staged by Haynes. The film is not an exercise in high-tension energy; you'll never confuse its eponymous protagonist with Jason Bourne. But it does have enough of a melodramatic pulse to keep you engaged in its story and, better than that, it is full of plausible characters who are capable of surprising—and surpassing—your expectations. The deeper you get into the film, the more it becomes apparent that this is a masterful character study of how people react when pushed to the brink. A deliberately paced, endlessly riveting, highly suspenseful work that captivates and thrills with an assured hand. Haynes directs with a cool hand and an underplayed sense of drama, letting the words and the performances carry the film. There's a lot of skill involved in the film and an understated, ambiguous hero that's becoming rare in modern film. Even if under its subtle surface there isn't really much there, the surface is good enough to make it worthwhile. The film is a chilling, intense conspiracy thriller, filled with intriguing characters and great performances. A strong drama/thriller that starts a little slow, but ultimately gets into a nice rhythm. A straight-ahead suspense melodrama, complete with villain and a climax with satisfyingly clean lines. But Haynes constantly elevates the material with surprise gifts.

Simon says Dark Waters receives:

Also, see my review for Wonderstruck.

Sunday, 1 March 2020

Film Review: "The Invisible Man" (2020).

"What You Can't See Can Hurt You" in The Invisible Man. This science fiction horror film film adapted and directed by Leigh Whannell, and based on the 1897 science fiction literary classic of the same name by H. G. Wells. Trapped in a violent, controlling relationship with a wealthy and brilliant scientist, Cecilia Kass escapes in the dead of night and disappears into hiding, aided by her sister, their childhood friend and his teenage daughter. But when Cecilia’s abusive ex commits suicide and leaves her a generous portion of his vast fortune, Cecilia suspects his death was a hoax. As a series of eerie coincidences turns lethal, threatening the lives of those she loves, Cecilia’s sanity begins to unravel as she desperately tries to prove that she is being hunted by someone nobody can see.

As early as 2007, development of a new The Invisible Man began with David S. Goyer was hired to pen the script. However, in 2011, Goyer left the project, and the project entered into development hell. In February 2016, the project was announced to be revived as a part of Universal's Dark Universe. Johnny Depp was cast as the titular role, with Ed Solomon hired to pen the script. However, after the critical and financial failure of The Mummy (2017), the project was once again cancelled and changes were made to the Dark Universe to focus on individual storytelling and moving on from the shared universe concept. In January 2019, Universal announced that all future Universal Monster movies would focus on standalone stories as opposed to inter-connectivity. Producer Jason Blum had at various times publicly expressed his interest in reviving and working on future installments. Ultimately, the project, and all future installments, would be set up at Blum's Blumhouse Productions with Whannell hired to direct and pen The Invisible Man. In April, Elizabeth Moss was officially cast in the female lead role. By mid July, Aldis Hodge, Storm Reid, Harriet Dyer, Michael Dorman, and Oliver Jackson-Cohen rounded out the film's cast, with Jackson-Cohen cast in the title role. At the same time, principal photography commenced, and wrapped in mid September. Filming took place in Sydney, Australia. Universal originally scheduled the film for a March 13, 2020 release date. But, in August, was moved up two weeks for a February 28, 2020 release.

The film stars Moss, Hodge, Reid, Dyer, Dorman, and Jackson-Cohen. The cast gave terrifically layered performances, especially Moss. Moss brought an edge to the damaged-girl-next-door role, and the dark, dashing Jackson-Cohen is chillingly twisted.

The film easily could have been just a B-picture, albeit an expensively-produced one, but Whannell is as serious about his social commentary as he is about entertaining us. It is much more than the sum of its parts, is as enjoyable as hell and taps into all of those innovative sci-fi movies that you already love without being a mere copycat. It begins as an unyielding look at a battered wife, but does not end as another one of those thrillers where the villain toys with his victim and the audience.

Simon says The Invisible Man receives:

Also, see my review for Upgrade.

Monday, 24 February 2020

Film Review: "The Call of the Wild" (2020).

"Based on the legendary novel" comes The Call of the Wild. This adventure film directed by Chris Sanders, in his live-action directorial debut, adapted by Michael Green, and based on the Jack London 1903 literary classic. Adapted from the beloved literary classic, the film vividly brings to the screen the story of Buck, a big-hearted dog whose blissful domestic life is turned upside down when he is suddenly uprooted from his California home and transplanted to the exotic wilds of the Yukon during the Gold Rush of the 1890s. As the newest rookie on a mail delivery dog sled team--and later its leader--Buck experiences the adventure of a lifetime, ultimately finding his true place in the world and becoming his own master.

In October 2017, it was announced that 20th Century Fox was developing the film adaptation of London's classic novel, with Sanders as director and Green penning the adaptation. In July 2018, Harrison Ford set to star as John Thornton. By late September, Dan Stevens, Omar Sy, Karen Gillan, Bradley Whitford, and Terry Notary were cast. At the same time, principal photography commenced, and took place in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, and Santa Clarita, California. In January 2019, it was announced that John Powell will compose the film's score. MPC Montréal provided the film's visual effects. The film's producers chose to go with a CGI canine in order to give him a fuller range of emotion and expression as well as to avoid putting any real dogs at risk of being injured or frightened in this tale of overcoming hardships in a harsh environment. The fully CGI model of Buck is a digital scan of Buckley, a real dog that Sanders' wife, Jessica Steele-Sanders, adopted from an Emporia, Kansas animal shelter during production. By the time post production wrapped, the film had a $125–150 million budget.

The film stars Ford, Stevens, Sy, Gillan, Whitford, and Notary. Despite being no Clark Gable, Ford acts with pure soul here (he also narrates the film with his lovely storybook growl); it's a minimalist performance, mostly very reactive, but the saintly gruffness of Ford’s thick-gray-bearded, sad-eyed presence helps to nudge Buck to life as a character. The cast does quietly powerful work as London's beloved characters, but their computer-generated co-star looks weird.

I don't know whether or not 20th Century Fox (or 20th Century Studios now) meant it that way, but its adaptation of London's The Call of the Wild is certainly a comedy. Thanks to its obviously laughable CGI canine hero. At any rate, London must be whirling in his grave. You are better off squinting your eyes and blurring out the effects (it's not only Buck - all the dogs, squirrels, wolves and bears are computer-generated). While the use of CGI sometimes creates distracting moments, the overall story is well-told enough to keep audiences hooked. The film is still a reverent and unsentimental portrait of a dog's life. The film is slightly preposterous, but it's still good entertainment. It is a perfectly serviceable family film.

Simon says Call of the Wild receives:

Also, see my review for The Croods.

Sunday, 23 February 2020

Film Review: "The Lighthouse" (2019).

"There is enchantment in the light." This is The Lighthouse. This psychological horror film directed by Robert Eggers, and co-written by Eggers and his brother Max. The film is a hypnotic and hallucinatory tale of two lighthouse keepers on a remote and mysterious New England island in the 1890s.

The film began as Eggers' attempt to adapt Edgar Allan Poe's unfinished short story The Light-House. Eggers became aware of his brother's idea while trying to pitch his debut feature, The Witch (2015), to studios. Max's project stalled, after which Robert offered to work on it based on his own vision. Max's idea was a contemporary ghost story set in a lighthouse. Eggers decided it had to be a period piece after he discovered The Smalls Lighthouse Tragedy, a 19th-century incident at Smalls Lighthouse in Wales involving two lighthouse keepers. But this film was put on the back-burner once The Witch finally got financing. Ultimately, the final story would bear no resemblance to Poe's story apart from the title. Maine-based writer Sarah Orne Jewett served as a significant point of reference for the dialects. The works of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Herman Melville and Robert Louis Stevenson influenced the maritime and surrealistic elements. By February 2018, Willem Dafoe and Robert Pattison were cast. By early April, principal photography commenced, and wrapped in mid May. Filming took place in Nova Scotia, Canada, and was shot on black-and-white 35mm film, with an orthochromatic aesthetic, in the 1.19:1 aspect ratio. From the beginning, Eggers wanted to shoot the film in black and white and a "narrow, vintage" aspect ratio that evokes 19th-century photography. The entire film was shot with Panavision Millennium XL2 cameras that were equipped with a vintage 1930s Baltar lens, and black-and-white Eastman Double-X 5222 film was used with a custom short pass filter. Blaschke almost exclusively set his aperture to T2.8, setting only the characters as the focus of shots. Due to the low sensitivity of the film used on set, 8k and 9k HMI lights were used through the entirety of filming, as natural light could not suffice. HMI light was bounced off muslin cloths for daytime scenes. Low voltage bulbs and china lights were used to light nighttime and closeup scenes.

The film stars Dafoe and Pattinson. Dafoe delivered another unsettling performance as the elderly Wickie, particularly with his usual intense eyes. Pattison delivered his most emotionally intense performance of his career that is sure to shatter his Twilight image.

The Lighthouse delivers a deeply unsettling exercise in slow-building horror that suggests great things for writer-director Robert Eggers. Its acting, lighting, music, writing, production design, cinematography, editing, and direction all immediately impress. While, at the same time, they combine to create an innately terrifying tale that keeps you on tenterhooks all the way up until its grandiose but enthralling finale. It is a stunningly crafted experience that'll have you seeking out a psychiatrist as soon as you leave the theater. It is a triumph of tone, mood and atmosphere.

Simon says The Lighthouse receives:

Also, see my review for The Witch.

Friday, 21 February 2020

2020 Oceania Open Jiu-Jitsu Championship: No-Gi.

NZ Grappler presents SJJFNZ Oceania's Open



See SJJIF Rules here.

Monday, 17 February 2020

Film Review: "Richard Jewell" (2019).

"The world will know his name and the truth." This is Richard Jewell. This biographical drama film directed by Clint Eastwood, written by Billy Ray, and based on the 1997 Vanity Fair article American Nightmare: The Ballad of Richard Jewell by Marie Brenner. During the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta, security guard Richard Jewell discovers a suspicious backpack under a bench in Centennial Park. With little time to spare, he helps to evacuate the area until the incendiary device inside the bag explodes. Hailed as a hero who saved lives, Jewell's own life starts to unravel when the FBI names him the prime suspect in the bombing.

In February 2014, the project was initially announced when Leonardo DiCaprio and Jonah Hill teamed to produce the film, with Hill set to play Jewell, and DiCaprio set to play the lawyer who helped Jewell navigate the media blitz that surrounded him. The project was initially set up at 20th Century Fox. Paul Greengrass began negotiations to direct the film, with Ray penning the script. However, Greengrass chose to do Jason Bourne (2016) instead. David O. Russell was eventually approached for the project, but a deal never developed. In April 2015, Eastwood began to circle the project as his follow up to Sully (2016), but Eastwood chose to direct The 15:17 to Paris (2018) instead. In December 2016, Ezra Edelman signed on to direct as his directorial narrative feature film debut, but dropped out in late 2018 after not getting it off the ground. In May 2019, Eastwood signed back on to direct. Additionally, DiCaprio and Hill dropped out of starring due to scheduling conflicts, though they remained as producers. In May 2019, Warner Bros. acquired the film rights from Fox. By June, Paul Walter Hauser was cast as Jewell, with Sam Rockwell, Kathy Bates, Jon Hamm, and Olivia Wilde rounding out the film's cast. At the same time, principal photography commenced, and wrapped in late August. Filming took place at the historic locations in Atlanta, Georgia.

The film stars Hauser, Rockwell, Bates, Hamm, and Wilde. Terrific performances were given by the cast that conveyed a vigorous and involving salute to professionalism and being good at your job. The cast earns your attention and respect by digging deep, by finding the fear and self-doubt inside a man who'd never accept being defined as a hero. This is Hauser's show, and he delivers a strong performance, quickly allowing us to forget that we're watching an actor. With his large, beefy physique and moustache to match, Hauser conveys a man confident in his abilities, yet humble in his actions, which could also be said of Eastwood as a director.

Richard Jewell is a beautifully balanced, classily nuanced and hugely engaging film that avoids all the clichéd pitfalls it could have slipped into. Hauser gives the best performance of his career and Eastwood's direction is beautiful and rich. It's not just a great film, it is one of the best pieces of cinema that a major Hollywood studio has released this year.

Simon says Richard Jewell receives:

Also, see my review for The Mule.