Tuesday, 18 December 2012

Film Review: "Love Is All You Need" (2012).

"From the Academy Award winning director of In A Better World" comes Love Is All You Need. This Danish romantic comedy film directed by Susanne Bier, and written by Anders Thomas Jensen. Hairdresser Ida finds her husband cheating on her. Later, she flies to Italy to attend her daughter's wedding where she falls in love with the groom's father.

The film stars Pierce Brosnan, Trine Dyrholm, Kim Bodnia, Paprika Steen, and Bodil Jørgensen. The lead actors outshine a predictable script in this Danish/Italian romantic comedy. However, it's appallingly implausible. Lowlighted by a total lack of chemistry between Thompson and Brosnan. Brosnan and Dyrholm make a charming couple. But their best efforts can't save Jensen's weak script, which Bier also directed, clumsily. Despite Brosnan and Dyrholm's inherent likability and natural chemistry, the two actors end up feeling more like old friends than a sizzling romantic item. Dyrholm and Brosnan really are fine romantic foils. They deserve a better movie to trade barbs in. They deserve better barbs to trade. How to Steal a Million it's not - Brosnan sleepwalks through his dialogue, and there's at least one unforgivable James Bond reference - but the film is too sunny and self-effacing to be truly toxic. Dyrholm is one of those rarities who shines in just about anything. Her crack timing enlivens even her worst lines.

This discordant rom-com comedy has all the charm of a lobotomized poodle; fluffy and without all the necessary faculties to function. It's only the twinkle-eyed self-parody of former Bond Brosnan that makes this dire Danish rom-com remotely watchable. It is an underwhelming and forgettable endeavor that squanders the efforts of its charismatic leads. Unlike its title, this film is not all you need. Alas, there are no sparks. There is no excitement. Hopkins' clumsy script simply bumbles its way past plot holes into predictabilities. Most everything about this movie is predictable within the first few minutes. Seeing the film is a lot like going on a rather pedestrian cruise but having a smashing couple that you look forward to seeing at dinner every night. A romantic comedy as painfully unfunny as a sock in the jaw. The film, which feels like something made back in the late 1960s or early '70s, is so relentlessly silly it's hard to watch without a lot of eye-rolling. Manages to be excruciatingly unfunny despite the presence of Brosnan and Dyrholm in the lead roles. Neither the Brosnan charm nor the Dyrholm pedigree can save a movie that's embarrassing to all involved. The jokes are as creaky as the aching bunions and bad backs onscreen, but Dyrholm and Brosnan are incandescent together. If you like comfy slacks and mildly amusing sitcoms, you're in for a ball. I found the ending cheery - mainly because I got to leave. This is a broad, old school comedy: imagine Mrs Brown's Boys without the swearing. Or Brendan O'Carroll. Or the jokes. Utterly joyless - although you can somehow imagine Nigel Farage enjoying it immensely.

Simon says Love Is All You Need receives:

Saturday, 15 December 2012

Film Review: "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey" (2012)

"Far over the misty mountains cold / To dungeons deep and caverns old / The pines were roaring on the height / The winds were moaning in the night / The fire was red, it flame spread / The trees like torches blazed with light..." This famous passage conveys exactly what is going down in The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. This epic fantasy film directed by Sir Peter Jackson. It is the first of a three-part film adaptation of the 1937 novel The Hobbit by J. R. R. Tolkien. Set sixty years before The Lord of the Rings, the story is about the hobbit Bilbo Baggins, who is swept into a quest and hired by the wizard Gandalf to accompany thirteen dwarves led by Thorin Oakenshield on a quest across Middle-earth to reclaim the Lonely Mountain from Smaug the dragon.

On 16 December 2007, New Line and MGM announced that Jackson would be executive producer of The Hobbit and its sequel. In April 2008, Guillermo del Toro (Pan's Labyrinth (2006)) was hired to direct the film. Pre-production began around August 2008. Filming was expected to take place throughout 2010 in New Zealand. Jackson revealed in late November 2009 that he anticipated that the script for The Hobbit would not be finished until the beginning of 2010. The announcement created doubts about whether the film would make its previously-announced release dates of December 2011 and December 2012. Jackson reiterated that no casting decisions had been made. On 22 January 2010, Alan Horn said the first film would likely not be released until the fourth quarter of 2012. In 2010, del Toro left the project because of ongoing delays. On 25 June 2010, Jackson was reported to be in negotiations to direct the two-part film. On 15 October 2010, New Line Cinema and Warner Bros. confirmed that The Hobbit was to proceed filming with Jackson as director, with the film reported to be greenlit, and principal photography to begin in February 2011.

The performances in this film felt rather weak and underdeveloped unlike the previous performances were in The Lord of the Rings. Freeman’s performance got off to a rather bad start. But it was the same for Elijah Wood. The performances of the company of dwarves, that included; Richard Armitage as Thorin Oakenshield, Graham McTavish as Dwalin, Ken Stott as Balin, Aidan Turner as Kíli, Dean O'Gorman as Fíli, Mark Hadlow as Dori, Jed Brophy as Nori, Adam Brown as Ori, John Callen as Óin, Peter Hambleton as Glóin, William Kircher as Bifur, James Nesbitt as Bofur, Stephen Hunter as Bombur, were all rather cartoonish than real characters. However, there some strong performances from Sir Ian McKellen, Cate Blanchett, Hugo Weaving, Sir Christopher Lee, Ian Holm and Elijah Wood reprising their roles from the previous films. And lastly Andy Serkis, whose riddling return as Gollum stole the entire film.

Jackson needs to improve on the plot and character development, because The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey feels kind of flat. However there's plenty of eye candy to behold.

Simon says The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey receives:

Tuesday, 27 November 2012

Film Review: "Compliance" (2012).

"How far would you go?" This is the question in Compliance. This thriller film written and directed by Craig Zobel, and based upon the strip search phone call scam. Inspired by true events, the film tells the chilling story of just how far one might go to obey a figure of authority. On a particularly busy day at a suburban Ohio fast food joint, high-strung manager Sandra receives a phone call from a police officer saying that an employee, a pretty young blonde named Becky, has stolen money from a customer. Convinced she’s only doing what’s right, Sandra commences the investigation, following step-by-step instructions from the officer at the other end of the line, no matter how invasive they become.

In early 2004, a call was made to a McDonald's in Mount Washington, Kentucky; In the real life incident, the girl's name was Louise Ogborn and she worked at McDonald's. Her assistant manager's name was Donna Summers, and the caller on the other line was 'Officer Scott' and the call had originated from a pay-phone in Panama City, Florida. The card he had used was an AT&T phone card that he had bought at Wal-Mart. The only person who did prison time in the real case was Walter Nix Jr., boyfriend of restaurant manager Donna Summers. Summers was given probation. The caller David Stewart was believed by cops to be thirty-eight-year-old prison warder Stewart. Who is thought to have tricked managers of more than seventy fast food outlets in thirty-one US states into strip-searching, humiliating and sexually abusing customers and staff. Stewart, was found not guilty due to insufficient evidence. 

The film stars Ann Dowd, Dreama Walker, Pat Healy, and Bill Camp. We should give the cast well-deserved praise for taking on roles so unusual for them and so different than anything they've done.

Compliance is a film that really takes its time, but does a masterful job of showing how this scam didn't just destroy the lives of the victims, but how it became a burden to almost everyone involved. It's a story about the elusive nature of evil in a world that thinks justice will eventually come to our rescue. Among a plethora of skillful thrillers about repeat offenders in the realm of scams and frauds, Zobel's wonderful film has easily become the benchmark of the modern era. Beautifully poised, slow and sinister: a trance of expectant menace in which Zobel holds his audience until the film's finale. A complex crime drama that limits its action, opting to save it for the times that bring the greatest impact. So insistent, and successful, is at duplicating real-life hypercomplacency that you may try writing a "k" in two, not three, strokes to see the difference - damning and admiring how this indisputable masterpiece drags you down the rabbit hole. It is a great film that many true crime buffs would love due to the treatment given to the subject, and that many movie fans will admire thanks to Zobel's direction and the performances of its cast.

Simon says Compliance receives:

Friday, 23 November 2012

Film Review: "Skyfall" (2012)

"'Be careful what you wish for, Mr?' 'Bond. James Bond'". The titular character is about to tackle his greatest mission yet in Skyfall. This twenty-third film in the James Bond series, produced by Eon Productions and distributed by MGM and Sony Pictures Entertainment. The film was directed by Sam Mendes. In the film, Bond's loyalty to M is tested as her past comes back to haunt her. As MI6 comes under attack, 007 must track down and destroy the threat, no matter how personal the cost.

For 50 years, James Bond is one of the most enduring action characters in movie history. Since the first 007 film in 1962, his weakness for women, his brutal and violent capacity and his British sensibility had created one of the most successful if not the most critically praised film series in Hollywood history. The books have sold over one million copies and the films have been seen by over half of the earth's population. Bond's author (Ian Fleming) and his films' creators (Albert R. 'Cubby' Broccoli and Harry Saltzman) had created the ultimate male fantasy. James Bond was first created in the novel Casino Royale on February 17th 1952 in Fleming's house, Golden Eye, in Jamaica. With the intention to write 'the greatest Spy story to end all Spy stories.' But as sat and typed 2000 words every hour away on his golden typewriter, even he could not imagine the phenomenon that he was about to create. But how has Bond lasted for 5 decades? The spy himself has through several incarnations, starting with Sean Connery in the 1960s starring in 5 films. In 1969 after Connery's exit, for one film only, the Australian model George Lanzenby took on the role. After Lazenby's downfall, Roger Moore occupied the role in 7 films during the 70s. The mid 80s saw the continuation of the bond character with its fourth entry, Timothy Dalton. And after two films, in the 90s, the role was then occupied by Pierce Brosnan. Now in the 2000s, the role now belongs to Daniel Craig. Six actors in search of one character. The constant element in the films is the character himself from the novels and first fleshed out by Connery and his director Terrence Young in the first film Dr. No (1962). Then all the way into now Skyfall with Craig and director Mendes. In total the films had gone to gross over $6 million and still counting. For now Bond has been successful as he has ever been. The formula has lasted for 50 years and Bond's legacy is now, and will always be, intact.

Mendes was approached to direct the film after the release of Quantum of Solace in 2008. Development was suspended when MGM encountered financial troubles and did not resume until December 2010; during this time, Mendes remained attached to the project as a consultant. The original screenwriter, Peter Morgan, left the project during the suspension. When production resumed, Logan, Purvis, and Wade continued writing what became the final version of the script. Filming began in November 2011 and primarily took place in the United Kingdom, with smaller portions shot in China and Turkey.

The performances in the film were all brilliant and well casted. The film features Daniel Craig's third performance as James Bond, at the centre, Craig manages to get out of the shadow of the previous Bonds and finally brought his full potential to become the next great Bond. Craig had relaxed into Bond without losing any steeliness. I also should praise Daniel Craig for refusing to let Javier Bardem steal the show by matching Bardem's performance. Craig's brilliance is that, just by looking at him, we see the deep scars of hurt beneath his icy blue eyes, even before a slightly weird finale takes Bond into uncharted childhood 'back-story' territory and it all goes a bit Nolan-era Batman. Daniel Craig would usurp Sean Connery in defining the role of James Bond. Javier Bardem played Raoul Silva, the film's antagonist. I also have to praise Bardem's performance as the most authentically Bondian villain in decades. Dame Judi Dench, who played M took on the role as always with a brilliant, sardonic and tough nature. Ralph Fiennes as Gareth Mallory, whom I found to be an "interesting" character, delivered a unique punch to the story. Bérénice Lim Marlohe took on the role of the beautiful and enigmatic character, Sévérine. She played the role perfectly and had great chemistry with Craig, however I felt that her role was too small, much smaller than I imagined. Finney's performance as Kincade, the gameskeeper, was warm and rich in gravitas.

Dark, complex and unforgettable, Skyfall succeeds not just as an entertaining spy thriller film, but as a richly thrilling cinematic saga. It is a haunting film that leaps beyond its origins and becomes an engrossing blockbuster. Like what The Dark Knight (2008) did for the comic-book genre, it redefines the possibilities of the spy thriller genre and the James Bond series. The film goes much deeper than its predecessor, with a deft script that refuses to scrutinize its hero with popular psychology, instead pulling the viewer in with an examination of Bond's psyche. The filmmakers move the film away from the spy thriller cinema and closer to being a genuine work of art, with Mendes' sophisticated direction and the gritty reality of Roger Deakins’ cinematography helping to create a world that has something raw and elemental within this franchise. Pitched at the divide between art and industry, poetry and entertainment, it goes darker and deeper than any Hollywood movie of its genre kind. Mendes has delivered the most accomplished, mature and the most technically impressive work to his career. The film is nothing short of brilliant. In the annals of sequels, the film is what The Dark Knight was to Batman Begins (2005) - it's that much better. To conclude, the film is a haunting and visionary piece of cinema. The film displays evident patience and intelligence to the filmmaking all over. It is not just a good genre movie or a good summer movie. It's a great movie, full stop.

Simon says Skyfall receives:

Tuesday, 20 November 2012

Film Review: "360" (2011).

"Everything comes full circle" in 360. This drama thriller film directed by Fernando Meirelles, adapted by Peter Morgan, and loosely based on Arthur Schnitzler's La Ronde. A dramatic thriller that weaves together the stories of an array of people from disparate social backgrounds through their intersecting relationships. The film combines a modern and dynamic roundelay of stories into one, linking characters from different cities and countries in a vivid, suspenseful and deeply moving tale of love in the twenty-first century. Starting in Vienna, this movie beautifully weaves through Paris, London, Bratislava, Rio de Janeiro, Denver, and Phoenix into a single, mesmerizing narrative.

The film stars Jude Law, Rachel Weisz, Ben Foster, Anthony Hopkins, and Marianne Jean-Baptiste. Yes, the cast is certainly seductive with Nobel intentions and some lovely performances. But too bad the director keeps getting in their way, and the direction often beguiling. Yet ultimately we're left with a distinct sense of abandonment, of a story insufficiently told.

The result feels schizophrenic. An offensively condescending tourist's eye. The pornography of global damage and suffering for the popcorn munching voyeuristic entertainment of more economically cozy moviegoers. While Schnitzler's narrative returns an unequivocal guilty verdict on sexual morality and class ideology, the jury on Meirelles's storytelling abilities remains hung. I don't remember being thrilled even once. A lot of righteous finger wagging along the way but many punches are pulled. More stylistic bark than substantive bite. The philosophical ambitions of Schnitzler and Meirelles are quite insistent, but the story feels like a story, not like the truth-it's both far-fetched and predictable. If Meirelles' style were any murkier, audiences would have to bring flashlights and a shovel. Not only preserves the book's flaws but has added to them. The combination of drama and soap box proves an uneasy, and ultimately unsuccessful, one. The film is engaging, still it never connects with much more than a curiosity. The emotions run, but not deep. Ultimately, it offers reassurance that the rat-infested system doesn't need to be smashed, only cleansed. As its taciturn title might suggest, the film could have used a major injection of forcefulness. It's interesting and absorbing enough that I can't call it a failure, but it doesn't cohere enough to qualify as a success. If the personal story works better, though, it's partly to default: As a political thriller, the film has a few holes. The film doesn't self-destruct, implode or fall to pieces the way other movies do when they end badly. It just loses its form and drifts away. If it sends audiences home to log on to the Amnesty International website, terrific - but that still doesn't make it a very good movie. It is more like walking past a series of paintings than watching a film. You can admire the skill that went into work, but it never carries you along. The outcome seems rushed and predestined, rather than exposed. The personal and the global are at frustrating odds.

Simon says 360 receives:

Film Review: "Diana Vreeland: The Eye Has to Travel" (2011).

A look at the life and work of the influential fashion editor of Harpers Bazaar. This is Diana Vreeland: The Eye Has to Travel. This documentary film written and directed by Lisa Immordino Vreeland, Bent-Jorgen Perlmutt & Frédéric Tcheng. One of the leading figures in fashion for decades, Diana Vreeland's life is presented from her beginnings in Paris, to her work as a columnist and magazine editor, and to her role as a curator of a fashion museum.

Born on September 29, 1903 in Paris, France, Vreeland would go on to become a noted fashion columnist and editor for world renowned fashion magazines, Harper's Bazaar and Vogue, being the editor-in-chief of the latter, and as a special consultant at the Costume Institute of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. In 1964, she was named on the International Best Dressed List Hall of Fame.

The film is a wonderful reflection on the legacy of an individual who has lived an exceptional life. Behind the icon was a woman who has lived life to the fullest, and serves as an inspiration to everyone who watches the film. This is not a film about big people or grand issues. It is delicately, oddly, insistently trivial. Much of the fun is getting a behind-the-scenes look at how the fashion icon constructs an outfit. And then, maybe, following er lead. That necklace that was too big, too bright, too gaudy may seem just right. Especially if you add another. Full of humour and warmth, the film is a delight, and sure to pique your interest in more audacious outfits. The beautiful thing about the film is that even though there are pearls of wisdom, tender moments, heartfelt truths and sharp criticisms throughout, the film never loses focus of what is at the heart of Iris' work and life. So much more than meets Diana's looks: looking at self-determination, relentless individuality, devil-may-care creativity, romance, fame and mortality all peppered throughout with delicious humor. The film is an especially realistic portrait of human life even by the standards of an inherently realistic genre. There is, for all the frivolity of her business, a gravitas and magnetism about Diana Vreeland: she's smart and funny and sassy enough for the viewer to see past a life of privilege and walk-in wardrobes. The film offers an entertaining view into the artistic process, encroaching mortality, and societal trends. Although mostly a loose and unchallenging portrait, the film is of value to the documentary field if only for taking a stand, however casual, against drabness. The film drums home its agreeable themes - never be afraid to express yourself and never stop having fun. It's nice to be reminded of this by someone with more than six decades of experience. Even if the film doesn't get far beneath surface of its subject, it is still a pleasant, if slight, depiction of a human curio. As a snapshot of an exceptional woman, Iris is an uplifting and entertaining film; it lifts our spirits with the fuel of hers.

Simon says Diana Vreeland: The Eye Has to Travel receives:

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Film Review: "Sinister" (2012).

"Once you see him, nothing can save you." This is Sinister. This supernatural horror film directed by Scott Derrickson, and written by Derrickson and C. Robert Cargill. The film follows true-crime writer, Ellison Oswald, who is in a slump; he hasn't had a best seller in more than 10 years and is becoming increasingly desperate for a hit. So, when he discovers the existence of a snuff film showing the deaths of a family, he vows to solve the mystery. He moves his own family into the victims' home and gets to work. However, when old film footage and other clues hint at the presence of a supernatural force, Ellison learns that living in the house may be fatal.

Cargill says that his inspiration came from a nightmare he experienced after seeing The Ring (2002), in which he discovered a film in his attic depicting the hanging of an entire family. In creating a villain for the film, Cargill conceptualized a new take on the Bogeyman, calling the entity "Mr. Boogie". Cargill's idea was that the creature would be both terrifying and seductive to children, luring them to their dooms as a sinister Willy Wonka-like figure. Cargill and co-writer Scott Derrickson ultimately decided to downplay the creature's alluring nature, only intimating how it manipulates the children into murder. In further developing Mr. Boogie, the pair had lengthy discussions about its nature, deciding not to make it a demon but rather a pagan deity, in order to place it outside the conceptual scope of any one particular religion. Consequently, the villain was given the proper name "Bughuul", with only the child characters in the film referring to it as Mr. Boogie. By late September 2011, Ethan Hawke, Juliet Rylance, James Ransone, Fred Thompson, and Vincent D'Onofrio were cast. At the same time, principal photography commenced, and wrapped in late October. Filming took place in Long Island, New York; and Los Angeles, California. The super 8 segments were shot first, using actual super 8 cameras and film stock, in order to maintain the aesthetic authenticity of home-shot super 8 footage.

The film stars Hawke, Rylance, Ransone, Thompson, and D'Onofrio. Impassioned performances were given by the cast, especially Hawke. Hawke projects intelligence, determination and resourcefulness that carry the movie nicely. Though by the second half of the film, Hawke and D'Onofrio were utterly wasted perhaps because the script didn't bother to give them both character arcs.

Aside from a shaky final act, Sinister is a very scary and very fun supernatural thrill ride. It depends on characters, atmosphere, sneaky happenings and mounting dread. This one is not terrifically good, but moviegoers will get what they're expecting. The strongest analogue for the second half of the film is one that the filmmakers probably weren’t trying for: it feels like a less poetic version of a James Wan fairy tale. If there's a complaint to be made about the film, it's that the film's second half is unable to live up to the impossibly high standards set by the first half.

Simon says Sinister receives:

Tuesday, 6 November 2012

Film Review: "End of Watch" (2012).

"They were the city's top guns, until one discovery made them the cartel's most wanted." This is End of Watch. This action thriller film written and directed by David Ayer. Longtime LAPD partners and friends, Brian Taylor and Mike Zavala patrol one of the most dangerous neighborhoods in Los Angeles. Though they may bend the rules, their honor and dedication to the job are unquestioned. Taylor and Zavala always have each other's back, even if Taylor's surreptitious filming of their daily activities for a college course is a bit ill-advised. All hell breaks loose for the officers when they run afoul of a vicious Mexican cartel.

Ayer grew up in South Central Los Angeles and has had numerous friends in the LAPD. He had written several films previously about police officers in Los Angeles, but while these depicted rogue and corrupt officers, he wanted to feature honest, ethical police work in End of Watch. In contrast to his previous works, Ayer wanted to focus on the friendship between Taylor and Zavala. In December 2010, Ayer wrote the screenplay over six days. Jaime FitzSimons, a longtime friend of Ayer and a former police officer with the LAPD, served as the film's technical advisor, and his experiences from working in Los Angeles inspired several plot points of the film. Jake Gyllenhaal was the first to be cast in the film; after receiving the script, he read it in an hour and immediately accepted. Michael Peña was cast shortly after, following a string of auditions. By August 2011, Anna Kendrick, Natalie Martinez, Frank Grillo, America Ferrera, Cody Horn, David Harbour, and Shondrella Avery rounded out the film's cast. Gyllenhaal and Peña did not bond immediately but gradually became close friends over the process of training and filming. Gyllenhaal and Peña undertook five months of intensive training under the guidance of FitzSimons to prepare for their roles. Tactical training was also given to Harbour, Ferrera, Horn, and Grillo. At the same time, principal photography commenced, and took place over twenty-two days throughout South Central Los Angeles. The film was shot in a combination of found footage style and traditional photography. Most scenes were captured by four cameras simultaneously: six of these included a handheld camera operated by Gyllenhaal, cameras clipped to Gyllenhaal and Peña's vests, and dashboard footage from their patrol car. Some scenes were shot entirely by Gyllenhaal.

The film stars Gyllenhaal, Peña, Kendrick, Martinez, Grillo, Ferrera, Horn, Harbour, and Avery. The cast gave amazing performances, with Gyllenhaal and Peña truly made you believe in these down-to-earth yet over-the-top characters. However, as a character study, the film somewhat lacked characterization, and it's a bit predictable to be an effective cautionary tale.

A crazy little film, modest in its scope but grand in its ambition. It paints it's story in loud primary colors, with intense pressure cooker characterizations. A film that seems gritty and pointless for its first third, begins to grow in meaning as the pointlessness snowballs into absurdity and then tragedy.

Simon says End of Watch receives:

Saturday, 27 October 2012

Film Review: "Argo" (2012)

"Okay, you got 6 people hiding out in a town of what, 4 million people, all of whom chant "death to America" all the livelong day. You want to set up a movie in a week. You want to lie to Hollywood, a town where everybody lies for a living. Then you're gonna sneak 007 over here into a country that wants CIA blood on their breakfast cereal, and you're gonna walk the Brady Bunch out of the most watched city in the world." This is the premise of this declassified story of Argo. This thriller film starring and directed by Ben Affleck. The movie is based loosely on former Central Intelligence Agency operative Tony Mendez's historical account of the rescue of six U.S. diplomats from Tehran, Iran during the 1979 Iran Hostage Crisis. The film is about the dramatization of the 1980 joint CIA-Canadian secret operation to extract six fugitive American diplomatic personnel out of revolutionary Iran.

Due to the revolutionary overthrow of Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, the Shah of Iran due to his absolute monarch rule over the country. This brought the country economic, cultural and political issues which then united opposition against the Shah and led to his overthrow. Now diagnosed with cancer, the Shah then took political asylum in the United States. Outraged the Muslim Student Followers of the Imam's Line demanded that the Shah return to Iran for trial and execution. The U.S. maintained that the Shah, who died less than a year later in July 1980, had come to America only for medical attention. The group's other demands included that the U.S. government apologize for its interference in the internal affairs of Iran, for the overthrow of Prime Minister Mossadeq (in 1953), and that Iran's frozen assets in the U.S. be released. The initial takeover plan was to hold the embassy for only a short time, but this changed after it became apparent how popular the takeover was and that Khomeini had given it his full support. Some attribute the Iranian decision not to release the hostages quickly to U.S. President Jimmy Carter's "blinking" or failure to immediately deliver an ultimatum to Iran. His immediate response was to appeal for the release of the hostages on humanitarian grounds and to share his hopes of a strategic anti-communist alliance with the Islamic Republic. As some of the student leaders had hoped, Iran's moderate Prime Minister Mehdi Bazargan and his cabinet resigned under pressure just days after the event. On the day the hostages were seized, six American diplomats, Robert Anders, Cora Amburn-Lijek, Mark Lijek, Joseph Stafford, Kathleen Stafford and Lee Schatz, evaded capture and remained in hiding at the Swedish and Italian embassies. In 1979, the Canadian Parliament held a secret session for the first time since World War II in order to pass special legislation allowing Canadian passports to be issued to some American citizens so that they could escape. In cooperation with the Central Intelligence Agency who used the cover story of a film project, the six American diplomats boarded a flight to Zürich, Switzerland, on January 28, 1980. Their escape and rescue from Iran by Canadian ambassador Ken Taylor has come to be known as the "Canadian Caper". The CIA enlisted its disguise and exfiltration expert, Tony Mendez, to provide a cover story, documents, appropriate clothing, and materials to change their appearance. Mendez worked closely with Canadian government staff in Ottawa, who forwarded the passports and other supporting material to the Canadian embassy through a Canadian diplomatic courier. Mendez then flew to Tehran with an associate to assist with the rescue. There were alternate passports and identities for a variety of scenarios, but the cover story selected had the six being a Hollywood crew scouting movie locations. The elaborate back-story involved a film named Argo, for a Middle-Eastern feel, and a functioning office in Hollywood set up with the help of John Chambers, a veteran Hollywood make-up artist. The script used had been based on the science fiction novel Lord of Light. The six were told that telephone calls to the "Studio Six" office in Los Angeles would be answered. Display ads for the "Studio Six" production were placed in Hollywood publications and Cora Lijek carried one paper as part of her cover materials. (The movie scenario was considered one way to get an armed team into Tehran to retake the embassy.)

The film stars Affleck as CIA specialist Tony Mendez with Bryan Cranston as CIA supervisor Jack O'Donnell, Alan Arkin as film producer Lester Siegel, and John Goodman as legendary make-up artist John Chambers. The cast gave strong performances. Affleck was interesting as the film's central protagonist Tony Mendez but I thought it was unusual or inaccurate to think that the actual figure was Latin American where as Affleck is an American with English, Irish, Scottish, and German ancestry. But the performance overall was brilliant. Alan Arkin as Lester Siegel was comical as always, going back to earlier films such as Little Miss Sunshine (2006) and Get Smart (2008). Finally John Goodman as legendary make-up artist John Chambers was fascinating and enjoyable as his performance brought a side to the figure that I myself never knew about. The rest of the cast were all superb and intense and deserve merits in their own ways.

Tense, smartly written, and wonderfully cast, Argo proves that Ben Affleck is a director to be reckoned with. Ben Affleck proves his directing credentials in this gripping dramatic thriller, drawing strong performances from the excellent cast and bringing this untold story to the screen. The film’s intense action scenes convey an ideal balance between kineticism and clarity aided by Rodrigo Prieto’s cinematography and William Goldenberg’s editing.

Simon says Argo receives:

Tuesday, 23 October 2012

Film Review: "Killing Them Softly" (2012).

"In America you're on your own" in Killing Them Softly. This neo-noir crime film adapted and directed by Andrew Dominik, and based on George V. Higgins' novel Cogan's Trade (1974). When three men rob a card game run by Markie Trattman, he vows to get his money back and calls Jackie, a professional enforcer, to investigate the case.

In November 2010, the project was first announced, with the original title Cogan's Trade, when Brad Pitt was reported to be in talks to star in it. Pitt was approached by Dominik to star as Jackie Cogan. Production was scheduled to begin in Louisiana in March 2011, with pre-production beginning in January. By late February, Sam Shepard, Ray Liotta, Richard Jenkins, James Gandolfini, Scoot McNairy, Ben Mendelsohn, Vincent Curatola, and Max Casella rounded out the film's cast. At the same time, principal photography commenced, and took place throughout New Orleans, Louisiana. The film was shot on film and was the first to shoot on Kodak's 500T 5230 film stock.

The film stars Pitt, Shepard, Liotta, Jenkins, Gandolfini, McNairy, Mendelsohn, Curatola, and Casella. Thanks to the performances given by the cast, this is the kind of picture that isn't afraid to put its characters under a microscope, and it knows that studying their psychology is far more rewarding than studying their gun-slinging skills.

On the strength of its two lead performances Killing Them Softly is an expertly crafted period piece, and an insightful look at one of the enduring figures of American lore. Stunning visuals, award-worthy performances, and a script that takes incredibly rewarding risks, the film is a masterpiece and one of the best films of the year. If I were inclined to wheel out clichés like 'Oscar-worthy', I'd certainly wheel them out in support of this movie, on several counts. Impeccably shot, cast and directed, this is a truly impressive film from Dominik. But suffers from an unfortunate case of elephantiasis. Dominik seems so in love with his languorous pacing, he's incapable of cutting the five or ten seconds in any number of scenes that could have given the film a more manageable running time. In the scheme of things, however, this amounts to little more than a quibble. Imperfect, beautiful, overloaded and redundant, it is one of those films that will still be remembered and analyzed in ten years. The film is an engrossing and hypnotic neo-noir crime film that places a heavy emphasis on atmosphere, character and reality. Dominik takes his time with the story, but his languorous pacing allows tension to build -- and permits the actors, Affleck in particular, to add nuance and depth to characters who'll seem familiar only at first glance. Even though the film looks beautiful there are things that rubbed me the wrong way. The film is a throwback to another time when films were allowed to be unhurried, when audiences trusted multiple story lines to converge
organically, and time and place were evoked with consummate craft.

Simon says Killing Them Softly receives:

Film Review: "Safety Not Guaranteed" (2012).

"Wanted: Someone to go back in time with me. This is not a joke. You'll get paid when we get back. Must bring your own weapons. Safety not guaranteed. I have only done this once before." 
Which is what Safety Not Guaranteed is all about. This comedy film directed by Colin Trevorrow; written by Derek Connolly; inspired by a 1997 Backwoods Home Magazine classified ad - itself written as a joke filler by Backwoods employee John Silver - by a person asking for someone to accompany him in time travel. The film follows three magazine employees as they head out on an assignment to interview a guy who placed a classified advertisement seeking a companion for time travel.

The original classified ad upon which the film is based first appeared in Backwoods Home Magazine in 1997. It was written as last-minute filler by John Silveira, an employee of the magazine, who is credited in the film as "Time Travel Consultant" and also has a cameo. The ad was later featured on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno (1992) in the "Headlines" segment, and eventually turned into an Internet meme before being developed into a screenplay. On a remarkable budget of $750,000, the film was shot in Seattle and Ocean Shores, Washington, and other locations within 30 miles of Seattle. It is also partially set in Seattle. The film was shot with a Sony F3 camera using old Panavision lenses, which gave the film a desired "Hal Ashby look" for director Colin Trevorrow.

The film stars Aubrey Plaza, Mark Duplass, Jake Johnson and Karan Soni. The cast gave fantastically witty and emotionally dramatic performances. With each cast member displaying their own unique witty and emotional flair and depth. As you genuinely feel emotionally invested in each character as they go through their own personal journeys.

Safety Not Guaranteed is a heady blend of time travel, romantic comedy, and human emotion. Like a time portal, the film creates a whole new world of stories and possibilities for film, and stands as one of the most exceptional movies of 2012. The skill, the guile and the humanness to turn a ridiculous, outlandish gimmick into a dense and emotional piece makes it the freshest thing the cinematic world has seen since Reservoir Dogs (1992). The film has an impressive feel for the odd, quiet rhythms of small-scale story-telling and little time-travel. The movie never looks cheap, because every shot looks as it must look. But the homemade feel is part of the point. Expertly shot and acted, the film gives the audience a simple plot and then piles on layers of drama, twists, and emotion before pulling out the rug from underneath. Interesting, funny, emotional and exciting, it could take you to a deeply emotional place lying dormant in your soul.

Simon says Safety Not Guaranteed receives:

Sunday, 21 October 2012

Film Review: "The Thieves" ("도둑들") (2012).

"All for the money. One for the revenge. Every man for himself." This is The Thieves (도둑들). This South Korean heist film directed by Choi Dong-hoon, and written by Choi and Lee Ki-cheol. Popie, the brain and muscle, Pepsee, an expert safecracker, Yenicall, the wall climber, Zampano, the strategy head, and Chewingum, the master of disguise, decide to rob a $20 million diamond.

Since late 2010, Casting negotiations began, and, in late March 2011, Showbox announced the star-studded cast in a press release. The cast included Kim Yoon-seok, Kim Hye-soo, Lee Jung-jae, Jun Ji-hyun, Simon Yam, Kim Hae-sook, Oh Dal-su, Kim Soo-hyun, Angelica Lee, and Derek Tsang. Choi commented: "These are the very actors that inspired me to write what I have for the movie's script starting from its first line. I'm dreaming of creating explosive ensembles that will clash or harmonize within a single movie due to their different styles." Choi later confessed that the thought of directing this group of high-profile actors and actresses was "really scary", but "during filming, I couldn't take my eyes off the monitor because of the charisma of all these actors. Never did it occur to me that they needed to be handled in a certain way. It's just that the screenplay must be fully understood... We talk. Slowly infect them with my thoughts, mixing the individual with the movie's tone and manner." On comparisons with Ocean's Eleven (2001), Choi said he never went into production consciously thinking about the hit Hollywood film. Though similar to it, he thinks the film is actually closer to his previous films The Big Swindle (2004) and Tazza: The High Rollers (2006), with the action featured "invested with more emotion." Kim Yoon-seok added that contrary to the characters' compatible and harmonious collaboration in Ocean's Eleven, "In The Thieves, we are all over the place, all with our own faults. But I think that you will see through the friendships and love in the film, our unique emotional developments will show through." Principal photography took place in Seoul, Busan, Macau, and Hong Kong.

The film stars Kim Yoon-seok, Kim Hye-soo, Lee Jung-jae, Jun Ji-hyun, Simon Yam, Kim Hae-sook, Oh Dal-su, Kim Soo-hyun, Angelica Lee, and Derek Tsang. The cast gave terrific performances that the crime itself less important than the post-heist cheating in enjoyable, character-based yarn about a bunch of grifters that provides meaty roles for its whole cast plus a couple of neat twists prior to the final act.

The Thieves maintains its tone of madcap rambunctiousness, while allowing its thieves to be, or at least to become, true Korean patriots with a grand political cause and an East-meets-West sensibility (the latter shared with the film itself). The fourth directorial effort by writer-director Choi Dong-hun makes a pic more for Asian-centered fests, though basic story, carefully cast, could have remake potential. As strands of storyline feverishly tie themselves up through twists and coincidences, the double and triple crosses fade in impact next to the poise of Choi's all-star cast.

Simon says The Thieves (도둑들) receives:

Piano Concert 2012 Part 2

Also, see Part 1.