Friday, 19 January 2018

Film Review: "Godzilla: Planet of the Monsters" ("ゴジラ: 怪獣惑星") (2017).

"Who will be extinct, Humanity or Godzilla?" This is the question asked in Godzilla: Planet of the Monsters (ゴジラ: 怪獣惑星). This Japanese computer-animated science fiction kaiju film co-directed by Kōbun Shizuno and Hiroyuki Seshita, written by Gen Urobuchi, produced by Toho Animation, and animated by Polygon Pictures. This is the 32nd film in the Godzilla franchise, the 30th Godzilla film produced by Toho, and the first animated film in the franchise. Years into the future and the human race has been defeated several times by the new ruling force of the planet: "kaijus". And the ruler of that force is Godzilla, The King of the Monsters. Humanity is in such defeat, plans to leave the planet have been made, and several people have been chosen to look at a new planet to see if it is inhabitable. Realizing it's not, though, the human race resorts to plan B: to defeat Godzilla and take back their planet.

In August 2016, Toho announced that an animated Godzilla film was being developed, targeted for a 2017 release. In addition, this will be the first entry in a trilogy, with the second and third installments tentatively scheduled for release in 2018. Ironically, it was originally envisioned as an anime series, but the success of Shin Godzilla's Japanese theatrical release convinced the creators to combine the narrative into a trilogy of movies and put them into cinemas in Japan. Gen Urobuchi, and Kobun Shizuno and Hiroyuki Seshita were announced as the writer, and co-directors, as well as Polygon Pictures providing the animation. In January 2017, Urobuchi announced the main cast on his twitter account, which included Mamoru Miyano, Takahiro Sakurai, Tomokazu Sugita, Junichi Suwabe, Kenta Miyake, Kana Hanazawa, Yūki Kaji, Daisuke Ono, Kenyu Horiuchi, Kazuya Nakai, and Kazuhiro Yamaji. In March 2017, Toho announced that the film would be the first film in a new trilogy. About the production, co-director Shizuno stated, "From the start, we had the blessing of Toho to not be constrained by previous entries in the franchise, and with the freedom of imagination offered by animation I feel we have come up with a cool new form for Godzilla." On Godzilla's new design, co-director Seshita stated, "With his masses of muscle fibers and unique body tissue to support his enormous bulk, this is an extraordinarily rugged-looking physique. It was an overwhelming presence that reverberated through the whole project, like a fearsome deity that even we who created it must prostrate ourselves before. That is our Godzilla."

For Godzilla: Planet of the Monsters, directors Shizuno and Seshita, and writer Urobuchi, unleashed all of their potent excesses back into the world of Godzilla, for better and/or worse. Chilling and occasionally thoughtful exploration of the mythology of Godzilla with an environmental perspective, gratifying character interactions, terrific action scenes and production design. If you're looking for a story with loyalty to the Godzilla lore, you won't find it here, but as darkly-tinged sci-fi action monster romps with a unique concept and premise go, you could do much worse.

Simon says Godzilla: Planet of the Monsters (ゴジラ: 怪獣惑星) receives:

Also, see my review for Shin Godzilla (シン・ゴジラ).

Saturday, 13 January 2018

Film Review: "The Post" (2017).

"'In the First Amendment the Founding Fathers gave the free press the protection it must have to fulfill its essential role in our democracy. The press was to serve the governed, not the governors.'" This is at the heart of The Post. This political thriller film directed by Steven Spielberg, and written by Liz Hannah and Josh Singer. The film explores the unlikely partnership between The Washington Post’s Katharine Graham, the first female publisher of a major American newspaper, and editor Ben Bradlee, as they race to catch up with The New York Times to expose a massive cover-up of government secrets that spanned three decades and four U.S. Presidents. The two must overcome their differences as they risk their careers – and their very freedom – to help bring long-buried truths to light.

In October 2016, Amy Pascal won a bid for the rights to Liz Hannah's first produced screenplay, which featured on the 2016 Black List of the most-liked scripts of the year. In March 2017, it was announced that Spielberg was in negotiations to direct and produce the film after halting pre-production of The Kidnapping of Edgardo Mortara, with Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks to star. Spielberg wanted to make and release the film as quickly as possible given the parallels between its theme and the burgeoning political 'fake news' climate in the U.S. The film would mark the first collaboration between, Spielberg, Streep, and Hanks. Spielberg worked on the film while post-production work continued on the visual effects-heavy Ready Player One (2018), a method he had previously used during the concurrent productions of Jurassic Park and Schindler's List in 1993. Josh Singer was hired to re-write the screenplay ten weeks before filming. Principal photography on the film began in late May in New York. In early June, it was announced that the project, retitled The Papers. In addition, Alison Brie, Carrie Coon, David Cross, Bruce Greenwood, Tracy Letts, Bob Odenkirk, Sarah Paulson, Jesse Plemons, Matthew Rhys, Michael Stuhlbarg, Bradley Whitford, and Zach Woods were cast. Filming concluded and post-production began in late July. In late August, the film's title reverted to The Post. Spielberg finished the final cut of the film in early November 2017, with the final sound mix also completed with the musical score a week later, in mid November. The gestation from script to final cut lasted a modest 9 months.

The film stars Streep and Hanks, with Paulson, Odenkirk, Letts, Whitford, Greenwood, Coon, Rhys, Brie, Cross, Letts, Plemons, Stuhlbarg, and Woods. The cast proved to be the best ensemble in any Spielberg film, even though their characterizations were razor-thin. Streep and Hanks proved to be solid leads together, and magnetic whenever they were in the scenes. 

The Post is a taut, solidly acted paean to the benefits of a free press and the dangers of unchecked power, made all the more effective by its origins in real-life events. A superbly crafted and engrossingly detailed account of The Washington Post journalists and their attempts to publish the Pentagon Papers.

Simon says The Post receives:

Also, see my review for The BFG.

Wednesday, 10 January 2018

Film Review: "I, Tonya" (2017).

"There's no need to have class when you have talent." This perfectly encapsulates I, Tonya. This biographical film directed by Craig Gillespie and written by Steven Rogers. Based on the unbelievable, but true events, this is a darkly comedic tale of American figure skater, Tonya Harding, and one of the most sensational scandals in sports history. Though Harding was the first American woman to complete a triple axel in competition, her legacy was forever defined by her association with an infamous, ill-conceived, and even more poorly executed attack on fellow Olympic competitor Nancy Kerrigan.

Screenwriter Steven Rogers was inspired to write the film after watching a documentary about ice skating which mentioned Tonya Harding. Rogers successfully managed to secure interviews with Harding and ex-husband Jeff Gillooly. Both remembered the events of the 1994 attack on Nancy Kerrigan very differently. Rogers never had experience interviewing a real-life subject before the film. He initially called her agent to obtain the life rights to her story and got a Motel 6. When he finally tracked her down, he found her extremely forthcoming over a two-day interview. Harding didn't feel like she had anything to lose at that point. However, Rogers failed to secure an interview with Harding's mother LaVona Golden after tracking her down. The script was featured on the 2016 Black List of the most-liked scripts of the year. The script caught the attention of Robbie, who did not realize it was based on a real event until after she finished reading it. Immediately prior to filming, Robbie flew to Portland, Oregon to meet with Harding. Although a member of an amateur ice hockey league, Robbie didn't have that much skating experience before taking on the role. To prepare for the role and the skating scenes, Robbie trained for four months. Robbie trained with Sarah Kawahara - Nancy Kerrigan's former choreographer. Principal photography began in late January 2017 in Macon, Georgia. Throughout the shoot, Robbie suffered from a herniated disc in her neck, and had routine MRIs to ensure it was safe for her to continue filming skating scenes. Although Robbie trained for the role, she wasn't be able to do Harding's triple Axel, as very few people in the world are able to. Thus the choreography was achieved through Robbie's skating doubles, Heidi Munger and Anna Malkova, and CGI. Filming wrapped in March, with pickups in Atlanta in May.

Robbie stars as Harding, with Sebastian Stan, Allison Janney, Julianne Nicholson, Caitlin Carver, and Bobby Cannavale. The cast gave incredible performances from start to finish. Robbie gives an iconic turn as the fiery Harding. Janney gives a tour-de-force performance as Harding's acid-tongued mother. Both performances are sure to have awards coming their way.

Absurd, self-referential, and irreverent to a fault, I, Toyna finds Margot Robbie at their most infectiously dynamic. The film wants us to be interested in characters who appear to be dull people to start with, but made interesting by their delusions because what they did and what they truly are.

Simon says I, Tonya receives: