Sunday, 30 September 2012

Film Review: "Looper" (2012)

"Time travel has not yet been invented. But thirty years from now, it will have been. It will be instantly outlawed, used only in secret by only the largest criminal organizations. It's nearly impossible to dispose of a body in the future... So when these criminal organizations in the future need someone gone, they use specialized assassins in our present called "Loopers." And so, my employers in the future nab the target, they zap them back to me… He appears… and I do the necessaries. Collect my silver…" This sums up the complex time travel premise that is Looper. This sci-fi, time travel action film written and directed by Rian Johnson. In mid-21st century, 2044. Joe is employed as a "looper", a hitman who executes victims sent back from 30 years in the future, when time travel has been invented and controlled by organized crime. When his older self turns up as a target, he fails to carry out the hit. Both versions of Joe go on the run and try to affect their future.

After Johnson released The Brothers Bloom in 2008, he re-teamed with producer Ram Bergman, who produced Johnson's previous two films, with the goal of starting production of Looper in 2009. In May 2010, Joseph Gordon-Levitt was cast in one of the lead roles, which he would play after completing Premium Rush. Later in the month, Bruce Willis was also cast. In the following October, Emily Blunt joined Gordon-Levitt and Willis. Noah Segan, Jeff Daniels, and Piper Perabo were cast in January 2011. Filming began in Louisiana on January 24, 2011. Other influences cited by Johnson include The Terminator (1984), Witness (1985), Akira (1988), Domu: A Child's Dream, 12 Monkeys (1995), Timecrimes (2007), and Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World.

The film stars Bruce Willis, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, and Emily Blunt. The performances in the film were all spectacular. I was mostly impressed with the performances of Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Bruce Willis as the younger and older versions of Joe. Gordon-Levitt had to put up with the effects make-over which turns him into an acceptable younger version of Bruce Willis. He also did an incredible job of not imitating Willis from his Die Hard films. He depicted the kind of callous, incipiently sensitive young hitman who might grow up to be the battered baldie Bruce Willis. But if you had time travel and could cast a young Bruce Willis in this, you would still give the role to Gordon-Levitt, whose collaboration with Johnson is becoming a regular and noteworthy team equivalent to Nolan and Bale, Fincher and Pitt and Burton and Depp. 

Looper is a blazing, cinematic comic book, full of virtuoso moviemaking, terrific momentum, solid performances and a compelling story. Levitt is perfectly cast as the man on the run to hunt down his future self. Plenty of tech-noir savvy to keep infidels and action fans satisfied. A crackling thriller full of all sorts of gory treats, loaded with fuel-injected chase scenes, clever special effects and a sly humor. To conclude, the plot's a bit of a jumble, but excellent performances and mind-blowing plot twists make the film a kooky, effective experience.

Simon says Looper receives:

Saturday, 29 September 2012

Film Review: "Hotel Transylvania" (2012).

"Where monsters go to get away from it all". This tagline perfectly describes Hotel Transylvania. This computer animated fantasy comedy film directed by Genndy Tartakovsky (the creator of Dexter's LaboratorySamurai Jack and Sym-Bionic Titan), and produced by Sony Pictures Animation. The film tells the story of Dracula, who operates a high-end resort away from the human world, goes into overprotective mode when a boy discovers the resort and falls for the count's teen-aged daughter.

The film had been in development since 2006, when Anthony Stacchi and David Feiss were set to direct the film. However, later on several directors would be attached to the project after Stacchi and Feiss dropped out. In 2008, Jill Culton took over the directing position, and around 2010, Christopher Jenkins, with Todd Wilderman. In February 2011, Genndy Tartakovsky took over as the sixth director to direct his feature film debut. In less than a year, Tartakovsky rewrote the script with the help of "the Sandler camp's multiple notes" and reimagined the film to follow the energy, organicity and exaggeration of 2D animation, particularly as seen in the work of director Tex Avery. "I took all the aesthetics I like from 2-D and applied them here," Tartakovsky said. "I don't want to do animation to mimic reality. I want to push reality." "I wanted to have an imprint so you'd go, 'Well, only Genndy can make this.' It's hard, especially with CG, but I feel there's a lot of moments that feel that they're very me, so hopefully it'll feel different enough that it has a signature to it."

The film features the voice talents of Adam Sandler, Andy Samberg, Selena Gomez, Kevin James, Fran Drescher, Steve Buscemi, Molly Shannon, David Spade, and CeeLo Green. The cast gave hilarious performances, especially to Sandler and Samberg. Kudos to the men who were able to make me crackup laughing when they delivered the clever 'tongue-in-cheek' jokes. For Sandler, this is easily his best role since his 90s comedies such as Billy Madison (1995), Happy Gilmore (1996) and The Wedding Singer (1998). Never has he been more original and downright funny than this film.

Quirky humor, plucky characters and solid slapstick make Hotel Transylvania a frenetically great family comedy at the movies. The movie is smart, insightful on a host of relationship dynamics, and filled with fast-paced action. The animation is wonderful, full of witty sight gags that play out both center-screen and on the periphery. Enough said for the kids. For the adults, unfortunately, crazy doesn't always equal funny, and the gigantism of this 3-D offering's second half puts a damper on your enjoyment. But look: This film wasn't made for you, or me. It was made for dangerously, easily distracted 9-year-olds. In addition, the movie greatly expands on the kids' perception on monsters which it's based in a clever and engaging first half. But the second half leaves a bit of a foul aftertaste.

Simon says Hotel Transylvania receives:

Tuesday, 25 September 2012

Film Review: "Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted" (2012)

"Six years ago, they disappeared without a trace. Next summer, they finally resurface." Which is what is going down in Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted. This 3D computer-animated comedy film, produced by DreamWorks Animation. It is the third installment of the series, following Madagascar (2005) and Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa (2008). The film is directed by Eric Darnell, Tom McGrath and Conrad Vernon. Alex, Marty, Melman, and Gloria are still struggling to get home to New York. This time, their journey takes them to Europe where they are relentlessly pursued by the fanatical Monaco Animal Control officer Captain Chantel DuBois. As a means of getting passage to North America, the zoo animals purchase a failing traveling circus as they become close friends with the staff like Vitaly, Gia, and Stefano. Together, they spectacularly revitalize the business and along the way find themselves reconsidering where their true home really is.

The performances in the films were all more humorous than the first two films and interesting. Stiller, Rock, Schwimmer, Pinkett Smith, Sacha Baron Cohen and Cedric the Entertainer all out-done themselves for this third, and possibly (and hopefully) last film. The film introduced a cast of new characters that were just as funny and interesting as the original cast. Bryan Cranston played the strong and 'tuff' Russian Tiger Vitaly and Jessica Chastain played the lovely and naive jaguar Gia. I was amazed that these major stars played these wonderfully colorful characters, I never imagined that it was them playing the roles. And that is what I loved about these performances, I loved how Frances McDormand played the sinister and yet interesting villain in the film Monaco Animal Control officer Captain Chantel DuBois. The sign of a great performance, as I always say, is when the actor is able to master and seemlessly blend into the performance and deliver a great performance, and can not be recognized by the audience. So at the end I must praise their performances as well as Martin Short, as the dumb-founded but lovable Stefano, for being humorous as always from his earliest films that I could remember.

Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted is a vast improvement on the series and to its predecessors, with more lovable and fleshed-out characters, dazzling animation and more outrageous humor. It goes easy on the pop culture jokes, I should clarify: one of the smarter things in the script is how the animals' jazzy circus performance, done in black-light colors and set to a Katy Perry song — may be one of the trippiest scenes in a mainstream kiddie movie since Dumbo saw those pink elephants. To conclude, this is a brighter, more engaging film than the original Madagascar. Take the flat tire that was Madagascar. Retread it with the Dumbo storyline. Pump it up with air. Now you have this film! It is the sequel to the enormously successful DreamWorks adventure and a film that hews close to the whole Dumbo/species-as-destiny/self-fulfillment paradigm.

Simon says Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted receives:

Saturday, 22 September 2012

Film Review: "Ruby Sparks" (2012)

"This is the true and impossible story of my very great love… One may… think it's magic, but falling in love is an act of magic, so is writing. It was once said of Catcher In The Rye, "That rare miracle of fiction has again come to pass: a human being has been created out of ink, paper and the imagination"… I have witnessed a rare miracle. Any writer can attest: in the luckiest, happiest state, the words are not coming from you, but through you. She came to me wholly herself, I was just lucky enough to be there to catch her." This sums up this unusual love story called Ruby Sparks. This romantic comedy-drama film directed by Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris and written by Zoe Kazan. A novelist struggling with writer's block finds romance in a most unusual way: by creating a female character he thinks will love him, then willing her into existence.

Kazan was initially inspired by a discarded mannequin, and the myth of Pygmalion, quickly writing twenty pages, before putting the script aside for six months. She returned to the writing when she was clear on the central concept of comparing the idea of love to the actuality of it. During the writing, Kazan thought of Woody Allen's The Purple Rose of Cairo and Groundhog Day, wanting to present a slanted version of our own reality. From early in the development she wrote the lead character Calvin with her boyfriend Paul Dano in mind. Kazan thanks Warren Beatty for his indirect encouragement of Paul Dano to develop their own material, and Dano in turn suggested she write a project. Kazan shopped the script around and got the attention of Albert Berger and Ron Yerxa, the producers of Little Miss Sunshine, who sent it to directing couple Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris, who took it on as the first project since Little Miss Sunshine in 2006.

The performances were all superbly performed by the cast that included Dano as the struggling novelist Calvin, Kazan as Calvin's fictional creation and the title role, Antonio Banderas as Mort, Annette Bening as Gertrude and Steve Coogan as Langdon Tharp. Dano's performance was enjoyable as he played the 'perfect' 'genius' writer who is trying to get a glimpse of the most unusual reality. Kazan's performance was beautifully played as she epitomized the role, as Hitchcock said about his lead actress Grace Kelly, of "the cool, innocent, beautiful young woman with a fire beneath."

Despite jumping through the deliberately disorienting hoops of its story, Ruby Sparks has an emotional center, and that's what makes it work. The formidable Little Miss Sunshine team/Paul Dano/Zoe Kazan axis works marvel in expressing the bewildering beauty and existential horror of being able to create a living being inside one's own addled mind and let it out into the world. To conclude, the picture has a rare power, a garbled but often moving push toward an off-beat communication.

Simon says Ruby Sparks receives: 

Saturday, 15 September 2012

Film Review: "Savages" (2012)

"Just because I'm telling you this story doesn't mean I'm alive at the end of it. This could all be pre-recorded and I could be talking to you from the bottom of the ocean. Yeah, it's that kind of a story. Because things just got so out of control… I looked up the definition of the word savage. It means cruel, crippled, regressed back to a primal state of being. One day, maybe, we'll be back. For now, we live like savages... beautiful, savages." This is at the heart of Savages. This crime thriller film directed by Oliver Stone, based on the novel of the same name by Don Winslow, adapted by Shane Salerno, Winslow and Stone. The film is about two Pot growers, Ben and Chon, who face off against the Mexican drug cartel who kidnapped their shared girlfriend.

The film features an ensemble cast including Taylor Kitsch, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Blake Lively, Salma Hayek, Benicio del Toro, and John Travolta. The performances were some what mixed, I was overall pleased with the performances of John Travolta as the corrupt DEA agent Dennis and Benicio del Toro as cartel enforcer Miguel "Lado" Arroyo. Both of their performances were the only enjoyable performances through out the film. Travolta was as witty and humorous as usual, making me laugh at his jokes and entertaining me. Del Toro was just menacing and threatening as his psychotic character himself, making himself mesmerizing and I could not keep my eyes off him. I was somewhat disappointed with the performances of Taylor Kitsch as Chon, Aaron Johnson as Ben, Blake Lively as Ophelia "O" Sage and Salma Hayek as Elena S├ínchez. I felt Kitsch reminded me too much of the typical Hollywood bad boy roles and I was displeased. I felt Johnson seemed not credible enough but tried to live the part and be as authentic throughout the film. He has gained a lot of maturity since Kick Ass (2010). Lively was somewhat bland throughout the film, even in the explicit sex scenes with the two leading male actors. But she was smart and sad precisely because she plays O as such a broken, needy little soul. Lastly Hayek was somewhat unexpected for the role of the ruthless female drug lord and was not strong enough. But she brought her best for the scenes when she was speaking in Spanish and yelling and cursing.

Stone's sensibility is white-hot and personal. As much as he'd like us to believe that his camera is turned outward on the culture, it's vividly clear that he can't resist turning it inward on himself. This wouldn't be so troublesome if Stone didn't confuse the public and the private. For all its surface passions, Savages never digs deep enough to touch the madness of such events, or even to send them up in any surprising way. Mr. Stone's vision is impassioned, alarming, visually inventive, characteristically overpowering. But it's no match for the awful truth. However, seeing this movie once is not enough. The first time is for the visceral experience, the second time is for the meaning that can be found.

Simon says Savages receives:

Saturday, 1 September 2012

Film Review: "Moonrise Kingdom" (2012)

The tagline of the film reads "A tormenting and surprising story of children and adults during the stormy days of the summer of 1965." Which is what Moonrise Kingdom is all about. This romantic comedy-drama film directed by Wes Anderson, written by Anderson and Roman Coppola. A pair of young lovers flee their New England town, which causes a local search party to fan out and find them.

For this review, I will be delving into the mind of Wes Anderson. Born on May 1st 1969, Anderson is an American filmmaker known for his unusual and distinctive visual and narrative style. For his narratives, Anderson has chosen to direct mostly fast-paced comedies marked by more serious or melancholic elements, with themes often centered on grief, loss of innocence, parental abandonment, adultery, sibling rivalry and unlikely friendships. His movies have been noted for being unusually character-driven, and by turns both derided and praised with terms like "literary geek chic". The plots of his movies often feature thefts and unexpected disappearances, with a tendency to borrow liberally from the caper genre. For visuals, Anderson has been noted for his extensive use of flat space camera moves, obsessively symmetrical compositions, snap-zooms, slow-motion walking shots, a deliberately limited color palette, and hand-made art direction often utilizing miniatures. These stylistic choices give his movies a highly distinctive quality that has provoked much discussion, critical study, supercuts and mash-ups, and even parody. Many writers, critics and even Anderson himself have commented that this gives his movies the feel of being "self-contained worlds", in Anderson's words, or a "scale model household", according Michael Chabon, with "a baroque pop bent that is not realist, surrealist or magic realist", but rather might be described as "fabul[ist]". From The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (2004) on, Anderson has relied more heavily on stop motion animation and miniatures, even making an entire feature with stop motion animation with Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009). And other trademark that Anderson is known for is music. Anderson frequently uses pop music from the 1960s and 70s on the soundtracks of his movies, and one band or musician tends to dominate each soundtrack. In Rushmore (1998), Cat Stevens and British Invasion groups featured prominently, The Royal Tenenbaums (2001) included multiple songs recorded by Nico and The Velvet Underground, The Life Aquatic was replete with David Bowie including both originals and covers performed by Seu Jorge, The Kinks appeared on the soundtrack for The Darjeeling Limited (2007)The Beach Boys in Fantastic Mr. Fox, and Hank Williams for Moonrise Kingdom. The soundtracks for his movies have often brought renewed attention to the artists featured, most prominently in the case of "These Days", which was used in The Royal Tenenbaums.

Speaking of music, the soundtrack for this film features music by Benjamin Britten, a composer notable for his many works for children's voices. At Cannes, during the post-screening press conference, Anderson said that Britten's music "had a huge effect on the whole movie, I think. The movie's sort of set to it. The play of Noye's Fludde that is performed in it—my older brother and I were actually in a production of that when I was ten or eleven, and that music is something I've always remembered, and made a very strong impression on me. It is the colour of the movie in a way." With many Britten tracks taken from recordings conducted or supervised by the composer himself, the music includes The Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra (Introduction/Theme; Fugue), conducted by Leonard Bernstein; Friday Afternoons (Cuckoo; Old Abram Brown); Simple Symphony (Playful Pizzicato); Noye's Fludde (various excerpts, including the processions of animals into and out of the ark, and The spacious firmament on high); and A Midsummer Night's Dream (On the ground, sleep sound). An original score was composed by Alexandre Desplat, who worked previously with Anderson on The Fantastic Mr. Fox, with percussion compositions by frequent Anderson collaborator Mark Mothersbaugh. The final credits of the film features a deconstructed rendition of Desplat's original soundtrack in the style of Britten's Young Person's Guide, accompanied by a child's voice to introduce each instrumental section.

The film stars an ensemble cast starring; Bruce Willis, Edward Norton, Bill Murray, Frances McDormand, Tilda Swinton, Jason Schwartzman and Bob Balaban. The film also introduces the debut performances of Jared Gilman, as Sam Shakusky, and Kara Hayward as Suzy Bishop. The performances in the film were fantastic, wildly imaginative and intelligently humorous. It was nice to see some old faces again for this film, even though unusual film to include a cast such as this. Bruce Willis as Captain Sharp, a troubled, lonely officer struggling to find the two lovers as well as keeping a private affair with Laura Bishop, Suzy's controlling and strict mother, played by Frances McDormand. Edward Norton as the humorous Scout Master Randy Ward, Bill Murray as Walt Bishop, the defective father of Suzy Bishop and the clueless husband of Laura Bishop. Tilda Swinton as Social Services, Jason Schwartzman (humorously witty as always) as Cousin Ben, Harvey Keitel as Commander Pierce and Bob Balaban as Narrator. But the key performances and some of the film's credit goes to the two young newcomers Jared Gilman and Kara Hayward. They were both as wild and humorous. I enjoyed watching them both, even though the relationship of the two characters were romantic, making me laugh and puzzled whether intentionally or pointlessly. In the end it's them who makes the biggest impression. Their stylized, rapid-fire delivery, dry wit and cheerful profanity keep the movie bubbling along. Here's to their further collaborations with Anderson.

Typically stylish but deceptively thoughtful, Moonrise Kingdom finds Wes Anderson using ornate visual environments to explore deeply emotional ideas. In a very appealing if outre way, its sensibility and concerns are very much those of an earlier, more elegant era, meaning that the film's deepest intentions will fly far over the heads of most modern filmgoers. The film's shaggy-dog, sort-of-awkward-teen-romance yarn offers laughs and energy that make this Anderson's most fun film since Rushmore. To conclude, I've had my Wes Anderson breakthrough – or maybe it's that he's had his. The film is a marvelous contraption, a wheels-within-wheels thriller that's pure oxygenated movie play.

Simon says Moonrise Kingdom receives: