Wednesday, 25 February 2015

Film Review: "McFarland, USA" (2015).




The film's tagline "Champions can come from anywhere" is exactly the story of McFarland, USA. This sports drama film directed by Niki Caro and produced by Walt Disney Pictures. Based on the true story of a 1987 cross country coach and his team from a predominantly Mexican-American high school, McFarland High School, in McFarland, California. It follows the struggling coach and teacher who has been had to move around for different incidents in his career finally comes to one of the poorest cities in America. There he discovers buried potential among several high school boys and slowly turns them into championship runners and brings them closer than even he could ever imagine.

In a Running Times interview, coach Jim White disclosed that he started the McFarland Cross Country program in 1980. He said that the first state meet wasn’t until 1987 and McFarland did win, but the movie changed the timing up so that it all happened at once. There were also a lot more than seven kids on the team. Plus, the courses weren’t quite like they were on-screen. The school's unprecedented 24-year streak of attending the State Championship meet ended while the film was in production after the small school was elevated to Division I to compete against schools with more than 2.5 times its enrollment (a byproduct of their success)

The film stars Kevin Costner, Mario Bello, Carlos Pratts, Johnny Ortiz, Hector Duran, Sergio Avelar, Michael Aguero, Rafael Martinez and Ramiro Rodriguez. The cast gave exceptional performances despite having some cliches associated with inspiring sentimental sport dramas.

It may not break new ground, but McFarland USA is a somewhat entertaining film, awash in clichés but leavened by the charismatic performance of Kevin Costner as Jim White. Pleasant to a fault, the film is a middle-of-the-plate race that coasts on Kevin Costner's considerable charm without adding any truly original curves to Disney's inspirational sports formula. Though, at some fault, it's a well produced addition to the Disney sports movie canon that works as both a stirring underdog tale. In addition, it put across the movie's many cliches with a certain verve, and find room for somewhat unexpected detours and grace notes in an overall familiar trajectory. Dutifully covering all the requisite inspirational sports movie/fish-out-of-water bases yet still managing to throw a few fresh curves into the mix, the film barely makes it to the finish line. When it's good it's good. When it's bad - well, it's bad. It may seem that the film takes too long to get to the race. But by the time it does get down to it, we've invested enough in the cast to give a damn about the outcome of the all-important Big Show. The film is a Walter Mitty tale, but a true one, a fantasy come to life. The latest in Disney's line of films about real-life sports figures never settles for easy answers. It is a well-made studio entertainment that, like The Rookie (2004) of a few years back, has the knack of being moving without shamelessly overdoing a sure thing.

Simon says McFarland USA receives:


Tuesday, 24 February 2015

Disney Diary - Week 6.

Though Week 5 was dreadfully empty and boring, Week 6 is of course different here in Orlando. Week 5 consisted of nothing but, what Morgan Freeman's character Red from The Shawshank Redemption (1994) describes as, "Same old shit, different day". Meaning I just basically worked, nothing else. However, this week was not the same old thing, this week had one exciting major event celebrated by Disney which was... the 87th Annual Academy Awards. I had the great fortune to have my work shift in the morning and to make it home one time for me to watch the Oscars at the Commons Clubhouse on the big screen. Here I will share some photos and opinions of the most glamorous night in Hollywood.








Neil Patrick Harris, everybody!



Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) wins the Oscar for Best Picture!








"That's all folks!"


First of all, congratulations to Alejandro González Iñárritu for winning his first, second and third Oscar for this year's Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance). Winning four Oscars for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Original Screenplay and Best Cinematography. However, I must confess that Boyhood or The Imitation Game had a shot at Winning Best Picture. As well as Michael Keaton winning the Oscar for Best Actor. But of course Eddie Redmayne deserved it for his performance as Hawking.

In addition to Birdman, congratulations to those who won the following categories; Best Actor in a Supporting Role, Best Actress in a Leading Role, Best Actress in a Supporting Role, Best Animated Feature, Best Animated Short, Best Costume Design, Best Documentary Feature, Best Documentary Short, Best Film Editing, Best Foreign Language Film, Best Song, Best Short Film, Best Visual Effects, Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Original Screenplay.

But of course there were also some unexpected winners with the following categories; Best Makeup, Best Original Score, Best Art Direction, Best Sound Editing and Best Sound Mixing. I honestly thought that Guardians of the Galaxy should have won best Makeup, Hans Zimmer should have won for his breathtaking score for Interstellar and the film should have bagged the latter categories. But congratulations to the winners.

In the end, this year's Oscars was better than the 83rd, however it felt weaker than expected and I had high expectation for good old Barney Stinson. He was magnificent and edgy for the Tony Awards, but he was somewhat weak for this show. However we must remember that hosts are not permitted to go too edgy because of the Academy's board and their concerns of low ratings. But it's funny how the Golden Globe Awards was edgy and, at times, pushing the envelope and yet it has strong ratings. Maybe the Academy should consider getting Amy Poehler and Tina Fey to host the Oscars next year to make up for the weak ratings and weak jokes. Better luck next time Doogie Houser.

In addition, I am always disappointed that some movies and filmmakers are horribly unrecognized and snubbed by the Academy. For example I thought Gone Girl and Interstellar should have had more nominations, particularly with Best Screenplay (Adapted and Original) and Best Director. Also I thought even a film such as Godzilla should have been recognized for Best Visual Effects and Best Sound (Editing and Mixing). I long for the day that one day, distant or near, that the Academy will be filled with a younger board who will have the ability to recognize both commercial and auteur films and not just one. As well as giving all films and filmmakers equal and fair chances. Hopefully it'll come sooner.


See Week 7 at http://ss-film.blogspot.ca/2015/03/simons-disney-diary-week-7.html

Tuesday, 17 February 2015

Film Review: "Kingsman: The Secret Service" (2015).




"Manners maketh man. Do you know what that means? Then let me teach you a lesson." And boy do we learn something with Kingsman: The Secret Service. This spy action comedy film, directed by Matthew Vaughn, based on the comic book The Secret Service, created by Dave Gibbons and Mark Millar, and adapted by Vaughn and Jane Goldman. The film tells the story of a super-secret spy organization that recruits an unrefined but promising street kid into the agency's ultra-competitive training program just as a global threat emerges from a twisted tech genius.

The project was announced in late October 2012, after Vaughn vacated the director's chair for X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014) to adapt Millar's comic book. On 27 March 2013, 20th Century Fox confirmed the film and set 14 November 2014 as the release date for the film worldwide, with production to begin in the following August. Colin Firth joined the cast to lead the film on 29 April 2013. On 3 June 2013, it was reported that Leonardo DiCaprio was in talks to play a villain. In late 2013, Vaughn cast Taron Egerton and Sophie Cookson for the young lead roles, preferring newcomers over more experienced candidates. Principal photography began in October 2013 throughout England, on a budget reported to be one-third of the budget of Skyfall (2012).

The film stars Colin Firth, Samuel L. Jackson, Mark Strong, Taron Egerton, Sophie Cookson, Michael Caine and Sofia Boutella. The cast gave exceptional performances, especially to Firth and the two newcomers Egerton and Cookson. Firth was the epitome of a gentleman spy. Very David Niven like in his demeanour and presentation. He also made a very good action star, according to stunt coordinator and second unit director Bradley James Allan, Firth did 80% of his own stunts. As well as worked out for around six months to be in top fighting shape and physical form in order to portray his role. Jackson as well gave a fun performance as the film's villain. He brought his own flavour to the character and it was... pure fun. Like many of the villains in the James Bond franchise have had some form of physical dysfunction or abnormality, Jackson's character of Richmond Valentine was originally intended not to have a lisp, however Jackson completed his first take with a lisp. Director Vaughn yelled cut and talked to Jackson who revealed to Vaughn that prior to having an acting career he actually had a lisp which he eventually overcame. It was also jokingly remarked that this lisp is Valentine's intention for being villainous. Boutella made an exceptional and original villainous hence-woman. She had to undergo an intense training schedule to portray the part of Gazelle. Boutella said: "They taught me Thai boxing, Taekwondo, and how to work with cables. Gazelle uses her legs to kill, so I had to learn different types of kicks. I'd never done anything like it before".

Kingsman: The Secret Service is a ridiculously entertaining, perfectly paced, ultra-violent cinematic rush that kicks the places other movies struggle to reach. The film's violence is clearly fantastical and cartoonish and not to be taken seriously. In addition to being a fast, periodically spit-funny and often grotesquely violent, the film at once embraces and satirizes contemporary spy action-film clichés with Tarantino-esque self-regard.

Simon says Kingsman: The Secret Service receives:


Wednesday, 11 February 2015

Disney Diary - Week 4.

Week Four came and went my readers and unfortunately to say that nothing much happened other than spending a couple of very late nights with my fellow co-workers and spending quality time with them. Having dinner parties and other things that I never did in my life back home. In case you are very curious of who these people are, I would like to make a shout-out to Anna Farmer, Carolina Crelier, Daniela Georg, Danielle Tracy, David Castro, Jessica Schow, Juliana Bordin, Kristen Jones and Tierney Plasecia. I apologize if I have not mentioned everybody. But I do like to say that one day I will thank you privately for your hospitality and friendship during my internship here.

Even though I had fun times with these unique characters, sadly two will be missed during my days here and will be missed by the rest of us. That goes to Daniela and Juliana whom left on Friday 7th due to the fact their internship only lasted for ten months and it was up very fast. They will be sadly missed and I had the pleasure of knowing them in a short period of time and they were the loveliest Brazilians I have ever met. Have a safe journey back home.

As I mentioned in my last diary entry that I spent my first late night with my new friends at the International House of Pancakes. This week, however, we went to the famous Denny's and Applebee’s. And they were extraordinary to a young Kiwi's eyes. Sadly I have no photos this time to show what these places look like, both outside and inside. As well as the meals they serve.


See Week 6 at http://ss-film.blogspot.ca/2015/02/simons-disney-diary-week-6.html

Tuesday, 10 February 2015

Film Review: "Jupiter Ascending" (2015).





"Expand your universe", this is the tagline for Jupiter Ascending is a 2015 space opera written, produced, and directed by the Wachowskis. In a bright and colorful future, the film centres on Jupiter Jones, a young destitute down-on-her-luck caretaker who gets targeted by the ruthless son of a powerful family who lives on a planet in need of a new heir. Caine Wise, a genetically engineered interplanetary warrior informs her that destiny extends beyond Earth, so she travels with him to the planet in order to stop his tyrant reign.

The origin of this ambitious space epic began in 2009, when Warner Bros' former president Jeff Robinov approached The Wachowskis about creating an original intellectual property and franchise. Development began in 2011, with the production and visual effects teams doing pre-production work based on a first draft of the script, while The Wachowskis were shooting the future segments of Cloud Atlas. According to the directors, the first draft of the script was over 600 pages long. The story was partly inspired by Lana's favorite book, The Odyssey"It was making me super-emotional", Lana has said. "The whole concept of these almost spiritual journeys and you’re changed". Another inspiration was The Wizard of Oz which Lana contrasts to The Odyssey. "Dorothy is pretty much the same at the end as she is at the beginning. Whereas Odysseus goes through such an epic shift in his identity". Principal photography commenced at Warner Bros. Studios, Leavesden on April 2, 2013. Filming also took place in England and Chicago, Illinois. The film was originally slated for release for June 20, 2014. But the studio delayed the film's release and pushed it back almost an entire year (9 months to be exact) to give the production more time in the post-production process. On the date for the wide release of this movie, February 6th, 2015, Jupiter will be at its opposition. Meaning, it will be at its closest point to Earth, as well as have its face fully illuminated by the Sun.

The film stars Mila Kunis, Channing Tatum, Sean Bean, Eddie Redmayne, Douglas Booth and Tuppence Middleton. Though epically cast, one can not help feel that either the characters lacked development and/or felt rather ridiculous and stupid. Kunis, Bean, Booth and Middleton's characters all felt underdeveloped and were rather unrelatable in the end. Where as for Tatum and Redmayne's characters just felt stupid and ridiculous. Who can believe an intergalactic warrior who is half human and half wolf. And who can this film's main antagonist seriously when for most of the time he whispers his dialogue and who is derivative of science fiction villains such as Emperor Ming the Merciless from Flash Gordon (1980), except 10 times epically terrible.

Jupiter Ascending is a terminally underwhelming sci-fi epic that attempts to be original and ambitious, it may keep small children amused, admittedly, but will leave adults bored to tears. On top of that, some of this stuff is just cheesy in the same way it's been cheesy in dozens of cheaper, less cultish films. It's amazing how such a brilliant opening film can devolve into nothing but over-the-top fight scenes and visual effects. In the end, Characterization, plot, and speculations on life and reality take a backseat to the film's action sequences, which seem overly long and decidedly ho-hum.

Simon says Jupiter Ascending receives:



Monday, 2 February 2015

Disney Diary - Week 3.

Oh how time flies so fast, already is it February and the third week of my internship. Slowly, day-by-day, I am fitting into my new home. Already I have made great new friends and got to hit it off quite well with them, as well as gotten to know them well. This week was rather exciting, I got to experience my first American diner with my American friends in the middle of the night and I got to watch my first Super Bowl football game.

We'll start off with my first night at an American Diner. That night, or should I say morning, I had finished my long shift. And I mean LONG. My fellow co-workers invited me to join them and go out to the International House of Pancakes restaurant to eat and hang out with them. It was not too far with work and we wanted to hang out with the Brazilian employees before their internship was over. When we got there, I was amazed by the interior of the diner as well as the menu. It was unlike I had ever see. We all ordered what we wanted for that morning, which were mostly pancakes. I can't remember exactly what I ordered but boy, was it delicious and certainly different to all the pancakes I have eaten back home. The photos before will show you what I mean. And I do apologize if the photos are not picture-perfect. They were taken with my old iPhone 4 camera.


The International House of Pancakes.



A standard meal for me; Fried eggs, deep-fried mashed potatoes and two strips of bacon.



Raspberry Pancakes with whip cream. 


I know what you're thinking. Yes, it was delicious! I highly recommend going to this diner and try their pancakes. It will blow... your... taste buds... away.

Now, onto my first Super Bowl game. It was only earlier this evening that I got to watch it for the first time in my life. And boy was it exciting and worth the watch. Unfortunately, I had just finished my shift as the first half ended. But I made it to watch the second half. I watched the second half at the Commons complex in their screening room. There I never felt more excited to watch the game. The game consisted of the New Patriots against the Seattle Seahawks. Below are photos of the screening.





















I do apologize for the poor quality of the photos. Unfortunately, my professional camera was not permitted in the screening room. Instead I had to give my camera bag to security and I had to use my iPhone. The audience during the game was enthusiastic and passionate when it came to the Patriots making scores. By the end, the crowd went wild and their screams nearly shook the building as the Patriots won the game. With the score coming to Patriots: 28 and the Seahawks: 24.


See Week 4 at http://ss-film.blogspot.ca/2015/02/simons-disney-diary-week-4.html