Sunday, 30 September 2018

Film Review: "Hold the Dark" (2018).

From Netflix and the director of Green Room comes Hold the Dark. This thriller film directed by Jeremy Saulnier, adapted by Macon Blair, and based on the novel of the same name by William Giraldi. Retired naturalist and wolf expert Russell Core journeys to the edge of civilization in northern Alaska at the pleading of Medora Slone, a young mother whose son was killed by a pack of wolves. As Core attempts to help Medora track down the wolves who took her son, a strange and dangerous relationship develops between the two lonely souls. But when Medora's husband Vernon returns home from the Iraq War, the news of his child's death ignites a violent chain of events. As local cop Donald Marium races to stop Vernon's vengeful rampage, Core is forced on a perilous odyssey into the heart of darkness.

In September 2015, it was announced that Saulnier would direct a cinematic adaptation of Giraldi's novel penned by Blair. In January 2017, Netflix acquired distribution rights to the film. By late February, Jeffrey Wright, Alexander Skarsgård, James Badge Dale, Riley Keough, and Peter McRobbie. At the same time, principal photography commenced, and wrapped in late April. Filming took place throughout Alberta, Canada.

The film stars Wright, Skarsgård, Dale, Keough, and McRobbie. Wright is flat-out awesome in the role of the wolf-obsessed writer, and will undoubtedly be the selling point of the film. Skarsgård is splendidly sinister as Medora's American soldier husband, while writer-director Jeremy Saulnier certainly knows what he's doing.

Smart, rough, brutal, gnarly, utterly unpredictable from one nail-biting moment to the next and completely unforgettable, this movie is unlike anything you've ever seen before, or are likely to see again. The film is savage genre filmmaking, but behind the maulings and murder is intelligence and quiet morality. This film proves again that Saulnier is one of the most dynamic and interesting filmmakers working today. The film makes the most of its isolated settings, choosing to make a more visual impact using gruesome violence rather than witty lines and flashy stunts. The story conceptualization is strong and beyond believable, and thanks to a gritty no holds barred authenticity, is resonant, frightening and fun. It is a film that deserves to be rewatched. It's really hard to articulate how well-made this movie is. I've watched it at least five times and still want to come back for more. The film is a survival thriller that understands the importance of constantly establishing the stakes, raising them higher, and letting people enjoy watching characters try to get out of the increasingly small corner they've put themselves in. It is an uncompromising survival film which, aside from that easy descriptor, defies expectation at every turn and feels like something audiences have truly never seen before. The film is a ruthless tale of savagery that will excite and shock audiences. What takes this film to the next level is that it has all these traits while also having substance.

Simon says Hold the Dark receives:

Also, see my review for Green Room.

Thursday, 27 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:

Also, see my review for Death Wish (2018).

Wednesday, 26 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.

Sunday, 23 September 2018

'Once Upon a Time in Canada' Chapter 53.

I started the day with work, of course. I made my way home, washed up and cooled down. I then made my back down for my first NHL game! My first order of business is to grab some food before the game. I needed to recharge my batteries from an early and long shift at work. Of course, it was hell. But this time round would be "the same old shit, different day", and it might as well be.

The main problem was the usual deal of dealing with shitty tourists treating my co-workers and I like trash. This time, it was particularly shitty. I was drained by the time my shift was over, and was glad when I made my way out. The rest of the day was just enjoying the rest of the day.

Then I made my way to Scotiabank Arena after I had my early dinner. The arena, outside and inside, was teaming with people and was jam-packed. One at a time, the people in line, including myself, was passing through security. I got through with no hassle. Last time I was at a sports game was the NZIHL Preseason game between Botany Swarms and the West Auckland Admirals, back in May 2017. Huh… in this case, it’s rather fitting to mention. The inside of the arena was impressive. And I mean it. But I couldn’t exactly take photos the way I wanted due to being packed with people. It was time to make my way to my seat.

I waited in eager anticipation for the game to start, and then I watched the entire time as the game unfolded. To make things even better, the Maple Leafs won! I’m not the biggest sports fan, but at that moment, I couldn’t have been happier to be there and witness a victory for the home team. No, it was nothing like I’ve ever been to. It’s just something so amazing to be a part of. It’ll be something I want to be a part of for the rest of my time here.

Also, see Chapters 52 and 54.

Film Review: "Quincy" (2018).

"A life beyond measure." This is Quincy. This documentary film co-written and co-directed by Alan Hicks and Rashida Jones. This documentary profiles music and culture icon Quincy Jones, offering unprecedented access to his private life and stories from his unparalleled career.

Since his birth on March 14, 1933, Quincy Delight Jones Jr. has since gone on to become one of the world's most well known record producers, multi-instrumentalists, singers, composers, arrangers, and film and television producers, with a career spanning over six decades in the entertainment industry. He has recorded over two-thousand, nine-hundred songs, over three-hundred albums, fifty-one film and television scores, and over a thousand original compositions. Which has garnered seventy-nine Grammy nominations, twenty-seven Grammy awards, as well as being one of eighteen E.G.O.T winners (Emmy Grammy, Oscar and Tony), especially for Thriller, the best selling album of all time, and We Are the World, the best selling single of all time. He is also known for his philanthropic work, raising $63 million for famine relief in Africa. 

Jones came to prominence in the 1950s as a jazz arranger and conductor, before moving on to work in pop music and film scores. In 1969 Jones and his songwriting partner Bob Russell became the first African-Americans to be nominated for an Academy Award for Best Original Song, for The Eyes of Love from the film Banning (1967). Jones was also nominated for an Academy Award for Best Original Score for his work on In Cold Blood (1967), making him the first African-American to be nominated twice in the same year. In 1971 he became the first African-American to be the musical director and conductor of the Academy Awards ceremony. In 1995 he was the first African-American to receive the Academy's Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award. He has tied with sound designer Willie D. Burton as the second most Oscar-nominated African-American, with seven nominations each. Jones was the producer, with Michael Jackson, of Jackson's albums Off the Wall (1979), Thriller (1982), and Bad (1987), as well as the producer and conductor of We Are the World (1985). In 2013, Jones was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame as the winner, alongside Lou Adler, of the Ahmet Ertegun Award. He was named one of the most influential jazz musicians of the 20th century by Time magazine. In early August 2018, it was announced that Netflix had acquired the documentary.

An intimate and ultimately fascinating peek inside the world of Quincy Jones, Quincy will inspire and engage audiences in equal measure. If you were in the dark about the man behind musicians like Michael Jackson, this documentary may prove educational. For everyone else, it's a necessary, and salutary, study. Indeed a comprehensive documentary on the iconic musical figure. The fact that it accomplishes so much in just over two hours is a testament to the love and respect Jones' own daughter Rashida imbues. It rightfully weaves the music around its narrative, which by the way, is some of the greatest American music ever made.

Simon says Quincy receives:

Saturday, 22 September 2018

Series Review: "Maniac" (2018).

"Once you begin to appreciate the, structure of the mind, there's no reason anything about us can't be changed. Pain can be destroyed. The mind can be solved." This is Maniac. This psychological dark comedy-drama web miniseries created by Patrick Somerville, directed by Fukunaga, and based on the Norwegian television series of the same name by Espen PA Lervaag, Håakon Bast Mossige, Kjetil Indregard, and Ole Marius Araldsen. It follows two strangers who are drawn to a mysterious pharmaceutical trial that will, they're assured, with no complications or side-effects whatsoever, solve all of their problems, permanently. Things do not go as planned.

In late March 2016, it was announced that Paramount Television and Anonymous Content were producing a television series with Fukunaga at the helm. Alongside the initial series announcement, it was reported that Emma Stone and Jonah Hill would executive produce and star in the series. The series was then being shopped to various networks and was searching for a writer. Less than a week later, it was announced that Netflix was finalizing a deal for a straight-to-series order for a first season consisting of ten episodes. In late October 2016, it was announced that Patrick Somerville would write the series. By mid August 2017, Justin Theroux, Sonoya Mizuno, Gabriel Byrne, and Sally Field rounded out the cast. At the same time, principal photography commenced, and wrapped in late November. Filming took place in New York City. In late July 2018, it was announced during the annual Television Critics Association's summer press tour that the series would premiere on September 21, 2018.

The series stars Stone, Hill, Theroux, Mizuno, Byrne, and Field. The journey is aided immeasurably by the casting of Hill and Stone. Their dark, sensitive eyes and a probity about them that wins you to their side. Stone is wonderful as a downer spirit that's surprisingly funny and human. She hasn't had such a meaty role in a while, and she plays it just right. Hill nails the part, winning audience sympathy from the opening moments. It's rarely a compliment when I refer to an actor as straitjacketed, but the straitjacketing of Hill and Stone is fiercely poignant. You see all that manic comic energy imprisoned in these ordinary yet messed up people, with the anarchism peeking out and trying to find a way to express itself.

Propelled by Somerville's smart, imaginative script and Fukunaga's equally daring directorial touch, Maniac is a twisty yet heartfelt look at love and the mind. It's amiable, and it does a surprisingly good job of sidestepping psych ward comedy clichés, but given its talented cast and directors, the series should be more than just mildly entertaining. This is a cerebral, formally and conceptually complicated, dense with literary allusions and as unabashedly romantic as any movie or series you'll ever see. The formidable Fukunaga/Somerville/Hill/Stone collaboration works marvel after marvel in expressing the bewildering beauty and existential horror of being trapped inside one's own addled mind, and in allegorising the self-preserving amnesia of a broken but hopeful heart.

Simon says Maniac receives:

Also, see my review for Beasts of No Nation.

Friday, 21 September 2018

Film Review: "Nappily Ever After" (2018).

"Let yourself grow." This is at the heart of Nappily Ever After. This romantic comedy film directed by Haifaa al-Mansour, adapted by Adam Brooks and Cee Marcellus, and based on the novel of the same name by Trisha R. Thomas. When a perfectionist ad exec experiences a romantic setback, she embarks on a journey of self-discovery that begins with a dramatic hair makeover.

Since 2003, the project was in development at Universal Pictures with Patricia Cardoso to direct, Tina Gordon Chism to pen the script, which was later rewritten by Lisa Loomer, and Halle Berry on board to star. In mid August 2017, it was announced that the project was now in development at Netflix with al-Mansour to direct,  Brooks and Marcellus to pen a new script, and Sanaa Lathan was cast to play the lead role. By late August, Ernie Hudson, Lyriq Bent, Lynn Whitfield, Ricky Whittle, Camille Guaty, and Brittany S. Hall. Around the same time, principal photography commenced, and filming took place in Atlanta, Gerogia. Just like her character, Lathan actually shaved off her hair for the role prior to filming.

The film stars Lathan, Hudson, Bent, Whitfield, Whittle, Guaty, and Hall. The cast gave solid performances though they were performances that you would expect from films of this nature and genre. Although, Lathan as the protagonist gives a great performance. She's strong, funny, vulnerable and sweet depending on what the situation calls for. There's a sense of hope that resonates with a character as confident as Violet that can't be ignored. The character will no doubt serve to empower many young African-American women.

As with the best work of Sofia Coppola, Spike Lee, etc, al-Mansour's sweet-natured film offers both fun and thought provocation for younger and older audiences alike, belying its complexity with a universal tale that speaks to the many. This delightful film by Saudi filmmaker Al-Mansour uses a woman's shaved head as a metaphor for rebellion within a socially-strict circumference. A staggeringly assured cine-essay on female empowerment. The film isn't angry or sentimental. Rather it ends up being a heart-warming and positive story with some laughs and tears along the way. In presenting fine details and focusing on her characters rather than just solely on a social agenda, Al-Mansour has created a delightful little movie that just happens to be set against an imperfect and shallow society. Rather than making a grand social statement, the film excels in its quieter and more intimate moments. Al Mansour uses the simple story as our entry into a recognisably complex culture and a pointed perspective on how African-American women, and women in gerneral, are treated in American society. The film is a well-intentioned yet terminally uneven endeavor. It's simplistic but charming. On the most basic level, the film is a wonderful piece of filmmaking. It's a tale that's delightful and insightful and gently empowering, and Al-Mansour tells it with economy, lyricism and terrific warmth. Free from ranting or raving, this quiet celebration of female empowerment is one first step towards righting centuries of repressive wrong.

Simon says Nappily Ever After receives:

Also, see my review for Mary Shelley.

Wednesday, 19 September 2018

Film Review: "Mandy" (2018).

From the director of Beyond the Black Rainbow comes Mandy. This action horror film directed by Panos Cosmatos, and co-written by Cosmatos and Aaron Stewart-Ahn. Pacific Northwest. 1983 AD. Outsiders Red Miller and Mandy Bloom lead a loving and peaceful existence. When their pine-scented haven is savagely destroyed by a cult led by the sadistic Jeremiah Sand, Red is catapulted into a phantasmagoric journey filled with bloody vengeance and laced with fire.

In early June 2017, Nicolas Cage was announced as the star of an action horror film with Cosmatos as director, and penned by Cosmatos and Stewart-Ahn. During a recent interview with GQ Magazine, Cage disclosed that when Cosmatos first approached him to be in the film, he wanted him to play the role of the cult leader, Jeremiah Sand, but Cage said he wanted to play Red instead. Panos told him this was a story about old age vs youth and he didn't think he was right to play Red; no agreements were able to be made. A year later, through producer Elijah Wood, they met again to talk about the film, and this time they explored more in detail the themes of love and the loss of love within the film and they discussed those same themes within their personal lives and by this time, everything just clicked and Panos then felt totally confident in Cage playing Red. In an interview with UK Guardian newspaper, Cage revealed that his fourteen year marriage and divorce to Alice Kim served as an inspiration for his performance. By early July, Andrea Riseborough was cast in the title role, with Linus Roache, Richard Brake, Ned Dennehy, Olwen Fouéré, and Bill Duke. At the same time, principal photography commenced, and wrapped in late August. Filming took place in Chaudfontaine and Landelies, Belgium. The film was shot on the Arri Alexa Mini and Arri Alexa XT Studio cameras with Panavision Primo Anamorphic, Panavision Primo, AWZ and Angenieux HR Lenses, in order to achieve the film's old-school atmosphere. The chainsaw fight had to be filmed in one night which Cosmatos described as "a straight up living hell" to shoot. The film is dedicated to the memory of the composer Jóhann Jóhannsson, who tragically passed away on February 9, 2018.

The film stars Cage, Riseborough, Roache, Brake, Dennehy, Fouéré, and Duke. Cage gives another deliciously over-the-top performance in this hallucinatory revenge action horror. Cage in particular is very much in his element, proving his reputation as an undisciplined weirdo is less than deserved. His performance is one long freakout, but a carefully calibrated one, escalating as the situation deteriorates. This film is the Cagiest that Cage has been in years - and that's, very much, a good thing.

Cosmatos has created a nightmarish world that's aggravating, hypnotic, and original. For devotees of action horror cinema at its most synapse-frying and voluptuously horrifying, the mother lode is exactly what Cosmatos delivers. There's much to admire about Cosmatos' sophomore effort, but the end result is admittedly not for all tastes.

Simon says Mandy receives:

Sunday, 16 September 2018

'Once Upon a Time in Canada' Chapter 52.

The Toronto International Film Festival is finally here! It’s THE event of the year. It’s for people like me. I really wanted to go this year. I wanted to be able to attend this year! I don’t think that’s too much to ask. In my mind, it seems simple. I just need to line up to get the tickets. But, of course, it’s a lot harder to execute than imagined. I started to plan it out, and I had a plan. It mostly relied on me getting a day off on the day when the tickets go on sale, and have a place to sleep over when I’m downtown. Goddamn!

Anyway, my plan started to gain momentum when I went into work and somehow managed to get the day off. Fortunately, one of my managers bought my story of my ‘aunt’ suffering from a car accident and was going to be released from the hospital on the day I’m supposed to get the tickets as a legitimate excuse to have the day off that day. Then the problem was to find a place I could stay until the morning of the day. If someone I knew would not mind this, I wouldn’t have to worry as much anymore. I then had to ask Michael if I could stay over, and luckily, he said I could (in exchange, I had to take him with me to see either Halloweenor The Predator). When the day came, I spent the day figuring everything out, and getting prepared for everything I needed. I absolutely could not fuck this up! So I triple-checked everything. I even made a ‘to-do’ list.

The day came. Everything was set. If I stick to the plan, I can pull it off and have my victory. The end result won’t be a hundred per cent come true, but that shouldn’t matter too much. As long as I wake up early enough, get to the box office, and get majority of the tickets I desire. I only need not to worry too much. I finished work, made my way home, packed up for the day, and made my way down to Michael’s place. Then I had to spend the majority of my time waiting for Michael to return home so that I could relax, sleep and be prepared to wake up at 5am in the morning. That was all I did for that day and the actual day. Might not seem that interesting or much, but it’s much more interesting, it was hard work, and it took all day. Now it is time!

I got up at exactly 5am, as planned. Theoretically, with my plan, I should still have time to wash up and get there before 6am, and be one of the first in line. And, long and behold, I was right! I managed to there as I had hoped, and was among the top ten people lining up there. Then I played the waiting game. Finally, the time came and finally, I got the tickets! Not exactly all the tickets I had desired, but still I got the tickets for Shane Black’s The Predator, Shinya Tsukamoto’s Killing, and Hong Sang-soo’s Hotel by the River. For the first film, Michael and I got to attend the midnight North American premiere of The Predator, and got to see Boyd Holbrook, Trevante Rhodes, Olivia Munn, Keegan-Michael Key, Augusto Aguilera, Jake Busey, as well as Fred Dekker and Shane Black. For the second film, my favourite, I got to see and meet Shinya Tsukamoto to my utter surprise. I had been a fan of Tsukamoto, as well as the Tetsuofilms, since my second year of university in 2014. Finally, this one was rather disappointing, Hong Sang-soo was supposed to appear for a Q&A, but he had to cancel in the last minute.

Also, see Chapters 51 and 53.

Saturday, 15 September 2018

TIFF Film Review: "Searching for Ingmar Bergman" (2018).

From master filmmaker Margarethe von Trotta comes Searching for Ingmar Bergman. This documentary film directed by von Trotta and Bettina Böhler, and written by von Trotta and Felix Moeller. On the 100th anniversary of his birth, internationally renowned director Margarethe von Trotta examines Ingmar Bergman’s life and work with a circle of his closest collaborators as well as a new generation of filmmakers. This documentary presents key components of his legacy, as it retraces themes that recurred in his life and art and takes us to the places that were central to Bergman’s creative achievements.

The Seventh Seal (1957), Wild Strawberries (1957), Persona (1966), Cries and Whispers (1972), and Fanny and Alexander (1982), just to name a few, are all part of the body of work of renowned Swedish filmmaker, Ernst Ingmar Bergman. Born on 14th July 1918, Bergman is considered to be among the most accomplished and influential filmmakers of all time. Bergman directed over sixty films and documentaries for cinematic release and for television screenings, most of which he also wrote. He also directed over 170 plays. He eventually forged a creative partnership with his cinematographers Gunnar Fischer and Sven Nykvist. Among his company of actors were Harriet and Bibi Andersson, Liv Ullmann, Gunnar Björnstrand, Erland Josephson, Ingrid Thulin and Max von Sydow. Most of his films were set in Sweden, and many films from Through a Glass Darkly (1961) onward were filmed on the island of Fårö. Bergman retired from filmmaking in 2003 and passed away on 30th July 2007. Philip French referred to Bergman as "one of the greatest artists of the 20th century ... he found in literature and the performing arts a way of both recreating and questioning the human condition." Director Martin Scorsese commented; "If you were alive in the 50s and the 60s and of a certain age, a teenager on your way to becoming an adult, and you wanted to make movies, I don't see how you couldn't be influenced by Bergman ....It's impossible to overestimate the effect that those films had on people."

Searching for Ingmar Bergman is one of the most honest and overflowing portraits of a film artist that I can remember seeing. Unveiling aspects of the artist and the man previously unknown, this lovingly constructed documentary will leave you with a fresh appetite to revisit Bergman's filmography in as much detail as presented throughout. This is a perfect primer who anyone new to Bergman, while it boasts enough fresh material to make it worthwhile for those seeking deeper insights. It is a brilliant legacy of sensibility, purity, transcendence and aesthetic that is much more understood after seeing the complex portrait of the man. Regardless of the skittish structure and illegible subtitles, this is a valuable reflection on an incalculably influential career, which serves as a timely reminder about the pitfalls of artistic tyranny. It is a valuable reminder of greatness as vivid and bright as dreams, flickering behind your eyes.

Simon says Searching for Ingmar Bergman receives:

Also, see my TIFF Review for Hotel by the River.

Friday, 14 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 reviews for The Day After (그 후) and Killing.

Thursday, 13 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:

Also, see my TIFF review for Happy Hour (ハッピーアワー).

Tuesday, 11 September 2018

Film Review: "The Nun" (2017).

"Witness the Darkest Chapter in The Conjuring Universe" with The Nun. This gothic supernatural horror film directed by Corin Hardy and written by Gary Dauberman. It is a spin-off of 2016's The Conjuring 2 and the fifth installment in the Conjuring Universe franchise. When a young nun at a cloistered abbey in Romania takes her own life, a priest with a haunted past and a novitiate on the threshold of her final vows are sent by the Vatican to investigate. Together they uncover the order's unholy secret. Risking not only their lives but their faith and their very souls, they confront a malevolent force in the form of the same demonic nun that first terrorized audiences in 'The Conjuring 2,' as the abbey becomes a horrific battleground between the living and the damned.

In mid June 2016, five days after the successful release of The Conjuring 2, the "Demon Nun" proved to be a popular horror antagonist. Thus, Warner Bros, Pictures and New Line Cinema announced a spin-off film focusing on the character, making her the second character from the franchise to get her own feature after Annabelle (2014), with an initial script penned by David Leslie Johnson. In mid February 2017, it was announced that Hardy was hired to direct with a new script penned by Dauberman. During the filming of Annabelle: Creation (2017), Safran revealed that the film would chronologically come first in the Conjuring Universe, making it a further prequel to The Conjuring series and Annabelle series. By early May, Demián Bichir, Taissa Farmiga, Jonas Bloquet, Charlotte Hope, and Ingrid Bisu were cast, with Bonnie Aarons reprising her role. At the same time, principal photography commenced, and wrapped in late June. Filming took place in Bucharest, Romania. The film was originally set for a mid-July 2018 release date, but was pushed back closer to September 7, in hopes of replicating the commercial success of It (2017) the year prior.

The film stars Bichir, Farmiga, Bloquet, Hope, Bisu, and Aarons. The best performance in the film came from... nobody. Nobody at all. What a shame.

Nothing more than a case of a studio trying to cash in on the previous film. It's dull, predictable and really dumb. With no time wasted on comic relief as it takes itself surprisingly seriously, Hardy leaves most of the heavy lifting to our own familiarity with the basic material and our lowered expectations with carbon copy. In the hands of a better creative team, an all-Demon Nun film might have been a grand slam. Here it's a bloop single, narrowly avoiding a tag out on the basepaths. Watching the film is like watching a movie you've seen a dozen times before, just with different actors and slight variations on the same scare tactics. For much of its running time, the film is so bereft of ideas for scare tactics that when the Demon Nun isn't involved, it's hard to differentiate it from any other domestic horror movie that's ever come out.

Simon says The Nun receives:

Saturday, 8 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 reviews for The Nice Guys and Donbass.

Friday, 7 September 2018

TIFF Film Review: "Donbass" ("Донбас") (2018).

From the director of Maidan comes Donbass (Донбас). This dark comedy drama film written and directed by Sergei Loznitsa. The film's thirteen segments explore a society that begins to degrade as the effects of propaganda and manipulation begin to surface in the Ukraine.

Beginning in March 2014, in the aftermath of the 2014 Ukrainian revolution, the Euromaidan movement and the annexation of Crimea, protests by both pro-Russian and anti-government groups took place in the Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts of Ukraine, commonly collectively called the "Donbass". The demonstrations escalated into an armed conflict between the 'separatist' forces of the self-declared Donetsk and Luhansk People's Republics, and the Ukrainian government. Which saw the "humanitarian convoy", as dubbed by Russia, crossed the border into Ukrainian territory without permission of the Ukrainian government. Crossings occurred both in areas under the control of pro-Russian forces and in areas that were not under their control, such as the south-eastern part of Donetsk Oblast, near Novoazovsk. As a result, DPR and LPR insurgents regained much of the territory they had lost during the Ukrainian government's preceding military offensive. Russia's official position on the presence of Russian forces in Donbass has been vague. But in reality, the purpose of the 'separatists' is to take over Ukraine as a whole and the Ukrainian military forces are there to stop them. To preserve the Donetsk and Luhansk People's Republics so that it gives them a leverage in Ukrainian politics to stop the country from moving towards the west. In other words, the DNR are bargaining chips to drain Ukraine of its economy and resources so that the nation can not integrate into Europe. The conflict has resulted in more than twenty failed ceasefires, each intended to remain in force indefinitely, but none of them stopped the violence. This conflict has become the world's 'forgotten' war and is the most significant conflict fought on European soil since the break-up of Yugoslavia (1991-99).

The film features an ensemble cast of unknowns who play everything from a fake news crew member to a local deputy to a German Journalist to normal civilians affected by the war with family members torn by social status. Every character has their own personal hell. By the same merit, there can be a 'personal hell' for entire nations. Through the cast, we explore a myriad of diverse people in everyday roles and situations during the conflict. But the film lacks a protagonist or two who we can latch onto, pour our emotions onto and truly follow through it all.

Donbass is a brutally realist movie – at least at first – that takes its citizens and politicians on a pilgrimage into the vast, trackless forest of national suffering. All kinds of grim, including both the good and the bad kinds, the film from Belarus-born Loznitsa peers deep into the soul of the Russian-supported Donetsk People's Republic and finds there an unfathomable blackness. However, the film, at times, is Loznitsa's cri de cœur, both exhausted and exhausting.

Simon says Donbass (Донбас)receives:

Also, see my review for Maidan (Майдан).

Thursday, 6 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:

Monday, 3 September 2018

'Once Upon a Time in Canada' Chapter 51.

The worst part about working is when you have to move whilst you’re working. I had lived at Dan Leckie Way for a year and now that my lease had come to an end, it was time that I moved. Goddamn! Seriously though, it sucked. It was a two-day plan to move all of my stuff to the new place. I planned to move all of the stuff out before I moved in on September 1st(or even August 31st), and I swear to God I’ll rip my own hair out if I have to move again like the way I did for the new place.

I needed a new place in a new environment that was away from the hustle-and-bustle of downtown Toronto. And yes, I found that new place in Willowdale Avenue, between Sheppard-Yonge and Finch in North York. I needed some peace and quiet, not cars honking and other loud, annoying noises, even if I was back in a suburban environment. So when the time drew near, I started making plans and arrangements. Sometime after I’ve finally moved in, I could relax while my batteries recharge from all the hard, arduous work. I could lie down on my new bed comfortably while napping.

I had sacrificed some of my stuff, including my food, but that wasn’t a huge problem. Even better, North York was an area full of great, or at least good, Asian restaurants. After I had unpacked my entire luggage, I made my way to Menami, a restaurant that I had meaning to go to for a long while, and now was the perfect opportunity. Luckily, it was only a ten-minute or so walk from the house. Also, while I was walking there, I found other interesting restaurants I could go to, as well as an H-Mart, which was less than ten minutes away by foot from the house. In an emergency, or any case, I can get to it fast.

The room is the basis of the lease, and entirely my responsibility, and not really the rest of the house. The room is not very big; not that much bigger than my room in my old apartment. But it has a desk, a plasma-screen TV, and a king-sized bed. My plan is to make the best out of not-the-best situations. That should give me something to think about while I’m getting adjusted to my new surroundings. For the house, I have to share the bathroom, the kitchen, the basement with the laundry machine, and everything else. If I had to go to the bathroom, cook; clean my laundry and/or anything else, I had to share and get used to everybody else that also inhabited the house. That’s not a huge issue. When I was done for the day, I finally lay myself on my new bed, in my new room, in my new place.

Also, see Chapters 50 and 52.

Saturday, 1 September 2018

'Once Upon a Time in Canada' Chapter 50.

You may be wondering what else I had been doing with my free time. Well… I spent a lot of time resting, watching movies, and doing any chores that needed to be done. You know, the usual stuff. Also, going to the CNE with Michael.

The CNE is the annual event that takes place at Exhibition Place. In case you’ve forgotten. The only problem was navigating through the massive crowd. But the day was nonetheless fun as it was last year. I had a rough but fun time during the entire day. It wasn’t exactly easy due to the heat, but I’m lucky I got to sit down indoors for half of the time. I didn’t expect that would be the case, given the amount of people wandering around.

Michael has a relatively chilled and "I don’t give a rat’s ass" attitude toward the whole thing, or anything for that matter. But between this and just staying at home doing chores. There’s was no question that I was going with the former. Things will be interesting while hanging out with Michael, but that’s expected with him whenever I, or anyone else, hangs out with him.

I do have one thing going for me. And on these kinds of occasions, it’s always a gift. For this kind of event, I definitely got some good photos. Between the time we arrived and the time we left, I got more than a hundred shots. The other hundred had to be deleted, as they proved well not good. Especially the ones that had too many people passing by the camera and blocking the subject. Ugh! Anyways, it was awesome.

Also, see Chapters 49 and 51.