Saturday, 24 May 2014

Film Review: "X-Men: Days of Future Past" (2014).

“The future: a dark, desolate world. A world of war, suffering, loss on both sides. Mutants, and the humans who dared to help them, fighting an enemy we cannot defeat. Are we destined down this path, destined to destroy ourselves like so many species before us? Or can we evolve fast enough to change ourselves... change our fate? Is the future truly set?” Which is what X-Men: Days of Future Past is asking in this is American superhero film, based on the fictional X-Men characters appearing in Marvel Comics and on the 1981 Uncanny X-Men storyline Days of Future Past by Chris Claremont and John Byrne. Directed by Bryan Singer and distributed by 20th Century Fox, it is the seventh film in the X-Men film series and the third X-Men film directed by Singer after 2000's X-Men and 2003's X2. Days of Future Past acts as a sequel to both 2006's X-Men: The Last Stand and 2011's X-Men: First Class. In this installment, the X-Men send Wolverine to the past in a desperate effort to change history and prevent an event that results in doom for both humans and mutants.

Producer Lauren Shuler Donner stated in August 2006 that renegotiations would be required to continue the X-Men main film series. Newer cast members of X-Men: The Last Stand were signed, while the older cast members were not. Donner stated, "There is forty years worth of stories. I’ve always wanted to do Days of Future Past and there are just really a lot of stories yet to be told." She later pitched Bryan Singer on doing a fourth installment of the previously established X-Men franchise, following the completion of X-Men: First Class. In March 2011, Shuler Donner revealed that the film was in "active development at Fox," saying, "We took the treatment to Fox and they love it... And X4 leads into X5". 20th Century Fox envisioned the 2011 prequel as the first film of a new X-Men trilogy. Donner compared the franchise plans to be similar to the darker, more mature content of the Harry Potter film series. Early reports had Matthew Vaughn and Singer returning to direct and produce the sequel, respectively. While still attached to the project as a director, Vaughn stated, “First Class is similar to Batman Begins (2005), where you have the fun of introducing the characters and getting to know them, but that takes time. But with the second one, you can just get on with it and have a rollicking good time. That's the main difference between Batman Begins and The Dark Knight (2008)." Describing how the next movie could open, Vaughn stated, "I thought it would be fun to open with the Kennedy assassination, and we reveal that the magic bullet was controlled by Magneto." Singer has stated that the film could be set around the civil rights movement or the Vietnam War, and that Wolverine could once again be featured. Bryan Singer also talked about "changing history" in an interview with Empire Magazine that he doesn't want people to panic about them erasing the movies, and he believes in multiverses, explaining the possibility of certain events as they would be part of the history of alternate universes. According to Singer, the story will partially be set during the 1970s and former United States president Richard Nixon will be a character in the film. He also stated that the film will be the biggest movie that he's ever made, and he mentioned that he approached film director James Cameron to talk about time travel, string theory and multiverses.

It stars an ensemble cast including Hugh Jackman, James McAvoy, Patrick Stewart, Michael Fassbender, Ian McKellen, Jennifer Lawrence, Halle Berry, Ellen Page, Nicholas Hoult, Peter Dinklage, Shawn Ashmore, Daniel Cudmore, Evan Peters, Fan Bingbing, and Lucas Till. The performances in this film were all superbly and emotionally portrayed and it was the cast's finest performances yet. The acting was better than usual for a superhero film. Hugh Jackman gave the best performance, not only in the X-Men cinematic universe but also in his entire career. After appearing in seven X-Men films including the cameo in X-Men: First Class. McAvoy gave his most emotional performance yet. Fassbinder gave a superbly complex performance. McKellen - superb as always. Lawrence gave a kick-ass performance, more kick-ass than her role in the Hunger Games films. It was nice to see Berry, Page, Hoult, Ashmore, Cudmore and Till again, even though their roles were not that major, apart from Page's Kitty Pryde. Dinklage gave his most menacing performance, very reminiscent to his role as Tyrion Lannister from Game of Thrones. According to Dinklage, Singer picked him to play Boliver Trask because of his height: "With my dwarfism, I'm a bit of a mutant. I can't move metal or anything, but I thought of it as self-loathing. Deep down, Trask is quite sensitive about that aspect of himself." As well as being a huge fan of Game of Thrones. It's also funny to think that Singer based Boliver Trask on Adolf Hitler. He commented: "As Hitler used the Jews as a scapegoat to bond the darker parts of Europe, he's doing the same thing with mutants. But he wasn't a six foot, perfect blond Aryan - he was a short, funny looking fellow!" Peters gave a mesmerizing performance as Quicksilver. I'd imagine that every kid and/or teen in the theater watching this movie wants to be him. Finally, it was nice to see Fan Bingbing in her first international film. I hope the filmmakers bring her back in future X-Men films.

With X-Men: Days of Future Past, director Bryan Singer was able to masterfully handle so many characters in one film. It is rare for a sequel, let alone a fourth film, to be better than its predecessor. For a 14 year-old franchise, the film still carries emotional themes that are still present in the world today. In addition, the acting was better than usual for a superhero film. Especially Jackman’s, who heavily improved his performance since the last one. The film is a summer firecracker. It’s also a tribute to outcasts, teens, gays, minorities and even Dixie Chicks. However, the film’s story did not exactly live up to its potential. However, the film’s ending was perfect for future installments.

Simon says X-Men: Days of Future Past receives:

Also, see my reviews for Jack the Giant Slayer and The Wolverine.

Saturday, 17 May 2014

Film Review: "Godzilla" (2014).

"You have no idea what's coming!” Which is exactly what this rendition of Godzilla brings to the big screen in this 2014 American science fiction monster film featuring the Japanese film monster in a reboot of the Godzilla film franchise. The film is directed by Gareth Edwards. In the film, the world's most famous monster Godzilla, an ancient creature, is a "terrifying force of nature", depicted in a style faithful to the Toho series of Godzilla films. Who is also pitted against malevolent creatures who, bolstered by humanity's scientific arrogance, threaten our very existence.

The film stars Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Ken Watanabe, Elizabeth Olsen, Juliette Binoche, Sally Hawkins, David Strathairn, and Bryan Cranston. The performances in the film were all brilliantly performed and were a vast improvement from that atrocious and one-dimensional 1998 incarnation. Edwards has taken the Spielbergian approach towards the human characters and drama. They were just as believable and grounded like the characters in Jaws (1975) and Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977). But the real credit goes to the title character and his monstrous adversaries.

Finally as for the king of the monsters himself, in interviews at the 2013 Comic-Con, Edwards discussed the Godzilla creature design. He and the design group reviewed all previous incarnations of Godzilla's design for inspiration. He went on to say that his Godzilla remains true to the original in all aspects. In a January 2014 interview in Total Film magazine, it was revealed that Godzilla will be 350 feet (110 meters) tall, the tallest incarnation of Godzilla to date. Motion capture by the special effects firm The Imaginarium was also utilized in the movement of the movie's monsters in film sequences. Andy Serkis (The Lord of the Rings trilogy, The Hobbit trilogy and the rebooted Planet of the Apes films) provided consulting work on the film's motion capture sequences in order to "control the souls" of the creatures. The Godzilla "roar" was revamped for the movie. Toho provided the original recording of the roar for use. Sound designer Erik Aadahl then utilized the original roar and improved on it. He upgraded the roar into a more organic, contemporary sound. The sound designers used a 12-foot-high, 18-foot-wide speaker array to blast Godzilla's roar at a hundred thousand watts, to get a good idea of his vocal power and strength, according to director Edwards.

Godzilla is a sensationally effective action picture because it's populated with characters that have been developed into human beings. Godzilla is absolutely magnificent on screen! It is one of the most exhilarating adventure entertainments of the highest order, with remarkable acting and extraordinary technical achievements. However, I would have liked to see more Godzilla action, and to have him appear earlier in the film. In addition, the screenplay itself is very Spielbergian in its storytelling, guided not just by Jaws and Jurassic Park but by Close Encounters of the Third Kind as well. If anything, when the film introduces a plot-thread about absent fathers, the Spielberg-homaging start to feel a touch schematic. But for the most part, the film is a gripping monster movie that works beautifully in every department.

Simon says Godzilla receives:

Sunday, 11 May 2014

Film Review: "Chef" (2014).

“I may not do everything great in my life, but I'm good at this. I manage to touch people's lives with what I do and I want to share this with you.” Which is what Chef serves for you. This American comedy film is directed, co-produced, written by, and starring Jon Favreau. When a Miami-born workaholic chef Carl Casper is fired from the restaurant job in Los Angeles whose kitchen he manages, he returns to Miami and ends up fixing up a food truck he names 'El Jefe Cubanos.' He plans to drive across the country to reclaim his creative promise and success in LA, while piecing back together his estranged family.

The film co-stars Robert Downey, Jr., Scarlett Johansson, SofĂ­a Vergara, Dustin Hoffman, and John Leguizamo. The performances in this film were all deliciously enjoyable and so individually flavored just like the meals presented in this film. Favreau's performance is so audacious that you have to fall in love with his unlikely hero. Downey, Jr. gave a fine and, typically and lovingly, whacky performance even though he only a minor role for his third collaboration with Favreau. Johansson, as well, gave a fine performance though having a minor role. Vergara gave a fantastic and 'spicy' performance. Hoffman gave his finest performance since Barney's Version (2010). Finally, Leguizamo gave the most hilarious and his finest performance yet.

Director Jon Favreau succeeds again with Chef, a stunningly crafted film with fast pacing, memorable characters, and overall good humor. A nearly flawless piece of popular art, as well as one of the most persuasive portraits of an artist ever committed to film. What makes this film such a hilarious and heartfelt wonder is the way Favreau contrives to let it sneak up on you. And get a load of those visuals, a perfect compliment to a delicious meal. For parents looking to spend time in a theater with their kids or adults who want something lighter and less testosterone-oriented than the usual summer fare, this film offers a savory main course. Favreau has taken the raw ingredients of an adult-comedy-oriented matinee and whipped them into a heady brew about nothing less than the principles of artistic creation. It's not just the culinary cuisines that are vibrant. It's also the well-rounded characters as well. I defy you to name another film so overflowing with superfluous beauty. To conclude, the film is free of the kind of gratuitous pop-culture references that plague so many movies of the genre; it tells a story, it's very much of our world but it never goes for the cheap, easy gag. Master chef, Favreau, has blended all the right ingredients -- abundant verbal and visual wit, genius slapstick timing, a soupcon of Gallic sophistication -- to produce a warm and irresistible concoction. Like the all the various cuisines that plays a key part in the film, it is a delectable blend of ingredients that tickles the palette and leaves you hungry for more. Thank you, Mr. Favreau.

Simon says Chef receives:

Tuesday, 6 May 2014

Film Review: "Transcendence" (2014).

"What if a new intelligence was born?"
Which is what Transcendence attempts to ask. This science fiction film directed by cinematographer Wally Pfister in his directorial debut, and written by Jack Paglen. Dr. Will Caster is the foremost researcher in the field of Artificial Intelligence, working to create a sentient machine that combines the collective intelligence of everything ever known with the full range of human emotions. His highly controversial experiments have made him famous, but they have also made him the prime target of anti-technology extremists who will do whatever it takes to stop him. However, in their attempt to destroy Will, they inadvertently become the catalyst for him to succeed-to be a participant in his own transcendence. For his wife Evelyn and best friend Max Waters, both fellow researchers, the question is not if they can...but if they should. Their worst fears are realized as Will's thirst for knowledge evolves into a seemingly omnipresent quest for power, to what end is unknown. The only thing that is becoming terrifyingly clear is there may be no way to stop him.

Paglen's screenplay was part of what is known as the Black List, a list of popular but unproduced screenplays in Hollywood. However he and producer Annie Marter pitched the film to Straight Up Films. The pitch was sold to Straight Up. By March 2012, Alcon Entertainment acquired the project. In the following June, director Christopher Nolan, for whom Pfister has worked as cinematographer, and Nolan's producing partner Emma Thomas joined the film as executive producers. By October 2012, actor Johnny Depp entered negotiations to star in the film. Pfister met with Noomi Rapace for the film's female lead role and also met with James McAvoy and Tobey Maguire for the other male lead role. The director even offered a supporting role to Christoph Waltz. In March 2013, Rebecca Hall was cast as the female lead. By the following April, actors Paul Bettany, Kate Mara, and Morgan Freeman joined the main cast.  Filming officially began in June 2013, and took place over a period of 62 days. The majority of the movie was filmed in a variety of locations throughout Albuquerque, New Mexico. Continuing his advocacy for the use of film stock over digital cinematography, Pfister chose to shoot the film in the anamorphic format on 35 mm film. The film also went through a traditional photochemical finish instead of a digital intermediate.

The film stars Johnny Depp, Rebecca Hall, Paul Bettany, Kate Mara, Cillian Murphy, Cole Hauser and Morgan Freeman. Despite the stellar ensemble, the performances were one of the least impressive qualities of this film. The cast, especially Depp, were as emotionless and soulless as Dr. Caster. Absolutely in every way, you can not believe that Depp is convincing as a scientist. The first moment on screen, you'll sell the idea.

Soulless and silly, Transcendence powers through the movie's logic gaps with cheesy science plus Johnny Depp's presence – and mostly fails at it. Plenty of films and novels have envisioned what would happen if we gained artificial intelligence, but that it's hard to recall one whose ideas were more laughable than this one.

Simon says Transcendence receives: