Tuesday, 30 December 2014

Film Review: "Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb" (2014).

"One final night to save the day" in Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb. This comedy adventure film directed by Shawn Levy, written by David Guion and Michael Handelman, and based on the characters created by Thomas Lennon and Robert Ben Garant. It is a sequel to Battle of the Smithsonian and the third and final installment in the Night at the Museum film series. Larry spans the globe, uniting favorite and new characters while embarking on an epic quest to save the magic before it is gone forever.

In late January 2010, Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian co-writer Thomas Lennon said: "I think it's a really outstanding idea to do Night at the Museum 3, in fact. I wonder if someone's not even already working on a script for that. I cannot confirm that for a fact, but I cannot deny it for a fact either... It might be in the works." In October 2011, Stiller confirmed to The Hollywood Reporter that a sequel was in the "ideas stage." In February 2013 it was announced that Levy would return to direct, with a December 25, 2014 release date. In mid January 2014, the film's release date was moved up to December 19, 2014. Later the same month, Ben Stiller, Robin Williams, Owen Wilson, Steve Coogan, Ricky Gervais, Patrick Gallagher, Rami Malek, Mizuo Peck, Brad Garrett, Dick Van Dyke, Mickey Rooney, and Bill Cobbs would return to reprise their roles. Rachael Harris, Dan Stevens, Rebel Wilson, Ben Kingsley, and Andrea Martin rounded out the film's cast. At the same time, with a budget of $127 million, principal photography commenced, and wrapped in May. Filming took place in London, England and Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. In early May, it was announced that the film would be titled Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb. This film is dedicated to the memory of Williams and Rooney who both died before the film's release.

The film stars Stiller, Williams, Wilson, Coogan, Gervais, Harris, Stevens, Wilson, Malek, Gallagher, Peck, Kingsley, Garrett, Van Dyke, Rooney, Cobbs, and Martin. Thanks to the talented cast, the film has plenty of life. I'm not sure if anyone in this film actually acted alongside anyone else, or if the performances were all cut together in the editing suite. But it's Wilson who gives it zing. She's terrific - a show-stealing screen presence. As always, Williams is a master of comic timing. His grandiose, comical Roosevelt is equally insightful when he's spitting out insightful quotes. It's an interesting collection of some of the most interesting versions of figures throughout history and some of the most talented performers we have working today.

Like the sequel, Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb doesn't have the originality of the first film and feels a little boring as such. This is one lazy movie, and little more than an obligatory response to a 2009 box office heap of garbage.

Simon says Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb receives:

Also, see my review for This Is Where I Leave You.

Friday, 26 December 2014

Film Review: "The Interview" (2014).

From the first lines "Our Beloved Leader is wise. He is gentle, kind and strong… And the one thing in our time, we wish more than this is for the United States to explode in a ball of fiery hell. May they be forced to starve and beg, and be ravaged by disease. May they be helpless, poor and sad and cold! They are arrogant and fat. They are stupid and they're evil. May they drown in their own blood and feces. Die America, die. Oh please won't you die… May your women all be raped by beasts of the jungle while your children are foooorced to watch!" You know what you're in for with The Interview, it'll will be... the craziest s*** you'll ever see. This political satire comedy film directed by Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg, with a screenplay by Dan Sterling, from a story by Rogen, Goldberg and Sterling. The film follows Dave Skylark and producer Aaron Rapoport, who run the celebrity tabloid show Skylark Tonight. When they land an interview with a surprise fan, North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un, they are recruited by the CIA to turn their trip to Pyongyang into an assassination mission.

Everybody is aware that this comedy has been plagued by enormous controversy. For those who are not aware of this, on June 2014, the North Korean government threatened "merciless" action against the United States if the film's distributor, Columbia Pictures, went ahead with the release. Columbia delayed the release from October 10 to December 25, and reportedly edited the film to make it more acceptable to North Korea. In November, the computer systems of parent company Sony Pictures Entertainment were hacked by the Guardians of Peace, a group the FBI believes has tied to North Korea. After leaking several other then-upcoming Sony films and other sensitive internal information, the group demanded that Sony pull The Interview, which it referred to as "the movie of terrorism". On December 16, 2014, the Guardians of Peace threatened terrorist attacks against cinemas that played the film. On December 17, after a number of major North American cinema chains canceled screenings in the interest of safety, Sony canceled the film's theatrical release, drawing criticism from the media, Hollywood figures and U. S. President Barack Obama. After initially stating that it had no plans to release the film, Sony made the film available for online rental and purchase on December 24, and via a limited release at selected cinemas on December 25.

The film stars James Franco as Skylark, Seth Rogan as Rapoport, Lizzy Caplan as Agent Lacey, Randall Park as Kim Jong-un and Diana Bang as Sook. The cast have hilarious performances, however I can not help but to comment on the ridiculous acting. Especially with the Asian cast. Their performances did not match the comedy power that Franco and Rogan possess. On top of that, their ridiculous imitation of the Korean language and custom did not impress at all and were just plain atrocious. In addition, the chemistry between Rogan and Bang had no spark whatsoever and they were, by far, the weirdest couple I have ever seen on screen.

The Interview will either offend you or leave you in stitches. It'll probably do both. There are good, fun parts in the film, but the language won’t be to everybody’s liking. I thought it was pretty clever, despite it being profane and sometimes bitingly funny.

Simon says The Interview receives:

Also, see my review for This is the End.

Tuesday, 23 December 2014

Film Review: "Paddington" (2014).

"A little bear will make a big splash" in Paddington. This fantasy comedy film adapted and directed by Paul King, and based on the stories of the character Paddington Bear created by Michael Bond. The film follows a young Peruvian bear with a passion for all things British who travels to London in search of a home. Finding himself lost and alone at Paddington Station, he begins to realize that city life is not all he had imagined - until he meets the kind Brown family. They offer him a temporary haven. It looks as though his luck has changed until this rarest of bears catches the eye of a museum taxidermist.

On Christmas Eve 1956, Bond noticed a lone teddy bear on a shelf in a London store near Paddington Station. Bond bought it as a present for his wife, and was eventually inspired to write a story. The outline of the lonely bear at Paddington Station was inspired by old newsreels showing train-loads of child evacuees leaving London during World War II, with labels around their necks and their possessions in small suitcases. Since its publication in 1958, the books have gone on to be translated into thirty languages across seventy titles and sold more than thirty million copies worldwide. In September 2007, a film adaptation of Bond's stories of the titular bear was first announced with Hamish McColl penning the adaptation, and David Heyman producing. Originally, author Bond was nervous about the project of turning his character into a live-action movie. However, he was convinced after seeing half a minute of test footage. By September 2013, Colin Firth was cast in the title role, with Nicole Kidman, Sally Hawkins, Hugh Bonneville, Jim Broadbent, Imelda Staunton, Michael Gambon, Peter Capaldi, Matt Lucas, Julie Walters, Madeleine Harris, and Samuel Joslin rounding out the film's cast. At the same time, with a budget of €38.5 million ($50–55 million), principal photography commenced, and wrapped in June 2014. Filming took place at Elstree Studios and London, England. Firth voluntarily dropped out of the film, after the studio decided his voice was not suitable for Paddington. The role was recast the following month, with Ben Whishaw signing on to voice the title role.

The cast, especially Kidman, Hawkins, Broadbent, Staunton, and Whishaw, to name but a few, all put in an appearance and it is these talented hands who are the best aspect of the film.

Paddington adapts its source material faithfully while condensing the novel's overstuffed narrative into an involving – and often downright exciting – big-screen magical caper. The script is faithful in spirit, the actors are just right, the sets, costumes, makeup and effects match and sometimes exceed anything one could imagine. It is a good film directed for a young audience in which not only is magic taught but also how stereotypes affect it while the film itself recreates some British stereotypes. It isn't perfect, but for me it's a nice supplement to a book series that I love.

Simon says Paddington receives:

Tuesday, 16 December 2014

Film Review: "The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies" (2014)

"One day I'll remember. Remember everything that happened: the good, the bad, those who survived... and those that did not." This sums up the final and defining chapter of the Middle Earth saga in The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies. This epic fantasy adventure film, directed by Peter Jackson and written by Jackson, Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, and Guillermo del Toro. It is the third and final installment in the three-part film adaptation based on the novel The Hobbit by J. R. R. Tolkien, following An Unexpected Journey (2012) and The Desolation of Smaug (2013). The film centers on Bilbo and Company when they are forced to engage in a war against an array of combatants and keep the terrifying Smaug from acquiring a kingdom of treasure and obliterating all of Middle-Earth.

The third film was originally titled There and Back Again in August 2012. In April 2014, Jackson changed the title of the film to The Battle of the Five Armies as he thought the new title better suited the situation of the film. He stated on his Facebook page, "There and Back Again felt like the right name for the second of a two film telling of the quest to reclaim Erebor, when Bilbo’s arrival there, and departure, were both contained within the second film. But with three movies, it suddenly felt misplaced—after all, Bilbo has already arrived “there” in the Desolation of Smaug." Shaun Gunner, the chairman of The Tolkien Society, supported the decision: "‘The Battle of the Five Armies’ much better captures the focus of the film but also more accurately channels the essence of the story."

The film stars Martin Freeman, Ian McKellen, Richard Armitage, Evangeline Lilly, Lee Pace, Luke Evans, Benedict Cumberbatch, Cate Blanchett, Ian Holm, Christopher Lee, Hugo Weaving and Orlando Bloom. The performances in this film were major improvements from the last film, finally seeing the true side and depth to the characters. Freeman gave an incredible performance. We see his journey from a hermit to an adventurous hobbit who learnt to step outside his shell. Thus coming back home to the Shire a changed hobbit. Armitage gave his best performance in the series. If viewed closely, one could view his character and performance reminiscent to Anakin Skywalker in Revenge of the Sith. Where he becomes consumed with greed. But unlike Anakin, he is able to realize early of how blind he had become and was not fully corrupted. Lilly also gave her best performance of the trilogy. Where we got to see her character truly, other than a ruthless killing machine, through her relationship with Killi. Evans gave his most physical performance yet. However, I felt we didn’t get to see the human side much as we did in The Desolation of Smaug. Cumberbatch gave another brilliant performance as the titular dragon, however his role was ‘stuck down’ rather quickly than expected. Which kind of made this installment a bit of a ‘bummer’.

The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies is the best of the trilogy Mr. Jackson has directed. It is the richest and most challenging movie in the cycle. As well as being a relatively thoughtful story. Even if Jackson got bogged down in solemnity and theory in The Desolation of Smaug, the film is quicker-paced and action filled this time, and it proves just barely that it is a great piece of entertainment.

Simon says The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies receives:

Also, see my review for The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug.

Tuesday, 2 December 2014

Film Review: "Nightcrawler" (2014).

"The city Shines brightest at night" in Nightcrawler. This neo-noir thriller film written and directed by Dan Gilroy, in his directorial debut. The film is a thriller set in the nocturnal underbelly of contemporary Los Angeles. Lou Bloom, a driven young man desperate for work who discovers the high-speed world of L.A. crime journalism. Finding a group of freelance camera crews who film crashes, fires, murder and other mayhem, Lou muscles into the cut-throat, dangerous realm of nightcrawling - where each police siren wail equals a possible windfall and victims are converted into dollars and cents. Aided by Nina, a veteran of the blood-sport that is local TV news, Lou blurs the line between observer and participant to become the star of his own story.

In 1988, Gilroy conceived the idea after reading the photo-book Naked City, a collection of photographs taken by American photographer Weegee of 1940s New York City residents at night. Often lewd and sensationalized in content, Weegee would sell these photos to tabloid newspapers. However, when The Public Eye (1992) was released, a film loosely based on Weegee's life, Gilroy shelved the idea. Two years later, he moved to Los Angeles, and noted the predominance of violent crime stories on local news stations. Sometime later, he discovered the stringer profession, and considered it to be the modern day equivalent of Weegee. Unaware of any film that focused on the livelihood of stringers, he began writing a script. Gilroy spent several years trying to write a plot that would fit the setting, and experimented with conspiracies and murder mysteries as central story elements. Eventually, he decided to instead start by designing the characters, and attempted to create a standard literary hero character. Unable to create an interesting hero, he then envisioned an antihero as the lead character. Gilroy felt antiheroes were a rarity in films, because they are difficult to write, and usually devolve into psychopaths; in an attempt to break from the stereotype, he thought of writing an antihero success story. The King of Comedy (1983), To Die For (1995), and The Talented Mr. Ripley (1999) served as inspirations. Once the script was finalized, Gilroy knew that he wanted to direct the film. He sent the script to his brother Tony Gilroy, and asked him for advice on directing. His brother described the script as "absolutely compelling", and noted every person who read the script afterwards wanted to work on the project, a rarity in the film industry. 

Jake Gyllenhaal was Gilroy's first choice for the role of Lou. During pre-production, Gyllenhaal was going to star in another film, but that project fell through, allowing time to meet with Gilroy. The two discussed the script in Atlanta, where Gyllenhaal was filming Prisoners (2013). When Gilroy told Gyllenhaal that he wrote the film as a success story, Gyllenhaal became interested in the film. The two rehearsed the script months before filming began, and Gyllenhaal became heavily involved in production. While rehearsing the character, Gilroy mentioned how he saw Lou as a coyote, a nocturnal predator who is driven by its never ending hunger. Gyllenhaal took this comment literally, and lost nearly thirty pounds by eating nothing but kale salads and chewing gum, and running fifteen miles every day. Although some of the crew disagreed with this decision, Gilroy was supportive of the weight loss; Gyllenhaal was respectful and did not alter the script, so Gilroy wanted to reciprocate this generosity. Gyllenhaal also memorized the entire movie like a play. By early October 2013, Rene Russo, Riz Ahmed, and Bill Paxton were cast. Ahmed was one of seventy-five actors to audition for the role of Rick. To prepare for the role, Ahmed met with homeless people in Skid Row, and researched homeless shelters to "understand the system". Gilroy specifically wrote the role of Nina for his wife Rene Russo; this was because he felt that Nina could easily be reduced to a "hard-nosed corporate bitch", but Russo would bring a sense of vulnerability to the character. Although Russo was unaware of Gilroy's intention while writing the script, she was interested in performing the role, as she had never portrayed a desperate woman in a film. Russo initially struggled with the character, because she never saw herself as the victim. In order to accurately portray the character, Russo had to recall memories of when she crossed moral boundaries in her life as a result of desperation and fear. At the same time, with a budget of $8.5 million, principal photography commenced, and took place throughout Los Angeles, California with eighty locations.

The film stars Gyllenhaal, Russo, Ahmed, and Paxton. As Lou, the poor sap in desperate need of a purpose, Gyllenhaal is straight-up psychopathic yet surprisingly relatable - a truly damaged human being.

Highly overlooked and underrated, Nightcrawler today looks eerily prescient, and features a fine performance by Gyllenhaal as a strangely sympathetic psychopath. Gilroy infuses this tale with the passionate energy of Los Angeles street life and a social climber's wonder at the powerful workings of the media industry. A cautionary tale from Gilroy about the desperation amongst common people to achieve relevancy and the obsessive media culture. Clearly, it's more relevant than ever right now. The film brilliantly keeps viewers unmoored, the result of its consistently off-kilter tone. A smart neo-noir that skewers America's fatal fascination with media, it employs an unerring nasty touch to parody our omnipresent culture of media. And it uses a rather unlikely combination of talents to do the job. If, like me, you find things to admire in all of Gilroy's screenwriting efforts, you may be especially gratified by what he's done with a neo-noir thriller. It's a mean-spirited thriller, told in cinema-verite style, this film features the best performance of Gyllenhaal to date (better than his performance in Brokeback Mountain (2006)), as an amoral, damaged social climber obsessed with finding a purpose in life. The creepiest movie of the year in every sense, and one of the best.

Simon says Nightcrawler receives:

Film Review: "Men, Women & Children" (2014).

"Everyone's searching for a better connection" in Men, Women & Children. This comedy-drama film directed by Jason Reitman, adapted by Reitman and Erin Cressida Wilson, and based on a novel of the same name by Chad Kultgen. The film follows the story of a group of high school teenagers and their parents as they attempt to navigate the many ways the internet has changed their relationships, their communication, their self-image, and their love lives. The film attempts to stare down social issues such as video game culture, anorexia, infidelity, fame hunting, and the proliferation of illicit material on the internet. As each character and each relationship is tested, we are shown the variety of roads people choose - some tragic, some hopeful - as it becomes clear that no one is immune to this enormous social change that has come through our phones, our tablets, and our computers.

By mid December 2013, Rosemarie DeWitt, Jennifer Garner, Judy Greer, Dean Norris, Adam Sandler, Ansel Elgort, Kaitlyn Dever, J. K. Simmons, David Denman, Jason Douglas, Phil LaMarr, Elena Kampouris, Travis Tope, Timothée Chalamet, and Emma Thompson were cast. At the same time, principal photography commenced, and took place in Austin, Texas. Reitman felt so much of the acting in the film was so based on reactions to texts, chats, and photos that using dummy screens with no text would not suffice. The production team had to create very realistic-looking versions of popular websites, all on their own tightly controlled software, with which the actors and actresses could interact in real-time. According to Reitman, they spent "the same amount of budget on creating the digital world as we did creating the physical one. People know what Facebook looks like better than they do a hotel lobby, you stare at it all day, so it had to be convincing."

The film stars DeWitt, Garner, Greer, Norris, Sandler, Elgort, Dever, Simmons, Denman, Douglas, LaMarr, Kampouris, Tope, Chalamet, and Thompson. The film delivers a smart blend of humor and emotion with just enough edge for mainstream audiences, thanks to the dramatic performances by its cast.

Men, Women & Children is probably the smartest, darkest drama of the year thus far. It has appeal to all sides of the social spectrum. This gloomy and intelligent rarity that elicits nervous smiles and laughs alike. It is a smart and gloomy movie that shrewdly adapts the novel. One of the brightest, darkest dramas of the year, the film's smart script and direction are matched by assured performances in a human drama with a 21st century twist. It's tough to capture an era while it's still happening, yet the film does so brilliantly, with such insight and humanity. Reitman emerges as a modern-day Frank Capra, capturing the nation's anxieties and culture of resilience. It touches on larger themes of mass online addiction, cultural alienation and technology as a crutch. But ultimately, it's really an expertly done character study that's a dramatic change of pace from Reitman's previous films.

Simon says Men, Women & Children receives:

Also, see my review for Labor Day.