Monday, 8 October 2018

Film Review: "Venom" (2018).


"Embrace your inner anti-hero" with Venom. This superhero film directed by Ruben Fleischer, written by Jeff Pinkner, Scott Rosenberg, and Kelly Marcel, based on the Marvel Comics character of the same name. It is the first film in Sony's Marvel Universe. Journalist Eddie Brock is trying to take down Carlton Drake, the notorious and brilliant founder of the Life Foundation. While investigating one of Drake's experiments, Eddie's body merges with the alien Venom - leaving him with superhuman strength and power. Twisted, dark and fueled by rage, Venom tries to control the new and dangerous abilities that Eddie finds so intoxicating.

Sony first began developing a Venom film after the character made his cinematic debut in Spider-Man 3 (2007). However, the project fell into Development Hell, with various iterations. Shortly after the franchise was rebooted with The Amazing Spider-Man (2012), the film was announced once again, though this time within continuity of the Webb series. After the negative reception of The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (2014) was released, Sony and Marvel decided to once again reboot the franchise and place a Venom spin-off on hold. In March 2016, the project was again revived as a standalone film launching its own franchise, unrelated to Sony and Marvel Studio's new Spider-Man films. A year later, Sony set the film with a October 5, 2018 release date, with Rosenberg and Pinkner penning the script. Adi Shankar and Adam Wingard were both shortlisted to direct before Fleischer was ultimately chosen in May 2017. In the same month, Tom Hardy would star as the titular character. Loosely based on Venom: Lethal Protector and Planet of the Symbiotes, the film is also influenced by the film of John Carpenter and David Cronenberg, as well as An American Werewolf in London (1981) and Ghostbusters (1984). By October, Michelle Williams, Riz Ahmed, Scott Haze, Jenny Slate, and Reid Scott rounded out the cast. Principal photography began in October 2017, in Atlanta, New York City, and San Francisco. Inspired by 20th Century Fox's success with Deadpool (2016) and Logan (2017), the film was initially slated for an R-rating. However, this was changed to a PG-13 much to the chagrin of many fans, in order to allow more possible crossovers.

The film stars Hardy, Williams, Ahmed, Haze, Slate, and Scott. Hardy gave a terrific performance as the titular anti-hero. Despite their best efforts, Williams, Ahmed, Haze, Slate, and Scott's performances were no match for Hardy's, and came off as rather dull due to given very little to properly flesh out their characters and to do.

Though Hardy gives his all, he can't help Venom overcome a cliche-ridden script and familiar narrative. It's an O.K., not great, Marvel movie that tells the early story of the villain-turned-anti-hero, and attempts to make it climax in a perfect coupling with the start of another MCU-style universe. Hardy is capable of carrying even the most ridiculous effort, he singlehandedly makes the film an excellent start to the 2018 Fall season.

Simon says Venom receives:


See my review for Gangster Squad.

Wednesday, 26 September 2018

Film Review: "The House with a Clock on Its Walls" (2018).


"This house knows what makes you tick." This is The House with a Clock in its Walls. This family fantasy film directed by Eli Roth, adapted by Eric Kripke, based on the 1973 juvenile fiction novel of the same name by John Bellairs. Ten-year-old Lewis goes to live with his oddball uncle in a creaky old house that contains a mysterious `tick tock' noise. He soon learns that Uncle Jonathan and his feisty neighbour, Mrs Zimmerman, are powerful practitioners of the magic arts. When Lewis accidentally awakens the dead, the town's sleepy facade suddenly springs to life, revealing a secret and dangerous world of witches, warlocks and deadly curses.

Though it is the first theatrical adaptation of the novel, it is not the first adaptation. The story was first adapted as a television episode of CBS Library (1979). Screenwriter Eric Kripke was a fan of the book. He has even stated that the novel was the original inspiration of the long running CW television show, Supernatural (2005), which he created. He has also said that he wrote in a few Supernatural "Easter Eggs" as a way of paying tribute. The film marks as the first literary adaptation, the first Gothic family film, as well as the first movie not to be rated R for director Eli Roth. Which he was hired to helm the director's chair after the disastrous development of The Meg, Roth left the project after citing creative differences with Warner Bros. Principal photography on the film began in early October 2017.

The film stars Jack Black, Cate Blanchett, Owen Vaccaro, Kyle MacLachlan, Renée Elise Goldsberry, Sunny Suljic, and Lorenza Izzo. The cast gave terrific performances, in particular Black and Blanchett. Both of them fire up a stampede of comic terrors ready made for the film. Sure it's exhausting. But, knowing the film's audience, they let it rip.

The House with a Clock in Its Walls 
boasts more than enough kid-friendly charm from its spooky source material to make up for some slightly scattershot humour and a hurried pace. Nothing about the film is revolutionary, but it's a never-boring trip to a world, where stories and imagination are powerful tools, that just might inspire kids to do the scariest thing of all: pick up a book. The film isn't detached or ironic, nor does it pretend to be something it's not. It's a bonus for fans who pored over the books and it celebrates the fun side of things going bump in the night. It respects the novel you love while having fun with the characters and doing some interesting things with John Bellairs. Can you really ask for anything more than a wonderful celebration of John Bellairs' imagination? The film is not a faithful adaptation of the books, but it is a fun introduction to horror for kids. The film finds that balance, managing to capture not only the charm of Stine's work, but the scares as well, without straying too far in either direction.

Simon says The House with a Clock in Its Walls receives:


Tuesday, 25 September 2018

Film Review: "Fahrenheit 11/9" (2018).


"Tyrant. Liar. Racist. A Hole in One." This is Fahrenheit 11/9. This political documentary by filmmaker Michael Moore. Moore predicted that Donald Trump would become the 45th president of the United States. Traveling across the country, Moore interviews American citizens to get a sense of the social, economic and political impact of Trump's victory. Moore also takes an in-depth look at the media, the Electoral College, the government agenda and his hometown of Flint, Mich.

In May 2017, Moore and producers Harvey and Bob Weinstein partnered to produce and distribute the film. The Weinsteins planned to fund $2 million out of $6 million in a documentary deal. However, after the Harvey Weinstein sexual abuse allegations emerged in the following October, the Weinsteins did not provide the funding. As a result, Moore laid off the crew and shut down development of the documentary. Before resuming production on the film, Moore focused on putting on a Broadway show, The Terms of My Surrender, which ran for 12 weeks. Production of the documentary eventually resumed with between $4 million and $5 million in private funding. As part of filming, Moore made a clandestine visit to the Florida resort Mar-a-Lago owned by President Trump and mingled at the resort for 15 minutes before being escorted out by security. The film's title refers to November 9, when Trump's 2016 presidential win was announced. The title simultaneously serves as a callback to Moore's 2004 political documentary Fahrenheit 9/11.

Fahrenheit 11/9 is less an exposé of Donald Trump than a dramatization of what Moore sees as a failed and dangerous presidency. Extremely one-sided in its indictment of the Trump administration, but worth watching for the humour and the debates it’ll stir. Little of this information is new, but Moore packages what’s already known about Trump and his presidency into a piece of rhetoric so persuasive that the Trump re-election campaign could spend the next three years trying to refute it. Moore’s fierce and funny film is not so much a documentary as a mythology, reducing geopolitical complexities to a neat, tawdry narrative. This is Moore’s least powerful film – the smallest in scope, the least resource and skilful in means – and the best things in it have little to do with his usual ideological take on American power and Donald Trump. However, Moore brings an interesting impact to familiar material by the way he marshals his images. This is the most comprehensive diatribe ever filmed against Trump and his cronies (even though, by necessity, its is focused primarily on Michigan). Sometimes slipshod in its making and, of course, it has no interest in overall fairness to Trump. But it vents an anger about this presidency that, as the film’s ardent reception shows, seethes in many of us. Much more than a scathing indictment of Bush-era complicity, Moore’s exposé lays bare the devastating heartbreak now central to America’s reality. People say Moore is Un-American for creating a documentary against the president, let alone two documentaries, well, it’s Un-American not to explore other’s views.

Simon says Fahrenheit 11/9 receives:



See my review for Where to Invade Next.

Thursday, 13 September 2018

TIFF Film Review: "Hotel by the River" ("강변 호텔") (2018).



The 23rd film by the Korean Woody Allen - Hotel by the River (강변 호텔). This South Korean drama film written, produced, and directed by Hong Sang-soo.The film centres on the interactions of a struggling poet, his estranged sons, and two female friends. Feeling, for no apparent reason, like he is going to die, an old poet, staying for free in a riverside hotel, summons his two estranged sons. After being betrayed by the man she was living with, a young woman gets a room at the same hotel. Seeking support, she asks a friend to join her.

Once again, 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). Filming took place between January and February 2017, in Hong Sang-soo's usual breakneck shooting style.

The film stars Ki Joo-Bong Ki, Kim Min-hee, Kwon Hae-hyo, Song Seon-mi, and Yoo Joon-Sang. 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.

Hotel by the River may not be a particularly great film, but it does feel like a necessary one. It is amusingly bittersweet yet quietly resplendent. Even though it feels like an undeveloped drama about relationships and identity. The premise is less interesting than Hong Sang-soo’s precise execution and presentation of the material, and the simple but brilliant script makes this an unpretentious, authentic moral tale, if a bit slight. Hong’s priorities are different from other filmmakers; he eschews an adherence to film language decorum in favour of interrogating emotions and ideas that are important to him, in ways that make sense to him. Hong tells the story in long and dislogue-filled takes, done in a soft black-and-white that feels like pencil drawings, to extract deep and earnest confessions with a graceful touch that shudders with the life-shaking emotions at their core. While dealing with the trope of "relationships", Hong Sang-soo’s films have always been very philosophical without being moralistic. As in other Hong Sang-soo movies, time is malleable and capricious. The film has all the hallmarks of something unostentatious - except, it isn’t. This is actually trickster Hong Sang-soo working in his element, albeit more surreptitiously than we’re used to seeing. It is an oeuvre whose variations on a self-reflexive theme have increasingly become more revealing, more raw, and also more devastating. Elegantly shot in glorious, chilly, silky digital black-and-white, it plays with chronology in a way that seems both casual and musically precise. The film is buoyed by the cast’s nuanced performances that show that relationships don’t always turn out the way you expect. Hong Sang-soo’s films homes in on the essence of conversations, mining them for a drama of autobiographical rumination. It is a bit slight, which isn’t a problem, just an observation that it’s incredibly slice-of-life.

Simon says Hotel by the River (강변 호텔) receives:


Wednesday, 12 September 2018

TIFF Film Review: "Killing" ("斬") (2018).


From the director of Tesuo: The Iron Man and Fires on the Plain comes Killing (斬). This Japanese drama film written and directed by Shinya Tsukamoto. Set during the tumultuous mid-19th century Edo period in Japan, the film follows a restless ronin who is eager to leave his peaceful, quiet, and tranquil countryside life behind when the winds of war and conflicts begin to blow.

Serving as a companion piece to his previous effort, Tsukamoto made this film that focused on "his fears that, not just Japan after seven years of peace, but the world all over was moving slowly towards a state of war." He further added: "So when I made Fires on the Plain, thought that I had clearly expressed my fear, and that fear being received by many people all over the world. So perhaps I thought my fears and anxieties would subside, but it's been years, and my fears and anxieties are still there." Inspired by the films of his master, Akira Kurosawa, Tsukamoto's Killing stems from an idea the director had a few years ago: "A young ronin stares at his sword with ardour," questioning whether he'd be capable of killing a man with it, even if ordered to do so by his master. Tsukamoto said the stylish movie was a cry for peace. Tsukamoto said: "As I took in the current state of the world, I had an urge to let out (the film) like a scream." Tsukamoto then added: "The act of killing in the Edo Period was quite normal. I found many connections with our age, in which more and more people think that violence is an answer... I asked myself how a young person today would react if they found themselves in that period — would they be able to kill without hesitation?" Tskuamoto finally concluded: "That’s why I created a samurai that doesn’t want to kill anymore." The film features the final compositions and collaboration of Chu Ishikawa, who passed away on December 21, 2017, during the post-production stage. The score comprised of all the music he had composed throughout his career, as well as unreleased music, which Tsukamoto had to "piece it together."

The film stars Sosuke Ikematsu, Yū Aoi, Ryūsei Maeda, and Tsukamoto, who all gave powerful and remarkable performances that were attack on the senses and emotions, whilst providing modern takes on classic samurai film characters and archetypes. Ikematsu portrays a warrior without a war to fight. Aoi portrays the peasant girl who makes her feeling known for the hero, Maeda portrays the hot-blooded farmer's son who dreams of one day becoming a valiant samurai, and Tsukamoto himself portrays the mild-mannered, skilful ronin.

Never have I seen a more emotionally and physically visceral film than Killing. It is so purposely powerful, so full of violence and humanity, that I doubt if anyone can sit through it without feeling a little bit affected, whether psychologically and/or physically. That's how amazing it is.

Simon says Killing (斬) receives:


Friday, 7 September 2018

TIFF Film Review: "The Predator" (2018).


"The hunt has evolved" in The Predator. This science fiction horror action film directed by Shane Black and written by Black and Fred Dekker. It is the fourth installment in the Predator film series, following Predator (1987), Predator 2 (1990), and Predators (2010). From the outer reaches of space to the small-town streets of suburbia, the hunt comes home. Now, the universe's most lethal hunters are stronger, smarter and deadlier than ever before, having genetically upgraded themselves with DNA from other species. When a young boy accidentally triggers their return to Earth, only a ragtag crew of ex-soldiers and a disgruntled science teacher can prevent the end of the human race.

Talks for a new Predator installment began in June 2014, with Black confirmed as director and co-writer with Dekker, and John Davis as producer. After the success of Iron Man 3 (2013), Black was approached by 20th Century Fox with an Iron Man 3-sized budget to direct a new Predator movie. Initially conceived as a reboot of the franchise until Black came onboard and confirmed he would be making a sequel instead that would be fresh and reimagine the franchise in a "different, interesting way." In February 2016, Black confirmed the title would be The Predator, as well as the fact that the movie is set in the present day. By March 2017, Boyd Holbrook, Trevante Rhodes, Keegan-Michael Key, Olivia Munn, Thomas Jane, Alfie Allen, Sterling K. Brown, Augusto Aguilera, Jacob Tremblay, Yvonne Strahovski, and Jake Busey had signed on. Arnold Schwarzenegger turned down the opportunity to return as Dutch. Initially, Benecio del Toro and Edward James Olmos were originally supposed to star. However, due to scheduling conflicts, del Toro was replaced Holbrook, whereas Olmos was cut from the final movie, to reduce the movie's long running time. In continuity to the series, Busey plays the son of Peter Keyes, the government official from Predator 2. Peter Keyes was played by Gary Busey, Jake's real life father. Filming took place between February and June, in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, with the entire third act being reshot, in March 2018, following poor test screenings. Originally slated for a February 9, 2018 release date, it was however pushed to March 2, 2018, then once again to August 3, 2018, then finally to September 14, 2018. The movie premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival on September 7, 2018 as part of the festival's Midnight Madness section.

The film stars Holbrook, Rhodes, Key, Munn, Jane, Allen, Brown, Aguilera, Tremblay, Strahovski, and Busey. The movie boasts an all-star collection of larger-than-life characters - and the result is anything but mediocre. Every cast was given an opportunity to steal the show and were not at all wasted.

After 31 years and a string of subpar sequels, director Shane Black's The Predator is a bloody, action-packed, and humour-injected reboot that finally delivers a solid sequel to the Arnold Schwarzenegger B-movie classic, and takes the franchise back to its pulpy roots.

Simon says The Predator receives:



Also, see my review for The Nice Guys.

Wednesday, 5 September 2018

Film Review: "Searching" (2018).


"David Kim's daughter is missing. He can't find out where she is until he finds out who she is." This is Searching. This thriller film directed by Aneesh Chaganty, and written by Chaganty and Sev Ohanian. After David Kim's sixteen-year-old daughter goes missing, a local investigation is opened and a detective is assigned to the case. But thirty-seven hours later and without a single lead, David decides to search the one place no one has looked yet, where all secrets are kept today: his daughter's laptop. David must trace his daughter's digital footprints before she disappears forever.

Searching is the feature film directional debut of Chaganty, who set out to make the "Memento of screen movies." A far cry from other films with the same web-centred approach, such as Unfriended (2015). A thriller that would be entirely told through the point-of-view of screens, but at heart it would be a simpler story about a single dad trying to track down his missing daughter. The idea was first pitched to John Cho, who, ironically, had serious reservations after Chaganty "botched" his call with Cho. However, Chaganty did not give up, he then decided to arrange a FaceTime session, and then ultimately meet in person. The second time round, Cho readily agreed and joined the project. The project would ultimately be completed in a two-year window, with only a thirteen-day shooting schedule, due to pre-production and post-production work. With a seven-week head start on shooting, Chaganty and producer Sev Ohanian hired the editors and together they made a rough version of the film, with Chagnaty playing all of the characters, that lasted for an hour and forty minutes. They showed this version of the film to the crew before shooting began, in order to give everyone a feel for what they were making. While the film features computer operating systems, programs and (mostly) websites, they were re-created from scratch and animated. The film ultimately premiered at the Sundance Film Festival, where it would win multiple awards - including the Audience Award - and was scooped up by Sony’s Screen Gems division for $5 million. It was released in limited showings the second-to-last weekend of August, where it found itself in conversation with Crazy Rich Asians. Suddenly two very different films found themselves part of #AsianAugust.

The film stars Cho, Debra Messing, Joseph Lee, and newcomer Michelle La. The cast gave terrific performances that left every character under a digital microscope, shrouded in a haze of mystery and intrigue, as well as presenting unexpected factoids as the film delves deeper into the screens and its digital web.

Searching subverts the cliches to deliver a surprising entry in the mystery thriller genre with a technological twist. At times, the film can exasperating, in which we are trafficked to each reveal - through multi-screen clicking, copying, pasting and re-sizing, basically all-around multi-tasking. It can be trying to sit through, and I liken it to sitting over someone's shoulder watching them web-surf... endlessly. However, it was clever and innovative nonetheless.

Simon says Searching receives:


Tuesday, 28 August 2018

Film Review: "BlacKkKlansman" (2018).


"Dis joint is based upon some fo' real, fo' real sh*t." This is the crazy, outrageous, incredible true story of BlacKkKlansman. This biographical comedy-drama joint directed by Spike Lee, adapted by Charlie Wachtel, David Rabinowitz, Kevin Willmott, and Lee, based on the 2014 memoir Black Klansman by Ron Stallworth. In the midst of the 1970s civil rights movement, Ron Stallworth becomes the first black detective on the Colorado Springs Police Department. He sets out to prove his worth by infiltrating the local chapter of the Ku Klux Klan and convinces his Jewish colleague to go undercover as a white supremacist.

In July 2015, Stallworth's 2014 memoir about his successful infiltration of the Ku Klux Klan was discovered by Wachtel and Rabinowitz. Intrigued with its hooky high concept, the potential for both suspense and comedy, a compelling lead character, and political undertones, Wachtel and Rabinowitz interviewed Stallworth. After several phone interviews, they received his blessing. Soon after, they wrote a spec screenplay, which they then pitched to producers Shaun Redick and Ray Mansfield. In September 2016, with great enthusiasm, Redick and Mansfield then brought the project to QC Entertainment, which would go on to co-produce the successful 2017 social-horror film Get Out. In Summer 2017, QC once again teamed up with Jason Blum's company Blumhouse Productions, and Get Out's Jordan Peele's company Monkeypaw Productions, to produce the project. In September, Spike Lee signed on as director. In the same month, John David Washington, son of Lee's four-time collaborator, Denzel Washington, was in negotiations to star. Coincidentally, the younger Washington made his film debut as a six-year-old Harlem classroom student in Lee's Malcolm X (1992), starring his father. Stallworth had originally wanted Denzel to play him, but was ecstatic when he found out that John David got the role. By December, Adam Driver, Laura Harrier, Jasper Pääkkönen, Ryan Eggold, Paul Walter Hauser, Ashlie Atkinson, Corey Hawkins, and Topher Grace had joined the cast. With a budget of $15 million, filming began in October 2017. Ossining, New York stood in as Colorado Springs. This was the first Spike Lee film since Oldboy (2013) to be shot on film. Although the past three or four films of his were all digital, Lee expressed his passion for shooting on celluloid film.

The film stars Washington, Driver, Harrier, Pääkkönen, Eggold, Hauser, Atkinson, Hawkins, and Grace. Despite the serious subject matter, the cast gave terrifically entertaining performances, especially that of Washington, Driver, and Grace, who gave the performances of a lifetime. The three men gave insightful and well-rounded portraits of Stallworth, Zimmerman, and Duke. Their characters are often eccentric; their language is consistently unpleasant; and all have complicated views on race-related violence. Yet they are attractive and even beguiling in many ways, too, with large amounts of humour and intelligence. The film benefits from these lively performances that are thoughtful and insightful renderings that promises to educate generations about the real-life figures. In the leading man category, John David Washington managed to deliver one of the best performances of the decade. He commands the screen, and brings the legend to life. He becomes Ron Stallworth. He battled with race-relations the way we imagine Stallworth battled them.

Smart, vibrant and urgent without being didactic, BlacKkKlansman is one of Spike Lee’s most fully realized efforts – and one of the most important films of the decade. It is an exceptional film, a film that wisely deprives you of the cozy resolutions and epiphanies so often manufactured by Hollywood. The film is complex, bravura movie making. It is also hugely entertaining, since fortunately for us, Lee’s seditious method is to use humour to carry his biting message. The richest and most thorough cinematic exploration of racism and white supremacy I fear may eventually be the end of humanity. The film is Lee’s most complex, heartfelt and disturbing film to date, a drama about racism that is more shockingly outspoken than any I’ve seen since Lee’s Do the Right Thing (1989). The film’s volatile nature has overshadowed the fact that it is quite funny and a technically superb picture that easily ranks among one of the best films Lee has made. It is as urgently topical and satisfyingly ambitious as it is wildly uneven – and it contains some of Lee’s smartest, sharpest, and all-around entertaining late-period work. Strong and powerful, the film dares us to be interested, dares us to never look away. It is refreshing to talk about a thoughtful film in a summer full of fluff. The film is confidently acted, brilliantly written and thoroughly provocative. Lee had succeeded again. Lee and company have performed a powerful service: they have brought Ron Stallworth’s story very much to life, and to the big screen. Visual and dramatic, Lee pulls out all the stops, but it’s Washington’s performance that really energizes the film, and he’s an exhilarating presence throughout. Lee returns to engaging enraged form with BlacKkKlansman, combining social commentary, anger, humour, dramatics, and over-the-top style in a spectacular mix that uses every trick necessary to put a spotlight on America’s poisonous affair with white supremacy. Lee’s film is worth seeing for its bombastic excess, and if you’re looking for a tactful visual response to the white supremacist Charlottesville rally and the American struggle on racism, this is it. The film is never subtle, always strident, and absolutely necessary. There’s always a moment where the film is alive. This is a deeply serious, biting picture that also has humour at the forefront. The story and language are eccentric but realistic. Even if you find this blunt imagery offensive, make no mistake; it creates a necessary and powerful message. BlacKkKlansman is an in-your-face explosion of anger and humour. Overall, the best thing one can say for Lee is that he takes risks, like all true artists. For unlike most of today’s filmmakers, he’s not afraid to really challenge a movie audience to some serious thinking. If you see only one movie in this season of blockbusters, make it BlacKkKlansman. You won't regret it.

Simon says BlacKkKlansman receives:



Also, see my review for Chi-Raq.

Tuesday, 21 August 2018

Film Review: "Crazy Rich Asians" (2018).


"The only thing crazier than love is family." This is Crazy Rich Asians. This romantic comedy-drama film directed by Jon M. Chu, adapted by Peter Chiarelli and Adele Lim, based on the 2013 novel of the same name by Kevin Kwan. The story follows native New Yorker Rachel Chu as she accompanies her longtime boyfriend, Nick Young, to his best friend's wedding in Singapore, and meet his family.

Interest in a film adaptation began shortly after the publication of Kwan's comedic novel on June 11, 2013. In August, producer Nina Jacobson acquired the film rights. Initially one of the producers proposed to cast a Caucasian actress in the role of Rachel Chu, which prompted Kwan to option his novel for just $1 in exchange for a major role in the creative and development process. The producers' goal was to produce the film outside the studio system and to structure financing for development and production from Asia and other territories outside the United States. In 2014, the US-based Asian film investment group Ivanhoe Pictures partnered with Jacobson to finance and produce the film. Soon afterwards, Lim and Chiarelli were hired to adapt the novel. In May 2016, Chu entered negotiations to direct. He was hired soon afterwards after giving executives a visual presentation about his experience as a first-generation Asian-American. In October, Warner Bros. Pictures acquired the project after what Variety called a "heated" bidding war. Netflix reportedly fervently sought worldwide rights to the project, offering "artistic freedom, a greenlighted trilogy and huge, seven-figure-minimum paydays for each stakeholder, upfront." However, Chu and company wanted a wide theatrical release. Constance Wu, newcomer Henry Golding, legend Michelle Yeoh, Gemma Chan, Lisa Lu, Awkwafina, Ken Jeong, Chris Pang, and Sonoya Mizuno rounded the film's cast. Making it the first Western-produced film with an exclusively Asian cast since The Joy Luck Club (1993). Principal photography began in late April 2017. The film was shot on location in Malaysia and Singapore.

The film stars Wu, Golding, Yeoh, Chan, Lu, Awkwafina, Jeong, Pang, and Mizuno. One of the film's illuminating elements is its cast, whom all gave elegant performances that will resonate with all ethnicities and generations. It presents images of Asians outside the narrow range of exotically oriental, subordinate, and submissive stock supporting / side characters.

Crazy Rich Asians is a superb achievement, thanks to director Jon M. Chu's impressive visual skills, and its emotionally heart-rending study of family. Making it a well-done propaganda for cultural diversity, and a well mounted adaptation of the best seller. It gives a refreshing, and poignant, dimension to Asian culture and society. The film covers primal issues of Asian culture, such as family, responsibility, love, and self-respect, that pounds you with pathos. Despite the cultural-specific nature of the story, there are a lot of overriding themes explored here that have a universal scope and appeal. Even if its meanings are limited or wanly inspirational at times. Overall, it is one of the most satisfying step forward for screen representation.

Simon says Crazy Rich Asians receives:


Tuesday, 14 August 2018

Film Review: "The Meg" (2018).


The Meg is "opening wide." This science fiction thriller film directed by Jon Turteltaub, adapted by Dean Georgaris, Jon Hoeber, and Erich Hoeber, loosely based on the 1997 book Meg: A Novel of Deep Terror by Steve Alten. After escaping an attack by what he claims was a 70-foot megalodon shark, Jonas Taylor must confront his fears to save those trapped in a sunken submersible.

The film rights to the book were initially acquired by Disney's Hollywood Pictures in 1996, initially developing it as a George Clooney vehicle. Tom Wheeler was first hired to adapt the book, but was ultimately rejected by the studio. The studio then hired Jeffrey Boam to pen a new draft, which was also resulted in being rejected. By 1999, development on the project had stalled, and the rights reverted back to Alten, due to Disney getting caught cold feet about competing with Warner's 1999 killer shark pic Deep Blue Sea (1999). By 2005, frustrated at the lack of movement on the project, Alten wrote his own draft which he showed to Nick Nunziata and New Line Cinema. Nunziata and the studio in turn delivered the project to Guillermo del Toro. Which led del Toro to present the project to Lawrence Gordon and Lloyd Levin, who then brought on director Jan De Bont to helm the film. Shane Salerno was then hired to pen a new script. However, due to budgetary concerns, the project was once again cancelled. The rights reverted to Alten again, and the film remained in development hell. In 2015, it was announced that the project was eventually greenlit by Warner Bros. with a new script by Dean Georgaris, and with Eli Roth as director. However, Roth left the project due to creative differences, and was replaced by Jon Turteltaub in early 2016. By September, Jason Statham, along with Li Bingbing, Rainn Wilson, Ruby Rose, Winston Chao, Cliff Curtis, Shuya Sophia Cai, and Masi Oka, rounded out the cast. In late October, Principal photography on the film began, and concluded in early January 2017. Locations included West Auckland, New Zealand, and Sanya City, Hainan, China.

The film stars Statham, Li, Wilson, Rose, Chao, Curtis, Cai, and Oka. Like other popcorn monster movies, the film is populated with dumb but fun caricatures of real people who were to face an absurd but extraordinary situation such as trying to hunt down and kill a megalodon. Statham is the cheesiest that he's ever been in the role of Taylor, delivering everything from the "tough-guy" attitude to the cheesy but awesome one-liners.

Aside from a few problems, The Meg is dumb but fun. It might not be Turteltaub's finest two hours, but he managed to build something that gives you great excitement every few minutes. The film is essentially one well-done action sequence after another. It knows its audience, and it knows how to use timing, suspense, and especially surprise to get them going. It's a great popcorn movie, and it's what summer at the cineplex is all about.

Simon says The Meg receives:


Tuesday, 31 July 2018

Film Review: "Mission: Impossible - Fallout" (2018).


"Some missions are not a choice." This is Mission: Impossible - Fallout. This action spy film written and directed by Christopher McQuarrie. It is the sixth installment in the Mission: Impossible film series, and the sequel to Rogue Nation (2015). Ethan Hunt and his IMF team, along with some familiar allies, race against time after a mission gone wrong.

Talks for a sixth Mission: Impossible film began prior to the release of Rogue Nation in 2015. In November 2015, the film was officially green-lit, with McQuarrie confirming his return as writer and director, as well as producer alongside Cruise, with plans to begin shooting in August 2016. By June 2017, Ving Rhames, Simon Pegg, Rebecca Ferguson, Sean Harris, Michelle Monaghan, and Alec Baldwin were all confirmed to reprise their roles. In the same month, Henry Cavill and Angela Bassett were confirmed to join the cast. Principal photography began in April 2017, and concluded in March 2018. Locations included the United Kingdom, New Zealand, Norway and the United Arab Emirates. Filming lasted 161 shooting days, a few months of filming was halted due to Cruise's injury with his ankle while performing a stunt in London. In August 2017, he was able to grab onto the other building thanks to a harness strapped onto him, but his ankle fractured upon the impact of the jump. Cruise then got up and attempted to run it off, which was what the scene called for, before he and the crew decided to stop filming. The footage of the stunt used in the film and its trailers just so happened to be the actual injury.

The cast includes Cruise, Rhames, Pegg, Ferguson, Harris, Monaghan and Baldwin, with Cavill and Bassett. The performances given by the cast made this instalment more action-packed than its predecessor. Cruise once again proves he is an action star without equal by uping the ante. But Cavill and Harris proved to be less than memorable or intimidating adversaries, giving wooden and under-utilized performances.

Mission: Impossible - Fallout continues the franchise's thrilling resurgence. Somehow, the franchise keeps topping itself, and this instalment proves to be one of the most entertaining Ethan Hunt adventures. The franchise still has plenty of fight left in it, with no signs of slowing down. However, rather than go full auteur on the formulaic material, McQuarrie instead offers a kind of greatest-hits package: Fallout marries the shifting loyalties of Brian De Palma's original to the kinetic action beats of John Woo's series nadir and the all-set-piece structure of Brad Bird's series zenith, yet adding a less omnipotent villain than the one Philip Seymour Hoffman played in J.J. Abrams' entry. In some ways, it’s the least visually or conceptually distinctive of the five movies, leaning on what's worked before rather than forging its own path. Nonetheless, it's still breathlessly thrilling to the point where all you can do is pick your jaw off your lap and grin at the breathtakingly bananas spectacle you've just witnessed.

Simon says Mission: Impossible - Fallout receives:



Also, see my review for Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation.

Friday, 20 July 2018

Film Review: "Godzilla: City on the Edge of Battle" ("ゴジラ: 決戦機動増殖都市") (2018).


"The last hope of mankind <Mechagodzilla>, is activated" in Godzilla: City on the Edge of Battle. This Japanese computer-animated science fiction kaiju film directed by Kōbun Shizuno and Hiroyuki Seshita, written by Gen Urobuchi, produced by Toho Animation, and animated by Polygon Pictures. This is the 33rd film in the Godzilla franchise, the 31st Godzilla film produced by Toho, and the second entry in the anime trilogy. It is the sequel to Godzilla: Planet of the Monsters (2017). Haruo and his allies encounter a mysterious aboriginal tribe descended from the humans left behind on Earth 20,000 years ago, and they uncover a mechanized city-sized fortress formed from the long-lost anti-Godzilla weapon called Mechagodzilla.

The second installment in the anime trilogy was announced in a second post-credits scene in the theatrical release of the film revealing the film's Japanese title, poster featuring Mechagodzilla and the film's 2018 release date. The film's Japanese title was revealed as Gojira: Kessen Kidō Zōshoku Toshi (translations varied from Godzilla: Battle Mobile Breeding City to Godzilla: The City Mechanized for the Final Battle), while the English title was later revealed as Godzilla: City on the Edge of Battle. In March 2018, the film's official website revealed a new poster, plot details, and that singer XAI will return to perform the film's theme song The Sky Falls. The English dub was produced by Post Haste Digital. Takayuki Hattori will return to compose the soundtrack, marking it his fourth Godzilla film score.

This film features Mechagodzilla, Godzilla's mechanical doppelganger that was first introduced in Gojira tai Mekagojira (1974), and made its most recent appearance in Godzilla: Tokyo S.O.S. (2003). Mechagodzilla was originally a weapon constructed by alien invaders, but in subsequent films has typically been portrayed as a human-built weapon created to defend the human race from Godzilla and other monsters. This version of Mechagodzilla combines both portrayals, with it being built by the Bilusaludo aliens but with the purpose of defending the Earth from Godzilla. This will be the first Godzilla film to be a sequel to a prior film in the franchise since Godzilla: Tokyo S.O.S. (2003), which was a direct sequel to Gojira X Mekagojira (2002). All films released since then have been set in brand-new continuities and disregard all previous entries in the franchise.

Godzilla: City on the Edge of Battle is a dub, empty popcorn movie that delivers on some of its promises, while boasting the best computer-generated animation of any Polygon Pictures movie made up to that point. There are some problems, such as an uninspired script, underdeveloped ideas, a fairly simplistic plot, and character relationships painted in broad strokes. But when all is said and done, I enjoyed it. It's well-made enough that makes for an entertaining hundred minutes. While this movie seems to be aimed at a younger audience, it was still fun. The fight scenes were exciting and though they took up most of the movie, they never dragged on or got boring. A fun enough action film with enough explosions and destruction to satisfy die-hards and casual fans alike.

Simon says Godzilla: City on the Edge of Battle (ゴジラ: 決戦機動増殖都市) receives:


Tuesday, 17 July 2018

Film Review: "Hotel Transylvania 3: Summer Vacation" (2018).


"He's going to need a vacation after this vacation." This is Hotel Transylvania 3: Summer Vacation. This computer-animated comedy film directed by Genndy Tartakovsky, written by Tartakovsky and Michael McCullers, and produced by Sony Pictures Animation. The monster family embarks on a vacation on a luxury monster cruise ship so Drac can take a summer vacation from providing everyone else's vacation at the hotel. It's smooth sailing for Drac's Pack as the monsters indulge in all of the shipboard fun the cruise has to offer, from monster volleyball to exotic excursions, and catching up on their moon tans. But the dream vacation turns into a nightmare when Mavis realizes Drac has fallen for the mysterious captain of the ship, Ericka, who hides a dangerous secret that could destroy all of monsterkind.

In September 2015, before the release of Hotel Transylvania 2, Sony was "talking about number 3 and moving forward and taking the franchise to the next level." In the same month, Tartakovsky revealed that he would not be returning, due to working on Can You Imagine? Even though the project would later be shelved. Tartakovsky told TheWrap that "two is enough. I have a lot of other ideas, and I kind of have to express them and have them come out." In November 2015, Sony Pictures Animation announced that the third film, under the tentative title of Hotel Transylvania 3. It was also confirmed that Adam Sandler, Selena Gomez, Andy Samberg, Kevin James, David Spade, Steve Buscemi, Keegan-Michael Key, Molly Shannon, and Mel Brooks would return to reprise their roles. In June 2016, Sony and Tartakovsky confirmed that he would be returning for the film, despite previously leaving the series to develop other projects, including the final season of Samurai Jack. According to Tartakovsky, he returned after he got an inspiration from a "miserable" family vacation and major inspiration for the film from the Chevy Chase National Lampoon's Vacation movies as the film would take place aboard a cruise ship. Another idea for the film was to properly introduce Van Helsing. An idea that was dropped from the first film where Johnny was a descendant of Van Helsing, which would have created more conflict between Dracula and Johnny. By early November 2017, the film had been entitled as Hotel Transylvania 3: Summer Vacation. Despite having a September 21, 2018 release date, the film was pushed forward two months to allow Goosebumps 2: Haunted Halloween (2018) to take that date, though that film would later be pushed back a month to October 12th the same year.

The film features the voice talents of Sandler, Samberg, Gomez, James, Spade, Buscemi, Key, Shannon, and Brooks, reprising their roles, with new additions Kathryn Hahn and Jim Gaffigan. Despite giving hilarious performances, one can't help but feel that the series has become a rickety skeleton designed for Sandler and company to drop their litany of cornball punchlines and gags.

While Genndy Tartakovsky's animation is top-notch, Hotel Transylvania 3: Summer Vacation doesn't live up to the first two monster mash.

Simon says Hotel Transylvania 3: Summer Vacation receives:



Also, see my review for Hotel Transylvania 2.

Tuesday, 10 July 2018

Film Review: "Ant-Man and the Wasp" (2018).


"Real heroes. Not actual size." They are Ant-Man and the Wasp. The superhero film directed by Peyton Reed, written by Chris McKenna and Erik Sommers, with Paul Rudd, Andrew Barrer, and Gabriel Ferrari, based on the Marvel Comics characters, and produced by Marvel Studios. It is the sequel to 2015's Ant-Man, and the twentieth film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). As Scott Lang balances being both a Super Hero and a father, Hope van Dyne and Dr. Hank Pym present an urgent new mission that finds the Ant-Man fighting alongside The Wasp to uncover secrets from their past.

Talks for a sequel began three months after the release of Ant-Man. Reed, Kevin Feige, and Michael Douglas expressed interest in returning for a sequel or prequel. Douglas expressed the desire to have his wife Catherine Zeta-Jones play Janet Van Dyne, and Evangeline Lilly had Michelle Pfeiffer on her wish list to play Janet. Sharon Stone was considered for Janet as well. In October 2015, Marvel Studios confirmed the sequel, titled Ant-Man and the Wasp, with a scheduled release date of July 6, 2018, with Rudd and Lilly returning to reprise their roles. The film was placed in Marvel's packed Phased Three lineup, and subsequently moved the release dates of Black Panther (2018) and Captain Marvel (2019). A month later, Reed was officially returning to direct. In the same month, Adam McKay, one of the original writers, expressed interest in returning. Reed mentioned that pre-production would "probably" start in October 2016, with filming scheduled for early 2017. Two of the original writers, Gabriel Ferrari and Andrew Barrer, signed on to write the script along with Rudd, with writing starting "in earnest" in January 2016. In early November 2016, pre-production began. In February 2017, Douglas was confirmed to return. At San Diego Comic-Con 2017, the cast was rounded out with Hannah John-Kamen, Randall Park, Walton Goggins, Judy Greer, Laurence Fishburne, and Pfeiffer. Reed was inspired by the films After Hours (1985), Midnight Run (1988), and What's Up, Doc? (1972) for the look and feel of the film. Filming took place from August to November 2017, at Pinewood Atlanta Studios in Fayette County, Georgia, as well as Metro Atlanta, San Francisco, Savannah, Georgia, and Hawaii. In June 2017, Reed confirmed that Christophe Beck, the original composer, would return to score the film.

It stars Rudd, Lilly, Peña, Cannavale, Greer, Harris, Dastmalchian, Fortson, and Douglas reprising their roles, with Goggins, John-Kamen, Park, Fishburne, and Pfeiffer. The cast, despite their best efforts, gave comically-insufferable and cliched performances that relied upon one too many cliches and jokes to flesh out their characters. Pfeiffer's screen time as Janet was criminally limited, hopefully it will be extended the next time round.

Everything tolerable about Ant-Man, a mere three years ago, has vanished with its sequel. In its place, Ant-Man and the Wasp has substituted noise, cliches, multiple villains, irrelevant stunts, misguided story lines, and insufferable jokes. It isn't as tolerable as its predecessor.

Simon says Ant-Man and the Wasp receives:



Also, see my reviews for Ant-Man and Avengers: Infinity Wars.

Tuesday, 3 July 2018

Film Review: "Sicario: Day of the Soldado" (2018).


"'No Rules this time" Gear up for Sicario: Day of the Soldado. This action thriller film directed by Stefano Sollima and written by Taylor Sheridan. It is the sequel to 2015's Sicario. The drug war on the U.S.-Mexico border has escalated as the cartels have begun trafficking terrorists across the US border. To fight the war, federal agent Matt Graver re-teams with the mercurial Alejandro.

"Soldado MF /Sol.'Da.Do/. (Dia do Soldado) used to describe a Latin-American soldier; In Spanish and Portuguese, Soldado means Soldier." In September 2015, after the release of Sicario, Lionsgate commissioned a sequel centering on Benecio del Toro's character, Alejandro Gillick, with a script penned by Sheridan, and Denis Villeneuve initially set to direct. However, due to scheduling conflicts with Arrival (2016) and Blade Runner 2049 (2017), Villeneuve could not return to direct. Jeremy Saulnier was considered to replace Villeneuve, but declined due to scheduling conflicts with Hold the Dark (2018). In April 2016, the producers said del Toro, Josh Brolin and Emily Blunt would return. However, in November 2016, del Toro and Brolin were confirmed, but Blunt was no longer attached. By Early June 2016, Sollima was hired to direct what was now titled Soldado. In late October, Lionsgate lost the distribution rights from Black Label Media after a disagreement. Ultimately, Columbia Pictures won the rights. By January 2017, Catherine Keener, Isabela Moner, David Castaneda, Manuel Garcia-Rulfo, Jeffrey Donovan, Elijah Rodriguez, Matthew Modine and Ian Bohen joined the cast. Principal photography began in early November 2016 in New Mexico. After Jóhann Jóhannsson's death in February 2018, Hildur Guðnadóttir took over as composer, after collaborating with Jóhannsson on the first film as cello soloist.

The film features del Toro, Brolin, and Donovan reprising their roles, with Moner, Garcia-Rulfo, and Keener. The cast, both old and new, gave intense performances that takes their characters into new and uncertain territories. Del Toro gives it his all and turns in another stellar performance as the enigmatic Mexican attorney-turned-hitman. Along with del Toro is the morally-ambiguous Brolin, who seems to have taken somewhat of a backseat given his character's place in the story, and thus has made it less interesting.

Sicario: Day of the Soldado didn't seem quite so lively, quite so fresh, or quite so intellectually interesting as its predecessor. The film is composed of situations, not plots. The fact that this film is constructed to endorse the exercise of murderers, to emphasize killer bravado and generate glee in frantic manifestations of war is, to my mind, a sharp indictment of it as so-called entertainment today. The film is not great film-making. But it is fun enough. Don't miss it. This is to say, don't miss it if you can still get the least bit of fun out of muted action and politically-cliched drama with its melodramatization and exaggeration on America's desperate war on cartels with morally-ambiguous and sinister characters on both sides driven to a grand, gritty, illogical and improbable point.

Simon says Sicario: Day of the Soldado receives:



Also, see my review for Sicario.

Tuesday, 26 June 2018

Film Review: "Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom" (2018).


"The park is gone." Welcome to Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom. This science fiction adventure film directed by J. A. Bayona, written by Colin Trevorrow and Derek Connolly, and based on the characters by Michael Crichton. It is the sequel to Jurassic World (2015), and the fifth instalment of the Jurassic Park film series. When the island’s dormant volcano begins roaring to life, Owen and Claire mount a campaign to rescue the remaining dinosaurs from this extinction-level event.

In April 2014, before the release of Jurassic World, Trevorrow announced that sequels had been discussed. Trevorrow said Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard might reprise their roles for the next few films, and said he would direct the film if asked. However, in May 2015, Trevorrow announced that he would not direct another film in the series. In early June, Trevorrow met with producer Frank Marshall and Universal Studios to discuss a sequel. Later that month, Trevorrow and Connolly devised the basic story during a road trip that they took immediately after the release of Jurassic World. In late July, Universal announced that a fifth film had been scheduled for a June 22 2018 release date, with a script written by Trevorrow and Connolly, and with Pratt and Howard set to reprise their roles. In mid April 2016, J. A. Bayona was announced as the film's director. In September, Bayona confirmed that the film would be the second chapter in a planned Jurassic World trilogy, and compared the film to Star Wars: Episode V - The Empire Strikes Back (1980) and Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982). By April 2017, Toby Jones, Rafe Spall, Justice Smith, Daniella Pineda, Ted Levine, James Cromwell, B. D. Wong, Geraldine Chaplin, Isabella Sermon, and Jeff Goldblum rounded out the cast. Filming began in late February, and wrapped in July, with Hawaii and the United Kingdom as locations. Filming lasted for 134 days, and was shot under the code name Ancient Futures. The film was shot with Arri Alexa 65 cameras, and in CinemaScope. The film features more dinosaurs than any previous film in the series, as Bayona wanted to include several new dinosaurs not previously seen in earlier films. The film also features more animatronic dinosaurs than any previous sequel, which were more technologically advanced than in the previous films. Neal Scanlan served as the film's creature effects creative supervisor, while Vickery and Alex Wuttke served as visual effects supervisors. Scanlan worked on the animatronic dinosaurs, while Vickery and Wuttke created CGI versions of the dinosaurs with their ILM team. 

The film stars Pratt, Howard, Wong, and Goldblum, reprising their roles, with Spall, Smith, Pineda, Cromwell, Jones, Levine, Sermon, and Chaplin. Unlike the dinosaurs themselves, the cast were not able to demonstrate the visible signs of realism as they were bound by plot conventions and action formulas.

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom demonstrates how much the franchise has lost its magic, and how difficult it can be to put together a truly compelling sequel.

Simon says Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom receives:



Also, see my review for Jurassic World.

Wednesday, 20 June 2018

Film Review: "Incredibles 2" (2018).



It's "back to work" for the Parr family in Incredibles 2. This computer-animated superhero film written and directed by Brad Bird, and produced by Pixar Animation Studios. It is the sequel to 2004's The Incredibles. Everyone’s favourite family of superheroes is back - but this time Helen is in the spotlight, leaving Bob at home with Violet and Dash to navigate the day-to-day heroics of "normal" life. It’s a tough transition for everyone, made tougher by the fact that the family is still unaware of baby Jack-Jack’s emerging superpowers. When a new villain hatches a brilliant and dangerous plot, the family and Frozone must find a way to work together again - which is easier said than done, even when they’re all Incredible.

Over the years, Bird expressed an interest in making a sequel to The Incredibles. But stated that he would only do a sequel if he could come up with a story that was just as good as, or better than, its predecessor. In March 2014, it was finally confirmed, by Disney CEO/chairman Bob Iger at the Disney shareholder meeting, that a sequel was in the works. Around April 2015, Bird started the script, and said that it would be his next film after Tomorrowland (2015). Bird faced multiple challenges crafting the film, the biggest of all was finding a way to distinguish the film from other films and television shows within the superhero genre since the first film's release. By July 2017, original cast members Craig T. Nelson, Holly Hunter, Sarah Vowell and Samuel L. Jackson would return to reprise their roles. By January 2018, Huck Milner, Bob Odenkirk, Catherine Keener, Sophia Bush, Isabella Rossellini, and Jonathan Banks rounded out the cast. For the film, Milner took over voicing Dash, as the character's original voice actor Spencer Fox's voice had deepened since the first film. While Banks voiced Rick Dicker, after the character's original voice actor, Bud Luckey, retired in 2014, and died in 2018. In 2015, Bird confirmed that Michael Giacchino would return to compose the score. Giacchino began work on it around May 2017. Originally scheduled for a June 21 2019 release date, Pixar swapped its release date with Toy Story 4's June 15 2018 due to this film being completed ahead of schedule, whilst the other film was lagging in production.

The film stars Nelson, Hunter, Vowell, Jackson, and Bird, reprising their roles, with newcomers Milner, Odenkirk, Keener, Bush, and Banks. The cast, both old and new, delivered entertaining performances that captured the heroics of its predecessor, and more than the slew of modern superhero movies leaping into theatres.

I always thought there should be a sequel to The Incredibles. Finally it's here, and we are pretty happy. For me, Incredibles 2 was just as an emotional experience as the first film. Instead of essentially remaking an earlier film and deeming it a sequel, the creative team, led by director Brad Bird, delves deeper into their characters and world, while retaining the fun spirit of the original film.

Simon says Incredibles 2 receives:



Also, see my reviews for Tomorrowland and Finding Dory.

Tuesday, 29 May 2018

Film Review: "Solo: A Star Wars Story" (2018).


"Never tell him the odds" in Solo: A Star Wars Story. This space opera Western film directed by Ron Howard, written by Lawrence and Jonathan Kasdan, based on the character Han Solo created by George Lucas. It is the second Star Wars anthology films following 2016's Rogue One. Young Han Solo finds adventure when he joins a gang of galactic smugglers, including a 196-year-old Wookie named Chewbacca. Indebted to the gangster Dryden Vos, the crew devises a daring plan to travel to the mining planet Kessel to steal a batch of valuable coaxium. In need of a fast ship, Solo meets Lando Calrissian, the suave owner of the perfect vessel for the dangerous mission - the Millennium Falcon.

Before Disney's acquisition of Lucasfilm, development on a young Han Solo film began in 2012 with George Lucas. Lucas hired Lawrence Kasdan to pen a script, and was later joined by his son, Jonathan just before he left to work on Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015). Later, Phil Lord and Christopher Miller were hired to helm the film. In January 2016, a shortlist of actors considered for the scruffy-looking nerfherder was revealed to include: Dave Franco, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Miles Teller, Nick Robinson, Leo Howard, Tony Oller, Chandler Riggs, Hunter Parrish, Rami Malek, Landon Liboiron, Ed Westwick, Tom Felton, Joshua Sasse, Logan Lerman, Ansel Elgort, Jack Reynor, Colton Haynes, Max Thieriot, Scott Eastwood, Chris Pratt, Emory Cohen, Taron Egerton, Jack O'Connell, Blake Jenner, and Alden Ehrenreich. Ultimately, Ehrenreich won the role. Lord and Miller said that while they liked a lot of the other actors they read with, they increasingly said, "The first guy we saw was the best for the part." By late July, Emilia Clarke, Donald Glover, Woody Harrelson, Phoebe Waller-Bridge, Thandie Newton, Joonas Suotamo, and Michael K. Williams rounded out the cast. In February 2017, Principal Photography began, locations included Pinewood Studios in London, England, the Dolomites, Veneto, Italy, and the Canary Islands. In June, shortly before filming was to be completed, Lord and Miller were fired by Lucasfilm due to "creative differences", and a new director was "to be announced soon." Shortly there after, Ron Howard was hired to take over the director's chair over Joe Johnston and Kasdan. In October 2017, production wrapped, and it was reported that Howard had re-shot more than 80% of the film, with Williams' role removed, and Paul Bettany was cast. With an estimated budget of at least $250 million, it is the most expensive Star Wars film ever made.

The film stars Ehrenreich, Harrelson, Clarke, Glover, Newton, Waller-Bridge, Suotamo, and Bettany. The cast gave terrific performances despite riddled with archetypal cliches and predictable character motivations associated with the genre.

Though the cast, including Alden Ehrenreich, give their all, they can't help Solo: A Star Wars Story overcome a cliche-ridden script and a horrendously compromised vision. It's a mediocre Star Wars movie that tells the early story of the titular smuggler and attempts to make it climax in a perfect coupling with the start of the known trilogy.

Simon says Solo: A Star Wars Story receives:



Also, see my reviews for Inferno and Rogue One: A Star Wars Story.

Tuesday, 22 May 2018

Film Review: "Deadpool 2" (2018).


"He's not coming alone" in Deadpool 2. This superhero film directed by David Leitch, written by Rhett Reese, Paul Wernick, and Ryan Reynolds, based on the Marvel Comics character of the same name. It is the eleventh installment in the X-Men film series, and a direct sequel to Deadpool (2016). After surviving a near fatal bovine attack, a disfigured cafeteria chef (Wade Wilson) struggles to fulfill his dream of becoming Mayberry's hottest bartender while also learning to cope with his lost sense of taste. Searching to regain his spice for life, as well as a flux capacitor, Wade must battle ninjas, the Yakuza, and a pack of sexually aggressive canines, as he journeys around the world to discover the importance of family, friendship, and flavor - finding a new taste for adventure and earning the coveted coffee mug title of World's Best Lover.

Plans for a sequel was announced 3 days before the film's release, and were confirmed in February 2016.  The original team of Reynolds, Reese, Wernick, and director Tim Miller were set to return for the sequel. However, in October 2016, Miller left the project due to creative differences with Reynolds. Miller later stated that he left the sequel because he "didn't want to make some stylized movie that was 3 times the budget", and wished to create the same kind of film that made the first one a success. After Miller's departure, Rupert Sanders, Drew Goddard, Magnus Martens, and Leitch were considered by the studio to replace Miller. Ultimately, Leitch was chosen to direct. In the same month, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Lizzy Caplan, Kerry Washington, Sienna Miller, Ruby Rose, Mackenzie Davis, Kelly Rohrbach, Eve Hewson, Sofia Boutella, Stephanie Sigman, Sylvia Hoeks, and Janelle Monáe were considered for the role of Domino. Zazie Beetz was ultimately cast, which was met with backlash from fans. In March 2017, an extensive casting search took place for the role of Cable that included Dolph Lundgren, Mel Gibson, Kurt Russell, Bruce Willis, Alec Baldwin, Sylvester Stallone, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Stephen Lang, Ron Perlman, Pierce Brosnan, David Harbour, and Josh Brolin. Brolin was ultimately cast. Filming began in May and concluded in October, in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. The production wrapped on the same day that X-Men: Dark Phoenix (2019) wrapped it's production. Originally scheduled to be released on June 1 2018, the release date was pushed forward to May 18 2018.

The film stars Reynolds in the title role, alongside Brolin, Beetz, Morena Baccarin, Julian Dennison, T.J. Miller, Brianna Hildebrand, and Jack Kesy. The original cast gave another round of solidly entertaining performances that expands upon the first film, with Reynolds' being the strongest, comical, and surprisingly emotional. The new cast members are a welcome addition who injected new flavour into the already colourful ensemble.

Although the film itself succumbs to overly-outrageous cartoonish antics, Deadpool 2 is one superhero movie that manages to stay true to the original while expanding its universe. It features some larger-than-life action sequences, absurdly comical references and jokes, and new colourful characters.

Simon says Deadpool 2 receives:



Also, see my reviews for Deadpool and Logan.

Wednesday, 2 May 2018

Film Review: "Avengers: Infinity War" (2018).


"Where will you be, when it all ends?" Hopefully watching Avengers: Infinity War. This superhero film based on the Marvel Comics superhero team the Avengers, directed by Anthony and Joe Russo, written by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, and produced by Marvel Studios. It is the sequel to 2012's The Avengers and 2015's Avengers: Age of Ultron, and it is the nineteenth film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). As the Avengers and their allies have continued to protect the world from threats too large for any one hero to handle, a new danger has emerged from the cosmic shadows: Thanos. A despot of intergalactic infamy, his goal is to collect all six Infinity Stones, artifacts of unimaginable power, and use them to inflict his twisted will on all of reality. Everything the Avengers have fought for has led up to this moment - the fate of Earth and existence itself has never been more uncertain.

In October 2014, Marvel announced a two-part sequel to Avengers: Age of Ultron, titled Avengers: Infinity War. Part 1 was scheduled to be released on May 4, 2018, with Part 2 scheduled for May 3, 2019. In April 2015, Marvel announced that Anthony and Joe Russo would direct both films, with back-to-back filming expected to begin in 2016. The same month, Kevin Feige said the films would be two, distinct films "because they [have] such shared elements, it felt appropriate... to [subtitle the films] like that. But I wouldn’t call it one story that's cut in half. I would say it's going to be two distinct movies." In addition, according to Feige, the Avengers are expected to have a "shakeup" in their team lineup between Avengers: Infinity War and the untitled Avengers sequel. By May 2015, Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely had signed on to write the screenplays for both parts of the film, which draws inspiration from Jim Starlin's 1991 The Infinity Gauntlet comic and Jonathan Hickman's 2013 Infinity comic. In a NY Times interview, when asked about how the script was written to accommodate the large cast, McFeely said, "Not every scene can be 25 people in a room. You're going to have to make kickball teams and then have a tournament." Anthony Russo added the film was inspired by 1990s heist films, with Thanos "on a smash-and-grab [to acquire the Infinity Stones], and everybody’s trying to catch up the whole movie." In May 2016, the Russos revealed that they would retitle the two films, to further remove the misconception that they were one large film split in two, with Joe Russo stating, "The intention is we will change [the titles], we just haven’t come up with [them] yet." That July, Marvel revealed the film's title would be shortened to simply Avengers: Infinity War. Between April 2016 to January 2017, many actors from previous MCU films were confirmed to be reprising their roles in the films.

In late January 2017, Principal photography began, under the working title Mary Lou, at Pinewood Atlanta Studios in Fayette County, Georgia as well as Downtown Atlanta. Additional locations included Edinburgh, Glasgow, Cumbernauld and the Scottish Highlands in Scotland, Durham, England, Queens, New York, and Ifugao, Philippines. IMAX stated that this film, along with the sequel, was entirely filmed with digital 2-D ARRI Alexa IMAX cameras, which are specially customized versions of ARRI Alexa 65 cameras with IMAX technology. Captain America: Civil War (2016) was the first Marvel Cinematic Universe film to incorporate the new cameras, but only for its airport sequence. This made Avengers: Infinity War the first non-documentary film to be shot entirely with IMAX cameras, although it did not use the traditional IMAX aspect ratio of 1.43:1 but rather the digital IMAX ratio of 1.90:1, which closely matches the 1.85:1 aspect ratio of The Avengers (2012) and Ant-Man (2015). In Early March 2018, Disney moved the release date to April 27 2018, releasing five days before the tenth anniversary of Iron Man (2008), to match the date in several international markets. In June 2016, Alan Silvestri, who composed the score for The Avengers, was revealed to be returning to score both Infinity War and its sequel. The visual effects for the film were created with the combined talents of Industrial Light & Magic, Framestore, Method Studios, Weta Digital, Double Negative, Cinesite, Digital Domain, Rise, Lola VFX, and Perception. With a running time of 156 minutes, this will make the film the longest Marvel film to date following Captain America: Civil War, which had a running time of 147 minutes. With an estimated budget between $300–400 million, the film would go on to become one of the most expensive films ever made.

The film features an ensemble cast that includes Robert Downey Jr., Chris Hemsworth, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson, Benedict Cumberbatch, Don Cheadle, Tom Holland, Chadwick Boseman, Paul Bettany, Elizabeth Olsen, Anthony Mackie, Sebastian Stan, Tom Hiddleston, Idris Elba, Benedict Wong, Pom Klementieff, Karen Gillan, Dave Bautista, Zoe Saldana, Vin Diesel, Bradley Cooper, Gwyneth Paltrow, Benicio del Toro, Chris Pratt, Danai Gurira, Letitia Wright, William Hurt, Winston Duke, Peter Dinklage, Terry Notary, Tom Vaughan-Lawlor, Carrie Coon, Michael James Shaw, and Josh Brolin. The cast gave spectacular performances that took their characters to whole other levels that we did not expect from the very first moment to the last.

Exuberant and eye-popping, Avengers: Infinity War serves as an overstuffed but mostly satisfying sequel. It succeeds in the top priority of creating a worthy opponent for its superheroes and giving the latter a few new things to do, and this time the action scenes and the stakes definitely measure up. It is a whole summer of fireworks packed into one movie. It doesn't just go to 11, it starts there. If this is what the apotheosis of branded, big-studio entertainment has come to look like in 2018, we could be doing much worse. Unlike other tentpole movies of its genre and scale, the film most definitely has emotional and gut-punching moments. The film redefines the scale we can expect from our superheroes.

Simon says Avengers: Infinity War receives:



Also, see my reviews for Captain America: Civil War and Black Panther.