Friday, 22 January 2016

Film Review: "The Hateful Eight" (2015).

"Eight strangers. One deadly connection", "No one to trust. Everyone to hate", "Spend the holidays with someone you hate" and "The 8th film by Quentin Tarantino". All these taglines come to form The Hateful Eight. This Western mystery film written and directed by Quentin Tarantino. The film centres on eight nefarious trangers who seek refuge from a blizzard, in the dead of a Wyoming, in a stagecoach stopover some time after the American Civil War.

Tarantino announced the film in November 2013, originally as a sequel to Django Unchained (2013). But he quickly realized that Django's character did not fit the story. After the script leaked online in January 2014, Tarantino did not want to make the film. But after a brief live script reading at the United Artists Theater in L.A., Tarantino changed his mind. The cast were stunned and got excited for the film and with Samuel L. Jackson persuading him to do this film, Tarantino accepted. According to Quentin Tarantino his two primary cinematic influences on the film were The Thing (1982) and Reservoir Dogs (1992). Tarantino expressed that film was his metaphoric way of breaking down his feelings about The Thing, i.e. the way he felt watching it for the first time in a movie theater. Before filming commenced, Tarantino showed The Thing to the cast. The film was also inspired by 1960s Western TV shows including Bonanza, The Virginian and The High Chaparral. Tarantino said: "Twice per season, those shows would have an episode where a bunch of outlaws would take the lead characters hostage. They would come to the Ponderosa and hold everybody hostage, or go to Judge Garth's place and take hostages. There would be a guest star like David Carradine, Darren McGavin, Claude Akins, Robert Culp, Charles Bronson, or James Coburn. I don't like that storyline in a modern context, but I love it in a Western, where you would pass halfway through the show to find out if they were good or bad guys, and they all had a past that was revealed. I thought, 'What if I did a movie starring nothing but those characters? No heroes, no Michael Landons. Just a bunch of nefarious guys in a room, all telling backstories that may or may not be true. Trap those guys together in a room with a blizzard outside, give them guns, and see what happens." Principal photography began in December 2014 near Telluride, Colorado. In October 2014, Jennifer Jason Leigh was cast to play Daisy Domergue. In November 2014, it was announced that Channing Tatum was eyeing a major role in the film. Later the same day, The Weinstein Company confirmed the cast in a press release, which would include Samuel L. Jackson, Leigh, Kurt Russell, Tim Roth, Demián Bichir, Walton Goggins, Michael Madsen, and Bruce Dern. Tatum's casting was also confirmed. Later on January 23, 2015, TWC announced an ensemble cast of supporting members, including James Parks, Dana Gourrier, Zoë Bell, Gene Jones, Keith Jefferson, Lee Horsley, Craig Stark, and Belinda Owino.

The Hateful Eight is the eleventh film to be shot in the Ultra Panavision 70 process (65mm film with 1.25x squeeze anamorphic lenses, for an aspect ratio of 2.76:1), an ultra wide aspect ratio that was used on a few movies in the 1950s and 60s, such as Raintree County (1957), Ben-Hur (1959), Mutiny on the Bounty (1962), It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (1963) and The Greatest Story Ever Told (1965). The film to use this extremely rare process was Khartoum (1966) nearly 50 years before. To accomodate Tarantino's filming style, Panavision made a 2000 foot film magazine (double the standard size) for the film's Ultra Panavision 70 cameras. Panavision collaborated with Schneider Optics to design and produce 100 Ultra Panavision projection lenses which would ultimately be needed for the retrofitted roadshow theaters across the USA and Canada. The filmmakers also avoided any use of a digital intermediate; the film was color-timed photochemically by FotoKem, and the dailies were screened in 70mm. At the 2015 San Diego Comic-Con, Tarantino announced that Ennio Morricone would compose the score for the film. Tarantino remarked that it would be the first western scored by Morricone in 40 years since Buddy Goes West (1981). Tarantino edited two versions of the film, one for the roadshow version and the other for general release. The roadshow version runs for 182 minutes, and includes an overture and intermission, while the general release is six minutes shorter and contains alternate takes of some scenes. Tarantino stated that the general release cut was created as he felt that some of the footage he shot for 70mm would not play well on smaller screens. As of 2015, almost all movie theaters worldwide had their film projectors replaced with digital projectors, as traditional film stock was no longer in favor. As a great fan and supporter of celluloid, Tarantino aggressively fought with global distributors for the film to be shown in its original Ultra Panavision 70 presentation. As a result, 50 theaters internationally were retrofitted with anamorphic lensed 70mm analog film projectors to display the film as he intended it to be seen. The film was released on December 25, 2015 as a roadshow presentation in 70mm analog film format theaters exclusively before being widely released in digital theaters on December 30, 2015.

It stars Samuel L. Jackson, Kurt Russell, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Walton Goggins, Demián Bichir, Tim Roth, Michael Madsen, and Bruce Dern. The cast gave spectacular performances, especially to Jackson, Leigh and Goggins, who all gave the wildest Tarantino performances yet.

A brash, brutal western-mystery film, The Hateful Eight has the same raw energy from Tarantino's Reservoir Dogs (1992) and more than enough rough stuff to traumatize the sensitive. But not only does it have sheer hate, it has brains. Tarantino's palpable enthusiasm, his unapologetic passion for what he's created, reinvigorates this venerable genre and, mayhem aside, makes it involving for longer than you might suspect. Tarantino has made a nihilist western about how human nature will always something to hide and how we all are so full of hate for one another. This is a must-see. Even though this movie is not for everybody, it will be held by the promise of a resolution as outlandish and as the rest of the picture. One of the best films of the year!

Simon says The Hateful Eight receives:

Also, see my review for Django Unchained.

Wednesday, 20 January 2016

Film Review: "The Big Short" (2015).

As the film begins, a quote from Mark Twain appears "It ain't what you don't know that gets you into trouble. It's what you know for sure that just ain't so." This quote pretty much sums up the ridiculous true story that is The Big ShortThis biographical comedy-drama film directed and co-written by Adam McKay; adapted by Charles Randolph and McKay; based on the 2010 book of the same name by Michael Lewis, about the financial crisis of 2007–2008 brought on by the build-up of the housing market and credit bubble. The film follows four denizens of the world of high-finance as they predict the credit and housing bubble collapse, and decide to take on the big banks for their greed and lack of foresight.

For those who have absolutely no clue of what it is this film is about or what the hell it is I'm blabbing on about, The Financial Crisis of 2007–08 (also known as the Global Financial Crisis and 2008 Financial Crisis) is considered by many economists to have been the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression of the 1930s. It threatened the collapse of large financial institutions, which was prevented by the bailout of banks by national governments, but stock markets still dropped worldwide. In many areas, the housing market also suffered, resulting in evictions, foreclosures and prolonged unemployment. The crisis played a significant role in the failure of key businesses, declines in consumer wealth estimated in trillions of U.S. dollars, and a downturn in economic activity leading to the 2008–2012 global recession and contributing to the European sovereign-debt crisis. The active phase of the crisis, which manifested as a liquidity crisis, can be dated from August 9, 2007, when BNP Paribas terminated withdrawals from three hedge funds citing "a complete evaporation of liquidity". I bet right now after reading all this mumbo jumbo, you're feeling confused, bored and/or feeling stupid as hell. Well... you're suppose to. The world of finances and business is like that.

The film stars Christian Bale, Steve Carell, Ryan Gosling, and Brad Pitt. The cast gave outrageous performances and they made us willingly follow these group of, what was originally, uninteresting and not relatable whatsoever. But in the end, made these characters the opposite and made us empathise with their predicament, especially with Carell.

Funny, self-referential, and irreverent to a fault, The Big Short finds Adam McKay and the cast at their comedic best. It is one of the best films of the year and one of the most enjoyable American film to be released this year. It may also be the most exuberant film about financial fraud ever made. A terrific watch, and bound to be one of the funniest films of the year, but perhaps a tad indulgent and lacking the emotional resonance that could've escalated it to truly unmissable status. It is a film that speaks to our times, and it is saying some very important things if we care to listen.

Simon says The Big Short receives:

Tuesday, 19 January 2016

Film Review: "13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi" (2016).

"In 2012, the threat level in Benghazi, Libya was deemed "critical". When everything went wrong, six men had the courage to do what was right." This is 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of BenghaziThis action thriller film directed by Michael Bay, written by Chuck Hogan, and based on Mitchell Zuckoff's 2014 book of the same name. A team of six members of a security team fight to defend an American diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya, against a wave of terrorist attacks.

In early February 2014, it was announced that Paramount Pictures was in talks with 3 Arts Entertainment to acquire the film rights to Zuckoff's book. Hogan was set to adapt the book. In late October 2014, Bay was set to produce and direct. Bay said he was attracted to the project because he'd used veterans in all of his films, as actors and technical advisors, and felt he would be uniquely qualified to tell their story. By late April 2015, James Badge Dale, John Krasinski, Max Martini, Dominic Fumusa, Pablo Schreiber, David Denman, Matt Letscher, Toby Stephens, Freddie Stroma, David Costabile, David Giuntoli, Demetrius Grosse, and Wrenn Schmidt were cast. At the same time, principal photography commenced, and took place in Malta and Morocco. A large film set was built in Ta' Qali, Malta According to producer Erwin Stoff, the diplomatic compound and CIA annex were built using the actual plans. Bay wanted to shoot on film, and cinematographer Dion Beebe wanted to shoot digitally. Bay ultimately accepted shooting digitally because of the number of night scenes and the tight production schedule. Some of the movie did end up being shot on film, with Bay operating his personal Arriflex 235 camera.

The film stars Badge Dale, Krasinski, Martini, Fumusa, Schreiber, Denman, Letscher, Stephens, Stroma, Costabile, Giuntoli, Grosse, and Schmidt. The cast, without a single worthy line to wrap their credible talents around – are attractive actors, but they can't animate this moldy action thriller. Nearly every line of the script drops from the actors' mouths with the leaden clank of exposition, timed with bad sitcom beats. 

It tries to be the Black Hawk Down of war movies, but it's just a deafening and tedious action thriller filled with laughably bad dialogue. The action sequences were anything but spectacular. It was a two-hour and thirty minute film that fell more like a five hour film, about how, on Sep.11, 2012, six members of Annex Security Team who fought to defend the American diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya after waves of attacks by militants. Its centerpiece is a never-ending minutes of redundant special effects, surrounded by a political action thriller of stunning banality. The film has been directed without grace, vision, or originality, and although you may walk out quoting lines of dialogue, it will not be because you admire them. There is no sense of history, strategy or context. Humvees, soldiers and dirt combust and collide in the film, but nothing else does in one of the wimpiest war films ever filmed.

Simon says 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi receives:

Also, see my review for Transformers: Age of Extinction.

Friday, 8 January 2016

Film Review: "The Revenant" (2015).

"I ain't afraid to die anymore. I'd done it already", these words are the heart of The Revenant. This biographical western film directed by Alejandro G. Iñárritu, written by Mark L. Smith and Iñárritu, based in part on Michael Punke's novel of the same name. Inspired by true events, in an expedition of the uncharted American wilderness, legendary explorer Hugh Glass is brutally attacked by a bear and left for dead by members of his own hunting team. In a quest to survive, Glass endures unimaginable grief as well as the betrayal of his confidant John Fitzgerald. Guided by sheer will and the love of his family, Glass must navigate a vicious winter in a relentless pursuit to live and find redemption. 

Development of The Revenant began in August 2001, with producer Akiva Goldsman acquiring the rights to Michael Punke's unpublished manuscript. The film was originally set to be directed by Park Chan-wook with Samuel L. Jackson in mind to star. But ultimately did not happen. The development stalled until 2010, when Mark L. Smith was brought on to pen the script. In May 2010, John Hillcoat was attached to direct the film and that Christian Bale was in negotiations to star. Hillcoat left the project in October 2010. Ultimately, Iñárritu signed on to direct in August 2011. In April 2014, after several delays in production due to other projects, Iñárritu confirmed that he was beginning work on the film and that DiCaprio would play the lead role. The film was granted a production budget of $60 million. Principal photography began in October 2014 and was filmed in 12 different locations throughout Canada, United States, Argentina. Delays associated with location and crew challenges resulted in its end date moving from May to August 2015. Ultimately, in July 2015, it was reported that the film's budget had ballooned from the original $60 million to $95 million, and by the time production wrapped it had reached $135 million.

The film stars Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Hardy, Will Poulter, and Domhnall Gleeson. The cast gave spectacular performances and some of the finest performances of their careers, especially DiCaprio. DiCaprio will undoubtedly win the Oscar for Best Actor considering the performance he gave and the lengths he took to achieve it.

Violent and definitely not for the squeamish, Iñárritu's visceral The Revenant is a strange, powerful tale of revenge. Even though this film isn't for everyone, it offers a breath of fresh air to anyone gasping on the fumes of too many traditional Hollywood thrillers. It is a work of art that is anguished, beautiful, and desperately alive and it is a dazzling work of cinematic artistry. This is cinema that holds an edge of cold steel to your throat. A bloody and brutal revenge film immersed in madness and directed with operatic intensity, and the film's humanistic questions are not lost in the battering assault of lovingly crafted brutality. You might not like where it goes, but if you can appreciate artistic merit in your varied cinematic entertainment, then grow into it.

Simon says The Revenant receives:

Tuesday, 5 January 2016

Film Review: "The Good Dinosaur" (2015).

"From the creators of Inside Out" comes The Good Dinosaur. This 3D computer-animated drama film directed by Peter Sohn, in his directorial debut, written by Meg LeFauve, and produced by Pixar Animation Studios. What if the asteroid that forever changed life on Earth missed the planet completely and giant dinosaurs never became extinct? In this epic journey into the world of dinosaurs, an Apatosaurus named Arlo makes an unlikely human friend. While travelling through a harsh and mysterious landscape, Arlo learns the power of confronting his fears and discovers what he is truly capable of.

In 2009, Bob Peterson conceived the idea of an alternate history in which dinosaurs never became extinct. In June 2011, a release date of November 27, 2013 was announced. In late August 2011, at the D23 Expo, the plot and other small details were announced. Peterson as director, and the title of the film, The Untitled Pixar Movie About Dinosaurs, were announced. In late April 2012, Pixar announced that it would be titled The Good Dinosaur. In addition, Pixar announced that the film's release date had been shifted to May 30, 2014, with Walt Disney Animation Studios' Frozen taking its place. In early August 2013, it was announced at the D23 Expo that Lucas Neff, John Lithgow, Frances McDormand, Neil Patrick Harris, Judy Greer, and Bill Haderhad joined the cast of the film. By summer 2013, Peterson and producer John Walker had been removed from the film due to story problems. John Lasseter, Lee Unkrich, Mark Andrews, and Sohn stepped in temporarily to work on various sections of the film. This resulted in major rewrites and all cast members, with the exception of McDormand, being replaced with Raymond Ochoa, Jack Bright, Sam Elliott, Anna Paquin, A.J. Buckley, Steve Zahn, Jeffrey Wright, and Ratzenberger. In September 2013, the film was pushed back again to November 25, 2015, allowing Finding Dory to take its place. The filmmakers wanted nature to be the antagonist for the main character Arlo. In order to achieve the needed realism, the film's team traveled to the American Northwest, spending time in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, Juntura, Oregon, and southern Montana.

The film features the voice talents of Ochoa, Bright, Elliott, Paquin, Buckley, Zahn, Wright, McDormand, and Ratzenberger. Despite the talent cast, with Ochoa carrying the entire film, I would have rather listen to chalk on a blackboard than spend nearly two hours with the cast just embarrassing themselves.

It is as visually appealing as any other Pixar production, but all that dazzle can't disguise the problematic storytelling. It is a movie so stuffed with "what ifs" that it went right off the rails. What on earth was the gifted animation powerhouse thinking – that they wanted kids to come out of this movie was sic more ADD? I had such high regard for Pixar and its creative team, but I found the plot confusing. They said it couldn't be done. But Pixar proved the yaysayers wrong when it made its last bad movie, Cars 2 (2011). Now it has worsted itself with the even more awful The Good Dinosaur.

Simon says The Good Dinosaur receives:

Also, see my review for Inside Out.

Sunday, 3 January 2016

Villa Maria NZ Winery Tour

On Sunday, I went on a winery tour of Villa Maria NZ. To those who are not familiar with Villa Maria, in 1961, at just 21 years of age, George leased five acres of land from his father in Mangere, Auckland and started off with just an acre of vines. He harvested his first grapes in 1962 and made his first wine under the name Villa Maria. Throughout the 1960s Villa Maria was a one-man band, with George’s wife, Gail, supporting him in his venture. He made dry red and white wines, sourcing grapes from the greater Auckland regions. In the early 1970s he started to employ staff and the company began to expand rapidly. Today, Villa Maria employs more than 250 permanent staff and exports wine to over 50 countries worldwide. It has vineyards across New Zealand, with its major production being from Gisborne, Hawke's Bay, Marlborough and Auckland. 

Villa Maria Estate has a portfolio of seven major brands: Villa Maria, Vidal, Esk Valley, Thornbury, Riverstone, Kidnapper Cliffs and Te Awa. As well as the domestic market, Villa Maria Estate's wines are distributed across Europe, North America and the Caribbean, Asia, Australia, as well as to the Pacific Islands.

Villa Maria Estate was named the supreme winner at the New Zealand Sustainable Business Network awards in November 2012. Villa Maria Estate has achieved consistently well in numerous wine award shows across its brand portfolio. It is regarded as being the most awarded New Zealand winery.