Monday, 31 December 2018

Film Review: "The Favourite" (2018).

"As it turns out, I'm capable of much unpleasantness." This is The Favourite. This period film directed by Yorgos Lanthimos and written by Deborah Davis and Tony McNamara. In early 18th century England, a frail Queen Anne occupies the throne and her close friend, Lady Sarah, governs the country in her stead. When a new servant, Abigail, arrives, her charm endears her to Sarah.

Davis had written the script for the film as early as 1998, which she had then titled The Balance of Power. It then captured the interest of producer Ceci Dempsey got ahold of an early draft of the script. However, Dempsey had difficulty securing financing at the time, due to the lesbian content and the lack of male representation, which financers felt would be challenging to market. Almost a decade later, producer Ed Guiney got hold of the script and was similarly attracted to the complicated plot and relationships of the three women. During this time, Guiney became acquainted with Lanthimos, and approached him with the prospect of directing the film. Lanthimos immediately became intrigued with the idea. Lanthimos brought on McNamara for rewrites. Lanthimos cited Possession (1981), Cremator (1969), Cries and Whispers (1972), Amadeus (1984) and The Draughtsman's Contract (1982) as inspirations. In September 2015, it was announced that Lanthimos would direct the film. By late March 2017, Olivia Colman, Emma Stone, Rachel Weisz, Nicholas Hoult, and Mark Gatiss had rounded out the cast. At the same time, Filming finally began, and wrapped in May, lasting forty-five days. Location included Hatfield House in Hertfordshire, and Hampton Court Palace, Richmond upon Thames. With a budget of $15 million, the film was shot mostly with available sunlight or practical lighting, such as candles and fireplaces. Filming was expected to begin in the spring of 2016, but was pushed back a year, during which time Lanthimos made The Killing of a Sacred Deer. In addition, most of the costumes and wigs were made from scratch, and could not be rented. The early 18th century is rarely depicted on film, so few costume houses had much appropriate stock available. Clothes and wigs were custom built, then deconstructed and re-used in other scenes. Costume designer Sandy Powell intentionally used anachronistic fabrics. Laser-cut lace and vinyl was used for many courtiers' clothes. The servants' dresses and britches are made from denim recycled from thrift store jeans from throughout England. Queen Anne's dressing gown is made from a chenille blanket that Powell found on eBay.

The film stars Colman, Stone, Weisz, Hoult, and Gatiss. The cast terrific performances, especially Colman, Stone, and Weisz who gave the most fascinating female triangle ever put to film. Not only that, their performances left me haunted by their passions, their survival instincts, their manipulations and what they did to survive.

It is similar to a good many films that have gone before it, but Lanthimos' The Favourite has been so ingenious in its treatment of the subject that it has come up with a thoroughly entertaining movie.

Simon says The Favourite receives:

Also, see my review for The Killing of a Sacred Deer.

Sunday, 30 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.

Saturday, 29 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:

Wednesday, 26 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.

Tuesday, 25 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.

Monday, 24 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.

Tuesday, 18 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:

Tuesday, 27 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.

Sunday, 25 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.

Friday, 23 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).

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.

Friday, 2 November 2018

Film Review: "The Other Side of the Wind" (2018).

"A new motion picture from legendary director Orson Welles" comes The Other Side of the Wind. This experimental semi-autobiographical film directed, co-produced and co-edited by Welles, and co-written by Welles and Oja Kodar. After years of exile in Europe, a maverick director returns to Hollywood to finish his comeback movie.

Like many of Welles' personally funded films, the film had a troubled production history where it was filmed and edited on-and-off for several years. After forty years in the making, Welles' final film was finally released in 2018, and marked Welles' return to Hollywood after two decades of Hollywood exile in Europe. The project evolved from an idea after the suicide of Ernest Hemingway in 1961. Nothing came of the project until after the completion of Chimes at Midnight (1965). The film was intended as a satire of both the passing of Classic Hollywood and of the avant-garde filmmakers of Europe and New Hollywood in the 1970s. In 1970, principal photography commenced, and was shot in an unconventional mockumentary style in both colour and black-and-white. The film features a film-within-a-film narrative structure that gestures as a pastiche of Italian director Michelangel Antonioni. Welles cast his friend John Huston as the film director, J.J. "Jake" Hannaford. Between 1970–71, principal photography focused on Hannaford's film-within-a-film. Filming ground to a halt late in 1971 when the US government presented Welles with a large tax bill for his European company. Welles had to work on numerous other projects to pay off this debt, and filming could not resume until 1973. In 1973, some scenes were shot intermittently, as and when cast were available; but the film's main production block did not begin until early 1974, when major shooting of the party happened in Arizona. Principal photography was further undermined by serious financial problems, including embezzlement by one of the investors, who fled with much of the film's budget. After many starts and stops, principal photography ended in 1976. In February 1975, Welles used his AFI Lifetime Achievement Award ceremony as an opportunity to pitch for funding to complete the film. Sure enough, one producer made what Welles later called a "wonderful offer", but Antoine turned it down on the assumption that an even better offer would arrive. No such offer came, and Welles later bitterly regretted the refusal. Welles estimated that the editing of the film in a distinctive and experimental style would take approximately one year of full-time work, like F for Fake (1973). A change of management at the Iranian production company in 1975 resulted in tensions between Welles and the backers. The new management saw Welles as a liability, and refused to pay him to edit the film. The company made several attempts to reduce Welles' share of the film profits from 50% to 20%, and crucially, attempted to remove his artistic control over the film's final cut. Welles made numerous attempts to seek further financial backing to pay him to complete the editing full-time, including attempting to interest a Canadian backer, but no such funding materialised, and so Welles only edited the film piecemeal in his spare time over the 1980s, between other acting assignments which the heavily indebted actor-director needed to support himself. However, these did not prevent it from being incomplete.

By 1979, forty minutes of the film had been edited by Welles. But during that time, the film experienced serious legal and financial complications. Welles's use of funds from Mehdi Bushehri, the brother-in-law of the Shah of Iran, became troublesome after the Shah was overthrown. A complex, decades-long legal battle over the ownership of the film ensued, with the original negative remaining in a vault in Paris. At first, the revolutionary government of Ayatollah Khomeini had the film impounded along with all assets of the previous regime. When they deemed the negative worthless, there was extensive litigation as to the ownership of the film. By 1998, many of the legal matters had been resolved and the Showtime cable network had guaranteed "end money" to complete the film. However, after Welles’ death in 1985, further legal complications caused the project to be suspended. Welles’ daughter, Beatrice Welles, had inherited many of Welles’ assets after his death, and the death of his estranged widow, Paola Mori. However, he had also left various other assets, from his house in Los Angeles to the full ownership and artistic control of all his unfinished film projects, to his longtime companion, mistress and collaborator Kodar. Following Welles' death, several attempts were made at reconstructing the unfinished film. Since 1992, Beatrice has claimed in various courts that under California law, she had ownership of all of Welles' completed and incomplete pictures, and the film has been heavily affected by this litigation. Matters have been exacerbated by much personal animosity between Kodar and Beatrice. Ultimately, the matter was settled out of court to avoid costly legal battles. Although the original negative of the film long remained in a Paris vault, two workprint versions of much of the raw footage were privately held - one by Welles' cinematographer Gary Graver, and one by Welles himself, who covertly smuggled a copy out of Paris after the legal difficulties started. Welles left his own workprint copy to Kodar, as part of a clause of his will giving her all his unfinished film materials. Over the years, there were repeated attempts to clear the remaining legal obstacles to the film's completion, and to obtain the necessary finance. Those most closely involved in these efforts were Graver, Kodar, Peter Bogdanovich, film critic Joseph McBride, and Hollywood producer Frank Marshall, one of whose first jobs in the film business was as Production Manager on the film. Marshall in particular was instrumental in getting several major studios in the late 1990s to watch a rough cut, although most were put off by the film's legal issues. Before a deal was put together in 1998, Kodar screened Graver's rough cut of the film for a number of famous directors in the 1980s and 1990s, seeking their help in completing the film, but they all turned it down for various reasons. These included Huston, Steven Spielberg, Oliver Stone, Clint Eastwood and George Lucas.

In 1998, a turning point came when Bushehri changed his mind, and re-invested in the film. He therefore compromised on his earlier claims, and reduced the share he claimed. This resolved several of the film's legal problems. In 2006, Bushehri died, but his heirs similarly accepted his sentiment. The 1998 deal struck with Bushehri led to funding being put up by the Showtime network, until the lawsuit from Beatrice Welles later that year stalled matters once more. Showtime shortly afterwards backed out of the deal. In 2004, Bogdanovich announced that he still plans to restore the film and release it soon thereafter. However, there remained both legal and technical challenges. The latter concerns replicating Welles's avant-garde editing style. In 2006, Kodar expressed concerns about a proposed deal Beatrice Welles had made with Showtime to turn the film into a "kind of" documentary. In 2007, a new deal was then eventually struck in which the three parties previously involved agreed to pay off Beatrice with an undisclosed sum and/or share of profits from the film. At a late March 2007 appearance at the Florida Film Festival, Bogdanovich stated that the four parties involved had come to an agreement and that the film would be edited and released in the very near future. In early April 2007, Bogdanovich also stated that a deal to complete the film was "99.9% finished", with a theatrical release planned for late 2008. However, in 2007, there were then further complications through the intervention of Paul Hunt. He had worked on the film in the 1970s as a Line Producer, an Assistant Editor, Assistant Camera Operator and Gaffer. Kodar had approached him to see if he could strike a deal. Together with his producing partner Sanford Horowitz, Hunt formed a company, Horowitz Hunt LLC, and within three months had a signed deal with an option to acquire his rights of the movie. Horowitz and Hunt's goal was to release two versions of the film: a completed theatrical version and another uncompleted but original 42-minute version. In March 2008, Bogdanovich said that there was over a year's worth of work left to be done, and a month later, he filmed the opening of the Los Angeles vault where Kodar had kept the workprint material cut by Welles, along with other positive film materials. However, the full original negative remained sealed in a warehouse in France. Throughout the rest of 2008, some work was done on the Los Angeles material. In June 2008, the Showtime Network set up an editing suite in Los Angeles, to begin preliminary logging in work on all of the material. Bogdanovich personally directed the work, with Tim King, the Showtime Executive in charge of post-production, and Sasha Welles (Kodar’s nephew) as an Assistant Editor. Horowitz Hunt LLC eventually began negotiations with Kodar to acquire her rights, but they were unsuccessful when Beatrice Welles put an injunction on access to the negative stored at the LTC Film Vault in Paris, by proclaiming an inheritance claim, thus preventing the opening of the Paris vault containing the full 96 hours of original negatives, some of which had not even been seen by Welles in his lifetime. The attorney for Bushehri neglected to send in their documentation nullifying Beatrice's claim and thus the project stalled once again. In December 2008, this resulted in the closure of the Showtime editing suite. In February 2009. Variety reported that Showtime was still willing to pay for its completion, but they wanted to be sure all the materials existed. In January 2010, during a public Q&A after a screening of one of his films, Bogdanovich stated that the film had been examined and was in good condition, but wondered whether editing the film would even be possible. Bogdanovich indicated that the original negative was in excellent condition, with the picture quality being far superior to the poor-quality workprints seen in public so far. In January 2011, a report in The Guardian suggested, once again, that a legal settlement was close and that a release would be possible in the near future. However, Kodar denied that this was the case. In 2011, Paul Hunt died. That same year, Sanford Horowitz and financier John Nicholas launched a company called "Project Welles The Other Side LLC" and the website to attract additional capital and complete negotiations with Kodar and Beatrice Welles. Their goal was to present an uncluttered account of events, make peace with all the players, present their chain of title compiled by the law firm of Mitchell, Silberberg & Knuff and gain access to the film negatives stored in the LTC Film vault in Paris. By 2011, all copyright difficulties had theoretically been resolved between the respective parties. However, the Showtime network refused to specify what the budget would be. Kodar stated that she did not want a repeat of the debacle over Welles' posthumously completed Don Quixote, which was universally panned after being cheaply put together from badly decayed, incomplete footage which was sloppily edited, badly dubbed, and often incoherent. As such, she would not grant permission to proceed until she had received assurances that the project will be done professionally, and to a high standard, with an adequate budget. In March 2012, the end of Showtime’s involvement in the project came with the retirement of Matthew Duda, the Showtime executive who had championed funding for the film since 1998.

After Showtime's withdrawal, producer Filip Jan Rymsza intervened with a successful bid that would break the film's deadlock. Rymsza had become aware of the film's existence in 2009. Very early on, he teamed up with both German producer Jens Koethner Kaul, and Marshall. In late October 2014, it was announced that the rights were acquired by Rymsza's Los Angeles-based production company, Royal Road Entertainment, and that the project would be completed with the assistance of Bogdanovich and Marshall. Bogdanovich and Marshall were aiming to have it ready for screening on May 6, 2015 — the 100th anniversary of Welles's birth. Royal Road and Kaul acquired the rights held by Les Films de l'Astrophore and Bushehri. They reached an agreement with Kodar and Beatrice Welles. Post-production was to be funded by pre-selling distribution rights, but in December some potential distributors asked to see edited footage from the negative, not the worn workprint. A 40-day crowdfunding drive was launched on May 7, 2015, on the Indiegogo website by directors Wes Anderson and Noah Baumbach, with a goal of raising $2 million for the film's completion. Plans were announced for the 1,083 reels of pristine negative footage to be flown from Paris to Los Angeles for 4K resolution scanning and editing by Affonso Gonçalves. The Indiegogo campaign deadline was extended in June and the goal revised to $1 million after potential outside investors offered to match that amount. Acknowledging that the campaign had struggled, Marshall said that his objective is to put the first 15 to 20 minutes of the film together to win over a distributor who will help finish the post-production. The campaign closed on July 5, 2015, having only raised $406,405. At the end of 2015, efforts to complete the film were at an impasse. In April 2016, Marshall announced at CinemaCon that they are in negotiations with Netflix for the completion of the film. The potential deal requested the approval of Kodar to finalize the agreement. In mid-March 2017, it was confirmed Netflix had purchased the rights, and was planning to work around the clock to complete and distribute the film. In the same month, 1,083 original negative, as well as dailies and other footage, arrived in Los Angeles to be fully inventoried, thus allowing the film's post-production to resume. In November 2017, it was reported that various members had been hired to the post-production team, including Bob Murawski as editor, Scott Millan as sound mixer, and Mo Henry as negative cutter. In January 2018, a rough cut of the film was screened for a small, select group of invite-only attendees. Amongst those present were Rymsza, directors Paul Thomas Anderson, Quentin Tarantino and Rian Johnson; actors Danny Huston (Huston's son) and Crispin Glover; and the film’s cast and crew members, Bogdanovich, Lou Race, Neil Canton, and Peter Jason. In March 2018, Michel Legrand was announced to compose the film’s score, which he had been secretly working on the film since December 2017. On August 31, 2018, the film eventually had its world premiere at the 75th Venice International Film Festival. Finally, on November 2, 2018, the film was released by Netflix.

The cast, that includes Huston, Kodar, Bogdanovich, Susan Strasberg, Norman Foster, Lilli Palmer, Edmond O'Brien, Mercedes McCambridge, Cameron Mitchell, and more, gave terrific performances that managed to transcend throughout the decades.

The film is one of the most interesting and technically superior films that has ever come out of cinema.

Simon says The Other Side of the Wind receives:

Also, see my review of Chimes at Midnight.

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.