Saturday, 29 August 2015

Film Review: "Straight Outta Compton" (2015).

The tagline of the film reads "The world's most dangerous times created the world's most dangerous group", this is what it is for Straight Outta Compton. This biographical drama film directed by F. Gary Gray. Set in 1987, five young men, using brutally honest rhymes and hardcore beats, putting their frustration and anger about life in the most dangerous place in America into the most powerful weapon they had: their music. The film tells the true story of how these cultural rebels-armed only with their lyrics, swagger, bravado and raw talent-stood up to the authorities that meant to keep them down and formed the world's most dangerous group, N.W.A. And as they spoke the truth that no one had before and exposed life in the hood, their voice ignited a social revolution that is still reverberating today.

N.W.A, or also known as Niggaz Wit Attitudes, was an American hip hop group from Compton, California. It was one of the earliest and most significant popularizers of the gangsta rap and West Coast hip hop subgenres, and is widely considered one of the seminal groups in the history of hip hop music. Active from 1986 to 1991, the rap group endured controversy owing to their music's explicit lyrics that many viewed as being disrespectful of women, as well as its glorification of drugs and crime. The group was also known for their deep hatred of the police system, which sparked much controversy over the years. The original lineup consisted of Arabian Prince, Dr. Dre, Eazy-E and Ice Cube. DJ Yella and MC Ren joined later, with Arabian Prince eventually leaving. Ice Cube left the group in December 1989 over royalty disputes. Eazy-E, Dr. Dre, Ice Cube and MC Ren would later become platinum-selling solo artists in the 1990s. Their debut album Straight Outta Compton marked the beginning of the new gangsta rap era as the production and social commentary in their lyrics were revolutionary within the genre. The group was subsequently banned from many mainstream American radio stations. In spite of this, the group has sold over 10 million units in the United States alone. Rolling Stone ranked N.W.A number 83 on their list of the "100 Greatest Artists of All Time". In October 2012, N.W.A were nominated for induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame for the first time.

The film stars O'Shea Jackson, Jr. as Ice Cube, Corey Hawkins as Dr. Dre, Jason Mitchell as Eazy-E, and Paul Giamatti as N.W.A's manager Jerry Heller. The performances were convincing without being too electric and they survived the X-ray truth-telling of the movie camera. In addition, the performances of the five men finds the right note somewhere between brotherhood love and exasperation. Each one of them has winning a screen presence and raw magic to them.

Even though the story is overly familiar, there's enough here for an engaging ride. Already we see that this movie stands aside from routine debut films by rap stars and that it is a faithful reflection of their myth. Straight Outta Compton is a real movie that qualifies as a cinematic event by tapping into the roots of N. W. A. and the fury and feeling that inform their rap and not as a fast-buck package to exploit the fan base of a notorious rap group. Sure the film shows us the rags-to-riches cliches and the group's rise to success. However, the film ends, not with a blast, but with the peace that comes to a group of artists whose journey is just getting started. The film wins by a knockout.

Simon says Straight Outta Compton receives:

Tuesday, 25 August 2015

Film Review: "She's Funny That Way" (2015).

The tagline of the film reads "Show biz has always been a little screwball" is exactly what She's Funny That Way attempts to explore. This screwball comedy film directed by Peter Bogdanovich and co-written with Louise Stratten. On the set of a playwright's new project, a love triangle forms between his wife, her ex-lover, and the call girl-turned-actress cast in the production.

She's Funny That Way is the first feature Peter Bogdanovich has directed in 12 years, since The Cat's Meow (2001). The film originated from a script written by director Peter Bogdanovich and ex-wife Louise Stratten around 1999 and 2000. Bogdanovich and Stratten, who were in financial distress at the time trying to buy back They All Laughed (1981), decided to write a comedy to uplift their spirits. While writing the script, Bogdanovich was inspired by an incident in Singapore during the time he was filming Saint Jack in 1978, where he was able to talk to many prostitutes after hiring them for his film. He would give them more money than their salary for them to leave the prostitution business. People Magazine reported this film going into pre-production in the mid-1990s, with the title Squirrels to the Nuts and featured Tatum O'Neal in the leading role. Peter Bogdanovich was quoted as saying "This movie is my gift to her." But due to many people misunderstanding it was a children's film, Bogdanovich changed it to She's Funny That Way. For the role of Arnold Albertson, Bogdanovich originally wrote it for John Ritter, but due to his death, Bogdanovich shelved the project. Eventually, Bogdanovich became friends with Owen Wilson, introduced to him by Wes Anderson, and he decided to change aspects of the character of Albertson: all of the physical gags intended for Ritter were changed to verbal jokes to suit Wilson. In 2010, protégés of Bogdanovich – Anderson and Noah Baumbach – offered their backing to get the film made, agreeing to serve as executive producers.

The film stars Owen Wilson, Imogen Poots, Kathryn Hahn, Will Forte, Rhys Ifans, Cybill Shepherd, Debi Mazar, Illeana Douglas and Jennifer Aniston. The performances were superbly acted and all expertly contributed to the film's hilarious gags and riffs. But it was Poots' performance that carried this film forward and she amazingly pulled off a Brooklyn accent.

Making excellent use of its characters and setting, Peter Bogdanovich's She's Funny That Way, an unusual story of a big city escort making it big, is a humorous but moving film filled with impressive performances. There are a number of hefty laughs scattered throughout. The film is a near-good perfect comedy piece, constructed with such delicacy that any opportunistic adjustment can destroy it, which is what happens here. It may not even be Mr. Bogdanovich's fault. Yet too often the action and the dialogue are so fuzzily understood that some of the laughs are lost. The film's problem is more basic: the attempt to make a screwball comedy contemporary with endless classic film references to today's audience and make it a hit - It can't be done.

Simon says She's Funny That Way receives:

Monday, 24 August 2015

Film Review: "Vacation" (2015).

"What could go wrong?" This is Vacation. This comedy film written and directed by Jonathan Goldstein and John Francis Daley, in their directorial debuts. It is the fifth installment of the Vacation film series, serving as a soft reboot. The film follows Rusty Griswold who plans a cross-country road trip with his wife and two sons in a bid to revive the lost ties between them. However, their trip turns into a series of mishaps for the family.

In February 2010, it was announced by New Line Cinema that a new Vacation film was in development with Goldstein and Daley hired to pen the script and direct. Vacation (1983), Planes, Trains & Automobiles (1987), and Lost in America (1985) served as influences for the film. In July 2012, it was announced that Ed Helms would star as Rusty Griswold. Helms would be the sixth actor to portray Rusty after Anthony Michael Hall (Vacation); Jason Lively (National Lampoon's European Vacation (1985)); Johnny Galecki (National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation (1989)); Ethan Embry (Vegas Vacation (1997)); and Travis Greer (Hotel Hell Vacation (2010)). Initially, Hall, Embry, and Galecki were offered to reprise the role, but they declined. Will Ferrell, Jason Sudeikis, Adam Sandler, and Michael Rosenbaum were considered before Helms was ultimately cast. By early October 2014, Christina Applegate, Skyler Gisondo, Steele Stebbins, Chris Hemsworth, Leslie Mann, Chevy Chase, Beverly D'Angelo, Charlie Day, Ron Livingston, Norman Reedus, Keegan-Michael Key, Regina Hall, Elizabeth Gillies, Nick Kroll, Michael Peña, and Colin Hanks rounded out the film's cast. Dana Barron, Dana Hill, Juliette Lewis, and Marisol Nichols were also asked to reprise the role of Audrey Griswold, but they also declined. At the same time, principal photography commenced, and took place throughout Georgia, North Carolina, Utah, Arizona, Illinois, and California.

The film stars Helms, Applegate, Gisondo, Stebbins, Hemsworth, Mann, Chase, D'Angelo, Day, Livingston, Reedus, Key, Hall, Gillies, Kroll, Peña, and Hanks. Thanks largely to the cast's zaniness and comic timing, this is a very funny film. The result is a confident humor and throwaway style that helps sustain the laughs -- of which there are quite a few.

Like the original, blessed by a brilliantly befuddled star turn from Ed Helms, Vacation is one of the more consistent – and thoroughly quotable – screwball instalments of the series. The film, which is more controlled than other Lampoon movies have been, is careful not to stray too far from its target. The result is a confident humor and throwaway style that helps sustain the laughs – of which there are quite a few. The film offers an enjoyable trip through familiar comedy landscapes thanks to Goldstein and Daley for populating the film with a host of well-known comedic performers in passing parts. The visual gags come thick and fast, and are about as subtly signposted as the exit markers on a freeway. An exercise in the comedy of humiliation which is the stuff of shamefaced giggles. I loved it. I couldn't figure out for anything why people didn't love that more.

Simon says Vacation receives:

Film Review: "Ricki and the Flash" (2015).

"Get Ready to Rock. Get Ready to Love. Get Ready for Ricki." This is Ricki and the Flash. This musical comedy-drama film directed by Jonathan Demme, and written by Diablo Cody. Years after Ricki follows her passion and becomes a rockstar, circumstances force her to return to her estranged family. While she tries to endear herself to them, they do not immediately take to her.

Cody penned a script inspired in part by her mother-in-law Terry Cieri, who has fronted a New Jersey bar band for years. Cody said, "I watched her on stage so many times, and I thought to myself, 'This woman's life is a movie.'" Cody specifically wrote the role of Ricki with Streep in her mind noting that actresses over 50 in Hollywood typically don't get complicated parts. By early October 2014, Meryl Streep, Mamie Gummer, Kevin Kline, Sebastian Stan, Audra McDonald, Nick Westrate, Rick Springfield, Ben Platt, and Rick Rosas were cast. In preparation for her role, Streep learned how to play the guitar. At the same time, principal photography commenced, and took place throughout New York. The film is dedicated to Rosas, who passed away from a lung disease shortly after filming. Rosas was a bassist who had a long-time friendship with Neil Young, playing together in The Bluenotes, Crazy Horse and with Young in his solo career. He also collaborated over the years with other bands such as Buffalo Springfield and Crosby, Stills & Nash.

The film stars Streep, Gummer, Kline, Stan, McDonald, Westrate, Springfield, Platt, and Rosas. Streep, Kline, and even Stan are aiming at a very high level, but they do not quite succeed. Streep's a radiant beam of beguiling star power in this stylish muddle. The performances is anything but a home run when clearly it should have been. It only manages to linger on the surface of the joy and pain of being flawed human beings.

Ricki and the Flash is a less-than-engrossing tale of family angst, highlighted by Streep's confident, though one of her weakest, performance and Demme's diminishing stature from Oscar-winning master to lowly studio hack. Demme's movie is so benign - he likes all his characters - it feels like a game of "let's pretend." Ultimately, it's a movie for music lovers--playful, hip and light as a feather. The truth is that the film gets increasingly tiresome. It's a piece of art that slowly diminishes not only the originality and pleasure of the kinds of films it copies, but also the entire school of filmmaking it wants to emulate. Demme does something I've never seen another director do - he made rock musicians and bands anything but cool. The story is as mixed up (yet with an outcome as predictable) as a plate of spaghetti. Apart from the story, the film is like the theme music for a dying era. May not be and should not be everyone's cup of tea, but at the end of it, I felt a guilty affection for all its participants.

Simon says Ricki and the Flash receives:

Saturday, 15 August 2015

Film Review: "The Man From U.N.C.L.E." (2015).

What happens when you pair Napoleon Solo, the CIA's most effective agent, with Illya Kurakin: the youngest member of the KGB? You get The Man from U.N.C.L.E. This action comedy spy film directed by Guy Ritchie and co-written by Lionel Wigram and Ritchie, based on the 1964 MGM television series of the same name, which was created by Sam Rolfe. The film is set in the early 1960s, it follows CIA agent Napoleon Solo and KGB operative Illya Kuryakin as they participate in a joint mission against a mysterious criminal organization, which is working to proliferate nuclear weapons.

Warner Bros. had been trying to make the film for over a decade and it was one of those projects that couldn't get the green light. First with producer John Davis in 1993, then Steven Soderbergh in 2012 (who was originally going to direct but exited the project over disagreements with the studio over budget and casting concerns). Finally in March 2013, Ritchie signed on. On July 31, 2013, it was announced that Ritchie's adaptation would start filming in September 2013 in London and Italy. One of the film's highlights is its authenticity towards the style and period in which the film is set in. The filmmakers explained that one of the reasons the film stayed in the 60s time period is it allows them "to have our own world, our own reality, our own tone, which sets us apart" from films like Bourne and other recent spy thrillers. Ritchie looked at films like Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969) for inspiration, trying to create a juxtaposition between humor and serious and looking to "cross genres to a degree". Some of the costumes in the film are actually vintage clothing.

 The film stars Henry Cavill as Solo, taking over the role once played by Robert Vaughn, and Armie Hammer as Kuryakin, once played by David McCallum. As well as Alicia Vikander, Elizabeth Debicki and Hugh Grant. The cast gave superb performance. In particular, Cavill and Hammer were perfect together. Vikander played the role beautifully and always had something to do as opposed to being the damsel-in-distress. The same is said for Debicki, who also made a convincing and seductive villain. Grant also gave a wonderful performance, however it was a terrible shame that his character had very small screen time.

Guy Ritchie's directorial style might not be quite the best fit for an update on the legendary 1960s spy TV series, but The Man From U.N.C.L.E. benefits from the elementary appeal of strong performances, visuals and an action-packed plot. Ritchie set out to make a cool movie about cool guys with cool stuff, however, the film was essentially a series of poses and stunts which was intermittently diverting at times. The filmmakers are mainly interested in action; that, they believe, is all that gets young audiences into cinemas today. They may be right, but they may have misunderstood the essence of one of television's greatest creations in the process.

Simon says The Man from U.N.C.L.E. receives:

Also, see my review for Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows.

Tuesday, 11 August 2015

Film Review: "Fantastic Four" (2015).

"Change is coming". This tagline brings a whole new breathe of life to Fantastic Four. This superhero film based on the Marvel Comics superhero team of the same name. It is the third theatrical Fantastic Four film to be distributed by 20th Century Fox, and a reboot of the Fantastic Four film franchise. Directed by Josh Trank, with a screenplay by Jeremy Slater, Simon Kinberg and Trank. The film follows four young outsiders that teleport to an alternate and dangerous universe which alters their physical form in shocking ways. The four must learn to harness their new abilities and work together to save Earth from a former friend turned enemy.

In August 2009, development of the film was announced. In July 2012, Trank was hired to direct and Slater to write the screenplay. In October 2013, Kinberg was hired as a co-writer. By January 2014, Kinberg finished rewriting the script and casting began. Principal photography commenced in May 2014 and concluded in August the same year. The film was shot in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. During Production, rumours began to circulate that Trank displayed "erratic" and "very isolated" behavior on set. In addition, Trank had several small dogs, who were left in a rented house in New Orleans while the film was shooting there. The dogs caused as much as $100,000 in damages to the property. However, Kinberg confirmed this by saying "It's upsetting, and it's the first time I've been part of a story that isn't true..." Unfortunately, that wasn't all, after Trank finalized his version of the film in 2014, the studio, seemingly dissatisfied with the director's work, demanded re-shoots, which were done in early 2015. Also Marvel wasn't fond of the direction the film was going. After the disappointing reviews director Josh Trank went on to tweet that "A year ago he had a fantastic version of this. And it would've received great reviews. You'll probably never see it. That's reality though." He went further to say that "He'll never be working on a comic book movie again". However the tweet was quickly deleted.

The film stars Miles Teller, Michael B. Jordan, Kate Mara, Jamie Bell, Toby Kebbell, Reg E. Cathey, and Tim Blake Nelson. The performances in this film were simply fantastic. For the first time, a director managed to nail the characterisation for Marvel's first superhero team. The casting of Teller, Jordan, Mara and Bell were perfect. As well as Kebell and Cathey. However, it did not come without its one noticeable flaw, which was that both the characters of Sue Storm and Victor Von Doom were terribly misused and under-utilised.

Wildly imaginative and profoundly different to other Marvel movies, Josh Trank's Fantastic Four is a movie that seeps in the superhero/comic-book loving zeitgeist and leaves you intrigued as to what went wrong with this misunderstood creation. What's good about the film are the strong performances and the ingenious, mostly humanly real first two acts of the script. What's ugly, of course, is how that potential disappointingly vanished with the final act. And what's bad is the movie's inability to reconcile its good and ugly aspects among both critics and audiences.

Simon says Fantastic Four receives:

Also, see my review of Chronicle.

Tuesday, 4 August 2015

Film Review: "Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation" (2015).

The tagline "Go rogue" is exactly what Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation goes for. This action spy film written and directed by Christopher McQuarrie. It is the fifth installment in the Mission: Impossible series. For their fifth mission, Ethan and team take on their most impossible mission yet, eradicating the Syndicate - an International rogue organization as highly skilled as they are, committed to destroying the IMF.

Paramount Pictures announced in August 2013 that Christopher McQuarrie would direct the fifth Mission: Impossible film, from a script by Drew Pearce, with Tom Cruise reprising his role as Ethan Hunt. On November 14, 2013, Simon Pegg confirmed he would reprise his role as Benji. In May 2014, Will Staples replaced Pearce as screenwriter. Also that month, Jeremy Renner confirmed he was returning in the role of Brandt, and Cruise said the film would shoot in London, with a later report saying it would first shoot in Vienna in August. In July 2014, Rebecca Ferguson was cast. Alec Baldwin was confirmed to have joined the cast in August 2014, and Ving Rhames was confirmed to be reprising his role of Luther. On September 5, it was announced that Sean Harris was in negotiations for the villain role. On October 2, Simon McBurney joined the cast of the film. On March 22, 2015, Paramount revealed the film's official title Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation, along with a teaser poster and trailer.

Tom Cruise, reprises his role as IMF Agent Ethan Hunt. As well as Jeremy Renner as Brandt, Simon Pegg as Benji, Ving Rhames as Luther. In addition, the film stars Rebecca Ferguson, Sean Harris, Alec Baldwin and Simon McBurney. The veteran cast, as well as the new cast, gave amazing performances. With the veteran cast topping their performances from the previous films. But the real kudos goes to Cruise, who not only took his character even further but topped himself in terms of stunt performance. For the opening scene where Ethan Hunt climbs on the outside of a flying airplane (an Airbus A400M), Cruise performed the sequence without the use of special effects or a stunt double. At times he was suspended on the aircraft 5000 feet in the air (1.5 kilometres). Cruise stated in an interview that it was his intention was to do the stunt in a way to outdo himself after the Burj Khalifa climb stunt in the previous film. To capture the action, a wind-resistant custom frame for the camera was built and mounted onto the left wing of the plane. Eight takes of the stunt were filmed. McQuarrie was very concerned that the actor could panic out of the sudden but was assured by Cruise not to stop the filming each take until the stunt routine has been finished. On top of that, Cruise himself was injured six times during the making of the movie. So bravo Mr. Cruise!

More Stylish, faster-paced, and loaded with more gripping set pieces, Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation is another big-budget popcorn entertainment that really works. The eye-candy—from high-tech gadgets to gorgeous people—has only been ratcheted up even more. With each film it gets more ludicrously improbable, but also more fun. It is faster and more explosive. McQuarrie passes his audition for a career as a modern action director. And the film more than makes its bones as an argument for why Tom Cruise should continue in this role as long as his knees, and his nerves, hold up.

Simon says Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation receives:

Also, see my reviews for Jack Reacher and Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol.

Film Review: "Mr. Holmes" (2015).

"After a lifetime of detective work, there's one mystery left to solve: his own" in Mr. Holmes. This mystery film directed by Bill Condon, adapted by Jeffrey Hatcher, and based on Mitch Cullin's 2005 novel A Slight Trick of the Mind. Long-retired and near the end of his life, Sherlock Holmes grapples with an unreliable memory and must rely on his housekeeper's son as he revisits the still-unsolved case that led to his retirement.

In early September 2013, it was announced that Cullin's book would receive the cinematic treatment with Condon to direct, Hatcher to pen the adaptation, and Ian McKellen in the title role. In preparation for the role, McKellen didn't research the Sherlock Holmes stories. McKellen claimed that he learned his lesson the hard way, making The Lord of the Rings trilogy (2001-3), that it was nothing more than a distraction, knowing the source material, and constantly questioning what changes were made for the script. Moreover, McKellen observed that it was easy for him to imagine Sherlock Holmes as a real person, since the majority of this movie is set during his own lifetime, and he could have met Sherlock as a boy in 1947, just like Roger. In addition, McKellen took a course in beekeeping with The London Honey Company prior to filming. He was not stung during filming. By early 2014, Laura Linney, Milo Parker, Hiroyuki Sanada, and Roger Allam rounded out the film's cast. Linney was initially hesitant about accepting her role, as she had just given birth to her son Bennett. However, when she learned that Condon was going to direct, she changed her mind and travelled to England with her infant. At the same time, principal photography commenced, and took place in London, Kent, Hertfordshire, and Sussex, England, as well as Shizuoka, Japan. In late August, it was revealed that Nicholas Rowe, who portrayed Holmes in the 1985 film Young Sherlock Holmes, would have a cameo role in the film. He portrays Holmes in a sequence spoofing the Basil Rathbone Sherlock Holmes films.

The film stars McKellen, Linney, Parker, Sanada, Allam, and Rowe. While Condon may not quite have captured an accurate Holmes, he and his cast have brought a memorable version of the legend to life. The film clearly belongs to McKellen, whose presence is what makes the film as affecting at it is. Condon's indie is narrowly focused in depicting Holme's personal and professional frustrations as an old man, but McKellen gives an astonishingly sophisticated performance.

Mr. Holmes is a spellbinding, confusing piece of semi-fiction, featuring fine performances; McKellen leads the way, but Redgrave and Fraser don't lag far behind. The idea to center on Holmes as an old man is good and original with the execution is rather strong and Codon's direction is personal. If these story elements seem typical of Conan Doyle, there is also a lot in this movie that can be traced directly to the work of Condon. It is not a deep or powerful film, but it is a good-hearted one.

Simon says Mr. Holmes receives:

Also, see my review for The Fifth Estate.