Thursday, 13 September 2018

TIFF Film Review: "Hotel by the River" ("강변 호텔") (2018).



The 23rd film by the Korean Woody Allen - Hotel by the River (강변 호텔). This South Korean drama film written, produced, and directed by Hong Sang-soo.The film centres on the interactions of a struggling poet, his estranged sons, and two female friends. Feeling, for no apparent reason, like he is going to die, an old poet, staying for free in a riverside hotel, summons his two estranged sons. After being betrayed by the man she was living with, a young woman gets a room at the same hotel. Seeking support, she asks a friend to join her.

Once again, the film is another addition to director Hong's study on human relationship that has been synonymous to the director's career since his 1996 debut film The Day a Pig Fell into the Well (돼지가 우물에 빠진 날). Filming took place between January and February 2017, in Hong Sang-soo's usual breakneck shooting style.

The film stars Ki Joo-Bong Ki, Kim Min-hee, Kwon Hae-hyo, Song Seon-mi, and Yoo Joon-Sang. The cast gave terrifically slight, contained, but ineffably soulful performances that portrays the subtleties, fragility and the brutal melancholy of people caught in a tangled web of complicated relationships.

Hotel by the River may not be a particularly great film, but it does feel like a necessary one. It is amusingly bittersweet yet quietly resplendent. Even though it feels like an undeveloped drama about relationships and identity. The premise is less interesting than Hong Sang-soo’s precise execution and presentation of the material, and the simple but brilliant script makes this an unpretentious, authentic moral tale, if a bit slight. Hong’s priorities are different from other filmmakers; he eschews an adherence to film language decorum in favour of interrogating emotions and ideas that are important to him, in ways that make sense to him. Hong tells the story in long and dislogue-filled takes, done in a soft black-and-white that feels like pencil drawings, to extract deep and earnest confessions with a graceful touch that shudders with the life-shaking emotions at their core. While dealing with the trope of "relationships", Hong Sang-soo’s films have always been very philosophical without being moralistic. As in other Hong Sang-soo movies, time is malleable and capricious. The film has all the hallmarks of something unostentatious - except, it isn’t. This is actually trickster Hong Sang-soo working in his element, albeit more surreptitiously than we’re used to seeing. It is an oeuvre whose variations on a self-reflexive theme have increasingly become more revealing, more raw, and also more devastating. Elegantly shot in glorious, chilly, silky digital black-and-white, it plays with chronology in a way that seems both casual and musically precise. The film is buoyed by the cast’s nuanced performances that show that relationships don’t always turn out the way you expect. Hong Sang-soo’s films homes in on the essence of conversations, mining them for a drama of autobiographical rumination. It is a bit slight, which isn’t a problem, just an observation that it’s incredibly slice-of-life.

Simon says Hotel by the River (강변 호텔) receives:


Wednesday, 12 September 2018

TIFF Film Review: "Killing" ("斬") (2018).


From the director of Tesuo: The Iron Man and Fires on the Plain comes Killing (斬). This Japanese drama film written and directed by Shinya Tsukamoto. Set during the tumultuous mid-19th century Edo period in Japan, the film follows a restless ronin who is eager to leave his peaceful, quiet, and tranquil countryside life behind when the winds of war and conflicts begin to blow.

Serving as a companion piece to his previous effort, Tsukamoto made this film that focused on "his fears that, not just Japan after seven years of peace, but the world all over was moving slowly towards a state of war." He further added: "So when I made Fires on the Plain, thought that I had clearly expressed my fear, and that fear being received by many people all over the world. So perhaps I thought my fears and anxieties would subside, but it's been years, and my fears and anxieties are still there." Inspired by the films of his master, Akira Kurosawa, Tsukamoto's Killing stems from an idea the director had a few years ago: "A young ronin stares at his sword with ardour," questioning whether he'd be capable of killing a man with it, even if ordered to do so by his master. Tsukamoto said the stylish movie was a cry for peace. Tsukamoto said: "As I took in the current state of the world, I had an urge to let out (the film) like a scream." Tsukamoto then added: "The act of killing in the Edo Period was quite normal. I found many connections with our age, in which more and more people think that violence is an answer... I asked myself how a young person today would react if they found themselves in that period — would they be able to kill without hesitation?" Tskuamoto finally concluded: "That’s why I created a samurai that doesn’t want to kill anymore." The film features the final compositions and collaboration of Chu Ishikawa, who passed away on December 21, 2017, during the post-production stage. The score comprised of all the music he had composed throughout his career, as well as unreleased music, which Tsukamoto had to "piece it together."

The film stars Sosuke Ikematsu, Yū Aoi, Ryūsei Maeda, and Tsukamoto, who all gave powerful and remarkable performances that were attack on the senses and emotions, whilst providing modern takes on classic samurai film characters and archetypes. Ikematsu portrays a warrior without a war to fight. Aoi portrays the peasant girl who makes her feeling known for the hero, Maeda portrays the hot-blooded farmer's son who dreams of one day becoming a valiant samurai, and Tsukamoto himself portrays the mild-mannered, skilful ronin.

Never have I seen a more emotionally and physically visceral film than Killing. It is so purposely powerful, so full of violence and humanity, that I doubt if anyone can sit through it without feeling a little bit affected, whether psychologically and/or physically. That's how amazing it is.

Simon says Killing (斬) receives:


Friday, 7 September 2018

TIFF Film Review: "The Predator" (2018).


"The hunt has evolved" in The Predator. This science fiction horror action film directed by Shane Black and written by Black and Fred Dekker. It is the fourth installment in the Predator film series, following Predator (1987), Predator 2 (1990), and Predators (2010). From the outer reaches of space to the small-town streets of suburbia, the hunt comes home. Now, the universe's most lethal hunters are stronger, smarter and deadlier than ever before, having genetically upgraded themselves with DNA from other species. When a young boy accidentally triggers their return to Earth, only a ragtag crew of ex-soldiers and a disgruntled science teacher can prevent the end of the human race.

Talks for a new Predator installment began in June 2014, with Black confirmed as director and co-writer with Dekker, and John Davis as producer. After the success of Iron Man 3 (2013), Black was approached by 20th Century Fox with an Iron Man 3-sized budget to direct a new Predator movie. Initially conceived as a reboot of the franchise until Black came onboard and confirmed he would be making a sequel instead that would be fresh and reimagine the franchise in a "different, interesting way." In February 2016, Black confirmed the title would be The Predator, as well as the fact that the movie is set in the present day. By March 2017, Boyd Holbrook, Trevante Rhodes, Keegan-Michael Key, Olivia Munn, Thomas Jane, Alfie Allen, Sterling K. Brown, Augusto Aguilera, Jacob Tremblay, Yvonne Strahovski, and Jake Busey had signed on. Arnold Schwarzenegger turned down the opportunity to return as Dutch. Initially, Benecio del Toro and Edward James Olmos were originally supposed to star. However, due to scheduling conflicts, del Toro was replaced Holbrook, whereas Olmos was cut from the final movie, to reduce the movie's long running time. In continuity to the series, Busey plays the son of Peter Keyes, the government official from Predator 2. Peter Keyes was played by Gary Busey, Jake's real life father. Filming took place between February and June, in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, with the entire third act being reshot, in March 2018, following poor test screenings. Originally slated for a February 9, 2018 release date, it was however pushed to March 2, 2018, then once again to August 3, 2018, then finally to September 14, 2018. The movie premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival on September 7, 2018 as part of the festival's Midnight Madness section.

The film stars Holbrook, Rhodes, Key, Munn, Jane, Allen, Brown, Aguilera, Tremblay, Strahovski, and Busey. The movie boasts an all-star collection of larger-than-life characters - and the result is anything but mediocre. Every cast was given an opportunity to steal the show and were not at all wasted.

After 31 years and a string of subpar sequels, director Shane Black's The Predator is a bloody, action-packed, and humour-injected reboot that finally delivers a solid sequel to the Arnold Schwarzenegger B-movie classic, and takes the franchise back to its pulpy roots.

Simon says The Predator receives:



Also, see my review for The Nice Guys.

Wednesday, 5 September 2018

Film Review: "Searching" (2018).


"David Kim's daughter is missing. He can't find out where she is until he finds out who she is." This is Searching. This thriller film directed by Aneesh Chaganty, and written by Chaganty and Sev Ohanian. After David Kim's sixteen-year-old daughter goes missing, a local investigation is opened and a detective is assigned to the case. But thirty-seven hours later and without a single lead, David decides to search the one place no one has looked yet, where all secrets are kept today: his daughter's laptop. David must trace his daughter's digital footprints before she disappears forever.

Searching is the feature film directional debut of Chaganty, who set out to make the "Memento of screen movies." A far cry from other films with the same web-centred approach, such as Unfriended (2015). A thriller that would be entirely told through the point-of-view of screens, but at heart it would be a simpler story about a single dad trying to track down his missing daughter. The idea was first pitched to John Cho, who, ironically, had serious reservations after Chaganty "botched" his call with Cho. However, Chaganty did not give up, he then decided to arrange a FaceTime session, and then ultimately meet in person. The second time round, Cho readily agreed and joined the project. The project would ultimately be completed in a two-year window, with only a thirteen-day shooting schedule, due to pre-production and post-production work. With a seven-week head start on shooting, Chaganty and producer Sev Ohanian hired the editors and together they made a rough version of the film, with Chagnaty playing all of the characters, that lasted for an hour and forty minutes. They showed this version of the film to the crew before shooting began, in order to give everyone a feel for what they were making. While the film features computer operating systems, programs and (mostly) websites, they were re-created from scratch and animated. The film ultimately premiered at the Sundance Film Festival, where it would win multiple awards - including the Audience Award - and was scooped up by Sony’s Screen Gems division for $5 million. It was released in limited showings the second-to-last weekend of August, where it found itself in conversation with Crazy Rich Asians. Suddenly two very different films found themselves part of #AsianAugust.

The film stars Cho, Debra Messing, Joseph Lee, and newcomer Michelle La. The cast gave terrific performances that left every character under a digital microscope, shrouded in a haze of mystery and intrigue, as well as presenting unexpected factoids as the film delves deeper into the screens and its digital web.

Searching subverts the cliches to deliver a surprising entry in the mystery thriller genre with a technological twist. At times, the film can exasperating, in which we are trafficked to each reveal - through multi-screen clicking, copying, pasting and re-sizing, basically all-around multi-tasking. It can be trying to sit through, and I liken it to sitting over someone's shoulder watching them web-surf... endlessly. However, it was clever and innovative nonetheless.

Simon says Searching receives: