Tuesday, 27 March 2012

Film Review: "The Hunger Games" (2012)

"May the odds be ever in your favor." This famous quote finally comes to the big screen in The Hunger Games. This science fiction action-drama film directed by Gary Ross and based on the novel of the same name by Suzanne Collins. The film focuses on sixteen-year-old Katniss Everdeen, who lives in a post-apocalyptic world in the country of Panem where the countries of North America once existed. The Capitol, a highly advanced metropolis, holds absolute power over the rest of the nation. The Hunger Games are an annual event in which one boy and one girl aged 12 to 18 from each of the 12 districts surrounding the Capitol are selected by lottery to compete in a televised battle in which only one person can survive.

Development of The Hunger Games began in March 2009 when Lions Gate Entertainment entered into a co-production agreement with Color Force, which had acquired the rights a few weeks earlier. Collins collaborated with Ray and Ross to write the screenplay. The screenplay expanded the character of Seneca Crane to allow several developments to be shown directly to the audience and Ross added several scenes between Crane and Coriolanus Snow. The main characters were cast between March and May 2011. Principal photography began in May 2011 and ended in September 2011, and filming took place in North Carolina.

It stars Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Elizabeth Banks, Liam Hemsworth, and Woody Harrelson. The cast gave superb performances, especially Lawrence. Lawrence's performance was superb, it is most certainly better than Kirsten Stewart's performance in the Twilight series. Lawrence was perfect as Katniss, there is very little softness about her, more a melancholy determination that good must be done even if that requires bad things. She has finally become a major box office star! She first officially became an actress with the film The Winter's Bone (2010), which earned her an Academy Award nomination. Not bad for a now rising artist. For Hutcherson also gave a superb performance as Peeta Mellark. He gave a atypical action-hero approach to the role and brought vulnerability to his character, which is a nice for a change. Usually it has always been the male heros saving the damsel in distress. But in this, it’s the other way round. Everybody in this film were perfectly cast, just like the cast of the Harry Potter films.

The Hunger Games isn't perfect, but, I’m sure, for fans of the books, it's a nice supplement to a book series that everybody loves. Being so faithful to the book is both the movie's strength and weakness. The movie unfolds exactly as written in the book, so there is little room for surprises or discoveries. For fans, what more can you ask for? To conclude, it’ll enthrall even the most cynical of moviegoers. The script is faithful, the actors are just right, the sets, costumes, makeup and effects match and sometimes exceed anything one could imagine. It’s off to a good start!

Simon says The Hunger Games receives:

Film Review: "John Carter" (2012)

"Mars. So you name it and think that you know it. The red planet, no air, no life. But you do not know Mars, for its true name is Barsoom. And it is not airless, nor is it dead, but it is dying. The city of Zodanga saw to that." This is what’s going down in Disney’s John Carter. This epic science fiction action film directed by Andrew Stanton and produced by Walt Disney Pictures. Based on the interplanetary adventures of John Carter from Edgar Rice Burroughs' Barsoom series. The film centers on Former Confederate captain John Carter who is mysteriously transported to Mars (Barsoom) where he becomes part of a conflict between the various nations of the planet. Carter takes it upon himself to save Barsoom and its people from a growing threat.

Andrew Stanton, director of the animated Pixar hits WALL-E (2008) and Finding Nemo (2003), lobbied the Walt Disney Studios to reacquire the rights from Burroughs' estate. He then lobbied Disney heavily for the chance to direct the film, pitching it as "Indiana Jones on Mars." The studio was initially skeptical. He had never directed a live-action film before, and wanted to make the film without any major stars whose names could guarantee an audience, at least on opening weekend. The screenplay was seen as confusing and difficult to follow. But since Stanton had overcome similar preproduction doubts to make WALL-E and Finding Nemo into hits, the studio approved him as director. By 2008 they completed the first draft for Part One of a John Carter film trilogy; the first film is based only on the first novel. In April 2009 author Michael Chabon confirmed he had been hired to revise the script. Following the completion of WALL-E, Stanton visited the archives of Edgar Rice Burroughs, Inc., in Tarzana, California, as part of his research. Jim Morris, general manager of Pixar, said the film will have a unique look that is distinct from Frank Frazetta's illustrations, which they both found dated. He also noted that although he had less time for pre-production than for any of his usual animated projects, the task was nevertheless relatively easy since he had read the Burroughs' novels as a child and had already visualized many of its scenes.

The film stars Taylor Kitsch, Lynn Collins, Samantha Morton, Mark Strong, Ciarán Hinds, Thomas Haden Church, Dominic West, James Purefoy, and Willem Dafoe. The cast gave disappointing performances, ranging from just plain to total utter cliché despite the effort.

John Carter is an unqualified disaster. It fails so completely that you might suspect Mr. Stanton sold his soul to obtain the success of Finding Nemo and WALL-E and the Devil has just come around to collect. It is the most scandalous cinematic waste I have ever seen since Battlefield Earth (2000) and Heaven’s Gate (1980), and I've seen both. This is a movie that has destroyed the director's career. This is a movie that lost so much money it is literally a major financial loss for an American studio. This is a movie about a man from Virginia who is trapped on Mars and who is in the middle of an epic struggle between good and evil. This is a movie that stars Taylor Kitsch as a warrior who can "jump". This is a movie in which Mars is called "Barsoom". This is a movie that has five minutes of uninterrupted talking about what is right and what is wrong (I suppose). This is a movie that defies belief. Even though it deserves praise or recognition for its stylistic visuals and special effects, it has to be one of the worst films ever made and one of the worst films of 2012.

Simon says John Carter receives:

Sunday, 25 March 2012

Film Review: "21 Jump Street" (2012)

"We're reviving a canceled undercover police program from the '80s and revamping it for modern times. You see the guys in charge of this stuff lack creativity and are completely out of ideas, so all they do now is recycle shit from the past and expect us all not to notice." This is exactly what 21 Jump Street brings to the big screen. This action comedy film directed by Phil Lord and Chris Miller. It serves as a loose sequel to the 1987 television series 21 Jump Street by Stephen J. Cannell. The film is about a pair of underachieving cops are sent back to a local high school to blend in and bring down a synthetic drug ring.

In May 2008, Columbia Pictures confirmed that a film adaptation of the series was under development. Jonah Hill rewrote an existing script by screenwriter Joe Gazzam and executive produced the film, as well as starred in the film. Hill has said he wanted horror director Rob Zombie to direct the picture. In May 2009, Hill described the film adaptation as being a "R-rated, insane, Bad Boys-meets-John Hughes-type movie". On December 21, 2009, it was announced that Columbia Pictures were in talks with Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs (2010) directing duo, Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, to direct the film. The film follows the same continuity as the TV series; Lord said, "So, all of those events of the original happened. And now here we are 20 years later, and we’re watching it happen to different people." However, the film features a highly comedic tone, departing radically from the more dramatic and earnest tone of the series.

The film stars Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum. The performances in the film were all held together by the two main lead actors Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum as Morton Schmidt and Greg Jenko. Their performances were surprisingly funny, ridiculous, different and yet familiar to the original characters from the original TV series. Jonah Hill plays the nerdy, self concious cop while Channing Tatum plays the "dumb jock." There were also some familiar faces such as Brie Larson, Ice Cube, and most of all Johnny Depp, Richard Grieco and Peter DeLuise as their characters from the original TV series in cameo appearances.

21 Jump Street is hugely funny, but it`s also liberating-precisely because it centers its aim on the vital relationship between two guys and blows it apart. The straight lines are shattered; the empty spaces in the images are packed full until they burst. To conclude, it gave me about 10 big laughs and 20 small laughs and as many smiles. That`s value for time and money spent. For those who savor silliness, this movie is humor heaven. The determinedly juvenile gags never stop flowing. It is destined to become a cult comedy classic. If the holiday run doesn`t make a bundle, the returns on DVDs will.

Simon says 21 Jump Street receives:

Tuesday, 20 March 2012

Film Review: "The Skin I Live In" ("La piel que habito") (2011).

From the director of All About My Mother and Broken Embraces comes The Skin I Live In (La piel que habito). This Spanish psychological thriller drama film adapted and directed by Pedro Almodóvar, and based on Thierry Jonquet's novel Tarantula (Mygale). Ever since his wife was burned in a car crash, Dr. Robert Ledgard, an eminent plastic surgeon, has been interested in creating a new skin with which he could have saved her. After twelve years, he manages to cultivate a skin that is a real shield against every assault. In addition to years of study and experimentation, Robert needed three more things: no scruples, an accomplice and a human guinea pig. Scruples were never a problem. Marilia, the woman who looked after him from the day he was born, is his most faithful accomplice. And as for the human guinea pig...

In 2001, Almodóvar read Jonquet's novel, and what attracted him to the novel was "the magnitude of Doctor Ledgard's vendetta". This became the core of the adaptation, which over time moved further and further from the original plot of the novel. Whilst penning the script, Almodóvar was inspired by Georges Franju's Eyes Without a Face and the thriller films of Fritz Lang. In 2002, Almodóvar announced the project with Antonio Banderas and Penélope Cruz in mind to star. By late August 2010, Banderas, Elena Anaya, Marisa Paredes, Jan Cornet, and Roberto Álamo were cast. The film marked the first collaboration of Almodóvar and Banderas in twenty-one years, their last collaboration was on Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down! (¡Átame!) (1990). At the same time, with a budget of €10 million, principal photography commenced and wrapped in late November. Filming took place in Madrid, Toledo, and throughout Galicia, Spain. After a few days of shooting, Almodóvar had a conversation with Banderas in which he told Banderas that he needed to drop all of his ticks as an actor, because the director wanted a really restrained character and the actor was playing him in a more typical psycho way.

The film stars Banderas, Anaya, Paredes, Cornet, and Álamo. Perhaps the film's greatest truth comes from the performances given by the cast, especially from Banderas and Anaya as their two characters. They reminded me of the scene in Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down!, where the two leads were watching a movie in production: one notes that the film is more a love story than a horror story. Replies the movie's director, "Sometimes the two are indistinguishable."

The film is a deranged, provocative romance, which somehow manages to generate a real sense of affection amid the surgical equipment and costumes. Almodovar's polarities are so perfectly lined up in opposition to my own that it is quite possible for one of his movies to shoot right through my brain without striking a single cell. Though this controversial film about romantic, sado-masochistic love in the hetero world is weak and ultimately disappointing, it's still worth seeing for understanding Almodovar's evolution.

Simon says The Skin I Live In (La piel que habito) receives:

Film Review: "Headhunters" ("Hodejegerne") (2011).

"The hunt is on" in Headhunters (Hodejegerne). This Norwegian action thriller film, directed by Morten Tyldum, adapted by Lars Gudmestad and Ulf Ryberg, based on the 2008 novel of the same name by Jo Nesbø. The film centres on a successful business headhunter who secretly funds his lavish lifestyle with a sideline in art theft learns that one of his contacts has a valuable painting. He resolves to steal it, not realising the deadly world of trouble he is entering.

In 2009, the Swedish production company Yellow Bird acquired the film rights Nesbø's novel with Gudmestad and Ryberg penning the adaptation. It was the first of Nesbø's novels to be turned into a film. By August 2010, Aksel Hennie, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau and Synnøve Macody Lund were cast. The character of Claes Greve was Norwegian in the original novel. His nationality was changed to Danish in the film to accommodate the casting of Coster-Waldau. At the same time, with a budget of 30 million NOK, principal photography commenced, and took place throughout Oslo, Norway.

The film stars Hennie, Coster-Waldau and Macody Lund. The cast goes out of their way to insure you never forget their cinematic iteration of the characters. For many the original Swedish take offers the definitive screen versions of the characters, the film offers a faithful translation of the novel.

Its graphic violence and sprawling length will prove too much for some viewers to take, but the cast's gripping performances made Headhunters an unforgettable viewing experience. The film is a compelling thriller to begin with, but it adds the rare quality of having a heroine more fascinating than the story. It's hard to deny the tightening dread that envelops this well-paced thriller. Genre cliches abound, but while his back of tricks may be decidedly old hat, Tyldum keeps the film consistently entertaining throughout. The story has all the makings of a ripping crime thriller. The film is certainly faithful to every detail of the novel's intricate plot, which is fair enough, but does give it the feel of a plodding TV whodunit rather than a cinematic experience. The film's almost constant tight focus on the mystery kept my palms sweating and my mind racing to try to interpret the clues myself. The final result is an adaptation that's just about as successful as its literary predecessor, with the film occasionally exceeding the book in a few areas. So exquisitely crafted and the final result is a good treat for anyone who enjoys the journey of movies. The film is, from the beginning, equally about it's villains and heroes, which is a pleasant change. It's dark and dismal and beautiful and human and everything a crime film should be. Jo Nesbø's fans were waiting to pounce on any missteps. Fortunately, Tyldum has got things right. The film version by Tyldum is a faithful adaptation of the novel...perhaps too faithful to work completely as cinema, but well-produced nonetheless. Overall, the film is an engrossing and classically suspenseful story.

Simon says Headhunters (Hodejegerne) receives:

Tuesday, 13 March 2012

Film Review: "Cloud Atlas" (2012).

"Our lives are not our own. From womb to tomb, we are bound to others. Past and present. And by each crime and every kindness, we birth our future." This is at the heart of Cloud Atlas. This science fiction film written and directed by The Wachowskis and Tom Tykwer; adapted from the 2004 novel of the same name by David Mitchell. The film has multiple plots set across six different eras, which Mitchell described as "a sort of pointillist mosaic". The official synopsis describes it as "an exploration of how the actions of individual lives impact one another in the past, present and future, as one soul is shaped from a killer into a hero, and an act of kindness ripples across centuries to inspire a revolution". 

Filmmaker Tom Tykwer revealed in January 2009 his intent to adapt the novel and said he was working on a screenplay with the Wachowskis, who optioned the novel. By June 2010, Tykwer had asked actors Natalie Portman, Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, James McAvoy, and Ian McKellen to star in Cloud Atlas. By April 2011, the Wachowskis joined Tykwer in co-directing the film. In the following May, with Hanks and Berry confirmed in their roles, Hugo Weaving, Ben Whishaw, Susan Sarandon, and Jim Broadbent also joined the cast. Actor Hugh Grant joined the cast days before the start of filming. During four years of development, the project met difficulties securing financial support; it was eventually produced with a $102 million budget provided by independent sources, making it one of the most expensive independent films of all time. Production began in September 2011 at Studio Babelsberg in Potsdam-Babelsberg, Germany. Tykwer and the Wachowskis filmed parallel to each other using separate camera crews. Although they shot scenes all three together when permitted by the schedule, the Wachowskis mostly directed the 19th-century story and the two set in the future, while Tykwer directed the stories set in the 1930s, the 1970s, and 2012. Tykwer said that the three directors planned every segment of the film together in pre-production, and continued to work closely together through post-production. Warner Bros. Pictures representatives argued they were happy with the film's 172-minute running time, after previously stating that it should not exceed 150 minutes.

Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, and Jim Broadbent lead an ensemble cast that includes Hugo Weaving, Jim Sturgess, Doona Bae, Ben Whishaw, Keith David, James D'Arcy, David Gyasi, Susan Sarandon and Hugh Grant. Because of the nature of casting on the film, the directors told the actors to think of their roles as a "genetic strain" rather than a series of individual parts, with actions in one story-line affecting another. Despite the cast gave unique and varied performances throughout the film, one could not help in watching some of the performances fade in certain parts and think some of the characters could have benefitted from more development as those characters were underdeveloped and/or underused.

Some of the scenarios border on illogical, but the diverse characters and the creative intersections between their stories keep Cloud Atlas compelling.

Simon says Cloud Atlas receives:

Tuesday, 6 March 2012

Film Review: "We Need to Talk About Kevin" (2011).

"Mummy's little monster..." This is We Need to Talk About Kevin. This psychological thriller directed by Lynne Ramsay, adapted by Ramsay and Rory Stewart Kinnear, and based on Lionel Shriver's novel of the same title. Eva Khatchadourian is a travel writer/publisher who gives up her beloved freedom and bohemian lifestyle to have a child with her husband, Franklin. Pregnancy does not seem to agree with Eva, but what's worse, when she does give birth to a baby boy named Kevin, she can't seem to bond with him. When Kevin grows from a fussy, demanding toddler into a sociopathic teen, Eva is forced to deal with the aftermath of her son's horrific act.

In 2005, BBC Films acquired the rights to adapt Shriver's novel as a film with executive producers Paula Jalfon and Christine Langan, as well as Tilda Swinton, developing it. By 2006, Ramsay signed on to direct and began working on a script with writer Robert Festinger. Shriver was offered a consultative role in the production process but declined, though she did express concern for how the film would capture Eva's role as the unreliable narrator. Production had not begun by 2007, though BBC Films renewed the adaptation rights early in the year. In September 2007, in an interview with The Herald, Shriver stated that she had not been in contact with Ramsay about the film for over two years. Ramsay's spokesperson told the newspaper that a new script draft was being prepared and, at the time the interview was published, had not been submitted to the producers. The film was expected to begin shooting that year. The script appeared on the 2008 Brit List, a film-industry-compiled list of the best unproduced screenplays in British film. Ramsay's partner Kinnear also contributed to the final shooting script. In February 2010, Langan told the London Evening Standard that the long delay in production had been caused by BBC Films having difficulty funding the high budget; Ramsay rewrote the script so the film could be made for a lower cost. The UK Film Council awarded £18,510 to the production from its development fund in the same month. By late April, Swinton, John C. Reilly, Ezra Miller, and Siobhan Fallon Hogan were cast. At the same time, principal photography commenced, and wrapped in late May. Filming took place in Stamford, Connecticut.

The film stars Swinton, Reilly, Miller, and Fallon Hogan. The cast quietly made this quirky, enigmatic and disturbing family piece a compelling and terrifying watch.

Audiences and critics alike will find We Need to Talk About Kevin to be hauntingly beautiful, though its story is somewhat hard to stomach. The film is a raw yet beautiful coming-of-age film too dark for kids. This is often a stunningly, grimly beautiful film, but one that leaves a bitter aftertaste. The film is a family tragedy that plays its story simply, sorrowfully, and beautifully. It's done so deftly, with such a exquisitely poetic touch and keen understanding of the paradoxical coexistence of love and hate in families, that you can forgive some of its narrative triteness.

Simon says We Need to Talk About Kevin receives:

Film Review: "Contraband" (2012).

"What would you hide to protect your family?" This is Contraband. This action-thriller film directed by Baltasar Kormákur, adapted by Aaron Guzikowski, and based on Reykjavík-Rotterdam (2008) by Óskar Jónasson. To protect his brother-in-law from a drug lord, a former smuggler heads to Panama to score millions of dollars in counterfeit bills.

By mid January 2011, Mark Wahlberg, Kate Beckinsale, Ben Foster, Caleb Landry Jones, Giovanni Ribisi, Lukas Haas, J. K. Simmons, Diego Luna, and Ólafur Darri Ólafsson were cast in the remake of the 2008 Icelandic film with Kormákur, who was the lead actor of the original film, hired to direct, making his Hollywood debut. At the same time, principal photography commenced, and took place in New Orleans, Louisiana and Panama City. Ólafur Darri Ólafsson also starred in the original, and the original film's editor, Elísabet Ronaldsdóttir, was hired to edit this film.

The film stars Wahlberg, Beckinsale, Foster, Landry Jones, Ribisi, Haas, Simmons, Luna, and Ólafsson. The film suggests, like how it demonstrates how hard it is to balance set pieces against a compelling story, that Wahlberg has a solid future as an action hero; unfortunately, it doesn't quite seem to be the case. We are left to ponder why Andy is any less culpable or any more worth saving than anyone else. Despite the complicated, questionable plot., Wahlberg is still a deserving lead. The same, unfortunately, can not be said for Beckinsale, who felt more like the one or two-dimensional girlfriend/wife role than a strong three-dimensional female lead.

Contraband is a less-than-decent action film but none of the cast can do anything to elevate the material beyond what it is: a January movie from top to bottom.The film is simply unable to overcome the pervasively familiar nature of its well-worn storyline. There are just one too many problems with Kormákur's overly-generic action thriller to separate it from the crowd. The film plays like conventional Hollywood genre entertainment even though all the actual events in movie feel like they belong in a Michael Mann joint. This film is all too slick. With its dim lighting and handheld camerawork, the director's 'realistic' visual approach is arguably bogus, but it pays dividends as the narrative becomes increasingly grim. Now, I don't like the drug gang sub-genre that has been forming in recent years. That being said, I give credit where credit is due. Unfortunately, there isn't much credit due here. Kormákur distorts the main objectives of Jónasson's original film. A tough thriller from the star of the Icelandic original sounds terrible on paper; and unfortunately, the lack of hindsight runs the film smack into a big brick wall. Aside from a few stylistic choices and an engaging performance from Wahlberg, the film is a paint-by-numbers crime drama that lacks any real poignancy or cutting commentary. An action movie without suspense, a message without meaning; Kormákur presents a contrived Hollywood adaptation you can probably live without. It 'may' be a good time, but it's not a good movie. It is the rare remake that makes you wish the original had never existed.

Simon says Contraband receives: