Wednesday, 21 November 2018

Film Review: "Widows" (2018).

"Left with nothing. Capable of anything." This is Widows. This heist film directed by Steve McQueen, adapted by McQueen and Gillian Flynn, based upon the 1983 ITV series of the same name by Lynda La Plante. The film tells the story of four women with nothing in common except a debt left behind by their dead husbands’ criminal activities. Set in contemporary Chicago, amid a time of turmoil, tensions build when Veronica, Linda, Alice and Belle take their fate into their own hands and conspire to forge a future on their own terms.

In late March 2015, it was announced that a project based on the 1983 British TV series was in development, with a script written by McQueen and Flynn, with McQueen attached to direct. Originally set in London, England, McQueen and Flynn moved the setting to Chicago, U.S.A. In September 2016, Viola Davis joined the cast as Veronica. In November, Cynthia Erivo joined the cast as Belle. In February 2017, Elizabeth Debicki and Michelle Rodriguez were cast as Alice and Linda. Originally, it was reported that Jennifer Lawrence was approached for Alice, but, due to scheduling conflicts, had to decline. By May, Daniel Kaluuya, Liam Neeson, Colin Farrell, Robert Duvall, Garret Dillahunt, Jacki Weaver, Manuel Garcia-Rulfo, Lukas Haas, Brian Tyree Henry, Carrie Coon, and Jon Bernthal joined the cast. In the same month, Principal photography began in Chicago, Illinois. Principal photography began on May 8, 2017 in Chicago, Illinois.

The film features an ensemble cast that includes Davis, Rodriguez, Debicki, Erivo, Farrell, Henry, Kaluuya, Dillahunt, Weaver, Coon, Duvall, Garcia-Rulfo, Bernthal, Haas, and Neeson. The cast gave poignant and gripping performances, especially from its four leading ladies who proved that anything a man can pull off, they can do it too. The ladies carrie the film from start to finish with utter beauty and badassness.

Widows is a sleek, accomplished piece of work, meticulously controlled and completely involving. The dark end of the street doesn't get much more inviting than this. The film  is uncommonly literate, with its psychological insight into the symbiotic relationship and fractured intimacy between women and men. It's not just an action picture. Above all, the dialogue is complex enough to allow the characters to say what they're thinking: They are eloquent, insightful, fanciful, poetic when necessary. They're not trapped with cliches. Of the many imprisonments possible in our world, one of the worst must be to be inarticulate - to be unable to tell another person what you really feel. Stunningly made and incisively acted by a large and terrific cast, McQueen's ambitious study of the relativity of women and men stands apart from other films of its type by virtue of its extraordinarily rich characterizations and its thoughtful, deeply melancholy take on modern life. McQueen's action scenes have an existential, you-are-there jitteriness, but the heist-planning and political-talking scenes are just dry and talky. Overall, it is one of the most intelligent crime-thrillers to come along in years.

Simon says Widows receives:

Also, see my review for 12 Years a Slave.

Tuesday, 20 November 2018

Film Review: "Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald" (2018).

"Who will change the future?" The ultimate question presented in Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald. This fantasy film directed by David Yates and written by J. K. Rowling. It is the sequel to Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (2016), and the second instalment in the Fantastic Beasts film series, and the tenth overall in the Wizarding World franchise. Since the last film, Gellert Grindelwald was captured by MACUSA with the help of Newt Scamander. But, making good on his threat, Grindelwald escaped custody and has set about gathering followers, most unsuspecting of his true agenda: to raise pure-blood wizards up to rule over all non-magical beings.

In October 2014, a second Fantastic Beasts film was announced, and, in July 2016, Rowling confirmed she had completed the script. In October, Rowling has confirmed on Twitter that Eddie Redmayne, Katherine Waterston, Dan Fogler, Alison Sudol, and Ezra Miller would return. In addition, she confirmed that Newt Scamander is still going be the main character in the following movies. In November, Depp was cast as Grindelwald, which caused some controversy due to domestic violence allegations recently made against him. Rowling, however, defended the casting choice. In April 2017, Law signed on as Dumbledore. Other actors considered for the role included Christian Bale, Benedict Cumberbatch, Mark Strong, and Jared Harris (son of Richard Harris, who played Dumbledore in the first two Harry Potter films). In July, principal photography began, and concluded in December. Filming took place at the Warner Bros. Studios in Leavesden, England, as well as London, Switzerland, and Paris. For the characters, Rowling had the cast and crew refer to them by code names due to the top secret nature of the script. In addition, Rowling gave all of the cast members extremely secret details about their characters individually and in private. As for the creatures, a set of puppeteers physically took the place of the animals which were then finalized in post production thanks to the visual effects. The puppets were of different sizes and materials depending on the beast: for example, small bags of marbles were used to double the Niffler and his babies. And the enormous Zouwu required no less than three puppeteers, one manipulating his large sculpted head while the others moved his body and tail nearly three meters long that they swayed at the end of a pole. As with the first film, animal making required months of graphic, pattern, and animation testing to determine the appearance, behavior, movements, attitude, and personality of each creature. 

The film features an ensemble cast that includes Redmayne, Waterston, Fogler, Sudol, Miller, Zoë Kravitz, Callum Turner, Claudia Kim, William Nadylam, Kevin Guthrie, with Law, and Depp. Despite terrific performances, this time round, the cast suffered from unsatisfactory character developments and/or characterizations largely thanks to the confusing character histories conjured by Rowling.

Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald benefits from an increased emphasis on thrilling action. However, they're undercut by a convoluted plot and underdeveloped characters.

Simon says Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald receives:

Also, see my review for Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.

Tuesday, 13 November 2018

Film Review: "The Girl in the Spider's Web" (2018).

"The Past Never Forgets" in The Girl in the Spider's Web. This crime thriller film directed by Fede Álvarez, adapted by Álvarez, Steven Knight, and Jay Basu, based on the novel of the same name by David Lagercrantz, and based on characters by Stieg Larsson. The film acts as both a soft-reboot and a sequel to David Fincher's The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011), as well as the second installment in the American-produced Millennium film series. Young computer hacker Lisbeth Salander and journalist Mikael Blomkvist find themselves caught in a web of spies, cybercriminals and corrupt government officials.

In December 2011, the creative team behind The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011) planned to film The Girl Who Played with Fire and The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets' Nest, "back to back" with a 2013 release date. By August 2012, it was delayed due to rewrites by Andrew Kevin Walker. The following year, Fincher stated that a script for the sequel had been written and that it was "extremely different from the book," and that despite the long delay, he was confident that the film would be made given that the studio had "already has spent millions of dollars on the rights and the script". Though contractually signed on to reprise her role, Mara was less optimistic about the production of the sequels. In November 2015, The Hollywood Reporter announced that Sony was planning to develop The Girl in the Spider's Web instead. In the same month, it was announced that Fincher, Mara, and Daniel Craig would not be returning for this film. Knight was announced to be in talks to adapt the novel. It was reported that Felicity Jones and Alicia Vikander were being considered for the role of Salander. In November 2016, Variety reported that Sony was in negotiations with Álvarez to direct. In March 2017, it was announced that production was set to begin in September 2017. In May, it was reported that Claire Foy was the frontrunner to replace Mara. In September, Foy was officially cast in the film. By December, Sverrir Gudnason, LaKeith Stanfield, Sylvia Hoeks, Stephen Merchant, Vicky Krieps, and Cameron Britton were cast. In January 2018, Principal photography began, and ended in April. Locations included Berlin, Germany and Stockholm, Sweden.

The film stars Foy, Gudnason, Stanfield, Hoeks, Merchant, Krieps, and Britton. The cast gave terrific performances despite not quite living up to their roles, in particular Foy. While Foy can play the titular character as well as Noomi Rapace and Mara, her particular incarnation leaves her marooned in situations that are characterized by too little tension and too much nonsense.

Director Álvarez manages to inject some new life into The Girl in the Spider's Web with wonderful action set pieces, but otherwise the film is a bore. The script is exceptionally tiresome and hard-to-swallow. Once again, certain standby plot elements - the high-level government corruption, the bad-ass, law-breaking heroine, and her personal connection to the antagonist - are recycled, and not to good effect.

Simon says The Girl in the Spider's Web receives:

Also, see my reviews for Don't Breathe and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011).

Monday, 12 November 2018

Film Review: "The Grinch" (2018).

The Grinch is "stealing Christmas 2018." The 3D computer-animated Christmas comedy film co-directed by Yarrow Cheney and Scott Mosier, adapted by Michael LeSieur and Tommy Swerdlow, based on the 1957 Dr. Seuss book How the Grinch Stole Christmas!, and produced by Illumination Entertainment. The film tells the story of a cynical grump, who lives a solitary life inside a cave on Mt. Crumpet with only his loyal dog. Each year at Christmas they disrupt his tranquil solitude with their increasingly bigger, brighter, and louder celebrations. When the Whos declare they are going to make Christmas three times bigger this year, the Grinch realizes there is only one way for him to gain some peace and quiet: he must steal Christmas.

In February 2013, it was announced that Illumination Entertainment was developing a 3D animated feature film based on the Dr. Seuss book, with the working title How the Grinch Stole Christmas, later shortened to The Grinch. This would be the third screen adaptation of the story, following the television special from 1966 and the live-action feature-length film from 2000. It also marks Illumination's second Dr. Seuss film adaptation, following The Lorax (2012). Peter Candeland and Cheney were originally set to direct, however Mosier took over from Candeland. In April 2016, Benedict Cumberbatch was cast as the titular character. By September 2018, Rashida Jones, Kenan Thompson, Cameron Seely, Angela Lansbury, and Pharrell Williams rounded out the cast. In November 2017, Danny Elfman was revealed to be composing the film's score. Originally scheduled for a November 10, 2017 release date, the film was eventually moved to November 9, 2018, in June 2016, presumably to avoid competition with Sony Animation's The Star (2017), another animated Christmas-related film.

It stars the voices of Cumberbatch as the Grinch, Jones as Donna Lou Who, Thompson as Bricklebaum, Seely as Cindy Lou Who, Lansbury as Mayor McGerkle, and Williams as the Narrator. The cast gave entertaining performances, particularly that of Cumberbatch. Who was perfect to play this role. He carries nearly every scene. In fact, if he's not in the scene, there is no scene. He works as hard as an actor has ever worked in a movie, to considerable avail. Adults may appreciate Carrey's remarkable performance in an intellectual sort of way and give him points for what was obviously a supreme effort. Nobody could play the Grinch better than Cumberbatch, whose cunning antics and maniacal sense of mischief are so well suited to this film. Dr. Seuss himself might have turned to Cumberbatch as an inspiration for the classic curmudgeon had the actor been around in 1957.

Cumberbatch shines as the Grinch. Unfortunately, it's not enough to save this movie. You'd be better off watching the 1966 TV cartoon. However, he brings enough life to the animation. He enables Illumination's version of the classic story to come across as anything but a complete pointless re-tread. There is a jollier production design and a brighter look overall, but it's just not much fun.

Simon says The Grinch receives:

Also, see my review for Despicable Me 3.

Saturday, 3 November 2018

Film Review: "Suspiria" (2018).

"Tremble tremble!!! The witches are back" with Suspiria (2018). This supernatural horror film directed by Luca Guadagnino, written by David Kajganich, based on the 1977 Italian film directed by Dario Argento. A darkness swirls at the center of a world-renowned dance company, one that will engulf the artistic director, Madame Blanc; an ambitious young dancer, Susie Bannion; and a grieving psychotherapist, Dr. Josef Klemperer. Some will succumb to the nightmare. Others will finally wake up.

In 2008, a remake was first announced after Guadagnino had acquired the option from the original film's writers, Argento and Daria Nicolodi. Guadagnino set up the project for David Gordon Green to direct, with Natalie Portman set to play Suzy Bannion, and Isabelle Huppert as Madame Blanc. But it was canceled due to financing conflicts. In September 2015, at the 72nd Venice Film Festival, Guadagnino was confirmed to direct, with Tilda Swinton and Dakota Johnson confirmed to star in late November. The project was described as a "homage" to the original rather than a direct remake. Kajganich was set to pen the script, setting the film during the German Autumn of 1977 to explore themes of generational guilt in Germany during the Cold War. Additionally, it focuses on themes of motherhood, evil, and the dynamics of matriarchies. By October 2016, Mia Goth, Angela Winkler, Ingrid Caven, Chloë Grace Moretz, as well as original star Jessica Harper had rounded out the cast. In December, four months after finishing work on Call Me by Your Name (2017), Guadagnino began filming. Principal photography began in late October, and was completed in early March 2017. Locations included Varese, Italy and Berlin, Germany, and like the original, the film was shot on 35mm film stock. However, unlike the original, the film uses exaggerated colours, Guadagnino conceived it as "winterish" and bleak, absent of primary colours. The film incorporates stylized dance sequences choreographed by Damien Jalet, which form part of its representation of witchcraft. Kajganich wanted the dance to directly reflect women's movements and emotions, so the inspiration for the choreography came from female dancers Mary Wigman, Pina Bausch, and Sasha Waltz. The film features the debut score from Radiohead frontman Thom Yorke, who succeeds fellow band members Jonny Greenwood and Phil Selway into film scoring. For the score, Yorke took inspiration from the krautrock created around the time of the film's setting.

The film stars Johnson, Swinton, Goth, Winkler, Caven, Moretz, and Harper. The cast gave tour de force performances, particularly that of Johnson and Swinton. Johnson, like her character, showed stunning physicality. Where as Swinton showed incredible versatility and proved that she's still one of the actresses of her generation working today.

The horror seeps freely in Guadagnino's Suspiria, a bleak, minimalistic horror epic that is just as grandiose and glorious as the original. When you sit down to watch the film, you sit down with normal expectations of being diverted, perhaps even being gripped, but not being undermined. But the film undermines you in powerful and inchoate ways.

Simon says Suspiria (2018) receives:

Also, see my review for Call Me by Your Name.

Tuesday, 30 October 2018

Film Review: "Johnny English Strikes Again" (2018).

"When only the best will do. And no-one else is available." Get ready, Johnny English Strikes Again. This action comedy film directed by David Kerr, written by William Davies, based on the characters by Davies, Neal Purvis, and Robert Wade. It is a sequel to Johnny English Reborn and the third instalment in the Johnny English series. The new adventure begins when a cyber-attack reveals the identity of all active undercover agents in Britain, leaving Johnny English as the Secret Service's last hope. Called out of retirement, English dives head first into action with the mission to find the mastermind hacker. As a man with few skills and analog methods, Johnny English must overcome the challenges of modern technology to make this mission a success.

In May 2017, it was announced that Rowan Atkinson would be reprising the role of Johnny English in the sequel to Johnny English Reborn. Marking Atkinson's first movie trilogy. It's rumoured that this will be the last Johnny English movie and that Atkinson will play the role for the last time after 15 years. In early August 2017, Working Title Films announced that they had begun production and filming with the director David Kerr. Ben Miller, Olga Kurylenko, Jake Lacy, and Emma Thompson rounded the cast. Miller reprises his role as Bough from Johnny English (2003). He did appear in Johnny English Reborn, however his scenes were cut. Kurylenko was cast in leading role that would be a spoof of her Bond girl in Quantum of Solace (2008). Thompson was cast in a supporting role, which was kept a secret during production. Which was not revealed until the debut of the theatrical trailer. Principal photography took place in Welham Green, Hertfordshire; Gloucestershire; and the Saint Aygulf beach, Var, France. Like the previous films, the production utilized one of Atkinson's car. This time it's an Aston Martin V8 Vantage classic. In an interview, Atkinson told that he bought the car just six months before shooting, and had the car in mind for the film. In early April 2018, the title was revealed to be Johnny English Strikes Again, with a teaser trailer released the day after.

It stars Atkinson, Miller, Kurylenko, Jake Lacy, and Thompson. The cast may not have given the best performances but it was performances that were hilarious.Atkinson gave another hilarious performance as the "iconic" spy. , Miller like Atkinson, also gave a hilarious performance who always seems to keep English in check most of the time. Kurylenko gave a sleek performance despite her lack of chemistry with Atkinson. Lacy proved to be one of the least threatening villains in the series, despite being a slight improvement on the last one. Finally, Thompson gave a more contrasted performance to Atkinson, despite leaving behind moments of very sardonic humour.

While the film is messy and doesn't make much sense, Johnny English Strikes Again, the third instalment of the franchise, contains enough inspired bits to entertain. Definitely funnier than its predecessor.

Simon says Johnny English Strikes Again receives:

Also, see my review for Johnny English Reborn.

Tuesday, 23 October 2018

Film Review: "Halloween" (2018).

"Face your fate" with Halloween (2018). This slasher film directed by David Gordon Green, and written by Green, Jeff Fradley, and Danny McBride. It is the eleventh installment in the Halloween film series, and a direct sequel to the 1978 film of the same name, while retconing of all previous sequels. It's been 40 years since Laurie Strode survived a vicious attack from crazed killer Michael Myers on Halloween night. Locked up in an institution, Myers manages to escape when his bus transfer goes horribly wrong. Laurie now faces a terrifying showdown when the masked madman returns to Haddonfield - but this time, she's ready for him.

In 2011, a new Halloween movie was in development from Patrick Lussier and Todd Farmer, as well as well as Patrick Melton and Marcus Dunstan. However, in December 2015, after failing to develop a new Halloween movie in time, Dimension Films lost the production rights for a sequel. Ultimately, the rights reverted back to Miramax. In May 2016, Miramax partnered with Blumhouse Productions to co-finance, with original co-creator John Carpenter to shepherd the film, and with Universal Pictures distributing. In early February 2017, David Gordon Green and Danny McBride were announced as director and co-writers. In mid September, Jamie Lee Curtis announced on Twitter that she would be reprising her role as Laurie Strode for the film. Making this Curtis' fifth portrayal of Laurie Strode after Halloween (1978), Halloween II (1981), Halloween H20: 20 Years Later (1998), and Halloween: Resurrection (2002). In late December, it was announced that Nick Castle, who had portrayed Michael Myers in the original film, would reprise his role, with actor and stuntman James Jude Courtney set to portray Myers as well. By late July, Will Patton, Virginia Gardner, Haluk Bilginer, Jefferson Hall, Rhian Rees, and Toby Huss rounded out the cast, with Judy Greer and Andi Matichak winning the coveted roles of Laurie's daughter and granddaughter, Karen and Allyson. In October, it was announced that Carpenter would compose the score with his son Cody and his godson Daniel Davies. The film marks the return of Carpenter to composing since Ghost of Mars (2001). Principal photography commenced in mid January 2018, and concluded in mid February, under the working/production title of Uncle Orange. Filming took place in Charleston, South Carolina, lasting twenty-eight days.

The film stars Curtis, Greer, Matichak, Patton, Gardner, Bilginer, Hall, Rees, Huss, and Castle. Robust performances were given by the cast, particularly that of Curtis who returned to the role that defined her career and the Final Girl archetype. Instead of giving us the same Laurie from the first film, Curtis gave us a more prepared, well-armed, and bad-ass version, akin to Sarah Connor in Terminator 2: Judgement Day.

With Halloween, Green and McBride obviously know the franchise well and they built a film with the properly terrifying Halloween atmosphere through a well-crafted narrative. It's the most effective entry. Perhaps not quite so resonant as the original to which it pays due homage, but it nevertheless breathes the same air.

Simon says Halloween (2018) receives:

Also, see my review for Stronger.

Tuesday, 16 October 2018

Film Review: "First Man" (2018).

"Experience the impossible journey to the Moon." Experience First Man. This biographical drama film directed by Damien Chazelle, written by Josh Singer, based on the book First Man: The Life of Neil A. Armstrong by James R. Hansen. The film looks at the life of the astronaut, Neil Armstrong, and the legendary space mission that led him to become the first man to walk on the Moon on July 20, 1969.

In early 2003, Clint Eastwood and Warner Bros. bought the film rights to Hansen's book. In 2015, Universal and DreamWorks ultimately took up the project. After the release of Whiplash (2014), Damien Chazelle signed onto the film's production that year, and hired Josh Singer to rewrite an existing script. Chazelle wanted to approach this story as a thriller and make the public feel the dangers faced by the astronaut team. In November 2015, Gosling, who starred in Chazelle's La La Land (2016), joined the project to portray Armstrong. In November 2017, Principal photography began in Atlanta and Roswell, Georgia. Chazelle was particularly attached to making his film as authentic as possible. Chazelle, as well as Gosling, visited the Armstrong Air and Space museum in Armstrong's hometown of Wapakoneta, Ohio to do research on Armstrong and the Gemini VIII mission. This care for detail was maintained, even with the reproduction of the space capsules and Armstrong's home. For the space capsules, Chazelle and production designer Nathan Crowley agreed that no ship would be enlarged by more than 10%, even if it sacrificed the comfort of the actors. For Armstrong's home, using the original blueprints, the production crew built a replica of it in an empty lot in order to replicate the look of his house. Chazelle and cinematographer Linus Sandgren chose to shoot the Moon landing sequence on IMAX 70mm film as opposed to the 16mm and 35mm film the rest of the film was shot on. The sequence was shot in a local rock quarry at night. For the film's score, composer Justin Hurwitz featured various uncommon instruments including the theremin, Moog synthesizer and an Echoplex, which give the score its uniqueness. He also rerecorded a string orchestra being played back through a Leslie rotor cabinet to create special sound effects.

The film stars Gosling, Claire Foy, Jason Clarke, Kyle Chandler, Corey Stoll, Ciarán Hinds, Christopher Abbott, Patrick Fugit, and Lukas Haas. The cast gave stellar performances that were acted without pumped-up histrionics. It is because of the ensemble that the film is one hell of a ride from beginning to end.

In recreating the troubled space mission through the eyes of one of the legendary astronauts, First Man pulls no punches: it's a masterfully told drama from director Damien Chazelle, bolstered by an ensemble of solid performances. Chazelle lays off the manipulation to tell the true story of the dangerous 1969 Apollo 11 mission in painstaking and lively detail. It's easily one of the best films of the year. Although, I just wish that it worked better in the biographical drama department. Nonetheless, it's absolutely thrilling.

Simon says First Man receives:

Also, see my review for La La Land.

Monday, 15 October 2018

Film Review: "Bad Times at the El Royale" (2018).

"All Roads Lead Here." This is Bad Times at the El Royale. This neo-noir thriller film written, produced and directed by Drew Goddard. The film is set circa 1968, several strangers, most with a secret to bury, meet by chance at Lake Tahoe's El Royale, a rundown hotel with a dark past. Over the course of one night, everyone will show their true colors - before everything goes to hell.

In early March 2017, it was announced that 20th Century Fox had bought Goddard's spec script Bad Times at the El Royale, which he would also direct and produce. The script was sold under total secrecy involving only the eyes and interest of top studio execs. Where the potential buyers has to read it on the spot and then return it when finished. In late August 2017, Jeff Bridges had been cast. That same day, Chris Hemsworth had also been cast, Hemsworth had to lose 25-30 lbs of muscle weight immediately after Avengers: Infinity War (2018) wrapped to star in this film. It was also reported that Tom Holland had passed on a role, and that Beyoncé was being courted for the role. Ultimately, Lewis Pullman won the role from Holland in May, and Cynthia Erivo won the role from Beyoncé. Later in the same month, newcomer Cailee Spaeny was added to the cast. In January 2018, Dakota Johnson and Russell Crowe joined the cast. In February, Jon Hamm (replacing Crowe), Nick Offerman and Mark O'Brien joined the cast. Principal photography on the film began in late January, locations included Vancouver and Burnaby, British Columbia.

The film stars Bridges, Erivo, Johnson, Hamm, Spaeny, Pullman, Offerman, Dolan, Whigham, and Hemsworth. The film doesn't drag because Goddard has stacked the deck with a cast and characters so wild and dangerously exciting that you almost want to slap your own hands for cheering these grimy characters in their sinister pursuits. As for Hemsworth, I think he gives one of the best, if not the best, performance of his career.

Bad Times at the El Royale offers another well-aimed round from Drew Goddard's signature blend of action, humor, and thrills - all while demonstrating an even stronger grip on his filmmaking craft. A high-wire thriller, full of masterfully executed twists, captivating dialogue, and a wildly entertaining narrative that gallops along at a pace to make the hundred-and-forty-one minutes evaporate in an instant. This is Goddard. And it's very entertaining, even when it's entertainingly , which happens a lot in this overlong movie's extended third act. This is a parlour-room epic, an entire ensemble in a single room, a film steeped in its own filminess but at the same time vital, riveting and real. Only Goddard can do this, and he’s done it again. However, the film often feels more like a sadistic stage play than a movie. The film is a lot of things. Boring, of course, isn't one of them. It is not a perfect film but this was damn-near the slow burn masterpiece my inner cinephile deserved.

Simon says Bad Times at the El Royale receives:

Also, see my review for The Cabin in the Woods.

Tuesday, 9 October 2018

Film Review: "A Star Is Born" (2018).

"Look, talent comes everywhere, but having something to say and a way to say it... that's a whole other bag. And unless you get out and you try to do it, you'll never know. That's just the truth..." This is the heart and soul of A Star Is BornThis musical romantic drama film produced and directed by Bradley Cooper (in his directorial debut), and written by Cooper, Eric Roth and Will Fetters. It is the fourth remake of the original 1937 film, after the 1954 musical, the 1976 rock musical, and the 2013 Bollywood romance film. The film follows seasoned musician Jackson Maine, who discovers-and falls in love with-struggling artist Ally. She has just about given up on her dream to make it big as a singer - until Jack coaxes her into the spotlight. But even as Ally's career takes off, the personal side of their relationship is breaking down, as Jack fights an ongoing battle with his own internal demons.

In 2011, talks of a remake of A Star Is Born began, with Clint Eastwood attached to direct, Beyoncé set to star, and a Kurt Cobain-inspired script penned by Fetters. For several years, the film lingered in development hell, after Beyoncé's pregnancy. Various actors were approached to co-star, these included; Christian Bale, Tom Cruise, Johnny Depp, Leonardo DiCaprio, Will Smith, Selena Gomez, Kesha, Jennifer Lopez, Demi Lovato, Janelle Monáe, Rihanna, Shakira, and Esperanza Spalding. In March 2016, Cooper signed on to star and direct, and, in August, Lady Gaga signed on to play the female lead. By May 2017, Sam Elliot, Andrew Dice Clay, Rafi Gavron, Michael Harney, and Dave Chappelle joined the cast. Principal photography began in April, and production was completed over a forty-two-day shoot. Locations included Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival, and Pyramid Stage of Glastonbury festival. The look of the film was said to be inspired by a Metallica concert Cooper saw when he was sixteen years old. The musical performances were done live as it was Gaga who pushed for this, since she always hated watching movies where the actors were not lip-syncing correctly to the songs. To avoid this and get it right they needed to sing live for the film. This was what caused Cooper to get more extensive vocal training. Many of the songs in the film were written by Lukas Nelson (son of country music singer Willie Nelson) and Lady Gaga, and produced by Mark Ronson.

The film stars Cooper, Lady Gaga, Elliott, Clay, Gavron, Harney, and Chappelle. There's not a single wrong note in any of the performances given by the cast. Cooper gave an amazingly adept, heartfelt performance as the doomed musician. Lady Gaga gives a stellar turn as the young, struggling, aspiring singer, whose tender chemistry with Cooper works entirely. Her fantastic and surprising acting chops shows to the best advantage her already incredible musical talent.

This new rendition of A Star Is Born has the rare distinction of being a superlative remake.

Simon says A Star Is Born (2018) receives:

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, Michigan.

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:

Also, 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:

Also, see my review for The Day After (그 후).

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.