Tuesday, 30 September 2014

Film Review: "The Boxtrolls" (2014).

"Heroes come in all shapes and sizes...even rectangles" in The Boxtrolls. This stop-motion animated fantasy comedy film directed by Graham Annable and Anthony Stacchi, adapted by Irena Brignull and Adam Pava, based on the 2005 novel Here Be Monsters! by Alan Snow, and produced by Laika. The film centres on a young orphaned boy raised by underground cave-dwelling trash collectors who tries to save his friends from an evil exterminator.

In June 2008, Laika unveiled a slate of projects in development, among which was also an animated feature film adaptation of Snow's novel. In early February 2013, Laika announced that the adaptation would be their next 3D stop motion feature, under the title The Boxtrolls, with Stacchi and Annable set to co-direct, and set for an October 17, 2014 release date. Laika CEO Travis Knight noted that the biggest challenge of the film was to condense a five hundred and fifty-page novel down to a ninety-minute film. Initially the film focused on all five species of creatures found in the original book, but Knight noted that the script "ultimately was hollow" with all the monsters noting "It didn't really have anything to say." The team ended up focusing on the film as Knight thought "there was something that was really compelling about that group of characters". In May 2013, the release date was pushed forward to September 26, 2014. In early December 2013, composer Dario Marianelli was hired to score the film.

The film features the voice talents of Isaac Hempstead Wright, Ben Kingsley, Elle Fanning, Dee Bradley Baker, Toni Collette, Jared Harris, Nick Frost, Richard Ayoade, Tracy Morgan, Simon Pegg, Nika Futterman, Pat Fraley, Maurice LaMarche, and Brian George. Amusingly created characters and performances thanks to both the animators and the talented voice cast. The puppetry is impressive-the trolls and humans are a feast for the eyes-and the stop-motion is fluid

Beautifully animated and solidly scripted, The Boxtrolls will entertain young children while providing surprisingly thoughtful fare for their parents. Few movies so taken with outcasts have felt so appreciatively accepted as this film, the latest handcrafted marvel from the stop-motion artists at Laika. It has its entertaining moments, but this trollish stop-motion animated comedy-adventure cries out for more activity. Although, there's nothing beneath the box of the trolls. Witty and fast-paced, sure, but the film sometimes lacks substance. Nonetheless, it's an engaging entertainment, with a solidly constructed storyline. The film has a unique look that's equal parts old school and cutting edge. The film took a huge risk on a weird concept, and it paid off enormously. The film will entertain your whole family with its big, sweet, troll heart. The movie is full of surprises, not the least of which is what those surprises actually are. My favorite part about this movie aside from the animation is this message that even if you're a troll or outcast surrounded by family, then you'll never be alone. Whether or not you have children in your life, the film deserves a spot on your animation watch list this year.

Simon says The Boxtrolls receives:

Also, see my review for ParaNorman.

Tuesday, 23 September 2014

Film Review: "Sin City: A Dame to Kill For" (2014).

“Sin City's where you go in with your eyes open, or you don't come out at all.” This describes the second installment of Robert Rodriguez and Frank Miller’s 2005 neo-noir crime thriller film Sin City. Sin City: A Dame to Kill For is once again co-directed by Rodriguez and Miller, based on Miller’s Sin City series. Particularly based on the short stories Just Another Saturday Night, which is collected in Booze, Broads, & Bullets, the sixth book in the comic series. Two original stories (The Long Bad Night and Nancy's Last Dance) were created exclusively for the film written by Miller. The film this time follows some of Sin City's most hard-boiled citizens when they cross paths with a few of its more reviled inhabitants.

The film stars an ensemble cast including returning cast members Mickey Rourke, Jessica Alba, Rosario Dawson, Bruce Willis, Jaime King, and Powers Boothe. Newcomers to the series include Josh Brolin, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Eva Green, Dennis Haysbert, Ray Liotta, Christopher Lloyd, Jamie Chung, Jeremy Piven, Christopher Meloni, Lady Gaga, Alexa Vega, Julia Garner, and Juno Temple. The performances in this film were all brilliantly portrayed. But, like the film itself, it did not capture the 'lighting-in-the-bottle' magic that the original captured. Most of the cast I have to give points for maintaining great performances. However, there were a few cast members who did not deliver as much as I have hoped. Firstly, Chung who played the character of Miho. Who was originally played by Devon Aoki in the first film. Unfortunately she did not deliver the same violent, gut-wrenching punch that Aoki did. Secondly, Haysbert who took over Michael Clarke Duncan's role of Manute after Clarke Duncan tragically died before production began. Sadly to say that Haysbert can never fill that role after the death of Clark Duncan. Never. Thirdly, Piven as Detective Bob. Even though I do admire him as an actor and a comedian, I felt he could not play the role of Detective Bob as well as Madsen did in the first film. In addition, his character was given VERY little to do. Lastly, Eva Green as... well... Ava. Though she brought a seductive, femme-fatale character to the film, unfortunately it felt no different to all the femme-fatales in cinema history and brought nothing unique to the role.

While possessed with the same stylish violence and striking visual palette as its far superior predecessor, Sin City: A Dame to Kill For loses the first installment's spark in a less deftly assembled sequel. The film has a lot of blood and disembowelment, to be sure, but it doesn't have the violent punch that the original had and it does not have the desire to be taken seriously. In the end, it’s poorly crafted and audiences should just go and see the first one. This film delivers nothing new and it’ll only make you either sleep during the whole duration or check your watch every five minutes.

Simon says Sin City: A Dame to Kill For receives:

Also, see my review for Machete Kills.

Tuesday, 16 September 2014

Film Review: "The Giver" (2014).

"Search for truth. Find freedom" in The Giver. This dystopian science fiction film directed by Phillip Noyce, adapted by Michael Mitnick and Robert B. Weide, and based on the 1993 young adult novel of the same name by Lois Lowry. Jonas lives in a seemingly idyllic world of conformity and contentment. When he begins to spend time with The Giver, an old man who is the sole keeper of the community's memories, Jonas discovers the dangerous truths of his community's secret past. Armed with the power of knowledge, Jonas realizes that he must escape from their world to protect himself and those he loves - a challenge no one has ever completed successfully.

Since the mid 1990s, Jeff Bridges, who bought the film rights to the novel, had been trying to make the film with a script written by 1998, and intended to star his family. Bridges originally intended that his own father, Lloyd Bridges, would play the title character, The Giver, but he died in 1998. Various barriers marred the production of the film, including when Warner Bros. bought the rights in 2007. The rights then ended up at The Weinstein Company and Walden Media. By early October 2013, Bridges, Brenton Thwaites, Odeya Rush, Meryl Streep, Katie Holmes, Alexander Skarsgård, Taylor Swift, Cameron Monaghan, and Emma Tremblay were cast in a new adaptation adapted by Mitnick and Weide, and with Noyce as director. At the same time, principal photography commenced, and wrapped in mid February 2014. Filming took place throughout South Africa and Utah.

The film stars Bridges, Thwaites, Rush, Streep, Holmes, Skarsgård, Swift, Monaghan, and Tremblay. Fundamentally, this is just further proof of Hollywood's untiring ability to reduce all science fiction to its most feeble stereotypes thanks to the well-intentioned but disappointing subpar performances.

Despite its grabber of a premise, The Giver flaunts poorly developed plot specifics; as such, it's terminally silly. Nevertheless, as a camp curio, it still has an odd but undeniable staying power. Where is Rod Serling's Twilight Zone when we need it most?  It's a good idea. But what the movie required to set it off and make it unusual is style and this, despite a few handsome sets, is sorely lacking In the direction, writing and most of the acting. Noyce has insisted in mixing action with spectacle, but misses the mark. The "message" of the film doesn't go beyond its distinguished predecessors. It's a good story with a well-defined sense of jeopardy, and appropriate performances by Bridges, Streep, Thwaites and Rush, but my most major problem is that too much is unexplained. A hit-and-miss futuristic film about a world in which everybody lives in a seemingly idyllic world of conformity and contentment. A cautionary tale of a futuristic society bent on destroying all complex ideas and knowledge. I found myself reflecting that sf writers can get away with a lot on the printed page that moviemakers just can't. Maybe its ambitions outpace its performance, but at least it tries.

Simon says The Giver receives:

Film Review: "The Immigrant" (2013).

From the director of Two Lovers comes The Immigrant. This drama film directed by James Gray, and written by Gray and Richard Menello. After her sister is quarantined at Ellis Island, a Polish nurse is forced into prostitution by a theater manager who moonlights as a pimp.

Gray was inspired to write the script, then titled The Nightingale, after watching Giacomo Puccini's opera Il Trittico with his wife. Gray also used his own family's history, the movie is also based on the experiences told to the director by his grandparents who were Russian immigrants who came through Ellis Island in 1923. He described it as "my most personal and autobiographical film to date". Gray wrote the role of Ewa Cybulska, similar to Puccini's sin-haunted nun Sister Angelica, with Marion Cotillard in mind. However, getting Cotillard on board wasn't as easy as he had hoped. Cotillard met with Gray during a dinner at a French fish restaurant where Gray and her boyfriend Guillaume Canet were talking about the script of Blood Ties (2013). Gray told he had never seen Cotillard in anything before, but was instantly drawn to her. Cotillard agreed to read the script. Gray sent the screenplay to Cotillard afterwards, but then had to wait seven days for an answer after she had promised to read the script over a weekend. Cotillard ultimately accepted the role. Because Gray wrote about 20 pages of dialogue in Polish, Cotillard had to learn Polish and speak English with a credible Polish accent. Cotillard had only two months to learn her Polish dialogue. Gray would go on to state that Cotillard is the best actor he's ever worked with. By late January 2012, Joaquin Phoenix, Jeremy Renner, and Angela Sarafyan were cast. At the same time, principal photography commenced, and wrapped in mid March. Filming took place in New York City, under the working title of Low Life. In June 2012, The Weinstein Company acquired U.S. distribution rights. Though the film was completed in time for 2012's Toronto Film Festival, Harvey Weinstein insisted on holding it until Cannes 2013, with the hope that he might convince Gray to change the ending. Gray didn't change the ending and the film was only released in the U.S..

The film stars Cotillard, Phoenix, Renner, and Sarafyan. The performances, given by the cast, were beautifully restrained. Thus Gray guided his strong cast to a resolution that was both surprising and entirely realistic.

Gray has exactly what American cinema needs with The Immigrant. Gray deals in female melodrama, but treats it with a solemn seriousness that makes one believe again in the earnestness of American genre cinema. Gray's direction lovingly toys with images of containment and release, effectively playing out the drama in visual terms - but we never really feel it. Everything about this quietly beautiful film is understated - the performances, the score and, most of all, the inner turmoil that easily can mean life or death for the most sensitive among us.

Simon says The Immigrant receives:

Tuesday, 9 September 2014

Film Review: "Million Dollar Arm" (2014).

"Now small boys all over Indiacan do what I couldn't. They can dream." Which is what Million Dollar Arm is all about. This American biographical sports drama film directed by Craig Gillespie from a screenplay written by Tom McCarthy. The film is based on the true story of baseball pitchers Rinku Singh and Dinesh Patel who were unconventionally recruited by sports agent, J.B. Bernstein, after winning a reality show competition to play for Major League Baseball.

In 2008, television sports producers and brothers Neil and Michael Mandt began, supposedly, documented the training and tryouts that Singh and Patel undergone at the USC campus. Using original footage they had shot and created a nine-minute trailer as a presentation piece for a projected movie about the two players. In December 2008, the Mandts began a collaboration with producers Mark Ciardi, Gordon Gray and Joe Roth. In early 2009, the screen rights to Singh and Patel's life story were purchased by Sony Pictures Entertainment for development at Columbia Pictures, which hired Mitch Glazer to write a screenplay. However, the project was eventually put in turnaround and in 2010, producers Roth and Ciardi set the film up at Walt Disney Pictures. Upon acquiring the film, Disney hired Tom McCarthy to write a script. In May 2012, Jon Hamm was cast to play Bernstein. Alan Arkin and Suraj Sharma were cast in April 2013, with Allyn Rachel joining the cast the following month. Principal photography began on May 30, 2013 with filming taking place in Mumbai, Atlanta, and Los Angeles.

The film stars Jon Hamm as Bernstein, Bill Paxton as pitching coach Tom House, Suraj Sharma as Singh, Madhur Mittal as Patel, and Alan Arkin. The cast in the film gave great performances, especially Hamm. If you love Hamm from Mad Men, then you'll probably love him in this. He is surprisingly good, delivering a likeness to the real J. B. Bernstein that is uncanny. As well as Sharma and Mittal, who played Rinku Singh and Dinesh Patel, who gave fine performances. Their performances, along with Hamm’s, guides this cliche-ridden tale into the realm of inspirational, nostalgic goodness.

It may not break new ground, but Million Dollar Arm is somewhat an entertaining film, awash in clichés but leavened by the charismatic performance of Jon Hamm as J. B. Bernstein. When it's good it's good. When it's bad - well, it's bad. It may seem that the film takes too long to get to the baseball. But by the time it does get down to it, we've just barely invested enough in Hamm, Sharma and Mittal to give a damn about the outcome of the all-important Big Show. Though familiar and clichéd it may be, the film succeeds in spite of itself. The film is a Walter Mitty tale, but a true one, a fantasy come to life. The latest in Disney's line of films about real-life sports figures never settles for easy answers. It is a well-made studio effort that, like The Rookie (2004) of a few years back, has the knack of being moving without shamelessly overdoing a sure thing.

Simon says Million Dollar Arm receives: