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.

Monday, 16 November 2015

Film Review: "Knight of Cups" (2015).

"Fragments of a melancholy soul loathing the L.A. vacant life." This is Knight of Cups. This experimental drama film written and directed by Terrence Malick. Rick is a slave to the Hollywood system. He is addicted to success but simultaneously despairs at the emptiness of his life. A screenwriter living in LA tries to make sense of the strange events occurring around him.

In November 2011, the film was announced with Cate Blanchett and Christian Bale to star. In addition, the film would be shot back-to-back with Song to Song (2017), with production beginning in 2012. By late May 2012, Natalie Portman, Brian Dennehy, Antonio Banderas, Wes Bentley, Isabel Lucas, Teresa Palmer, Imogen Poots, Armin Mueller-Stahl, Frieda Pinto, Cherry Jones, Nick Offerman, Clifton Collins Jr., Dane DeHaan, Thomas Lennon, Joel Kinnaman, Jason Clarke, Shea Whigham, Ryan O'Neal, Joel Manganiello, Michael Wincott, Kevin Corrigan, Fabio, and Nick Kroll rounded out the film's cast. At the same time, principal photography commenced, and lasted for nine weeks. Filming took place throughout Los Angeles, California, and Berlin, Germany. While there was an actual script, Malick would write multiple new pages of dialogue for some of the actors and actresses and encouraged them to use whatever part of the dialogue they wanted. Despite playing the lead character, Bale received no writing for himself. This prompted Bale to try to sneak a peek of the other actors' and actresses' pages to ascertain what he could expect in each scene. He was only given the character description by Malick. Bale said that at the start of each day's shoot, he wouldn't know what would happen to his character. There was a lot of "let's see what happens" approach during shooting, which allowed "a lot of happy accidents". According to Bale, Malick didn't tell the actors and actresses what the movie was about. In addition to a traditional studio, the cast also recorded their voice-over work in unconventional places. Bale said that he, along with Portman, spent more days on the voice-over work for the movie than they did on the actual shooting. Bale later said that while filming, he was unclear about what the final film would actually be. According to Cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki, the script was between four hundred and six hundred pages long, but Malick told him not to read it. Instead, he wanted Lubezki to approach the movie in the manner of a documentary filmmaker. Lubezki said that he never shot a movie before without reading the script first. The film spent two years in post-production.

The performances, like the films, play like an undercooked pie that hasn't had enough time to cool and settle. They are a thing of great beauty, but not much more. Though, they are a mesmerizing, haunting study of immense beauty and insight, with characters that are constantly alive, pulsing with feeling and emotion in every frame.

Knight of Cups demonstrates Malick's gift for beautiful and profound images, but its narrative is overly somber and emotionally unsatisfying.

Simon says Knight of Cups receives:

Also, see my review for To the Wonder.

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.

Tuesday, 3 November 2015

Film Review: "The Green Inferno" (2013).

"Fear will consume you"
in The Green Inferno. This cannibal horror film directed by Eli Roth, and written by Roth and Guillermo Amoedo. The film follows New York college student Justine, a lawyer's daughter, who meets a student activist named Alejandro when he goes on a hunger strike on behalf of underpaid janitors. Smitten, Justine agrees to help Alejandro undertake his next project: to save the Amazon. She soon learns to regret her decision when their plane crashes in the Peruvian jungle and she and the rest of their group are taken captive by a tribe of hungry cannibals.

In mid May 2012, at the 2012 Cannes Film Festival, Roth announced that he was planning to direct a cannibal horror thriller, with a script written by Roth and Amoedo. Inspired by the Italian cannibal films of the late 1970s and early '80s "cannibal boom", particularly Cannibal Holocaust (1980) and Cannibal Ferox (1981). By early November, Lorenza Izzo, Ariel Levy, Nicolás Martínez, Daryl Sabara, Kirby Bliss Blanton, Magda Apanowicz, Aaron Burns, Sky Ferreira, and Richard Burgi were cast. Roth would only audition actors who agreed to be vaccinated for yellow fever. At the same time, principal photography commenced, and wrapped in late December. Filming took place in Tarapoto, Peru; Santiago, Chile; and New York City. Roth cited the films of Werner Herzog and Terrence Malick as visual influences. When Roth and his crew approached villagers to be extras in the film, he soon realized that they had never seen a movie and had no concept of what one was. To demonstrate what a movie was, Eli brought a TV and a copy of Cannibal Holocaust and had a screening for everyone. The villagers loved it and gladly acted in the film. Almost every villager signed up to be in the film. Some of them were part of the crew. Scorching temperatures reached about 110 degrees during filming, which caused a Peruvian camera crew to quit on their first day. While the whole cast suffered from bug bites, Blanton had to be hospitalized. Izzo nearly drowned on set. At the end of filming, Roth disclosed that the tribe offered a two-year-old child to the production designer as a "thank you" for including them in the film. The production designer politely declined the offer. The cast and crew were all then treated for parasites. 

The film stars Izzo, Levy, Martínez, Sabara, Blanton, Apanowicz, Burns, Ferreira, and Burgi. The performances contributed to the horrific realism of the film, even though, apart from Izzo, they were obvious victims for the slaughter.

It's a weird movie with an awkward narrative, which Roth makes all the more effective with his grimy sheen of documentary realism, while Manuel Riveiro's unsettlingly lovely, elegiac score provides a weird undercurrent. While it's hard to defend the director for some of the truly repugnant images with which he has chosen to convey his message, there is indeed an underlying point to the film, if one is able to look beyond the sometimes unwatchable images that assault the viewer.

Simon says The Green Inferno receives:

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.