Wednesday, 28 February 2018

Film Review: "Early Man" (2018).


"From the award winning tribe behind Chicken Run and Wallace & Gromit" comes Early Man. This British stop-motion animated film directed by Nick Park, written by Mark Burton and James Higginson, and produced by Aardman Animations. A plucky cave man named Dug, his sidekick Hognob and the rest of their tribe face a grave threat to their simple existence. Lord Nooth plans to take over their land and transform it into a giant mine, forcing Dug and his clan to dig for precious metals. Not ready to go down without a fight, Dug and Hognob must unite their people in an epic quest to defeat a mighty enemy - the Bronze Age.

In June 2007, one of the two additional films were announced by Aardman, appropriately joked as an untitled Nick Park film, which is not another Wallace & Gromit feature film. In 2015, it was announced that the title of the film would be Early Man-United and it would financed by the British Film Institute for $50 million. Eventually, the title was changed to Early Man. The film marks Park's thirteen-year return to the director's chair, and marks the first feature that Park as the sole director. On Chicken Run (2000), with Peter Lord, and The Curse of the Were-Rabbit (2005), with Steve Box. As with previous stop motion films created by Aardman, the characters in Early Man were developed over time with the voice actors to determine the way the characters look, move, and speak. The results were turned over to the film's 35 animators to work on individualizing the characters. A crowd of people took part in an audio recording at the Memorial Stadium Home of Bristol Rovers.

The film features the voice talents of Eddie Redmayne, Tom Hiddleston, Maisie Williams, Timothy Spall, Miriam Margolyes, Richard Ayoade, and Mark Williams. The film is brilliantly voiced across the board. The cast gave comically-injected performances with corniness sprinkled throughout. The kind that you would expect from an Aardman film.

Early Man has all the charm of Nick Park's Wallace & Gromit, and something for everybody. The voice acting is fabulous, the slapstick is brilliant, and the action sequences are spectacular. Even without Wallace and Gromit, most of the trademark joys are here: the compound of squashy creatures and heavy machinery, the wide, open-ended rictus of a toothy smile, and the great Parkian gulp. It coaxes you to laugh and cry, flatters your intelligence, and practically guarantees a cheap night out: at dinner afterward, no one's going to be ordering anything but salad. What gives this movie its oddly strong grip on a viewer's heart is a physical tenderness inseparable from the nature of claymation. Like Wallace & Gromit, it's a paean to British eccentricity, equal parts cluelessness and hopefulness, full of English slang and dry Brit humor. The film contains some gorgeous, destined-to-be-classic set pieces, and this is where the Aardman production team flex their animation muscles. It's a warm-hearted and amusing entertainment that families will enjoy.

Simon says Early Man receives:



Also, see my review for The Pirates! Band of Misfits.

Monday, 26 February 2018

Film Review: "Mute" (2018).


In Mute, "he doesn't need words." In this neo-noir science fiction film directed by Duncan Jones, and written by Jones and Michael Robert Johnson. When his girlfriend vanishes, a mute man ventures into a near-future Berlin's seamy underworld, where his actions speak louder than words.

For many years, the film languished in development hell, but Jones never lost hope. Described by Jones as a "spiritual sequel" to Moon (2009), the film is heavily inspired by the Ridley Scott's 1982 seminal science-fiction film Blade Runner. It was originally conceived as a contemporary British gangster movie, then it was changed to be set in Tokyo. According to Jones, the first attempt was made before Moon, Jones first suggested it to Sam Rockwell, but it was considered too big and thus Moon was made instead. After the success of Moon, Jones then changed the setting to future Berlin. In November 2015, Jones announced that following Warcraft (2016), he would direct the science fiction mystery thriller, with Alexander Skarsgård and Paul Rudd to star. During the film's development, Jones had expressed his desire for Rockwell to reprise his role from Moon in a cameo appearance that was to act as an epilogue for the character, and that the film would be the second installment in a trilogy. By late September 2016, Justin Theroux, Seyneb Saleh, Robert Kazinsky, Noel Clarke, Dominic Monaghan, and Florence Kasumba rounded out the cast. At the same time, filming began in Berlin. The film is dedicated in memory of David Jones (a.k.a. David Bowie) (1947–2016), the director's father, and Marion Skene (1950–2017), the director's nanny.

It stars Skarsgård, Rudd, Theroux, Saleh, Kazinsky, Clarke, Monaghan, and Kasumba. Despite solid performances from the cast, one can not avoid the feeling that they are flat and/or fall victim to the trappings and conventions of the genre.

Mute is a visually stunning, but emotionally empty sci-fi film. A hopelessly underwhelming piece of work. The contradictions that plague the movie are apparent from the outset. Too bad the filmmakers didn't try to capture an original spin on the visual aesthetics of the genre, which despite many flaws of its own has a humour that is nowhere to be seen in Blade Runner. They all plod along while sometimes dazzling, sometimes boring special effects, and Ford's climactic confrontation approaches. Instead of tension building, though, things are grinding to a halt. Paradoxically, Jones' crowded, misty, neon streetscape seems even murkier; fuzz I chalked up to VHS tapes is production designer Gavin Bocquet's dumping factory fumes in the air. The film is a dead-eyed pretty girl who looks good on your arm but is a real bore over dinner. The villains are neither menacing nor sympathetic, when ideally they should have been both. This leaves Jones' picturesque violence looking dull and exploitative. A very dark and far too long thriller with many dull moments that would serve the film better by moving along a bit faster.

Simon says Mute receives:



Also, see my review for Warcraft.

Saturday, 24 February 2018

Film Review: "Annihilation" (2018).


"Fear What's Inside." This is Annihilation. This science fiction psychological horror film written and directed by Alex Garland, based on the novel of the same name by Jeff VanderMeer. The film centres on biologist and former soldier Lena is shocked when her missing husband comes home near death from a top-secret mission into The Shimmer, a mysterious quarantine zone no one has ever returned from. Now, Lena and her elite team must enter a beautiful, deadly world of mutated landscapes and creatures, to discover how to stop the growing phenomenon that threatens all life on Earth.

In March 2014, it was announced that Paramount Pictures and Scott Rudin Productions had acquired the film rights to Annihilation, the first novel in Jeff VanderMeer's Southern Reach Trilogy. In May 2015, Garland was hired to adapt and direct the film. Garland revealed to Creative Screenwriting that his adaptation was necessarily based on only the first novel in the trilogy. Garland did not read the other two books when they arrived, as he was concerned he would need to revise his script. Others informed him of the elements of the books, and he expressed surprise at some of the correlations. Garland further commented that he decided not to reread the novel. Instead, he decided to adapt it "like a dream of the book." Rather than book-referenced screenwriting with the intention of capturing the "dreamlike nature" and tone of his experience reading VanderMeer's novel, "an adaptation which was a memory of the book." Rather than trying to directly adapt the book Garland deliberately took the story in his own direction, with VanderMeer’s permission. After viewing an early cut of the film, VanderMeer called it "surreal", and compared it with 2001: A Space Odyssey"It’s actually more surreal than the novel... There are a couple places where I was like, 'I might need an anchor here.' The ending is so mind-blowing and in some ways different from the book that it seems to be the kind of ending that, like '2001' or something like that, people will be talking about around the watercooler for years. Visually, it’s amazing. I must say that and that’s all I probably should say." He further added: "I can tell you it’s mind-blowing, surreal, extremely beautiful, extremely horrific, and it was so tense that our bodies felt sore and beat-up afterwards." In regards to the adaptation, he commented: "The first thing I realized is that even though Alex Garland says he’s not an auteur, he is an auteur,” VanderMeer told The Watch. “My expectation was to not have anything to do with the movie and that’s the actual fact. He wrote the script and he was kind enough to keep me in the loop during every part of the process, but that wasn’t for me to put my two cents in, basically. It was just so I would know what was going on."

Natalie Portman soon entered into talks to star in the film. Julianne Moore and Tilda Swinton were in talks to star in the movie. Frances McDormand was considered for the role of Dr. Ventress before Jennifer Jason Leigh was cast. In November 2015, Gina Rodriguez was in talks to co-star in the film with Portman. In March 2016, it was announced that Oscar Isaac would join the cast. The casting of Portman and Jason Leigh as characters who are, in the later books, described as Asian and of half Native American descent, respectively. Garland stated that none of the five female characters' ethnicity is mentioned in the first book, which was the only one of the trilogy he had read, and that the script was complete before the second book was published. He cast the characters based on his reaction only to the actors he had met in the casting process, or actors he had worked with before. Principal photography was underway in April 2016, beginning in South Forest, Windsor Great Park. Some test shooting had already been done in St. Marks, Florida, but the vegetation in the area turned out to be too dense to give any depth perception on screen. By July, filming concluded at Holkham Beach and Holkham Pines in Norfolk. Due to a poorly received test screening, David Ellison, a financier at Paramount, became concerned that the film was "too intellectual" and "too complicated", and demanded changes to make it appeal to a wider audience, including making Portman's character more sympathetic and changing the ending. Producer Rudin sided with Garland in his desire to not alter the film, defending the film and refusing to take notes. Rudin had final cut. In December 2017, it was announced that due to the clashes between producer Rudin and Ellison, and the shift in Paramount's leadership, a deal was struck with Netflix handling international distribution rather than releasing the film in theaters. According to this deal, Paramount would handle the U.S. and China release, while Netflix would begin streaming the film in other territories seventeen days later.

The film stars Portman, Jason Leigh, Rodriguez, Tessa Thompson, Tuva Novotny, and Oscar Isaac. The cast gave terrific performances that presented a modern update on the sort of siege scenario that was played out in films such as Alien (1979) and The Thing (1982). Here the cast and their performances become a study of femininity in crisis in what usually is an all-male environment in other science-fiction horror movies of this nature. And Portman is as good as she's ever been, firing one of the most badass guns like any other badass in movie history.

Is Annihilation one of the best science-fiction films of all-time? Possibly. But it is, for sure, a peerless masterpiece of relentless suspense, retina-wrecking visual excess and outright, nihilistic terror. With its breathtaking visuals and a still-unparalleled sense of terror, the film demonstrated Garland's single-minded focus to inspire awe in his audience. It is Garland's most accomplished and underrated directorial effort, as well as being one of the greatest and most elegantly constructed B-movies ever made.

Simon says Annihilation receives:



Also, see my review for Ex Machina.

Wednesday, 21 February 2018

Film Review: "Black Panther" (2018).


"The Avengers have a new king", and his name is Black Panther. This superhero film directed by Ryan Coogler, co-written by Coogler and Joe Robert Cole, based on the Marvel Comics character of the same name, and produced by Marvel Studios. It is the eighteenth film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). T’Challa who, after the death of his father, the King of Wakanda, returns home to the isolated, technologically advanced African nation to succeed to the throne and take his rightful place as king. But when a powerful old enemy reappears, T’Challa’s mettle as king—and Black Panther—is tested when he is drawn into a formidable conflict that puts the fate of Wakanda and the entire world at risk.

Since 1992, a Black Panther film had been in the works with Wesley Snipes and John Singleton attached to star and direct, but the project never came to fruition. In September 2005, Marvel Studios announced a Black Panther film as one of ten based on Marvel characters and distributed by Paramount Pictures. In January 2011, Mark Bailey was hired to pen a script. In October 2014, it was announced that Black Panther would be making his first appearance in Captain America: Civil War, with Chadwick Boseman in the role. In May 2015, Ava DuVernay was approached to direct, but ultimately declined due to creative differences. By 2016, Cole and Coogler had joined to co-write and direct. In May, Lupita Nyong'o, Michael B. Jordan, Danai Gurira, Winston Duke, Forest Whitaker, Daniel Kaluuya, Letitia Wright, Angela Bassett, and Sterling K. Brown rounded out the cast, making Black Panther the first Marvel film with a predominantly black cast. Principal photography began in late January 2017 and concluded in mid April 2017. Locations included the EUE/Screen Gems Studios in Atlanta, Georgia, and Busan, South Korea.

The film stars Boseman, Jordan, Nyong'o, Gurira, Kaluuya, Wright, Duke, Bassett, Whitaker, Martin Freeman, and Andy Serkis. Each cast members gave terrific performances and breathed new life in, what could have been, conventional roles. Boseman again delivered another compelling performance as the new king/superhero, but took it to the next level from Civil War. But it was Jordan who stole the show, and gave us the best MCU villain in its entire history. A villain more compelling and empathetic than the hero. The best villain since the Joker from The Dark Knight.

With Black Panther, director Coogler and star Boseman made this smart, high impact superhero movie one that comics fans of all backgrounds can enjoy. The result is something that, whilst hardly original or groundbreaking, is nevertheless refreshing in its earnestness to avoid dark dramatic stylings in favor of an easy-going, crowd-pleasing action movie with a sprinkle of political and social themes. The film contains emotional truth, pitch-perfect casting and plausibly rendered super-science that made it faithful to the source material while updating it – and recognizing what's made that material so enduring isn't just the high-tech cool of a man in a fantastical suit, but the human condition that comes with it.

Simon says Black Panther receives:



Also, see my reviews for Creed and Thor: Ragnarok.

Wednesday, 14 February 2018

Film Review: "The 15:17 to Paris" (2018).


"A true story. The real heroes." This is The 15:17 to Paris. This biographical drama film produced and directed by Clint Eastwood, adapted by Dorothy Blyskal, based on the autobiography The 15:17 to Paris: The True Story of a Terrorist, a Train, and Three American Heroes by Jeffrey E. Stern, Spencer Stone, Anthony Sadler, and Alek Skarlatos. The film tells the real-life story of three men whose brave act turned them into heroes during a high-speed railway ride. In the early evening of August 21, 2015, the world watched in stunned silence as the media reported a thwarted terrorist attack on Thalys train #9364 bound for Paris—an attempt prevented by three courageous young Americans traveling through Europe.

After the release of Sully (2016), Eastwood was attached to direct Impossible Odds. However, the project failed to commence and needed more time in development. Thus Eastwood needed another project. In late April 2017, it was announced that Eastwood would next direct the film from a screenplay by Blyskal, a newcomer, based on the book The 15:17 to Paris: The True Story of a Terrorist, a Train, and Three American Heroes. It was announced that Eastwood would begin casting immediately for a principal production start date of later that year. In late June 2017, it was rumoured that Eastwood had chosen Kyle Gallner, Jeremie Harris and Alexander Ludwig to star as Alek Skarlatos, Anthony Sadler and Spencer Stone although offers had not yet been made. Ultimately, in early July 2017, it was announced that Eastwood had cast Sadler, Skarlatos and Stone as themselves in the film. By early August, Mark Moogalian, Isabelle Risacher Moogalian, Chris Norman were attached to play themselves. In addition, Judy Greer, Jenna Fischer, Ray Corasani, P. J. Byrne, Sinqua Walls, Tony Hale, Thomas Lennon, and Jaleel White rounded out the cast. It was also announced that the film had commenced principal production. This film marks the first time that Eastwood and DP Tom Stern used Zeiss Master Anamorphic lenses, which have the least anamorphic distortion. Their previous anamorphic shot movies were filmed in Panavision.

The film stars Stone, Sadler, Skarlatos, Mark and Isabelle Risacher Moogalian, and Norman as themselves, with Greer, Fischer, Corasani, Byrne, Walls, Hale, Lennon, and White. Despite the efforts given, especially from the real-life figures, one can not help but feel that their performances feel somewhere between wooden performances from standard Hollywood action thrillers and reenactments from History Channel programs.

Competently shot and directed, The 15:17 to Paris is a compelling story that unfortunately gives in to convention too often. Eastwood gives a predictably powerhouse direction, but the film stumbles in all other departments: dull action, confusing narrative, and humdrum storytelling. It's too bad the film is so shapeless and turgid and ham-handed, so rich in bad lines and worse readings. Eastwood's focus on Sadler, Skarlatos and Stone is so tight that no other character comes through as a person, and the scope so narrow that the film engages only superficially with the many moral issues surrounding the event.

Simon says The 15:17 to Paris receives:



Also, see my review for Sully.

Tuesday, 6 February 2018

Film Review: "The Cloverfield Paradox" (2018).



"The future unleashed every thing." This is thanks to The Cloverfield Paradox. This science fiction horror film directed by Julius Onah, written by Oren Uziel and Doug Jung, and produced by J. J. Abramss. It is the third installment in the Cloverfield franchise, following Cloverfield (2008) and 10 Cloverfield Lane (2016). Orbiting a planet on the brink of war, scientists test a device to solve an energy crisis, and end up face-to-face with a dark alternate reality.

In 2012, it was first announced that Paramount Pictures and Bad Robot Productions had acquired a spec script entitled God Particle by Oren Uziel, and to be directed by Julius Onah. The pick-up occurred around the same time that Paramount and Bad Robot bought the rights to The Celler, which ultimately became 10 Cloverfield Lane. When it was acquired, Abrams said the script had "the DNA" that made it a potential film in the Cloverfield universe. In March 2015, it was initially planned as part of Paramount’s low-budget InSurge distribution label, but was ultimately expanded as a Paramount-distributed film. In February 2016, the yet-named Cloverfield film was set for a planned February 2017 release date. However, the film faced several delays afterwards throughout production. By May, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, David Oyelowo, Elizabeth Debicki, Daniel Brühl, Chris O’Dowd, Zhang Ziyi, John Ortiz, and Aksel Hennie were announced as members of the cast. With a budget of $45 million, filming began in June and wrapped in September. The film was shot in Los Angeles, under the titles of God Particle and Clean Pass. During this time, Uziel was required to rewrite and shoot additional scenes to help the film connect to the Cloverfield universe, and due to negative test audience results. On February 4 2018, a surprise trailer aired during Super Bowl LII, revealing its title, on the same night it was to be released only a few hours after. Though specific details of Netflix's acquisition of distribution rights were not known, industry analysts believe Netflix's involvement helped to make an otherwise lackluster film profitable for Paramount, whereas a more traditional theatrical release would have ended in a loss.

The film stars Brühl, Debicki, Hennie, Mbatha-Raw, O'Dowd, Ortiz, Oyelowo, and Zhang. The cast gave performances that proved that they were at the top of their game, despite lacking solid characterizations. Mbatha-Raw was the only cast member given any true characterization, whilst others appeared as either archetypes or plot devices.

The Cloverfield Paradox does what it needs to do: make you sit and squirm and want very badly to know. It has the appeal of the suspense and science fiction pictures of the 1950s. There are a number of intense sequences all heightened by actors at the top of their game. It’s a decent film that shows what you can do with confident tension, editing, and a handful of shocking moments. Despite because Cloverfield being invoked in the title, and its unique marketing and publicity, it’s ultimately a dumb move and a lot of people expected a certain type of follow-up.

Simon says The Cloverfield Paradox receives:



Also, see my review for 10 Cloverfield Lane.

Thursday, 1 February 2018

'Once Upon a Time in Canada' Chapter 34.

Tonight with my photography meetup was rather typical and standard. Yeah, I know. The meetup has a lot of people I have in common with and I’m doing what I love as a fun activity. And I’m being a bit too indifferent about tonight, considering how much time I’ve spent with them thus far.

I was just slowly getting sick of taking shots of mundane locations in Toronto, especially subways (in this case would be the newly opened stations). York University to Vaughn Metropolitan Centre were the focus for tonight’s meetup. It’s basically four newly opened subway stations to expand the Yonge-University Line 1. The group, especially Adam, Kurt and Paul, wanted to take advantage of photogenic opportunity for these stations.

If I were to be the organizer, even for this meetup, I would have chosen something a little bit more out of the ordinary, even if it is perhaps a little bit further outside the Greater Toronto Area. But I’m not so I really don’t have a lot of say in the matter. Nonetheless, sorry, but I’m not completely happy about the choice of subject.

I was somewhat indifferent. I followed my friend Cody and Michael and the people surrounding them around and took whatever shots that captured my fancy. I had ideas of what kind of shots I wanted and what I could take, so everything was anything but a challenge (physically or creatively).

And just as I’d suspected, there wasn’t enough time to do all the stations in one night. The clock was ticking past 10pm, and it was a weeknight (so not everybody could stay up late and have dinner and drinks somewhere). I knew this would be the case, making it the least eventful photography meetup so far. Highway 407 was the last station for the night.

We took our last shots and made our way down together. It was completely dark and late by that point. I hope we don’t do something like that again, but again, that’s not up to me.



















































Also, see Chapters 33 and 35.