Tuesday, 30 July 2013

Film Review: "The Conjuring" (2013).

The film’s opening scroll reads, "Since the 1960s, Ed and Lorraine Warren have been known as the world's most renowned paranormal investigators. Lorraine is a gifted clairvoyant, while Ed is the only non-ordained Demonologist recognized by the Catholic Church. Out of the thousands of cases throughout their controversial careers, there is one case so malevolent, they've kept it locked away until now." Which is not what you’d expect from the director of Saw and Insidious in this summer’s The Conjuring. This supernatural horror film directed by James Wan. The film centers on paranormal real-life investigators, Ed and Lorraine Warren and the 1971 Harrisville, Rhode Island case involving the Perron family.

Edward "Ed" Warren Miney (September 7, 1926 – August 23, 2006) and Lorraine Rita Warren, née Moran, (born January 31, 1927) were American paranormal investigators and authors associated with prominent cases of haunting. Edward was a World War II US Navy veteran and former police officer who became a noted demonologist, author, and lecturer. His wife Lorraine was a professed clairvoyantand a light trance medium who worked closely with her husband. They have claimed to investigate over 100,000 cases that included the controversial and infamous Amityville Haunting, in which they were the first investigators on the case.

Development of the film began over 20 years ago when Ed Warren played a tape of Warren's original interview with Carolyn Perron for producer Tony DeRosa-Grund. DeRosa-Grund made a recording of Warren playing back the tape and of their subsequent discussion. At the end of the tape, Warren said to DeRosa-Grund, "If we can't make this into a film I don't know what we can". DeRosa-Grund then described his vision of the film for Ed. DeRosa-Grund wrote the original treatment and titled the project The Conjuring. For nearly 14 years, he tried to get the movie made without any success. He landed a deal to make the movie at Gold Circle Films, the production company behind The Haunting in Connecticut (2009), but a contract could not be finalized and the deal was dropped. DeRosa-Grund allied with producer Peter Safran, and sibling writers Chad and Carey Hayes were brought on board to refine the script. Using DeRosa-Grund's treatment and the Ed Warren tape, the Hayes brothers changed the story's point of viewfrom the Perron family to the Warrens. The brothers interviewed Lorraine Warren many times over the phone to clarify details. By mid-2009, the property became the subject of a six-studio bidding war that landed the film at Summit Entertainment. However, DeRosa-Grund and Summit couldn't conclude the transaction and the film went into turnaround. DeRosa-Grund reconnected with New Line Cinema, who had lost in the original bidding war but who ultimately picked up the film. On November 11, 2009, a deal was made between New Line and DeRosa-Grund's Evergreen Media Group.

Pre-production began in early 2011, with reports surfacing in early June that James Wan was in talks to direct the film. This was later confirmed by Warner Bros., who also stated that the film would be loosely based on real life events surrounding Ed and Lorraine Warren. In January 2012, Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson were cast to star in the film. That same month, Ron Livingston and Lili Taylor were also confirmed for roles in the film. Principal photography began in late February 2012. Lasting for 38 days, shooting took place primarily at EUE/Screen Gems Studios as well as other locations in and around Wilmington, North Carolina. The film concluded its principal photography on April 26, 2012. All scenes were shot in chronological order. The film was in post-production in August of the same year. Around 20 to 30 minutes of footage was removed from the first cut of the film, which initially ran at about two hours in duration. After positive test screenings, the final edit of the film was locked in December 2012 and awaited its summer release.

The film stars Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga as Ed and Lorraine Warren, and Ron Livingston and Lili Taylor as Roger and Carolyn Perron. The cast gave brilliant, strong and sympathetic performances. Especially for Wilson and Farmiga who, in preparation for their roles, traveled to Connecticut to spend time with Lorraine Warren, who also visited the set during production. Over the course of spending three days at the Warren home, both actors took in information that could not otherwise be achieved from secondary research. "I just wanted to absorb her essence. I wanted to see the details, she has such mad style. I just wanted to see — the way she communicates with her hands, these gestures, her smile, how she moves through space", said Farmiga on her observations of Warren.

This is the scariest film I've seen in years—the only scary film I've seen in years. If you want to be shaken—and I found out, while the picture was going, that that's what I wanted—then The Conjuring will scare the @#!*% out of you. The film is an expert telling of a supernatural horror story ... The climactic sequences assault the senses and the intellect with pure cinematic terror. It is also an amazing film, and one destined to become at the very least a horror classic. Director Wan's film is profoundly disturbing to all audiences; especially the more sensitive and those who tend to 'live' the movies they see. Suffice it to say, there has never been anything like this on the screen since The Exorcist (1973). There's a theory that great films give back to you whatever it is you bring to them. It's absolutely true with this film - it reflects the anxieties of the audience. Some people think it's an outright horror-fest but I don't. It is based on a true story about a normal American family who fell prey to supernatural hauntings and would make people think about the existence of the supernatural.

Simon says The Conjuring receives:

Film Review: "The Wolverine" (2013).

"Life is a gift. Immortality a curse" which is what sums up The Wolverine. This superhero film featuring the Marvel Comics character Wolverine. It is the sixth installment in the X-Men film series. Hugh Jackman reprises his role from previous films as the title character, with James Mangold directing a screenplay written by Christopher McQuarrie, Scott Frank, and Mark Bomback, based on the 1982 limited series Wolverine by Chris Claremont and Frank Miller. In modern day, Wolverine is summoned to Japan by an old acquaintance, he becomes embroiled in a conflict in an unknown world as he faces his ultimate nemesis in a life-or-death battle that will leave him forever changed.

McQuarrie was hired to write a screenplay for The Wolverine in August 2009. In October 2010, Darren Aronofsky was hired to direct the film after Bryan Singer rejected. The project was delayed following Aronofsky's departure and the 2011 Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami in March 2011. In June 2011, Mangold was brought on board to replace Aronofsky. Bomback was then hired to rewrite the screenplay in September 2011. The supporting characters were cast in July 2012 with principal photography beginning at the end of the month in Kurnell, New South Wales before moving to Tokyo, Japan in August 2012 and back to New South Wales in October 2012.

The film stars Jackman as Logan / Wolverine (respectively), Haruhiko Yamanouchi, Rila Fukushima, Hiroyuki Sanada, Svetlana Khodchenkova and Tao Okamoto, in her debut role. The performances in this film were all fantastic. Jackman brought a great performance once again that not only stole the show, but added a new layer of emotional and physical complexity to the role. Regarding Logan's struggle with immortality, Jackman said, "He realizes everyone he loves dies, and his whole life is full of pain. So it's better that he just escapes. He can't die really. He just wants to get away from everything." Yamanouchi gave a great performance as Yashida, the head of a Japanese technology empire and the man Wolverine once saved during World War II. Sanada gave another great villainous performance as Shingen Yashida: Mariko's father, and crime boss. Khodchenkova gave a great, wicked performance as Viper: a mutant, who has an immunity to toxins and one of the film's main protagonist. Lastly, Okamoto gave a great debut performance as Mariko Yashida, Yashida's granddaughter and Logan's love interest. Okamoto had been known for her modeling with Ralph Lauren. Over the course of watching performances by models starring in their debut films, Okamoto is one of the few models-turned-actress that actually succeeded in delivering a great perfomance whose personality and chemistry with her leading man were nothing but pure emotional gold for a movie fan who longs to see a great emotional plot within the context of a movie like this.

Although its loyalty to its source material is sliced and diced, The Wolverine is one superhero movie that manages to stay true to the spirit of its character while being a solid piece of entertainment.

Simon says The Wolverine receives:

Sunday, 28 July 2013

NZIFF Classic Film Review: "The Crowd" (1928).

"A powerful drama of modern marriage- a marriage that goes smash, and how it is saved..." This is The Crowd. This 1928 American silent film directed by King Vidor, and written by Vidor and John V.A. Weaver. The film follows young John Sims as he weathers the death of his father and travels to New York City in search of success. Instead, he becomes a low-level worker in an enormous office of a nameless corporation. After he meets a beautiful young woman , things seem to be looking up, but before long the newlyweds are sullen and bickering, and the arrival of their children leaves John feeling trapped in a dead-end existence. Then tragedy strikes, causing him to reassess his life.

After the critical and financial success of The Big Parade (1925), Vidor conceived the idea for the film. Vidor wanted the new film to be innovative in its story, acting, and cinematography. Influenced by 1920s German cinema and F.W. Murnau in particular, the film mixes striking visual styles and moving camera cinematography – as well as hidden cameras in some of the New York City scenes, and subtle use of scale models and dissolves, with intense, intimate scenes of the family's struggle. In order to attain greater authenticity, Vidor avoided casting big-name stars; James Murray had started as a studio extra, and had appeared in featured roles already, but had made his way to California riding boxcars and doing odd jobs such as shoveling coal and washing dishes. For his female lead, Vidor selected Eleanor Boardman, an MGM contract actress and his second wife. Vidor's great financial success at MGM in the 1920s allowed him to sell the unusual scenario to production head Irving Thalberg as an experimental film. However, MGM chief Louis B. Mayer reportedly disliked the film for its bleak subject matter and lack of a happy ending, and the studio held the film from release for almost a year. According to Vidor's autobiography, as a result, several alternate upbeat endings were filmed, and previewed in small towns at the studio's insistence. The film was finally released with two endings, one Vidor's original ending, and another with the family gathered around a Christmas tree after John has gotten a job with an advertising agency. Exhibitors could choose which version to show, but, at least according to Vidor, the happy ending was rarely shown. The Crowd was a modest financial and critical success upon its initial release on 18 February, 1928. It went on to be nominated at the very first Academy Award presentation in 1928, for several awards, including a unique and artistic production, as well as the award for best director for Vidor. However, Mayer urged his fellow Academy board members to not vote for it. They didn't, instead gave the first (and only) Academy Award for Best Film--Unique and Artistic Production to, ironically, Murnau's Sunrise (1927). Since then, the film has gone on to become an influential and acclaimed film, as well as being hailed as one of the greatest and most enduring American silent films. French New Wave auteur Jean-Luc Godard was asked in the 1960s why more films were not made about ordinary people, and his response was "The Crowd had already been made, so why remake it?" – but at the time, it was released just as the Great Depression had hit, and audiences sought escapist entertainment over the stark realism of the film, which filmmakers would not embrace again until after the end of World War II. Still, the film was popular enough to gross twice its cost. The arrival of sound films at the same time combined to radically change filmmaking. Due to the limitations imposed by early sound filming techniques, the film's moving camera innovations would not be equaled for another decade. In 1989, the film was one of the first 25 to be selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being; "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant". It is also included among the American Film Institute's 1998 list of the 400 movies nominated for the Top 100 Greatest American Movies.

The film stars Murray, Boardman and Bert Roach. Terrific performances were given by the cast, who conveyed an entire lifetime of the emotional roller-coaster that is life in ninety-eight minutes. Murray especially gave a haunting performance. Like the character of John Sims, Murray's life ended in a real-life unhappy ending as he succumbed to alcoholism and became a Skid-Row bum. When Vidor saw him on the street, panhandling, he offered Murray a part in his upcoming film Our Daily Bread (1934), but Murray angrily refused, saying "Just because I stop you on the street and try to borrow a buck, you think you can tell me what to do. As far as I am concerned, you know what you can do with your lousy part." In 1936, his body was found in the Hudson River, a possible suicide. Vidor was haunted by Murray's death, and in 1979 attempted to raise funds to film The Actor, a screenplay he had written based on Murray's story, but the film was never made.

Masterfully directed by Vidor, this thought-provoking piece of cinema swings easily between comedy, romance and tragedy without missing a beat, and there are numerous set-pieces of enormous power - even today, the harrowing dramatic scenes would rank among the best ever put on film. The silence does try one's patience but the film is noteworthy in showing us that is often filled with them, both good and bad. The film is a wonderfully poignant social statement, but a bit dated by today's standards, but still powerful. The film is technically impressive, well-intended, even if it's ultimately too melodramatic. A harsh film that reflects the Depression era, Vidor's chronicle is both artistically and ideologically a significant Hollywood feature. It makes for an interesting cinematically humanistic capsule survival film from the Depression-era period. It wasn't strong stuff in 1928, but it has since become and remains strong today.

Simon says The Crowd receives:

NZIFF Film Review: "Nobody's Daughter Haewon" ("누구의 딸도 아닌 해원") (2013).

The new film by Hong Sang-soo comes Nobody's Daughter Haewon (누구의 딸도 아닌 해원). This South Korean drama film written and directed by Hong. University student Hae-Won meets up her mother, who is going to emigrate to Canada the next day. After meeting her mother, Hae-Won feels depressed and she decides to meet her teacher Sung-Joon for the first time in a long while. She had a secret relationship with him. On that day, Hae-Won and Sung-Joon happen to meet students at a restaurant who study the same major and their relationship becomes known to others. Hae-Won becomes more depressed. Sung-Joon then suggests they runaway to somewhere else.

There are certain elements that are commonly found in Hong's films. A typical Hong film highlights a theme of domestic realism with many of the scenes set on residential streets, cafes, hotels, schools, and in the stairwells of apartment buildings. Characters in the film are seen walking around the city, drinking soju, and having sex. The main characters in his films are often movie directors or actors, and scenes typically consist of a single shot, often beginning and ending with a camera zoom. The budgets for his movies average about $100,000. Hong is often spontaneous when shooting, delivering the day's scene on the morning of the shoot and frequently changing stories while on set. He rarely prepares scripts in advance. Hong instead begins with a basic guideline and writes his scenes on the morning of the filming day, making changes throughout the day. Hong starts the filming day at 4 a.m. when he begins to write the dialogue for that day's shoot. Hong also develops close relationships with the actors over alcohol and cigarettes and sometimes shoots certain scenes while the actors are under the influence. Given the fact that the film is director Hong's fourteenth directorial effort, it is another great addition to director Hong's study on human relationships that has been synonymous to the director's career since his 1996 debut film The Day a Pig Fell into the Well (돼지가 우물에 빠진 날). In mid March 2012, principal photography began and lasted for two weeks, typical for a Hong Sang-soo film.

The film stars Jung Eun-chae, Lee Sun-kyun, Kim Ja-ok, Kim Eui-sung, Ye Ji-won, Yoo Jun-sang, and Jane Birkin. Emotionally solid performances were given by the cast, in particular with Jung. Our beautiful and fragile protagonist turns out to be the lost soul from Seoul, whose utterances of love and seemingly sincere actions always remain suspect.

South Korean director Hong Sang-soo unleashes yet another emotionally stunted protagonist in Nobody's Daughter Haewon, a rambling study of female arrested development. Very Korean in its emotional content, while also preserving a quizzical distance that is quite French, pic is one of his lightest and most easily digestible metaphysical meals to date. An intriguing look at a woman in the midst of a personal crisis, a creep whose dalliances and denial slowly catch up with her.

Simon says Nobody's Daughter Haewon (누구의 딸도 아닌 해원) receives:

Also, see my NZIFF review for The Bling Ring.

NZIFF Film Review: "The Bling Ring" (2013).

"I think we just wanted to be part of the lifestyle. The lifestyle that everybody kinda wants." Which sums what the meaning of The Bling Ring. This satirical black comedy crime film based on actual events. Directed, written and produced by Sofia Coppola, it features an ensemble cast including newcomers Israel Broussard, Katie Chang and Claire Julien, as well as Taissa Farmiga and Emma Watson. Inspired by actual events, a group of fame-obsessed teenagers, Rebecca (the ringleader), Marc, Nicki, Sam and Chloe, known as the Bling Ring, use the Internet to track celebrities' whereabouts in order to rob their homes. Victims included Paris Hilton, Lindsay Lohan, Megan Fox, Rachel Bilson, Audrina Patridge, Orlando Bloom and Miranda Kerr.

The Bling Ring, sometimes called the "Hollywood Hills Burglar Bunch", "The Burglar Bunch", or the "Hollywood Hills Burglars", were a group of 7, mostly of teenagers based in and around Calabasas, California, who burgled the homes of several celebrities over a period believed to have been from around October 2008 through August 2009. In total, their activities resulted in the theft of about $3 million in cash and belongings, most of it from Paris Hilton, whose house was burgled several times. However, over 50 homes were reportedly targeted for potential burglary. The ring members included Rachel Lee, Nick Prugo, Diana Tamayo, Johnny Ajar, Roy Lopez, Jr., Courtney Ames and Alexis Neiers. They were all found guilty on counts of burglary and were all sentenced to prison for 30 days to 4 years. Some of them have been released, except for Ajar - who was reported to be back in jail in May 2013.

Emma Watson's character, Nicki, is closely based on Alexis Neiers. "Twitterers meet Nicki, Nicki meet twitterers", Watson tweeted. "Nicki likes Lip Gloss, Purses, Yoga, Pole Dancing, Uggs, Louboutins, Juice Cleanses, Iced coffee and Tattoos." Alexis Neiers wasn't particularly impressed. "Close but I've never & would never wear that", she tweeted about Watson's wardrobe—but she was quick to add, "It has been a blessing to work with Mrs Coppola & I'm still in shock that Emma is playing me. I am sure she will be fantastic." Watson said that she prepared for her part by watching The Hills and Keeping Up With the Kardashians to "understand the psychology" of her bling- and celebrity-obsessed character. She said that she also listened to Britney Spears' Femme Fatale album to get into the mind-frame of her character. American Horror Story star Taissa Farmiga joined the ensemble cast, as well as Leslie Mann, Israel Broussard (Flipped), Katie Chang, Claire Julien and Georgia Rock. Besides Watson and Farmiga, Coppola chose relative newcomers to play the group of teens.

It's hard to remember a film that mixes disparate, delicate ingredients with the subtlety and virtuosity of Sofia Coppola's brilliant The Bling Ring. There's an outrageous quality here, a satirical humor that speaks to the public’s needs and obsessions of celebrity life. It covers familiar territory for Coppola, but the film remains a hypnotic, seductively pensive meditation on the nature of celebrity life, anchored by brilliant performances from the cast.

Simon says The Bling Ring receives:

Also, see my NZIFF review for Dial M for Murder 3D.

Saturday, 27 July 2013

NZIFF Classic Film Review: "Dial M For Murder 3D" (2013).

"Murder calling in 3D!" This is Dial M For Murder 3D. This crime mystery film directed by Alfred Hitchcock, adapted by Frederick Knott from his play of the same name. Ex-tennis pro Tony Wendice wants to have his wealthy wife, Margot, murdered so he can get his hands on her inheritance. When he discovers her affair with Mark Halliday, he comes up with the perfect plan to kill her. He blackmails an old acquaintance into carrying out the murder, but the carefully-orchestrated set-up goes awry, and Margot stays alive. Now Wendice must frantically scheme to outwit the police and avoid having his plot detected.

In 1952, the play premiered at London's West End, and then at New York's Broadway. After 1953's I Confess, Hitchcock began production on The Bramble Bush, based on the 1948 novel by David Duncan. However, due to script and budget problems, the project was abandoned. Hitchcock then began production on Dial M for Murder at Warner Bros. Hitchcock was forced to make the movie to fulfil his contract with Warner Bros. Because of this, Hitchcock claimed that he "could have phoned in his direction, and that action wouldn't have been any less interesting if he'd staged it in a phone booth." Hitchcock wanted Deborah Kerr, Cary Grant, and William Holden for the roles of Tony Wendice, Margot Wendice and Mark Halliday. Kerr and Holden were busy making other movies. Grant refused to play a villain, and Warner Bros. felt that he would be miscast as a villain. Ultimately, Ray Milland, Grace Kelly, and Robert Cummings were cast. Williams reprised his Broadway role as Inspector Hubbard. With a budget of $1.4 million, principal photography commenced in early August 1953, and wrapped in late September. Filming took place at Warner Bros. Studios, and the film was shot in 3-D, at the insistence of Warner Bros. This marked Hitchcock's first and only time he filmed in the format. The film was shot using Warner Bros.' own proprietary 3-D camera rig, the so-called All-Media Camera. Although the craze was fading and Hitchcock was sure the movie would be released flat. Hitchcock wanted the first shot to be that of a close-up of a finger dialing the letter M on a rotary dial telephone, but the 3-D camera would not be able to focus such a close-up correctly. Hitchcock ordered a giant finger made from wood with a proportionally large dial built in order to achieve the effect. This explains Hitchcock's prevalence of low-angle shots with lamps and other objects between the audience and the cast members. In addition, Hitchcock not only expressed a great deal of interest in selecting Grace Kelly's wardrobe, he selected nearly all of the props for the Wendice's apartment. Hitchcock made a special effort to shoot scenes indoors, almost exclusively. Only a few brief shots, usually involving Chief Inspector Hubbard, take place outside. Hitchcock believed the decision to shoot most scenes indoors would create a sense of claustrophobia.

Originally intended to be shown in the dual-strip polarized 3-D, as well as the roadshow, presentation, the film saw only a brief original release in 3-D. After one preview performance on May 18 and four showings on the 19th, the manager frantically contacted the studio and said that people were staying away in droves. He asked for permission to drop the 3-D and show it flat. On Sunday May 23, a Philadelphia Inquirer headline proclaimed: "Play's the Thing as Philadelphia Fans Spurn 3-D for 2-D Version of DIAL M." Mildred Martin wrote: "The first audiences proved to be a jury that could not only make up its mind, but could make it up in a hurry. In exhibitors' own terms, DIAL M literally died. And after just four performances on Wednesday, some long-distance telephoning to report complaints, the increasing skimpiness of customers--a good many of them making no bones of their dissatisfaction--permission was given to throw away the glasses and hastily switch to the 2-D version. Whereupon business at the Randolph took a turn for the better." Dial M for Murder marked the end of the brief flirtation with 3-D films of the early 1950s. Hitchcock said of 3-D, "It's a nine-day wonder, and I came in on the ninth day." It was then followed by a conventional "flat" 2-D release in most theatres due to the loss of interest in the 3-D process (the projection of which was difficult and error-prone). The New York Times review mentioned it opened with the "flat" release at the Paramount Theater in New York City. The film became a critical and commercial failure. At the end of its original theatrical run, the film only earned an estimated $2.7 million at the North American box office. In February 1980, the dual-strip system was revived for the 3-D presentation at the York Theater in San Francisco. This revival did so well that Warner Bros. did a limited national re-release of the film in February 1982, using Chris Condon's single-strip StereoVision 3-D system, including a sold out engagement at the Detroit Institute of Arts. Over time, the film slowly became another Hitchcock classic. In 2001, the film was listed #48 on the American Film Institute's 100 Years...100 Thrills list, and #9 in its Top 10 Mysteries list.

The film stars Milland, Kelly, Cummings and Williams. The cast gave terrific Hitchcockian performances. Terrific performances were given by the cast and made a great addition to the Hitchcock gallery. Milland gave a performance better than his performance in The Lost Weekend (1945), and Ms. Kelly made herself, probably, the best Hitchcock blonde.

Its minimal yet fearless attempt to do something new makes Dial M For Murder 3D one of Hitchcock's most interesting movies, I can't pretend to regard it as anything but one of his best. This underrated masterpiece is a brilliant technical experiment, with the cast in the typically Hitchcockian form. Hitchcock liked to pretend that the film was an empty technical exercise, but it introduces the principal themes and motifs of the major period of his body of work.

Simon says Dial M For Murder 3D receives:

Also, see my reviews for North by Northwest and Prince Avalanche.

Thursday, 25 July 2013

NZIFF Film Review: "Prince Avalanche" (2013).

The new film by David Gordon Green comes Prince Avalanche. This comedy-drama film adapted and directed by Green from the 2011 film Either Way by Hafsteinn Gunnar Sigurðsson. The film follows two road-crew workers, who spend the summer of 1988 isolated and away from their city lives, eventually finding themselves at odds with each other and their women back home.

Following the restoration of Bastrop State Park, following the 2011 Bastrop County Complex fire, the band Explosions in the Sky proposed the idea of making a movie with Green. Green then adapted Sigurðsson's film. Despite the 65-page script, the project was fast tracked in to production and completion. Green commented "We really didn’t have time for proper or traditional development... We had the idea in February of 2012, we were filming in May, and sound mixing in July. It was an unusually tight production schedule." Paul Rudd joked to Entertainment Weekly, "I found the biggest challenge of working on this was trying to stifle my alpha-male [masculinity]." The film's entire production was done in secret; it was only announced to the public after completion in June 2012. After his last three films were completed by a major film studio, Green wanted to get back to his independent roots. In May 2012, principal photography and lasted for sixteen days. Filming took place in Bastrop State Park. Because of its scale, the film was shot with a small 15-person film crew.

The film stars Paul Rudd and Emile Hirsch. The film's success is due in large part to actors who are both faithful to all the social minutiae and genuinely compelling enough to keep you watching. Although, they show how people learn codes of affection and aggression from having as much fun as possible in a small town, but when they try to pull them off in crucial situations they did come out a little bit awkward, embarrassed and futile.

With fine acting and considerable emotional depth, Prince Avalanche aptly captures the highs, and especially the lows of human relationships. The film is a compelling, and often comedic, portrait of small-town lives. It's surprisingly good, while also writing, the film's characters get inside your skin, your soul. It's enough to make you want to both laugh and cry. So when the film's moment of drama arrives, it's not with comedy but instead the sort of dully anticipatory inevitability that drains as much energy from the story as from the audience. It's well-made. Searingly acted. Potent. And by the time it was over, its climax realised at the point of acceptance and friendship, I felt as though I've been on a emotional roller coaster ride. Yes, it's painful, but the film is so full of rich performances and characterisations that even a fire can't kill it. The film is aching with cross-purposes and shimmering with simple yet effective jokes. Impressive for the mood it creates, the film may not totally satisfy, but the characters are richly depicted and reflect the snowy winter chill that surrounds them.

Simon says Prince Avalanche receives:

Also, see my NZIFF review for Charulata (চারুলতা).

Tuesday, 23 July 2013

Film Review: "Before Midnight" (2013).

"Everything's better with maturity" in Before Midnight. This This romantic drama film directed by Richard Linklater, and co-written by Linklater, Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy. It is the third in a trilogy, following Before Sunrise (1995) and Before Sunset (2004). We meet Jesse and Celine nine years on in Greece. Almost two decades have passed since their first meeting on that train bound for Vienna.

Linklater, Hawke, and Delpy had all discussed doing a sequel to Before Sunset. Linklater, Delpy, and Hawke have all agreed on interviews that the final thing that made them decide to make the movie was the fact that the three of them are parents and could know how to write that into the characters' lives. In June 2012, Hawke confirmed that the sequel would be filmed that summer. Soon after, Delpy denied filming would take place that year. But by August 2012, numerous reports emerged from Messenia, Greece, that the film was being shot there. In early September, it was announced that principal photography on the sequel, entitled Before Midnight, had wrapped. Linklater said that, after ten weeks of writing and rehearsing, the film was made in fifteen days for less than $3 million. Although the movie features naturalistic dialogue, every scene was heavily rehearsed, rigidly followed the script and involved no improvisation. The film is dedicated to the memory of Amy Lehrhaupt, the woman who was the inspiration for Before Sunrise. Linklater had spent a night walking and talking around Philadelphia with her in 1989. Though initially they stayed in touch over the telephone, they lost contact eventually. In 1994, Linklater started shooting Before Sunrise and when the world premiere was about to take place, Linklater was secretly hoping that Amy would show up but she did not. Ten years later, Linklater shot Before Sunset and had yet to hear from Amy. Finally, in 2010, a friend of Amy's who knew about their story, contacted Linklater to tell him that Amy had died in a motorcycle accident on May 9, 1994 at the age of 24, only a few weeks before he started shooting Before Sunrise. Both Linklater and Hawke were devastated but found comfort in the inspiration for the Before Trilogy.

The film stars Hawke and Delpy. Like the previous two films, Hawke and Delpy find nuance, art and eroticism in words, spoken and unspoken. The actors shine. Both Hawke and Delpy are excellent and their performances have real depth. This time, too, they're doing more than appearing as fictional creations in a Richard Linklater film. They now share the writing credit with him and are clearly putting much of their experiences of the past two decades into characters they have possessed and been possessed by.

Filled with engaging dialogue, Before Midnight is a witty, poignant romance, with natural chemistry between Hawke and Delpy. The film was a remarkable celebration of the fascination of good dialogue. But the film is better, perhaps because the characters are older and wiser, perhaps because they have more to lose (or win), and perhaps because Hawke and Delpy wrote the dialogue themselves.

Simon says Before Midnight receives:

Also, see my review for Bernie.

Film Review: "Epic" (2013).

"Discover a world from the creators of Ice Age and Rio" with Epic. This 3D computer-animated action-adventure film directed by Chris Wedge, adapted by William Joyce, James V. Hart, Daniel Shere, Tom J. Astle and Matt Ember, based loosely on William Joyce's 1996 children's book The Leaf Men and the Brave Good Bugs, and produced by Blue Sky Studios. Mary Katherine, or M.K., is a headstrong, spirited teenager who has a strained relationship with her father. She loses patience with her dad's tales of unseen people who live in the woods, but when she is magically transported to that mythic realm, she gains new perspective. M.K. joins a race of beings known as the Leafmen in their battle to protect their queen from their enemies, evil Mandrake and his crew of Boggans.

In 2006, it was reported that Wedge would be directing an animated feature film based on Joyce's children book for Fox Animation. Joyce, who had already collaborated with Wedge as a designer and producer on Robots (2005). At one point, Wedge got permission to find a new home for the film and turned to Pixar, led by John Lasseter, a close friend that Wedge knew from working on Tron (1982). When Pixar tried to close the rights for the film and start development, Fox changed their mind, and the film returned to Fox. Although the film is based on and borrows many characters from Joyce's book, its plot has been significantly changed. In 2009, the film was officially greenlit in 2009, under the title Leaf Men. In May 2012, Fox announced that Amanda Seyfried, Josh Hutcherson, Colin Farrell, Christoph Waltz, Aziz Ansari, Chris O'Dowd, Jason Sudeikis, Beyoncé Knowles, Thomas F. Wilson, John DiMaggio, Steven Tyler, and Pitbull were cast. In addition, Fox revealed the title and plot details. According to Wedge, he was not satisfied with the renaming, which was decided by the marketing department.

The film stars the voice talents of Seyfried, Hutcherson, Farrell, Waltz, Ansari, O'Dowd, Sudeikis, Knowles, Wilson, DiMaggio, Tyler, and Pitbull. This family delight features wonderful voices from its talent cast with an uncertain blend of sanctimonious principles and Saturday-morning cartoon aesthetics.

With production, writing, acting and animation, this cautionary fable sets an admirable example for the governments of said nations. Yet praising the punctual effort to do something different, the movie falls on all the topics associated with Disney cinema and it doesn't try to hide it. Children would learn more about natural processes from five minutes of Avatar (2009) than they could from all of Epic. Sufficiently entertaining - as long as the adults are ready for a post-movie conversation about the realities of tough environment versus development questions. A self-important environmental message piece that only Sting could love, and hardly an obstacle to the Disney machine, though it is still plesant. The visuals are very pleasing. The story tells a useful lesson, the jungle inhabitants are amusing, and although the movie is not a masterpiece it's pleasant to watch for its humor and sweetness.

Simon says Epic receives:

Also, see my review for Ice Age: Continental Drift.

Film Review: "The World's End" (2013).

"Tonight, we will be partaking of a liquid repast as we wind our way up the Golden Mile. Commencing with an inaugural tankard in The First Post, then on to The Old Familiar, The Famous Cock, The Cross Hands, The Good Companions, The Trusty Servant, The Two-Headed Dog, The Mermaid, The Beehive, The King's Head, and The Hole in the Wall for a measure of the same, all before the last bittersweet pint in that most fateful terminus, The World's End… we will be in truth blind - drunk!" This what you’re in for with The World's End. This British science fiction comedy film directed by Edgar Wright and written by Wright and Simon Pegg. It is the third in the Cornetto trilogy, following Shaun of the Dead (2004) and Hot Fuzz (2007). The film follows a group of five friends who reunite in an attempt to top their epic pub crawl from 20 years earlier. But as they unwittingly attempt to reconcile the past and present, they realize the real struggle is for humankind.

The World's End began as a screenplay director Edgar Wright wrote aged 21 titled Crawl, about a group of teenagers on a pub crawl. He realised the idea could work with adult characters to capture "the bittersweet feeling of returning to your home town and feeling like a stranger". Wright said he wanted to satirise the "strange homogeneous branding that becomes like a virus", explaining: "This doesn't just extend to pubs, it's the same with cafés and restaurants. If you live in a small town and you move to London, which I did when I was 20, then when you go back out into the other small towns in England you go 'oh my god, it's all the same!' It's like Bodysnatchers: literally our towns are being changed to death." After the story was complete, Wright and Pegg examined a list of real pub names and "tried to make them like tarot cards" to foreshadow the events of the story. All twelve pubs in the film use identical signage on menus and walls, reflecting what Wright called "that fake hand-written chalk" common to modern British pubs. The exteriors of the fictional pubs were shot at locations in Welwyn Garden City and Letchworth Garden City, with altered signage.

The film stars Pegg, Nick Frost, Paddy Considine, Martin Freeman, Eddie Marsan and Rosamund Pike. The performances in this film were some of the most hilarious performances I have ever seen. I believe no other filmmaker, apart from Seth MacFarlane and Wright himself, had directed actors to make me laugh my head off in the theatre. I enjoyed the performances from Pegg, Frost, Considine, Freeman, Marsan and Pike. Also it was a nice change to see that Pegg plays the 'idiot' or the 'incompetent' of the group when he was known to play the 'serious' and the character who had to carry the responsibility. But this time we see Frost take on that role when he was known to the 'clown' and 'idiot'.

The brilliant minds behind Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz successfully take a shot at the sci-fi genre with The World’s End. The result is a bitingly satiric and hugely entertaining parody.

Simon says The World’s End receives:

Sunday, 21 July 2013

NZIFF Classic Film Review: "Charulata" ("চারুলতা") (1964).

"Every bud, And every blossom, Nods and sways, In the gentle breeze, Rippling, laughing, In wave and billow, The river flows, With carefree ease, The cuckoo roams, From bower to bower, Cuckoo, cuckoo, Cuckoo, she cries, Deep within, My head is yearning, Alas, alas..." This is the story of Charulata (চারুলতা, The Lonely Wife). This 1964 Indian drama film adapted and directed by Satyajit Ray based upon the novella Nastanirh (নষ্টনীড়, The Broken Nest) by Rabindranath Tagore. In 1870s India, Charulata is an isolated, artistically inclined woman who sees little of her busy journalist husband. Realizing that his wife is alienated and unhappy, he convinces his cousin to spend time with her and nourish her creative impulses. He is a fledgling poet himself, and he and Charulata bond over their shared love of art. But over time a sexual attraction develops, with heartbreaking results.

An admirer of the 1901 novella, Ray later said that he liked the novella because "it has a western quality to it and the film obviously shares that quality. That's why I can speak of Mozart in connection with Charulata quite validly." In adapting the novella to the screen, Ray decided to set the film in the 1880s instead of in 1901 and spent many months researching the historical background. For the first time in his career he worked without a deadline both during pre-production and during the shooting. Ray worked closely with art director Bansi Chandragupta and no interior scene was shot on location. All sets were either built or remodeled to accurately portray India in the 1880s. Ray cast Indian actress Madhabi Mukherjee in the role of Charulata, but had difficulty with her owing to her addiction to chewing paan, which stained her teeth black. Because of this Ray had to be careful about what camera angles he used to film her. Since its release on 17 April, 1964, the film is often considered one of Ray’s highest achievements, and Ray once called Charulata his favourite of his own films.

It features Soumitra Chatterjee, Madhabi Mukherjee and Sailen Mukherjee. The performances given by the cast, especially Mukherjee, are movingly poignant. The characterisation of titular housewife is a full-blown exercise in mid-century film feminism.

One of Satyajit Ray's greatest films Charulata, full of sensuality and ironic undertones. A haunting experience, and should have been, coming from afar from a man born to make movies. It's a film that bears all the hallmarks of Ray's best work: gracefulness, exquisite pacing and composition, love for his characters and a deep regard for the power of silence to tell a story. An utterly absorbing and moving drama about the worlds of work and home in 1880s India, and a hymn to unattended love acted with lightness, intelligence and wit. Ray's style is direct, realist and sympathetic. Here is India through impeccably Indian eyes. A masterpiece compared to most movies in India, or anywhere else. Incredibly rich and satisfying. Would easily stand up to multiple viewings.

Simon says Charulata (চারুলতা) receives:

Also, see my NZIFF review for Frances Ha.

Saturday, 20 July 2013

NZIFF Film Review: "Frances Ha" (2012).

From the director and star of Greenberg comes Frances Ha. This comedy-drama film directed by Noah Baumbach, and written by Baumbach and Greta Gerwig. Frances lives in New York, but she doesn't really have an apartment. Frances is an apprentice for a dance company, but she's not really a dancer. Frances has a best friend named Sophie, but they aren't really speaking anymore. Frances throws herself headlong into her dreams, even as their possible reality dwindles. Frances wants so much more than she has but lives her life with unaccountable joy and lightness.

In April 2012, the film was announced though Baumbach's involvement was not revealed until the film's listing in the Telluride Film Festival's lineup. Gerwig had starred in Baumbach's Greenberg, and they decided to collaborate again. They exchanged ideas, developed characters, and eventually co-wrote the script. Gerwig has stated that she did not anticipate starring in the film as well, but Baumbach thought she suited the part. Principal photography took place in Sacramento, California; New York City and Poughkeepsie, New York; and Paris, France. The film was shot in black and white to "boil it down to its barest bones," and create an immediate "history" & "a kind of instant nostalgia." In addition, it was also shot as low-key & covertly as possible under the working title of Untitled Digital Workshop. Contrary to the movie's improvisational feel, the actors followed a very tightly-written script with little to no deviation.

The film stars Gerwig; in the title role, Mickey Sumner, Charlotte d'Amboise, Adam Driver, Michael Zegen, Michael Esper, Grace Gummer, Patrick Heusinger, and Maya Kazan. The title character is a fantastically complex part to play, but Gerwig's performance is superbly nuanced, convincing and brave.

Although the film sometimes drags (especially for one with a eighty-six minute run time), Baumbach and Gerwig scored a mutual coup with the film. Their sharpest observations are reserved for preternaturally intelligent, hyper-self-conscious outsiders whose existential crises are the failure of the world-and, to some extent, themselves-to live up to their own high expectations. The indignities of modern life that the title character can't bear are peculiarly American. And so is this thoughtful and hilarious film, though some might feel its arty moments and lack of action seem more European. It is a painful, funny, truthful read on our own times and a peculiar and distressing moment that often happens at 30 or 40 or 50. On balance, I found my feelings for the film running hot and cold, as if I was being been infected by the protagonist's jagged mood swings. A good sign, I guess. But that's the thing about a misanthropic movie. However, this is a sunny, prosperous film, full of bright light and outdoor New York exteriors, casual hospitality and people going out to dinner; but its problems are not external villains. It's the internal demons which menace. Thanks to Baumbach's sharply witty dialogue and poignant performance from Gerwig, you can't help but root for this lost soul to find her happy ending.

Simon says Frances Ha receives:

Also, see my NZIFF review for NZIFF Presents Goblin Plays Suspiria.

NZIFF Film Review: 'NZIFF Presents Goblin Plays "Suspiria"' (2013).

"Susie, do you know anything about... witches?" This question is at the heart of Suspiria. This 1977 Italian horror film directed by Dario Argento. It is the first of the trilogy Argento refers to as The Three Mothers, followed by Inferno and The Mother of Tears. In a stormy night, a newcomer and American dancer Suzy Bannion arrives in Freiburg coming from New York to join a famous, expensive and fancy ballet academy for three years of training. But she gradually comes to realize that the house and its staff are actually indeed a coven of evil witches hell-bent on chaos and destruction.

Suspiria is noteworthy for several stylistic flourishes that have become Argento trademarks. The film was made with anamorphic lenses. The production design and cinematography emphasize vivid primary colors, particularly red, creating a deliberately unrealistic, nightmarish setting, emphasized by the use of imbibition Technicolor prints. It was one of the final feature films to be processed in Technicolor. The title and general concept of The Three Mothers came from Suspiria de Profundis, an uncredited inspiration for the film. There is a section in the book entitled Levana and Our Ladies of Sorrow. The piece asserts that just as there are three Fates and three Graces, there are three Sorrows: Mater Lacrymarum, Our Lady of Tears, Mater Suspiriorum, Our Lady of Sighs and Mater Tenebrarum, Our Lady of Darkness. Scriptwriter Daria Nicolodi stated that Suspiria's inspiration came from a tale her grandmother told her as a young child about a real life experience she had in an acting academy where she discovered "the teachers were teaching arts, but also black magic." This story was later confirmed by Argento to have been made up.

Italian prog rock band Goblin composed most of the film's musical score in collaboration with Dario Argento. Goblin had previously scored Argento's earlier film Deep Red (1975) as well as several subsequent films following Suspiria. Like Ennio Morricone's compositions for Sergio Leone, Goblin's score for Suspiria was created before the film was shot. It has been reused in multiple Hong Kong films, including Yuen Woo-ping's martial arts film Dance of the Drunk Mantis (1979) and Tsui Hark's horror-comedy We Are Going to Eat You (1980).

Suspiria is lavish, no-holds-barred witch story whose lack of both logic and technical skill are submerged in the sheer energy of the telling. Ultimately, the film fails mainly because it lacks restraint in setting up the terrifying moment, using close-ups and fancy camera angles gratuitously and with no relevance to the story. The movie's distinguishing feature is not the number or variety of horrible murders, but the length of time it takes for the victims to die. This is a technique that may have been borrowed from Italian opera, but without the music, it loses some of its panache. The film is shot in vivid colors, at some striking angles, and the background music is Verdi rather than heavy metal. But the script and acting are largely routine.

Simon says Suspiria receives:

Also, see my NZIFF review for North by Northwest.

Friday, 19 July 2013

NZIFF Classic Film Review: "North By Northwest" (1959).

"The Master of Suspense weaves his greatest tale!" This is North by Northwest. This thriller film directed by Alfred Hitchcock, and written by Ernest Lehman. This classic suspense film finds New York City ad executive Roger O. Thornhill pursued by ruthless spy Phillip Vandamm after Thornhill is mistaken for a government agent. Hunted relentlessly by Vandamm's associates, the harried Thornhill ends up on a cross-country journey, meeting the beautiful and mysterious Eve Kendall along the way. Soon Vandamm's henchmen close in on Thornhill, resulting in a number of iconic action sequences.

According to John Russell Taylor's biography Hitch: The Life and Times of Alfred Hitchcock (1978) suggests that the story originated after a spell of writer's block during the scripting of another Hitchcock project. Hitchcock had the idea of the hero being stranded in the middle of nowhere, but suggested that the villains try to kill him with a tornado. In fact, Hitchcock had been working on the story for nearly nine years prior to meeting Lehman. The idea originated from American journalist Otis C. Guernsey, who was inspired by a true story during World War II when British Intelligence obtained a dead body, invented a fictitious officer who was carrying secret papers, and arranged for the body and misleading papers to be discovered by the Germans as a disinformation exercise called Operation Mincemeat. Guernsey turned his idea into a story about an American salesman who travels to the Middle East and is mistaken for a fictitious agent. Guernsey urged Hitchcock to do what he liked with the story. Hitchcock bought the 60 pages for $10,000. Hitchcock sat on the idea, waiting for the right screenwriter to develop it.

Lehman became the scriptwriter following a lunchtime meeting with Hitchcock, arranged by their mutual friend, Composer Bernard Herrmann. Hitchcock originally wanted him to work on his new project The Wreck of the Mary Deare (1959), but Lehman left the project due to writer's block. Hitchcock was so keen to work with him that he suggested they work together on a different movie using Mary Deare's budget (without MGM's approval) even though he had only three ideas to set Lehman on his way: mistaken identity, the United Nations building, and a chase scene across the faces of Mt. Rushmore. Lehman knew the hero had to be an innocent man, but he couldn't figure out how the hero gets into trouble. Hitchcock ended his dilemma by recalling a story idea he heard at a cocktail party, an idea about some government agency creating a non-existent decoy agent to throw the villains off the trail of a real government agent. According to Lehman, he had already written much of the screenplay before coming up with critical elements of the climax. According to Lehman, the working title was In A Northwesterly Direction. The head of the Story Department at MGM said, Why don't you call it 'North by Northwest'? Lehman says that he and Hitchcock adopted that as the new working title, always assuming that they'd come up with something better. Other working titles included Breathless, In a North West Direction, and The C.I.A. Story.

While filming Vertigo (1958), Hitchcock described some of the plot of this project to frequent Hitchcock leading man James Stewart, who naturally assumed that Hitchcock meant to cast him in the Roger Thornhill role, and was eager to play it. Actually, Hitchcock wanted Cary Grant to play the role. By the time Hitchcock realized the misunderstanding, Stewart was so anxious to play the role. So Hitchcock delayed production on this movie until Stewart was already safely committed to filming Otto Preminger's Anatomy of a Murder (1959). So Stewart turned down the offer, allowing Hitchcock to cast Grant. Grant was initially reluctant to accept the role since he was fifty-five, but accepted nonetheless. During production, Grant found the screenplay baffling. Hitchcock knew this confusion would only help the movie after all, Grant's character had no idea what was going on, either. Grant thought the movie would be a flop right up until its premiere, where it was rapturously received.

Since its July 1, 1959 release date, the film would go on to become a critical and financial success, grossing $5,740,000 in North America and $4.1 million internationally. The film has been referred to as "the first James Bond film" due to its similarities with splashily colourful settings, secret agents, and an elegant, daring, wisecracking leading man opposite a sinister yet strangely charming villain. The crop duster scene inspired the helicopter chase in From Russia with Love (1963). It is listed among the canonical Hitchcock films of the 1950s and is often thought of as the best amongst Hitchcock's "wrong man" thrillers. Additionally, it is listed among the greatest films of all time. It was selected in 1995 for preservation in the National Film Registry by the United States Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant". In June 2008, the American Film Institute revealed its 10 Top 10 - the best ten films in ten "classic" American film genres. It was also voted #7 in the mystery genre, #40 in AFI's 100 Years...100 Movies, #4 in AFI's 100 Years...100 Thrills, and #55 in AFI's 100 Years...100 Movies (10th Anniversary Edition).

The film stars Cary Grant, Eva Marie Saint, Martin Landau, and James Mason. The film contains strong on sight and performance values. Grant tops his job in To Catch a Thief (1955) as the man who, and Saint is surprisingly effective as the woman who may or may not be on his side. Grant and Saint make ideal in the romantic leads.

Hitchcock has endowed the action with as much suspense as one might expect in a picture produced and directed by him; nevertheless, its story of a ad executive who sets out to establish his innocence by going on a cross-country journey to undercover government secrets, and constantly offers dramatic and comical developments. It is definitely a suspense piece one usually associated with the Hitchcock name.

Simon says North By Northwest receives:

Also, see my NZIFF review for Behind the Candelabra.

NZIFF Film Review: "Behind the Candelabra" (2013).

"Too much of a good thing is wonderful" This is Behind the Candelabra. This biographical drama film directed by Steven Soderbergh, adapted by Richard LaGravenese, based on Richard Thorson's memoir Behind the Candelabra: My Life with Liberace (1988). World-famous pianist Liberace takes much-younger Scott Thorson as a lover, but the relationship deteriorates when Liberace takes other bedmates and Thorson becomes addicted to drugs.

During the filming of Traffic (2000), Soderbergh first spoke with Michael Douglas about the idea of doing a Liberace film, but had trouble figuring out an angle for it that would differentiate it from a traditional biopic. In the summer of 2008, Soderbergh contacted LaGravenese with the idea of adapting Thorson's memoir. The film spent several years in development while Soderbergh had difficulty securing funding, with Hollywood studios saying it was "too gay". In a January 2013 New York Post interview, Soderbergh said that the film was originally intended for theatrical release, but was ultimately produced by and aired on HBO instead. He commented: "Nobody would make it, we went to everybody in town. They all said it was too gay. And this is after Brokeback Mountain (2005), by the way, which is not as funny as this movie. I was stunned. It made no sense to any of us." During this time, Douglas and Matt Damon remained adamant that they would appear in the film despite its lengthy development. Ultimately in September 2008, the project was officially announced with Douglas as Liberace alongside Damon as Thorson. The film was picked up by HBO Films. However, production was delayed due when Douglas began treatment for stage IV throat cancer in 2010. In mid November 2011, with a budget of $23 million, principal photography commenced, and lasted for thirty days throughout California and Nevada. Costume designer Ellen Mirojnick and her team had to reproduce a large number of Liberace's iconic stage outfits for this film. These included a copy of Liberace's 16 foot-long white virgin fox fur coat. Soderbergh is particularly famous for his fast rhythm shooting and editing, with ideas clearly conceived beforehand and no running over schedule. According to Damon, filming was completed on a Friday and Soderbergh had edited a first cut by the following Monday. While promoting the film, Soderbergh went on to explain that this would be his last directorial effort for the time being. It is also the last film to feature a musical score by composer Marvin Hamlisch, who died on August 6, 2012.

The film stars Michael Douglas, Matt Damon, Dan Aykroyd, Rob Lowe, and Debbie Reynolds. The beautifully realised gay love story is imbued with heartbreakingly universal and moving performances by the cast, especially that of Douglas and Damon.

The real achievement of Behind the Candelabra is not that it tells a universal love story that happens to have gay characters in it, but that it tells a distinctively gay story that happens to be so well told that any feeling person can be moved by it.

Simon says Behind the Candelabra receives:

Also, see my reviews for Magic Mike and The Cabin in the Woods.

Thursday, 11 July 2013

Film Review: "Pacific Rim" (2013).

"Today... At the edge of our hope, at the end of our time, we have chosen not only to believe in ourselves, but in each other. Today... we face the monsters that are at our door and bring the fight to them! Today, we are canceling the apocalypse!" Which is why you should get excited for Pacific Rim. This Science Fiction Kaiju film directed by Guillermo del Toro. The film is set in the near future where soldiers pilot giant Mechas into battle against invading giant monsters who have risen from a portal beneath the ocean. As the war between humankind and the monstrous sea creatures wages on, a former pilot and a trainee are paired up to drive a seemingly obsolete special weapon in a desperate effort to save the world from the apocalypse.

Del Toro wanted to "honor" the Kaiju and Mecha genres while creating an original stand-alone film. The director made a point of starting from scratch. He cautioned his designers not to turn to films like Gamera (1965), Godzilla (1954), or The War of the Gargantuas (1966) for inspiration. Rather than popular culture, he drew inspiration from works of art such as Francisco Goya's The Colossus and George Bellows's boxing paintings. Forty Kaiju were designed, but only nine of these appear in the film. Del Toro avoided making the Kaiju too similar to any Earth creatures, instead opting to make them otherworldly and alien. Certain design elements are shared by all the Kaiju; this is intended to suggest that they are connected and were designed for a similar purpose. Each Kaiju was given a vaguely humanoid silhouette to echo the man-in-suit aesthetic of early Japanese Kaiju films.

Gipsy Danger, the American Jaeger, was based on the shape of New York City's Art Deco buildings, but infused with John Wayne's gunslinger gait and hip movements. Cherno Alpha, the Russian Jaeger, was based on the shape and paint patterns of a T-series Russian tank, combined with a giant containment silo to give the appearance of a walking nuclear power plant with a cooling tower on its head. Crimson Typhoon resembles a "medieval little warrior"; its texture evokes Chinese lacquered wood with golden edges. Striker Eureka is likened by del Toro to a Land Rover; the most elegant and masculine Jaeger, it has a jutting chest.

The movie stars Charlie Hunnam, Rinko Kikuchi, Idris Elba and Ron Perlman. Hunnam's performance was terrific. Hunnam did not glamorize nor did he bring the typical rock-star edge to the character. Like Hunnam, Kikuchi also brought emotional complexity and depth to female action character. Elba gave an incredible performance as a strong surrogate father figure to both Hunnam and Kikuchi. Finally, Perlman's performance was a wonderful performance, playing a character with such cool swagger that is very reminiscent to Han Solo from the original Star Wars trilogy (1977, 1980 and 1983) and Quint from Jaws (1975).

Pacific Rim is a really rather brilliant vomitorium of viscera, a monster movie with dreams of becoming a textbook for mad surgeons. Del Toro avidly lavishes his texture on the film, giving it a kiss of distinction. It's an elegant monster brawl of a picture with dread and yearning part of the sheer mass and scope. To conclude, It’s bizarre, loud, romantic and dynamic.

Simon says Pacific Rim receives:

Tuesday, 9 July 2013

Film Review: "Despicable Me 2" (2013).

The film’s taglines include "More minions. More despicable" and "When the world needed a hero, they called a villain". These are used to describe Despicable Me 2. This 3D computer-animated adventure comedy film and the sequel to Despicable Me (2010). Produced by Illumination Entertainment and distributed by Universal Pictures, directed by Pierre Coffin and Chris Renaud, who both directed the last film. Steve Carell, Russell Brand, and Miranda Cosgrove reprise their roles as Gru, Dr. Nefario and Margo. Kristen Wiig, who played Miss Hattie in the first film, voices agent Lucy Wilde. New cast members include Benjamin Bratt as Eduardo and Steve Coogan as Silas Ramsbottom, head of the Anti-Villain League. While Gru, the ex-supervillain is adjusting to family life and an attempted honest living in the jam business, a secret Arctic laboratory is stolen. The Anti-Villain League decides it needs an insider's help and Gru is recruited to help in the investigation. Together with the eccentric AVL agent, Lucy Wilde, Gru has to deal with a powerful new super criminal.

The performances were just fun and humorous as they were in the first film. Carrell's inflectious peformance as Gru, his Slavic, Bela Lugosi/Ricardo Montalban and fun ex-villain does the trick, as before in the first film. Brand's performance was great again and was a delight to see him again. His performance as Dr. Nefario continues to amaze me as I ask "how in the world did he achieve that kind of performance?" Cosgrove's performance in the previous film was fun but had very little characterization. But this film, likely, the filmmakers had developed more characterization into the character for this film and was just as fun in the last film. Wiig in this film was wildly fun and surprising as her name suggests. It was her character's clever hesitations and comic timing that helped steal the show. Bratt gave a great performance as Eduardo, the villain of the film (*spoiler alert!*). Oppose the kind of role that made him famous on Law & Order. Lastly, Coogan's performance was humorous despite his minimal amount of lines, but as I said 'humorous' just like his name - Silas Ramsbottom ("bottom").

It may not be as fresh as the original, but the humor and colorful secondary characters make Despicable Me 2 a winner in its own right. The film is an improvement on the original, with more fleshed-out characters, crisper animation and more consistent humor. The storyline arc may seem a tad cliché to some moviegoers, but it offers enough action, comedy, and classic Steve Carrell performance to save it from total oblivion. To conclude, the creative team at Illumination Entertainment have prevailed, serving a strong sequel. It may not be better than its predecessor, but it is just as emotionally satisfying. Finally, it is heartfelt and hilarious, smart and silly, action-packed and never violent for the children.

Simon says Despicable Me 2 receives: