Tuesday, 28 June 2016

Film Review: "Ice Age: Collision Course" (2016).

"They're going out with a bang" in Ice Age: Collision Course. This computer-animated comic science fiction film directed by Mike Thurmeier and Galen Tan Chu, written by Michael J. Wilson, Michael Berg and Yoni Brenner, and produced by produced by Blue Sky Studios. It is the sequel to Ice Age: Continental Drift (2012), and the fifth installment in the Ice Age film series. Scrat's epic pursuit of the elusive acorn catapults him into the universe where he accidentally sets off a series of cosmic events that transform and threaten the Ice Age World. To save themselves, Sid, Manny, Diego, and the rest of the herd must leave their home and embark on a quest full of comedy and adventure, traveling to exotic new lands and encountering a host of colourful new characters.

After the financial success of Ice Age: Continental Drift, the creative team at Blue Sky Studios went back to the previous films to search for possible inspiration for the next installment. Inspired by the first and third Ice Age films, they conceived the concept for Collision Course. Ray Romano, John Leguizamo, Denis Leary, Queen Latifah, Seann William Scott, Josh Peck, Jennifer Lopez and Simon Pegg, returned to reprise their roles, with Jesse Tyler Ferguson, Adam DeVine, Nick Offerman, Max Greenfield, Stephanie Beatriz, Melissa Rauch, Michael Strahan, Jessie J and Neil deGrasse Tyson cast as new additions. The recording sessions took place in Los Angeles, California. For the animation, the characters were first hand-drawn on animation software, complete with color and animated clips of the characters doing specific actions. They were then sent to be hand-sculpted with clay, and ultimately scanned into CGI software and animated around the model. In June 2015, the film's title was revealed. The film was originally scheduled for a July 15, 2016. However, the release was delayed to July 22, to avoid competition with Ghostbusters (2016).

The film features the voice talents of Romano, Leguizamo, Leary, Latifah, William Scott, Peck, Lopez and Pegg, reprising their roles, with Tyler Ferguson, DeVine, Offerman, Greenfield, Beatriz, Rauch, Strahan, Jessie J and deGrasse Tyson. The cast worked hard, and their characters are amusingly designed, but it's not nearly enough to shake the sense that we're watching elaborate filler.

Ice Age: Collision Course has moments of charm and witty slapstick, but it often seems content to recycle ideas from the previous films. Watching this film was a cheerless exercise for me. The characters are manic and idiotic, the dialogue is rat-a-tat chatter, the action is entirely at the service of the 3-D, and the movie depends on bright colors, lots of noise and a few songs in between the whiplash moments. It's familiar, drawn-out shtick, and the humor lacks the subtlety of the first and best Ice Age, but there are some visually inventive high points. Not only is this instalment arguably the worst in the franchise yet, it's also, a unsurprisingly, perhaps given that it's a fourth movie in a franchise, turned around on a strict cycle, turned out to be thoroughly, thoroughly boring family blockbuster.

Simon says Ice Age: Collision Course receives:

Also, see my review for The Peanuts Movie.

Tuesday, 21 June 2016

Film Review: "Warcraft" (2016)

"Two worlds. One destiny."
This is what is at stake in Warcraft. This fantasy film directed by Duncan Jones; written by Jones, Charles Leavitt and Chris Metzen; based on the Warcraft video game series and novels. The peaceful realm of Azeroth stands on the brink of war as its civilization faces a fearsome race of invaders: orc warriors fleeing their dying home to colonize another. As a portal opens to connect the two worlds, one army faces destruction and the other faces extinction. From opposing sides, two heroes are set on a collision course that will decide the fate of their family, their people, and their home.

The film was first announced in 2006 as a project partnership between Legendary Pictures and Blizzard Entertainment. Originally, Sam Raimi was set to direct. Ultimately, Duncan Jones replaced Raimi in January 2013. Immediately taking the helm, Jones voiced his dissatisfaction with the script. Jones said that the original script was very one sided in terms of the two factions. He soon made major edits to the script, so both factions could tell their side of the story. Jones said that the Warcraft universe is very "High Fantasy" or in other words very eccentric and planned to make it feel more grounded in reality though at the same time keep the look and feel of the games in the film. The source for the movie adaptation is being taken from the books Rise of the Horde, which tells how the Orcish Horde was formed; as well as The Last Guardian, which shows the human side and reaction to Orcish invasion. During production and filming, lifesize weapons and suits of armour were built for the orcs despite the orcs being played by actors via motion capture. This was mainly for photographic references and so that they could use them as props on the set. The film went through 20 months of post production. Thomas Tull, the CEO of Legendary Pictures and producer of the film, said that the things Jones and the special effects team are doing are truly on the cutting edge. So the film was pushed back to May 2016 from their original December 2015 release date. In addition to the extensive post production process, the film was passed back in order to avoid the release of Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015).

The film stars Travis Fimmel, Paula Patton, Ben Foster, Dominic Cooper, Toby Kebbell, Ben Schnetzer, Robert Kazinsky and Daniel Wu. The performances given by the talented ensemble were lacklustre, to say the least. Fimmel, Patton, Foster and Cooper were horribly miscast in their respective roles.

Despite an effective otherworldly atmosphere and spectacular visuals, Warcraft suffers from its poorly constructed plot, an ensemble of wasted and miscast talents, and its comically desperate attempt to be the video game movie to change the trend of consistently bad video game movies. With a heavy heart, it hurts for me to say that Duncan Jones gave an admirable effort, but ultimately he and millions of video game fans have to accept the fact that it can never be done.

Simon says Warcraft receives:

Film Review: "Finding Dory" (2016).

"An unforgettable journey she probably won't remember", and that is exactly that in Finding DoryThis computer-animated comedy-drama adventure film directed by Andrew Stanton; written by Stanton, Victoria Strouse and Bob Peterson from a story by Stanton; produced by Pixar Animation Studios. It is the sequel to 2003's Finding Nemo. The friendly-but-forgetful blue tang fish begins a search for her long-lost parents, and everyone learns a few things about the real meaning of family along the way.

With the critical and financial success of Finding Nemo, it was inevitable that a sequel was going to made, considering the character of Dory is the most liked character on Facebook from an Disney or Pixar with over 25 million likes. But over the past decade, Stanton denied that he was developing a sequel. Even twitting a message on his twitter reading: "Didn't you all learn from Chicken Little? Everyone calm down. Don't believe everything you read. Nothing to see here now. #skyisnotfalling" However in April 2013, Finding Dory was first announced by Disney and Ellen DeGeneres on her talk show following a long campaign for a sequel. In addition, DeGeneres and Albert Brooks confirmed that they were going to reprise their roles. During script development, the setting of the film was changed from an aquatic park to a Marine Biology Institute after the controversial documentary Blackfish (2013) was screened for the crew of Pixar. The movie was originally scheduled to be released on November 25, 2015. After Pixar's other movie, The Good Dinosaur (2015), was pushed back to that date, this movie was pushed back as well.

The film features the voices of Ellen DeGeneres, Albert Brooks, Hayden Rolence, Ed O'Neill, Kaitlin Olson, Ty Burrell, Diane Keaton and Eugene Levy. The cast gave terrific performances, especially DeGeneres, with them keeping the comedic and emotional charm of the original even though the characters this time round showed little character development.

Offering Finding Nemo fans a welcome return visit with beloved characters, Finding Dory delivers worthwhile family entertainment for viewers of any age. It has enough of the right stuff to remain inside the imagination long after the immediate buzz of its cuteness has melted away. It is a worthy successor to Finding Nemo and matches its tone. But it never seems content to turn over old ground. Like Monsters University (2013), it's one of those movies that has absolutely no reason to exist. It would have been a terrific movie, if the movie was funnier and wasn't so convoluted. Pixar has raised the bar for animated features so high that when they turn out a film that's merely good, instead of great, they have only themselves to blame for causing critics to damn them with faint praise. However, in the end, this minor film with major charms still deserves to have kids dragging their parents to the multiplex for one more peek at the ocean floor below. It's all fun, despite the lack of originality.

Simon says Finding Dory receives:

Also, see my reviews for John Carter and The Good Dinosaur.

Tuesday, 14 June 2016

Film Review: "The Wailing" ("곡성") (2016).

"From acclaimed director Na Hong-jin" comes The Wailing (곡성). This South Korean supernatural horror thriller movie written and directed by Na Hong-jin. Suspicion leads to hysteria when rural villagers link a series of brutal murders to the arrival of a mysterious stranger.

According to director Hong-jin Na, this film was inspired by folk religions in Korea and Nepal and on Catholic faiths, and contains many themes from the folk religions and faith.

The film stars Kwak Do-won, Hwang Jung-min, Chun Woo-hee, Kim Hwan-hee, and Jun Kunimura. The cast gave uniformally strong performances. The cast's strength lies in its eclectic mashup of familiar horror film archetypes and fresh twist on small-town crime drama. The cast captured the all-too human desperation of its key characters. Na Hong-jin and the cast lets viewers fall into the characters' frustrations, but they are dogged, not downtrodden. The film shows their lives, however tortured, outside the murders - like Heat without antagonistic rivalries or a more political Zodiac.

Restrained but disturbing, The Wailing is a creepily effective, if at times confusing, horror movie. The film is a triumph of stylish, darkly absurdist horror that even manages to strike a chord of Shakespearean tragedy – and evokes a sense of wonder anew at all the terrible things people do to themselves and each other. There are plenty of jumps, an amazing story line and superb acting. How much you appreciate the film will largely depend on how effective you feel its big revelation is. The film boasts a suffocating atmosphere and a disjointed storyline that turns the screws on your nerves while leaving you to puzzle over the plot. Na Hong-jin's psychological skin-chiller painstakingly teases apart the traumas that bind a widower, his teen daughters... and his high-strung second wife in a suffocating web of guilt, suspicion and fear. Na Hong-jin's serious approach has its merits, but it also creates some problems that mar, without ruining, the film's effectiveness. A very tasty exercise in psychological horror. Despite its third-act problems, the film easily passes the scare test. The atmosphere of mounting dread is matched by just-right performances, design and camerawork. This is a carefully structured film about xenophobia, as well as horror. They don't resolve every disturbing moment or confusing element: they leave some questions hauntingly unanswered. I like what it's trying to do -- use a stranger-comes-to-town-whilst-brutal-murders-take-place story surface to tell a tale of xenophobia, blame, and madness -- but was disappointed in the conventional tactics it used. There's more rank dread and inscrutable mystery in any one scene of this South Korean psychological thriller than in all the American horror films of the past ten years. Even at its most maddening and cute, the elaborate interplay between hallucination and reality rewards attention. Even though its components may be familiar, it is made with precision and sophistication and is, by default, better than any original American horror film of the past few years. Na Hong-jin leaps to the forefront of Asian horror with this brilliantly executed psychological nightmare.

Simon says The Wailing (곡성) receives:

Film Review: "Now You See Me 2" (2016).

"If you think you've seen it all take another look" with Now You See Me 2. This magic caper thriller film directed by Jon M. Chu, and written by Ed Solomon. It is a sequel to Now You See Me (2013). After fleeing from a stage show, the illusionists known as the Four Horsemen find themselves in more trouble in Macau, China. Devious tech wizard Walter Mabry forces the infamous magicians to steal a powerful chip that can control all of the world's computers. Meanwhile, vengeful FBI agent Dylan Rhodes hatches his own plot against Thaddeus Bradley, the man he blames for the death of his father.

In early July 2013, after the box office success of the first film, Lionsgate CEO Jon Feltheimer confirmed that there would be a sequel to the film for an unspecified release date. In September 2014, it was confirmed that Chu would replace Louis Leterrier as director. In November 2014 the film changed its title from Now You See Me: Now You Don't to Now You See Me: The Second Act. By late November 2014, Mark Ruffalo, Jesse Eisenberg, Woody Harrelson, Dave Franco, Michael Caine, and Morgan Freeman returned to reprise their roles, with Lizzy Caplan replacing Isla Fisher, and Daniel Radcliffe, Jay Chou, Sanaa Lathan, Henry Lloyd-Hughes, and Tsai Chin rounded out the film's cast as new additions. At the same time, principal photography commenced, and wrapped in early May 2015. Filming took place in London, England; Macau, China; and New York City. The film was shot on Arri Alexa XT Plus and Red Epic Dragon cameras, with Panavision Primo and Angenieux Optimo Lenses, in the 2.39: 1 aspect ratio.

The film features an ensemble cast that includes Ruffalo, Eisenberg, Harrelson, Franco, Radcliffe, Caplan, Caine, Freeman, Chou, Lathan, Lloyd-Hughes, and Chin. The cast gave performances that should be in the hall of shame under the category "Best example of putting on a show for a paycheck."

Debatable as to whether or not it is superior to its predecessor, Now You See Me 2 is overwhelmed by its nonstop action and too nonsensical and vapid to leave a lasting impression. At times, this film pushes right past competent into mostly legitimately enjoyable. But it is still dumb as catbutt. It's an honest and accomplished dumbness, however, where the stupidest stuff seems to be there because the movie would be less fun without it. In its trivial way, it's a triumph of razor-sharp, hyper-realistic style over formulaic substance. Hollywood has now evolved to the point that it can deliver these kinds of thrills with maximum force and keep the impact so light that the result can still be regarded as a 'harmless' diversion for audiences. As one might expect, there are more than a handful of loose ends once justice has been served, but there’s something to be said for a film which aims to please in a sincere and straightforward way, without attempting to be the biggest ever. The film is no masterpiece, but it’s a movie whose fun doesn’t feel like a four-letter word.

Simon says Now You See Me 2 receives:

Also, see my review for Jem and the Holograms.

Friday, 10 June 2016

Film Review: "The Conjuring 2" (2016).

The next true story from the case files of Ed and Lorraine Warren comes The Conjuring 2. This supernatural horror film directed by James Wan, and written by Wan, Carey Hayes, Chad Hayes and David Leslie Johnson. It is the sequel to the film The Conjuring. Lorraine and Ed Warren travel to north London to assist the Hodgson family, a single mother raising four children alone, who are experiencing poltergeist activity filled with malicious spirits at their Enfield council house in 1977.

In July 2013, Variety reported that New Line Cinema was already in the early stages of development of a sequel, following the positive test screenings and reviews of The Conjuring. The initial screenplay for the sequel was by original scribes Chad and Carey Hayes and director James Wan, which was revised by Eric Heisserer. In January 2015, David Leslie Johnson had been enlisted to provide additional script rewrites. The film deals with the case of the Enfield Poltergeist, which took place in the London Borough of Enfield from 1977 to 1979, and involved the alleged haunting of two sisters, aged 11 and 13, at their mother's council house. In February 2014, it was confirmed that Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson were set to reprise their roles of Ed and Lorraine Warren. In October 2014, it was announced that the film was pushed to June 2016 from its original October 23, 2015 release date. In addition, Wan was confirmed to return to direct, and that production would begin in the summer of 2015. "I feel rejuvenated to tell a scary story one more time", Wan said on Instagram. In September 2015, Frances O'Connor, Simon McBurney, Franka Potente, Simon Delaney, Maria Doyle Kennedy, and newcomers Madison Wolfe, Lauren Esposito, Patrick McAuley and Benjamin Haigh joined the cast. In December 2015, it was confirmed that Sterling Jerins would reprise her role as the Warrens' daughter Judy. Principal photography began in September 2015, in Los Angeles. Due to inexplicable eerie events during production of the first film, a priest from the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Santa Fe was brought in to bless the set on the first day by the film's producers. Production then moved to London in November 2015. Filming concluded in December 2015.

The film stars Patrick Wilson, Vera Farmiga, Frances O'Connor, Madison Wolfe and Simon McBurney. The cast gave terrific performances, with Wilson and Farmiga delving deeper into their characters and relationship. The new additions did a terrific job of maintaining the human drama, and making feel real as opposed to silly and cliched.

The Conjuring 2 is surprisingly not short on the tension and surprises that made its predecessor so chilling. The film is artfully eerie, thanks to Wan's masterful direction, Don Burgess' cinematography and the pervasively unsettling score created by Joseph Bishara. Setting aside the movie’s tediously busy script and its few predictable scares, the scares are mostly very scary indeed, and that means the film has done its job.

Simon says The Conjuring 2 receives:

Also, see my review for Furious 7.

Tuesday, 7 June 2016

Film Review: "The Witch" (2016).

"Evil takes many forms" in The Witch (or The Witch: A New-England Folktale). This supernatural period horror film written and directed by Robert Eggers, in his feature directorial debut. In the New England of the 17th century, a banished Puritan family sets up a farm by the edge of a huge, remote forest, where no other family lives. But sinister forces then start haunting them.

Born in New Hampshire, Eggers was was inspired to write the film by his childhood fascination with witches and frequent visits to the Plimoth Plantation as a schoolboy. After unsuccessfully pitching films that were "too weird, too obscure", Eggers realized that he would have to make a more conventional film. The production team worked extensively with British and American museums, as well as consulting experts on 17th-century British agriculture. Eggers wanted to film the picture on location in New England but the lack of tax incentives meant he had to settle for Canada. This proved to be something of a problem for Eggers, because he could not find the forest environment he was looking for in the country. They had to go "off the map", eventually finding a location that was "extremely remote"; Eggers said that the nearest town "made New Hampshire look like a metropolis". The casting took place in England, as Eggers wanted authentic accents to represent a family newly arrived in Plymouth. For the lead role, Anya Taylor-Joy was the first audition tape that Eggers saw, and she was ultimately cast. Principal photography took place in Kiosk, Ontario, Canada, and lasted for twenty-five days. In order to give the film an authentic look, Eggers shot only "with natural light and indoors, the only lighting was candles". Costume designer Linda Muir consulted 35 books in the Clothes of the Common People in Elizabethan and Early Stuart England series to plan the costumes. The costumes were made with wool, linen, or hemp. Muir also lobbied for a larger costume budget.

The film stars Anya Taylor-Joy, Ralph Ineson, Kate Dickie, Harvey Scrimshaw, Ellie Grainger and Lucas Dawson. The cast, led by Taylor-Joy, went hell for leather as the banished Puritan family fighting against sinister forces. Unlikely as it seems, Taylor-Joy have given us one of the oddest, craziest and tenderest on-screen heroines ever put to film this year.

A gripping story brilliantly told and led by a powerhouse performance, The Witch further establishes Eggers as a filmmaker of exceptional talent. One of the biggest stumbling blocks to appreciating this film is its constant attempts to defy expectations and avoid definitions. The film may be challenging, it may even be off-putting, but it's gutsy, accomplished and the kind of movie that sears into your memory. The film is a disturbing study of traditional feminine innocence, a descent to madness and confusion, from the perspective of a character who can't always be trusted. This is a horror film done just the way I like them. This film was real weird, but I liked that.

Simon says The Witch receives:

Film Review: "Money Monster" (2016).

"Not every conspiracy is a theory"
, it is something to consider after watching Money Monster. This thriller film directed by Jodie Foster and written by Alan Di Fiore, Jim Kouf and Jamie Linden. TV host Lee Gates and his producer Patty Fenn, are put in an extreme situation when an irate investor who has lost everything forcefully takes over their studio. During a tense standoff broadcast to millions on live TV, Lee and Patty must work furiously against the clock to unravel the mystery behind a conspiracy at the heart of today's fast-paced, high-tech global markets.

The project was first announced in February 2012. In October 2012, Jodie Foster was set to direct the film. Foster's first choice for the role of Lee Gates was none other than George Clooney. Clooney was officially cast in July 2014, as well signing on as co-producer. Jack O'Connell and Julia Roberts were added to the cast in November 2014. By early 2015, Caitriona Balfe and Dominic West had joined the cast. Originally slated to shoot in early 2013, principal photography began in February 2015, after several delays. Filming took place on Wall Street in the Financial District, Federal Hall, William Street and Broad Street in New York City.

When commenting on the theme of the film, Foster said "the outrage is shared by all... one of the ways the financial world has been able to orchestrate the power that they have is by making it all so complicated so that regular people can't understand it... they created a system that's impossible to understand, so that they can benefit from that misunderstanding." She added further "And there are a few people who have the keys to that, and those people who have those keys are the ones that benefiting most financially... we know that's true, we've known that's true for a very long time... I think this film doesn't say the system doesn't work, I think it's saying that there are lots of abuses and there are lots of opportunities for abuses, and we certainly saw that in 2008. Now the financial world has to justify new ways to abuse the system."

The film stars George Clooney, Julia Roberts, Jack O'Connell, Dominic West and Caitriona Balfe. The cast gave brilliant performances despite their characters suffering from lack of further characterisation that could have made them all the more real and compelling as the drama unfolds.

Money Monster is an outrageous, brilliant, cruelly funny, topical American film whose wickedly distorted views of the way modern media and financial world is and works, is at the heart of this film. It captures today's zeitgeist, a time when optimism is scraping rock bottom and that the character of Kyle Budwell is another voice that cinema has conjured up as an outcry to the ever complacent world. Even though the filmmakers stayed with tone of a lively journalistic story, the film's strong, fast-paced story tended to drag as it couldn't avoid the cliched reflection and/or a contemplative view of life.

Simon says Money Monster receives:

Also, see my review for The Beaver.