Monday, 31 December 2018

Film Review: "Bumblebee" (2018).

"Every Hero Has a Beginning." This is Bumblebee. This science fiction action film directed by Travis Knight, written by Christina Hodson, based on the Transformers character of the same name. It is the sixth installment of the live-action Transformers film series, and is the first live-action Transformers film not to be directed by Michael Bay. On the run in the year 1987, Bumblebee finds refuge in a junkyard in a small Californian beach town. Charlie, on the cusp of turning 18 and trying to find her place in the world, discovers Bumblebee, battle-scarred and broken. When Charlie revives him, she quickly learns this is no ordinary, yellow VW bug.

In mid February 2016, it was announced that the sixth film in the Transformers series would be released on June 8, 2018, which was later revealed to be an untitled spin-off, featuring Bumblebee. However the release date was moved to December 21, 2018. In mid November, Deadline reported that Paramount Pictures was moving forward with the project with a script penned by Christina Hodson, one of the female writers Paramount and Michael Bay hired in the "writers room". In early March 2017, Deadline reported that Travis Knight would be making his live-action directorial debut. Beating out Chris McKay, Seth Gordon, Jaume Collet-Serra, Rick Famuyiwa and the Nee Brothers for the director's chair. In May, it was announced that it would be titled as Transformers Universe: Bumblebee, and it would be set in the 1980s. By late July, Hailee Steinfeld, John Cena, Jorge Lendeborg Jr., John Ortiz, Jason Drucker, and Pamela Adlon, with Dylan O'Brien, Angela Bassett, Justin Theroux, and Peter Cullen had rounded out the cast. In the same month, with a budget of $128 million, principal photography on the film began. Filming took place in Los Angeles and San Francisco, California, under the working title Brighton Falls. In early November, filming wrapped 6 days ahead of schedule. In the same month, the film was revealed to have changed its title to Bumblebee: The Movie.

The film stars Steinfeld, Cena, Lendeborg Jr., Ortiz, Drucker, and Adlon, with O'Brien, Bassett, Theroux, and Cullen in voice roles. The cast proved to be a refreshing and major improvement over the cast in previous installments in the series.

While a perfect Transformers film is hard to come by, Bumblebee proves to be a refreshing and exhilarating addition to the Transformers series. It is the best film in the series so far, mostly because, unlike the previous films, it's undeniably a whole lot of fun. Unlike Bay, director Knight gives the robots a believably rendered scale and intimacy. It has a real sense of wonder, one of the things that's missing from so much of the big CGI lightshows released these days. It's a big, cool, non-stop action powerhouse that's a lot of fun. It's also shorter by an hour and it left my ears unaffected. The film gives you pretty much exactly what you always wanted from a Transformers movie. Finally! It's about time!

Simon says Bumblebee receives:

Also, see my review for Kubo and the Two Strings and Transformers: The Last Knight.

Sunday, 30 December 2018

Film Review: "Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse" (2018).

"Enter a universe where more than one wears the mask" with Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse. This computer-animated superhero film directed by Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey, and Rodney Rothman, written by Phil Lord and Rothman, based on the Marvel Comics character Miles Morales / Spider-Man. It is the first animated feature film in the Spider-Man franchise, and is set in a shared multiverse called the "Spider-Verse", which has alternate universes. The film centres on Brooklyn teen Miles Morales, and the limitless possibilities of the Spider-Verse, where more than one can wear the mask.

During the 2014 Sony hack, emails between Sony Pictures Entertainment co-chairman Amy Pascal and president Doug Belgrad revealed plans for an animated Spider-Man film to be developed by Lord and Christopher Miller. In April 2015, it was officially announced, by new Sony Pictures chairman Tom Rothman, with a July 20, 2018 release date. In December, Sony moved the film's release date to December 21, 2018. In June 2016, Lord had completed the script, and Bob Persichetti and Peter Ramsey were chosen to direct. Lord and Miller wanted the film to have its own unique style, combining Sony Pictures Imageworks' computer animation pipeline with traditional hand-drawn comic book techniques inspired by the work of Sara Pichelli. In April 2017, the film's release date was pushed up one week from December 21, 2018, to December 14, 2018. In December, Lord and Miller announced that the film was titled Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, and revealed that multiple Spider-Men would appear in the film, with the character of Miles Morales at the centre. It was also revealed that Rodney Rothman became co-director. In July 2018, Daniel Pemberton was announced as the film's composer. By November, it was revealed that Shameik Moore, Jake Johnson, Hailee Steinfeld, Mahershala Ali, Brian Tyree Henry, Lily Tomlin, Luna Lauren Velez, John Mulaney, Nicolas Cage, and Liev Schreiber had rounded out the cast. This film is dedicated in memory of Spider-Man co-creators Stan Lee and Steve Ditko, who died on November 12, 2018 and July 6, 2018. It was revealed that Lee had recorded a cameo for the film and that it would be his final voice-acting role.

Lord and Miller wanted the film to feel like "you walked inside a comic book", and were excited to tell the story in a way that the live-action films could not. Persichetti concurred, feeling that animation was the best medium with which to honor the style of the comics, allowing the production team to adapt 70-year-old techniques seen in comic artwork into the film's visual language. One of the many ways the animation team has paid tribute to old comic books through the visual style is to imitate the imperfections of offset printing. Completing the animation for the film required up to 140 animators, the largest crew ever used by Sony Pictures Animation for a film.

Boasting spectacular animation, an amazing voice cast, laugh-a-minute gags, and a surprisingly thoughtful story, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is fun for all Spider-Man fans, old and new.

Simon says Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse receives:

Thursday, 27 December 2018

Film Review: "If Beale Street Could Talk" (2018).

"Trust Love All the Way" This is If Beale Street Could Talk. This romantic drama film adapted directed by Barry Jenkins, based on James Baldwin's novel of the same name. The film follows Tish, a newly engaged Harlem woman who races against the clock to prove her lover's innocence while carrying their first born child. It's a celebration of love told through the story of a young couple, their families, and their lives.

In early July 2017, it was announced that Barry Jenkins would direct an adaptation of the James Baldwin novel If Beale Street Could Talk. Jenkins wrote the screenplay during the summer of 2013, writing in conjunction with Moonlight. By September, Stephan James, KiKi Layne, and Teyonah Parris had joined the cast. In mid October 2017, it was reported that principal photography on the film began in New York City. By December, Regina King, Colman Domingo, Brian Tyree Henry, Dave Franco, Ed Skrein, Michael Beach, Finn Wittrock, Aunjanue Ellis, Diego Luna, Pedro Pascal and Emily Rios had rounded out the film's cast.

The film stars Layne, James, Domingo, Parris, Beach, Franco, Wittrock, Ellis, Luna, Pascal, Skrein, Tyree Henry, Rios, and King. All the performances given by the entire cast throughout the film were true and quietly heart-rending.

If Beale Street Could Talk uses multiple point-of-views to tell a woman's story that offers a remarkable and brilliantly crafted look at lives too rarely seen in cinema. It's without a doubt, the reason we go to the movies: to understand, to come closer, to ache, hopefully with another. It is an intimate and haunting drama that is achingly romantic and uncommonly wise. Although Jenkins' film is indeed about the struggles and difficulties of a person of colour struggling against the system for the sake of love, the story is universal in scope and intent. The film is both a disarmingly, at times almost unbearably personal film and an urgent social document, a hard look at American reality and a poem written in light, music and vivid human faces. Jenkin's exceptional romantic drama stays firmly planted in your mind by challenging the stilted ways of the past, causing you to look inward and reflect. It's a moving, unshakable piece of cinema that is not to be missed. Never think of the film as a Black story, just a human one. Jenkins still fuels his small, yet piercing exposition, with a cemented conviction that fortifies the serene rage and manages to instill a convincing dose of sympathy for the troubled players in New York's hidden haven of a hellhole. The film could never fully live up to the widespread acclaim and hype of Moonlight - but the fact it manages to get close to cinematic perfection is a true testament to how strong the film is. Even though so much of the film feels old-hat, what does make it to the screen is unforgettable. Basking in this, If Beale Street Could Talk is one of the cinematic joys of the year.

Simon says If Beale Street Could Talk receives:

Also, see my review for Moonlight.

Wednesday, 26 December 2018

Film Review: "Aquaman" (2018).

"Home is calling" in Aquaman. This superhero film directed by James Wan, written by David Leslie Johnson-McGoldrick and Will Beall, based on the DC Comics character of the same name. It is the sixth installment in the DC Extended Universe (DCEU). It is the third live-action theatrical film featuring Aquaman, following Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016) and Justice League (2017), and the first full-length feature film centered around the character. Once home to the most advanced civilization on Earth, the city of Atlantis is now an underwater kingdom ruled by the power-hungry King Orm. With a vast army at his disposal, Orm plans to conquer the surface world. Standing in his way is Aquaman, Orm's half-human, half-Atlantean brother and true heir to the throne. With help from Mera and Vulko, Aquaman must retrieve the legendary Trident of Atlan and embrace his destiny as protector of the deep.

Since 2004, the project fell into development hell, with several producers onboard including Sunrise Entertainment and Leonardo DiCaprio's Appian Way. Until, in August 2014, Beall and Kurt Johnstad were hired to write the script after the release of Man of Steel (2013). Beall and Johnstad based the script on Geoff Johns's 2011 rendition of Aquaman. In October, the film was officially announced. Jeff Nichols and Noam Murro were considered to direct the film. Jason Momoa publicly expressed interest in wanting Zack Snyder to direct. In June 2015, The Hollywood Reporter reported that Wan signed on as director. In November, Johnson-McGoldrick was hired to rewrite Beall and Johnstad's script. Wan cited the adventure films Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) and Romancing the Stone (1984) as an influence on the film. With Momoa cast in October 2014. Between mid January 2016 and early May 2017, Amber Heard, Willem Dafoe, Patrick Wilson, Dolph Lundgren, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Temuera Morrison, and Nicole Kidman were confirmed to have rounded the film's cast. In early May, principal photography began, and wrapped in late October. Filming took place at the Village Roadshow Studios in Gold Coast, Queensland, as well as New South Wales, Newfoundland, Canada, Sicily, Italy and Morocco. Shortly thereafter, post-production began. Charles Gibson and Kelvin McIlwain would serve as visual effects supervisors, with Rodeo FX, Scanline VFX, Moving Picture Company (MPC), Industrial Light & Magic (ILM), Weta Digital, Method Studios, and Digital Domain providing the visual effects for the film. In early November 2018, post-production was completed. In early March 2018, Rupert Gregson-Williams was announced to compose the film's score.

The film stars Momoa as the title character, with Heard, Dafoe, Wilson, Lundgren, Abdul-Mateen II, Morrison, and Kidman. The cast gave spectacularly charismatic performances, particularly that of Momoa. Who has proven, like Chris Hemsworth with Thor, he is Aquaman. Both Momoa and Heard enlivened the film with their well-matched chemistry.

Thrilling, earnest, and buoyed by Momoa's charismatic performance, Aquaman succeeds in spectacular fashion. The film is one of the most consummately entertaining superhero / adventure movies in recent years, reaching back to the classic Saturday morning serials of old with an action-filled adventure.

Simon says Aquaman receives:

Also, see my review for The Conjuring 2 and Justice League.

Tuesday, 25 December 2018

Film Review: "Welcome to Marwen" (2018).

"The director of Forrest Gump invites you to a most unexpected place" with Welcome to Marwen. This drama film directed by Robert Zemeckis, written by Zemeckis and Caroline Thompson, inspired by Jeff Malmberg's 2010 documentary Marwencol. When a devastating attack shatters Mark Hogancamp and wipes away all memories, no one expected recovery. Putting together pieces from his old and new life, Mark meticulously creates a wondrous town where he can heal and be heroic. As he builds an astonishing art installation - a testament to the most powerful women he knows - through his fantasy world, he draws strength to triumph in the real one.

In late April 2017, it was announced that Robert Zemeckis would next direct a fantasy drama film entitled The Women of Marwen that would star Steve Carell. By late August, Leslie Mann, Janelle Monáe, Eiza González, Diane Kruger, Gwendoline Christie, Merritt Wever, and Leslie Zemeckis had rounded the film's cast. In mid August, with a budget of $40 million, principal photography on the film began, and wrapped in mid October. Filming took place in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. Like Zemeckis' previous efforts, The Polar Express (2004), Beowulf (2007), and A Christmas Carol (2009), The film utilized motion capture techniques. The dolls were portrayed via motion capture by their respective actors and actresses. In June 2018, the film was officially titled Welcome to Marwen. The real-life doll village is actually named Marwencol, a combination of Mark, Wendy, and Colleen. The real Colleen became the character Nicol, so the "col" was dropped from the name.

The film stars Carell, Mann, Kruger, Wever, Monáe, González, Christie, and Zemeckis. Despite excellent performances from the cast, they ultimately serviced a film that lacked substance and real character depth.

The gimmick behind Welcome to Marwen is the fact that you actually see the world created by Hogancamp; the brilliance of the film is that you experience it. The technical ability with which the experienced Zemeckis shows off is positively dazzling. However, what might have looked like a great idea on paper has been tackled by filmmakers who haven’t expanded it much beyond the one gimmick inherent in the premise. The film's early development is too slow and the humour initially too broad. But it develops into a lively entertainment with its visually impressive world of Marwen. The film's biggest problem, the fact that Marwen is shown too much, is turned into its greatest failure through Zemeckis' creativity. Its humour and technically impressive visuals don't break any new ground. The film rushes so desperately from one joke to the next that it never has more to offer than occasional moments of somewhat underwhelming charm. Zemeckis still has undeniable energy, vigour and flair, but it's being misspent on pretexts and situations that seem inexcusably gratuitous and snide with insufficient control and discipline. The film is filled with too many ideas, relationships, and situations with plot overkill. It attempts a tricky balancing act between thrilling visuals and fact-based drama – and like its protagonist, pulls it off with disjointed élan.

Simon says Welcome to Marwen receives:

Also, see my review for Allied.

Wednesday, 19 December 2018

Film Review: "Mortal Engines" (2018).

"From the filmmakers of The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit" comes Mortal Engines. This post-apocalyptic adventure film directed by Christian Rivers, adapted by Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens and Peter Jackson, based on the novel of the same name by Philip Reeve. In a post-apocalyptic world where cities ride on wheels and consume each other to survive, two people meet in London and try to stop a conspiracy.

In December 2009, Jackson purchased the rights to the book, with a script being written by Jackson, Walsh, and Boyens, with Universal Pictures and Media Rights Capital would be financing the film. But the film languished for several years before being officially announced in late October 2016 with Christian Rivers was set to helm the film, marking his directorial debut. Rivers served as a storyboard artist/special effects designer on Jackson's Lord of the Rings and Hobbit films. In February 2017, Robert Sheehan was cast in the film in the role of Tom Natsworthy, along with Ronan Raftery in the role of Bevis Pod, while Hera Hilmar was cast in the role of Hester Shaw. By April 2017, Hugo Weaving, Stephen Lang, Jihae, Patrick Malahide, and newcomer Leila George rounded out the film's cast as Thaddeus Valentine, Shrike, Anna Fang, Magnus Crome, and Katherine Valentine. In the same month, principal photography on the film began, with shooting occurring at Stone Street Studios in Wellington, New Zealand, and was completed in July. Reeve published a blogpost on July 19th 2017 that principal photography had ended and he had been invited to the set back in May of the same year. He noted that he had been impressed by the actors and the sets, mentioning that "Most of it looked very much as I'd imagined, except for the bits which looked better."

The film stars Weaving, Hilmar, Sheehan, Jihae, Raftery, Malahide, Lang, and George. Despite solid performances from the cast, fans and non-fans alike can't help bit feel the richness and appeal of Reeves' characters being absent in the film. Which results in quarter-baked characters that don't mean much for now and the future.

Lacking the heart and the richness of The Lord of the Rings trilogy, Jackson and his team reduce Mortal Engines to nothing but impressive visuals overcompensating for lax storytelling. The film crams so many events, characters, twists and turns, sumptuously appointed rooms and visually stunning vistas that it risks losing you in the whirl. While the film is a commendable piece of work, it is hampered by its fealty to the book and its madly rushed pace. The film is Jackson's blatant attempt to duplicate the success of his The Lord of the Rings trilogy. The only thing Jackson and his team are missing are richly imagined characters, a comprehensible story line, good acting, and satisfying special effects. Jackson misses all the book's plot points without ginning up any of its corresponding emotion. The film ultimately fails as a film in its broad strokes and inadequate scene development.

Simon says Mortal Engines receives:

Monday, 10 December 2018

'Once Upon a Time in Canada' Chapter 60.

I’m getting tired of the freezing cold. But I can’t really complain since it’s another Photography meetup. Maybe when we’re finished, we could go indoors to have nice, warm food and beverages. Things went generally alright. We spent hours and hours going around in circles at the Christmas Market at City Hall. It’s not exactly boring as you would think. The place was brightly lit and crowded, so it’s pretty much like every other photography meetup. Once we were done with the Christmas Market, it wasn’t over and we made our way to Eaton Centre.

The next location was what you would expect. Large, crowded, and uncomfortable. On this night, and every other night, people swarm and team around shops get their hands on things they don’t necessarily need. Typical capitalism as its best, or worst, depending on your point of view. It was fucking annoying. The group was there for a while, longer than the Christmas Market I thought. One of the worst subjects I’ve ever photographed. The time there didn’t last forever, thank fucking God! I don’t completely hate malls/shopping centres, but I’m not a fan of them either. Especially when it’s teaming with people. It’s the misanthrope in me. Once we were done, all of us then made our way across the street.

It wasn’t much. We just took photos of the window model displays. There wasn’t a lot of opportunity to experiment, thanks largely to people walking back and forth, as well as people blocking the view. I just took a couple of photos. For once, a quick shoot for me. After that, we made our way to Brookfield Place. But first, we took shots of multiple places in the financial district on our way to our final location for the night. Once we were made it, we pulled out our cameras before we called it a night. Then we ended the night with dinner and drinks at C’est What? This was probably the most crammed meetup I’ve had so far. Once we parted ways, I made my way home.

Also, see Chapters 59 and 61.

Sunday, 2 December 2018

'Once Upon a Time in Canada' Chapter 59.

Before it was too late, Michael and I needed to try out the Ryerson University Dining. And unlike other restaurants we’ve been to so far, we’re sure that this one will be the best one of all. But we needed to know for sure. We were going to stuff ourselves as much as we could since it was a buffet lunch. We were never going to be as stuff as we were by the end of the day.

We dedicated most of the early part of our day at the buffet. We wanted our stomachs to be stuff since we, especially I, were very hungry. Plus, with the food that was served, we really relished at the opportunity to have an amazing lunch. We made one in particular our favourite, which was the steam salmon with scallion and ginger soya. We ate most of it, what was left of it anyway. We stuff ourselves two or three plates of the salmon and anything else that was available that we could get our hungry hands on. There were plenty of chances of us losing our cool and regurgitate our food out, and we didn’t really wanted that to happen.

On the trip back up to my place, we were having difficulty walking and trying to stay wide-awake. We really amped up our weight by stuffing ourselves with an equivalent of three meals in one. Back at my place, unwillingness to move and weakness against fatigue really kicked in. We just didn’t move at all and just took a huge nap. Maybe it wasn’t the best day in terms of being productive.

Also, see Chapters 58 and 60.

Wednesday, 28 November 2018

Film Review: "Creed II" (2018).

"It may not seem like it now, but... this is more than just a fight." This is Creed II. This sports drama film directed by Steven Caple Jr., and written by Juel Taylor and Sylvester Stallone. It is a sequel to Creed (2015) and the eighth installment in the Rocky film series. In 1985, Russian boxer Ivan Drago killed former U.S. champion Apollo Creed in a tragic match that stunned the world. Against the wishes of trainer Rocky Balboa, Apollo's son Adonis Johnson accepts a challenge from Drago's son - another dangerous fighter. Under guidance from Rocky, Adonis trains for the showdown of his life - a date with destiny that soon becomes his obsession. Now, Johnson and Balboa must confront their shared legacy as the past comes back to haunt each man.

In early January 2016, it was confirmed by Sylvester Stallone and Gary Barber, CEO of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures, that a sequel to Creed was in development. Although due to both Coogler and Jordan's involvement with Black Panther (2018), the film was delayed. Coogler would serve as executive producer. In July 2017, Stallone completed the script and announced Lundgren would be reprising his role as Drago. In October 2017, it was announced that Stallone would direct and produce the film. However, Stallone backed out of directing the film. Ultimately, in December 2017, it was reported that Steven Caple Jr. would instead direct the film with Tessa Thompson confirmed to reprise her role of Bianca, Creed's love interest. In January 2018, Romanian amateur boxer Florian Munteanu was cast in the film to play Drago's son. In March 2018, Phylicia Rashad, Wood Harris, and Andre Ward were confirmed to reprise their roles from the prior film. In the same moth, principal photography began in Philadelphia, lasting through July.

The film stars Jordan, Stallone, Thompson, Lundgren, Munteanu, Rashad, Harris, and Ward. The cast gave terrific performances that extended their characters logically and grippingly, preserving all the traits that made their characters work so well.

Creed II is a movie that dares you to root again for the ultimate underdog - and succeeds due to an infectiously powerful climax. In its boxing and training scenes, the film packs much of the punch its predecessor did, complete with an exciting pugilistic finale that has even more emotional weight than its predecessor. What is most remarkable about the film is that it recalls so many scenes from the Rocky films and its predecessor, and yet - amazingly - it works. Almost every bit of it. However, in an attempt to tell the new story - that of Adonis' adjustment to near-success and an attempt to live a non-boxing life - the plot tends to drag and the picture takes on a murky quality. The film has a waxy feeling, and it never comes to life the way its predecessor did. It slavishly repeats the plot of Creed and Rocky II achieving differentiation only in dubious forms: soap opera detours, delaying tactics and an ugly new mood of viciousness surrounding a rematch between the boxers.

Simon says Creed II receives:

Also, see my review for Creed.

Tuesday, 27 November 2018

'Once Upon a Time in Canada' Chapter 58.

I’m out of energy. No more energy at this point. So it took a little bit longer for me to get prepared for the Toronto Marlies vs. Cleveland Monsters Game after a long, hard day at work. One nice thing about going to a game like this is that I get to forget about work and just enjoy myself: access to pure fun. For some reason, the crowd atmosphere wasn’t as strong as the last hockey game. Don’t know why. Doesn’t really matter, I suppose. The important thing is that I’m here and I get to have fun for two hours or so.

I made my way through security, and then made my way to my seat. I was seated up right on the edge of the ground seatings, where I was protected by a thick sheet of Plexiglas. But this time, it was a better viewing than the last game. That’s great, but having said, I wanted to be seated a little further away, right up the balcony seats so that I can see the action from a distance. After about an hour, I decided to make my way to the bathroom and get a hot drink during the break, so that for the next round, I would be a little warmer and won’t miss anything.

Once I did that, I got back to my seat feeling much better, with my hot chocolate. The hot chocolate came a reliable establishment, Tim Hortons, and was nice and hot, as any good hot chocolate should be. So I’m ready to enjoy the second round, but I’m still not exactly happy with my seat. My brother arbitrarily picked my seat since he paid for my ticket, so I was trapped in my seat until the game was over. I spent during the entire game trying to enjoy the game without getting too upset when the players would hit glass when they got tackled. I’d get a little jumpy when that happened until it ended. It kind of took me out of the game which kind of pissed me off. After the first couple of crashes, it got a little bit better.

Like the last hockey game, the Toronto Marlies won. And the crowd went wild, of course. After cheering, I then made my way out and made my way home. I’m sure the next game I go to will be just as great, if not better, than this one. No plans thus far, but we’ll see.

See videos of the game here. Also, see Chapters 57 and 59.

Monday, 26 November 2018

Film Review: "Roma" (2018).

"There are periods in history that scar societies and moments in life that transform us as individuals." This is the story of Roma. This Mexican drama film written, co-produced, co-edited, photographed, and directed by Alfonso Cuarón. A story that chronicles a year in the life of a high-class family's maid in Mexico City in the early 1970s.

In early September 2016, it was announced that Alfonso Cuarón would write and direct a project focusing on a Mexican family living in Mexico City in the 1970s. Cuarón has been talking about making this film since 2006. According to Cuarón, he has been building towards Roma since his debut, Sólo con Tu Pareja (1991). The film marks Cuarón's eighteen-year return to Mexico to make the film, a first for him since Y Tu Mamá También (2001). Cuarón calls Roma the "most essential movie" of his career. In the fall of 2016, production begin. The film was shot in sequence in 65mm black-and-white. Cuarón decided to shoot on location in Mexico City. This is one reason for the several appearances of airplanes, because they had a plane passing by every five minutes. Every scene of the movie was shot where the events depicted took place or on sets that were exact replicas. Roma is the first time that Cuarón became his own cinematographer on one of his own films. Cuarón originally intended for the film to be shot by his collaborator, Emmanuel "Chivo" Lubezki. Because of logistic reasons Chivo couldn't do it after he had already done some preparations. Also Cuarón didn't want to hire an English-language DP and have to translate his own experience which is why he ended up as a cinematographer. To avoid a "subjective depiction" of the period, Cuarón chose to shoot the bulk of the film in wide shots, slowing panning over a scene, taking everything in.

The film stars Yalitza Aparicio, Marina de Tavira, Marco Graf, Daniela Demesa, Enoc Leaño and Daniel Valtierra. Tour de force performances were given by the cast that conveyed life itself, with all of its sweet and bitter harmony, and chaos; and bonds and scars in an intimate and epic portrait interwoven that transcends space, memory and time.

Roma is a powerful, mature film. It is a serious and profound drama that has something to say. Beneath the typical family drama movie that the movie is happy to advertise is another level—and below that, a much more profound level. It is a drama with startling emotional depth and complexity, set against the backdrop of class differences in Mexico. Part family album, part history class, part meditation on class, mortality and intimacy, this extraordinary little movie might be the perfect harbinger of Mexican culture. The movie has an emotional kick that lingers like a primal memory. When the year is over, Cuaron's film will be remembered as one of 2018's finest. The film will also go on to become one of Cuarón's most fascinating work - and, increasingly, an outlier in his idiosyncratic filmography.

Simon says Roma receives:

Also, see my review for Gravity.

Saturday, 24 November 2018

Series Review: "The Little Drummer Girl" (2018).

"Seduction. Manipulation. Betrayal. Never trust a spy." This is The Little Drummer Girl (2018). This British-American television series directed by Park Chan-wook, adapted by Michael Lesslie and Claire Wilson, based on the novel of the same name by John le Carré. Set in the late 1970s, it follows young, idealistic actress Charlie, whose relationship with the mysterious Becker, an Israeli intelligence officer, leads her into a complex, high-stakes plot devised by spy mastermind Kurtz. She takes on the role of a lifetime as a double agent, and as she is drawn more deeply into a dangerous world of duplicity and compromised humanity, Charlie falls in love with both Becker and Kurtz.

Inspired by the Israeli-Palestinian conflict of the 1970s, John le Carré's controversial spy novel transcended the spy novel genre upon its publication in 1983. William F. Buckley, of The New York Times, wrote: "The Little Drummer Girl is about spies as Madame Bovary is about adultery or Crime and Punishment about crime." The novel went to become one of John Grisham's favorite novels. Grisham has said: "I love to read John le Carré, the British guy who's really probably my favorite writer. The Little Drummer Girl is a book I read about every four or five years. It's just so clever and brilliantly plotted. It's the kinda' book-and his writing is off the charts, the way he expresses himself and the way he describes people and dialogue - and every time I read that book, it inspires me to be better." The character of Charmian "Charlie" Ross, the novel's radical left-wing, anti-Zionist, English actress was rumoured to have been modelled after Vanessa Redgrave, but her personality was modeled le Carré's half-sister Charlotte Cornwell. The novel was adapted in 1984, directed by George Roy Hill and adpated by le Carré and Loring Mandel. It starred Diane Keaton as Charlie, Yorgo Voyagis as Joseph and Klaus Kinski as Kurtz. The film changes Charlie from an English twenty-something to a thirty-ish American. The film was met with divisive reactions.

The series stars Florence Pugh as Charmian "Charlie" Ross, Michael Shannon as Martin Kurtz, Alexander Skarsgård as Gadi Becker, and Charles Dance as Commander Picton. Solid performances were given by the cast. Pugh, especially, lives it up. Unlike Keaton in the 1984 incarnation, Pugh is young and passionate to capture the idealistic actress-turned-spy that le Carré imagined.

Speed, suspense, and surprises, all combine to make The Little Drummer Girl one of those agreeable thrillers that can beguile the idle hours of the television screen. Mystery experts will enjoy the whole thing, I think. Intriguing, complex, and entirely satisfying, Park Chan-wook's version of le Carré's novel succeeds from the strong performance of Florence Pugh in the lead role, who perhaps was perfectly cast. International spy stories are most always good, and this is one of the best, smartly cut, with sufficient humanity. Like a brilliant escape artist, director Park Chan-wook has pulled off that rarest of feats -- the thriller of ideas.

Simon says The Little Drummer Girl (2018) receives:

Also, see my review for The Handmaiden (아가씨).

Thursday, 22 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.