Wednesday, 26 September 2018

Film Review: "The House with a Clock on Its Walls" (2018).


"This house knows what makes you tick." This is The House with a Clock in its Walls. This family fantasy film directed by Eli Roth, adapted by Eric Kripke, based on the 1973 juvenile fiction novel of the same name by John Bellairs. Ten-year-old Lewis goes to live with his oddball uncle in a creaky old house that contains a mysterious `tick tock' noise. He soon learns that Uncle Jonathan and his feisty neighbour, Mrs Zimmerman, are powerful practitioners of the magic arts. When Lewis accidentally awakens the dead, the town's sleepy facade suddenly springs to life, revealing a secret and dangerous world of witches, warlocks and deadly curses.

Though it is the first theatrical adaptation of the novel, it is not the first adaptation. The story was first adapted as a television episode of CBS Library (1979). Screenwriter Eric Kripke was a fan of the book. He has even stated that the novel was the original inspiration of the long running CW television show, Supernatural (2005), which he created. He has also said that he wrote in a few Supernatural "Easter Eggs" as a way of paying tribute. The film marks as the first literary adaptation, the first Gothic family film, as well as the first movie not to be rated R for director Eli Roth. Which he was hired to helm the director's chair after the disastrous development of The Meg, Roth left the project after citing creative differences with Warner Bros. Principal photography on the film began in early October 2017.

The film stars Jack Black, Cate Blanchett, Owen Vaccaro, Kyle MacLachlan, Renée Elise Goldsberry, Sunny Suljic, and Lorenza Izzo. The cast gave terrific performances, in particular Black and Blanchett. Both of them fire up a stampede of comic terrors ready made for the film. Sure it's exhausting. But, knowing the film's audience, they let it rip.

The House with a Clock in Its Walls 
boasts more than enough kid-friendly charm from its spooky source material to make up for some slightly scattershot humour and a hurried pace. Nothing about the film is revolutionary, but it's a never-boring trip to a world, where stories and imagination are powerful tools, that just might inspire kids to do the scariest thing of all: pick up a book. The film isn't detached or ironic, nor does it pretend to be something it's not. It's a bonus for fans who pored over the books and it celebrates the fun side of things going bump in the night. It respects the novel you love while having fun with the characters and doing some interesting things with John Bellairs. Can you really ask for anything more than a wonderful celebration of John Bellairs' imagination? The film is not a faithful adaptation of the books, but it is a fun introduction to horror for kids. The film finds that balance, managing to capture not only the charm of Stine's work, but the scares as well, without straying too far in either direction.

Simon says The House with a Clock in Its Walls receives:


Tuesday, 25 September 2018

Film Review: "Fahrenheit 11/9" (2018).


"Tyrant. Liar. Racist. A Hole in One." This is Fahrenheit 11/9. This political documentary by filmmaker Michael Moore. Moore predicted that Donald Trump would become the 45th president of the United States. Traveling across the country, Moore interviews American citizens to get a sense of the social, economic and political impact of Trump's victory. Moore also takes an in-depth look at the media, the Electoral College, the government agenda and his hometown of Flint, Michigan.

In May 2017, Moore and producers Harvey and Bob Weinstein partnered to produce and distribute the film. The Weinsteins planned to fund $2 million out of $6 million in a documentary deal. However, after the Harvey Weinstein sexual abuse allegations emerged in the following October, the Weinsteins did not provide the funding. As a result, Moore laid off the crew and shut down development of the documentary. Before resuming production on the film, Moore focused on putting on a Broadway show, The Terms of My Surrender, which ran for 12 weeks. Production of the documentary eventually resumed with between $4 million and $5 million in private funding. As part of filming, Moore made a clandestine visit to the Florida resort Mar-a-Lago owned by President Trump and mingled at the resort for 15 minutes before being escorted out by security. The film's title refers to November 9, when Trump's 2016 presidential win was announced. The title simultaneously serves as a callback to Moore's 2004 political documentary Fahrenheit 9/11.

Fahrenheit 11/9 is less an exposé of Donald Trump than a dramatization of what Moore sees as a failed and dangerous presidency. Extremely one-sided in its indictment of the Trump administration, but worth watching for the humour and the debates it’ll stir. Little of this information is new, but Moore packages what’s already known about Trump and his presidency into a piece of rhetoric so persuasive that the Trump re-election campaign could spend the next three years trying to refute it. Moore’s fierce and funny film is not so much a documentary as a mythology, reducing geopolitical complexities to a neat, tawdry narrative. This is Moore’s least powerful film – the smallest in scope, the least resource and skilful in means – and the best things in it have little to do with his usual ideological take on American power and Donald Trump. However, Moore brings an interesting impact to familiar material by the way he marshals his images. This is the most comprehensive diatribe ever filmed against Trump and his cronies (even though, by necessity, its is focused primarily on Michigan). Sometimes slipshod in its making and, of course, it has no interest in overall fairness to Trump. But it vents an anger about this presidency that, as the film’s ardent reception shows, seethes in many of us. Much more than a scathing indictment of Bush-era complicity, Moore’s exposé lays bare the devastating heartbreak now central to America’s reality. People say Moore is Un-American for creating a documentary against the president, let alone two documentaries, well, it’s Un-American not to explore other’s views.

Simon says Fahrenheit 11/9 receives:



Also, see my review for Where to Invade Next.

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:



Also, see my review for The Day After (그 후).

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: