Tuesday, 29 October 2013

Film Review: "You're Next" (2011).

"They will hunt you" for You're Next. This black comedy horror thriller film directed by Adam Wingard, and written by Simon Barrett. When a gang of masked, ax-wielding murderers descend upon the Davison family reunion, the hapless victims seem trapped... until an unlikely guest of the family proves to be the most talented killer of all.

Inspired by Wingard's desire to make a home invasion movie, as Wingard noted that they were the only films that still truly frightened him, as well as Agatha Christie mysteries, Barrett wrote a home invasion script with elements of screwball comedy and chamber mystery. Barrett would later note that Bay of Blood (1971) served as an inspiration whilst writing the script. In mid March 2011, with a budget of $1 million, principal photography commenced. Filming took place at an abandoned mansion in Columbia, Missouri for four weeks, mostly at night from 7pm to 7am. The majority of the film was shot with handheld camera to increase tension. The masks in the film were inspired by the masks in Hotline Miami.

The film stars Sharni Vinson, Nicholas Tucci, Wendy Glenn, A. J. Bowen, Joe Swanberg, Barbara Crampton and Rob Moran. The Strangers gave us a pair of heroes who fought like hell to survive, becoming closer and stronger in the effort. Wingard's undeveloped protagonists are colossally stupid and frustratingly passive. In addition, the creepy folks with the animal masks are more fumbling than fiendish.

You're Next provides a few scares, but offers little else to distinguish itself from other sadistic, unmotivated home-invasion flicks. The movie deserves more stars for its bottom-line craft, but all the craft in the world can't redeem its story. No one is getting at anything in the film, except the cheapest, ugliest kind of sadistic titillation. It uses cinema to ends that are objectionable and vile. it does it well, with more than usual skill. Wingard has the pretensions of an artist and the indelicacy of a hack. He tries to get under our skin with a pile driver. It unfolds with an almost startling lack of self-awareness, Wingard's fifth effort is such a careful, straight-faced knockoff of '70s exploitation films that it plays like a parody. The film has a couple of scares, but it's not anywhere near as frightening as advertised. Messy, intermittently effective ordeal horror. The formula of calm followed by shock is repeated until one tires of the technical polish of Wingard's fifth film (with nods towards The Strangers and The Evil Dead) in the absence of coherent plot or character development. But I guess it's just hard for a movie about characters with animal masks to have any real teeth. Nothing gets the old heart pumping like the fear of home invasion, but you wouldn't know it by this one, an utterly pointless portrait of domestic terror. After such initial promise, it doesn't take long for the film to become awfully familiar. Wingard's psycho-thriller gets the job done for nearly two-thirds of its length. But when it shows its hand, it folds.

Simon says You're Next receives:

Tuesday, 22 October 2013

Film Review: "Prisoners" (2013).

The tagline of the film reads "Every moment counts", and it most certainly does in Prisoners. This thriller is directed by Denis Villeneuve. The plot focuses on the abduction of Keller Dover's and Franklin Birch's two young girls in Pennsylvania and the resulting search to find them. Dover takes matters into his own hands as the police pursue multiple leads and the pressure mounts. But just how far will this desperate father go to protect his family?

The film stars Hugh Jackman, Jake Gyllenhaal, Viola Davis, Maria Bello, Terrence Howard, Melissa Leo, and Paul Dano. Jackman gave the best performance of his career, as he plays the father of one of the missing girls and does whatever it takes to find them. Gyllenhaal has never been better with his portrayal as Detective Loki. It was a truly compelling, subtly layered portrayal of a man tasked with the impossible and driven by the demons of his own past. Gyllenhaal has given a myriad of outstanding performances throughout his career. But his work in this film achieves a new level of complexity, as reflected in the rave reviews the film has received. Davis gave a great performance especially in the emotional and grieving moments in the film. Bello gave one of her finest performances as she plays the loving mother of one of the two girls who becomes emotional unstable and spirals into despair as the plot moves forward. Howard gave an emotional performance as he played a character that spoke on behalf of the audience as he questions Jackman's character on how far he is going. Leo gave another wonderful performance as the old aunt of the suspected victim with a secret to hide. Finally Dano gave a remarkable performance that was almost the equivalent to a classic Hitchcock character such as Norman Bates from Psycho (1960).

Haunting, suspenseful, and masterfully acted, Prisoners has an emotional complexity and a sense of dread that makes for absorbing and disturbing viewing worthy of a classic Hitchcock thriller would. Thanks to a strong performances from Hugh Jackman and Jake Gyllenhaal and smart direction from Denis Villeneuve, it hits the mark as a tense, uncommonly adventurous thriller. But what exactly is the movie saying about all this? It could be that torture is always morally culpable, that it never elicits anything of value – or it could be that it is dirty work that gets results. But, in the end, the film is unforgettably relentless in asking moviegoers if Keller has gone too far. And, by extension, asking us how far we would go. The scenes in this film are beautifully framed and Villeneuve gives a taut direction for every scene. To conclude, possibly, Villeneuve has done his best work yet here. A decent thriller that's ultimately saved by its stellar performances and absolutely enthralling last act. It's hugely entertaining and exceptionally involving. The result is a typically memorable Hitchcock thriller, with great dialogue, building tension, and innocent people forced to get themselves out of trouble on their own.

Simon says Prisoners receives

Also, see my review for Incendies.

Film Review: "2 Guns" (2013).

"2 Guns, 1 Bank." This is 2 Guns. This action comedy film directed by Baltasar Kormákur, and written by Blake Masters, and based on the comic book series of the same name created by Steven Grant and Mateus Santolouco, published in 2007 by Boom! Studios. The film follows two undercover agents, Robert and Michael, who aim to expose Manny 'Papi' Greco, a drug lord. Unaware of each other's true identities, the two get into trouble when they finally meet Papi.

By early June 2012, Denzel Washington, Mark Wahlberg, Paula Patton, Bill Paxton, James Marsden, Edward James Olmos, and Patrick Fischler were cast in an adaptation of Grant and Santolouco's comic book series with Kormákur directing, and Masters penning the script. During the film's development, Vince Vaughn was originally cast as Bobby, and Owen Wilson was originally cast as Stig. At the same time, with a budget of $61 million, principal photography commenced, and wrapped in mid August. Filming took place throughout California, Louisiana, and New Mexico.  While filming in Louisiana, the production spent $57.5 million in the state and received a $17.6 million subsidy under the state's film incentive program.

The film stars Washington, Wahlberg, Patton, Paxton, Marsden, Olmos, and Fischler. None of the cast can do anything to elevate the material beyond what it is: a late Summer movie from top to bottom. Washington and Wahlberg could sleepwalk through their roles, and they do. See this movie and you'll surely follow their lead. Watching a hero progress due in large part to lucky breaks and idiot moves by others does not make a movie. It's puzzling why anyone considered this script worth shooting.

It's more entertaining than your average late Summer action thriller, but that isn't enough to excuse 2 Gun's lack of originality and unnecessarily convoluted plot. The film involves a lot of energy, but the violent retreads of these two renegade law enforcers on a crusade against the drug cartel is growing tired. The film has too much plot and too little character and it comes off the factory floor with its engine running and ready to drive. But the ride feels overly familiar. It is exactly the sort of movie that Hollywood specializes in, the kind which seems on paper as if it ought to be entertaining, but winds up a massive and chaotic drag. It's much more like a cynical hash job, whose faux-realistic manner can't hide all the hackneyed crime-movie situations. There are just one too many problems with Kormákur's overly-generic action thriller to separate it from the crowd. Plays like conventional Hollywood genre entertainment even though all the actual events in movie feel like they belong in a Michael Bay joint. With its dim lighting and handheld camerawork, the director's 'realistic' visual approach is arguably bogus, but it pays dividends as the narrative becomes increasingly grim. Ends up just another dumber than average caper. It is criminal that a director of Kormakur's talent should make the run from the gloomy authenticity of Jar City to this bland Hollywood fare.

Simon says 2 Guns receives:

Also, see my review for Contraband.

Tuesday, 15 October 2013

Film Review: "Captain Phillips" (2013).

The poster’s tagline reads "Out here, survival is everything." This describes perfectly what Captain Phillips is all about. This action thriller is directed by Paul Greengrass. The film is a multi-layered examination of the true story of merchant mariner Captain Richard Phillips and the 2009 hijacking of the U.S.-flagged container ship Maersk Alabama in the Indian Ocean led by Abduwali Muse and his crew of Somali pirates. The first American cargo ship to be hijacked in two hundred years. The screenplay by Billy Ray is based upon the book, A Captain's Duty: Somali Pirates, Navy SEALs, and Dangerous Days at Sea (2010), by Richard Phillips with Stephan Talty.

On April 8th, 2009, the cargo ship Maersk Alabama, bound for Mombasa, Kenya, with 17,000 metric tons of freight on board, was attacked by a small group of Somali pirates using a Taiwanese fishing vessel, the Win Far 161, that they hijacked just two days earlier. Crewed by merchant marines, who despite their name were unarmed, and captained by a lifelong sailor named Richard Phillips, the Maersk Alabama attempted evasive manoeuvres, but not to avail. It was soon boarded by four corsairs, who seized the ship and Captain Phillips, and took him hostage. The rest of the crew shut down the ship's power, thwarting the invaders' plans to sail away with it, and managed to take one of the pirates hostage themselves. A tense stand-off followed; an exchange of prisoners went wrong, and the pirates escaped the ship into a lifeboat. They took Phillips with them, and a game of cat and mouse ensued. Only, instead of a cat, the US Navy deployed two warships. Eventually, on April 12th, after an ordeal lasting four days, Captain Phillips was rescued, and the Somalis were shot dead and its captain taken into custody for trial.

It is - through director Paul Greengrass's distinctive lens - simultaneously a pulse-pounding thriller, and a complex portrait of the myriad effects of globalization. The film focuses on the relationship between the Alabama's commanding officer, Captain Richard Phillips, and the Somali pirate captain, Muse. In the film, Phillips and Muse are set on an unstoppable collision course when Muse and his crew target Phillips' unarmed ship; in the ensuing standoff, 145 miles off the Somali coast, both men will find themselves at the mercy of forces beyond their control. The film stars Tom Hanks and Barkhad Abdi. Hanks gave the finest performance of his career as the title character, and Abdi gave an intense, chilling and brilliant debut performance as the Somali pirate captain, Abduwali Muse.

Potent and sobering, Captain Phillips is even more gut-wrenching because the outcome is already known. While difficult to watch, director Paul Greengrass' film has been made with skill and treats the subject matter with respect, never resorting to the aggrandizement of which Hollywood has sometimes been accused. Especially effective because of Hanks, who portrays the real-life captain of the doomed cargo ship who volunteers on behalf of his crew to be taken hostage with bravery to extraordinary circumstances. To conclude, it’s one of the most moving films of the year.

Simon says Captain Phillips receives:

Tuesday, 8 October 2013

Film Review: "Rush" (2013).

"The closer you are to death, the more alive you feel. It's a wonderful way to live. It's the only way to drive.” Which is what Rush offers in this exhilarating ride. This biographical action film directed by Ron Howard and written by Peter Morgan. The film is based on the true story of a great sporting rivalry between handsome English playboy James Hunt, and his methodical, brilliant opponent, Austrian driver Niki Lauda. The story follows their distinctly different personal styles on and off the track, their loves and the astonishing 1976 season in which both drivers were willing to risk everything to become world champion in a sport with no margin for error.

The film was shot on location in the United Kingdom, Germany and Austria. Filming took place at the former Second World War airfield of Blackbushe Airport in Hampshire, the Snetterton (Norfolk), Cadwell Park (Lincolnshire), the former Crystal Palace and Brands Hatch (Kent) motor racing circuits in Britain, and at the Nürburgring in Germany. Both vintage racing cars and replicas were used in the filming.

The film stars Chris Hemsworth as Hunt and Daniel Brühl as Lauda. It also stars Olivia Wilde as Suzy Miller, Alexandra Maria Lara as Marlene Knaus, Pierfrancesco Favino as Clay Regazzoni and Natalie Dormer as Nurse Gemma. The performances in this film were all strong and superbly acted and delivered. Hemsworth has given the finest performance of his career as the stunning, handsome, charismatic, effortless champion, playboy and instinctual genius. Brühl gave a strong performance as the meticulous, driven, Austrian intellectual. By the final scenes, Brühl has all but disappeared so as to deliver Lauda himself. In the film, James Hunt and Niki Lauda's on-track rivalry was bitter and hard-fought. But in real life, off the track, the two were more sympatico than the film suggests. In fact, they even shared a flat in London for time. A fiver says Lauda did all the washing-up. Though it was not entirely accurate, what film is actually accurate? Nonetheless, they had great chemistry as the two determined rivals. In the end, they did not just mimic their characters, when the film was over, they embodied them. Wilde gave a fine performance as Hunt's ex-wife. Maria Lara also gave a fine performance as the loyal love interest of Lauda, at the time, and her chemistry with Brühl was fantastic. Favino gave a great performance as Clay Regazzoni. Finally, Dormer gave a great performance as Hunt's love interest at the beginning of the film. She brought a stunning and sexy appeal to the character, as she does with most of her roles ('especially' in The Tudors (2007-2010) and Game of Thrones (2011-Present)).

Rush is a powerful story, one of the year's best films, told with great clarity and remarkable technical detail, and acted without pumped-up histrionics. Howard lays off the manipulation to tell the true story of the 1970 Formula 1 Race in painstaking and lively detail. It's easily Howard's best film. Howard turned this film from a potentially visual, fuel-injected extravaganza into a grabber of a movie laced with tension, stinging wit and potent human drama.

Simon says Rush receives:

Film Review: "Machete Kills" (2013).

"Trained to kill. Left for dead. Back for more" in Machete Kills. This action exploitation film directed by Robert Rodriguez, and written by Kyle Ward. It is a sequel to Machete (2010). The U.S. government recruits Machete to battle his way through Mexico in order to take down an arms dealer who looks to launch a weapon into space.

By early June 2012, it was announced that Danny Trejo, Michelle Rodriguez, Jessica Alba, and Tom Savini returned to reprise their roles, with Mel Gibson, Sofía Vergara, Amber Heard, Demián Bichir, Charlie Sheen, Cuba Gooding Jr., Lady Gaga, Antonio Banderas, Vanessa Hudgens, Alexa Vega, and William Sadler rounding out the film's cast in the sequel to Rodriguez's 2010 action exploitation film. At the same time, with a budget of $20 million, principal photography commenced, and wrapped in late July. Filming took place throughout Austin, Texas; including Troublemaker Studios. In late June 2013, the film's release date was pushed back from September 13, 2013, to October 11, 2013, to avoid competition with Insidious: Chapter 2.

The film stars Trejo in the title role, with Rodriguez, Gibson, Vergara, Heard, Bichir, Sheen, Gooding Jr., Gaga, Banderas, Alba, Hudgens, Vega, Sadler, and Savini. The actors clearly know how to fit into this graphic exploitation world, and are a great reason to see this sequel. This is a great cast, but with the few exceptions they simply serve the effects.

Machete Kills boasts the same stylish violence and striking visual palette of the first Machete flick, but lacks its predecessor's brutal impact. This is Rodriguez's third sequel in a row in which he turns sex, violence and exploitation into an occasion for dullness. For a film loaded with decapitations and gun-toting ladies in bondage gear, the sequel gets really tedious really quickly. Rare indeed is the movie that features this many bared breasts, pummeled crotches and severed noggins and still leaves you checking your watch every 10 minutes. As an exercise in style, it's diverting enough, but these mean streets are so well traveled that it takes someone like Trejo to make the detour through them worth the trip. This sequel features the signature characteristics and many of the original's characters but seems less adventurous. It feels a little flabby and self-satisfied. The element of surprise is gone. It's 100 solid minutes of wearying pastiche, and I found myself checking my watch a lot. The aesthetic quality is still there, even if there haven't been too many great leaps since Rodriguez unveiled Machete in 2010. But the stories aren't nearly as engrossing. The sequel is worth the watch if you expect nothing more than disparate comic-strip frames of action. But three years in coming, this follow-up ultimately fizzles. As in the first film, there are judicious stabs of color. And Alba was a showstopper. But three years wiser, we know that pretty things aren't always worth killing for. As usual with Machete, much of the vibe is about echoing genre touchstones, while the look isn't quite like anything else the digital age has seen.

Simon says Machete Kills receives:

Also, see my review for Spy Kids: All the Time in the World.

Saturday, 5 October 2013

Film Review: "Gravity" (2013).

The tagline of the poster reads "Don’t let go”, which is exactly what this Summer’s epic Gravity is all about. This space drama/thriller film co-written, co-produced, and directed by Alfonso Cuarón. The film centers on a brilliant medical engineer, Dr. Ryan Stone, and a verteran astronaut, Matt Kowalsky, who work together to survive after an accident leaves them adrift in space on Stone's first and Kowalsky's last shuttle mission. Left completely alone - tethered to nothing but each other and spiraling out into the blackness of space.

Cuarón wrote the screenplay with his son Jonás and attempted to develop the project at Universal Studios, where Alfonso had co-written and directed Children of Men for Universal in 2006. The project was in development there for several years, but the studio placed it in turnaround. Warner Bros. acquired the project, which in February 2010, attracted the attention of Angelina Jolie, who had rejected a sequel to Wanted (2008). Later in the month, she passed on the project, partially because the studio did not want to pay her $20 million fee, which she had received for her latest two movies. She also passed on the project because she wanted to work on directing her Bosnian war film, In the Land of Blood and Honey (2011). In March, Robert Downey, Jr. entered talks to be cast in the male lead role. In mid-2010, multiple actresses including Marion Cotillard, Scarlett Johansson, Blake Lively and Natalie Portman tested for the female lead role. Finally Warner Bros. then approached Sandra Bullock for the role. In November 2010, Downey left the project. In the following December, with Bullock signed for the co-lead role, George Clooney replaced Downey. A big challenge for the team was the question of how to shoot long takes in a zero g enviornment. So the film had languished in development hell for four years, because the film's ambition - in terms of the cinematography, visual effects, and realistic "story atmosphere" of outer space - proved to be too challenging and Cuarón had to wait for the technology to be far more advanced and progressed to meet his vision; that was finally realized in 2009 with James Cameron's Avatar (2009). Eventually the team decided on using CGI for the space walk scenes and automotive robots for the interior space station scenes to move Bullock's character around. This meant that shots and blocking had to be planned well in advance in order for the robots to be programmed.

Cuarón, cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki, and visual effects supervisor Tim Webber decided that they couldn't make Gravity as they wanted to by simply using traditional methods. So the film was filmed digitally. Principal photography on the film began in late May 2011. Live elements were shot at Pinewood and Shepperton Studios in the United Kingdom,with the visual effects supervised by Tim Webber at Framestore in London. The 3D was designed and supervised by Chris Parks. The majority of the 3D was created through stereo rendering the CG at Framestore with the rest post converted, principally at Prime Focus, London with additional conversion work by Framestore. Prime Focus's supervisor was Richard Baker. Filming began in London in May 2011. The film contains about 200 or so cutaways, which is significantly less than most films of this length. Most of Bullock's shots were shot with her inside of a giant mechanical rig. Getting inside said rig took a significant amount of time so the actress opted to stay in it for up to 9 to 10 hours day, communicating with others only through a headset. The setup was the basis of what Cuaron would describe as his biggest challenge, which was how to make the set feel inviting and non-claustrophobic as possible. The team attempted to do this by having a massive celebration when Bullock would arrive on set each day. They also nicknamed the rig "Sandy's cage" and gave it a lighted sign that reflected this.

The film stars Sandra Bullock and George Clooney as surviving astronauts from a damaged Space Shuttle. The performances were phenomenal and riveting. Bullock did an outstanding work in the film and it was a stunning and emotionally layered performance that shows once again why she is one of Hollywood’s most respected and popular actresses. Bullock spent six months in physical training to prepare for shooting while reviewing the script with Cuarón in meticulous detail. Cuarón said, "More than anything else, we were just talking about the thematic element of the film, the possibility of rebirth after adversity." They worked out how she would perform each scene, and her notes were included the pre-vis animation and programming for the robots. Their conversations covered every detail of the script and Bullock's character. "She was involved so closely in every single decision throughout the whole thing," Cuarón said. "And it was a good thing, because once we started prepping for the shoot, it was almost more like a dance routine, where it was one-two-three left, left, four-five-six then on the right. She was amazing about the blocking and the rehearsal of that. So when we were shooting, everything was just about truthfulness and emotion." James Cameron, best friend of Cuarón and a huge fan of the film, said Bullock's work is more impressive than the technology that supported it. "She's the one that had to take on this unbelievable challenge to perform it. (It was) probably no less demanding than a Cirque du Soleil performer, from what I can see." And of the result, he said, "There's an art to that, to creating moments that seem spontaneous but are very highly rehearsed and choreographed. Not too many people can do it. ... I think it's really important for people in Hollywood to understand what was accomplished here."

Gravity is arguably one of the most dramatic and horrendous spaceflight stories ever told. Cuarón lays off the manipulation to tell the hyper-real story of a shuttle mission going wrong in painstaking and lively detail. It’s absolutely thrilling the way that it unfolds with perfect immediacy, drawing viewers into the nail-biting suspense of a spellbinding story. To conclude, it’s a powerful story, one of the year's best films, told with great clarity and remarkable technical detail, and superbly acted with raw emotion and realism. It's easily Cuarón's best film.

Simon says Gravity receives:

Tuesday, 1 October 2013

Film Review: "Turbo" (2013).

Turbo is "wired for speed." This computer-animated sports comedy film directed by David Soren, written by Soren, Robert Siegel and Darren Lemke, and produced by DreamWorks Animation. After a freak accident infuses him with the power of super-speed, Turbo kicks into overdrive and embarks on an extraordinary journey to achieve the seemingly impossible: competing in the world's fastest race, the Indianapolis 500. With the help of his tricked-out streetwise snail crew, this ultimate underdog puts his heart and shell on the line to prove that no dream is too big, and no dreamer too small.

The origins of the film lie in a competition DreamWorks Animation organized for all employees to pitch a one-page idea. The night before, Soren conceptualized Fast & Furious with snails, and won the competition. The studio bought the idea, and let it "simmer" for more than five years. When Soren and his family moved into a new home with a backyard infested with snails, he pushed for the idea and "got it back on the fast track." For the racing side of the film, Soren was inspired by his six-year-old son's fascination with race cars. DreamWorks Animation partnered with Hulman & Company, parent company of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and Indy Racing League, LLC (the organisation that sanctions the IZOD IndyCar Series) to make the racing as authentic as possible. Dario Franchitti, four-time IZOD IndyCar Series champion, was a technical consultant on the film, giving advice how Turbo should navigate the speed and competition through the eyes of a snail. An IndyCar was parked inside the DreamWorks studio during production, to provide artists immediate access to the race cars featured in the film.

The film stars the voice talents of Ryan Reynolds, Paul Giamatti, Michael Peña, Snoop Dogg, Maya Rudolph, Michelle Rodriguez, Samuel L. Jackson, Luis Guzmán, Bill Hader, Richard Jenkins, Ken Jeong, Ben Schwartz, and Kurtwood Smith. The voices are great, a handful of puns are funny and the last half-hour is the DreamWorks movie we've expected to see. But that stalling sound in the opening of the film is DreamWorks' first-ever sputtering-out of imagination and immersion. Reynold's infectious good-natured energy permeates DreamWorks' light-hearted animated movie about Theo, a garden snail who dreams of becoming a racer and the next Indianapolis 500 champion and obtains superspeed during a car race.

Fueled with plenty of humor, action, heartfelt drama, and amazing new technical feats, Turbo is a high octane delight for moviegoers of all ages. Unlike other DreamWorks releases, the film does not cross over to adults as well as Madagascar or How to Train Your Dragon. But kids will love it, and isn't that what this type of animation is all about? Although the plot coasts along a predictable path, the verbal jokes and sight gags rev things up along the way, making the film enjoyable almost from start to finish. It is not DreamWorks at its very best but it's immaculately drawn, full of surprises and beautifully voiced. It also moves at an astonishing speed.

Simon says Turbo receives:

Also, see my review for The Croods.