Tuesday, 28 October 2014

Film Review: "Fury" (2014).

"Ideals are peaceful. History is violent." This line sums up this season's dark and gritty World War II Epic Fury. The film is written and directed by David Ayer (Street Kings (2008) and Sabotage (2014)). The story begins on April 1945. As the Allies make their final push in the European Theatre, a battle-hardened army sergeant named ‘Wardaddy’ commands a Sherman tank and his five-man crew on a deadly mission behind enemy lines. Out-numbered, out-gunned, and with a rookie soldier thrust into their platoon, ‘Wardaddy’ and his men face overwhelming odds in their heroic attempts to strike at the heart of Nazi Germany.

The film stars Brad Pitt, Shia LaBeouf, Logan Lerman, Jon Bernthal, Michael Peña and Jason Isaacs. Pitt gave a brilliant in his second time in a WWII film (after Tarantino’s Inglorious Bastards) as US Army S/Sgt. Don "Wardaddy" Collier. Even though at age 50, Pitt is much older than the average noncommissioned officer in WWII, who would likely be in his early to mid 20s. Considering his age, choice of sidearm, and long service record mentioned in the film, it's entirely possible that his character is also a WWI veteran. Labeouf gave a fine performance as T/5 Boyd "Bible" Swan. LaBeouf reportedly went to the extent on this film by pulling out his own tooth and did not shower during filming. Lerman also gave a fine performance as Pvt. Norman "Machine" Ellison. Bernthal gave a great performance as Pfc. Grady "Coon-Ass" Travis. Like Pitt, this is not the first time Jon Bernthal has played a character in a WWII setting. He portrayed Marine Sergeant Manny Rodriguez in the award-winning HBO miniseries The Pacific (2010). Peña gave a terrific performance as Cpl. Trini "Gordo" Garcia. Finally Isaacs gave a great performance, even though his role was rather minor in this film. The cast themselves, like their on-screen counterparts, were like a band or family. Writer and director David Ayer had the actors fight each other on set before shooting scenes to tighten their bond. As well as having the cast undergo a rigorous month long course of boot camp, in which the final test was manning a real tank during a combat exercise. Despite being considerably older than his cast mates, Brad Pitt made sure that he participated in all of the physical training alongside the other actors. 

Anchored by another masterful performance from Pitt, Ayer's unflinchingly realistic war film Fury (2014), while it may not reinvent the wheel, but it further solidifies the genre's existence in cinema today. As well as having fine performances from almost every actor. It is one of the best-looking war movies ever made. In conclusion, the film is a well-acted, suitably raw depiction of the horrors of war. But it doesn't quite live up to its ambitions and was not enough to compete with the awesome reality of Empire of the Sun (1987), Saving Private Ryan (1998), The Thin Red Line (1998), Letters from Iwo Jima (2006), and even Inglorious Bastards (2009).

Simon says Fury Receives:

Also, see my review for Sabotage.

Film Review: "Whiplash" (2014).

"The road to greatness can take you to the edge", and that is true here in Whiplash. This independent drama film written and directed by Damien Chazelle based on his experiences in the Princeton High School Studio Band. The film follows a young and talented drummer attending a prestigious music academy finds himself under the wing of the most respected professor at the school, one who does not hold back on abuse towards his students. The two form an odd relationship as the student wants to achieve greatness, and the professor pushes him.

While attending Princeton High School, Chazelle was in a "very competitive" jazz band and drew on the experience of "just dread" that he felt in those years. He based the conductor, Terence Fletcher, on his former band instructor (who died in 2003) but "pushed it further" adding in bits of Buddy Rich as well as other notorious band leaders. Originally conceived in the form of an 85-page screenplay, Whiplash came to prominence after being featured in the 2012 Black List that includes the top motion picture screenplays not yet produced. Right of Way Films and Blumhouse Productions, in order to secure financing for the feature, helped Chazelle turn 15 pages of his original screenplay into a short film starring Johnny Simmons in the role of the drummer and J. K. Simmons in the role of the teacher. The 18-minute short film went on to receive much acclaim after screening at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival, which ultimately attracted investors to sign on and produce the complete version of the script. The feature-length film was financed for $3.3 million by Bold Films. In August 2013, Miles Teller signed on to star in the role originated by Johnny Simmons; J. K. Simmons remained attached to his original role. Principal photography began the following month with filming taking place throughout Los Angeles, including the Hotel Barclay, Palace Theater, and the Orpheum Theatre. The film was shot in 19 days, with a schedule of 14 hours of filming per day.

The film stars Miles Teller and J. K. Simmons. The two leads gave stellar performances with upmost ferocity. Particularly Simmons who was just an animal. Early on Chazelle gave Simmons direction that "I want you to take it past what you think the normal limit would be", telling him: "I don't want to see a human being on-screen anymore. I want to see a monster, a gargoyle, an animal." And you feel that in every scene that he is in. Even to the point where scared the real musicians in the band and they reactions of terror was captured on film.

Whiplash is the greatest film about music ever made. Blending raw performances and musical intensity, blurring the barriers between life and music, body and instrument, drawing equally on the contemporary and the classical. It's marvelously acted, superbly written, and features outstanding music, unforgettable characters and hauntingly beautiful story. It's a cinematic treat for movie lovers! There are no words. As a film critic, I can't really get away with that too often. This feels like a worthy deployment.

Simon says Whiplash receives:

Tuesday, 21 October 2014

Film Review: "Annabelle" (2014).

"Before The Conjuring, there was Annabelle." This is Annabelle. This supernatural horror film directed by John R. Leonetti, and written by Gary Dauberman. It is a prequel to 2013's The Conjuring and the second installment in the Conjuring Universe franchise. John and Mia are attacked by a couple, who are worshippers of Satan. However, before the cops kill them, the couple use a doll as a conduit to make John and Mia's life miserable.

In July 2013, prior to the release of The Conjuring, the idea of a spin-off on the Annabelle doll was announced. The idea was designed to be stand alone yet collectively catering to fans of The Conjuring who would already be familiar with the latter film. It ultimately went into development after the critical and commercial success of The Conjuring. The film would be one of the first in a new strategy by distributors Warner Bros. and New Line Cinema "that capitalizes on the built-in fan bases for successful films, allowing for smaller budgets and production time with a bigger payout on the back end." By late January 2014, Annabelle Wallis, Ward Horton, Alfre Woodard, Tony Amendola, and Ivar Brogger were cast. At the same time, principal photography commenced, and took place in Los Angeles, California. Leonetti and Producer Peter Safran claimed that supernatural phenomena had occurred on the set during filming. Unlike The Conjuring, which purports to be based on true events, this prequel is a completely fictional narrative of the previous owner of the doll before it was given to the two nurses shown at the beginning of The Conjuring. The only 'theory' as to the origins of Annabelle comes from a medium the nurses hired who claimed that Annabelle Higgins had been a child in the 1860s whose body was found in a field which the house now occupied. The Conjuring and the film portrayed the Annabelle doll as a porcelain doll, but the real Annabelle doll is a large Raggedy Ann doll. The Warrens had a special case built for Annabelle inside their Occult Museum, where she resides to this day.

The film stars Wallis, Horton, Woodard, Amendola, and Brogger. There were no memorable characters and indifferent acting. It's not bad enough to be funny or campy. Watching it is like staring at a dumb doll for an hour and forty minutes.

While the rote screenwriting doesn't kill the dark spirit of the world's creepiest porcelain doll, it doesn't channel it, either. Nothing says Halloween more than gathering in the dark to experience a carefully strategised branding opportunity. You know when a film is in trouble when a film has something wrong with it from the first ten minutes. A completely by-the-numbers spookfest that suffers from perhaps the worst possible fate for a film in this genre - it's rather boring. The film works on the level of something that delivers basic jolts on a regular basis, but it lacks the internal logic to develop momentum or suspense.

Simon says Annabelle receives:

Film Review: "Get on Up" (2014).

"The Funk don't Quit" in Get on Up. This biographical musical drama film directed by Tate Taylor, and written by Jez and John-Henry Butterworth. The film follows James Brown as he struggles to overcome the challenges of poverty and misfortune to emerge as one of the most successful musicians of his time.

In 2000, Imagine Entertainment were developing a James Brown biopic with a script titled Star Time written by Steven Baigelman. Jez and John-Henry Butterworth were brought on to rewrite the script, titled Superbad. Spike Lee was set to direct. But, in 2006, Lee left the project as development stalled over music licensing and finance issues. In 2012, it was revived when producer Mick Jagger read a recent draft by the Butterworth brothers. John-Henry Butterworth was fascinated by the period concept of celebrity in preparing to write. The script took some liberties and includes at least one scene involving fabricated incidents. In late October, it was announced that Taylor was set to direct. In late August 2013, Universal Pictures set an October 17, 2014 release date for the film. Later, in mid November, Universal pushed forward the release date from October 17 to August 1, 2014. In late August 2013, Universal selected Chadwick Boseman to play Brown. Boseman did all of his own dancing and some singing, though the film utilised live recordings of Brown. In mid September, Universal announced an open casting call for actors, musicians, and extras for different roles in the biopic, which was held in late September. By early November, Nelsan Ellis, Dan Aykroyd, Viola Davis, Octavia Spencer, Craig Robinson, Lennie James, Fred Melamed, Jamal Batiste, Josh Hopkins, Brandon Mychal Smith, Tika Sumpter, Aunjanue Ellis, Tariq Trotter, Nick Eversman, Aaron Jay Rome, Clyde Jones, Joe T. Blankenship, Aakomon Jones, Jamell Richardson, Justin Hall, David Carzell, Jason Davis, and Charles R. Rooney rounded out the cast. At the same time, with a budget of $30 million, principal photography commenced, and wrapped in late December. Film took place in Jackson and Natchez, Mississippi.

The film stars an ensemble cast that includes Boseman, Ellis, Aykroyd, Davis, Spencer, Robinson, James, Melamed, Batiste, Hopkins, Mychal Smith, Sumpter, Ellis, Trotter, Eversman, Jay Rome, Jones, Blankenship, Jones, Richardson, Hall, Carzell, Davis, and Rooney. Boseman does the impossible—radiates something approaching the charisma of the artist he's portraying. Not since Jamie Foxx with Ray (2004) that an actor has ever brought a pop icon fully to life on-screen. Boseman does what he's supposed to. He steals his own show. Boseman proves that he may just be one of the most interesting actors of his generation. A subtle mix of impression, pathos and rare presence, he holds your focus even when the film begins to prevaricate.

An engrossing and energetic portrait of a great musician's achievements and foibles, Get on Up is anchored by Boseman's stunning performance as Brown. Sure, it's the Chadwick Boseman breakout role. But the film around it is so systematically 'inspirational' that it comes perilously close to sabotaging the breakout. The film is an excellent portrayal of extraordinary musician.

Simon says Get on Up receives:

Also, see my review for The Help.

Film Review: "A Walk Among the Tombstones" (2014).

"People are afraid of all the wrong things." This is A Walk Among the Tombstones. This neo-noir action thriller film adapted and directed by Scott Frank, and based on the 1992 novel of the same name by Lawrence Block. Matt Scudder, an ex-NYPD cop who now works as an unlicensed private investigator operating just outside the law. When Scudder reluctantly agrees to help a heroin trafficker hunt down the men who kidnapped and then brutally murdered his wife, the PI learns that this is not the first time these men have committed this sort of twisted crime...nor will it be the last. Blurring the lines between right and wrong, Scudder races to track the deviants through the backstreets of New York City before they kill again.

A film adaptation of Block’s novel had been in development for several years with Frank hired to pen the adaptation. In 2002, Harrison Ford was attached to star and Joe Carnahan to direct.  In May 2012, it was announced that Liam Neeson had reportedly signed on to star, with Frank himself directing, and production slated to begin February 2013. By early March, Dan Stevens, David Harbour, Brian Bradley, and Boyd Holbrook rounded out the film's cast. At the same time, principal photography commenced and took place in New York City, New York. In late January 2014, it was announced that the film was set for a September 19, 2014 release date.
The film stars Neeson, Stevens, Harbour, Bradley, and Holbrook. Neeson handles Detective Scudder's charm, fragility and mercurial anger. Stevens and Holbrook are engaging as the beleaguered drug addict and drug trafficker trying to figure out what the hell is happening here.

The film handles the suspense well, supplying plenty of tense cat-and-mouse chases and harrowing encounters with denizens of the underworld and officers of the law alike. It's the kind of edge of your seat thriller that leaves you in constant suspense of how the situation will resolve. Although the film holds a tantalising premise at its heart, the film takes an extremely long time to get to the point. Managing to overcome the contrivances and implausibilities of the storyline, the film succeeds through the sheer verisimilitude of the performances and direction. This movie is from fancy award-winning writer Frank. In other words, you're supposed to take it all as seriously as he does. You may find that challenging. Occasionally preposterous and bogged down by Frank's unusual lack of subtlety, but the film is also captivating and energetic, particularly during the thrilling final act. Frank somehow pulls off a delicate balancing act -- a gravity-bound fantasy scenario -- showing us Scudder's desperate, dark, human need while playing out made-for-movie scenes. Solid performances, beautiful camerawork. It just would've been nice if they'd included some more twists and turns in the otherwise decent script. If I actually gave out star ratings or numerical scores, this one would be right on the fine line between pass and fail.

Simon says A Walk Among the Tombstones receives: