Tuesday, 26 July 2016

Film Review: "Star Trek Beyond" (2016).

"Captain's Log... A little under three years into our five year mission. The more time we spend out here, the harder it is to tell where one day ends and the next one begins... We continue to search for new life-forms in order to establish firm diplomatic ties... As for me, things have started to feel a little episodic. The farther out we go, the more I find myself wondering what it is we are trying to accomplish. But if the universe is truly endless, then we are not striving for something forever out of reach..."
From the words of Captain James T. Kirk as he sets on his next adventure in Star Trek Beyond. This science fiction action film directed by Justin Lin; written by Simon Pegg and Doug Jung; based on the series Star Trek, created by Gene Roddenberry. It is the thirteenth film in the Star Trek film franchise and the third installment in the reboot series, following Star Trek (2009) and Star Trek Into Darkness (2013). The film follows the USS Enterprise crew as it explores the furthest reaches of uncharted space, where they encounter a new ruthless enemy who puts them and everything the Federation stands for to the test.

J.J. Abrams declined to return to direct the third film because of his directorial obligations on Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015). Abrams stayed on as a producer for the third film while Roberto Orci, one of the writers for the first two films, was initially chosen to direct the third instalment but later dropped out due to creative differences. In an interview, Orci stated that the film would have been more original and wanted the film to stay in the classic Trek world. Filmmakers Edgar Wright, Rupert Wyatt, Morten Tyldum, Daniel Espinosa and Duncan Jones were all considered before Justin Lin took over. Simon Pegg replaced Orci as writer along with Doug Jang. In May 2015, Pegg revealed, on his website, the official title of the film: Star Trek Beyond. By August 2015, the original cast were announced to reprise their roles, with Idris Elba and Sofia Boutella added to the cast. Filming began in June 2015 and concluded in October 2015. Unlike the previous films, the film was primarily shot in Vancouver, British Columbia and not in Hollywood. In December 2014, Paramount Pictures announced that the film was to be released on July 8, 2016 to coincide with the 50th anniversary celebration of the original series. In September 2015, the film pushed back to July 22, 2016. Sadly, the film is Anton Yelchin's final Star Trek film before his death on June 19, 2016 at the age of 27.

The film stars Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Karl Urban, Zoe Saldana, Simon Pegg, John Cho, Anton Yelchin, Idris Elba and Sofia Boutella. Another spectacular round from the cast with fine additions from Elba and Boutella.

Though failing to reach the cinematic heights of its predecessors, Star Trek Beyond remains an entertaining sci-fi adventure and a fitting end to the classic trilogy.

Simon says Star Trek Beyond receives:

NZIFF Classic Film Review: "Chimes at Midnight" (1965).

Orson Welles once declared the character of Falstaff as "Shakespeare's greatest creation", a character from the classic film Chimes at Midnight (otherwise known as Falstaff (Chimes at Midnight))This Shakespearian drama film directed by and starring Welles; based on William Shakespeare's Henry IV, Part 1 and Part 2, Richard II, Henry V, and The Merry Wives of Windsor, and Raphael Holinshed's Holinshed's Chronicles. The film centres on Sir John Falstaff, the hero in this compilation of extracts from Shakespeare's five plays, made into a connected story of Falstaff's career as young Prince Hal's drinking companion. The massive knight roisters with and without the prince, philosophizes comically, goes to war (in his own fashion), and meets his final disappointment, set in a real-looking late-medieval England.

Welles said that the core of the film's story was "the betrayal of friendship." The script contains text from five of Shakespeare's plays; primarily Henry IV, Part 1 and Henry IV, Part 2, but also Richard II, Henry V, and used some dialogue from The Merry Wives of Windsor. The narration by Sir Ralph Richardson was taken from Holinshed's Chronicles. Welles's inspiration for Chimes at Midnight began in 1930 when he was a student at the Todd School for Boys in Woodstock, Illinois. Welles tried to stage a three-and-a-half-hour combination of several of Shakespeare's historical plays called The Winter of Our Discontent in which he played Richard III. School officials forced him to make cuts to the production. Welles then produced a Broadway stage adaptation of nine Shakespeare plays called Five Kings in 1939. In 1960, he revived this project in Ireland as Chimes at Midnight, which was his final on-stage performance. Neither of these plays was successful, but Welles considered portraying Falstaff to be his life's ambition and turned the project into a film. Throughout its production, Welles struggled to find financing and at one point, to get money, he lied to producer Emiliano Piedra about intending to make a version of Treasure Island. Welles shot the film throughout Spain between 1964 and 1965, and premiered it at the 1966 Cannes Film Festival, where it won two awards. Initially dismissed by most film critics, Chimes at Midnight is now regarded as one of Welles' highest achievements, and Welles himself called it his best work.

The film stars Welles as Falstaff, Keith Baxter as Prince Hal, John Gielgud as Henry IV, Jeanne Moreau as Doll Tearsheet and Margaret Rutherford as Mistress Quickly. The ensemble gave terrific and viscerally intense performances thanks to Welles' unquestionably brilliant vision and direction.

Chimes at Midnight is a haunting and eccentric piece of work that was hampered by budget constraints, but Welles delivers both behind and in front of the camera. With his peculiar mixture of Shakespeare's and Holinshed's texts maybe be a ragged text to us all, but Welles's genius never fails to impress. As Shakespearean scholar Kenneth S. Rothwell commented: "Welles goes beyond mere tinkering with Shakespeare's scenes; [he] massively reworks, transposes, revises and deletes, indeed reconstructs them." He does indeed.

Simon says Chimes at Midnight receives:

Sunday, 24 July 2016

Film Review: "Batman: The Killing Joke" (2016).

"The madness begins" in Batman: The Killing Joke. This animated superhero film directed by Sam Liu; adapted by Brian Azzarello; based loosely on the graphic novel of the same name by Alan Moore and Brian Bolland. Produced by Warner Bros. Animation, the film is the twenty-sixth film in the DC Universe Animated Original Movies series. As Batman hunts for the escaped Joker, the Clown Prince of Crime attacks the Gordon family to prove a diabolical point mirroring his own fall into madness.

The movie originally went into production in 2009, but it was canceled after Watchmen (another R rated DC Comics movie) failed at the box office. In 2011 during San Diego Comic-Con International, after the release of Batman: Arkham Knight (2015), Mark Hamill stated that, due to the strain it put on his vocal cords, he would never voice The Joker again unless The Killing Joke was adapted into a film. Since then, a Facebook page titled "Petition to get Mark Hamill to play the Joker in animated Killing Joke" was set up by his fans. In 2013, Bruce Timm also expressed a desire to create the project. So when he was offered to reprise his role for the film, Hamill gladly accepted. Later on, he changed his mind after he and Kevin Conroy agreed to reprise their roles in the upcoming Cartoon Network show Justice League: Action. In July 2015, during the Justice League: Gods and Monsters panel at San Diego Comic-Con, Timm announced that an animated film based on the novel was in development and slated to be released in 2016. Sam Liu will direct and Timm will executive produce the film. The film was originally made to be released straight to video, but since its popularity had grown so much after its announcement that Conroy and Hamill would be reprising their roles as Batman and The Joker, Fathom Events and Warner Brothers announced that it would be getting a special one-night theatrical release on July 25, 2016. This was the second DC Animation's film to ever hit theaters, with the other being Batman: Mask of the Phantasm (1993). In January 2016, Timm revealed that the film would be screened at San Diego Comic-Con in July.

It features the voice talents of Kevin Conroy, Mark Hamill, Tara Strong and Ray Wise. The cast gave another set of terrific performances with Conroy and Hamill once again proving that they are the only ones to perform their iconic roles. Conroy's brooding presence with Hamill's manic personality have always complimented each other ever since working on Batman: The Animated Series.

From first glance, Batman: The Killing Joke has the image of an exciting and serious adult entertainment that would satisfy longtime fans and newcomers as well. However, after the viewing, it feels as though it was brought dead on arrival – a lifeless bore with stale voice work and a disjointed, sporadic narrative that was best kept on the pages of Alan Moore and Brian Bolland's stellar graphic novel.

Simon says Batman: The Killing Joke receives:

Friday, 22 July 2016

NZIFF Classic Film Review: "One-Eyed Jacks" (1961).

From the original marketing campaign, One-Eyed Jacks was sold as "the motion picture that starts its own tradition of greatness". This Western film directed by Marlon Brando (his only directorial effort); written by Guy Trosper and Calder Willingham; based on the novel The Authentic Death of Hendry Jones by Charles Neider. After a Mexican bank robbery gone wrong and being abandoned by his partner Dad Longworth, Rio was captured. Five years later, Rio escapes from the prison where he has been since and starts to hunt down Dad for revenge. However what it is not known to Rio is that Dad is now a respectable sheriff in California.

The novel was a fictional treatment of the familiar Billy the Kid story, relocated from New Mexico to the Monterey Peninsula in California. After buying the rights to the novel, producer Frank P. Rosenberg contacted writer Rod Serling to write a draft. Serling's draft was ultimately rejected. Rosenberg next hired Sam Peckinpah to rewrite it. Peckinpah finished his draft in November 1957. Brando's Pennebaker Productions signed a contract with legendary filmmaker Stanley Kubrick to direct. Peckinpah handed in a revised draft in May 1959. Kubrick, Brando and Rosenberg then fired Peckinpah and brought in Calder Willingham for further rewrites. But due to creative differences, Brando and Rosenberg fired Kubrick and Willingham, and brought on Guy Trosper for rewrites. Ultimately, Brando took over as director. The production ultimately suffered from being extremely over schedule and extremely over budget. Filming began in late 1958, and did not wrap until late 1960. Brando's inexperience behind the camera was obvious on set. He shot six times the amount of footage normally used for a film at the time. He was indecisive and ran extremely overlong in getting the film finished. Brando's first cut of the film was allegedly five hours long. Paramount eventually took the film away from him and recut it. On a budget of $6 million, the film was a commercial flop at the box office. To help offset the costs, Brando persuaded Universal to pick up the tab. In return, he agreed to make five films for the studio: The Ugly American (1963), Bedtime Story (1964), The Appaloosa (1966), A Countess from Hong Kong (1967) and The Night of the Following Day (1968), all of which were also commercial flops.

The film stars Brando, Karl Malden, Katy Jurado, Ben Johnson, Slim Pickens and Pina Pellicer. The cast gave superb performances thanks in large part to Brando, who is undeniably one of the greatest actors who ever lived. He knew how to guide them.

Brando obviously didn't know how to direct or edit, but he respected the material and his fellow performers enough- and that's good enough with me. Yes, it's stale at times, but One-Eyed Jacks exudes confidence in its dullness. And it never actually treated the subject as light or inconsequential. Don't get too hopeful for the "greatness" it was trying to sell. Ultimately, it is an ambitious but generic western movie.

Simon says One-Eyed Jacks (1961) receives:

Wednesday, 20 July 2016

Film Review: "Ghostbusters" (2016).

"There's something strange in your neighborhood. Who you gonna call?" This time round, Ghostbusters (2016) answers that call. This supernatural comedy film directed by Paul Feig, and written by Feig and Katie Dippold. It is a reboot of the Ghostbusters franchise. Following a ghost invasion of Manhattan, paranormal enthusiasts Erin Gilbert and Abby Yates, nuclear engineer Jillian Holtzmann, and subway worker Patty Tolan band together to stop the otherworldly threat.

Since the haunting of Ghostbusters II in 1989 and before the reboot haunted screens, various scripts and ideas for a third film in the Ghostbusters series had long been planned. These ideas included one in which Bill Murray's character died and became a ghost, and another in which the Ghostbusters went to hell. But due to Murray's reluctance to commit to the project and the death of Harold Ramis in 2014 resulted in the decision to reboot the franchise instead. The project was officially announced in 2014, with Paul Feig slated as the director. By January 2015, a female cast, that included Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Wiig, Kate McKinnon and Leslie Jones, were officially announced through a picture tweeted by Feig. Both the announcement of the reboot and the cast attracted significant controversy, which consisted of critical and sexist remarks. The controversy escalated even further when the first official trailer was posted on line in March 2016. By May 2016, it became the most disliked movie trailer in YouTube history, with 221,400 likes and 649,900 dislikes.

The film stars McCarthy, Wiig, McKinnon, Jones, Chris Hemsworth, Cecily Strong, Neil Casey and Andy García. Out of the ghost wranglers, McKinnon and Jones emerged as real comedic dynamites. Thanks to the sweetly earnest and the gracious generosity of McCarthy and Wiig about giving the show to them. McKinnon and Jones obviously regard their characters as an once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to develop their cinematic chops. This is a female-driven comedy that tries to admirable prove that females can do as much as males, if not more so, and where Chris Hemsworth emerges as a genuine surprise as a comedic star. Not only can this man be a superhero, but he can also be one of the funniest people on the screen. The four women have definitely proven that women have equal power as men to become stars and icons of major tent-pole franchises. Love him or not, Paul Feig is consistently makes movies about women and girl-power.

Thanks to its female cast, Ghostbusters is somewhat an amusing delight, but it lacks the charm, wit, and energy of the original. The film did not try anything new and like many remakes and reboots, merely re-treated the first film. The film took little comic risks. It looks as if the filmmakers, particularly the writers, simply didn't try to do anything special. They just simply filled it overblown nostalgia for the original and forgot to create its own original story. This all female reboot only merely makes us long for the threequel that should have taken this film's place.

Simon says Ghostbusters (2016) receives:

Saturday, 16 July 2016

NZIFF Film Review: "The Handmaiden" ("아가씨") (2016).

"From Park Chan-wook, the acclaimed director of Oldboy, Thirst and Stoker, comes a bold new vision"
with The Handmaiden (아가씨). This South Korean film directed by Park Chan-wook, adapted by Park and Syd Lim, and adapted from the novel Fingersmith by Welsh writer Sarah Waters. Set in 1930s Korea, in the period of Japanese occupation, a girl is hired as a handmaiden to a Japanese heiress who lives a secluded life on a large countryside estate with her domineering Uncle. But the maid has a secret. She is a pickpocket recruited by a swindler posing as a Japanese Count to help him seduce the Lady to elope with him, rob her of her fortune, and lock her up in a madhouse. The plan seems to proceed according to plan until Sookee and Hideko discover some unexpected emotions.

After making his English-language debut with Stoker (2013), South Korea's most notorious modern auteur, Park Chan-wook, has returned to his boundary-pushing roots. Director Park has always been known for his films that contain brutal subject matter, sexually explicit material and arty violence and gore. But this film pushes his boundaries even further. He achieved this by exploring two of the most taboo topics, particularity in Korean society. The first is the Japanese Colonial setting. For more then seventy years, Koreans have been haunted by the Japanese Colonial period and scarred by the atrocities committed under Japanese rule. When asked why was it important to explore this dark chapter in his nation's history, director Park replied: "It’s important for films to explore the independence movement and anti-colonialism. But unlike many Korean dramas, which tend to automatically depict the Japanese as villains, my characters aren’t good or evil just by virtue of being Korean or Japanese. My story is about individual lives set during a particular era. I did not try to isolate the story by removing it from historical events, nor did I allow history to overpower the narrative. I felt it was important to portray the changing spirit of the time, however, such as class conflicts, women’s issues, as well medical issues and how mental illnesses were feared and led to prison-like confinement." The other was homosexuality. To most Koreans, this is an embarrassing aspect of human life as South Korea is a predominately Catholic/Christian nation. As to why he felt that it was a topic he wanted to explore, he responded: "From the larger scheme of things I am a genre filmmaker... Even though I explore such a genre-specific topic as homosexuality, it was not my intention to make a human rights film showing individuals overcoming discrimination. Similar to how I wanted to focus on individuals living through the colonial era rather than a story about the colonial era itself, I always wanted to create a movie that portrayed [homosexual romance] as something natural, as just a normal part of life." It is this mindset that has made director Park become the virtual face of contemporary South Korean cinema ever since his 2003 Cannes Grand Prix-winning Oldboy propelled him to international prominence, carving out a reputation for onscreen extremism. The Handmaiden marks director Park's third entry into Cannes, after the controversial Thirst in 2009. The film was known the first mainstream Korean film to feature full-frontal male nudity. Which divided Korean audiences and critics alike. It was nominated for the Palme d'Or and won Prix du Jury along with Fish Tank.

The film stars Kim Min-hee, Ha Jung-woo, Kim Tae-ri, Cho Jin-woong, Moon So-ri and Kim Hae-sook. The degrees of eroticism, shock, the foreshadowing and throwbacks throughout (both visual and in dialogue) all seem to go hand-in-hand with the amazing performances by the female and male leads. Kim Min-hee is at her finest as the slightly disturbed Lady Hideko. She shows fragility and elegance in the most subtle ways, never overplaying a character that could turn into the cliched romantic love interest with just the tiniest bit of scene-chewing. Lady Hideko exploits Sook-hee's naivety with her every glance and gesture. My affection for the film also has mostly to do with the performance of Kim Tae-ri as Soo-kee, a naive housemaid whose character arch dramatically transforms as the romance escalates. It is with the two female leads that their romance radiates a strange kind of unnerving yet seductive aura. And the two male leads, Ha Jung-woo and Cho Jin-woong, are both menacing, with Ha's scoundrel swagger to do whatever it takes and Cho's malevolent dedication and discipline to his library. It is these qualities within the two men that make them incredibly dangerous as the snake that guards Uncle Kouzuki's library of unspeakable literature.

Boldly erotic, and playfully ponderous, Park Chan-Wook's visceral The Handmaiden is a strange, powerful tale of love. The film rips open its exquisite dress, and its various twisted undergarments, to fully reveal its explosive essence of the sexual. It is definitely not for the squeamish. Perhaps no auteur is as suited to this kind of storytelling as director Park, a man who has made a career out of films full of sexual perversity and unusual romances. It is a much more interesting than expected, as it plays with the conventions of the lesbian romance and taking us on a very entertaining ride to places that, conceptually, we might not want to go. These days we are so accustomed to thrillers that exist only as machines for creating diversion that it's a shock to find a movie in which the story, however explicit, makes a statement and has a purpose. The film is constantly engaging, suitably intense, certainly different, always suspenseful and even stylishly directed, but it is not Oldboy. The film may not be the best film director Park has made, but his willingness to try something different makes it a decidedly fresh entry into his body of work.

Simon says The Handmaiden (아가씨) receives:

Also, see my review for Stoker.

Wednesday, 13 July 2016

Film Review: "The BFG" (2016).

"From the human beans that created E.T. and the author of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Matilda" 
comes The BFGThis fantasy adventure film directed by Steven Spielberg, written by Melissa Mathison and based on the 1982 novel of the same name by Roald Dahl. The film tells the imaginative story of a young girl named Sophie and the Giant, the BFG, who introduces her to the wonders and perils of Giant Country.

Producers Kathleen Kennedy and Frank Marshall began development on an adaptation of The BFG in 1991. Various screenwriters, including Robin Swicord, Nicholas Kazan, Terry Jones and Ed Solomon, were hired to work on the screenplay in the subsequent years before it lingered in development hell. In September 2011, DreamWorks acquired the screen rights to Dahl's book. Ultimately, Spielberg's E.T. scribe Mathison was brought on to pen the script. This marked the second collaboration between Spielberg and Mathison in thirty years, and it also marked the final script written by Mathison who passed away in late 2015. In April 2014, Spielberg was announced as director. Spielberg had always wanted to direct The BFG, ever since he first read the novel. He commented: "I think it was kind of genius of Roald Dahl to be able to empower the children. It was very, very brave of him to introduce that combination of darkness and light... being able to do scary, but also be redemptive at the same time and teach a lesson, an enduring lesson, to everyone... and it was one of the things that attracted me to want to direct this Dahl book." In October 2014, Mark Rylance was cast in the title role. By April 2015, Ruby Barnhill, Penelope Wilton, Rebecca Hall, Jermaine Clement and Bill Hader were cast. Principal photography commenced in March 2015 and concluded in June 2015.

The film stars Mark Rylance, Ruby Barnhill, Penelope Wilton, Jemaine Clement, Rebecca Hall, Rafe Spall and Bill Hader. The cast gave terrific performances, but most of the kudos goes to Ryance and Barnhill. Rylance as the BFG may be another typical example of motion capture trickery, but his second collaboration with Spielberg has solidified him as one of Spielberg's go-to-actors, like Tom Hanks and Richard Dreyfuss. Barnhill, who provided the film's heart, is a gifted young newcomer whose performance is sincere, deep and unforced in a way that's rare in a child actor.

The closest to Spielberg's past family fantasy flicks, The BFG is for people who loved E.T. and Hook. Rylance and Spielberg may have leapt too high on the vapors of Dream Country, but it's hard to not get hooked on something this charming. Adults and kids alike will take delight in the eye-dropping visuals of Giant Country. Spielberg and company made this classic tale into something that fits the Spielberg canon. But alas, the film unfortunately conjures up a predictably magical scenery, a somewhat cliched story and an ending that's anything but original. It may be one of the best family films in a while, however it is not up there among Spielberg's best.

Simon says The BFG receives:

Also, see my review for Bridge of Spies.

Monday, 4 July 2016

Film Review: "Independence Day: Resurgence" (2016).

"We always knew they'd come back"
, so get ready for another round of alien invasion destruction in Independence Day: Resurgence. This disaster science fiction-action film directed by Roland Emmerich and written by Emmerich, Dean Devlin, Nicolas Wright, James A. Woods and James Vanderbilt. It is the sequel to the 1996 film Independence Day. Using recovered alien technology, the nations of Earth have collaborated on an immense defense program to protect the planet. But nothing can prepare us for the aliens' advanced and unprecedented force. Only the ingenuity of a few brave men and women can bring our world back from the brink of extinction.

Soon after the success of the first film, 20th Century Fox paid Devlin a large sum of money to write a script for a sequel. However, after completing the script, Devlin didn't turn in the script and instead gave the money back to the studio, as he felt the story didn't live up to the first film. It was only with the advancement of visual effects during the production of Emmerich 2009 film 2012, that Emmerich to wonder what could do if he were to make another Independence Day with the technology available to him. So Emmerich met up with Devlin to try again, having felt that they had "cracked" a story for a sequel when approached with an idea by co-writers Wright and Woods. The project was officially green lit by Fox on 27th November 2014. By June 2015, the original cast members, Jeff Goldblum, Bill Pullman, Judd Hirsch, Brent Spiner and Vivica A. Fox, were confirmed to reprise their roles. With the exception of Will Smith. Smith was supposed to reprise the role of Captain Steven Hiller, but Fox refused to meet his request for a $50 million salary for two sequels. Emmerich said in June 2013 that "Smith cannot come back because he's too expensive, but he'd also be too much of a marquee name..."  The movie was given a $200,000,000 budget, $125,000,000 more than its predecessor, which had a $75,000,000 budget. Filming began on April 20, 2015, and wrapped on August 22, 2015. Reshoots took place in early 2016. Locations included Nevada, England, Dubai, Singapore, New Mexico, Utah and India.

The film stars an ensemble cast that features Goldblum, Pullman, Hirsch, Spiner and Fox, as well as Liam Hemsworth, Jessie Usher, Maika Monroe, Sela Ward, William Fichtner, Angelababy, Charlotte Gainsbourg and Ng Chin Han. The old cast brought their charm and appeal that they had in the original, whilst the new cast brought their unique flavours into the mix. Making a surprisingly remarkable combination of the new and the old.

Like its predecessor, the plot is weak and the character development is lacking, but it lives up to its thrilling spectacle-filled summer original's name, Independence Day: Resurgence delivers. Though merely a pale imitation of Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Emmerich did an excellent job of conveying both the human world and the extraterrestrial world whilst making them unique and completely convincing.

Simon says Independence Day: Resurgence receives: