Saturday, 28 December 2013

Film Review: "Frozen" (2013).

"’Now we just have to survive this blizzard.’ ‘That's no blizzard. That's my sister.’” Which is what is going down in the 53rd Disney animated film Frozen. This computer animated musical epic fantasy film, is produced by Walt Disney Animation Studios and released by Walt Disney Pictures. Loosely based on Hans Christian Andersen's fairy tale The Snow Queen, the film tells the story of a fearless and optimistic princess, Anna, who sets off on an epic journey alongside a rugged, thrill-seeking mountain man, Kristoff, and his loyal pet reindeer, and a hapless snowman, encountering Everest-like conditions to find her estranged sister, Elsa, whose icy powers have trapped the kingdom in eternal winter.

After many decades, particularly in the 1940s and 1990s, Frozen underwent many story treatments, before being commissioned in 2011. All attempts had faced the same problem - the character of the Snow Queen herself. Disney story artists and animators could find a way to make the title character relatable. Until in December, 2011, following the success of Tangled, Disney announced a new title for the film, Frozen, and a release date, November 27, 2013, and a different crew from the previous attempt in 2008. A month later, it was confirmed that the film would be a computer animated feature in stereoscopic 3D, instead of the intended hand drawn animation. It was also announced that Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee would be co-directing, with John Lasseter and Peter Del Vecho producing. After Disney decided to advance The Snow Queen into development again, one of the main challenges Buck and Del Vecho faced was the character of the Snow Queen, which in that earlier version of the story, was a villain. The production team then addressed the film's problems, drafting several different variations on the Snow Queen story until the characters and story felt relevant. Finally, the team decided to rewrite the film's protagonist, Anna (who was based on the Gerda character from The Snow Queen), as the younger sibling of Elsa, effectively establishing a family dynamic between the characters.

The film features the voices of Kristen Bell, Idina Menzel, Jonathan Groff, Josh Gad, Santino Fontana, Alan Tudyk and Ciarán Hinds. The performances in the film were, by Disney standards, the best performances given by a cast. However, it's performances that could be outmatched by other cast ensembles of past and other present animated films.

By far Disney's the most cliched film since Tangled (2010), Frozen may be visually stunning, a thoroughly entertaining addition to the studio's classic animated canon for children. However, the 53rd animated feature's look and spirit may convey a modified, updated quality but nonetheless it is not as sincere and unmistakably classic as the old Disney films of the past. The so-called "gorgeous" computer-animated look that features rich landscapes and characters doesn't look any fuller nor more lifelike than they have in the past. To conclude, the film may be one of the least impressive Disney films of all time.

Simon says Frozen receives:

Thursday, 26 December 2013

Film Review: "The Wolf of Wall Street" (2013).

“My name is Jordan Belfort. I'm a former member of the middle class raised by two accountants in a tiny apartment in Bayside, Queens. The year I turned 26, as the head of my own brokerage firm, I made $49 million, which really pissed me off because it was three shy of a million a week.” This and more is what you’re going to get when watching The Wolf of Wall Street. This biographically satirical black comedy film directed by Martin Scorsese, based on Jordan Belfort's memoir of the same name. The screenplay was written by Terence Winter. Based on the true story of Jordan Belfort, and tells his story from his rise to a wealthy New York stockbroker living the high life to his fall involving crime on Wall Street, corruption (such as stock manipulation and namely the practice of "Pump and dump” in the corporate banking world) and his refusal to cooperate with the federal government.

Jordan Belfort is an American author and motivational speaker, who was convicted of fraud crimes related to stock market manipulation and running a penny stock boiler room for which he spent 22 months in prison. Belfort was born in the Bronx. He is the son of Leah and Max Belfort, who were accountants. In the 1990s, he founded brokerage firm Stratton Oakmont which functioned as a boiler room marketing penny stocks, where he defrauded investors with fraudulent stock sales. During his years as a stock swindler, Belfort developed a hard-partying lifestyle, which included a serious drug addiction (Quaaludes). Stratton Oakmont employed over 1000 stock brokers and was involved in stock issues totaling more than $1 billion, including an equity raising for footwear company Steve Madden Ltd. The notoriety of the firm, which was targeted by law enforcement officials in the late 1990s, inspired the 2000 film Boiler Room. Belfort was indicted in 1998 for securities fraud and money laundering. After cooperating with the FBI, he served 22 months in federal prison for a pump and dump scheme, which resulted in investor losses of approximately $200 million. Belfort was ordered to pay back $110.4 million that he swindled from stock buyers. In prison he met Tommy Chong, who encouraged Belfort to write down his stories and subsequently publish them. They remained friends after their release from prison. Reportedly sober since 1998, Belfort then wrote two memoirs, The Wolf of Wall Street and Catching the Wolf of Wall Street, which have been published in approximately 40 countries and translated into 18 languages.

According to federal prosecutors, Belfort has failed to live up to the restitution requirement of his 2003 sentencing agreement. The agreement requires him to pay 50% of his income towards restitution to the 1,513 clients he defrauded. Of the $11.6 million that has been recovered by Belfort's victims, $10.4 million of the total is the result of the sale of forfeited properties. The sentencing agreement mandates a total of $110 million in restitution. In October 2013, federal prosecutors filed a complaint that Belfort, who had income of $1,767,209 from the publication of his two books and the sale of the movie rights, plus an additional $24,000 from motivational speaking since 2007, paid restitution of only $243,000 over the past four years. The government is currently not holding Belfort in default of his payments in order to keep negotiations open, but it is unclear when the full amount of the mandated restitution will be repaid. As of 2013, Belfort was residing in Manhattan Beach, CA, and was engaged. Recently, he gave a seminar at Auckland, New Zealand's Langham Hotel in 2012.

In 2007, Leonardo DiCaprio won a bidding war against Brad Pitt for the rights to Jordan Belfort's memoir The Wolf of Wall Street. During pre-production, Scorsese worked on the film's script prior to working on Shutter Island (2010). He describes having "wasted five months of [his] life" without getting a greenlight on production dates by the studio Warner Bros. In 2010, Warner Bros. had offered Ridley Scott to direct the film, with Leonardo DiCaprio playing the male lead. Warner Bros eventually dumped the project. Years down the line (after Warner Bros) financiers Red Granite gave an ultimatum for the film to have "no limits or censor of anything". In 2012, a green light was given by the independent company Red Granite Pictures. Scorsese came back on board knowing there were no limits to the content he would produce; as it stands, the movie has a hard R rating. In the film, most of the real-life characters' names originally in Belfort's memoir have been changed. Donnie Azoff is based on Danny Porush; the FBI Agent known as Patrick Denham is the stand-in for real-life Gregory Coleman; and lawyer Manny Riskin is based on Ira Lee Sorkin. Belfort's first wife, Denise Lombardo, is re-named Teresa Petrillo, while second wife Nadine Caridi became on-screen Naomi Lapaglia. In contrast, Mark Hanna's name remains the same as the LF Rothschild stockbroker who, like Belfort, was convicted of fraud and served time in prison.

The film stars Leonardo DiCaprio as Belfort, along with Jonah Hill and Matthew McConaughey, among others. DiCaprio gave his finest Scorsese role since The Departed (2007). His performance unleashed a bizarre mixture of financial genius and party, sex, alcohol and drug induced madness. From the very beginning you root for the character even though he and his associates are complete "wankers." The entire cast including Hill, McConaughey, Robbie, Chandler, Reiner, Bernthal, Favreau, Dujardin, Byrne, Choi, Lumley and Jonze gave their finest and most outrageous performances in their careers for this film.

Hard-hitting, stylish, visceral, outrageously funny and hard-edged, The Wolf of Wall Street touches a nerve in the human psyche that is still debated in newspapers across the world today. The film offers an accurate portrayal of businessmen now. It is shaping up to be the best mainstream Hollywood satirical meditation on America since Stanley Kubrick's Dr. Strangelove (1964). To conclude, the film is a satirical classic – and arguably the high point of Martin Scorsese's career since Goodfellas (1990).

Simon says The Wolf of Wall Street receives:

Also, see my review for Hugo.

Friday, 13 December 2013

Film Review: "The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug" (2013).

" Well, thief! I smell you, I hear your breath, I feel your air. Where are you? Where are you? Come now, don't be shy... step into the light.” This famous line is finally here in The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug. The epic fantasy adventure film co-written, produced and directed by Peter Jackson. It is the second installment of a three-part film series based on J. R. R. Tolkien's 1937 novel The Hobbit, beginning with An Unexpected Journey (2012) and set to conclude with The Battle of the Five Armies (2014). The three films together act as prequels to Jackson's The Lord of the Rings film series (2001, 2002 and 2003). The storyline continues in which the hobbit Bilbo Baggins travels with the wizard Gandalf and a company of thirteen dwarves led by Thorin Oakenshield into the Kingdom of Erebor, taking them through Mirkwood, Esgaroth, and Dale continuing their quest to reclaim Erebor, their homeland, and to combat with the dragon Smaug.

Ian McKellen, Martin Freeman, Richard Armitage reprise their roles of Gandalf the Grey, Bilbo Baggins, Thorin Oakenshield. As well as Graham McTavish, Ken Stott, Aidan Turner, Dean O'Gorman, Mark Hadlow, Jed Brophy, Adam Brown, John Callen, Peter Hambleton, William Kircher, James Nesbitt, Stephen Hunter and Sylvester McCoy as Dwalin, Balin, Kíli, Fíli, Dori, Nori, Ori, Óin, Glóin, Bifur, Bofur, Bombur and Radagast the Brown. The film also stars Evangeline Lilly, Lee Pace, Luke Evans, Stephen Fry and Orlando Bloom reprises his role of Legolas from the original trilogy. And lastly, Benedict Cumberbatch as Smaug, the Magnificent and the Terrible. Like the previous film, the performances in this film was still disparaging at times. Not really feeling any character development or arc like in The Lord of the Rings. The original cast repeated themselves and brought nothing new. With the addition of the romance between Kíli and Tauriel, there is not a romantic word they exchange that has not long since been reduced to cliché. But what made this film a spectacular achievement in casting and other elements was Benedict Cumberbatch as Smaug the Dragon. He pretty much stole the show with his menacing, cool, mesmerizing and Shakespearean approach to a classic character. Thus giving birth to the greatest cinematic dragon.

Containing more of what made The Lord of the Rings series fun, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug is an improvement over An Unexpected Journey. Though the script still feels stiff and flat, and the acting feels rather disparaging (except for Bilbo’s encounter with Smaug). In a time when, more often than not, sequels disappoint, it's refreshing to uncover something this high-profile that fulfils the promise of its name and adds another title to a storied legacy. As someone who admired the freshness and energy of the earlier films, I was amazed, at the end of the film, to realize that I had not seen or heard anything memorable (except for Smaug). To conclude, it is an improvement in the series, but not that much better. Let’s hope the final chapter will be better than this.

Simon says The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug receives:

Also, see my review for The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey.

Tuesday, 3 December 2013

Film Review: "Oldboy" (2013).

"Ask not why you were imprisoned. Ask why you were set free." This is the question lurking throughout Oldboy. This neo noir mystery film directed by Spike Lee, written by Mark Protosevich, based on Park Chan-wook's 2003 South Korean film of the same name. In this rendition, an advertising executive is kidnapped and held hostage for 20 years in solitary confinement. When he is inexplicably released, he embarks on an obsessive mission to discover who orchestrated his punishment, only to find he is still trapped in a web of conspiracy and torment.

In November 2008, DreamWorks and Universal were securing the rights to remake the South Korean film with Justin Lin initially attached to direct. Steven Spielberg was later announced as director, with Will Smith expressing interest to star. Mark Protosevich was in talks to write the script, although the acquisition to the remake rights were not finalized. Smith later clarified that Spielberg would not be remaking the film: he would be adapting the manga itself, which is considerably different from the film. In June 2009, the comic's publisher launched a lawsuit against Park, Hwang Jo-yoon, and Lim Joon-hyeong, the Korean film's producers, for giving the film rights to Spielberg without their permission. Later in November, it was reported that DreamWorks, Spielberg and Smith had stepped back from the project. In the same month, the producing team announced that the project was dead. In early July 2011, it was announced that Spike Lee would helm the remake with a screenplay written by Protosevich. Josh Brolin was cast to star in the remake as the lead character. Christian Bale, Colin Firth, and Clive Owen were reportedly offered the villain role before Sharlto Copley had officially been cast in May 2012. Lily Collins, Rooney Mara, and Mia Wasikowska were offered the female lead, but all declined before Elizabeth Olsen accepted. Samuel L. Jackson, Michael Imperioli, and Nate Parker were all later announced to have joined the cast. Parker was later replaced by James Ransone, due to a scheduling conflict. Principal photography began in October 2012, filming throughout New Orleans, Louisiana.

The film stars Brolin, Olsen, Copley, Jackson, and Imperioli. The cast gave less-than-stellar performances that did not add anything new to the characters and story nor elevate the material whatsoever. Brolin, Olsen, Jackson, Imperioli's performances came off as stale, and Copley gave an embarrassing performance that just came off as cartoonish.

The real mystery here is why a filmmaker as talented and unique as Spike Lee would want to devote several years of his life to recreating someone else's movie. Who would have thought that Lee had a movie as bad as Oldboy in him? For all the filmmakers' efforts, this project is something of an artistic albatross. A classic case of what happens when Hollywood takes a South Korean Neo-noir thriller and turn it into a glossy, overproduced big-budget movie that lacks distinct identity. It's an insult to the South Korean classic. It's nearly two hours I'll never get back.

Simon says Oldboy (2013) receives: