Wednesday, 30 December 2015

Film Review: "Chi-Raq" (2015).

"No peace, no piece." This is Chi-Raq. This musical crime drama joint produced and directed by Spike Lee, co-written by Lee and Kevin Willmott, loosely based on Aristophanes' Lysistrata. After the shooting death of a child hit by a stray bullet, a group of women led by Lysistrata organize against the on-going violence in Chicago's Southside creating a movement that challenges the nature of race, sex and violence in America and around the world.

Rapper Kanye West was originally supposed to star in the film but dropped out, possibly due to scheduling conflicts. In early May 2015, the project had an open casting call and hired many local actors in Chicago. Principal photography commenced in June 2015 and continued production through July. By late July, it was announced that La La Anthony, Nick Cannon, Wesley Snipes, Teyonah Parris, Jennifer Hudson, Angela Bassett, John Cusack, and Samuel L. Jackson had been cast in the film. The film saw Lee reuniting with Bassett, Jackson, and Snipes, having worked with all three actors on such earlier films as Mo Better Blues, Jungle Fever and Malcolm X. In November, Amazon Studios announced that the film would be its first original film to be release through their streaming service. Pronounced "shy-RACK", the title is a portmanteau of "Iraq" and "Chicago", used by South Side Chicago residents to refer to the area comparing it to a war zone, due to its high crime rates. Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel had serious reservations with the title, and asked Lee to change it, thinking it would hurt the city's image.

It stars Cannon, Snipes, Parris, Hudson, Bassett, Cusack, and Jackson. The cast gave terrific performances, especially Parris. Through the entire film, Parris portrays Lysistrata as a determined, independent, and sexually strong character who takes a firm stance, and convinces her fellow women, to withhold sex from men as punishment to end gun violence. The most striking thing about Lysistrata’s demeanour is how strong and determined she is, how driven she looks and sounds. This unnerving authenticity is partly testament to Parris’ ability to give a performance such as this one.

Chi-Raq uses Greek literature to offer bitingly trenchant commentary on gun violence. Spike Lee's latest is all about America's current problem with gun violence, and the film's central concerns – from 2001, homicides in Chicago have surpassed the death toll of American special forces in Iraq with a recorded 7356 murders, all due to gun violence - feel viscerally relevant. It testifies to a stark and discomforting truth. Don’t sleep on this movie. It may be far more funny than it is frightening than intended. A fledgling Spike Lee work, to say the least. More interesting than good. Nevertheless, it packages such weighty and ultra-relevant subjects into the form of a wildly uneven but consistently entertaining night at the movies. All the elements of an interesting yarn are implicit here. From the start, it was less important whether or not you agreed with Lee than if you appreciated him for stirring things up.

Simon says Chi-Raq receives:

Also, see my review for Oldboy (2013).

Tuesday, 29 December 2015

Film Review: "Joy" (2015).

"Based on a true story of inspirational women. One in Particular", and it is exactly that with Joy. This biographical comedy-drama film written and directed by David O. Russell about the title character, Joy, a self-made millionaire who rose to become a powerful matriarch and created her own family business empire / dynasty. The film is a semi-fictional and inspirational portrayal of Joy Mangano and how she overcame personal and professional obstacles to rise to the top.

In January 2014, it was announced that David O. Russell's upcoming project would entail rewriting and directing a drama film about American inventor and entrepreneur Joy Mangano. The original script was written by Annie Mumolo. Mumolo's original script featured the story of the Miracle Mop and Mangano. It would have served as a more accurate and faithful interpretation of her life. However when Russell came onto the project, he added much more supporting characters and interwove Mangano's original biography with stories of other women daring to change their lives so much that only the basic plot outline still resembles Mangano's story (from working mother to business woman). Therefore, despite earlier reports about the film, this is not a biographical film about Mangano. Furthermore, Russell even admitted he was in no hurry to meet Mangano in real-life during the filming process, because he wanted to make the movie his own way, only speaking to her on the phone. Also, Joy's last name in the film is never given, the Miracle Mop remains unnamed in the film and movie Joy is not from Mangano's native Smithtown, on the North Shore of Long Island, New York.

The film stars Jennifer Lawrence as Joy, Robert De Niro, Bradley Cooper, Édgar Ramirez, Diane Ladd, Virginia Madsen, Isabella Rossellini and Elisabeth Röhm. The cast gave terrific performances, especially to Lawrence. But the cast, and their counterparts, can talk all they want, but nothing the characters say alters the simplistic melodramatic mechanism.

Joy is an utter mess. This feverish feminist rags-to-riches address finds Russell tossing everything that doesn't matter - and more - into the pot, and producing a pretty indigestible and very messy stew. Despite an outstanding cast of actors and some notable moments, I never cared enough to believe that this movie was anything other than pretentious. While Russell may have ambition to admire and career-risking courage to respect, the sad truth is his new movie has almost nothing to heart. In this chaotic style of Hollywood moviemaking, plot resolutions are thrown at you as if someone is spoon-feeding you throughout the entire film. I have no idea what Russell was trying to accomplish with this messy movie. I liked some moments, but I can't say that I loved the film as a whole. If you get the impression that this is all too precious and contrived for a Hollywood film, you're not far from the mark. The film gets crazy and seems unconnected. By the end, it never binds into a satisfying whole and it mostly left me cold. Go see it and judge for yourself. But then again, I can't recommend it wholeheartedly.

Simon says Joy receives

Also, see my review for American Hustle.

Sunday, 20 December 2015

Film Review: "The Peanuts Movie" (2015).

"Dream big", this is synonymous with the world and characters of Charles M. Schulz and now have been brought to the big screen with The Peanuts Movie. This 3D computer-animated comedy film directed by Steve Martino, written by Craig and Bryan Schulz (Schulz's son and grandson, respectively), and Cornelius Uliano and produced by Blue Sky Studios. Based on Schulz's comic strip Peanuts. It is the fifth full-length Peanuts film, and the first feature film in 35 yearsafter A Boy Named Charlie Brown (1969), Snoopy Come Home (1972), Race for Your Life, Charlie Brown (1977), and Bon Voyage, Charlie Brown (and Don't Come Back!!) (1980). It commemorates the 65th anniversary of the comic strip and 50th anniversary of the TV special A Charlie Brown Christmas. Charlie Brown, Snoopy, Lucy, Linus and the rest of the beloved Peanuts gang make their big-screen debut, like they've never been seen before. Charlie Brown, the world's most beloved underdog, embarks upon an epic and heroic quest, while his best pal, the lovable beagle Snoopy, takes to the skies to pursue his arch-nemesis, the Red Baron.

Peanuts is a syndicated daily and Sunday American comic strip written and illustrated by Charles M. Schulz, which ran from October 2, 1950, to February 13, 2000, continuing in reruns afterward. The strip is the most popular and influential comic strips in history, with 17,897 strips published in all, making it "arguably the longest story ever told by one human being". At its peak, Peanuts ran in over 2,600 newspapers, with a readership of 355 million in 75 countries, and was translated into 21 languages. It helped to cement the four-panel gag strip as the standard in the United States, and together with its merchandise earned Schulz more than $1 billion. Reprints of the strip are still syndicated and run in almost every U.S. newspaper. The strip focuses entirely on main character, Charlie Brown, his dog Snoopy and the Peanuts gang. Peanuts is one of the literate strips that flourished in the 1950s. Peanuts achieved considerable success with its television specials, several of which, including A Charlie Brown Christmas and It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown, won or were nominated for Emmy Awards. The holiday specials remain popular and are currently broadcast on ABC in the U.S. during the corresponding seasons. The Peanuts franchise met acclaim in theatre, with the stage musical You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown being a successful and often-performed production.

In 2006, six years after the release of the last original Peanuts strip, as well as the death of creator Charles M. Schulz, his son Craig Schulz came up with an idea for a Peanuts film, which he showed to his screenwriter son Bryan Schulz. "I was happy to show my son," Craig said. "He showed me how to make it bigger—how to blow it up more—and he helped me put in structure." When presenting their film to studios, Craig stipulated that the film remain under Schulz control, saying, "We need[ed] to have absolute quality control and keep it under Dad's legacy... You can't bring people in from the outside and expect them to understand Peanuts." In October 2012, it was announced that 20th Century Fox and Blue Sky Studios were developing a 3D computer-animated feature film based on the strip, with Steve Martino directing from the screenplay by Craig Schulz, Bryan Schulz, and Cornelius Uliano. Craig, Bryan, and Uliano also produced. Craig chose Martino as director because he showed faithfulness to literature in his adaptation of Dr. Seuss' Horton Hears a Who! (2008)Various steps were taken with the animation to emulate the original look and feel of the comics and the previous animated specials. For example, the trees and other foliage in the background are static and never billow or sway in the wind. Even on the characters, their animation appears "jagged" and skippy. This was done to emulate the low quality hand drawn animation that the Peanuts television specials were known for. Martino and his animators spent over a year looking at Schulz's original drawing style to help translate the "hand-drawn warmth... into the cool pixel-precision of CGI" without the fear of something getting lost in translation. In addition to receiving the rights to use Bill Melendez's voice for Snoopy and Woodstock, Martino was also able to get the rights to archive music from previous Peanuts specials.

Hollywood has finally found the key to bringing a Charles M. Schulz story to life with The Peanuts Movie. It is a frequently beguiling fantasy packed with ticklish sights and vocals. Peanuts started as a comic strip, to make it a feature just seemed unlikely. But the magic of Schulz is there. It's got the look and the flair. Taking on Schulz has proven a challenge for Hollywood, but a nice balance has been struck here between authenticity and new ideas. This one's a winner. Schulz's imagination has never gone out of style. What is most remarkable about this film is the fidelity it retains to Schulz' work and intentions. After overcooked Pixar films and nauseating Disney flicks, Hollywood has finally served up a tasty adaptation of Peanuts. The filmmakers capture the whimsy of Schulz's drawings and add a nice tactile feel. The film succeeds where other 3D animated adaptions have fallen short, most notably by using animation -- fluid, elastic, genuinely Schulman animation - to tell the story. Lovely and only marred by a slightly sagging middle and a gratuitous, tacked on pop song finale. Even if the film can't shine like some of cinema's greatest animated films, this movie's visuals keeps things vivid, while digital animation is so often crisp, precise, and cold. In addition, the film adds a manic spin that strains to convey far too many moral messages. It is perfect for children, for adults not so much. Despite the stretch of adapting Schulz's tale to a feature movie, Schulz's original story and the world he created, plus some particularly winning characters, put the film on the top of the best animated film of the year. In the end, the film is sweet and really memorable.

Simon says The Peanuts Movie receives:

Friday, 18 December 2015

Film Review: "Star Wars: The Force Awakens" (2015).

The line "Chewie, we're home" perfectly sums up our return to the galaxy far far away with Star Wars: The Force Awakens. This epic space opera film, and the seventh installment in the Star Wars saga, co-written, co-produced and directed by J. J. Abrams, and created by George Lucas. The movie is a continuation of the saga and is set thirty years after Star Wars: Episode VI - Return of the Jedi (1983).

Ever since Lucas sold his production company Lucasfilm to Disney in October 2012, the prospect of a return to the galaxy far far away had every die-hard Star Wars fan excited. Lucas would serve as creative consultant on the film. Among the materials he turned over to the production team were his rough story treatments for Episodes VII–IX. However, he later stated that Disney had discarded his story ideas and that he had had no further involvement with the film. Episode VII's first screenplay was written by Michael Arndt. Several of Hollywood’s top directors were considered to helm the project. J. J. Abrams was also among them. Ironically, Abrams, like others, passed on the project. After publicly declining to direct the film, Abrams was visited at his Bad Robot office by the new President of Lucasfilm Kathleen Kennedy. Their negotiations lasted over a month, during which time. In January 2013, he was finally announced as the director of Episode VII, with Lawrence Kasdan and Simon Kinberg as project consultants. In October, 2013, Arndt departed from the project, and Kasdan and Abrams took over script duties. In January 2014, Abrams confirmed that the script was complete.

In May 2013, confirmation was revealed that Episode VII would be filmed in the United Kingdom. Beginning in September 2013, production spaces at the Bad Robot facility were converted for shooting of Episode VII for the benefit of shooting a minor portion of the film in the United States. In August 2013, it was announced by Abrams' cinematographer Daniel Mindel that the movie will be shot on 35 mm film (specifically Kodak 5219). Casting commenced in August 2013, with Abrams meeting with potential actors for script readings and screen tests. Open auditions were held in the UK, Ireland, and the United States in November 2013. Screen tests with actors continued until at least three weeks before the official announcement on April 29, 2014, with final casting decisions being made only a few weeks prior. Actors testing had strict non-disclosure agreements, preventing them, their agents or publicists from commenting on their potential involvement. Though Lucas intimated that previous cast members Carrie Fisher, Harrison Ford, and Mark Hamill would return for the new film as early as March 2013, their casting was not confirmed until over a year later. Several known actors auditioned for the three leads. Also among them were newcomers Daisy Ridley and John Boyega. Adam Driver also auditioned for an unnamed villain. By March 2014, talks with Andy Serkis and Oscar Isaac began and continued into April 2014. Because of the secretive nature surrounding the film, several cast members found out that they had gotten parts in the film with very short notice. On April 29, 2014, the cast was announced with a photo of the first table read of the script at Pinewood Studios near London, picturing Abrams with Ford, Ridley, Fisher, Peter Mayhew, producer Bryan Burk, Kennedy, Domhnall Gleeson, Anthony Daniels, Hamill, Serkis, Isaac, Boyega, Driver, and Kasdan. Not pictured but included in the cast were Max von Sydow and Kenny Baker. The announcement was originally planned for May 4 (Star Wars Day), but was announced early due to fears of media leaks. In June 2014, Lupita Nyong'o and Gwendoline Christie were announced in the cast.

In February 2014, Abrams said filming would begin in May and last about three months. The official announcement came on March 18, when Disney and Lucasfilm announced that principal photography would commence in May and be based at Pinewood Studios in Buckinghamshire, England. In March, it was revealed that pre-production filming would be taking place in Iceland prior to the start of official filming in May, consisting of landscape shots which would be used for scenery in the film. On April 2, Walt Disney Studios chairman Alan Horn confirmed that filming had begun in Abu Dhabi by a second-unit crew. Later that month, it was revealed that in addition to 35mm film, segments of the film were being shot in the 65mm IMAX format. On July 8, Bad Robot reported on Twitter that the film would be at least partially shot on IMAX cameras. Principal photography began in Abu Dhabi on May 16, 2014. Abrams and members of the cast went to Abu Dhabi in early May, where large sets were built at the location, including a shuttle-like spacecraft, a large tower and a big market, and explosives were used to create a "blast crater". Production moved to Pinewood Studios in June. On June 12, Harrison Ford broke his ankle after the hydraulic door of the Millennium Falcon fell on him. He was taken to a hospital. Production was suspended for two weeks to accommodate Ford's injury. About a year later, Abrams revealed that he broke his back while trying to help get Ford out from under the door. He kept this to himself and did not tell anyone about it for over a month. On July 29, 2014, filming took place over three days at Skellig Michael Island off the coast of County Kerry in Ireland with a cast including Hamill and Ridley. Production was halted for two weeks in early August 2014 so Abrams could rework shooting in Ford's absence and resumed with a fully healed Ford during mid-August. In September 2014, the former RAF Greenham Common military base in Berkshire, near Pinewood Studios, was used as a filming location and featured set constructions of several spaceships from the Star Wars Universe. Principal photography ended on November 3, 2014.

On November 6, 2014, the film's title was announced as Star Wars: The Force Awakens. In July 2013, John Williams was confirmed to compose the score. He began writing working on the film in December 2014, and by June 2015 had been through most of the film reels, working on a daily basis. Recording sessions for The Force Awakens began in June 2015 at the Sony Pictures Studios' Barbra Streisand Scoring Stage in Culver City, with William Ross conducting most of the music. And was completed on November 14. In August 2015, Abrams gave the estimated running time of the film as 124–125 minutes. On November 28, 2014, Lucasfilm released a 90-second teaser trailer to promote The Force Awakens. It was screened in selected cinemas across the United States and Canada and in theaters worldwide in December 2014. It generated a record 58.2 million views on YouTube in its first week. On April 16, 2015, a second teaser trailer, this one lasting two minutes, was shown at the opening panel at the Star Wars Celebration in Anaheim, California. The trailer was viewed over 88 million times within the first 24 hours of release, breaking the record of 62 million held by Furious 7 (2015) in November 2014. Advance ticket sales for the film began on October 19, 2015, and were in strong demand, resulting in online movie ticket sites crashing. In total it sold over $50 million in pre-sales breaking the record previously held by the 2012 films The Hunger Games and The Dark Knight Rises ($25 million). This number was raised to $100 million including $50–60 million in advance ticket sales by December 14.

The film stars Ford, Hamill, Fisher, Driver, Ridley, Boyega, Isaac, Nyong'o, Serkis, Gleeson, Daniels, Mayhew, and von Sydow. The entire cast gave equally strong performances. The story of the cast of characters are brought thrillingly to life by a new generation, who gave inspired, utterly unselfconscious and lovable performances, with power, passion and some cracking comic timing. As for the original cast, they fit into the film so perfectly. It was as though, the old glove still fits. It has been over 30 years we last saw them. But they have not changed a bit.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens reignites a classic franchise with action, humor, story, and brilliant visuals, and will please traditional fans and new fans alike. Emotionally, it hits every one of its marks, functioning as a family reunion that extends across decades, entertainment mediums, even blurring the line between audience and show. Trading on affections sustained over 30 years of popular culture, the film does what a franchise reboot rarely does. It reminds us why we loved these characters in the first place. It's also a testament to cinema's power as mythmaker, as a source for some of the fundamental stories we tell about ourselves, who we are and where we came from. It is a gift to those of us who loved the original trilogy. Although derivative for almost all the time, borderline copying beat-by-beat of A New Hope, the film is an epic expansive and ambitious continuation to the legendary sci-fi saga.

Simon says Star Wars: The Force Awakens receives:

Also, see my review for Star Trek Into Darkness.

Tuesday, 15 December 2015

Film Review: "Krampus" (2015).

The tagline of the oil reads "You don't want to be on his list." And this very true for Krampus. This horror comedy film based upon the eponymous character from Germanic folklore, directed by Michael Dougherty and written by Dougherty, Todd Casey, and Zach Shields. When his dysfunctional family clashes over the holidays, young Max is disillusioned and turns his back on Christmas. Little does he know, this lack of festive spirit has unleashed the wrath of Krampus: a demonic force of ancient evil intent on punishing non-believers. All hell breaks loose as beloved holiday icons take on a monstrous life of their own, laying siege to the fractured family's home and forcing them to fight for each other if they hope to survive.

His name is everywhere, but who is Krampus? Born out of Pagan folklore and embraced by ancient Germanic cultures, this fearsome companion of Saint Nicholas punishes misbehaving children by swatting them with branches, putting them in a bag and dragging them to Hell. Bearing massive horns and hoofs for feet, Krampus has terrified children for centuries. The film was in development for a number of years since the release of Dougherty's cult hit Trick 'r Treat (2007), until the film went into production in 2012. Dougherty describes the Krampus in this film as Santa Claus's shadow: "He's not the unstoppable monster that kicks down your door and rampages and grabs you. There's something darkly playful about him. He's having a good time doing what he does and he enjoys the cat-and-mouse aspect of it." The Creature effects were made by Weta Workshop. For Krampus' design was distilled from various postcards and illustrations of the creature over the years. The film was originally to release on November 25 but was pushed forward to December 4 to coincide with the Krampusnacht, a traditional Austrian festival held on December 5 that celebrates the Krampus coming to punish naughty children. 
The film stars Adam Scott, Toni Collette, David Koechner, Conchata Ferrell, Emjay Anthony, Stefania LaVie Owen, and Krista Stadler. The cast terrific performances despite playing the most unlikable and depressing lot of characters I have ever seen. However, you empathise with their plight and you root for them when Krampus comes to town.

Krampus is fun and full of sly series of send-ups. A wildly original roller-coaster ride of hilarious horror. A horror-comedy about an ancient folklore who turns out to be a murderous monster wreaking havoc on a suburban neighbourhood. There is satire here: a sense of silly but thoughtful consideration on the Christmas traditions and how easily all the relatable facades crumble as a consequence of simple illusions being so easily shattered. An entertaining and original horror film with top notch effects, a great villain, and a brilliant score. Here's the season's most delicious and unexpected surprise. Think of A Christmas Carol visited by the Devil. Think of The Muppet Movie run amok. Imagine a twisted mind splicing It's a Wonderful Life with Gremlins.

Simon says Krampus receives:

Tuesday, 8 December 2015

Film Review: "In the Heart of the Sea" (2015).

"Based on the incredible true story that inspired the myth Moby Dick." This is what In the Heart of the Sea delivers. This biographical adventure thriller film directed by Ron Howard, adapted by Charles Leavitt, based on Nathaniel Philbrick's 2000 non-fiction book of the same name, about the sinking of the American whaling ship Essex in 1820, that inspired the tale of Moby-Dick. In the winter of 1820, the New England whaling ship Essex was assaulted by something no one could believe: a whale of mammoth size and will, and an almost human sense of vengeance. The real-life maritime disaster would inspire Herman Melville's Moby-Dick. But that told only half the story. The film reveals the encounter's harrowing aftermath, as the ship's surviving crew is pushed to their limits and forced to do the unthinkable to stay alive.

The tragedy of The Essex has become legendary. But unbeknownst to people, The Essex was also linked to another unlikely story. During its expedition, The Essex crew attempted to reach Mas a Tierra island, in the Juan Fernandez Archipelago. Over 100 years earlier, Scotsman Alexander Selkirk had his own ordeal stranded on that island. His story was the basis for Daniel Defoe's Robinson Crusoe. The start of this venture began in 2000, when Barry Levinson was set to direct and was going to be distributed by Miramar. Eventually, Howard took over the reins. Principal photography began in September 2013 in London and at Leavesden Studios in Hertfordshire, United Kingdom. Additional locations included were the islands of La Gomera and Lanzarote in the Canary Islands, Spain. Coincidently, Moby Dick (1956), directed by John Huston, was also shot in the Canaries. During at one point of filming, the cast and crew were forced to retreat to their hotel due to a storm off the Canary Islands which turned into a rare flash flood. The production shut down for a day and a half, expanding the shoot to 73 days, exactly as filmmakers expected. For the storm scenes, the production team built a water tank at Leavesden Studios, where a deck was built on top of a gimbal to mimic the pitch of a storm. To get the right effect, 500 gallons of icy water were poured from cannons.

The film stars Chris Hemsworth, Benjamin Walker, Cillian Murphy, Tom Holland, Ben Whishaw, and Brendan Gleeson. The cast gave spectacular performances and went all the way - emotionally and physically. According to Chris Hemsworth in an interview with Jimmy Kimmel, to prepare for the role of starving sailors, the cast were on a diet of 500-600 calories a day to lose weight.

A spectacular, monster of an adventure, In the Heart of the Sea is a finely crafted adventure story with exhilarating ocean sequences and strong performances from Chris Hemsworth, Benjamin Walker, Brendan Gleeson and Tom Holland. However, it may favour spectacle in place of the deeper themes in Nathaniel Philbrick's novel, but it still makes for a grand adventure film.

Simon says In the Heart of the Sea receives:

Also, see my review for Rush.

Sunday, 6 December 2015

Film Review: "Goosebumps" (2015).

From the trailer, Stine warns us "All the monsters I've ever created are locked inside these books. But when they open..." You get Goosebumps. This horror comedy film based on the children's book series of the same name by R. L. Stine. It was directed by Rob Letterman, and written by Darren Lemke, from a story by Scott Alexander and Larry Kraszewski. A teenager teams up with the daughter of young adult horror author R. L. Stine after the writer's imaginary demons are set free on the town of Madison, Delaware.

The first attempt at a Goosebumps film goes back to 1998, when Tim Burton was originally attached to produce and direct. During the 1990s, George A. Romero was hired to adapt the book series into a single film and even finished a draft. However, both films did not materialize since they could not find a script they liked or determine which book or monster to adapt. In 2008, Columbia Pictures acquired rights to create a Goosebumps film. Neal Moritz and Deborah Forte were chosen to produce the film. Later Scott Alexander and Larry Kraszewski, the screenwriting team behind Ed Wood (1994) and Big Eyes (2014), were hired to pen the script. The duo decided against adapting any one book in the series, feeling the individual books in the series were too short. Thinking of ways to create a universe where all the creatures in the books could live together, they elected to do a fake biographical film where R. L. Stine writes a book and the monsters within it become real. In January 2012, it was reported that a new draft of the screenplay would be written by Darren Lemke (Shrek Forever After (2010) and Jack the Giant Slayer (2013)). In November 2012, Stine expressed pessimism about the prospect of the film, saying that he would believe that a film can be based on his Goosebumps series when he sees it. When it came to casting the monsters, some monsters were cut for budgetary reasons, but director Letterman stated that the crew tried to choose the monsters most appropriate to the story. Letterman also stated that he tried to combine both humour and horror in the film, commenting that "[t]he books themselves are legitimately scary, but they’re legitimately funny, and we try to capture that."

The film stars Jack Black, Dylan Minnette, Odeya Rush, Amy Ryan, Ryan Lee, Jillian Bell, and Halston Sage. The cast gave entertaining performances despite being filled with cliches and predictability. However, the most important element they struggled to capture was the childlike horror-driven characterisations from Stine's books.

Goosebumps is not only fun, but also a sly series of send-ups, effectively parodying many elemental film storylines. The film follows a great tradition of horror comedies full of sick jokes. A wild roller-coaster ride of hilarious mischief. However, the human characters are little more than camp for the mechanics. In addition, the film is not as idiosyncratic and peculiar as the books. Nonetheless, the film tries very hard in reproducing the scare level that comes from reading Stine's books. It's a good movie.

Simon says Goosebumps receives:

Tuesday, 1 December 2015

Film Review: "Creed" (2015).

"Your legacy is more than a name"
. This tagline is front and centre in the ring for Creed. This sports drama film, co-written and directed by Ryan Coogler. It is the seventh Rocky film, whilst serving as a spin-off, as we see the former World Heavyweight Champion Rocky Balboa serves as a trainer and mentor to Adonis Johnson, the son of his late friend and former rival Apollo Creed.

The story of this champion's rise to the ring began in July, 2013, when it was announced that MGM had signed on with Fruitvale Station (2013) director Ryan Coogler to direct a spin-off of Rocky. The film would focus on a young man following in the footsteps of his late father, Apollo Creed, and getting a mentor in the now-retired Rocky Balboa. Michael B. Jordan was set for the role of Creed's son, Adonis Creed, and Sylvester Stallone was set to reprise his character of Rocky. Original producers Irwin Winkler and Robert Chartoff would produce, along with Stallone and Kevin King-Templeton. This is the first film in the series that was not directed or written by Stallone. In November 2014, real-life boxers Tony Bellew and Andre Ward joined the film, with Bellew to play a fighter, "Pretty" Ricky Conlan, the main opponent for Creed. Shooting was set to begin in January 2015, in Las Vegas and Philadelphia. In December 16, Tessa Thompson was added to the cast as the female lead. In January 2015, Phylicia Rashad reportedly joined the film to play Mary Anne Creed, Apollo's widow. In January 2015, Graham McTavish tweeted about his involvement in the film. Filming began in January 2015 in Liverpool, and later moved to Philadelphia, and shot in all the iconic locations. Front St Gym is on Clearfield Street. Mighty Mick's gym is on Front street. Both gyms are located in the Kensington section of Philadelphia. Adrian's Restaurant scene was filmed at The Victor Cafe in Philadelphia. During the climatic match between Creed and Conlan, Stallone requested that Jordan wear the famous American flag trunks that Apollo Creed wore in Rocky (1976) and Rocky wore in Rocky III (1982) and Rocky IV (1985) to keep tradition in the Rocky universe. Coogler wanted to uphold the series' father/son theme. "It's a sport where you need to lean on other people", the filmmaker said. "You see fighters have this bond with their trainer. We saw it with Tyson and Cus D'amato. We saw it with Rocky and Mick. It's a very special bond. We wanted to capture that." Coogler, who grew up watching the Rocky films with his family, wanted to tell a personal story much like he did with Fruitvale Station.

Despite a new champion in the ring, it almost didn't happen. Stallone was initially apprehensive about revisiting. "I said, 'No, no, no'... It was a struggle to get the last one done and I was so happy with Rocky Balboa and the conclusion of Rocky's story that I thought, 'We don't need to go any further with it.' I dismissed his idea." But it was the director's persistence that led him to reconsider. Later Stallone has expressed his pride in being a part of a story. "What's amazing is that this character and these stories have stayed around without any special effects, without any car chases, without blowing anything up, which is what I usually do, no bullets, no cursing, no sex scenes... That's what I think is so phenomenal. That a generation that wasn't even around when we did the third one, forget the first one, would embrace this and take it to a new level." Jordan credits Sylvester Stallone with putting him at ease while he joined a cinematic legacy. "Sly did the biggest thing for me, which was to take that pressure off of me... to not worry about competing or living up to what the other Rocky films were - just to be myself." Carl Weathers, who played Apollo Creed, gave his strong endorsement to the movie and Jordan's performance. Jordan felt extremely honoured. Just as the film was entering pre-production, Stallone's oldest son Sage Stallone died of a heart attack. Stallone has admitted that the loss almost sent him into a full breakdown, but Coogler was eventually able to convince him to use the film as a dedication to Sage, focusing specifically on the father-son relationships that appear in it. Although initially resistant, Stallone said at the Golden Globes that Creed helped him cope with Sage's death.

The film stars Jordan as Adonis Johnson Creed, Apollo's son, with Stallone reprising the role of Rocky Balboa in his seventh Rocky film. It also features Tessa Thompson, Tony Bellew, and Graham McTavish. The cast gave stellar performances, especially to Jordan and Stallone. Jordan brought a raw and intense swagger to the Rocky role and made it his own. In addition, Jordan was the perfect choice to play this character. Coincidently, Jordan was born in 1987, 2 years after the fictional death of Apollo Creed. So he is the perfect age to play Adonis. As for Stallone, despite making countless mindless action films and being told he's old for these kinds of movies, he's still got it! He perfectly played the part of the mentor that belonged to Burgess Meredith. Funny enough, Rocky is almost the same age as Paulie when he trained Rocky in the first film.

Creed is a crowning achievement in the careers of Coogler, Jordan and Stallone. In addition to a heart-warming script, Jordan has created a character of equal appeal and charm but funny, gruff but good-hearted nature as Rocky. However, the story does feel achingly familiar at times, though Jordan and Stallone have a certain power, they are certainly not the weakest elements in the film. In the end, this film is the real deal, offering a raw, gritty feel that none of the slicker sequels even attempted to replicate.

Simon says Creed receives:

Tuesday, 24 November 2015

Film Review: "The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 2" (2015).

"Nothing can prepare you for the end". This tagline sums up the inevitable conclusion to the story of Katniss Everdeen with The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 2. This epic science fiction war film directed by Francis Lawrence, written by Peter Craig and Danny Strong, and adapted from the novel Mockingjay, the final book in The Hunger Games trilogy, written by Suzanne Collins. It is the fourth and final installment in The Hunger Games film series. As the war of Panem escalates to the destruction of other districts by the Capitol, Katniss Everdeen, the reluctant leader of the rebellion, must bring together an army against President Snow, while all she holds dear hangs in the balance.

On July 10, 2012, Lionsgate announced that the film adaptation of Mockingjay would be split into two parts; Mockingjay – Part 1, released on November 21, 2014, and Mockingjay – Part 2, dated November 20, 2015. This and other facts are already in our minds when watching and following these two parts. However, the most important fact that one must remember is that Philip Seymour Hoffman, who plays Plutarch Heavensbee, died on February 2, 2014. At the time of his death, he had completed filming his scenes for Part 1, and had a week left of shooting for Part 2; Lionsgate thereafter released a statement affirming that since the majority of Hoffman's scenes had been completed, the release date for Part 2 would not be affected. It was initially announced that Hoffman would be digitally recreated for a major scene involving his character that was yet to be shot. Another  note to add is that there is no dedication or remembrance to Hoffman at the end of the film.

The film stars Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Woody Harrelson, Elizabeth Banks, Julianne Moore, Sam Claflin, Jena Malone, Philip Seymour Hoffman (in his final film role), and Donald Sutherland. The cast gave it their all for their last outing in the franchise, especially to Lawrence, Hutcherson, and Sutherland. However, I can not help but feel that the characters that I have come to know and appreciate have suffered from either being underused or, quite simply, having no phenomenally gratifying payoff by the end of their journeys.

Thrilling, powerfully acted, and visually dazzling, Mockingjay - Part 2 brings the franchise to a satisfying conclusion. The film transmutes the book into a genuine spectacle. The finale conjures up just enough intensity and solemnity to serve as an appropriate finale. Although, this isn't a film. It's HALF a film, and it's going to feel somewhat emotionless and not as powerful. The film's intensely slow and restrained showdown does not equal to The Lord of the Rings or Harry Potter in terms of a dramatic and memorable battle between good and evil. However, the film was a pretty solid and ambitious adaptation of a very complex book. While the film offers long-promised answers, it also dares to pose some eternal questions, and it'll stay with you after the final chapter has closed.

Simon says The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 2 receives:

Also, see my review for The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 1.

Wednesday, 11 November 2015

Film Review: "Spectre" (2015).

"Welcome, James. It's been a long time... You've come across me so many times, yet you never saw me. What took you so long?" 007 finally comes face-to-face with his greatest threat yet in Spectre. This twenty-fourth James Bond film directed by Sam Mendes, as his second James Bond film following Skyfall (2012); written by John Logan, Neal Purvis, Robert Wade and Jez Butterworth and produced by Eon Productions. A cryptic message from Bond's past sends him on a trail to uncover a sinister organization. While M battles political forces to keep the secret service alive, Bond peels back the layers of deceit to reveal the terrible truth behind SPECTRE.

SPECTRE: Special Executive for Counter-intelligence, Terrorism, Revenge and Extortion. The ownership of this organisation and its characters had been at the centre of long-standing litigation starting in 1961 between Ian Fleming and Kevin McClory over the film rights to the novel Thunderball. The dispute began after Fleming incorporated elements of an undeveloped film script written by McClory and screenwriter Jack Whittingham into Thunderball, which McClory contested in court, claiming ownership over elements of the novel. In 1963 Fleming settled out of court with McClory, in an agreement which awarded McClory the film rights. This enabled him to become a producer for the 1965 film Thunderball—with Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman as executive producers—and the non-Eon film Never Say Never Again, an updated remake of Thunderball, in 1983. In November 2013 MGM and the McClory estate formally settled the issue with Danjaq, LLC—sister company of Eon Productions—with MGM acquiring the full copyright film rights to the concept of Spectre and all of the characters associated with it. With the acquisition of the film rights and the organisation's re-introduction to the series' continuity, the SPECTRE acronym was discarded and the organisation reimagined as "Spectre"

The movie features Daniel Craig in his fourth performance as James Bond; Christoph Waltz, Léa Seydoux, Dave Bautista, and Monica Bellucci. Several recurring James Bond characters, including M, Q, Moneypenny, Tanner and Mr. White return, played by Ralph Fiennes, Ben Whishaw, Naomie Harris, Rory Kinnear and Jesper Christensen. The cast gave spectacular performances. Craig gave another amazing run as 007 and gave a satisfying and emotional conclusion to his version of Bond. If he is to gain reprise the role, then good luck for the next one. As he is contractually obligated to do one last movie. If not, he will be surely missed and he made a great Bond. Waltz gave a chilling performance as Bond's nemesis Oberhauser. Finally Seydoux gave a strong performance as Dr. Madeleine Swann.

Spectre is an ambitious, thoughtful, and potent action film that concludes the Daniel Craig Bond era in spectacular fashion. It can be enjoyed even though it might not live up to the powerful delivery of Skyfall to some people. If it didn't take a hundred and forty-eight minutes to end the story of this particular Bond then it could have been the best movie of the year. However, as it is, it's just one of the best Bond film in its cinematic history.

Simon says Spectre receives:

Also, see my review for Skyfall.

Sunday, 1 November 2015

Film Review: "Hotel Transylvania 2" (2015).

The tagline of the film reads "Drac's pack is back", and that it is exactly what it is in Hotel Transylvania 2. This computer animated fantasy-comedy sequel to the 2012 film Hotel Transylvania. The film is again directed by Genndy Tartakovsky, and produced by Sony Pictures Animation. Taking place seven years after the first film, Dracula and his friends try to bring out the monster in his half human, half vampire grandson in order to keep Mavis from leaving the hotel.

Director Genndy Tartakovsky commented about the possibility of the sequel in October 2012, "Everyone is talking about it, but we haven't started writing it. There are a lot of fun ideas we could totally play with. It's a ripe world." On November 9, 2012, it was announced that a sequel had been greenlit, and was scheduled for release on September 25, 2015. On March 12, 2014, it was announced that Tartakovsky would return to direct the sequel, even though he was originally too busy due to his developing an adaptation of Popeye.

Original voices from the first film - Adam Sandler, Andy Samberg, Selena Gomez, Kevin James, Steve Buscemi, David Spade, Fran Drescher, Molly Shannon—returned for the sequel, with Keegan-Michael Key replacing CeeLo Green as Murray. New additions to the cast include Mel Brooks as Count Dracula's father, Vlad; Nick Offerman and Megan Mullallyas Jonathan's parents, Mike and Linda; and Asher Blinkoff as Mavis and Johnny's half-human/half-vampire son, Dennis. The cast gave hilarious performances despite falling flat with the jokes here and there. Kudos to Sandler, Samberg and Gomez giving another great round. I would also like to note the performance of Brooks as Vlad. He gave a wonderfully memorable performance. Too bad he showed up in the last 15 minutes of the film. I also have to note the adorable and memorable performance of Blinkoff as Dennis. He gave one of the cutest performances I have seen for a animated character. Truly of the few highlights for the film.

While not as clever or inventive as its predecessor, Hotel Transylvania 2 compensates with enough dazzling visuals to keep younger viewers entertained, especially for the Halloween season. At its heart, the film is fun, even if it is occasionally so chaotic it swarms and tramples the movie's flow like Wayne's 30 children. It's loud, weird and chaotic - just as kids like it. There's plenty of screaming and running while arms flail about, and even the obligatory message bit is given a healthy dose of scares. Your car ride back from the theater won't be a quiet one, but sometimes it's good to have a sugary treat. Unfortunately though, the film promised more fun and laughs than it delivers, and like too many animated sequels before it, that had gone out the window before it made it to the final act. In the end, It's one of the rare sequels that tries to take the spirit of the original and tries to come up with something uniquely good in its own right.

Simon says Hotel Transylvania 2 receives:

Also, see my review for Hotel Transylvania.

Tuesday, 27 October 2015

Film Review: "Burnt" (2015).

"I don't want my resturant to be a place where people sit and eat. I want people to sit at that table and be sick with longing." This dish of words tries to make the dishes served in Burnt. This comedy-drama film directed by John Wells and written by Steven Knight. The follows Adam Jones, a Chef who destroyed his career with drugs and diva behavior. Years later, He cleans up and returns to London, determined to redeem himself by spearheading a top restaurant that can gain three Michelin stars.

The film, like its central protagonist, suffered trying to gain success and recognition in the intense and unrelenting kitchen of the film industry. The script was featured on the 2007 Black List, the list of the most liked unproduced scripts. David Fincher was originally attached to direct in 2008, with Keanu Reeves attached to star. Eventually, both Fincher and Reeves left the project in 2010. Then Derek Cianfrance was attached to direct the film in 2013, but dropped out and was replaced by John Wells. Also, the film was originally going to be titled Chef, but Jon Favreau had already used the title for his film. In addition, before the Weinstein Company bought the rights for Adam Jones, it was a Sony Pictures project and the company served Favreau's production with a cease-and-desist over the title Chef, Sony cleared the titles Chef and The Chef with the MPAA and requested Aldamisa (which controlled Favreau's film) to change the title of their film on threat of legal action. Favreau's film ended up with the title Chef and was released in 2014, while Sony/The Weinstein Company's Chef changed its title to Adam Jones in 2014. In July 2015, it was retitled Burnt and will be released in October 2015.

The film stars Bradley Cooper, Sienna Miller, Omar Sy, Daniel Brühl, Matthew Rhys, Alicia Vikander, Uma Thurman and Emma Thompson. The cast gave strong performances despite lack of development, chemistry and the lack to make them appealing as the dishes their characters create and serve. In addition, Cooper's performance was nothing more than a pale imitation of fictional and non-fictional chefs before him.

Burnt is one of those movies that presents life precisely and meticulously as it isn't, presumably as some kind of consolation for how it really is. With its simplistic compartmentalization of dueling personality types, exquisite styling, overripe camera moves and lousy, overwrought score, the movie feels stubbornly, resolutely disingenuous and one-dimensional. Make no mistake: the film is a factory-sealed romantic comedy drama. But the emotional details of Adam's journey are surprising at certain turns, and the film’s determination to present his predicament sympathetically, makes it notable. The movie is focused on two kinds of chemistry: of the kitchen, and of the heart. The kitchen works better, with the shots of luscious-looking food. But the chemistry between Adam and Helene is terribly lacking, except when we sense some fondness—not really love. The characters seem to feel more passion for food than for each other.

Simon says Burnt receives:

Also, see my review for August: Osage County.

Film Review: "The Walk" (2015).

"People ask me "Why do you risk death?". For me, this is life."
These words tell the story of a wild dream in The Walk. This biographical drama film directed by Robert Zemeckis and written by Dita Jaiswal and Zemeckis. It is based on the novel To Reach the Clouds by Philippe Petit. The film tells the story of Philippe Petit. Guided by his real-life mentor, Papa Rudy, and aided by an unlikely band of international recruits, Petit and his gang overcome long odds, betrayals, dissension and countless close calls to conceive and execute their mad plan - to walk in the immense void between the World Trade Centre towers.

Philippe Petit may be just a French high-wire artist from Paris, but he gained fame in 1974 for his high-wire walk between the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center in New York City, on the morning of 7 August. For his unauthorized feat (which he referred to as "le coup"), he rigged a 450-pound (200-kilogram) cable and used a custom-made 26-foot (8-metre) long, 55-pound (25-kilogram) balancing pole between the towers. He then walked 1,350 feet (400 metres) above the ground and performed for 45 minutes, and during those 45 minutes, he made eight passes on the wire. Immediately afterwards, he was arrested and charged with more than 100 counts of trespassing and other items. However, all charges were dismissed in exchange for his doing a performance in Central Park for children. Then the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey gave Petit a lifetime pass to the Twin Towers' Observation Deck. He autographed a steel beam close to the point where he began his walk. Petit's high-wire walk was credited with bringing the Twin Towers much needed attention and even affection, as they initially had been unpopular. The walk itself became the subject of the documentary film, Man on Wire (2008), by James Marsh; it won numerous awards at the Sundance Film Festival, the Full Frame Documentary Film Festival and the Academy Award for Best Documentary in 2009. On stage with Marsh to accept the Oscar award, Petit made a coin vanish in his hands while thanking the Academy "for believing in magic." He also balanced the Oscar by its head on his chin for the audience.

The film stars Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Ben Kingsley, Charlotte Le Bon, James Badge Dale, Ben Schwartz, and Steve Valentine. The cast gave exceptional performances. Even though Gordon-Levitt's French Accent was sketchy (to say the least), nonetheless his French was excellent and won my attention, especially with the spine-tingling climax.

In the end, I've never met anyone like Petit in a movie before, and for that matter I've never seen a movie quite like The Walk. Any attempt to describe him and what he did will risk making the movie seem less appealing than it is. I guess, it will be better for people to see it for themselves. It is a magical movie. It has been very well worked out on all levels, and manages the difficult feat of imitating the historical moment itself, even delicately played with an appealingly light touch with a subject so crazy.

Simon says The Walk receives:

Also, see my review for Flight.

Tuesday, 20 October 2015

Film Review: "Legend" (2015).

The tagline of the film reads "The notorious true story of the Kray twins", and this is the exact story that Legend unfolds. This British crime thriller, written and directed by Brian Helgeland; based on the book The Profession of Violence: The Rise and Fall of the Kray Twins by John Pearson. The film tells the story of the identical twin gangsters Reggie and Ronnie Kray, two of the most notorious criminals in British history, and their organised crime empire in the East End of London during the 1960s.

"London in the 1960s, everyone had a story about the Krays. They were twins. Reggie was a gangster prince of East End, Ronnie Kray was a one-man mob." And indeed they were,  twin brothers Ronald "Ronnie" Kray and Reginald "Reggie" Kray were English gangsters who were the foremost perpetrators of organised crime in the East End of London during the 1950s and 1960s. With their gang, the Firm, the Krays were involved in armed robberies, arson, protection rackets, assaults, and the murders of Jack "the Hat" McVitie and George Cornell. As West End nightclub owners, they mixed with politicians and prominent entertainers such as Diana Dors, Frank Sinatra, and Judy Garland. The Krays were much feared within their milieu; in the 1960s, they became celebrities, even being photographed by David Bailey and interviewed on television. However, in the end, they were arrested on 9 May 1968 and convicted in 1969, by the efforts of detectives led by Detective Superintendent Leonard "Nipper" Read. Both were sentenced to life imprisonment. Ronnie remained in Broadmoor Hospital until his death on 17 March 1995; Reggie was released from prison on compassionate grounds in August 2000, eight weeks before his death from cancer.

The film stars Tom Hardy, Emily Browning, Christopher Eccleston, Paul Bettany, Colin Morgan, David Thewlis, Tara Fitzgerald, and Taron Egerton. The cast gave top-notch performances, especially the man who played the infamous twins - Hardy, and the woman who tried to hold one of them together - Browning. Hardy is startlingly off-kilter, his performance a veritable textbook example of juxtaposing and complex brilliance. Browning gave a terrific performance as the sweet and fragile Frances Shea. But it was in her fragility that she shined most of all and allowed us to empathise with her the most out of all the characters.

Legend is an intense psychological drama which confronts familiar preoccupations of this kind of film - the sweet rise and bitter fall , mortality, the power struggle between the sanity and insanity. Even though these preoccupations have been done-and-dusted with multiple films before it. However, Helgeland, who has begun to emerge as a writer of gangster tales, clearly understands that a small amount of psychological mischief can make this film more unnerving than the conventional grisly crime pictures. In a weird variation of the Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde theme, the Krays are drawn relentlessly and frighteningly towards an inevitable and appalling fate. Hardy gives a highly accomplished performance in a chilly East-end London gangster psychodrama that remains among some of the star's greatest roles.

Simon says Legend receives:

Monday, 19 October 2015

Film Review: "Bridge of Spies" (2015).

"In a world on the brink the difference between war and peace was one honest man." This tagline is what Bridge of Spies stands for. This historical dramatic thriller film directed by Steven Spielberg from a screenplay written by Matt Charman and Ethan Coen and Joel Coen. Based on the 1960 U-2 incident during the Cold War. The film tells the story of lawyer James B. Donovan, an American lawyer who is recruited and entrusted by the CIA with negotiating the release of Francis Gary Powers - a U-2 pilot detained in the Soviet Union - in exchange for Rudolf Abel, a captive Soviet KGB spy held under the custody of the United States.

Like most of Spielberg's war-themed projects, Bridge of Spies is no exception when the director has a personal history and connection with the project. Just as Schindler's List (1993) resonated with Spielberg's Jewish upbringing; Saving Private Ryan (1998) connected with him because of his father's wartime service, and Munich (2005) showing Spielberg's own relationship with the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. The events in the film has another seemingly amazing connection with the director. Spielberg's father actually went on a foreign exchange to Russia as an engineer during the cold war, right after Francis Gary Powers was shot down, when there was tremendous fear and hostility between the two nations. Spielberg's father recalled seeing Russian citizens line up to look at Powers' crashed gear and "see what America did". When they saw the American engineers, they pointed at them and said, "Look what your country is doing to us", demonstrating the fear and rage the nations felt towards each other. After Spielberg's father agreed to read the script, he showed Spielberg photo slides of Powers' crashed gear.

The film was first commissioned by screenwriter Matt Charman. He then pitched it to DreamWorks co-founder Steven Spielberg, who became interested in the film and decided to direct. Joel Coen and Ethan Coen were then brought in to revise Charman's original script. In June 2014, Fox 2000 Pictures agreed to co-finance the film with DreamWorks and Participant, with the film's distribution rights being divided up between Disney and Fox. In May 2014, it was announced that Tom Hanks would star as James Donovan, and Mark Rylance would star opposite Hanks as Rudolf Abel. Amy Ryan, Alan Alda, Billy Magnussen, and Eve Hewson were reported to star in the film as well. This is Hanks' fourth film collaboration with Spielberg in over ten years. They previously worked together on Saving Private Ryan (1998), Catch Me If You Can (2002) & The Terminal (2004). It is their first collaboration in over ten years. Principal photography began in September, 2014 and shot for 12 weeks on locations in Brooklyn, New York; Berlin and Potsdam, Germany and Wrocław, Poland, including many of the very places where the events in the story actually took place. The film was shot under the working-title of St. James Place. The European production kicked off in Berlin, where the actual prisoner exchange of Abel and Powers took place, and would last there through the end of November. To film the crucial Berlin Wall sequences, production also traveled to Wrolcaw, which more accurately resembles the East Berlin of 1961 than Berlin itself. During December, filming took place at Beale Air Force Base, Marysville, California before Principal photography officially ended. During production, Francis Gary Powers, Jr., founder of The Cold War Museum and the pilot's son, was brought on as a technical consultant and has a cameo in the film. This film is particularly notable for being the first Spielberg film not to be scored by John Williams since The Color Purple (1985). In March 2015, after Williams' schedule was interrupted by a minor health issue which reportedly has since been corrected, Thomas Newman stepped in to replace him as composer.

The film stars Tom Hanks, Mark Rylance, Amy Ryan, and Alan Alda. The cast gave superb performances, especially Hanks as Donovan. Hanks characteristically delivers in this witty, dignified portrait that immerses the audience in its world and entertains even as it informs. The hallmark of this performance, performed so powerfully by Hanks, was playing a calm self-confident and patient man who had a willingness to play politics and justice in a realistic and human way. As he is the one who is defending the ideals and principles of his nation and showing us never to sacrifice those qualities no matter what, in this case being whether someone is guilty or how much a situation escalates to. Even going so far as to using the same words that his real-life counterpart used when he made arguments to the Supreme Court when taking about and defending Abel. In addition, Rylance was equally magnetic as Hanks in delivering a portrait of a calm and quiet man whose mutual respect for Hanks' Donovan made great chemistry on screen. Their scenes together alone were all cinematic unto themselves, and could have easily taken up the entire film. And their final bow was the most magnetic and warmest of all.

Bridge of Spies is one of the most remarkable movies Spielberg has made in the subsequent years, and one of the things that makes it remarkable is how it fulfills those expectations by simultaneously ignoring and transcending them. The fourth collaboration of Spielberg and Hanks has brought forth another triumphant piece of historical and cinematic journalism, a profound work of popular art and a rich examination of one of humanity's lesser-known triumphs. Like Schindler's List, Saving Private Ryan, War Horse (2011) and Lincoln (2012), it is one of the finest historical dramas Spielberg has ever committed to film. In conclusion, it is finally a movie about how difficult and costly it has been for the United States to recognize its ill-fated relationship with Russia. However, there's so much material, not much revelation to the film. Nonetheless, the film does contain Spielberg's reliable cinematic flair to elevate this film to its peak. In the end, this film is a noble humanistic masterpiece. 

Simon says Bridge of Spies receives:

Also, see my review of Lincoln.

Saturday, 17 October 2015

Film Review: "The Throne" ("사도") (2015).

The film's tagline reads "The tragedy between father and son begins", which is at the heart of The Throne (사도). This South Korean historical period drama film directed by Lee Joon-ik. Set during the reign of King Yeongjo in 18th century Korea, the film is about the life of Crown Prince Sado, the heir to the throne who was deemed unfit to rule and, at age 27. It also chronicles his struggle with his father and long-ruling King Yeongjo, until he was condemned to death by his own father by being locked in a rice chest for eight days until he suffocated and starved.

Based on true historic event called 'Im-o-hwa-byeon' in 1762, which King Yeongjo decreeing Crown prince to climb into and be sealed within a large wooden rice chest. Crown prince died eight days later. History indicates Sado suffered from mental illness; accused of randomly killing people in the palace and being a serial rapist. By court rules King Yeongjo could not kill his son by his own hands. As a result, Yeongjo, with the consent of Sado's mother, Lady Yi, issued a royal decree that ordered Sado climb into and be sealed within a large wooden rice chest on a hot July day in 1762. After eight days, Sado died. Sado was buried on Mt BaebongSan in Yangju. In 1789, his body was moved by his son King Jeongjo, to its current location, then called Hyeollyungwonnear Suwon, 30 kilometers south of Seoul. Five years later, the Suwon Hwaseong Fortress was built by King Jeongjo, specifically to memorialize and honor his father's tomb (the construction lasted 1794-1796, while the official reception was 1795). In 1816, Lady Hyegyeong died and was buried with her husband. In 1899, Prince Sado and Lady Hyegyeong were posthumously elevated in status and given the titles Emperor Yangjo and Empress Heonyeong. Their tomb was upgraded accordingly and renamed Yungneung. However, despite the story told in History classes and in the film, during the 19th century, there were rumors that Sado was not mentally ill, but had been framed; however, these rumors are contradicted by his wife, Lady Hyegyeong, in The Memoirs of Lady Hyegyeong. Sado's death remains an issue of debate as to whether his death was a retribution for his actual misconduct or if he was the victim of a conspiracy by his political opponents.

The film stars Song Kang-Ho as King Yeongjo, Yoo Ah-In as Crown Prince Sado, Moon Geun-Young as Hyegyeong Hong, Jeon Hye-Jin as Youngbin Lee, and Kim Hae-Sook as Queen Inwon. The cast gave exceptional performances despite the lack of authenticity to their historical counterparts. The performances between Song Kang-Ho and Yoo Ah-In proved to be the film's most compelling of all.

The Throne may lack the complex political context and historical authenticity of the real-life event, but the cast, including Song Kang-Ho and Yoo Ah-In, surprisingly bring an emotional level to this profoundly mistaken interpretation of one of the most controversial periods in Korean history.

Simon says The Throne receives:

Thursday, 15 October 2015

Film Review: "Crimson Peak" (2015).

"Ghosts are real, that much I know. I've seen them all my life..." These words should not be taken lightly in Crimson Peak. This gothic romance film directed by Guillermo del Toro, and written by del Toro and Matthew Robbins. In the aftermath of a family tragedy, the film follows an aspiring author who is torn between love for her childhood friend and the temptation of a mysterious outsider. Trying to escape the ghosts of her past, she is swept away to a house that breathes, bleeds...and remembers.

"... Basically what it is a really, really, almost classical gothic romance ghost story, but then it has two or three scenes that are really, really disturbing in a very, very modern way. Very, very disturbing, it's a proper R rating. And it's adult." This was the inspiration behind Crimson Peak when del Toro and co-writer Matthew Robbins wrote the original spec script back in 2006 after the release of Pan's Labyrinth. Del Toro called the film a "ghost story and gothic romance". Del Toro wanted the film to honor the "grand dames" of the haunted house genre, intended to make a large-scale horror film in the tradition of those he grew up watching, such as Robert Wise's The Haunting (1963), Jack Clayton's The Innocents (1961) and The Shining (1980). British playwright Lucinda Coxon was enlisted to rewrite the script with del Toro in hopes of bringing it a "proper degree of perversity and intelligence", but is not credited. Del Toro and Robbins wrote 11 or 12 versions of the film before settling on the final draft. Del Toro was coming up with new scenes during production.

The film stars Mia Wasikowska, Tom Hiddleston, Jessica Chastain, Charlie Hunnam, and Jim Beaver. The cast gave intense and tour de force performances, especially the first three: Wasikowska giving an excellent portrait of a headstrong woman, Hiddleston giving a sympathetic performance as the mysterious and tormented outsider and Chastain giving the most intense performance of all and portrayed, oddly enough in my opinion, the most sympathetic character of all; regardless her psychotic and 'needy' nature. She gives a performance with an intensity that is frightening in itself.

As a ghost story and a gothic romance, Crimson Peak is one of the most highly regarded gothic romance films ever made. Davis Boulton's cinematography extraordinarily dexterous and visually exciting, and Tom Sander's production design of the "monstrous" house most decidedly the star of the film. The film is a cinematically elegant and literate work of art. This time del Toro does it all his way, does a splendid job and has a splendid cast to do it with. The visually rich beauty of the film enhances the dread by intensifying our sense of how feeble even the most luminous of surfaces can be in hiding the horrors beneath, which is appropriate for a film awash in gothic romantic subtext. However, the film is not completely a stroke of triumph for del Toro. With a story that has major shortcomings and is incomprehensible at points. On the other hand, as an example of directorial bravura and as a study of madness and the dark, ugly side of love. The film is like a near-miss auto accident: You don't know how scared you really were until you start shaking a few hours later.

Simon says Crimson Peak receives:

Also, see my review for Pacific Rim.

Tuesday, 13 October 2015

Film Review: "Black Mass" (2015).

"Based on the true story of one of the most notorious gangsters in U.S. history."
This is the story that is explored in Black Mass. This crime film directed by Scott Cooper and written by Mark Mallouk and Jez Butterworth, based on the 2001 book Black Mass: The True Story of an Unholy Alliance Between the FBI and the Irish Mob by Dick Lehr and Gerard O'Neill. The film follows the true story of James 'Whitey' Bulger, the brother of a state senator and the most infamous violent criminal in the history of South Boston, who became an FBI informant to take down a Mafia family invading his turf.

James Joseph 'Whitey' Bulger, Jr. is an Irish-American convicted murderer and a former organized crime boss of the Boston Irish Mob crew known as the Winter Hill Gang. Bulger was indicted for 19 murders based on grand jury testimonies from Bulger's former associates. Bulger served as an informant for the Federal Bureau of Investigation from 1975 to 1994. As a result, the Bureau largely ignored his organization in exchange for information about the inner workings of the Winter Hill Gang's rivals, the Italian American Patriarca crime family. In 1993, the New England media exposed criminal actions by federal, state, and local law enforcement officials tied to Bulger. Bulger then fled Boston and went into hiding on December 23, 1994, after being tipped off by his former FBI handler about a pending indictment under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO). For 16 years, he remained at large. For 12 of those years, Bulger was on the FBI Ten Most Wanted Fugitives list. But in 2011 Bulger was arrested, the $2 million reward the FBI offered for information leading to his capture was larger than that for any other fugitive on the list except Osama bin Laden. Bulger had been living under the alias Charlie Gasko. According to FBI agent Scott Gareola, Bulger immediately put his hands in the air. When he was ordered to get on his knees, Bulger replied, "I ain't getting down on my f---ing knees." He was wearing white pants, and reportedly didn't want to dirty them on the oil-stained garage floor.

The film has an ensemble cast starring Johnny Depp, Joel Edgerton, Benedict Cumberbatch, Kevin Bacon, Jesse Plemons, Peter Sarsgaard, Rory Cochrane, Adam Scott, Dakota Johnson, and Corey Stoll. The cast gave stellar performances, especially to Depp who gave a magnetic performance. Probably his most mesmerising and best performance in years. The performance Depp gives is something else. For once an actor playing a gangster does not seem to base his performance on movies he has seen. He starts cold and stays cold. He plays Bulger with conviction.

Featuring outstanding work from an excellent cast, especially Johnny Depp, Black Mass is an engrossing gangster drama with the gritty authenticity and soupy morality. However, at times, there are elements that seem borrowed from movies like Goodfellas (1990), The Departed (2007) and Public Enemies (2009), which makes the film feel pretty much like a "been-there-done-that" movie.

Simon says Black Mass receives:

Monday, 12 October 2015

Piano Concert 2015

Leo Shin as the Host.

Rosa Shin & Chris Ryu playing Spring Song, composed by Felix Mendelssohn and arranged by Francis Shaw.

Naa-Eun & Bomi Kim playing Sonata in D major for Two Pianos K. 448 1st Movement, Allegro con Spirito, by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.

Andy & David Wang playing Golliwog's Cake-Walk from Children's Corner, by Claude Debussey.

Naa-Eun Kim & Winnie Zhang playing Eighteenth Variation for Two Pianos, from Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini, by Sergei Rachmaninov. 

Rahil & Savesh John playing Lieberfreud, by Fritz Kreisler.

Rosa & Leo Shin and Joo-Eun Kim playing Concerto for Two Cellos in G minor, RV. 531 3rd Movement, Allegro, by Antonio Vivaldi.

Ahimsha & Abinaya Saravanapavan playing Witches' Flight, by H. M. Russell.

Dahvin Kim & Esther Oh playing Suite No. 1 for Two Pianos Op. 15 1st movement, Romance, by Anton Arensky. 

He-Min Lee & Miles Boermans playing Suite No. 1 for Two Pianos Op. 15 2nd movement, Waltz, by Arensky. 

He-Min Lee & Dahvin Kim playing Sonata in G major K. 357 lst movement, Allegro, by Mozart.

Rosa Shin, Jae Ho Lee, Irene Yang & Choong Won Park playing Fantasy on Themes from Bizet's Carmen, composed by Georges Bizet and arranged by Mack Wilberg.