Sunday, 28 February 2016

Film Review: "A Violent Prosecutor" ("검사외전") (2016).

"A prosecutor and a con-man's funny play"
and "A former South Korean Prosecutor and current Prisoner No. 3620, and a handsome con-man with 9 counts of criminal convictions". These taglines make up the premise that is A Violent Prosecutor. This crime comedy film directed by Il-Hyeong Lee. The follows Byun Jae-Wook, a short-tempered prosecutor who only pursues the truth. He is famous for his tough investigations. A suspect, under the the interrogation of Byun Jae-Wook, is then found dead. Byun Jae-Wook is arrested and gets 15 years in prison. Five tears later, Byun Jae-Wook meets good-looking con man Chi-Won in prison. Chi-Won knows about Byun Jae-Wook’s case. Byun Jae-Wook feels Chi-Won could carry out his plan outside of prison. Using his knowledge as a former prosecutor, he gets Chi-Won acquitted. Byun Jae-Wook prepares a counterattack on those who framed him. Chi-Won though looks for a chance to get away from Byun Jae-Wook.

The film stars Hwang Jung-Min as Byun Jae-Wook, Gang Dong-Won as Chi-Won, Lee Sung-Min as Assistant Prosecutor General Jong-Gil and Park Sung-Woong as Min-Woo. Hwang is a popular and award-winning South Korean actor, known for Road Movie (2002), A Good Lawyer's Wife (2003), A Bittersweet Life (2005), You Are My Sunshine (2005), Bloody Tie (2006), Black House (2007), A Man who was Superman (2008), The Unjust (2010), New World (2013), Ode To My Father (2014). Hwang gave a terrific performance as determined and uncompromising accused prosecutor. However, his performances at times falls victim of cliche and total utter nonsense at times. Gang, a relative unknown, known for films such as Romance of Their Own (2004) and The Secret Reunion (2010). Which earned him the Best New Actor and Best Actor Award at the Critics Choice Awards. His portrayal, of the handsome con-man who has 9 convictions for conning young women, had only thing to offer: look. His performance was as one-dimensional as his character. Lee (known for Seducing Mr. Perfect (2006) and The Good, The Bad, The Weird (2008)) as the corrupt Assistant Prosecutor General turned politician Jong-Gil was itself nothing more than a rehash of his character in The Unjust, and a by-the-book, moustache-twirling villain with no clear motivation. Finally, Park (known for White Night (2009), New World, For the Emperor (2014) and Office (2015)) as Min-Woo was as boring and plain as the expression on his face throughout most of the film.  

A Violent Prosecutor is soulless. The cast looked thoroughly bored throughout the proceedings. They couldn't lend either conviction or gravitas to what is already a preposterous plot. Delivering no motivation whatsoever and an anti-climatic verdict made the whole film, in the end, anti-climactic. The movie becomes one more David-and-Goliath morality play. The film is slightly long and the ending is anti-cathartic. I expected a harder hitting indictment against the corrupt political power of the South Korea system. Instead, we get a middlin' courtroom drama that lacks the intensity. This is a case in which the material really is better served in a mediocre Korean Drama form.

Simon says A Violent Prosecutor receives:

Tuesday, 23 February 2016

Film Review: "Trumbo" (2016).

"When they tried to silence him, he made the world listen." This is Trumbo. This biographical drama film directed by Jay Roach, written by John McNamara, and based on the biography Dalton Trumbo by Bruce Alexander Cook. In 1947, Dalton Trumbo was Hollywood's top screenwriter until he and other artists were jailed and blacklisted for their political beliefs. The film recounts how Dalton used words and wit to win two Academy Awards and expose the absurdity and injustice under the blacklist, which entangled everyone from gossip columnist Hedda Hopper to John Wayne, Kirk Douglas, and Otto Preminger.

Born on December 9, 1905, James Dalton Trumbo became an award-winning American screenwriter and novelist who wrote many award-winning films including Roman Holiday (1953), Exodus (1960), Spartacus (1960), and Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo (1944). In 1947, he became one of The Hollywood Ten after he refused to testify before the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) during the committee's investigation of Communist influences in the motion picture industry. Trumbo, the other members of the Hollywood Ten, and hundreds of other professionals in the industry were blacklisted by Hollywood. He was, however, able to continue working clandestinely on major films, writing under other authors' names or pseudonyms. His uncredited work won two Academy Awards for Roman Holiday and The Brave One (1956). When he was given public screen credit for both Exodus and Spartacus, it marked the beginning of the end of the Hollywood Blacklist for Trumbo and other affected screenwriters. He finally was given full credit by the Writers' Guild for all his achievements, the work of which encompassed six decades of screenwriting.

In late September 2013, Bryan Cranston was cast to play the title role. Gary Oldman was considered for the role. By mid September 2014, Diane Lane, Helen Mirren, Louis C.K., Elle Fanning, John Goodman, Michael Stuhlbarg, Alan Tudyk, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, Dean O'Gorman, Stephen Root, Peter Mackenzie, and Christian Berkel rounded out the film's cast. At the same time, principal photography commenced, and wrapped in early November. Filming took place in New Orleans, Louisiana, and Los Angeles, California.

The film stars Cranston, Lane, Mirren, C.K., Fanning, Goodman, Stuhlbarg, Tudyk, Akinnuoye-Agbaje, O'Gorman, Root, Mackenzie, and Berkel. Strong performances were given by the cast, especially Cranston. Cranston did an impressive job as the title character, perfectly recreating Trumbo's look and personality, with astonishing precision, the gait and gestures of the legendary screenwriter. Cranston's surprisingly dead-on impersonation of Trumbo is an absolute knockout and well worth the price of admission.

Trumbo boasts a terrific performance from Bryan Cranston in the title role, but it isn't enough to overcome a formulaic biopic that pales in comparison to its subject's classic films. The film celebrates the life and work of blacklisted screenwriter Dalton Trumbo with measures of humor and sadness. The film is a loving and often endearing homage to a man, but as with all things Hollywood, it ain't history. However, for all the film's undisputed competence, grand and inspired moments are thin on the ground.

Simon says Trumbo receives:

Also, see my review for The Campaign.

Monday, 22 February 2016

Film Review: "Jem and the Holograms" (2015).

"Every Generation Needs a Voice." This is Jem and the Holograms. This musical fantasy comedy-drama film directed by Jon M. Chu, written by Ryan Landels, loosely based on the 1980s animated television series Jem by Christy Marx, and produced by Hasbro Studios and Blumhouse Productions. As a small-town girl catapults from underground video sensation to global superstar, she and her three sisters begin a journey of discovering that some talents are too special to keep hidden.

In 2010, Hasbro and Universal had signed a six-film contract, or a new incarnation of the animated series, due to the recent successes of G.I. Joe and Transformers. In late March 2014, a live-action adaptation was announced, to be directed by Chu. Chu's interest in developing a film adaptation was based on having grown up watching the original animated series with his sisters. He had attempted to make the film eleven years earlier with producer Jason Blum, but was rejected by Universal due to the cost. The film's musical producer, Scooter Braun, stated that he drew influence from his work on the career of Justin Bieber. It was later revealed that the original Jem writer Christy Marx was not involved in any part of the film's production. Marx was upset that Hasbro did not inform her about it. In response to her having no part or consultation on the film, Marx defended Chu's sense of ambition for the project via Facebook and left it up to the fans to decide whether or not the project was a "smart decision". In late April 2014, it was announced that Aubrey Peeples had been cast in the title role. Peeples had admitted being initially unfamiliar with the franchise although she subsequently became familiar with it and became a fan quickly. Stefanie Scott, Hayley Kiyoko, Aurora Perrineau, Ryan Guzman, Molly Ringwald, Juliette Lewis, Molly Ringwald, Ryan Hansen, Kesha, Hana Mae Lee, Katie Findlay, and Eiza González rounded out the film's cast. At the same time, principal photography commenced, and wrapped in late May. Filming took place in Van Nuys and Los Angeles, California, under the working title of Pink Pony. Chu and the film's creative team gave the fans of the original animated series a chance to participate in the film by filming themselves talking about how the show inspired them. Several fans sent in videos, with most of them showing off their Jem memorabilia. However, the filmmakers took the footage and edited it to make it look like the fans were talking about the film's version of Jem, sparking controversy and anger with original fans. The filmmakers defended this decision however, stating that it was a way to pay tribute to the fans and the original series while seamlessly incorporating it into the film's version of events.

The cast provide performances that should be in the hall of shame under the category "Best example of going through the show for a paycheck."

Though arguably superior to Chu's Justin Bieber concert films, Jem and the Holograms is overwhelmed by its nonstop music and is too nonsensical and vapid to leave a lasting impression.

Simon says Jem and the Holograms receives:

Also, see my review for G.I. Joe: Retaliation.

Tuesday, 16 February 2016

Film Review: "Carol" (2015).

"Some people change your life forever", this tagline is certainly true for Carol
. This romantic drama film directed by Todd Haynes; adapted by Phyllis Nagy; based on the groundbreaking romance novel by Patricia Highsmith. The film follows two women from very different backgrounds who find themselves in an unexpected love affair in 1950s New York. A young woman in her 20s, Therese Belivet, is a clerk working in a Manhattan department store and dreaming of a more fulfilling life when she meets Carol, an alluring woman trapped in a loveless, convenient marriage. As an immediate connection sparks between them, the innocence of their first encounter dims and their connection deepens.

Originally published in 1952 under the alias "Claire Morgan"The Price of Salt sold more than a million copies. Highsmith denied rumors that she was the author for 38 years, until she agreed to the publication of a new, retitled edition and wrote the afterword in 1990. The plot is loosely based on an encounter Highsmith had with a blonde woman in a fur coat named Kathleen Senn, while working at Bloomingdale's in New York City in 1948 as a temporary sales clerk. She recalled completing the outline in two hours the night she met Senn, likely under the influence of chicken pox which she discovered she had the next day, saying "fever is stimulating the imagination". Carol was also based on the romance between Highsmith and her former lover, Virginia Kent Catherwood, a Philadelphia socialite who had lost custody of her child in a high-profile divorce involving secret tape recordings of her lesbian nature used in court. The novel was completed by 1951. The film was in development for over 11 years. With screenwriter Nagy written a draft as early as 1996. Production finally begin in May 2012, with Todd Haynes directing (ultimately replacing original director John Crowley), with Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara (replacing Mia Wasikowska) set to star as Carol and Therese, respectively. Principal photography began in March 2014, in Cincinnati, Ohio for 34 days. The film was shot on Super 16 mm, in order to resemble the look and feel of film from the late 1940s/early 1950s.

The film stars Cate Blanchett, Rooney Mara, Sarah Paulson and Kyle Chandler. The cast give fine performances, especially the two leading ladies - Blanchett and Mara. Both actresses both conveyed conviction when their romance ensues. Together they had great chemistry and made it look easy.

Raw, honest, powerfully acted, and dramatically intense, Carol offers some of modern cinema's most elegantly composed, emotionally absorbing drama. It's held together by phenomenal turns from Blanchett and Mara, which are clearly Oscar-worthy performances. The film is a great love story that made all of us feel privileged to be a fly on the wall, to see this story of deep love and deep heartbreak evolve from the beginning. Haynes did not put any constraints on the narrative and we were absolutely spellbound by the amazing performances of the two actresses, and especially the way he observed his characters and just let the characters breathe.

Simon says Carol receives:

Friday, 12 February 2016

Film Review: "Deadpool" (2016).

"With great power comes great irresponsibility", "Witness the beginning of a happy ending", "Bad ass. Smart ass. Great ass", "Wait 'til you get a load of me", "Justice has a new face" and "Feel the love Valentine's Day". These taglines make up the insanity and the wild ride that is Deadpool. This superhero film based on the Marvel Comics character of the same name. It is the eighth installment in the X-Men film series. The film is directed by Tim Miller, with a screenplay by Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick. The film follows Wade Wilson who, after being subjected to an experiment that leaves him with new abilities, hunts down the man who nearly destroyed his life.

Deadpool is the fictional antihero created by writer Fabian Nicieza and artist/writer Rob Liefeld, and published by Marvel Comics. The character first appeared in The New Mutants #98 in Feb. 1991 (Which means the film was released exactly 25 years after Deadpool's first appearance). Initially Deadpool was depicted as a supervillain when he made his first appearance in The New Mutants and later in issues of X-Force, but has since evolved into the role of an antihero. He was named as an homage/parody to Slade Wilson, aka the mercenary Deathstroke from DC Comics. Deadpool is a disfigured and mentally unstable mercenary with the superhuman ability of an accelerated healing factorand physical prowess. He is known as the "Merc with a Mouth" because of his talkative nature and tendency to break the fourth wall, which is used by writers to create humorous effect.

In May 2000, Artisan Entertainment announced a deal with Marvel Entertainment to coproduce, finance and distribute a film based on Deadpool. In February 2004, development for the film began with New Line Cinema. However, in March 2005, New Line Cinema put the film in turnaround and 20th Century Fox became interested. In May 2009, 20th Century Fox lent the film to writers, and in April 2011, Tim Miller was hired to direct. A 3 minute test reel was shot in January 2012 in an attempt to convince the heads of the studio to move forward with the movie. On August 1st 2014, the footage was released to the public, and based on the overwhelmingly positive response from fans, the film finally began production. The footage was so popular that part of it was recreated for the actual film. Ryan Reynolds is such a fan of Deadpool, that he was lobbying for a film since 2005. Reynolds was involved with revising the script with the writers. Cast members were allowed to improvise in some scenes. Reynolds describes Deadpool's "breaking the fourth wall" ability as a reflection of his wit: "He's funny and acerbic and a little bit of a head case. But he's also not trying to be liked, he's intentionally trying to annoy everyone". On April Fool's Day 2015, Reynolds posted on Twitter that the film would be rated PG-13, which prompted fan backlash as the Deadpool character often swears and commits acts of graphic violence. Later that day, Reynolds confirmed that it was a prank and the film would be R rated. In December 2014, Reynolds was confirmed to reprise his role as Wade Wilson / Deadpool. In February 2015, Gina Carano was cast as Angel Dust. In March, T. J. Miller was cast as Weasel, while Morena Baccarat was cast as Vanessa Carlysle. Later that month, Brianna Hildebrand was cast as Negasonic Teenage Warhead. In April, Ed Skrein was cast as Ajax. In July, Leslie Uggams confirmed she will be portraying Blind Al. Daniel Cudmore was approached to reprise his role as Colossus from the previous X-Men films, but declined when he learned that he was not being asked to voice the character as well. Instead, Stefan Kapičić will voice Colossus, with Andre Tricoteux providing the motion capture performance. Principal photography commenced in Vancouver, Canada, in March 2015 and ended in May.

The film stars Ryan Reynolds, Morena Baccarin, Ed Skrein, T. J. Miller, Gina Carano, Brianna Hildebrand, Stefan Kapičić, and Leslie Uggams. The cast gave spectacular performances, with Reynolds as the film's stand-out as the "Merc with a mouth". After the two bombs that were Green Lantern (2011) and X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009), he has fully redeemed himself in this role that he was born to play. Each cast member brought their unique flair to their roles and scenes, especially Miller who brought the film's comic relief and the some of the best jokes I've heard in a long time.

 Deadpool is a blood-soaked valentine to comic book movies. It is admittedly little more than a stylish revenge thriller -- albeit one that benefits from a wildly inventive surfeit of style. It's so well-written in a scruffy, fanzine way that you want to rub noses in it - the noses of those zombie writers who take 'screenwriting' classes that teach them the formulas for 'hit films. It dares Hollywood films to be this smart about going this far. If studios accept the film's implicit challenge, the movie theater could again be a great place to live in. The miracle of the film is how, being composed of secondhand, debased parts, it succeeds in gleaming like something new. You get intoxicated by it, high on the rediscovery of how pleasurable a movie can be. I'm not sure I've ever encountered a film that combined discipline and control with sheer wild-ass joy the way that this one does. There's a special kick that comes from watching something this thrillingly alive, is indisputably great. The violent intensity of the film calls to mind other violent watershed films that were considered classics in their time and still are. A Clockwork Orange (1971), Pulp Fiction (1994) and Fight Club (1999). Each film shook up a tired, bloated movie industry and used a world of lively lowlifes to reflect how dull other movies had become. And that, I predict, will be the ultimate honor for Deadpool. Like all great films, it criticizes other movies It towers over the year's other movies as majestically and menacingly as a gang lord at a preschool.

Simon says Deadpool receives:

Tuesday, 9 February 2016

Film Review: "Spotlight" (2015).

Taglines such as "The true story behind the scandal that shook the world" and "Break the story. Break the silence" is what sums up the incredible story that is Spotlight. This biographical drama film directed by Tom McCarthy and written by McCarthy and Josh Singer. The film follows The Boston Globe's "Spotlight" team, the oldest continuously operating newspaper investigative unit in the United States and its investigation into cases of widespread and systemic child sex abuse in the Boston area by numerous Roman Catholic Priests. It is based on a series of stories by the real Spotlight Team that earned The Globe the 2003 Pulitzer Prize for Public Service.

Just like the journalists in the film, the filmmakers had a difficult road of bringing this extraordinary story to the screen. The screenplay for this film was featured in the 2013 Blacklist; a list of the "most liked" unmade scripts of the year. Singer told Creative Screenwriting that one of his goals for the film was to highlight the power of journalism, which he feels has been waning. The film is described as in the vein of the classic journalism pic All the President's Men (1976). McCarthy cited The Verdict (1982) and Sidney Lumet's style direction in that film as influence of this project. As well as Broadcast News (1987), Network (1976), The Killing Fields (1984), The Insider (1999), Citizen Kane (1941), Ace in the Hole (1951), JFK (1991) and Good Night, and Good Luck (2005). Principal photography began on September 24, 2014, in Boston, Massachusetts and continued in October in Hamilton, Ontario. The Boston locations included Fenway Park, The Boston Globe offices in Dorchester, Boston, and the Boston Public Library. During an interview on NPR's "Fresh Air", director Tom McCarthy said many of the actors reached out to meet the reporters depicted in the movie shortly after agreeing to make the movie, and that many of the reporters spent a considerable amount of time on set during filming. In addition, The Boston Globe was also very helpful with the set and approved the costume design, production design and the script.

The film stars Mark Ruffalo, Michael Keaton, Rachel McAdams, John Slattery, Stanley Tucci, Brian d'Arcy James, Liev Schreiber, and Billy Crudup. The cast gave terrific performances with each performer capturing the soul and determination of each reporter involved in the outrageous story.

A taut, solidly acted paean to the power of investigative journalism and the dangers of a corrupt system, made all the more effective in this real-life event inspired story. Spotlight is not just about the evils of the Catholic Church, but about the process by which the Spotlight team eventually brought about their corrupt system. It is like a morality play, from which we learn how journalists should behave. It shows the team as fearless. The film is so important, because it's about things that are really vital today, like the responsibility of the press and examining the press' role in forming opinion.

Simon says Spotlight receives:

Also, see my review for The Cobbler.

Film Review: "Anomalisa" (2014).

"Welcome to the Kaufman surreal-neorealism tale in a dull world of sameness." This is Anomalisa. This stop-motion animated comedy-drama film written and directed by Charlie Kaufman. The film follows Michael Stone, a man living a dull life, who is tired of his monotonous routine. However, things change when he meets a stranger on a business trip.

In 2005, the film was written for the Los Angeles run of Theatre of the New Ear, described as "a concert for music and text, or a set of 'sound plays'" by Carter Burwell, who commissioned and scored them. It was a double bill with Kaufman's Hope Leaves the Theater, and replaced Sawbones, by the Coen Brothers, from the earlier New York run after that play's actors were unavailable. Anomalisa was credited to the pen name Francis Fregoli: a reference to the Fregoli delusion, a belief that different people are in fact a single person who changes appearance or is in disguise. The 2005 performance had Thewlis and Leigh sitting on opposite sides of the stage, with Noonan in the middle; Burwell conducted the Parabola Ensemble, and there was a foley artist. Kaufman was initially opposed to turning the play into an animated film. The film raised its budget on Kickstarter so as to "produce this unique and beautiful film outside of the typical Hollywood studio system where we believe that you, the audience, would never be allowed to enjoy this brilliant work the way it was originally conceived". Pitched as a short film "approximately 40 minutes in length", 5,770 backers pledged $406,237 to help bring the project to life. After the success of the Kickstarter initiative, additional funding was secured by the film's production company, Starburns Industries, and the film was expanded to feature length. The puppets were created with 3D printers, with multiple copies of each character. Eighteen Michaels and six Lisas were created. Johnson was told that such realistic animation would be "disturbing and off-putting", but disagreed. Kaufman and Johnson have described the process of stop-motion animation as "laborious" and found challenges in making the puppets look lifelike and relatable. Animator Dan Driscoll said they found people on whom to model the puppets, studied human movement and facial expressions to produce a precise result, created the puppets and built the sets, and finally placed the puppets on the sets and moved them frame by frame to create the illusion of movement. Kaufman said the medium of stop-motion underpins the narrative of Anomalisa by drawing attention to small details viewers would not notice in a live-action film. The film was in production for more than two years.

The film features the voice talents of David Thewlis, Jennifer Jason Leigh, and Tom Noonan. Kaufman and the cast have succeeded in portraying an unflinchingly honest and deep examination of the soul of a person without jumping through traditional hoops of this happened here, this happened next.'

With Anomalisa, Kaufman has most certainly turned in one of the most beautifully realised, exquisitely made films of the year. Simply put, it's astonishing.

Simon says Anomalisa receives:

Saturday, 6 February 2016

Film Review: "Steve Jobs" (2015).

"... you don't care how much money a person makes, you care what they make. But what you make isn't supposed to be the part of you."
This is unexpectedly at the heart for Steve Jobs. This biographical drama film directed by Danny Boyle; written by Aaron Sorkin; based on the biography of the same name by Walter Isaacson. The film is structured into three acts which cover fourteen years (1984-98) in the life of personal computing innovator and Apple Inc. co-founder Steve Jobs, with each act taking place immediately prior to the launch of a key product - the Apple Macintosh, the NeXT Computer and the iMac G3.

Sony Pictures acquired the rights to Isaacson's book in October 2011, hiring Aaron Sorkin to adapt it. In May 2012, Sorkin officially confirmed that he was writing the script. Sorkin revealed before the film's official release that it would consist of three, 30-minute scenes spreading across sixteen years of the life of Steve Jobs. All of the scenes will dramatize backstage events before three major product launches (the Macintosh in 1984, NeXT in 1988, and the iMac in 1998). These scenes will take place in real time at "two auditoriums, a restaurant and a garage," with a few flashbacks depicting key moments of Jobs' life inserted throughout the story. Sorkin also developed the screenplay around Jobs' relationship with a few key people: Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak, Jobs’ "right-hand-woman" Joanna Hoffman, former Apple CEO John Sculley, original Mac team developer Andy Hertzfeld, and Jobs' first child, Lisa Brennan-Jobs, as well as her mother Chrisann Brennan. After Sorkin's completion of the script in January 2014, development on the project began to heat up when David Fincher entered negotiations to direct the film, with Christian Bale as his choice for Jobs. However, in April 2014, Fincher exited the project after his demands - a $10,000,000 salary and full creative control of the project - could not be met by the studio. Danny Boyle was then hired to direct, with Leonardo DiCaprio, Bale, Matt Damon, Ben Affleck and Bradley Cooper being considered. Ultimately, Michael Fassbender emerged as a frontrunner before Universal Pictures acquired the project from Sony. Principal photography began in January 2015, at Jobs's childhood home in Los Altos, California, with additional locations including the San Francisco Bay Area and Berkeley. Filming wrapped in April 2015. To distinguish each of the three product launches depicted in the movie, Boyle and cinematographer Alwin Küchler implemented three different film formats: 16mm for 1984, 35mm for 1988, and digital for 1998. They also wanted each of the film's three time periods to illustrate the advancement in Apple's technology across the 16 years depicted of Jobs' life.

The film stars Michael Fassbender, Kate Winslet, Seth Rogen, Katherine Waterston, Michael Stuhlbarg and Jeff Daniels. The cast gave terrific performances, all of them nailing the raw intense emotions and the verbally driven directions of both Boyle and Sorkin.

Impeccably scripted, beautifully directed, and filled with fine performances, Steve Jobs is a riveting, ambitious example of modern filmmaking at its finest. However, the biographical part takes liberties with its subject. So everything that's seen isn't necessarily to be believed.

Simon says Steve Jobs receives:

Also, see my review for Trance.