Monday, 26 August 2013

Film Review: "Pain & Gain" (2013).

"Their American Dream Is Bigger Than Yours" This is the sad truth with Pain & Gain. This comedy crime film directed by Michael Bay. The film is loosely based on a story Pete Collins published in a 1999 series of Miami New Times articles and compiled in the book Pain & Gain: This is a True Story, which details the kidnapping, extortion, torture, and murder of several victims by an organized group of criminals comprising bodybuilders affiliated with the Sun Gym.

Michael Bay had been wanting to make this film since 2000. But first announced the film after the release of Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen (2009). However, He delayed doing so multiple times in favor of the Transformers sequels. He specifically said he wanted to make a small inexpensive film as a change of pace. Bay stated he wanted to do Pain & Gain between the second and third Transformers films. The project was put on hold when Paramount gave the third film, Transformers: Dark of the Moon, a 2011 release date. Bay became interested in the project due to the fact that the home of Frank Griga belongs to Bay. It is also the former Miami home of Hulk Hogan. In February 2012, it was confirmed that the budget for the film would be $26 million and was to be funded by Paramount Pictures as part of a two-picture deal with Bay, making it the cheapest film he has ever directed, since his first feature film Bad Boys (1995), thanks in part to Bay, Johnson, and Wahlberg not taking salaries. They instead signed on in exchange for back ends on the film's profits.

The film stars Mark Wahlberg, Dwayne Johnson, Anthony Mackie, Tony Shalhoub, Ed Harris, Rebel Wilson and Ken Jeong. The cast were hopeless from start to finish. They themselves filled with nothing but "manly" silliness and just pure Michael Bay testosterone that is a hallmark of all his films. The only commitment that the actors have made to their on-screen counterparts was to bulk up to hulking masses. For his role as a body builder, Wahlberg bulked up to 212 pounds for this film. Wahlberg was in the process of trying out supplements for his own line of body-building products while bulking up for his movie. So he said he effectively got a body-builder physique by using his own products. Bay also wanted Mark Wahlberg to be as tan as possible. So Wahlberg, throughout filming, had to get a full-body fake tan every week for the movie. Mark Wahlberg said that his sons loved the enormous, muscular, body-builder physique that he was sporting during filming, but his daughters hated it. Johnson bulked up to nearly 300 pounds for his role. Anthony Mackie put on 17 pounds of muscle for the role and bulked up to 213 pounds. He had only 3 weeks to train before filming began.

Pain & Gain may star Mark Wahlberg and Dwayne Johnson, and may be directed by Michael Bay; unfortunately, both leads are just nothing but new wine in old bottles. And director Bay too often drowns it out with set pieces and mindless Americana in place of an actual story. Whenever a movie like this starts to drag, there's always one infallible solution; have mindless action and then have good-looking people to distract the audience.

Simon says Pain & Gain receives:

Also, see my review for Transformers: Dark of the Moon.

Wednesday, 21 August 2013

Film Review: "Stoker" (2013)

" My ears hear what others cannot hear; small faraway things people cannot normally see are visible to me. These senses are the fruits of a lifetime of longing, longing to be rescued, to be completed. Just as the skirt needs the wind to billow, I'm not formed by things that are of myself alone. I wear my father's belt tied around my mother's blouse, and shoes which are from my uncle. This is me. Just as a flower does not choose its color, we are not responsible for what we have come to be. Only once you realize this do you become free, and to become adult is to become free.” Which sums what this rather unusual film from the director of Oldboy called Stoker. This British-American psychological thriller film directed by Park Chan-wook, his English-language debut, and written by Wentworth Miller, star of Prison Break. The story follows After India's father dies, her Uncle Charlie, who she never knew existed, comes to live with her and her unstable mother. She comes to suspect this mysterious, charming man has ulterior motives and becomes increasingly infatuated with him.

Wentworth Miller, mostly known as an actor on shows such as Prison Break, wrote the screenplay for Stoker, as well as a prequel, Uncle Charlie. He used the pseudonym Ted Foulke for submitting his work, later explaining "I just wanted the scripts to sink or swim on their own." Miller's script was voted to the 2010 "Black List" of the 10 best unproduced screenplays then making the rounds in Hollywood. Miller described it as a "horror film, a family drama and a psychological thriller." Although influenced by Bram Stoker's Dracula, Miller clarified that Stoker was "not about vampires. It was never meant to be about vampires but it is a horror story. A stoker is one who stokes, which also ties in nicely with the narrative." Alfred Hitchcock's Shadow of a Doubt (1943) also influenced the film. Miller said: "The jumping-off point is actually Hitchcock's Shadow of a Doubt. So, that's where we begin, and then we take it in a very, very different direction." There are a number of Hitchcock's themes, plot devices and motifs used within it. Both Matthew Goode's character and Joseph Cotten's character in Shadow of a Doubt share the name "Uncle Charlie", as well as Hitchcock's use of the likeable criminal. The complexly intertwined relationship that develops between Uncle Charlie and India also references Hitchcock's use of the double with the young Charlie and Uncle Charlie in Shadow of a Doubt. Many of Uncle Charlie and India's key interactions occur on a staircase, which is a Hitchcock motif also used in Shadow of a Doubt. There is a pivotal scene in Stoker that takes place near a train track and the rumbling train makes an aural intrusion, which plays into Hitchcock's use of trains as a sexual euphemism.

The film marked director Park Chan-wook's English-language debut. In January 2011, it was reported that Mia Wasikowska was in negotiations to play India, and in February, Nicole Kidman also entered negotiations to join the cast. In June, it was reported that Matthew Goode was in talks to play Charlie, after Colin Firth, who was attached earlier, had to drop out. Jacki Weaver, Lucas Till, Alden Ehrenreich, and Dermot Mulroney joined the cast in July and August 2011. Filming took 40 days beginning in Nashville, Tennessee, in September 2011. The motel scenes were filmed in nearby Murfreesboro on September 22, and additional scenes were shot in Sewanee, home of the University of the South. Principal photography wrapped on October 23.

The film stared Mia Wasikowska, Matthew Goode, and Nicole Kidman. Wasikowska gave a brilliant performance as the film's psychologically disturbed heroine India. Her performance combined Hitchcock's psychological characterization of female characters (whether heroine or victim or villain) and Burton's coming-of-age freak-out that she obtained through her previous work in Alice in Wonderland (2010). Kidman is at her finest as a disinterested mother. She shows fear and disdain in the most subtle ways, never overplaying a character that could turn into a campy arch villain with just the tiniest bit of scene-chewing. And Goode is the most menacing of all. The malevolent force that hides behind the facade not only of normalcy but of something attractive that you know is incredibly dangerous.

Hideously grim, and oddly beautiful, Stoker is a beguiling mix of the generic and the unfamiliar, and it ends on a shot that's nothing short of striking. Park prizes craftsmanship over bargain-bin schlock. It's an odd testament to his spiritedness that, despite the coldblooded killing and trail of the dead, the film feels warmly suffused with life. It is a worthy new start to an incredible career to a director who established himself as the new light in Asian cinema. There's a genuine sophistication, both technically and thematically, to what Park is doing in this film. Park forces us to consider a world where good intentions go awry, decent people do bad things, and fate deals cruel cards. But even at its darkest moments, the film finds surprising and heartbreaking shreds of humanity. Executed with style and it sets up a situation that provides some food for thought. Almost every scene contains something surprising, even startling -- we feel as if Park is searching for a new way of seeing. However, it's not a new idea, that violence and horror is in all of us. But it's one worth relearning. In addition, the film isn't for everyone, but it offers a breath of fresh air to anyone gasping on the fumes of too many traditional Hollywood thrillers. To conclude, it’s extremely well-written and keeps all its cards hidden until just the right point to play each one. Oh, you might not like where it goes, but if you can appreciate artistic merit in your varied cinematic entertainment, then grow into it. It's another triumph from one of the world's best new filmmakers, and it is not to be missed.

Simon says Stoker receives:

Tuesday, 20 August 2013

Film Review: "Elysium" (2013).

"There's nothing left down here. They have it all on Elysium, food, water, medicine, and they'll do anything to keep us out. It's time to change everything." This is what Elysium brings this summer. This science fiction action thriller film written, co-produced and directed by Neill Blomkamp. Set in the year 2154, two classes of people exist: the very wealthy who live on a pristine man-made space station called Elysium, and the rest, who live on an overpopulated, ruined Earth. Secretary Rhodes, a government official, will stop at nothing to enforce anti-immigration laws and preserve the luxurious lifestyle of the citizens of Elysium. However, unlucky Max agrees to take on a daunting mission that if successful will not only save his life, but could bring equality to these polarized worlds.

Although set in 2154, Elysium's director argues that it is a comment on the contemporary human condition. "Everybody wants to ask me lately about my predictions for the future," the director said, "No, no, no. This isn't science fiction. This is today. This is now." James Kirkpatrick from VDARE considers Elysium a parable about the devastating impact of Latin American mass immigration on Anglo-America. Matt Damon is the last Anglo in Los Angeles, an overcrowded Mexican slum city with no sense of identity or civic unity. The – mostly white – wealthy people have fled the earth to establish another home in space, but are finally overrun a second time by illegal Third World migrants after Damon dismantles their security system. For Steve Sailer dystopian Elysium is "another Malthusian tale about open borders" and its catastrophic effects on civilization, whereas the rich in their carefree, gated "Beverly Hills" space community profit from the collapse of the borders on earth. For the film's titular space-station Elysium, Neill Blomkamp and Ivery consulted with NASA scientists and engineers to see if the man-made space station in the movie was possible? It turns out that NASA has been experimenting with a spinning ring that would create its own gravity field.

The film stars Matt Damon, Jodie Foster, Sharlto Copley, Alice Braga, Diego Luna, Wagner Moura and William Fichtner. The performances in this film were extraordinarily complex and portrayed. Damon was never better as he returned to his action-orienated chair since his Bourne films (2002-7) and his Ocean's trilogy (2001-7). Foster, as always, gave a intelligently delivered performance as one of the film's main antagonists. Braga gave a great performance even though I felt her chemistry with Damon did not win my heart. Luna gave a great performance since I last saw him in The Terminal (2004). Mourna gave a brilliant performance in his first English speaking role. Lastly, Fichtner gave a great small performance in contrast to his rather disappointing performance in The Lone Ranger (2013).

After the heady sci-fi thrills of District 9 (2009), Elysium (2013) is a bit of a letdown for director Neill Blomkamp, but on its own terms, it delivers just barely enough to satisfy.

Simon says Elysium receives:

Monday, 5 August 2013

Film Review: "Only God Forgives" (2013).

The film’s tagline reads "Time to Meet The Devil", which is what Only God Forgives is all bout. This French-Danish co-production crime thriller film written and directed by Nicolas Winding Refn. The film follows ten years later after Julian killed a man and went on the run. Now Julian, a drug-smuggler and manages a Thai boxing club in Bangkok's criminal underworld, deep inside, he feels empty. But then sees his life get even more complicated when his brother murders an underage prostitute, the police call on retired cop Chang - the Angel of Vengeance. Also his mother, Crystal - the head of a powerful criminal organization, arrives in Bangkok to collect her son's body and dispatches Julian to find and kill his killers and 'raise hell'.

The film stars Ryan Gosling, Kristin Scott Thomas, Vithaya Pansringarm and, introducing, Rhatha Phongam (Yaya-Ying) in her first major English language film. The performances in this film were somewhat poorly acted, as well as lacked general common sense and good characterization. Gosling's performance was intense but was filled with unnecessary moral and character-based ambiguities. Scott Thomas was just absolutely depressing and dull. Her character was not the least bit interesting nor was she empathetic. Pansringarm's performance was also intense and dangerously silent as Gosling's performance. But it lacked the general characterization that was needed for the villain and his motivations. Lastly, Phongma's performance was absolutely unnecessary and pointless. She was a supporting character that had the least amount of lines, lacked the most amount of basic general characterization and the most amount of common sense. I felt she was 'all-show' for the men to come into the theaters. Especially in her sexually explicit scenes (including her scene when she had to abruptly and randomly strip in front of Gosling's character).

Rather in the manner of Alejandro Jodorowsky, whose self-conscious conflation of the roles of charlatan and ringmaster of the unconscious Refn apes, Only God Forgives is a breathtaking concoction of often striking, but more often ludicrous, images. The result is a movie that, though it impressed some, in retrospect is clearly a minor, albeit often very confusing work. There's not enough art to justify the sickening reality of Refn's artistic method. The meaning of the film is not to be found in the mystical camouflage of the ambiguous and stoic nature (for what, one wonders? Evidently self-agrandizement rather than the well-being of his congregation of the deformed), but in the picturesque horrors and humiliations. They're all there, in a movie that is all guts (quite literally) but that has no body to give the guts particular shape or function. Under the influence, the film becomes a violent, would-be erotic freakshow, and that, I suppose, can be very heavy. For others, it is enough to make one yawn. However, on first blush it might seem no more than a violent surreal fantasy, a work of fabulous but probably deranged imagination. Surreal and crazy it may be, but it is also (one realizes the second time through) as fully considered and ordered as fine clockwork.

Simon says Only God Forgives receives:

Saturday, 3 August 2013

NZIFF Film Review: "Much Ado About Nothing" (2012).

"An awful lot of fun", which is what you’re in for with Much Ado About Nothing. This independent romantic comedy film adapted for the screen, produced, and directed by Joss Whedon, from William Shakespeare's play of the same name. It is a modern retelling of Shakespeare's classic comedy.

Much Ado About Nothing is a comedic play by William Shakespeare thought to have been written in 1598 and 1599, as Shakespeare was approaching the middle of his career. The play was included in the First Folio, published in 1623. Much Ado About Nothing is generally considered one of Shakespeare’s best comedies, because it combines elements of robust hilarity with more serious meditations on honor, shame, and court politics. Much Ado About Nothing, though interspersed with darker concerns, is a joyful comedy that ends with multiple marriages and no deaths.

Principal photography started mid-October 2011, and took place at Joss Whedon's residence, in Santa Monica, California. On the choice of location, he told Studio 360, "First of all, my wife built that house. And I knew from the moment I set foot in it that I would want to film something there. Because it's all in one place, that place informs the mood and the feeling and the look of the picture so much, and I was really already comfortable with that". It was filmed entirely in a black-and-white palette over a period of 12 days. Whedon shot it while on a contractual vacation from the post-production of The Avengers (2012). The cast and crew were informed to keep the project a secret until production was finished. Shooting wrapped on October 23, 2011. Whedon explained his initial interest in the project, saying: I fixated on this notion that our ideas of romantic love are created for us by the society around us, and then escape from that is grown-up love, is marriage, is mature love, to escape the ideals of love that we’re supposed to follow. He elaborated on that sentiment, and said "It’s a very cynically romantic text about love, and how we behave, and how we’re expected to behave. It’s a party, but there’s something darker there as well".

The film stars Amy Acker as Beatrice, Alexis Denisof as Benedick, Nathan Fillion as Dogberry, Clark Gregg as Leonato, Reed Diamond as Don Pedro, Fran Kranz as Claudio, Sean Maher as Don John, Jillian Morgese as Hero, Spencer Treat Clark as Borachio, Riki Lindhome as Conrade and Ashley Johnson as Margaret. The performances were fantastic in this film and Whedon's finest collection of performances yet. They had the right mix of drama and comedy all at once. Acker gave a strong performance as Beatrice. Denisof gave a witty and 'cocky' performance as Benedick. Fillion gave a humorous performance. Gregg gave a great performance as Leonato. Diamond gave a great performance as Don Pedro. Kranz gave a emotionally fantastic performance as Claudio. Maher gave a great, cold performance as Don John. Finally, Morgese gave a wonderful performance, in her debut film.

Cheerful from beginning to end, Joss Whedon’s Much Ado About Nothing is a ravishing piece of entertainment. Whedon has, once again, blown away the movie-going public after his triumphant success of The Avengers (2012). This film cements Whedon's status as a great director of Shakespeare, and perhaps of film in general, as well.

Simon says Much Ado About Nothing receives:

Also, see my review for The Avengers.