Monday, 25 December 2017

Film Review: "All the Money in the World" (2017).

"J. Paul Getty had a fortune. Everyone else paid the price." This is All the Money in the World. This crime thriller film directed by Ridley Scott, written by David Scarpa, and adapted from John Pearson's 1995 book Painfully Rich: The Outrageous Fortunes and Misfortunes of the Heirs of J. Paul Getty. It is the story of the kidnapping of 16-year-old John Paul Getty III and the desperate attempt by his devoted mother to convince his billionaire grandfather Jean Paul Getty to pay the ransom.

In March 2017, it was reported that Ridley Scott would direct the film. In the same month, it was reported that Michelle Williams and Kevin Spacey were considered for the role of Gail Harris and J. Paul Getty, while Mark Wahlberg was in talks for an unspecified role. Initially, Angelina Jolie, Natalie Portman, Jack Nicholson, Gary Oldman, and Christopher Plummer were considered for the lead roles. By June, Timothy Hutton, and Charlie Plummer joined the cast. In the same month, with a budget of $40 million, filming began. Locations included Elveden, Suffolk, England, and Morocco. Filming concluded in August. 

Beginning in late October, numerous sexual allegations were made against Spacey. This resulted in the film's planned premiere at the AFI Fest being cancelled, as well as the film's Oscar campaign being reworked. In November, Sony and the film's production team unanimously opted to replace Spacey with Plummer. The decision was made just over a month prior to the December 22nd wide release. The decision to reshoot meant that 22 scenes had to be reshot. It also meant that Wahlberg and Williams had to return to Rome during the Thanksgiving holiday. The reshoots needed began on November 20 and ended on the 29th, and took eight days to film at a cost of $10 million. Plummer claimed he was prepared to replace Spacey on short notice because he had previously been considered for the role and had read the script. He had less than two weeks to memorize his lines, but did have the advantage of researching Getty. After Plummer signed on, Scott decided not to show Plummer any footage of Spacey in character, or even tell him how Spacey played the scenes. When finished, Scott found both performances to be quite different and equally effective in their own particular styles. Scott said that one interesting aspect was that Spacey played J. Paul Getty as a more explicitly cold and unfeeling character, while Plummer's take on the role showed both a warmer side to the billionaire and the same unflinching refusal to simply pay off his son's kidnappers.

The film stars Williams, Christopher Plummer, Wahlberg, Romain Duris, Charlie Plummer, Andrew Buchan, and Hutton. The cast gave terrific performances, especially that of Williams, Plummer and Wahlberg. Who each gave charismatic performances that commanded the screen whenever they were present.

While not a masterpiece on par with Scott's best works, All the Money in the World is a fine example of his craft, and further proof that defines Scott as one of the greatest directors working today. The superb crime thriller paints its world with a wholeness and complexity you rarely see in film.

Simon says All the Money in the World receives:

Friday, 15 December 2017

Film Review: "Star Wars: The Last Jedi" (2017).

"This is not going to go the way you think!"
This is definitely true with Star Wars: The Last Jedi (or Star Wars Episode VIII - The Last Jedi). This epic space opera film written and directed by Rian Johnson. It is the second film in the Star Wars sequel trilogy, following Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015). Rey develops her newly discovered abilities with the guidance of Luke Skywalker, who is unsettled by the strength of her powers. Meanwhile, the Resistance prepares to do battle with the First Order.

In June 2014, director Rian Johnson was reported to be in talks to write and direct Episode VIII, and to write a treatment for the third film, Episode IX. Johnson was originally considered to direct The Force Awakens. In August, Johnson confirmed that he would direct Episode VIII. According to Johnson, the story begins immediately after the last scene of The Force Awakens. Initially, The Force Awakens co-writer Lawrence Kasdan wrote a story outline for the film. However, when Johnson signed on as director, he requested to be allowed to scrap Kasdan's story and write his own script from scratch, which the producers consented to, as Kasdan's outline no longer matched up with the finished storyline of the previous film. For inspiration, Johnson was influenced by films such as Gunga Din (1939), Letter Never Sent (1960), Sahara (1943), The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957), Three Outlaw Samurai (1964), and Twelve O'Clock High (1949) while developing ideas, and he even arranged for screenings for the crew prior to filming. In September 2015, Disney shortlisted the female cast members to Gina Rodriguez, Tatiana Maslany, and Olivia Cooke. Later that month, Benicio Del Toro was announced to be playing a villain in the film. Originally, Joaquin Phoenix was considered for the role. In addition, Mark Hamill was confirmed to reprise his role as Luke Skywalker. Ironically, after reading the script for the film, Hamill told director Johnson, "I pretty much fundamentally disagree with every choice you've made for this character [Luke Skywalker]. Now, having said that, I have gotten it off my chest, and my job now is to take what you've created and do my best to realize your vision." In October, Gugu Mbatha-Raw was rumored to have been cast in the film. In November, Lucasfilm president Kathleen Kennedy announced at the London premiere for The Force Awakens that the entire cast, including Adam Driver, Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Andy Serkis, Lupita Nyong'o, Domhnall Gleeson, Anthony Daniels, and Gwendoline Christie, would return for Episode VIII, along with "a handful" of new cast members. In February 2016, at the start of filming, it was confirmed that Laura Dern and Kelly Marie Tran had been cast in unspecified roles. 

In September 2015, Second unit photography began during pre-production at Skellig Michael in Ireland. But due to poor weather and rough conditions, the first day of filming was canceled and lasted four days. In the same month, del Toro revealed that principal photography would begin in March 2016. However, Kennedy later stated that filming would begin in January 2016. Production on the film began in November. In January 2016, due to script rewrites and an upcoming strike between the Producers Alliance for Cinema and Television and the Broadcasting, Entertainment, Cinematograph and Theatre Union, the production was delayed until February 2016. Due to this, and the successful release of The Force Awakens, the original release date of May 26, 2017 was rescheduled for December 15, 2017. In February, principal photography finally began, under the working title Space Bear. In addition to Skellig Michael in Ireland locations also included Pinewood Studios in England, and Dubrovnik, Croatia. During production, Prince William and Prince Harry visited the set, they were escorted on a VIP tour of Pinewood Studios by Daisy Ridley. Principal photography wrapped in July 2016. In August, Star Wars composer John Williams confirmed that he was scheduled to start scoring Episode VIII. Williams said he would begin recording the score "off and on" in December 2016 until March or April 2017. In December 2016, Carrie Fisher unexpectedly passed away after suffering a cardiac arrest. Marking this film as her last film. After her death, None of Fisher's scenes in the movie were cut. Prior to her death, Fisher had been expected to appear in Episode IX. Though Fisher's family granted the rights to use recent footage of Fisher for Star Wars: Episode IX, Fisher will not appear in the film and Lucasfilm will not digitally generate new footage of her. In January 2017, the title for the film was revealed. In February, it was confirmed that recording was underway, with Williams conducting. In March, footage of the film was shown to Disney shareholders, which was met with overwhelmingly positive reactions. In April, the first teaser trailer was released.

The film stars Hamill, Fisher, Driver, Ridley, Boyega, Isaac, Serkis, Nyong'o, Gleeson, Daniels, and Christie, with Marie Tran, Dern, and Del Toro. Both recurring and new cast members gave confident performances that took their characters in surprising directions that no one would expect.

Darker, and ultimately even more surprising than The Force Awakens, Star Wars: The Last Jedi defies viewer expectations, and takes the series to heightened emotional levels and unexpected directions. The film is a richly imaginative, engrossing and spectacular motion picture from Rian Johnson. A marvellous space fantasy full of dazzling spectacle, exciting adventure, strange creatures and the mythic clash between good and evil. Unlike its predecessor, it is no bland derivative. It has all the freshness and exuberance of an original. It is a confident piece of work that carries the new Star Wars tradition forward. The film is an immense amount of fun - big and splashy and breathtaking in its display of cinematic genius by a huge group of marvellously talented people. However, the film is not without its drawbacks. The film may not top either The Empire Strikes Back (1980) or A New Hope (1977), but it certainly makes one curious to whatever new surprises Disney and Lucasfilm can conjure up for us.

Simon says Star Wars: The Last Jedi receives:

Tuesday, 12 December 2017

Film Review: "Darkest Hour" (2017).

"A man with the heart of a nation." This is Darkest Hour. This British war drama film directed by Joe Wright, and written by Anthony McCarten. Set within the days of becoming Prime Minister of Great Britain, Winston Churchill must face one of his most turbulent and defining trials: exploring a negotiated peace treaty with Nazi Germany, or standing firm to fight for the ideals, liberty and freedom of a nation. As the unstoppable Nazi forces roll across Western Europe and the threat of invasion is imminent, and with an unprepared public, a skeptical King, and his own party plotting against him, Churchill must withstand his darkest hour, rally a nation, and attempt to change the course of world history.

In February 2015, it was announced that Working Title Films had acquired Darkest Hour, a speculative screenplay and passion project by The Theory of Everything screenwriter Anthony McCarten. In March 2016, it was reported that Joe Wright was in talks to direct the film. In April 2016, Gary Oldman was reported to be in talks to play Churchill. In September 2016, it was announced that Focus Features would release the film in the United States on 24 November 2017, while Ben Mendelsohn, Kristin Scott Thomas, Lily James, and Stephen Dillane joined the cast as King George VI, Clementine Churchill, Elizabeth Layton, and Edward Wood, 3rd Viscount Halifax respectively. In November 2016, principal photography began. For his role as Churchill, Oldman spent over 200 hours having make-up applied, and smoked over 400 cigars, roughly £50 each (more than $20,000 USD), during filming. At the end of filming, he had nicotine poisoning and spent a holiday getting a colonoscopy. The film marks the final screen credits of Benjamin Whitrow (28th September 2017), Robert Hardy (August 3rd, 2017), and John Hurt (25th January 2017), who all died before the film's release. By a sad irony, Hurt was ill with cancer when he was initially set to portray British prime minister Neville Chamberlain, who himself was dying of cancer in 1940. According to Oldman, Hurt was undergoing treatment for being so ill, therefore was unable to attend the read-throughs and never got to film a scene. Ronald Pickup assumed the role of Chamberlain instead, and Hurt died from cancer in January 2017. The movie was still dedicated to Hurt, as it would have been his final film.

The film stars Oldman as Churchill, with Mendelsohn, Thomas, James, Dillane, and Pickup. The cast gave terrific performances, none more so than Oldman himself. Oldman has found the man within the caricature. Only an actor of Oldman's stature could possibly capture Churchill's essence and bring it to the screen. It's a performance of towering proportions that sets a new benchmark for acting. It is impossible not to be disturbed by Oldman's depiction of the legendary British prime minister.

Gary Oldman's performance as Winston Churchill in Darkest Hour is reliably perfect, but it's mired in standard, self-important storytelling. Awards should be coming Oldman's way; yet his brilliance rather overshadows the film itself.

Simon says Darkest Hour receives:

Saturday, 18 November 2017

Film Review: "Justice League" (2017).

"You can't save the world alone." But the Justice League can. This superhero film directed by Zack Snyder, written by Chris Terrio and Joss Whedon, based on the DC Comics superhero team of the same name. The film is the fifth instalment in the DC Extended Universe. Fueled by his restored faith in humanity and inspired by Superman's selfless act, Bruce Wayne, with Diana Prince, must now face an even greater threat. Together, they work quickly to recruit a team to stand against this newly awakened enemy. Despite the formation of an unprecedented league of heroes - it may be too late to save the planet from an assault of catastrophic proportions.

In April 2014, it was announced that Snyder would be directing the film with a script by David S. Goyer. In July, Warner Bros. was reportedly courting Terrio to rewrite the script, after having been impressed with his rewrite of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. In October 2014, Warner Bros. originally announced that the film would be released in two parts, with Part One releasing on November 17, 2017, and Part Two on June 14, 2019. Snyder would direct both films. However, in June 2016, Snyder announced that both films would be two stand-alone stories. In July 2015, EW revealed that Terrio had completed the script for Justice League Part One. By June 2016, Henry Cavill, Ben Affleck, Gal Gadot, Jesse Eisenberg, Jeremy Irons, Diane Lane, and Amy Adams were all confirmed to reprise their roles. Ezra Miller, Ray Fisher, Jason Momoa, Amber Heard, and J. K. Simmons were all added to the cast. With a budget of $275 million, Principal photography commenced in April 2016 and ended in October 2016. Locations included Warner Bros. Studios in Leavesden, England, as well as London, Scotland, Los Angeles and Djúpavík, Iceland. In May 2017, extensive reshoots took place in London and Los Angeles, with an additional budget of $25 million. Snyder hired Joss Whedon to write scenes for the reshoots. In the same month, Snyder left the project following the death of his daughter. Whedon then took over the reshoots and the remainder of post-production. Snyder received sole director credit for the film, with Whedon receiving a screenplay credit in post. In addition, Danny Elfman took over from Junkie XL to score the film. Due to the running time backlash of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, Warner Bros. demanded the film come under 2 hours. The final running time for Justice League is 120 minutes. Making the film the shortest DCEU film to date.

It features an ensemble cast that includes Affleck, Cavill, Gadot, Miller, Momoa, Fisher, Irons, Adams, Lane, Simmons and Ciarán Hinds. Though the cast gave performances that would silicify as the definitive cinematic iterations of their comic-book counterparts, the lack of characterization failed to make the audience root for them when they're off saving the world.

After decades of buildup, Justice League has finally arrived and it is horrendously average. Even after its two hour running-time, audiences will leave the theatre unsatisfied. The film has unquestionably squandered the potential of its source material and cast.

Simon says Justice League receives:

See my review for Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice at

Tuesday, 14 November 2017

Film Review: "Murder on the Orient Express" (2017).

"Everybody is a suspect" in Murder on the Orient Express. This mystery drama film directed by Kenneth Branagh, adapted by Michael Green, based on the 1934 novel of the same name by Agatha Christie. A lavish train ride unfolds into a stylish & suspenseful mystery. From the novel by Agatha Christie, Murder on the Orient Express tells of thirteen stranded strangers & one man's race to solve the puzzle before the murderer strikes again.

Two stories on the legendary train partly inspired Agatha Christie's novel. The story was inspired partly by an incident in 1929 when the Orient Express was trapped in a blizzard in Çerkezköy, Turkey, where it was marooned for six days. Two years later Christie was involved in a similar scenario when she was travelling on the Orient Express and the train got stuck for a period of time due to heavy rainfall and flooding, which washed part of the track away. In real life there was one actual murder on The Orient Express. Maria Farcasanu was robbed and murdered by Karl Strasser, who pushed her out of the moving train, one year after Agatha Christie's book was published. However, the novel was mostly inspired by the Charles A. Lindbergh kidnapping case, in which Lindbergh's 20-month old son was taken and held for a $50,000 ransom. The ransom was paid, but unfortunately Lindbergh's son was found already dead.

In December 2013, 20th Century Fox announced a new film adaptation of Murder on the Orient Express. Michael Green was hired to write the screenplay. In June 2015, it was reported Fox was in talks with Kenneth Branagh to direct. It was finally confirmed that Branagh would direct and star as the Belgium detective Hercule Poirot. In the same month, it was reported that Angelina Jolie was in early talks to co-star in the film. However, in August, Variety reported that Stacey Snider, CEO of 20th Century Fox, broke off negotiations with Jolie after several months due to her insistence on significant script changes on what was a relatively small part. Charlize Theron was then courted, but ultimately, Michelle Pfeiffer was cast. By January 2016, the cast was rounded out. In the same month, it was revealed that Michael Peña had dropped out of the film and that Manuel Garcia-Rulfo had replaced him. Principal photography on the film began in November 2016, in the United Kingdom, and wrapped in May 2017. The film is Branagh's second movie to be shot on 65mm film. The first was Hamlet (1996). The film would receive a limited 70mm engagement, making it the fourth film of the decade to be shot on 65mm and projected in 70mm, following The Master (2012), The Hateful Eight (2015) and Dunkirk (2017).

The film features an ensemble cast that includes Branagh Penélope Cruz, Willem Dafoe, Judi Dench, Johnny Depp, Josh Gad, Derek Jacobi, Leslie Odom Jr., Michelle Pfeiffer, and Daisy Ridley. The cast gave unique and varied performances that carried the entire film. Without each and every one of them, the film would have faltered.

Kenneth Branagh's Murder on the Orient Express provides a good time, high style, a loving salute to an earlier period of epic filmmaking despite lacking any surprises and originality.

Simon says Murder on the Orient Express (2017) receives:

Tuesday, 7 November 2017

Film Review: "Thor: Ragnarok" (2017).

"Let The Games Begin." This is Thor: Ragnarok. This superhero film directed by Taika Waititi, written by Eric Pearson, Craig Kyle and Christopher Yost, based on the Marvel Comics character of the same name, and produced by Marvel Studios. It is the sequel to Thor (2011) and Thor: The Dark World (2013), and is the seventeenth film of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). Imprisoned on the other side of the universe, Thor finds himself in a deadly gladiatorial contest that pits him against the Hulk. Thor's quest for survival leads him in a race against time to prevent the all-powerful Hela from destroying his home world and the Asgardian civilization.

In January 2014, Marvel announced that Craig Kyle and Christopher Yost would write the screenplay for a third film. In the same month, Kyle and Yost began working on the screenplay. In October 2014, Feige announced that the film would be titled Thor: Ragnarok, with a July 28, 2017 release date, and confirmed that Hemsworth and Tom Hiddleston would be reprising their roles. Feige called the film "a very important movie" in Phase Three of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), and stated that it would set up Avengers: Infinity War (2018). He also confirmed that, in the context of the film, the word Ragnarok means "the end of all things". In February 2015, Marvel pushed back the release date to November 3, 2017. Both Thor and The Dark World directors Kenneth Branagh and Alan Taylor confirmed that they would not be return. Ruben Fleischer, Rob Letterman, and Rawson Marshall Thurber were considered to direct the film. Ultimately, Taika Waititi entered negotiations, and was confirmed to direct in October 2015. In January 2016, with the film began pre-production. Waititi stated that he was working on the script "a little bit", mainly adding humor to the screenplay, with Eric Pearson joining the project. Waititi described the film as a "1970s and 80s science fiction fantasy, the most 'out there' of all the Marvel movies." He cited Big Trouble in Little China (1986) as a major influence on the film. Waititi said that he also wanted to showcase Hemsworth's comedic talent in this film. By May, Cate Blanchett, Mark Ruffalo, Tessa Thompson, Jeff Goldblum, and Karl Urban were added to the cast. In addition, Idris Elba, Tadanobu Asano, Ray Stevenson, Zachary Levi, and Anthony Hopkins were confirmed to reprise their roles. Principal photography began in July 2016 and concluded in October. Filming took place in Village Roadshow Studios Oxenford, Gold Coast, Queensland, Australia.

The film stars Hemsworth, Hiddleston, Blanchett, Elba, Goldblum, Thompson, Urban, Mark Ruffalo, and Hopkins. The recurring cast gave another round of terrific performances this time round, and were further injected with renewed, even overly comedic, energy thanks to the new cast members.

With the help of its charismatic lead, some impressive action sequences, and even a few surprises, Thor: Ragnarok is a strong, witty, and entertaining adventure. The film is brimming with energy and packed with humor. It also distills 1980s science fiction fantasy movies as affectionately as it subverts them.

Simon says Thor: Ragnarok receives:

Friday, 6 October 2017

Film Review: "Blade Runner 2049" (2017).

"The key to the future is finally unearthed..." Here comes Blade Runner 2049. This neo-noir science fiction film directed by Denis Villeneuve, and written by Hampton Fancher and Michael Green. The film is the sequel to Blade Runner (1982). Thirty years after the events of the first film, a new blade runner, LAPD Officer K, unearths a long-buried secret that has the potential to plunge what's left of society into chaos. K's discovery leads him on a quest to find Rick Deckard, a former LAPD blade runner who has been missing for 30 years. 

Original Blade Runner director Ridley Scott considered developing a sequel, and stated his interest while attending San Diego Comic Con in 2007. In June 2009, The New York Times reported that Scott and his brother, director Tony Scott, were working on a Blade Runner prequel set in 2019. However, in February 2010, it was announced that production on the prequel had ceased, due to rights and funding problems. In August 2011, it was announced that Scott would lead the production of a new Blade Runner film, although work would not begin until at least 2013. Producer Andrew A. Kosove suggested that Harrison Ford, the star of the original film, was unlikely to be involved. Scott said that the film was "liable to be a sequel" but without the previous cast, and that he was close to finding a writer that "might be able to help [him] deliver". Scott said in November 2014 that he would not direct the film and would instead produce; that filming would begin in late 2014 or 2015, and that Ford's character would only appear in "the third act" of the sequel. 

In February 2015, the sequel was confirmed, with Denis Villeneuve as director. Ford was confirmed to be return; as well as original writer Hampton Fancher. The film was expected to enter production in mid-2016. Initially, Villeneuve was against the concept of a sequel, as he felt it could violate the original. But after reading the script, he ultimately commited to the project, "because I feel that I can do it." Villeneuve noted that he's fully aware of the immense pressure he's under: "… I'm aware of that and I respect that, and it's okay with me because it's art. Art is risk, and I have to take risks. It's gonna be the biggest risk of my life.. For me it's very exciting... I've been dreaming to do sci-fi since I was 10 years old, and I said 'no' to a lot of sequels. I couldn't say 'no'. I love it too much, so I said, 'Alright, I will do it and give everything I have to make it great.'" With various versions of Blade Runner over the years, it is fair to ask which version would be considered "canon" going into the sequel. Villeneuve replied: "The movie will be autonomous and at the same time there will be some link..." Ever since the original hit theaters, there has been a divide among its fans about whether or not Ford's Rick Deckard is a human or a replicant. It's a question that the film leaves up to the viewer, though director Scott, Ford, and everyone else has chimed in with their own thoughts on the subject. With the sequel, there will certainly be more fuel on the fire of Deckard's true identity. Villeneuve did go on to say that the mystery will be something they address in the film and that re-contextualizing the original film with any answers they present in the sequel is a concern of his: "The thing I must say is that I love mystery. I love shadows. I love doubts. I would just want to say to the fans that we will take care of that mystery. I will take care of it."

In April 2015, Ryan Gosling first entered negotiations, and was confirmed in November 2015. Principal photography was set to begin in July, with Warner Bros. distributing the film domestically, and Sony Pictures Releasing distributing internationally. In February 2016, an official release date of January 12, 2018 was announced. In March 2016, Robin Wright entered negotiations, and in April, Dave Bautista posted a picture of himself with an origami unicorn, hinting at a role in the film. Bautista and Wright were both confirmed in April, and a filming start date of July was established. In late April 2016, the film's release date was moved up to October 6, 2017, as well as Ana de Armas and Sylvia Hoeks being added to the cast. Carla Juri was cast in May 2016. In June, Mackenzie Davis and Barkhad Abdi were cast, with David Dastmalchian, Hiam Abbass and Lennie James joining in July. Jared Leto was cast in the film in August. In March 2017, Edward James Olmos confirmed to return. Principal photography took place between July and November 2016 in Budapest, Hungary. In early October 2016, Warner Bros. announced that the film would be titled Blade Runner 2049. Post-Production commenced in December in Los Angeles. Jóhann Jóhannsson, Villeneuve’s regular composer, was announced to score the film. However, in July 2017, Hans Zimmer and Benjamin Wallfisch replaced Jóhannsson.

The film stars Ryan Gosling, Ana de Armas, Sylvia Hoeks, Robin Wright, Mackenzie Davis, Carla Juri, Lennie James, Dave Bautista and Jared Leto with Harrison Ford and Edward James Olmos, both reprising their roles as Rick Deckard and Gaff. The cast were outstanding, with Gosling and Ford giving the best performances of their careers, de Armas and Hoeks giving break-out performances, and Leto and Olmos giving a memorable performances despite minimal screen time.

Packed with gorgeous visuals and populated by both familiar faces and fresh energy, Blade Runner 2049 successfully recalls the original's revolutionary world while injecting it with a new spirit. Like the original, the film is a visually remarkable, achingly human sci-fi masterpiece. It is an extraordinary rarity, not just one of the best films of the year but also one of the best sequels ever made, period.

Simon says Blade Runner 2049 receives:

Wednesday, 27 September 2017

'A Tree in Water: My Journey From Aotearoa to The Great White North' Chapter 21.

It’s been six months since I met my first celebrity, and now I’m about to meet my second, and my first director. As I always had hoped, my opportunity to meet one of my heroes had finally come true during my time here in Toronto. Then it became the best day of my life when I finally shook hands, bear-hugged, as well as got an autographed book and a photo with Guillermo del Toro at AGO. For those who are not familiar with the Master of Horror, Guillermo del Toro is a renowned Mexican Filmmaker known for his Horror Fantasy and Genre-bending films such as Cronos (1992), Mimic (1997), The Devil’s Backbone (2001), Blade II (2002), Hellboy (2004), Pan’s Labyrinth (2006), Hellboy II: The Golden Boy (2008), Pacific Rim (2013), Crimson Peak (2015), and The Shape of Water (2017). Del Toro’s works is characterised by a strong connection to fairy tales and horror, with an effort to infuse visual and/or poetic beauty. He has a lifelong fascination with monsters, which he considers symbols of great power.

The artist and the man, like Hans Zimmer, was a humble, funny and a genuine human being. It is no wonder why both artists are highly respected in their fields. But, unfortunately, all opportunities have their flaws and, like all good things, must come to an end. Even though I got to shake the master’s hand, got the biggest bear-hug from him and got an autographed book and a photo with him, I never got to talk to him at length, tell him how much he and his contributions to cinema means to me as an aspiring filmmaker, and never got to ask him my question. This was due to the fact that the line was LONG and security only allowed each person a short window of time with him. However, thanks to a friend I had met in line, the end of my time at AGO got better when I was invited to attend a VIP preview of del Toro’s exhibition before it opened to the public. Naturally, I couldn’t turn down the opportunity. Even though I went to his exhibition at LACMA in Los Angeles, the exhibition was similar to the LA exhibition; everything I had seen before and had expected was present. Yet, at the same time, it was certainly a different iteration of the exhibition and had its own elements that made it stand out from all the other iterations of the exhibition so far.

So once again, to recap, I became one of the luckiest guys in Toronto, having got the opportunity to meet one of my heroes. In addition, I got to shake his hand, got a bear hug from him, got my Guillermo del Toro sketchbook autographed and gotten a photo with him. All of which I will treasure for the rest of my life. I sincerely hope I will get another opportunity to see him again, only next time I hope we’ll be colleagues. I felt the happiest and the most optimistic I had ever been that day. For the first time in my life, I felt that I could be able to do anything I wanted. With that in mind, I also felt that good things would come my way.

Monday, 18 September 2017

TIFF Film Review: "The Shape of Water" (2017).

"A Fairy Tale for Troubled Times." This is The Shape of Water. This romantic fantasy film directed by Guillermo del Toro, and written by del Toro and Vanessa Taylor. The film is an other-worldly fairy tale, set against the backdrop of Cold War era America circa 1962. In the hidden high-security government labyrinth and oratory where she works, lonely Elisa is trapped in a life of isolation. Elisa's life is changed forever when she and co-worker Zelda discover a secret classified experiment.

The idea for The Shape of Water formed during del Toro's breakfast with Daniel Kraus (whom he would later co-write the novel Trollhunters) in 2011. Del Toro then began working on the film, he self-financed a crew that designed both the creature and the world. Del Toro called it the most difficult movie he and his team have ever designed. Del Toro would go on to work on this film for the next several years, and developed it before he began production on Pacific Rim (2013). Eventually, he chose to direct this film instead of Pacific Rim: Uprising (2018). It was finally confirmed in March 2016 when The Hollywood Reporter reported that the film was in development which would star Sally Hawkins and Octavia Spencer, and which del Toro would write, produce and direct for Fox Searchlight Pictures. The film would be set in the Cold War era. Del Toro originally wanted to shoot the film in black and white, but due to budget restraints, decided against it. Del Toro first pitched the film to Hawkins when they first met at the 2014 Golden Globes, and pitched the film to her while being intoxicated; "I was drunk and it's not a movie that makes you sound less drunk". Ironically, when she was offered the lead role in this film, Hawkins herself was working on a script for a short film about a woman who turns into a fish. Hawkins researched Charles Chaplin, Stan Laurel, Oliver Hardy, Buster Keaton and Audrey Hepburn for her part. Del Toro bought her a Blu-ray collection featuring the performers prior to filming. By May, Michael Stuhlbarg and Michael Shannon had joined the cast. In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, del Toro confirmed his frequent collaborator Doug Jones would play the creature in the film. Jones commented: "...I played a creature in it, in a full rubber, you know, transformation from head to toe. ... Sally Hawkins is like the lead of the movie, and the one I had most of my scenes with." Jones spent three hours every day getting into the costume. According to him, it was nothing compared to previous costumes he has worn in other films by del Toro. Filming began in August 2016 in Toronto and Hamilton, Ontario, with a budget of $30 million. Filming took twelve weeks, and it wrapped in November 2016. In December 2016, Alexandre Desplat was announced to score the film. Desplat's whistling can be heard in the soundtrack. Del Toro wanted the score to feature whistling because it contrasted how many scenes of the film feature water. In July 2017, the first trailer for the film was released. Despite visual similarities, del Toro has denied that this film has any connections to Hellboy (2004). The film was screened in the main competition section of the 74th Venice International Film Festival and premiered on August 31, 2017. It would later win the main award, The Golden Lion, the first English-language movie since Somewhere (2010).

The film stars Sally Hawkins, Michael Shannon, Richard Jenkins, Doug Jones, Michael Stuhlbarg, and Octavia Spencer. The cast gave terrific performances that was outer worldly and more multi-lated than one would expect. Both Hawkins and Jones gave incredibly physical performances that radiated soulfulness and outer worldly beauty without uttering a single word. Performances that harken back to performances of the silent era to the performances of the golden age of horror films. They were just simply wondrous. Shannon's multi-layered performance was the key throughout the film, as his character in the film epitomizes the human theme of the film. He has joined the rank of del Toro's greatest antagonists, a character who is both unsettling and chivalrous. Stuhlbarg, Jenkins and Spencer gave scene-stealing performances that is sure to get some award buzz.

The Shape of Water is Beauty and the Beast for grown-ups, with the horrors of both reality and fantasy blended together into an extraordinary, spellbinding fable like Pan's Labyrinth. The film is another epic, poetic vision from Guillermo del Toro in which a love story is set in a period of history that examined what made America great and horrible. It is a fairy tale of such potency and awesome beauty that it reconnects the adult imagination to the primal thrill and horror of the stories that held us spellbound as children. It works on so many levels that it seems to change shape even as you watch it. Del Toro has crafted a masterpiece, a visually wondrous fairy tale love story for adults that blends the beloved del Toro fantasy elements and the melodrama of Douglas Sirk into one of the most magical films to come along in years. It is so breathtaking in its artistic ambition, so technically accomplished, so morally expansive, so fully realized that it defies the usual critical blather. See it, and celebrate that rare occasion when a director has the audacity to commit cinema. The film is one of those rare beasts, with a sense of genuine permanency. It beds down in your mind, like it is preparing to live there for a while. It is not pretty, but it is, sometimes, very beautiful. But even in a year where cinema is not at its finest, I'm unable to see everything. And I'm still not finished with my 2017 discoveries. I'm still looking for more movies to watch until the end of the year. Nothing I am likely to see, however, is likely to change my conviction that the year's best film is The Shape of Water. It's simply bewitchingly bonkers.

Simon says The Shape of Water receives: 

Sunday, 17 September 2017

'A Tree in Water: My Journey From Aotearoa to The Great White North' Chapter 20.

Victory! I got them at last! I got tickets to TIFF at last! The tickets themselves were not easy to obtain. Even worse, I wasn’t able to get all the tickets I had wanted nor on the dates I had hoped. All things I had to find out the hard way about TIFF when it came to the early morning of Monday 4th November. And boy it was as though I was kicked in the nuts! I was definitely dumbfounded, yet excited; by the time I had gained my hands on the tickets. The Toronto International Film Festival’s process of tickets sales is rather an interesting one, interesting as in it’s very different to the ticket sales process of the New Zealand International Film Festival. Once I saw the process itself with my own eyes, the differences were more than apparent. It was basically day and night. The process itself was actually two separate components. The first is online where TIFF members can be able to purchase the tickets, and any other special deals, before the public on the day before. I should have become a member. That’s the part that pissed me off the most. Especially when I wasn’t able to get my hands on the tickets of a 70mm IMAX screening of Dunkirk with a Q&A with Christopher Nolan. I can’t explain, and stress enough, how upset and how pissed I was when I found out when those tickets were sold out and how TIFF lied about the tickets being available to the public. The second was obviously for the public to purchase tickets at the TIFF Box Office, which was held across the street from Lightbox. I quickly realized when I got there at 7am in the morning that it wasn’t going to be easy. But I had no idea that it was going to be as difficult as it was. The line itself was not long at first, but it grew and grew extraordinarily as time progressed. The line itself became a giant serpent full of anxious moviegoers waiting to get their hands on a ticket. I had no real hope of getting all the tickets I had wanted. It was just going to be almost an impossibility, but it didn’t hurt to hope for the best. It was time for me to get in line and play the waiting game. 

The amount of time waiting felt as though it was an eternity. With nothing happening even though the clock was ticking closer. I honestly did not expect for it to have taken as long as it did. After waiting about three, the line finally started to move towards the building and inside. I quickly lined up in the queue so that I can get my tickets as fast as possible. At this time, I had no expectations whatsoever that I would get the tickets I was after. As it was only a matter of time, while I was waiting, that someone would get them before I could. But this was my only chance to go to TIFF. It was time to accept whatever I could get. The queue was moving faster that I had expected. The rest of the line from the main entrance and outside was long and slow. As I had heard from a few people in front, this was typical in the life of the members of the public who are not TIFF members. When my time finally came, I pretty much hoped and kept my fingers crossed that I would get the tickets I sought after. Then things looked a little optimistic despite some bad news. Just as I had suspected, I was only able to get three out of the five tickets I had wanted, and none of them were on opening days and nights. During the time I was in the queue, the idea and prospect of getting the exact tickets were pretty slim. I grew more saddened and pissed. It was hard to think about that. But it was reality. Then by the time I got my hands on the tickets, I forgot about being saddened and pissed. In the end, at least I had the opportunity to go and the tickets to three of the movies I wanted to see. 

Oh God, I did it. I’ve finally gone to TIFF. I never could have imagined any of it. But it happened. I’ve finally got to go to one of the major film festivals in the world. And TIFF was one of the major film festivals that was high on my list. First, I went to see Hong Sang Soo’s The Day After (그 후) at Scotiabank Cinema. I went to see it, as I was curious to see a Hong Sang Soo film as I had never seen a single one of his films. The last of the many reasons why I went to see it was simply because it was a Korean film and I am myself Korean. The next film was Armando Iannucci’s The Death of Stalin at Ryerson University Theatre. This was a film that came as a recommendation from my brother. So based on his recommendation, I went to see it. After the two films, I finally got to see the one film I wanted to see most of all – Guillermo del Toro’s The Shape of Water. Del Toro is one of the favourite filmmakers of all time. So when I heard his next film would be shown at TIFF, I immediately, within a heart beat, jumped at the chance to get my hands on a ticket. I waited in line for hours when I got to the Elgin Theatre, to make sure I could get the best seat possible. It was a nightmare waiting in line. But I was all smiles by the time I got into the theatre. I guess it’s true, “all good things come to those who wait.” By the time the lights had come up when the film ended, I was cloud nine. Smiling as I exited the theatre. I couldn’t never imagine myself not going to TIFF ever again. I just had to be a part of it for as long as I was going to live in Toronto. I’d started to forget about NZIFF and started to think about future TIFF events to come as I started to head on back to my apartment.

TIFF Film Review: "The Death of Stalin" (2017).

"The fight for leadership begins." This is The Death of Stalin. This period comedy-drama film directed by Armando Iannucci, adapted by Iannucci, David Schneider, Ian Martin, and Peter Fellows, based on the French graphic novel of the same name by Fabien Nury and Thierry Robin. The film follows the Soviet dictator's last days and depicts the chaos of the regime after his death.

The project first gained momentum during the 2016 Cannes Film Festival. Armando Iannucci was set as director and co-writer, alongside his regular collaborators David Schneider (The Thick of It co-writer), Ian Martin and Peter Fellows. Production began in late June 2016, with Jeffrey Tambor, Steve Buscemi, Olga Kurylenko, Michael Palin, Simon Russell Beale, Paddy Considine, Andrea Riseborough, Adrian Mcloughlin, Rupert Friend, Jason Isaacs and Paul Whitehouse all confirmed to be in the cast. In September 2017, a high-ranking Russian official with the culture ministry said the Russian authorities were considering a ban on the upcoming film, which, he alleged, could be part of a "western plot to destabilise Russia by causing rifts in society."

The film stars an ensemble cast that includes Jeffrey Tambor as Georgy Malenkov, Steve Buscemi as Nikita Khrushchev, Olga Kurylenko as Maria Yudina, Michael Palin as Vyacheslav Molotov, Simon Russell Beale as Lavrentiy Beria, Paddy Considine as Comrade Andreyev, Andrea Riseborough as Svetlana Stalina, Rupert Friend as Vasily Stalin, Jason Isaacs as Georgy Zhukov, Adrian McLoughlin as Joseph Stalin, Paul Whitehouse as Anastas Mikoyan, Paul Chahidi as Nikolai Bulganin, and Dermot Crowley as Lazar Kaganovich. Every single one of the cast gave performances that rides the thin line between hilarity and insanity. Every moment throughout the film, all the performances were hilarious and insane to the point where I actually, and literally, fell on the floor of the theatre laughing my ass off. All the jokes by the cast were funny as hell and the entire ensemble is great.

There had been nothing in comedy like The Death of Stalin ever before. All the gods before whom the Russia of the stolid, paranoid 50s had genuflected went into the wood-chipper and never got the same respect ever again. Armando Iannucci's brilliant Soviet Union satire is funny and razor-sharp. The film is arguably one of the best political satire of the century. By a whopping margin, this is Iannucci's most radical film and greatest dramatic gamble. Like most of his work, Iannucci's insane satirical comedy-thriller on the death of Joseph Stalin madness and its possible effects has aged well. Perhaps Iannucci's most perfectly realized film, simply because his satirical vision of the danger of power and human stupidity is wedded with comedy. The pre-eminent satire of the troubling times of the Soviet Union, the film is a hilarious and harrowing fable of systemised madness. The film does what so few comedies do today: it challenges us, provokes us, unsettles us while also making us laugh. A slick satire of Stalin's death, and one that succeeds in brilliantly lampooning the hands that guide the world.

Simon says The Death of Stalin receives:

Saturday, 16 September 2017

TIFF Film Review: "The Day After" ("그 후") (2017).

The 21st film by the Korean Woody Allen - The Day After (그 후). This South Korean drama film written, produced, and directed by Hong Sang-soo. The film centres on Bongwan, who runs a small publishing house in Seoul, wakes up early, very early this morning. Why is that so? To his wife who asks him for an explanation, Bongwan answers only elusively. He then sets off for work and while walking through the dark streets, he thinks of the woman who left him a month before. Later on, at the office, he meets Areum, his new secretary, a pretty young woman who takes on her first day of work. Meanwhile, at home, Bongwan's wife discovers a love poem written by him. She sees red and rushes like a fury into the publishing office. Mistaking poor Areum for her husband's mistress, she physically attacks her.

The film is another addition to director Hong's study on human relationship that has been synonymous to the director's career since his 1996 debut film The Day a Pig Fell into the Well (돼지가 우물에 빠진 날). But one can not ignore the fact that the film is an indictment for the director's extramarital affair with his leading lady, Kim Min-hee. In June 2016, Hong was reported to be having an extramarital affair with the actress since shortly after their first collaboration on the director's 2015 film Right Now, Wrong Then (지금은맞고그때는틀리다). Hong, who was 54, was in relations with a woman 21 years his junior. Rumours of their affair started circulating since the release of Kim's 2016 film The Handmaiden. At the Seoul premiere of On the Beach at Night Alone (밤의 해변에서 혼자) in March 2017, both Hong and Kim openly admitted their affair. By March 2017, it was reported that Hong had financially cut off his daughter for the affair, Hong's wife had confronted the actress in public, and that Hong's wife has refused to divorce Hong as she believed that he'll come back to her. She commented: "She put us in hell but my husband looks at Kim Min Hee with such a happy expression. My husband looks like a boy who fell in his first love. But we used to live so well together..."

The film stars Kwon Hae-hyo, Kim Min-hee, Kim Sae-byeok, and Jo Yoon-hee. The cast gave terrifically slight, contained, but ineffably soulful performances that portrays the subtleties, fragility and the brutal melancholy of people caught in a tangled web of complicated relationships.

The Day After is a simple story where director Hong Sang-soo addresses complex issues through extensive dialogues. Hong has a unique ability to create relationship studies that are both charming and puzzling. Every one of Hong Sang-soo's efforts has their delights. In its quiet, pensive manner, the movie plays like a cogent stanza in the ever-flowing lyricism of Hong's career. Even though the film is plotless, its wryly likeable study of human emotions. A melancholic honesty blows through every haunted frame of Hong Sang-soo's film.

Simon says The Day After (그 후) receives:

Thursday, 14 September 2017

'A Tree in Water: My Journey From Aotearoa to The Great White North' Chapter 19.

Made it to another meet up today, and I had a fun time. Just like I did for the first meet up. An interesting meet up this one was. Getting to the location wasn’t much of a problem, even though it was a little far. As to how far it was that I live all the way West and the location was all the way East. Further East than my where my bnb was. I left for the location at 5:30pm and I took the 504 streetcar, a streetcar I’m more than familiar with since I’ve taken it more than any other streetcar. The ride was a little while but it was a straight ride, which only went in one direction. Up till now, I’ve been hanging out by myself and exploring on my own. It is when I’m exploring on my own that I started to feel lonelier than ever. The feeling grew more and more as time progressed. But as soon as I joined the group, I no longer felt alone and felt more and more that I enthusiastic to hang out with groups and people like this one. The good news is that this will continue to comfort me for days to come. I get to have opportunities where I can hang out with like-minded people and I can be myself and do what I love with them.

The weather was fine, it wasn’t too hot and it wasn’t too cold. No unbearable heat and no discernable winds. I think it was a good evening to shoot some photos. There’s a good chance we could get some great pictures of the skyline and sun setting. I should be able to show off some tuff in this post. Which, by the way, we did. After taking shots of the bridge over the Don River, the Broadview Hotel and its surrounding area during sunset and at night. I stayed with the group on the bridge for most of the time. I could gone off on my own and shot some different things, but the group was so much fun to hang out and shoot with, and there wasn’t much else to take photos of. Most of the action took place on the bridge. By the end, we wrapped it up and went out drinking at a bar and chatted with each other for about two hours.

It’s a strange but wonderful feeling when I was sitting there surrounded by my new friends. Before all of this, everywhere I went, I felt isolated and distant from the Canadians I’m living among. During then, I never once felt I could connect with; the last thing I remembered was an advice give to me by friend Peter, whom I met during my stay at my bnb. He told me something that stayed with me that shaped my perceptions of Canadians, whether for better or for worse. He told me that Canadians are nice, but they are not friendly. This concept was further reinforced when I first interacted with my roommate. She told me it was because Canadians have their national/international image to uphold as an immigrant-friendly nation that upholds diversity above all else. Because of this reputation, Canadians are pressured and stressed to never let the reputation slip through the cracks, as my roommate explained. I wasn’t really expecting much in terms of interacting with Canadians after that. I was expecting to have a difficult time connecting with people. A month passed by and I had only made a few friends, which mostly consisted of the people I interacted with at my bnb. Here’s a man who has substantial amount of friends back home. Man, I miss my friends. I wish I could see all of them before I had left. Jesus Christ, look how far I’ve come connecting with people and making new friends. Back in the first month, I’d give anything for a five-minute conversation with someone, anyone for that matter. Anywhere and about anything. I’m the first member of my family to have taken the risk to immigrate to another country on the other side of the world and to be alone in that country.

Okay, enough moping about depressing feelings. Now I am having a conversation with someone, with some people: my new friends. It’s a bit quick to jump to conclusions but I’ve made up my mind. They are my new friends. And the whole point of this entry is to talk about my new friends. I could even talk about them and a whole bunch more before this long story ends. So here’s another first: This week I’ll be attending the Toronto International Film Festival.