Saturday, 31 December 2011

Film Review: "War Horse" (2011)

The film’s tagline, "Separated by war. Tested by battle. Bound by friendship" is at the heart of War Horse. This war drama film directed by Steven Spielberg, adapted by Lee Hall and Richard Curtis, based on the novel and play of the same name by British author Michael Morpurgo. Set in the outbreak of World War I, Joey, young Albert's beloved horse, is sold to the cavalry and shipped to France. He's soon caught up in enemy fire, and fate takes him on an extraordinary journey, serving both the British and the Germans before finding himself alone in no man's land. Meanwhile, Albert cannot forget Joey and, still not old enough to enlist, he embarks on a treacherous mission to find him and bring him home.

The genesis of Morpurgo's novel began when after he met a World War I veteran, named who drank in his local pub at Iddesleigh and who had been in the Devon Yeomanry working with horses, Morpurgo began to think of telling the story of the universal suffering of the Great War through a horse's viewpoint, but was unsure that he could do it. He also met another villager, Captain Budgett, who had been in the Cavalry in the Great War, and a third villager who remembered the army coming to the village to buy horses. Morpurgo thanks the three men in the dedication of the book, naming them as Albert Weeks, Wilfred Ellis and Captain Budgett. The third inspiration for the book, after meeting the veterans and seeing Billy with Hebe the horse, was an old oil painting that Morpurgo's wife Clare had been left: "It was a very frightening and alarming painting, not the sort you'd want to hang on a wall. It showed horses during the First World War charging into barbed wire fences. It haunted me." The painting was by F. W. Reed and was dated 1917, and showed a British cavalry charge on German lines, with horses entangled in barbed wire. The novel was an immediate success and was then adapted as a stage play in 2007 by Nick Stafford. Originally Morpurgo thought "they must be mad" to try to make a play from his best-selling 1982 novel. He was proved wrong by the play's instant success. The play's West End and Broadway productions are directed by Marianne Elliott and Tom Morris, with "horse choreography" by Toby Sedgwick. The horses were not real live horses, instead they used animatronic puppets for the animals. The animatronics were so successful that the Sunday Express said "The horses... are truly magnificent creations... Astonishingly lifelike."

Morpurgo, Lee Hall and Revel Guest tried to adapt the book into a film, working for over five years with Simon Channing-Williams, but in the end they had to admit defeat by lack of financing. To work dramatically, the story could not be told solely through the viewpoint of the horse (as it was in the book), and so the film version with a screenplay by Richard Curtis and Lee Hall is based on the narrative approach of the stage play more than that of the book. Unlike the play, which used puppet horses, the film uses real horses. In 2009, film producer Kathleen Kennedy saw the critically acclaimed production of War Horse in London's West End with her husband, fellow producer Frank Marshall and their two daughters. They were very impressed by the story and Marshall has recalled how he was amazed that no-one had already bought the film rights to the book. Steven Spielberg was told about War Horse by several people, including Kennedy. After discussions with Revel Guest, it was announced on 16 December 2009 that DreamWorks had acquired the film rights for the book, with Spielberg stating: "From the moment I read Michael Morpurgo's novel War Horse, I knew this was a film I wanted DreamWorks to make ... Its heart and its message provide a story that can be felt in every country." Spielberg saw the London production of the play on 1 February 2010 and met some of the cast afterwards. He admitted to being moved to tears by the performance. Spielberg has directed six films set during or just before World War II (1941 (1979), Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981), Empire of the Sun (1987), Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989), Schindler's List (1993), and Saving Private Ryan (1998)), produced two, Flags of Our Fathers (2006) and Letters from Iwo Jima (2006), as well as producing two major television miniseries, Band of Brothers and The Pacific. In contrast, War Horse is Spielberg's first foray into World War I storytelling, as Spielberg admitted that prior to learning about the War Horse book and play "I had never been that interested in World War I". Kathleen Kennedy elaborated on the appeal of the story: "In cinema we've told very few stories about World War I and I think that's one of the things that attracted us to this ... It's a forgotten war in the United States, and that had a very powerful effect on Steven and I."

The cast includes David Thewlis, Benedict Cumberbatch, Jeremy Irvine, Emily Watson, Tom Hiddleston, Eddie Marsan, Toby Kebbell and Peter Mullan. The cast gave unforgettable performances, especially Jeremy Irvine as Albert Narracott. He played the young naive boy with absolute determination as the character never gave up on trying to find Joey and cross through the treacherous landscape of No Man's land. Another unforgettable performance came from the film’s animal star – Joey. It’s performance will linger on as the single greatest and most iconic animal role since Babe.

Anchored by a winning performance from an unlikely star, Spielberg's unflinchingly realistic war film, War Horse, virtually redefines the genre again. Like his previous effort, Saving Private Ryan, the film breaks new ground in content and style. It merges some of the most realistic battle footage with a touching human story. If Spielberg's emotional intelligence matched his visual genius, his harrowing, passionately felt and honorably flawed new film might qualify for one of the greatest American movies ever made about World War I. One of the best movies of 2011!

Simon says War Horse receives:

Friday, 30 December 2011

Film Review: "The Adventures of Tintin" (2011)

The film’s tagline reads "This year, discover how far adventure will take you", which is exactly what The Adventures of Tintin does spectacularly. This 3D performance capture film based on The Adventures of Tintin, a series of comic books created by Belgian artist Hergé (Georges Remi). Directed by Steven Spielberg, produced by Peter Jackson, and adapted by Steven Moffat, Edgar Wright and Joe Cornish, the film is based on three of the original comic books: The Crab with the Golden Claws (1941), The Secret of the Unicorn (1943), and Red Rackham's Treasure (1944). Intrepid reporter Tintin and Captain Haddock set off on a treasure hunt against Sakharine for a sunken ship commanded by Haddock's ancestor – The Unicorn.

The history of the movie's entire process began when Spielberg had been an avid fan of The Adventures of Tintin comic books, which he discovered in 1981 when a French critic compared Raiders of the Lost Ark to Tintin and claimed that the character of Indiana Jones was a direct descendant of Tintin. But there was one small thing: Spielberg never heard of Tintin. He asked his secretary to buy him the French-language editions of each book, but Spielberg did not have to understand them: he immediately fell in love with its art and learned basic French in high school. Meanwhile, the comics' creator Hergé, who didn't like the previous live action film versions and the cartoon, became a fan of Spielberg. So he sold the rights to Spielberg in 1983, Hergé died soon after. Spielberg felt that the best and only way to preserve and honor Hergé's Spirit was film the movie in the new performance capture technology developed by James Cameron and Weta Studios (Jackson's company). He then partnered with Jackson (another Tintin fan) and hired Edgar Wright and Steven Moffat to write the script and secured a deal with Paramount and Sony.

The film stars Jamie Bell as Tintin, Andy Serkis as Captain Haddock, Daniel Craig as Sakjarine and Nick Frost and Simon Pegg as Thomson and Thompson. The cast gave spectacular performances. Bell's performance was so reminiscent to Harrison Ford's Indiana Jones, Bell also represented the classic Spielberg heroes such as the energy of John Anderton in Minority Report (2003), the tenacity of Carl Hanratty in Catch Me If You Can (2002), the youthful curiosity of David Swinton in A.I.: Artificial Intelligence (2001) and the nowhere-boy qualities of Elliot Taylor in E.T.: The Extra Terrestrial (1982). Serkis gave a outstanding performance, no wonder he is the king of motion capture. Serkis is a multi-faceted character actor who can play any role he is given. Craig gave a wicked performance and was marvelous as the film’s antagonist, which is his first. Lastly, Frost and Pegg gave their best comedic performances yet as the comedic detective duos. Ranging from Chaplin to Peter Sellers’ Clouseau, they are undeniably the top comedy duo of all time.

The Adventures of Tintin is one of the most deliriously funny, ingenious and stylish American adventure movies ever made. It is the ultimate Saturday action matinee–a film so funny and exciting it can be enjoyed any day of the week.

Simon says The Adventures of Tintin receives:

Tuesday, 27 December 2011

Film Review: "The Iron Lady" (2011)

"We will stand on principle... or we will not stand at all." This is at the heart of The Iron Lady. This British biographical film directed by Phyllida Lloyd. The film explores the life of Margaret Thatcher, the former Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, with a focus on the price she paid for power. The film is narrated through a series of flashbacks, including the 17 days leading up to the Falklands War in 1982.

The role of the former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, was played by Meryl Streep, Thatcher's husband, Denis Thatcher, was played by Jim Broadbent and Thatcher's longest-serving cabinet member and eventual deputy, Geoffrey Howe, is portrayed by Anthony Head. The cast gave terrific performances, especially Streep who has given one of her finest performances. In preparation for her role, Streep sat through a session at the House of Commons in January 2011 to observe British MPs in action. Extensive filming took place at the neogothic Manchester Town Hall, which is often used as a location double for films which feature the Houses of Parliament because of its architectural similarity. However, her performance could have been perfect if the script had been tweaked and couldn’t have followed the conventional biopic narrative. Though Streep was a risky choice, due to her nationality, I thought it was, in the end, the best choice and she played the part well. The rest of the cast were super, but unfortunately were overshadowed by Streep. I felt Broadbent and Head were either minimized to a fault or were cut too short. However, I admired what they brought to their roles.

Even though great performances were displayed and no matter how much director Lloyd tried to bring to the characterization of Thatcher, there were major flaws with the film. For example, in the film, it was suggested that Thatcher had said goodbye to her friend Airey Neave only a few moments before his assassination, and had to be held back from the scene by security officers. In fact, she was not in Westminster at the time of his death and was informed of it while carrying out official duties elsewhere. Secondly, the film does not portray any other female MPs in Parliament. In fact, during Thatcher’s time in Parliament, the total number of female MPs was between 19 and 41. Lastly, the Labour Party leader Michael Foot is depicted as a critic of the decision to send a task force to the Falkland Islands, and Thatcher is shown admonishing him in the wake of Britain's victory over Argentina. In fact, Foot supported the decision to send a task force, something for which Thatcher expressed her appreciation.

Phyllida Lloyd has made a disappointingly conventional and sluggish film in The Iron Lady. It benefits from a lively lead performance by the talented Meryl Streep, but doesn't come within light years of the actual truth, one of the greatest political stories of human history. Lloyd sketches Thatcher's life as depressing, if by the numbers. Ultimately, she falls victim to the danger of movie biography: she elevates Thatcher's importance until the vital historical context is obscured.

Simon says The Iron Lady receives:

Tuesday, 20 December 2011

Film Review: "Mission Impossible - Ghost Protocol" (2011)

The film’s tagline reads "No Plan. No Backup. No Choice." Which is what’s happening this time round for Ethan Hunt and his crew from IMF in Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol. This action spy film directed by Brad Bird. It is the fourth installment in the Mission: Impossible series. Ghost Protocol is set when the IMF is shut down when it's implicated in the bombing of the Kremlin, causing Ethan Hunt and his new team to go rogue to clear their organization's name.

The film stars Tom Cruise reprising his role as iconic agent Ethan Hunt with a cracking team that includes: Jeremy Renner as William Brandt, IMF Secretary's chief analyst and former IMF field agent, Simon Pegg as Benji Dunn, an IMF technical field agent, Paula Patton as Jane Carter, and Michael Nyqvist as Kurt Hendricks, a Swedish-born Russian nuclear strategist and the film's primary antagonist, Léa Seydoux as Sabine Moreau, a French assassin for hire and Tom Wilkinson as an IMF Secretary. The cast gave thrilling performances thank to the solid script and genius direction of Brad Bird (The Iron Giant (1999) The Incredibles (2004) and Ratatouille (2007)). Cruise gave another thrilling performance as Hunt despite my minor reservation about his age and ability to top the last film. If there are any more future installments, let’s see how well he holds up. Renner gave an intense performance. Pegg gave a humorous performance. Like his role in Star Trek (2009), Pegg provided comical relief, despite the other characters having a little more humor than the last films, even in the most intense scenes. Patton gave a physically intense performance, she was able to bring so much in that particular department alone. Nyqvist gave a brilliant performance despite his role being much smaller than I imagined. This also goes to Seydoux and Wilkinson. Despite giving fantastic performances, they were unfortunately given very minor roles and were ultimately cut too short.

Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol is a gratifyingly clever, booby-trapped thriller that has enough fun and imagination and dash to more than justify its existence. The film still presents the same business as usual, but it's the best kind of business as usual, and it finds everyone working in top form. Sure it's all poppycock, but it's done with such vim and vigor and both narrative and visual flair that you care not a jot, thanks to Bird’s genius direction. It has an inspired middle-hour pumped by some solid action. We now live in a post-Bourne, recalibrated-Bond universe, where Ethan Hunt looks as though he is on track to getting where these franchises are at. To conclude, if you want to see intelligent action and computer-generated sequences executed with breakneck speed and technical precision, then go see this film. I am getting to the point where I don't much care about whether or not this film will deliver, because it does. The plot in this film hangs together better than the other three films in the series.

Simon says Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol receives:

Tuesday, 13 December 2011

Film Review: "Puss in Boots" (2011).

"My thirst for adventure will never be quenched!" And that's the heart of Puss in Boots. This computer-animated fantasy action comedy film directed by Chris Miller, written by Tom Wheeler and produced by DreamWorks Animation.Years before meeting Shrek and Donkey, the adorable but tricky Puss in Boots must clear his name from all charges making him a wanted fugitive. While trying to steal magic beans from the infamous criminals Jack and Jill, the hero crosses paths with his female match, Kitty Softpaws, who leads Puss to his old friend, but now enemy, Humpty Dumpty. Memories of friendship and betrayal enlarges Puss' doubt, but he eventually agrees to help the egg get the magic beans. Together, the three plan to steal the beans, get to the Giant's castle, nab the golden goose, and clear Puss' name.

Although the character of Puss in Boots originated in a European fairy tale in 1697, the film is a spin-off prequel to the Shrek franchise. It follows the character Puss in Boots on his adventures before his first appearance in Shrek 2 (2004). The film had been in development since 2004, when Shrek 2 was released. As a Shrek 2 spin-off, it was initially planned for release in 2008 as a direct-to-video film, then titled Puss in Boots: The Story of an Ogre Killer. By October 2006, the film was re-slated as a theatrical release due to market conditions, and due to DreamWorks Animation's realization that the Puss character deserved more. In September 2010, Guillermo del Toro signed on as executive producer. A conscious decision was made to make the world of Puss in Boots very different from that depicted in the Shrek films. In the latter, the backgrounds and stylizations are very fairy tale. Here, it has a distinctly Spanish feel with warmer, more orange colors.

It stars Antonio Banderas, Salma Hayek, Zach Galifianakis, Billy Bob Thornton and Amy Seders. The cast gave entertaining performances, with each giving their own unique personalities. Banderas giving his suave Spanish charm. Hayek giving her seductive charm and Galifianakis giving his outrageous comedic flare. Despite this, it does not live up to the original personalities in the Shrek films.

Puss in Boots is fast and brightly colored enough to entertain small children, but too frantically silly to offer real filmgoing fun for the whole family. While there are plenty of madcap antics to fill a feature, all that manic energy ultimately proves to be somewhat exhilarating. Granted, it's no classic, but a sassy script and good-natured voice work from Antonio Banderas, Salma Hayek and Zack Galifianakis should keep kids entertained. Frenetic and frequently funny, the movie represents the DreamWorks Animation franchise style – which boils down to self-aware, but naïve, talking animals who learn kid-friendly life lessons – at its most palatable. The lack of originality is offset by sheer silliness, including Classified and Skipper's Abbott and Costello-style argument over whether there's a long I in 'diversion.' The word fits the movie.

Simon says Puss in Boots receives:

Tuesday, 6 December 2011

Film Review: "Machine Gun Preacher" (2011).

"Hope is the greatest weapon of all." This is Machine Gun Preacher. This biographical action film directed by Marc Forster, adapted by Jason Keller, and based on Sam Childers' autobiographical book Another Man's War. The film follows Sam, a former drug dealer, who undergoes a spiritual transformation and decides to go to war-torn East Africa. Enraged by the horror faced by the region's vulnerable populace, he vows to save them.

Since mid 1992, the former Outlaws member now dedicates his life and resources to rescue children in the war zone of South Sudan. Childers and his wife Lynn founded and operate Angels of East Africa, the Children's Village Orphanage in Nimule, South Sudan, where they currently have more than 300 children in their care. By early July, Gerard Butler, Michelle Monaghan, Michael Shannon, Madeline Carroll, and Kathy Baker were cast in an adaptation of Childers' novel. Vera Farmiga was the first choice to play Lynn, but dropped out due to pregnancy. She was replaced by Michelle Monaghan. At the same time, principal photography commenced, and took place throughout Michigan and South Africa. Childers showed screenings of a heavily-edited version of the film in churches around the world. The proceeds of which are used to support his ongoing work in South Sudan.

The film stars Butler, Monaghan, Shannon, Carroll, and Baker. Butler and Monaghan as Sam and Lynn Childers are definitely the highlight of the film. Their relationship is truly felt, which makes the mission that encompasses Sam all the more powerful.

Despite some fine performances, Machine Gun Preacher is just shy of rendering the spirit of the novel on to the big screen. A shockingly bungled opportunity for greatness and quite possibly the most disappointing film of 2011. Forster can't solely blame the impossibility of condensing the breadth of a dense novel into two hours of screen time, but his own shoddy realisation too. Nevertheless, the film serves as a reminder that hope is universal; that, regardless of our cultural differences, humanity will always find common ground in devastation. It is a remarkable story with tremendous human interest, about people we think we've figured out, but about whom we actually know next to nothing. A skilfully made and subtly powerful film, with a disarmingly human protagonist whose efforts seem all the more real, given his weaknesses and the movie's authentic feel. The narrative is a tapestry entwined from personal and political threads; the result is emotionally overwhelming. The film will no doubt warm the hearts of its intended audience, even if its nature is one of dubious flattery. The film is solid and competently made, but then those are words one always uses when a piece of art falls short of greatness. Moments feel disappointingly scripted, so it's especially good news that many of its characters do not. Forster's over-done melodrama that doesn't so much open our eyes to Afghanistan as reinforce everything negative we've already suspected. In the end, the film is a good but not a great one of a good but not a great novel.

Simon says Machine Gun Preacher receives:

Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Film Review: "Arthur Christmas" (2011).

"Ever wonder how 2 Billion presents get delivered all in 1 night?" Arthur Christmas will answer that. This British-American 3D computer-animated Christmas comedy film co-directed by Sarah Smith and Barry Cook, written by Smith and Peter Baynham, and produced by Aardman Animations. The film reveals the incredible, never-before seen answer to every child's question: 'So how does Santa deliver all those presents in one night?' The answer: Santa's exhilarating, ultra-high-tech operation hidden beneath the North Pole. But at the center of the film is a story about a family in a state of comic dysfunction and an unlikely hero, Arthur, with an urgent mission that must be completed before Christmas morning dawns.

In 2007, the project was announced, under the title Operation Rudolph, and would be the first collaboration between Aardman and Sony Pictures Entertainment. Aardman spent eighteen months on pre-production on the story and design in the UK before relocating to Sony's Culver City, US, for another eighteen months of production. In late April 2009, it was reported that production had begun with Aardman and Sony Pictures Imageworks working together on animation.

The film features the voice talents of James McAvoy, Hugh Laurie, Bill Nighy, Jim Broadbent, Imelda Staunton, Ashley Jensen, Laura Linney, Eva Longoria, Michael Palin, Robbie Coltrane, Joan Cusack, Rhys Darby, Jane Horrocks, Andy Serkis, and Dominic West. Aiding the movie greatly is its excellent voice casting, especially from McAvoy, Laurie, Nighy, Broadbant, and Stauton.

Clever and appealing for both children and adults, Arthur Christmas marks a successful entry into digital animated features for Aardman Animations. As directed by Smith and Cook, first-time feature helmers with long-term Aardman affiliations, the film boasts undeniably smart and eye-catching qualities that are significantly diluted by the relentlessly frantic and overbearing behavior of most characters; someone is always loudly imposing himself upon another, to diminishing returns of enjoyment. The film lacks the action-contraption dottiness of a Wallace and Gromit adventure, but it hits its own sweet spot of demented delight. It's better than 80% of the animated fare of the last few years. It's refreshing not to have to qualify the movie's appeal by appending the words, 'for the kids'. Despite the efforts of five writers and Aardman's trademark puppets, with their malleable eyebrows and cheeks bulging like those of a mumps sufferer, none of these characters are particularly endearing. Aardman's first computer-generated cartoon, does away with the clay but leaves the craft and emotion intact, resulting in a film that earns its place among the Aardman classics. The short attention spans of directors Smith and Cook are mostly forgivable because the movie is filled with so many entertaining characters. Most of the fun is in the deft characterizations, the zippy banter, and the joyous sight gags. The result is a movie that has glossier and more elaborately designed backgrounds while retaining the traditional values of storytelling and performance -- and, of course, talking animals. Nice action, fun animation, good voice acting, mediocre to dull story. In the end it all balances out.

Simon says Arthur Christmas receives:

Sunday, 13 November 2011

SpecialFilm Review: NZSO Presents "Metropolis" (1927) Featuring Live Orchestra (2011)

Quotes such as "There can be no understanding between the hands and the brain unless the heart acts as mediator", are embedded into our minds forever and whenever it is mentioned, we think of Metropolis. This 1927 German Expressionist, Science-Fiction film directed by Fritz Lang. Seet in a futuristic urban dystopian city in the year 2026, it explores the social crisis between workers and owners inherent in capitalism, as expressed by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels. In a futuristic city sharply divided between the working class, who live in poor conditions but are the basic force for the city's work, and the upper class, which is mainly integrated by the city planners and their families, two persons from each class fall in love with each other. One of them is a working class prohet, a woman who gives hope to the city's workers. She predicts the coming of a savior, a savior who will mediate the differences between the social groups and give the city the start of new era. The other is the son of the city's mastermind. But the prophet is kidnapped by a crazy inventor, who wants to use her to make a robot work. The robot is given the same physical appearence the prophet has. Following orders from the crazy inventor, the robot creates a lot of problems for the working class. The son of the city's mastermind and the prophet will have to stop the robot and its crazy inventor for creating more problems for Metropolis, and achieve the goal of making Metropolis an harmonius place.

Metropolis was conceived by writer and collaborator Thea von Harbou during the Weimar Period in Germany. Originally it serialized as a novel in Illustriertes Blatt, for the purpose to sell it as a film up to its release, before ultimately released as a book and thus written as a screenplay. The novel in turn drew inspiration from H. G. Wells, Shelley and Villiers d'Isle Adam's works and other German dramas. Harbou and Lang collaborated on the screenplay derived from the novel, and several plot points and thematic elements — including most of the references to magic and occultism present in the novel — were dropped. The screenplay itself went through many re-writes, and at one point featured an ending where Freder would have flown to the stars; this plot element later became the basis for Lang's Woman in the Moon (1929). Principle photography for Metropolis was delayed again and again due to budgetary and economical factors. Filming ultimately began in May 1925 with a reported budget of five million Reichsmarks (U.S. $200 million today). Which made it the most expensive film at that time. Shooting took place at Babelsberg Studios outside of Berlin. Shooting lasted for seventeen months, and was finally completed in October 1926. Metropolis had its premiere at the Ufa-Palast am Zoo in Berlin on January 10th 1927, where the audience reacted to several of the film's most spectacular scenes with "spontaneous applause". But was ultimately met with mixed reviews from critics. Who were all willing to bet that in 20 years time that it would not become a major success. Lang even commented with his displeasure of the film "The main thesis was Mrs. Von Harbou's, but I am at least 50 percent responsible because I did it. I was not so politically minded in those days as I am now. You cannot make a social-conscious picture in which you say that the intermediary between the hand and the brain is the heart. I mean, that's a fairy tale – definitely. But I was very interested in machines. Anyway, I didn't like the picture – thought it was silly and stupid – then, when I saw the astronauts: what else are they but part of a machine? It's very hard to talk about pictures—should I say now that I like Metropolis because something I have seen in my imagination comes true, when I detested it after it was finished?"


Since its release, Metropolis has become one of the most influential films of all time. As it was the last German Expressionist film to come out of the hyperinflation period of the Weimar Republic. Inaddition, it has since become a cult classic and inspired films such as George Lucas' THX-1138 (1971) and Star Wars (1977), Ridley Scott's Blade Runner (1982), Tim Burton's Edward Scissorhands (1990) and his Batman films (1989 and 1992), and Alex Proyas' The Crow (1994) and Dark City (1998). The character of the robot inspired the iconic design of C-3PO and the character of Edward Scissorhands, and the aesthetic of the cityscapes in the film inspired the various cities ranging from Blade Runner to Dark City. During the years since the first release, Metropolis existed as a bizarrely fragmented and mangled version of the original work. But in 2008, it was painstakingly restored with additional footage from the New Zealand Film Archive. The film's music was recreated by the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra conducted by Frank Strobel.


Metropolis is extraordinary with its congested-megalopolis sets and is a visionary sci-fi movie that has its own look that can't be ignored – it has its place in film history. Misunderstood when it first hit theaters, the influence of Fritz Lang's mysterious, sci-fi has deepened with time. A visually remarkable, achingly human sci-fi masterpiece. When I watched the film, with its live orchestral performance by the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra at the Auckland Town Hall, I felt that I had a sensational night at the movies, and the picture was only 84 years old. It proves still that it is a technical marvel. One of the great achievements of the silent era and German cinema, a work so audacious in its vision and so angry in its message that it is, if anything, more powerful today than when it was made. Each frame of this classic is drop-dead stunning. One of the last examples of the imaginative -- but often monstrous -- grandeur of the Golden Period of the German film, it is a spectacular example of Expressionist design.

Simon says Metropolis receives:

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

Film Review: "Fright Night" (2011).

"You can't run from evil when it lives next door." Welcome to Fright Night (2011). This horror comedy film directed by Craig Gillespie, and written by Marti Noxon. It is a remake of Tom Holland's 1985 horror classic Fright Night. The film centres on Charley, a high-school senior who's in with the "in" crowd and is dating Amy, the most sought-after gal on campus. But trouble enters his world in the form of Jerry Dandridge, a charismatic new neighbour. After witnessing some unusual activity next door, Charley concludes that Jerry is a vampire. Of course, no one believes him. After seeking advice from illusionist Peter Vincent, Charley sets out to destroy Jerry himself.

By late July 2010, Anton Yelchin, Colin Farrell, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, David Tennant, Imogen Poots, Toni Collette, Dave Franco, Reid Ewing, and Lisa Loeb were cast. In early stages of development, Heath Ledger was considered for the role of Jerry, but he passed away in January of 2008. Farrell said that he took the role of Jerry because he liked Gillespie's work on Lars and the Real Girl (2007). However, Farrell expressed concern that his character was too much of a sexual predator and asked for script changes. No such changes were made. At the same time, principal photography commenced, and wrapped in early October. Filming took place in Rio Rancho, New Mexico, and Las Vegas, Nevada. Steven Spielberg provided a great deal of input in the making of the film, such as storyboarding scenes and assistance with editing.

The film stars Yelchin, Farrell, Mintz-Plasse, Tennant, Poots, Collette, Franco, Ewing, and Loeb. Solid performances were given by the cast, especially to Yelchin, Farrell, and Tennant. Farrell is terrific as the vampire, quite affable and debonair until his fingernails start to grow and his eyes get that glow.

Like the original, it deftly combines thrills and humor in this ghostly tale about a man living next to a vampire. The violence is somewhat excessive, but rarely feels cheap because the tone is so knowing. The film is not a distinguished one, but it has a lot of fun being undistinguished. nastier, more playful, and just as good if not better than the original film. Chilrazor-sharp and exquisitely gruesome toy story. is the perfect horror movie remake and should now serve as a prime example of what others should do. While not as subversive as Holland's cult classic, Gillespie's polished version is a delightfully vicious ode to its campy origins, proving that a remake can be worthwhile if made with enough creativity and a current social awareness. It's highly entertaining and tons of fun, and I say that as a huge fan of the original. I think they made a lot of good reasons for this remake to exist. A fantastic ride of a movie. This is a different Fright Night, and the era it is in is just appropriate. The film is entertaining and solid enough to stand on its own, with fun kills and a great cast.

Simon says Fright Night (2011) receives:

Film Review: "Footloose" (2011).

The film's tagline reads "There comes a time to cut loose", and everything does go loose in Footloose. This musical dance film directed by Craig Brewer. It is a remake of the 1984 film of the same name. The film follows a young man who moves from Boston to a small southern town and protests the town's ban against dancing.

In October 2008, Kenny Ortega was announced as director but left the project a year later after differences with Paramount and the production budget. Peter Sollett was also hired to write the script. Dylan Sellers, Neil Meron and Craig Zadan served as producer; Zadan having produced the original Footloose. In 2010, Craig Brewercame on to re-write the script after Crawford and Ortega left the project and also served as director. The writer of the original film, Dean Pitchford, also co-wrote the screenplay. In July 2007, Zac Efron was cast as Ren McCormack, but he left the project in March 2009. Two months later, it was reported that Chace Crawford would replace Efron, but he later had to back out due to scheduling conflicts. Thomas Dekker was a "top candidate" for the role but in June 2010, Entertainment Weekly reported that Kenny Wormald had secured the lead role as McCormack. Former Dancing with the Stars ballroom-dance professional Julianne Hough was cast as Ariel, Dennis Quaid as Reverend Shaw Moore, and Miles Teller as Willard Hewitt. In August 2010, Andie MacDowell joined the cast as Quaid's wife. During an interview on The Howard Stern Show, Kevin Bacon said he declined a cameo appearance in the film as he did not like the role he was offered. The role was playing Ren McCormack's deadbeat dad. Though Bacon passed on the role, he gave Brewer his blessing. Unlike the original, set in the fictional town of Bomont, Utah, the remake is set in fictional Bomont, Georgia. On a budget of $24 million, principal photographybegan in September 2010 in and around metro Atlanta, and wrapped two months later in November.

The film stars Kenny Wormald, Julianne Hough, Dennis Quaid, Andie McDowell, Miles Teller and Kim Dickens. Despite not living up to the performances of the original cast, the cast in this film brought their own unique sensibilities to the roles that update them for a modern audience.

A lot of craft and slickness lurks beneath the modern sexy choreography in Footloose. The point, however, is not the plot but the energy. Without somebody like Kenny Wormald at the heart of the movie, it might fall flat, but everybody works at his level of edginess. This film is a little less innocent than what Herbert Ross would have made it. It is one of the most entertaining movie adaptation of a stage musical so far. The movie is a great big sloppy kiss of entertainment for audiences weary of explosions, CGI effects and sequels, sequels, sequels. However it's intermittently tasty, if a little too frantically eager to please. Despite its edginess, this version stays remarkably true to the spirit of the original.

Simon says Footloose receives:

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Film Review: "Contagion" (2011)

The film’s taglines such as "The world goes viral September 9" and "Nothing spreads like fear" sums perfectly what Contagion brings to a theatre near you. This Medical Disaster Thriller directed by Steven Soderbergh. Contagion follows the rapid progress of a lethal indirect contact transmission virus (Fomite Transmission) that kills within days. As the fast-moving pandemic grows, the worldwide medical community races to find a cure and control the panic that spreads faster than does the virus itself. As the virus spreads around the world, ordinary people struggle to survive in a society coming apart.

T. S. Elliot once wrote, "This is the way the world ends: not with a bang but a whimper," Soderbergh was motivated to make an "ultra-realistic" film about the public health and scientific response to a pandemic. The movie touches on a variety of themes, including the factors which drive mass panic and loss of social order, the scientific process for characterizing and containing a novel pathogen, balancing personal motives against professional responsibilities and rules in the face of an existential threat, the limitations and consequences of public health responses, and the pervasiveness of interpersonal connections which can serve as vectors to spread disease. Soderbergh acknowledged the salience of these post-apocalyptic themes is heightened by reactions to the September 11 attacks and Hurricane Katrina. As filmmakers J. J. Abrams and Matt Reeves acknowledged the September 11 attacks in their disaster film Cloverfield (2008), where the film's central monstrous antagonist personified the September 11 attacks itself. The movie was intended to realistically convey the "intense" and "unnerving" social and scientific reactions to a pandemic.

Like an Irwin Allen disaster flick (The Poseidon Adventure (1972) and The Towering Inferno (1974)), the film featured an A-list ensemble cast that included Marion Cotillard, Matt Damon, Laurence Fishburne, Jude Law, Gwyneth Paltrow, Kate Winslet, and Bryan Cranston. Despite the cast giving strong performances, it was an engaging or even relatable. My good friend and colleague, Kelly Ryu, once told me that the film would have been more realistic if Soderbergh cast unknowns rather than well recognizable actors for the roles. Then the whole film would been more realistic, more terrifying, more well received and the film would have catapulted the unknowns to stardom. A film that did this so well was, once again, the monster-disaster epic Cloverfield, which all starred unknowns.

Contagion is splendid entertainment that will get you worried about whether they'll be able to contain that strange virus. The movie's craft makes the dread of a killer virus contagious: viewers may feel they have come down with a case of secondhand SARS or sympathetic monkeypox. Heedlessly derivative though it may be, the film what it sets out to do and then some -- scare us out of our wits, then get us to apply those wits to an uncommonly intelligent and provocative disaster flick. What also makes it effective, and sets it apart from other thrillers, is that it makes you care about the characters.

Simon says Contagion receives:

Saturday, 22 October 2011

Film Review: "Johnny English: Reborn." (2011)

"'Johnny English. Five years ago he was our top agent.' 'Yeah. Took his eye off the ball in Mozambique.' 'Does it have to be him?' 'He's the only one our contact will talk to.' 'So where is he?'" Which is someone we didn’t expect to return, but he has in Johnny English: Reborn. This British Spy Comedy parody directed by Oliver Parker. The film is the sequel to Johnny English (2003). Five years after the previous film, Johnny English is called back to MI7 to undercover a group of international assassins known as 'Vortex', before they kill the Chinese premier and cause global chaos. However he is not alone. He is aided by his 'rookie' sidekick Tucker and his new love interest Kate Summers, MI7's behavioural psychologist.

The film stars Rowan Atkinson, reprising his role as the title character. As well as Rosamund Pike as Kate Sumner, MI7's behavioural psychologist and English's love interest, Daniel Kaluuya as Agent Colin Tucker, English's smart, youthful sidekick, Gillian Anderson as MI7 Head Pamela Thornton, codenamed as Pegasus, the new boss at MI7, and Dominic West as Simon Ambrose, the main antagonist. The cast may not have given the best performances but it was performances that were hilarious. Atkinson gave another hilarious performance after many other iconic performances such as Blackadder and Mr. Bean. Despite the jokes not being as fresh as his other comedies nor the first film. Atkinson's performance also reminded me of Don Adams' performance on the hit comedy TV series of Get Smart and Peter Sellers' bumbling character of Inspector Jacques Clouseau in The Pink Panther films. Pike gave a subtle performance as English’s love interest, however I felt that her chemistry with Atkinson did not spark. Kaluuya, like Atkinson, also gave a hilarious performance who always seems to correct Atkinson most of the time. Which compliments Atkinson’s performance. Anderson gave a more contrasted performance to Atkinson, despite leaving behind moments of very dry humor. West gave a suave performance as the film’s antagonist, however no matter how smooth he operates, he proved no real threat to Atkinson nor to the audience. By far, one of the least threatening villains ever.

Johnny English: Reborn is, like its predecessor, a tame spy spoof that elicits infrequent chuckles. A funny summer frolic. However, it doesn't so much try to send up other spy films as it tries to one-up its own predecessor in this second go-round. By the end, Spy recycles its own gags, not just ones from the first movie. It’s a rehash of the same story with new cast members and new takes on familiar jokes. While it lives up to the very definition of 'hit and miss', the parts that hit are very funny. You won't die laughing in the theater, but the filmmakers aren't asking you to, as they do in the frantic, adolescent comedies that dominate the market. It's a pleasure.

Simon says Johnny English: Reborn receives:

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

Film Review: "Real Steel" (2011)

"Champions aren't born. They're made" in Real Steel. This Science Fiction film directed by Shawn Levy, adapted by John Gatins and based on the 1956 short story Steel by Richard Matheson. In the near future, robot boxing is a top sport. A struggling ex-boxer feels he's found a champion in a discarded robot.

Between 2003 and 2005, Dan Gilroy penned an adaptation of Matheson's 1956 short story and was purchased by DreamWorks for $850,000. The project was one of seventeen that DreamWorks took from Paramount Pictures when they split in 2008. Peter Berg was initially interested in directing the film, but it never materialised. Ultimately, in September 2009, Levy was hired to direct. In November, Hugh Jackman was attached to star. Additionally, Les Bohem and Jeremy Leven reworked Gilroy's screenplay, but Gatins worked on a new draft. Levy worked with Gatins to revise the script, spending a total of six weeks fine-tuning the script. By mid June 2010, Evangeline Lilly, Anthony Mackie, Karl Yune, Kevin Durand, James Rebhorn and Dakota Goyo rounded out the film's cast. At the same time, with a budget of $110 million, principal photography commenced and wrapped in late September. Filming took place throughout Michigan, USA. The animatronic robots were created by Legacy Effects, and the visual effects were provided by Industrial Light & Magic. For certain shots with animatronics, they were controlled by more than twenty puppeteers. Levy opted to have more practical effects and puppeteering of the robots at the behest of executive producer Steven Spielberg. Boxing hall-of-famer Sugar Ray Leonard served as an advisor and gave Jackman boxing lessons so his moves would be more natural. Disney originally scheduled the film for a November 18, 2011 release date, but it was moved to October 7, 2011 to avoid competition with The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn - Part I.

The film stars Jackman, Lilly, Mackie, Yune, Durand, Rebhorn and Dakota Goyo. The castgave terrific performances. Jackman was outstanding as the charisma driven, stubborn Charlie Kenton. Goyo had a magical quality which made him the film's central heart and made him get as much or more spotlight than his co-star as Max Kenton. Finally Lilly was fantastic as the kind, compassionate voice of reson and love interest for Jackman’s Charlie. Lilly and Jackman had a near perfect relationship and chemistry that made me believe that these two characters had been friends for a long time.

Real Steel, though innovative with its stunning robot fight scenes, is nothing more than pure 2000s make believe. The film’s plot is gimmicky, heavy-handed and cliché, all because of the direction of Shawn Levy, the man responsible for bringing us some of the most tawdry movies of recent years, such as the ridiculously awful Cheaper by the Dozen (2003) and The Pink Panther (2006). He has an instinct for making serious emotions look tawdry. While the film may look good now, but it will fade like every other one of his movies and every "Hollywood" movies ever made.

Simon says Real Steel receives:

Tuesday, 4 October 2011

Film Review: "The Beaver" (2011).

"He's here to save Walter's life." He is The Beaver. This comedy-drama film directed by Jodie Foster and written by Kyle Killen. The film centres on Walter Black, the head of a failing toy company, who is deeply depressed. His marriage to Meredith is broken and his oldest son, Porter, hates him. When Meredith finally throws him out of the house, Walter begins his final tailspin. Drunk and alone, Walter is about to commit suicide -- but is saved by the voice of the beaver puppet he found in a dumpster. Wearing the puppet on his hand, Walter speaks only through it and tries to get his life on track.

The screenplay was featured in the 2008 Blacklist; a list of the "most liked" unmade scripts of the year. Steve Carell and Jim Carrey were both signed on to star at different stages of production, before Mel Gibson was cast. However, before the film was set for a May 6, 2011 release date, the project was shelved due to Gibson's alleged assault against his ex-girlfriend, Oksana Grigorieva. By late September 2009, Foster, Anton Yelchin, Jennifer Lawrence, and Cherry Jones. At the same time, with a budget of $21 million, principal photography commenced, and wrapped in early December. Filming took place in Westchester County and New York City, New York. The film was shot in the 2.35:1 aspect ratio, the first for Foster.

The film stars Gibson, Foster, Yelchin, Lawrence, and Jones. Quirky, yet solid, performances were given by the cast, especially from Gibson. Gibson gave the craziest performance of his entire career, crazier then Max Rockatansky and Martin Riggs put together. His performance, if gone any crazier, could have bordered into the same arena as his animated caricature on South Park. Meanwhile, Foster, on top of directing, and Yelchin provide a solid performance as the loving wife and son baring witness to Gibson's decent into madness. Lawrence also provides a solid performance and great chemistry with Yelchin.

The Beaver is the kind of movie you could enjoy watching; it's about interesting person finding out about himself and as Foster creates this deranged man who learns to see a lot and know a lot but is only gradually beginning to understand a lot, we can hear echoes, perhaps, of a young girl who once found it more interesting to study French than get her picture in the fan magazines. Despite quirky, fresh moments and a watchful, touching performance from Gibson, the movie lurches unsteadily from scene to scene, punctuated by odd bursts of irrelevant melodrama and culminating in a film that is frankly quite baffling. Well meaning but too simplistic and earnest comedic drama that juxtaposes two types philosophies of how to help a depressed and deranged man. In addition, the film tries to jerk tears but instead elicits giggles. Nonetheless, it is a triumphant sophomore effort as a film director for Foster in a captivating tale. Foster displays a great touch in her sophomore directorial effort.

Simon says The Beaver receives:

Tuesday, 27 September 2011

Film Review: "Spy Kids: All the Time in the World" (2011).

The movie's tagline reads "Saving the world is their idea of family time" and that's all there is to it with Spy Kids: All the Time in the World. This 4D science fiction fantasy action comedy adventure film directed by Robert Rodriguez and it is the fourth installment in the Spy Kids film series. It is a sequel to 2003's Game Over. A retired spy is called back into action, and to bond with her new step-children, she invites them along for the adventure to stop the evil Timekeeper from taking over the world.

Rodriguez was prompted by an incident on the set of Machete (2010) to start envisioning a fourth film in the Spy Kids series. Star Jessica Alba had her then-one year old baby Honor Marie and was dressed to appear on camera when her baby's diaper "exploded". Watching Alba change the diaper while trying not to get anything on her clothes prompted Rodriguez to think "What about a spy mom?" Production on the film was officially announced on September 25, 2009, six years after the release of Spy Kids 3-D: Game Over, by Dimension Films. The script for the film was completed by Rodriguez in December 2009. The title for the film was officially revealed as Spy Kids: All the Time in the World on March 24, 2010 as well as an August 2011 release window, which was later updated to an August 19, 2011 release date. Filming began on October 27, 2010. It is the first of the series that uses "Aroma-scope" that allows people to smell odors and aromas from the film via scratch & sniff cards (reminiscent of the infamous 1960s Smell-O-Vision) last used theatrically in the 2003 animated film Rugrats Go Wild.

The film stars Jessica Alba, Joel McHale, Alexa Vega, Daryl Sabara, Rowan Blanchard, Mason Cook, Ricky Gervais, and Jeremy Piven in a dual role. The cast all gave uninspiring characters and just gave some of the silliest performances ever put to the silver screen. END... OF... STORY!

All the Time in the World will be found wanting if one is not taken in by the 3-D visuals. The 3-D process will hurt your eyes. It's murky and purple like a window smeared with grape jell-o. However, it helped mask what I deemed as an overall lack of a story. The plot is twig-thin and the parents' absurd adventure in the story makes Rodriguez's continuing theme of family ties seem much less resonant than in the other films. Kids will love it, but adults may find it flat. Watching in 3-D is annoying and watching in 2-D is pointless. Kind of a losing situation. It's a loser in any dimension. As if last one wasn't bad enough, Rodriguez gives us this latest instalment. Where Rodriguez falls short is when he relies on the computer generated special effects to make up for problems in the script. In the end, it's a movie so awful that those headaches spurred by the film's shoddy optics effects seem minor by comparison.

Simon says Spy Kids: All the Time in the World receives:

Tuesday, 13 September 2011

Film Review: "Hanna" (2011).

"Young. Sweet. Innocent. Deadly." These all describe Hanna. This action adventure thriller film directed by Joe Wright, and written by Seth Lochhead and David Farr. Hanna is a teenage girl. Uniquely, she has the strength, the stamina, and the skills of a soldier; these come from being raised by her father, an ex-CIA man, in the wilds of Finland. Living a life unlike any other teenager, her upbringing and training have been one and the same, all geared to making her the perfect assassin. The turning point in her adolescence is a sharp one; sent into the world by her father on a mission, Hanna journeys stealthily across Europe while eluding agents dispatched after her by a ruthless intelligence operative with secrets of her own. As she nears her ultimate target, Hanna faces startling revelations about her existence and unexpected questions about her humanity.

Whilst a student at Vancouver Film School, Lochhead wrote a spec script on the idea of a child assassin. In 2006, Lochhead completed the script and shopped it around. The script would go on to be listed in the 2009 Black List, an annual list of the best unproduced screenplays of the year. Saoirse Ronan was attached to star after reading the script. Danny Boyle and Alfonso Cuarón were previously attached to direct the film, before it was confirmed that Wright would direct, after Ronan prompted the producers to consider him. Farr was hired to provide rewrites, before Lochhead was brought back to provides revisions for Wright. By mid March 2010, Eric Bana, Cate Blanchett, Olivia Williams, Jason Flemyng, Tom Hollander, and Michelle Dockery rounded out the film's cast. At the same time, principal photography commenced, and wrapped in mid June. Filming took place at Studio Babelsberg in Berlin, Germany, as well as Hamburg; Kuusamo, Finland; and Ouarzazate and Essaouira, Morocco. Such was the physicality of Ronan's role, her combat tactics called for 4-hour days of intense training under Dan Inosanto (a Bruce Lee protégé) over a two month period at his L.A. gym. Ronan performed many of her own stunts. Wright bleached Ronan's eyebrows to try and mimic the physicality similar to a white wolf.

The film stars Ronan, Bana, Blanchett, Williams, Flemyng, Hollander, and Dockery. Ronan is the best thing about the film; the actress shoulders nearly every scene, and manages to make the taciturn and seemingly affectless Hanna expressive and achingly relatable. The first act confirms only that Ronan is good at punching trees and running through snow while looking vaguely out of breath and being sad.

A gritty reimagining of the assassin archetype, Hanna adds new wrinkles to the genre and texture to the titular assassin — though the film's long-winded journey may try the patience of audiences who want their violent fables concise. In other scenes, that ingenuity gets lost in a mood board of decorative visuals that bloat its running time and hobble its pace. Nonetheless, it's the rare intelligent action thriller that subverts storytelling tropes and surfs on its own ingenuity.

Simon says Hanna receives:

Tuesday, 6 September 2011

Film Review: "The Help" (2011).

"God says we need to love our enemies. It hard to do. But it can start by telling the truth. No one had ever asked me what it feel like to be me. Once I told the truth about that, I felt free. And I got to thinking about all the people I know. And the things I seen and done. My boy Trelaw always said we gonna have a writer in the family one day. I guess it's gonna be me." This is at the heart of The Help. This period drama film directed and written by Tate Taylor, and adapted from Kathryn Stockett's 2009 novel of the same name. The film is about a young white woman, Eugenia "Skeeter" Phelan, and her relationship with two black maids, Aibileen Clark and Minny Jackson, during the Civil Rights era in 1963 Jackson, Mississippi. Skeeter is a journalist who decides to write a book from the point of view of the maids (referred to as "the help"), exposing the racism they are faced with as they work for white families.

In December 2009, Variety reported that Chris Columbus, Michael Barnathan, and Mark Radcliffe would produce a film adaptation of The Help, under their production company 1492 Pictures. Tate Taylor, who optioned film rights to the book before its publication, was chosen to write and direct the film. The first casting news for the production came in March 2010, was reported that Stone was attached to play the role of Skeeter Phelan. Other actors were since cast, including Davis as Aibileen; Howard as Hilly Holbrook, Janney as Charlotte Phelan and Lowell as Stuart Whitworth. Mike Vogel plays the character Johnny Foote. Octavia Spencer portrays Minny. Filming began in July 2010 and extended through October. The town of Greenwood, Mississippi, was chosen to portray 1960s-era Jackson.

The film stars Viola Davis, Emma Stone, Octavia Spencer, Bryce Dallas Howard, Jessica Chastain, Ahna O'Reilly, Chris Lowell, Sissy Spacek, Mike Vogel, Cicely Tyson, LaChanze, Allison Janney, Mary Steenburgen, and Anna Camp. The cast gave brilliant performances. Vividly portraying the cruelty of white people, with the exception of a few, and the struggle and oppression of African-Americans. Kudos to Davis, Stone, Howard, Spencer and Chastain (the latter two especially). Spencer gave one of the most amazing performances in movie history. As well as for Chastain, for her second major film. These two stars are showing promising futures. Both Oscar-worthy performances for sure.

The Help is a sentimental tale that reveals great emotional truths in American history. It is triumphantly emotional and brave. The film is a plea for respect for African-Americans. It is an incredibly strong stand against the way white people treat African-Americans. It is an excellent film, and it is an attempt to deal with an issue that had been overlooked, and it wouldn't have been done if it hadn't been for Tate Taylor. And it's not like everyone says, that he ruined the book. That's absolutely not the case. Nobody was going to do the book. He made the book live again.

Simon says The Help receives:

Tuesday, 30 August 2011

Film Review: "The Tree of Life" (2011).

From the director of The Thin Red Line and The New World comes The Tree of Life. This experimental epic drama film written and directed by Terrence Malick. Jack tries to mend the troubled relationship that he shares with his father, Mr O'Brien. He attempts to find the true meaning of life in the modern world and questions the existence of faith.

After the release of Days of Heaven (1978), Malick began working on a project entitled Q, that would explore the origins of life on earth. He ultimately abandoned the project. During development of an early version of Che, Malick pitched the concept to River Road Entertainment head Bill Pohlad. Pohlad agreed to finance the film. However, Malick struggled to get the project off the ground. During a meeting between Malick, his producer Sarah Green, and Plan B Entertainment, Malick brought up the project. Ultimately, the decision was made for Plan B to finance the project. In late 2005, after the release of The New World, the film was officially announced. Heath Ledger was set to play the lead role, but dropped out. Ultimately, Pitt replaced Ledger. By March 2008, Jessica Chastain, Sean Penn, Laramie Eppler, Tye Sheridan, Hunter McCracken, and Fiona Shaw rounded out the film's cast. At the same time, principal photography commenced, and took place throughout Texas, Utah, California, Arizona, Hawaii, Iceland, Italy, Chile, and Palau. According to Cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki, as with The New World, he and Malick laid down a series of parameters (a dogma) to be used throughout the film. In an October 2008 interview Jack Fisk, a longtime Malick collaborator, suggested that the director was attempting something radical. He also implied that details of the film were a close secret. Dissatisfied by the look of modern computer generated visual effects, Malick approached veteran special effects supervisor Douglas Trumbull, who was responsible for the visual effects in 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), to create the visual effects for the film using bygone optical and practical methods. According to Lubezki, Malick actually consulted with NASA for footage of the cosmos as well as other grand visuals. As was the case with James Horner's music for The New World, much of the music composed Alexandre Desplat never made it to the final cut of this film. Even though he is credited as composer, only a few minutes of his music are heard in the film. The film was shipped to theaters under the code name Oak. Malick wrote a letter with specific instruction to every projectionist in showing the film.

The film stars Pitt, Chastain, Penn, Eppler, Sheridan, McCracken, and Shaw. The cast find the perfect tone for scenes of a few seconds or a minute, and then are dropped before a rhythm can be established.

The Tree of Life is a journey through the life of the cosmos, but it is also a journey through internal space. It conjures visceral emotions by making you sit through its study of a man and his family, spending time just being in their minds and souls.

Simon says The Tree of Life receives:

Tuesday, 16 August 2011

Film Review: "Cowboys & Aliens" (2011).

The movie's tagline "First contact. Last stand" makes Cowboys & Aliens an unusual movie. This science fiction Western film directed by Jon Favreau; written by Roberto Orci, Alex Kurtzman, Damon Lindelof, Mark Fergus and Hawk Osby; based on a screen story by the latter two along with Steve Oedekerk; based on the 2006 graphic novel of the same name created by Scott Mitchell Rosenberg. The main plot revolves around an amnesiac outlaw, a wealthy cattleman, and a mysterious traveler who must ally to save a group of townspeople abducted by aliens.

The project began development in April 1997, when Universal Pictures and DreamWorks Pictures bought film rights to a concept pitched by Rosenberg, former president at Malibu Comics, which he described as a graphic novel in development. After the graphic novel was published in 2006, development on the film was begun again, and Favreau signed on as director in September 2009. By April 2010, Harrison Ford and Daniel Craig were cast. Favreau had cast Craig and Ford in the film because they were actors who suited the action-adventure roles so the characters would be less seen as comedic. On a budget of $163 million, filming for Cowboys & Aliens began in June 2010, in New Mexico and California. Despite studio pressure to release the film in 3-D, Favreau chose to film traditionally and in anamorphic format (widescreen picture on standard 35 mm film) to further a "classic movie feel". Measures were taken to maintain a serious Western element despite the film's "inherently comic" title and premise. The film's aliens were designed to be "cool and captivating", with some details, such as a fungus that grows on their wounds, created to depict the creatures as frontiersmen facing adversity in an unfamiliar place.

The film stars Daniel Craig, Harrison Ford, Olivia Wilde, Sam Rockwell, Paul Dano, Clancy Brown and Keith Carradine. The cast gave lacklustre performances that were borderline comical and silly. Craig and Ford unintentionally drew silly caricatures of themselves when they intended to deliver two new additions to the list of great action heroes. Wilde just seemed to be nothing but eye candy for the men in the audience, especially with that one scene. Her character lacked real personality and purpose even though she was the key to the whole film.

Cowboys & Aliens is a middling sci-fi / western crossover fodder, at best. As a kid, I would enjoy this movie much more than I would as an adult. Aliens and cowboys in a single movie. It seems contrived and dull. Pretty much the end of Favreau's career for serious filmmaking. It starts off really well, stalls a little toward the middle, goes bonkers for one really odd scene, and then derails completely at the end. In the end, it doesn't deliver all that much of what the title promises.

Simon says Cowboys & Aliens receives: