Tuesday, 25 February 2014

Film Review: "All Is Lost" (2013).

"Never Give Up." This is All Is Lost. This survival drama film written and directed by J. C. Chandor. Deep into a solo voyage in the Indian Ocean, an unnamed man (Redford) wakes to find his 39-foot yacht taking on water after a collision with a shipping container left floating on the high seas. With his navigation equipment and radio disabled, the man sails unknowingly into the path of a violent storm. Despite his success in patching the breached hull, his mariner's intuition and a strength that belies his age, the man barely survives the tempest. Using only a sextant and nautical maps to chart his progress, he is forced to rely on ocean currents to carry him into a shipping lane in hopes of hailing a passing vessel. But with the sun unrelenting, sharks circling and his meager supplies dwindling, the ever-resourceful sailor soon finds himself staring his mortality in the face.

During his time commuting from Providence, Rhode Island to New York City, Chandor developed the idea for the film. In late January 2011, at the 2011 Sundance Film Festival where Margin Call premiered, Chandor asked Robert Redford to be in the film, and Redford accepted. In early February 2012, it was confirmed that Redford was cast as its only cast member. In addition, Redford also stated that the film has no dialogue, although there are a few spoken lines. For these reasons, the shooting script was only thirty-one pages long. In early June, principal photography commenced, and took place in Nassau, New Providence Island, Bahamas, and at Fox Baja Studios in Rosarito, Baja California Norte, Mexico. Baja Studios was originally built for the 1997 film Titanic. Chandor would later remark that completing the film was "essentially a jigsaw puzzle" and that the crew spent less time on the actual ocean than the film would have viewers believe. For Redford the most grueling aspect of the shoot was not the stunts, most of which he insisted on performing himself, but the dismal daily routine of being perpetually waterlogged throughout the production. During the filming Redford was so repeatedly soaked by a huge water hose, he suffered an infection in his left ear that ultimately cost him sixty percent of his hearing. In November, Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros' frontman Alex Ebert was hired to compose the film's score.

The film stars Redford. Though Redford comes across as blandly as ever, at least his solid performance shows he's up to carrying half a movie on his own thanks to Chandor's direction is at first as busily efficient as the protagonist. Redford conducts a master class in acting by showing a man never losing his sense of himself in fractional gradations. For much of the time, Redford is on screen by himself, his only facial and body language is addressed to the audience. A lesser performer would have made it a confusing ordeal.

Flawed but fascinating, All Is Lost offers a solid script, some of Chandor's most mature directing, and a showcase performance from Redford.

Simon says All Is Lost receives:

Also, see my review for Margin Call.

Film Review: "Inside Llewyn Davis" (2013).

From Academy Award winning filmmakers, Joel and Ethan Coen comes Inside Llewyn Davis. This musical comedy-drama film written, directed, produced, and edited by the Coen Brothers. The film follows a week in the life of a young folk singer as he navigates the Greenwich Village folk scene of 1961. Guitar in tow, huddled against the unforgiving New York winter, he is struggling to make it as a musician against seemingly insurmountable obstacles—some of them of his own making.

Set in 1961, the film was inspired by the cultural disconnection within a New York–based music scene, where the songs seemed to come from all parts of the United States except New York, but whose performers included Brooklyn-born Dave Van Ronk and Ramblin' Jack Elliott. Well before writing the script, the Coens began with a single idea, of Van Ronk being beaten up outside of Gerde's Folk City in the Village. The filmmakers employed the image in the opening scenes, then periodically returned to the project over the next couple of years to expand the story using a fictional character. One source for the film was Van Ronk's posthumously published (2005) memoir, The Mayor of MacDougal Street. According to the book's co-author, Elijah Wald, the Coens mined the work "for local color and a few scenes". The character is a composite of Van Ronk, Elliot, and other performers from the New York boroughs who performed in the Village at that time. Van Ronk's music served as a starting point for the Coens as they wrote the script, and many of the songs first designated for the film were those he had recorded. By mid February 2012, Oscar Isaac, Carey Mulligan, John Goodman, Justin Timberlake, Adam Driver, F. Murray Abraham, and Garrett Hedlund were cast. Casey Affleck, Scott Avett, Michael Fassbender, Ryan Reynolds and Conor Oberst auditioned for the role of Llewyn Davis. At the same time, principal photography commenced, and wrapped in late April. Filming took place throughout New York and Minnesota. Shooting was complicated by an early New York spring, which interfered with the bleak winter atmosphere that prevails throughout the film, and by the difficulty of filming several cats, who, unlike dogs, ignore the desires of filmmakers. Isaac, Timberlake, Mulligan, Driver and others performed the music live.

The film stars Isaac, Mulligan, Goodman, Timberlake, Driver, Murray Abraham, and Hedlund. The performances gave the film its tongue-in-cheek humor effortlessly, and added poignancy to the drama and the period musical pieces throughout.

Though not as good as Coen brothers' classics such as Blood Simple, Raising Arizona, Fargo, The Big Lebowski, O Brother, Where Art Thou?, and No Country for Old Men, the delightfully loopy Inside Llewyn Davis is still a lot of fun. Great dialogue, superb 'Scope camerawork from Bruno Delbonnel, and a genuinely wondrous deus ex machina are among the delights. After making what are still probably their two best features, the Coen brothers came up with one of their best, a piece of indie entertainment.

Simon says Inside Llewyn Davis receives:

Tuesday, 18 February 2014

Film Review: "Labor Day" (2013).

From the director of Up in the Air, Young Adult, and Juno comes Labor Day. This drama film adapted and directed by Jason Reitman, and based on the 2009 novel of the same name by Joyce Maynard. The film centres on Adele and Henry, a mother and son duo, who help a wounded, frightening man by offering him a ride. Eventually, they learn about his dangerous past and hatch plans to escape from him.

In September 2009, it was announced that Reitman was working on a screenplay, based on Joyce Maynard's novel. Reitman had Kate Winslet and Josh Brolin in mind for the lead roles. Reitman wanted to make the film right after his 2009 film Up in the Air, but due to Winslet's scheduling conflicts, he chose to direct Young Adult first. Reitman and Brolin had to wait for Winslet for over a year to begin shooting. In June 2011, it was revealed that Winslet and Brolin had joined the cast of the film. By mid June 2012, Gattlin Griffith, Clark Gregg, Brooke Smith, James Van Der Beek, J. K. Simmons, Maika Monroe, Lucas Hedges, Tobey Maguire, and Dylan Minnette rounded out the film's cast. At the same, principal photography commenced, and wrapped in mid August. Filming took place throughout Massachusetts and New Hampshire. Reitman prepared his cast and crew by screening Stand by Me (1986), Running on Empty (1988), The Tree of Life (2011), The Night of the Hunter (1955) and Body Heat (1981), films he considered relevant to the film itself.

The film stars Winslet, Brolin, Griffith, Gregg, Smith, Van Der Beek, Simmons, Monroe, Hedges, Maguire, and Minnette. Brolin and Winslet owns their roles in the way first-rate film stars can, so infusing the character with their own personas that everything he does seems natural and right. The timing in their scenes is like splendid tennis.

Led by charismatic performances by its two leads, Reitman delivers a smart blend of drama and emotion with just enough edge for mainstream audiences. It's a rare and sparkling gem of a film, directed by Reitman with the polish of a master. The film makes it look easy. Not just in its casual and apparently effortless excellence, but in its ability to blend entertainment and insight, drama, reality and poignancy, things that are difficult by themselves but a whole lot harder in combination. This film does all that and never seems to break a sweat. It's tough to capture an era when it no longer exists, yet the film does so brilliantly, with humanity. Reitman emerges as a modern-day Frank Capra, capturing the nation's anxieties and culture of resilience. It touches on larger themes of family and gender dynamics, and adolescent innocence as a crutch. Though, the film is an assertively, and unapologetically, tidy package, from its use of romance to instill some drama, and the nostalgic Americana score that Mr. Reitman needlessly overuses. But ultimately, it's really an expertly done character study that's a dramatic change of pace from director Reitman's previous films. 

Simon says Labor Day receives:

Also, see my review for Young Adult.

Tuesday, 11 February 2014

Film Review: "Saving Mr. Banks" (2013).

"Winds in the east / Mist coming in / Like something is brewing / About to begin / Can't put me finger / On what lies in store / But I feel what's to happen / All happened before.” Which is what you’ll happily expect in Saving Mr. Banks. This American-Australian-British historical comedy-drama film is directed by John Lee Hancock from a screenplay written by Kelly Marcel and Sue Smith. Centered on author P.L. Travers who reflects on her childhood after reluctantly meeting with Walt Disney, who seeks to adapt her Mary Poppins books for the big screen and the development of the famous 1964 Walt Disney Studios film. Taking its title from the father in Travers' story, the film depicts the author's fortnight-long briefing in 1961 Los Angeles as she is persuaded by Disney, in his attempts to obtain the screen rights to her novels.

Essential Media Entertainment and BBC Films initially developed Saving Mr. Banks as an independent production until 2011, when producer Alison Owen approached Walt Disney Pictures for permission to use copyrighted elements. The film's subject matter piqued Disney's interest, leading the studio to acquire the screenplay and produce the film. Principal photography commenced the following year in September before wrapping in November 2012; the film was shot entirely in the Southern California area, primarily at the Walt Disney Studios in Burbank, where a majority of the film's narrative takes place.
The film stars Emma Thompson as author P. L. Travers and Tom Hanks as filmmaker Walt Disney, with supporting roles from Paul Giamatti, Jason Schwartzman, Bradley Whitford, B. J. Novak, and Colin Farrell. The performances in the film were all superbly portrayed, especially the two leads. Thompson was impeccable, She takes charge of the central role of P. L. Travers with an authority that makes you wonder how anybody else could ever have been considered. Thompson dances her way through Travers's conflicting emotions, giving us a fully rounded portrait of a person who is hard to like but impossible not to love. Thompson's the show. Each withering put-down, every jaundiced utterance, lands with a little ping. It is her best since Sense and Sensibility (1995) and she makes the Australian-born British transplant a curmudgeonly delight. Emma Thompson prepared for her role by listening to Travers's own recordings conducted during the development of Mary Poppins, and also styled her natural hair after Travers', due to the actress's disdain of wigs. Hanks's portrayal captured Walt Disney's folksy charisma and canny powers of persuasion — at once father, confessor and the shrewdest of businessmen. Hanks as Disney, despite its brevity, the film would have been largely bland without it. To accurately convey Walt Disney's Midwestern dialect, Tom Hanks listened to archival recordings of Disney in his car and practiced the voice while reading newspapers. Hanks also grew his own mustache for the role, which underwent heavy scrutiny—with the filmmakers going so far as to matching the same dimensions as Disney's.

Saving Mr. Banks is so well made, so much fun and so wonderful that it would make Mr. Disney proud. It's a serious contender for Best Picture, lead actor, lead actress, director, screenplay and music. It’s clever and witty; the making of Mary Poppins is depicted in detail without seeing a single frame of the completed movie. Ultimately, the film lives and breathes through Hanks and Thompson. It is one of the best films Disney has ever produced!

Simon says Saving Mr. Banks receives:

Film Review: "12 Years a Slave" (2013).

" I will survive! I will not fall into despair! I will keep myself hardy until freedom is opportune!” Which is what 12 Years a Slave brings brutally to the screen. This British-American epic historical drama film is an adaptation of the 1853 memoir of the same name by Solomon Northup, a New York State-born free African-American who was kidnapped in Washington, D.C. in 1841 and sold into slavery. He worked on plantations in the state of Louisiana for twelve years before his release.

After meeting screenwriter John Ridley at a Creative Artists Agency screening of Hunger in 2008, director Steve McQueen got in touch with Ridley about his interest in making a film about "the slave era in America" with "a character that was not obvious in terms of their trade in slavery." Developing the idea back and forth, the two did not strike a chord until McQueen's wife found Solomon Northup's 1853 memoir Twelve Years a Slave. After being in development for some time, between which Brad Pitt's production company Plan B Entertainment backed the project, which helped get some financing from various film studios, the film was officially announced in August 2011 with McQueen to direct and Chiwetel Ejiofor to star as Northup. By early 2012, all the roles were cast, and filming was scheduled to begin at the end of June 2012. Principal photography took place in New Orleans, Louisiana, from June 27 to August 13, 2012, on a production budget of $20 million. The locations used were four historic antebellum plantations: Felicity, Magnolia, Bocage, and Destrehan. Of the four, Magnolia is nearest to the actual plantation where Northup was held.

Chiwetel Ejiofor stars in the leading role of Northup. Michael Fassbender, Benedict Cumberbatch, Paul Dano, Paul Giamatti, Lupita Nyong'o, Sarah Paulson, Brad Pitt and Alfre Woodard featured in supporting roles. The performances in this film were all amazing portrayed despite the film's hideous and grim subject matter. Fassbender, Cumberbatch, Dano, Giamatti, Paulson, Pitt and Woodard gave amazing performances even if their roles were minor and small. But much praise goes to the two actors, Ejiofor and Nyong'o. Due to McQueen's bold direction, Ejiofor has given the finest performance of his career. It is Ejiofor's extraordinary performance that holds the movie together, and that allows us to watch it without blinking. He plays Solomon with a powerful inner strength, yet he never soft-pedals the silent nightmare that is Solomon's daily existence. Certainly a performance that is Oscar-worthy. As well as Nyong'o's, who gave the film's breakthrough performance that may find her making her way to stardom.

McQeen’s 12 Years a Slave, like Spielberg's Schindler's List (1993), is about the ways good men try to escape realistically from an evil system. This film works better as narrative because it is brutally realistic portrait of slavery, and that it is about the search for a truth that, if found, will be a huge, deep wound to the millions of existing slaves and their descendants. As a result, the movie has the emotional charge of McQeen's earlier films, which moved me, one way or another. What is most valuable about the film is the way it provides faces and names for its African characters, whom the movies so often make into faceless victims.

Simon says 12 Years a Slave receives:

Also, see my review for Shame.