Saturday, 30 September 2017

Film Review: "Gerald's Game" (2017).

"Some games you play, some you survive." This is Gerald's Game. This psychological horror thriller drama film directed by Mike Flanagan, adapted by Flanagan and Jeff Howard, and based on Stephen King's 1992 novel of the same title. When her husband's sex game goes wrong, Jessie - handcuffed to a bed in a remote lake house - faces warped visions, dark secrets and a dire choice.

In late May 2014, Deadline Hollywood reported that Flanagan had been hired to direct an adaptation of King's 1992 suspense thriller, as well as pen the script with Howard. By late October 2016, Carla Gugino, Bruce Greenwood, Henry Thomas, Kate Siegel, and Carel Struycken were cast. At the same time, principal photography commenced, and wrapped in early November. Filming took place in Mobile, Alabama.

The film stars, Gugino, Greenwood, Thomas, Siegel, and Struycken. Terrific performances were given by the cast, especially by Gugino. The bulk of the movie’s appeal, however, comes from Gugino, delivering her most effective performance in ages. She plays unfortunate and tortured soul, Jessie Burlingame, who is unfortunately handcuffed to a bed in an remote lake house after her husband's sex game goes horribly wrong.

Thanks to Flanagan's patient storytelling and strong work from lead Gugino, Gerald's Game ranks among the more satisfying Stephen King adaptations. The film is not lurid in its scares, and instead depicts its protagonist's suffering mostly as a slow rot. The film is a credible addition to a filmography where practically every thought the writer commits to paper is, seemingly, deemed fit for the screen. There's an unshakable menace that lingers, a tale of guilt and regret that burrows its way under the skin. It is a tale of human guilt, divine consequence, and good old fashioned King-ly horror, with a performance by Gugino that only solidifies her standing as a leading actress who Hollywood continues to overlook. The film is a compelling and gripping look at marriage, gender dynamics and the aftermath, and its simplicity helps propel it in to one of the most sophisticated Stephen King cinematic adaptations. Almost unanimous praise aside, I will say that the film suffers from the familiar case of a short story stretched too thin in a feature film. The film's length does run a tad too long. Also, it doesn't take any shocking new twists. But what it does capitalize on is the root and themes of King's best works, and musters just enough fresh polish to a classic scenario to make it worth one more ride. The premise of the film isn't as instantly catchy as 1922 or as flashy as It, but the adaptation is successful - I could hear Stephen King's voice coming through loud and clear. In cinemas, it might have been overshadowed by flashier rivals, but perhaps, on demand, this slow, but winningly bleak little tale will find the audience it deserves. It may not be particularly original, but it's a good, minor King adaptation. It's a cheeseburger that knows it's a cheeseburger, and it's a blast.

Simon says Gerald's Game receives:

Also, see my review for Ouija: Origin of Evil.

Thursday, 28 September 2017

'Once Upon a Time in Canada' 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.

Also, see Chapters 20 and 22.

Wednesday, 27 September 2017

Film Review: "Stronger" (2017).

"Loss changes us. Tragedy tests us. Strength defines us." This is Stronger. This biographical drama film directed by David Gordon Green, written by John Pollono, and based on the memoir of the same name by Jeff Bauman and Bret Witter. Bauman loses both of his legs when two bombs explode during the Boston Marathon on April 15, 2013. After regaining consciousness in the hospital, Bauman is able to help law enforcement identify one of the suspects, but his own battle is just beginning. With unwavering support from his family and girlfriend, Bauman embarks on a long and heroic journey to physical and emotional rehabilitation.

In mid July 2014, it was reported that Lionsgate was developing a film based on Bauman's memoir, with Pollono writing the script. In mid July 2015, Green signed on to direct the film. In late July, it was reported that Jake Gyllenhaal was in talks to play Bauman. By early April, Tatiana Maslany, Miranda Richardson, Clancy Brown, and Frankie Shaw rounded out the film's cast as Erin Hurley, Patty Bauman, Jeff Bauman Sr., and Gail Hurley respectively. At the same time, principal photography commenced, and filming took place in Boston, Massachusetts and New York City. It was filmed at the same time as Patriots Day (2016), the other Boston Marathon bombing-related movie. Dan Whelton portrayed Bauman. Many minor characters in the film are played by themselves, including most of the medical professionals, who re-enacted the real events in unscripted scenes. Dr. Jeffrey Kalish removes the bandages from Gyllenhaal's legs just as he had from Bauman's, and five members of the Martino family play themselves at United Prosthetics. Others include the rehab techs and nurses at Spalding Rehab, and first responder Jerry Kissel. Bauman's former supervisor at Costco, Kevin, auditioned to play himself in the movie. Although he was not chosen for the part he is an extra in more than one scene.

The film stars Gyllenhaal, Maslany, Richardson, Brown, and Shaw. The film's success is due in large part to actors who are both faithful to all the real-life figures and the social minutiae, as well as being dramatic enough to keep you watching. The characters and the performances get inside your skin, your soul. It's enough to make you want to cry.

With fine acting and considerable emotional depth, Stronger aptly captures the horror, and especially the highs of the Boston Marathon Bombings and its aftermath from Bauman's perspective. The film is a compelling, and grim, portrait of Bostonian lives gone wrong, largely thanks to its disturbingly good script. So when the film's moment of horror arrives, it's not with suspense but instead the sort of dully anticipatory inevitability that drains as much energy from the story as from the audience. The film shows how Bauman and the people around him learn codes of survival and perseverance from the devastation of the bombings and its aftermath, but when they try to pull them off in crucial situations they do come out standard, and cliched.

Simon says Stronger receives:

Also, see my review for Joe.

Film Review: "Battle of the Sexes" (2017).

"He made a bet. She made history." This is Battle of the Sexes. This biographical sports film directed by Valerie Faris and Jonathan Dayton, written by Simon Beaufoy, and loosely based on the 1973 tennis match between Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs. In the wake of the sexual revolution and the rise of the women's movement, the 1973 tennis match between women's world champion Billie Jean King and ex-men's-champ and serial hustler Bobby Riggs was billed as the Battle of the Sexes and became one of the most watched televised sports events of all time, reaching 90 million viewers around the world. As the rivalry between King and Riggs kicked into high gear, off-court each was fighting more personal and complex battles. The fiercely private King was not only championing for equality, but also struggling to come to terms with her own sexuality, as her friendship with Marilyn Barnett developed. And Riggs, one of the first self-made media-age celebrities, wrestled with his gambling demons, at the expense of his family and wife Priscilla. Together, Billie and Bobby served up a cultural spectacle that resonated far beyond the tennis court, sparking discussions in bedrooms and boardrooms that continue to reverberate today.

In April 2015, the project was announced with Emma Stone and Steve Carrell cast in the lead roles. However, scheduling issues forced Stone to drop out. Brie Larson was ultimately tapped to replace her. However, after a few months, Larson dropped out. After Stone's schedule was cleared, she was able to take back the role. By early April 2016, Andrea Riseborough, Sarah Silverman, Bill Pullman, Alan Cumming, Elisabeth Shue, and Fred Armisen rounded out the film's cast. At the same time, with a budget of $25 million, principal photography commenced, and took place in Los Angeles. Prior to filming, due to Stone's lack of knowledge and skills in Tennis, Stone underwent training and put on fifteen pounds of muscle. For the tennis match scenes, tennis players Kaitlyn Christian (who portrays Original 9 member Kerry Melville Reid) and Vince Spadea were the body doubles of Stone and Carell, respectively.

The film stars Stone, Carell, Riseborough, Silverman, Pullman, Cumming, Shue, and Armisen. Terrific performances were given by the cast, especially from Stone and Carell. Stone, as usual, taels our heart. Both Stone and Carell elevate this battle into something pleasantly surprising.

In the superb hands of directors Faris and Dayton, writer Beaufoy, and with unimprovable performances from Stone and Carell, Battle of the Sexes becomes a funny and fulfilling cinematic event. The film is a witty, inspiring film that charts Billie Jean King's drive to put women's tennis on the map, as well as being a smart, gripping and enormously enjoyable parable. It is a great story, deftly told and a wonderful testament to what an inspirational figure Billie Jean King has been. In the end, it is a hugely entertaining documentary that tells a colourful, fascinating story and makes a series of resonant points about equal rights.

Simon says Battle of the Sexes receives:

Also, see my review for Ruby Sparks.

Tuesday, 19 September 2017

Series Review: "The Strain" (2014-17).

From acclaimed director Guillermo del Toro and executive producer Carlton Cuse comes The Strain. This horror drama television series created by del Toro and Chuck Hogan, based on their novel trilogy of the same name. It aired on FX from July 13, 2014, to September 17, 2017. It tells the story of Dr. Ephraim Goodweather, the head of the Center for Disease Control Canary Team in New York City. He and his team are called upon to investigate a mysterious viral outbreak with hallmarks of an ancient and evil strain of vampirism. As the strain spreads, Eph, his team, and an assembly of everyday New Yorkers, wage war for the fate of humanity itself.

In 2006, del Toro pitched The Strain as a television series, but negotiations broke down when the network president at Fox Broadcasting Company asked him to make it a comedy. An agent suggested expanding the concept as a novel series instead. Del Toro asked Chuck Hogan to co-write the series. Hogan agreed after reading a page and a half of del Toro's 12-page project outline; the duo collaborated for the first year on a handshake, with no contract or publishing deal in place. In 2009, the first installment was released, and was followed by 2010's The Fall and 2011's The Night Eternal. After the first book's publication, studios and networks began making offers for the film and television adaptation rights, but del Toro and Hogan declined, not wanting a screen version to influence the way they were writing the books. After the third book's publication, the authors talked with every cable network that had expressed interest. FX was deemed most suitable because they wanted to follow the books closely and liked the idea of The Strain as a close-ended series consisting of three to five seasons. Del Toro stated that the first two novels can be covered by one season each, while The Night Eternal may be split into two or three seasons. The author is also open to creative detours that may develop as the series goes on, possibly incorporating material cut from the books. Del Toro intends to direct as many episodes as his busy schedule allows. Before the series order was announced, FX gave the writing team the go-ahead to script another ten episodes, which del Toro rewrote. FX president John Landgraf has stated that the series will consist of "39–65 episodes, no less, no more." In late November 2013, FX ordered a thirteen-episode first season for the series, and announced that the series would premiere in July 2014. In August 2015, del Toro and Cuse announced a five-season plan for the series after the third season renewal. He also said that beyond the first and second seasons, which are 13 episodes each, the remaining seasons were planned to each consist of 10 episodes. However, in September 2016, FX announced the series' fourth season would be its last. Del Toro and Cuse cast the series together. For the role of Dr. Ephraim "Eph" Goodweather, Corey Stoll was cast based on his performance in Midnight in Paris (2011). For Professor Abraham Setrakian, John Hurt played the role in the original version of the pilot, but later dropped out. The role was recast with David Bradley and his scenes were reshot. For Vasiliy Fet, del Toro had Ron Perlman in mind for the role. Kevin Durand was ultimately cast. For Kelly Goodweather, Lauren Lee Smith was originally cast, but was ultimately replaced by Natalie Brown. For Jim Kent, Sean Astin was cast based on his performance in The Lord of the Rings trilogy (2001-3). Principal photography took place at both Pinewood Toronto Studios and Cinespace Studios in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. Filming for the pilot took place from mid September to Halloween 2013. For subsequent episodes, a full writing staff was hired. $500,000 was reportedly committed by FX on the creature effects alone. Although similar to the Reapers from Blade II (2002), the Strigoi are Del Toro's actual original concept. When he had first begun developing an interest in writing as a young man, Del Toro had created and conceptualized his own idea of vampires being monstrous, parasitic creatures with leech-like feeding appendages. During the course of the series, 46 episodes aired over four seasons.

The series stars Stoll, Bradley, Mía Maestro, Durand, Jonathan Hyde, Richard Sammel, Astin, and Jones. Terrific performances were given  by the cast whose portrayals did justice and more to their literary counterparts, and brought them to extraordinary life.

Blood-spattered, emotionally resonant, and white-knuckle intense, The Strain puts an intelligent spin on the overcrowded zombie subgenre. The series manages to capture del Toro's enthusiasm for telling monster stories, in a youthful and more colorful fashion that may well earn him a new generation of fans. They have made their series with panache and ingenuity, as much majesty as the budget will allow, and enough suspense and mystery to make one invest in subsequent episodes as they arrive. While a simple story drives things along, the impressive visual flair del Toro brings prove compelling for fans of the creator, and, of course, horror enthusiasts. The series is an always engaging and often wildly entertaining addition to the vampire genre. The second season fleshes out the characters while maintaining the gruelling tension and gore that made the show a hit. If you enjoyed the series' first outing, then you're going to love the horror, action, and thrills of this second season. The palpable terror and visceral thrills continue in the third season, along with a deeper sense of the people who inhabit its apocalyptic landscape. It expands the show's horror elements, allows the relationships to mature, and takes bold chances with the story's narrative structure. If it was ever the case that you were unsure the series was worth your time, now is the perfect time to give it a chance. Above all, however, it is a series with a whole lot of character. It is the best horror series to come along since The Walking Dead.

Simon says The Strain receives:

Also, see my review for The Shape of Water.

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: 

Also, see my reviews for Crimson Peak and The Death of Stalin.

Monday, 18 September 2017

'Once Upon a Time in Canada' 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.

Also, see Chapters 19 and 21.

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:

Also, see my TIFF review for The Day After.

Sunday, 17 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:

Also, see my reviews for Nobody's Daughter Haewon and mother!

Friday, 15 September 2017

'Once Upon a Time in Canada' 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.

Also, see Chapters 18 and 20.