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:



Also, see my review for Alien: Covenant.

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:



Also, see my reviews for Looper and Star Wars: The Force Awakens.

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:



Also, see my review for Pan.

Tuesday, 28 November 2017

'A Tree in Water: My Journey From Aotearoa to The Great White North' Chapter 28.

It’s over! Holy shit, it’s over! I have just found a job and will be starting on 28thNovember. The job is being a Sales Photographer for a New Zealand company called Magic Memories (ironic) at one of the most Canadian places in Canada – the CN Tower. The job came just in the nick of time when I was about to even remotely consider giving up, packing my bags, and heading back home. But I’m saved!

I don’t even know what to say. This is insane, and somehow I’m employed! I’m going to be very happy again. I spent months endlessly job-hunting like a maniac with no life and it’s finally over. Sure, I might lose this job and not last as long as I would hope. But I’m no longer unemployed.

The whole time after I had my interview and received the offer, I was celebrating. I imagined what this moment would be like. I figured I’d jump up and down for a bit, cheer and scream on the top of my lungs, maybe flip off the ground (or maybe not considering highly likely I’ll injure or kill myself), and that’s what happened. When I got the email, I jumped up and down a bit, cheered and screamed on the top of my lungs, but I didn’t flip off the ground because I didn’t want to injure or die before my new job. I did this for several minutes. I finally settled down and got down to preparing for the new job.

The day finally came. It occurred to me: Now that I might live, I have to be more careful about not losing my job as I did with Disney. How do I make sure I keep my job? There’s no simple answer… but then again, the answer is obviously just don’t do anything stupid. I’ve got some important things to keep in mind and to do when I finally start. Time to get to work!

Saturday, 25 November 2017

'A Tree in Water: My Journey From Aotearoa to The Great White North' Chapter 27.

I am just really hoping we’d capture some good photos of the Cavalcade of Lights Festival with my photography group despite the freezing climate. Why does that matter? Well, I’ll tell ya… If we didn’t get good, or even decent, pictures by the end of the night, then we suffered our freezing asses for nothing, especially when it was also raining. It’s kind of harder when it comes to capturing good images in the freezing and raining cold when it’s not exactly to capture a good image period. But that’s the main challenge for any photographer, whether amateur or professional.










The Cavalcade of Lights Festival was our, especially my, test to see whether or not we, especially I, can capture some good images whilst freezing my ass off. In the first hour, no action. Nothing. But there’s still hope. Any number of things could interfere with us achieving our goal. But a true photographer never gives up and does whatever it takes to get what we want. So we just need the right moments and conditions to give us the chance. Also, the rain was starting to wain down. Hopefully, it’ll stay that way for the rest of the night and make it easier for us to get some great shots. It’s already almost two hours at this point, so the time is drawing near. So… great!
































The show finally gave us the chance when it began. And it was beautiful, vibrant and exciting colours filled the snowy night sky, with plenty of opportunities for us to capture some great shots. Maybe it’s one of the few times, as a photographer, where I just succeeded in getting what I want, and still with enough time to enjoy the show as a spectator. By the end of the show, we just packed up our stuff, and headed for the Duke of Richmond for some nice, warm meals and drinks.

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:



Also, see my review for Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and Wonder Woman.

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:



Also, see my review for Cinderella.