Tuesday, 26 November 2013

Film Review: "The Hunger Games: Catching Fire" (2013).

"Now, Katniss, you have been our mission from the beginning. The plan was always to get you out. Half the tributes were in on it. This is the revolution, and you are the mockingjay.” Which is what The Hunger Games: Catching Fire has in store for us. This science fiction adventure film based on Suzanne Collins's novel, Catching Fire, the second installment in The Hunger Games trilogy. The film is the sequel to The Hunger Games (2012). The film was directed by Francis Lawrence, and was adapted by Simon Beaufoy and Michael Arndt (credited as Michael deBruyn). The film continues the story of Katniss Everdeen and Peeta Mellark from the post-apocalyptic nation of Panem, who become targets of the Capitol after their victory in the 74th Hunger Games sparks a rebellion in the Districts of Panem. And they are forced to return to the arena in a special edition of the Hunger Games.

Months prior to the first film's release, Lionsgate greenlit the second film and Gary Ross, director of the first film, was expected to return as director. However, on April 10, 2012, he announced his departure from the project due to the tight and fixed production and on May 3, Francis Lawrence (I am Legend (2007)) was hired as the film's director. Throughout July and September 2012, the film's supporting cast was filled out, with Philip Seymour Hoffman, Jeffrey Wright, Sam Claflin, Lynn Cohen, Jena Malone, Amanda Plummer, Alan Ritchson, and Meta Golding brought in to portray key roles. Filming began September 10, 2012 in and around metropolitan Atlanta, Georgia before moving to Hawaii.

Jennifer Lawrence returns as Katniss Everdeen along with Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Woody Harrelson, Elizabeth Banks, Lenny Kravitz, Stanley Tucci, Donald Sutherland and Toby Jones also reprising their roles. With Philip Seymour Hoffman as Plutarch Heavensbee, Jeffrey Wright as Beetee Latier, Sam Claflin as Finnick Odair, Lynn Cohen as Mags, Jena Malone as Johanna Mason, Amanda Plummer as Wiress, Alan Ritchson as Enobaria, and Meta Golding as Enobaria. The performances in this film were all magnificent. Especially to Lawrence who commits to Katniss just as much as she would a complex David O. Russell character. She was both on fire and in the process of becoming, and it’s magnificent to watch. Katniss is a character worth a handful of sequels. And Lawrence lights up the screen. You'll follow her anywhere. The same applies to the performances of Hutcherson, Hemsworth, Harrelson, Banks, Kravitz, Tucci, Sutherland, Jones, Hoffman, Wright, Claflin, Cohen, Malone, Plummer, Ritchson and Golding. Not only that, they were also visually intriguing.

Dark, thrilling, and occasionally quite funny, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire is also visually stunning and emotionally satisfying. The film is a tour-de-force that combines style and substance, special effects and heart and most importantly great performances from all of the actors young and not-so-young. To conclude, not only is the film masterful and emotional, it is a worthy addition in the series.

Simon says The Hunger Games: Catching Fire receives:

Also, see review for The Hunger Games.

Tuesday, 19 November 2013

Film Review: "Ain't Them Bodies Saints" (2013).

"A film by David Lowery" comes Ain't Them Bodies Saints. This romantic crime drama film written and directed by Lowery. A man takes the fall for his lover's crime, then four years later breaks out of prison to find her and their young daughter, who was born during his incarceration.

In 2009, Lowery. began writing the film while on the festival circuit promoting his film St. Nick (2009). At the time he was only able to think of a concept of a man breaking out of prison. What attracted him to the story was the thought of writing an action movie after having done a very quiet movie like St. Nick. However, he could not think of a compelling way to tell the story based on the concept so he left it. In 2011, Lowery revisited the concept where he added more ideas to his original concept. His initial draft took six months to write, and he had planned to shoot the film immediately after writing. However, production was delayed since Lowery and his production partners submitted the script to the Sundance Institute Producing Lab, in early summer 2011. The institute encouraged Lowery to submit the script to their screenwriters lab. In December 2011, It was revealed that Sundance had selected a screenplay by Lowery as one of twelve projects for its annual January Screenwriters Lab. Lowery worked with the Sundance Lab Artistic Director Scott Frank and his associates to develop the script. Lowery wanted to capture the feeling of the actions and write a script based on that in the vein of 1960s and 1970s movies and folk songs. Working on this concept, he thought about American folk mythology dealing with outlaws, developing into an outlaw who broke out of prison, then set in place the reason for the breakout being his wife and living in Texas he decided the setting would be Texas. After the initial script had been written, Lowery and his producers had a start date for the production. But they were advised by producers such as Jay Van Hoy, Lars Knudsen and Amy Kaufman to aim for a bigger production. In April 2012, Lowery officially announced the film. By early July 2012, Rooney Mara, Casey Affleck, Ben Foster, Keith Carradine, Nate Parker and Charles Baker were cast. At the same time, principal photography commenced and wrapped in mid August. Filming took place Meridian and Austin, Texas, and was shot on 35mm film using the ARRICAM LT and Panavision XL cameras.

The film stars Mara, Affleck, Foster, Carradine, Parker and Baker. The superb performances from Affleck and Mara are as memorable as Lowery's vision of something akin to hell.

The film is admirable visually, verbally, psychologically. It took guts for a neophyte film maker still in his twenties to fire two cinematographers before a third gave him what he wanted; yet the result is seamlessly impeccable. The film is an arena for apathy, both in regard to the characters' depictions and their subjective emotions.

Simon says Ain't Them Bodies Saints receives:

Sunday, 17 November 2013

"Bust Rape Culture Now!" Protest

This is dedicated to all the countries in the world who are suffering from the unspeakable and unbearable act of sexual violence, and who uphold gender equality and women's rights.

Thursday, 14 November 2013

Film Review: "The Counselor" (2013).

Lines such as "I suspect that we are ill-formed for the path we have chosen. Ill-formed and ill-prepared. We would like to draw a veil over all the blood and terror that have brought us to this place. It is our faintness of heart that would close our eyes to all of that, but in so doing it makes of it our destiny... But nothing is crueler than a coward, and the slaughter to come is probably beyond our imagining.” Describe perfectly the new Ridley Scott/Cormac McCarthy film, The Counselor. This American thriller film directed by Ridley Scott, from the first original film screenplay by Cormac McCarthy. The plot revolves around a lawyer finds himself in over his head when he gets involved in drug trafficking.

On January 18, 2012, it was reported that novelist Cormac McCarthy had sold his first spec script, The Counselor, to Nick Wechsler, Paula Mae Schwartz, and Steve Schwartz, who had previously produced the film adaptation of McCarthy's novel The Road. On January 31, it was reported that The Counselor would be Ridley Scott’s next film after Prometheus (2012). On February 9, it was confirmed that Scott would direct. Principal photography began on July 27, 2012 in London. As well as in Spain and the United States. However, on August 20, 2012, Scott halted production due to his brother Tony Scott's death. He canceled that week's shoot in order to travel to Los Angeles to be with his brother's family. Scott returned to London to resume production on September 3.

The film stars Michael Fassbender, Penélope Cruz, Cameron Diaz, Javier Bardem and Brad Pitt. Fassbender gave a brilliantly emotional performance as the title character. He epitomizes the film's thematic idea of greed and its eventual slow downward spiral. Cruz gave a fantastic performance as the counselor's fiancé, Laura. Even though I felt Cruz gave a fantastic performance, I felt that an actual American actress such as Natalie Portman (who was originally cast but dropped out) would have been more suitable. Since the character of Laura is American. I also felt that her chemistry with Fassbender was not strong and believable. Diaz gave a terrific and cold performance as Malkina, a malicious woman who lacks moral empathy. However, like Cruz's casting, I felt that the casting of Diaz was not right as well. I would have gone with someone who was actually either from Barbados (which was where she came from in the film) or Buenos Aires, Argentina (which was suggested in the original screenplay). Bardem gave a brilliant performance as Reiner, a charismatic entrepreneur by day and an underground drug kingpin by night. Lastly, Pitt gave an incredible performance as Westray, a womanizing, charismatic middleman and a friend of Reiner's who meets with the Counselor to develop the deal.

Its plot is sometimes hard to swallow, but some fine acting and director Ridley Scott's stylish visual flair makes The Counselor an engaging crime thriller. However, there's nothing in this film that we haven't seen in many other movies.

Simon says The Counselor receives:

Also, see my review for Prometheus.

Tuesday, 12 November 2013

Film Review: "The Fifth Estate" (2013).

"You can't expose the world's secrets without exposing yourself." This is The Fifth Estate. This biographical thriller film directed by Bill Condon, written by Josh Singer, and based in-part on Domscheit-Berg's book Inside WikiLeaks: My Time with Julian Assange at the World's Most Dangerous Website (2011), and WikiLeaks: Inside Julian Assange's War on Secrecy (2011) by David Leigh and Luke Harding. The story begins as WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange and his colleague Daniel Domscheit-Berg team up to become underground watchdogs of the privileged and powerful. On a shoestring, they create a platform that allows whistle-blowers to anonymously leak covert data, shining a light on the dark recesses of government secrets and corporate crimes. Soon, they are breaking more hard news than the world's most legendary media organizations combined. But when Assange and Berg gain access to the biggest trove of confidential intelligence documents in U.S. history, they battle each other and a defining question of our time: what are the costs of keeping secrets in a free society-and what are the costs of exposing them?

In March 2011, it was reported that DreamWorks Studios had acquired the rights of Domscheit-Berg's book, as well as Leigh and Harding's book. In July 2012, reports surfaced that Singer were hired to pen the script, and Jeremy Renner was in talks of playing Julian Assange. Later that year, Deadline Hollywood broke the news that Renner was out of the running and the studio was seeking Benedict Cumberbatch instead. Assange emailed Cumberbatch to ask him to not to participate in the film. However, in October, it was confirmed that Cumberbatch would star, with Condon to direct, and James McAvoy in talks to play Domscheit-Berg. However, Daniel Brühl was eventually cast. In December 2012, the film's title was reported as The Man Who Sold the World, but with the official press release, it was confirmed that the film's title was actually The Fifth Estate. By mid January 2013, Anthony Mackie, David Thewlis, Alicia Vikander, Stanley Tucci, Laura Linney, Carice van Houten, Peter Capaldi, and Dan Stevens rounded out the film's cast. At the same time, principal photography commenced, and wrapped in late March. Filming took place throughout Brussels, Belgium; and Berlin, Germany. During filming, Cumberbatch had to wear three different wigs, false teeth and blue contact lenses, in order to reflect Julian Assange's physical characteristics.

The film stars Cumberbatch, Brühl, Mackie, Thewlis, Vikander, Tucci, Linney, van Houten, Capaldi, and Stevens. Yet although the cast's presence helps to keep us invested in the story, you'll be left wondering how this dull, overlong film might have turned out in the hands of a less bombastic filmmaker. Cumberbatch, as Assange, and Brühl, as Domscheit-Berg, are decent enough, but there's a smug, self-righteous air to proceedings that makes it hard to warm to.

The Fifth Estate is a plodding, pedantic exercise in how not to approach culturally compelling material, featuring one of the most laughable lead performances in an alleged prestige picture. The film is a missed opportunity, a subject that might have been better in the hands of a different director.

Simon says The Fifth Estate receives:

Film Review: "The Butler" (2013).

"I'm Cecil Gaines. I'm the new butler.” Which is what this unlikely movie called The Butler brings to the screen. This American historical fiction drama film directed by Lee Daniels, written by Danny Strong. The film tells the life of Cecil Gaines, an African-American who eye witnessed notable events of the 20th century including the civil rights movement, the Vietnam war, and other major events that affected this man's life, family, and American society. And served eight presidents during his 34-year tenure serving as a White House butler.

The film is loosely inspired by the real-life figure, Eugene Allen (July 14, 1919 – March 31, 2010) who worked for the White House for 34 years until he retired as the head butler in 1986. Allen was born in Scottsville, Virginia, and died at the Washington Adventist Hospital in Takoma Park, Montgomery County, Maryland; his death was caused by renal failure. He started in the White House in 1952 as a "pantry man" and over the years rose in his position until finally attaining the most prestigious rank of butlers serving in the White House, Maître d'hôtel. Allen had been married to his wife, Helene, for 65 years. Helene died on Nov 3, 2008. The couple had one son, Charles Allen.

The film features an ensemble cast; Forest Whitaker as Cecil Gaines, loosely based on the real-life figure, Oprah Winfrey, David Oyelowo, Terrence Howard, Alex Pettyfer, Vanessa Redgrave, Clarence Williams III, Cuba Gooding, Jr., Lenny Kravitz. Robin Williams as Dwight D. Eisenhower, the 34th President of the United States, James Marsden as John F. Kennedy, the 35th President, Liev Schreiber as Lyndon B. Johnson, the 36th President, John Cusack as Richard Nixon, the 37th President, Alan Rickman as Ronald Reagan, the 40th President, and Jane Fonda as First Lady Nancy Reagan. The cast in this film all gave their best performances in their careers. Whitaker gave his best performance of his career since his Oscar-winning role of Ugandan dictator Idi Amin in The Last King of Scotland (2006). His reflective, powerfully understated performance fills this flawed film with potency and purpose. Winfrey gave her best performance since her role in Steven Spielberg's The Color Purple (1985). Redgrave gave her finest performance playing Gaines' cotton farm owner who is genuinely the first character in the film who shows Gaines kindness, unlike Pettyfer's character who showed nothing but hatred and violence. Williams gave a fine performance since Ridley Scott's American Gangster (2007). Gooding, Jr. gave his finest performance since Jerry Maguire (1996). Williams gave his best dramatic role since Christopher Nolan's Insomnia (2002), and One Hour Photo (2002). Lastly, Marsden gave the best performance of his career and was convincing as the 35th president of the United States.

Daniels and company have performed a powerful service with The Butler: they have brought Eugene Allen’s life and story to the big screen, both as man and legend. An ambitious, tough, seriously considered biographical film that, with honor, eludes easy characterization. The perfect combination of epic and personal, intimate and spectacular.

Simon says The Butler receives:

Tuesday, 5 November 2013

Film Review: "Ginger & Rosa" (2012).

"Friendship pulled them together. Love tore them apart." This is Ginger & Rosa. This drama film written and directed by Sally Potter. London, 1962. Two teenage girls - Ginger and Rosa -- are inseparable; they play truant together, discuss religion, politics and hairstyles, and dream of lives bigger than their mothers' frustrated domesticity. But, as the Cold War meets the sexual revolution, and the threat of nuclear holocaust escalates, the lifelong friendship of the two girls is shattered - by the clash of desire and the determination to survive.

By early March 2012, Elle Fanning, Alice Englert, Alessandro Nivola, Christina Hendricks, Jodhi May, Timothy Spall, Oliver Platt, and Annette Bening were cast. At the same time, principal photography commenced, and wrapped in early April. Filming took place in Kent, England.

The film stars Fanning, Englert, Nivola, Hendricks, May, Spall, Platt, and Bening.The film is a heartbreaking drama thanks to the beautifully performances given by the cast, especially Fanning and Englert. The film would be unimaginable without Fanning and Englert in the lead roles. Their innocence makes every scene feel emotionally devastating, and their charismatic characters are touched with grace, gravity and a nimble humor. The actors are so committed to Potter's vision, they persuade you to go along with them.

Potter possesses a natural gracefulness in presentation that helps a little but, finally, not nearly enough. Ginger & Rosa is vague when she means it to be mysterious, coy when it ought to be witty, familiar when it should be bold. Credit where credit is due: Potter more or less successfully converted a crazy, overflowing tome into something simple and attractive. The film's wit and layered sense of history seem richer than ever. The film takes a droll approach to subject matter usually attended by the utmost solemnity. A daring, daunting, playful work of some considerable intellectual force that just misses greatness owing to a lack of emotional weight. At times breathtaking, at times frustrating, the film is an always intriguing fiction that examines life, literature, social mores and sexual difference over the period of the last four centuries in England. Continues Potter's exploration of the sexual politics involved in creative expression. Potter is great at conveying female anxiety and documenting women's complex lives. Has its moments of curious pronouncements about the world that have the ring of poetical truths. Potter's exploration of modern friendship fractured by social differences can be absorbing even if it feels at times like an intellectual exercise. This soapy drama has its share of problems, but Potter's quiet, drifting tone and a batch of excellent performances allow for certain potent moments of thought and emotion. The film itself is far from perfect, but a thoughtfully touching father-daughter relationship between Bardem and Fanning helps steer it in the right direction. Through it all, there's a potent portrayal of the bond between a parent and a child, and how it can never be taken for granted.

Simon says Ginger & Rosa receives:

Film Review: "Insidious: Chapter 2" (2013).

"It will take what you love most." This is Insidious: Chapter 2. This supernatural horror film directed by James Wan, and Leigh Whannell. It is a sequel to 2010’s Insidious. The film follows the haunted Lambert family as they seek to uncover the mysterious childhood secret that has left them dangerously connected to the spirit world. They must rely on familiar allies to exile the demons that follow them and unearth the secret before the evil continues its deadly rampage.

After the financial success of Insidious, discussions for a sequel soon followed. With producer Jason Blum insisted that Wan and Whannell return to direct and pen the sequel. In early February 2012, it was announced that Wan and Whannell were in talks to return for the sequel. In October 2012, while promoting The Conjuring (2013) at New York Comic Con, Wan described how he and Whannell were working closely on developing the story and the script for the follow up to Insidious. By late January 2013, it was announced that Patrick Wilson, Rose Byrne, Ty Simpkins, Lin Shaye, Barbara Hershey, Angus Sampson, and Whannell returned to reprise their roles. At the same time, with a budget of $5 million, principal photography commenced, and wrapped in early March. Filming took place throughout Los Angeles, California.

The film stars Wilson, Byrne, Simpkins, Shaye, Hershey, Sampson, and Whannell. The cast once again played the hell out of their characters, and gave committed performances. You always get the sense that the Lamberts are being targeted by something that is truly out of their control, and that's the biggest scare of all.

Insidious: Chapter 2 can't help but lose a bit of its predecessor's chilly sting through familiarity, but what remains is still a superior ghost story told with spine-tingling skill. Three years after its predecessor rattled the multiplex with old-school horror, director James Wan ups the ante with a solid sequel. However, on one level, the sequel is just a not-bad megaplex funhouse movie, no more and no less, but on another level it offers its potential fans a helping of reassurance to go along with the fear. If there are ghost demons out there, then God must be out there as well. Audiences, it was long ago proven, will pay to see both. There are some solid scares, Wan is too gifted in the dark art of gotcha manipulation to not make you leap a few times, but there's nothing on par with the first film's brilliant jump scare with Barbara Hershey. Frightening rarely strikes twice in the same place, despite the efforts of so many horror sequels, but even if the sequel doesn't deliver the delightful jolts of its predecessor, it maintains a consistent chill throughout, with a slow and steady dread that creeps up on you over time. If you're a general wide-audience for horror movies, you should see this one over almost any other release. This should set a standard for how studio horror movies are made.

Simon says Insidious: Chapter 2 receives:

Also, see my review for The Conjuring.

Film Review: "Thor: The Dark World" (2013).

"Some believe that before the universe, there was nothing. They're wrong. There was darkness... and it has survived.” This true in this Summer’s Thor: The Dark World. This superhero film featuring the Marvel Comics character Thor, produced by Marvel Studios. It is the sequel to 2011's Thor and it is the eighth installment in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The film is directed by Alan Taylor. Faced with an enemy that even Odin and Asgard cannot withstand, Thor must embark on his most perilous and personal journey yet, one that will reunite him with Jane Foster and force him to sacrifice everything to save us all.

Development of Thor: The Dark World began in April 2011, when producer Kevin Feige announced plans for a sequel to follow the crossover film Marvel's The Avengers (2012). In July 2011, Kenneth Branagh, the director of Thor, withdrew from the project. Brian Kirk and Patty Jenkins were considered to direct the film before Taylor was hired in January 2012. The supporting cast filled out in August 2012, with the hiring of Eccleston, Dennings and Akinnuoye-Agbaje. Principal photography began in September 2012 in Surrey, England with filming continuing in Iceland and London, before wrapping up in December 2012.

The film features Chris Hemsworth, Natalie Portman, Tom Hiddleston, Stellan Skarsgård, Idris Elba, Kat Dennings, Ray Stevenson, Tadanobu Asano, Jaimie Alexander, Rene Russo and Anthony Hopkins reprising their roles from the first, with newcomers Christopher Eccleston, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, Zachary Levi and Clive Russell joining the cast. Hemsworth gives another magnificent performance as the title character, with the additional character development and expansion that differs from his first performance from the first film. Portman gave another great performance as the brilliant scientist and love interest of Thor. Hiddlestton gave another fantastically devilish performance as the deliciously evil adopted brother of Thor. Skarsgård, this time round, gave a comical performance unlike his previous performances in the first film and The Avengers. Elba gave a more extended performance than his first performance. Personifying the voice-of-reason or counsel for Thor in his dark times. Stevenson, Asano, Alexander, Russo and Russell all gave strong performances for their roles. Hopkins gave another bold performance as the king of Asgard and father of Thor. Though I felt his role was somewhat decreased from the first film. Lastly, Eccleston gave a cold and brooding performance as Malekith: The ruler of the Dark Elves of Svartalfheim.

It isn't quite the breath of fresh air that Thor was, but Thor: The Dark World comes close with solid performances and an action-packed plot. The film isn't as much fun as its predecessor, but by the time the smoke clears, it'll do. It doesn't come close to the emotional heft of that rare 2 that outclassed its one: Spider-Man 2 (2004). But the film hums along quite nicely. To conclude, It is a polished, high-octane sequel, not as good as the original but building once again on the iconic performance by Chris Hemsworth.

Simon says Thor: The Dark World receives:

Also, see my review for Iron Man 3.