Wednesday, 31 October 2018

Film Review: "Johnny English Strikes Again" (2018).

"When only the best will do. And no-one else is available." Get ready, Johnny English Strikes Again. This action comedy film directed by David Kerr, written by William Davies, based on the characters by Davies, Neal Purvis, and Robert Wade. It is a sequel to Johnny English Reborn and the third instalment in the Johnny English series. The new adventure begins when a cyber-attack reveals the identity of all active undercover agents in Britain, leaving Johnny English as the Secret Service's last hope. Called out of retirement, English dives head first into action with the mission to find the mastermind hacker. As a man with few skills and analog methods, Johnny English must overcome the challenges of modern technology to make this mission a success.

In May 2017, it was announced that Rowan Atkinson would be reprising the role of Johnny English in the sequel to Johnny English Reborn. Marking Atkinson's first movie trilogy. It's rumoured that this will be the last Johnny English movie and that Atkinson will play the role for the last time after 15 years. In early August 2017, Working Title Films announced that they had begun production and filming with the director David Kerr. Ben Miller, Olga Kurylenko, Jake Lacy, and Emma Thompson rounded the cast. Miller reprises his role as Bough from Johnny English (2003). He did appear in Johnny English Reborn, however his scenes were cut. Kurylenko was cast in leading role that would be a spoof of her Bond girl in Quantum of Solace (2008). Thompson was cast in a supporting role, which was kept a secret during production. Which was not revealed until the debut of the theatrical trailer. Principal photography took place in Welham Green, Hertfordshire; Gloucestershire; and the Saint Aygulf beach, Var, France. Like the previous films, the production utilized one of Atkinson's car. This time it's an Aston Martin V8 Vantage classic. In an interview, Atkinson told that he bought the car just six months before shooting, and had the car in mind for the film. In early April 2018, the title was revealed to be Johnny English Strikes Again, with a teaser trailer released the day after.

It stars Atkinson, Miller, Kurylenko, Jake Lacy, and Thompson. The cast may not have given the best performances but it was performances that were hilarious.Atkinson gave another hilarious performance as the "iconic" spy. , Miller like Atkinson, also gave a hilarious performance who always seems to keep English in check most of the time. Kurylenko gave a sleek performance despite her lack of chemistry with Atkinson. Lacy proved to be one of the least threatening villains in the series, despite being a slight improvement on the last one. Finally, Thompson gave a more contrasted performance to Atkinson, despite leaving behind moments of very sardonic humour.

While the film is messy and doesn't make much sense, Johnny English Strikes Again, the third instalment of the franchise, contains enough inspired bits to entertain. Definitely funnier than its predecessor.

Simon says Johnny English Strikes Again receives:

Also, see my review for Johnny English Reborn.

Film Review: "Mid90s" (2018).

"Fall. Get back up." This is Mid90s. This coming-of-age comedy-drama film written and directed by Jonah Hill, in his directorial debut. The film follows Stevie, a thirteen-year-old in 90s-era LA who spends his summer navigating between his troubled home life and a group of new friends that he meets at a Motor Avenue skate shop.

In late March 2016, it was announced that Hill would be making his directorial debut from his own spec script, and would not star. The film was inspired by Hill's days of being a skateboarder in his youth. Additionally, Hill said that Kids (1995), This Is England (2006), Ratcatcher (1999), and The Sandlot (1993) also served as inspirations. Hill then got advice from Martin Scorsese and Ethan Coen on the filmmaking process. By July 2017, Sunny Suljic, Lucas Hedges, and Katherine Waterston were cast. At the same time, principal photography commenced, and took place throughout Los Angeles, California.

The film stars Suljic, Hedges, and Waterston. The cast delivered bravura performances as the honestly genuine and mesmerizing characters. The film also gets great, moving performances from his young cast.

An edgy, engaging and easily believable coming-of-age portrait whose intimacy and plausibility probably derive from the fact that it was in part based on the real-life experiences of its writer/director. Hill's direction - luminous, real and charged - is excellent, but his script is so busy being amused by it's own excesses that it doesn't really tell us anything about the characters involved. None of the advance hype on the film can prepare you for the raw, stripped-down reality that Hill captures in his astonishing first film. The film shows what transpires when children are set adrift in a heartless world, and warns us what happens - and is already happening - in the absence of love and guidance. The film is an nostalgic sucker punch, a raw and honest piece of cinma vrit filmmaking that hooks you from its opening scenes. Hill obviously knows the middle class neighborhoods that he depicts. There's a grit and honesty to his film as he chronicles the mundane details of these kids' lives. Strong performances and powerful sense of time and place are almost enough to make a convincing argument for spending eight-five minutes yearning for 90s nostalgia. Superbly written and directed by Hill and featuring a terrific soundtrack, this is a compelling coming of age drama with a brilliant performance from Suljic. It throws a proverbial curveball at convention, relying instead on baseball's ultimate companion - nostalgia - to pluck its emotional and memorable strings. Here's another '90s movie that was beloved by 90s lovers, yet it probably won't hold the same charge for viewers not privy to that nostalgic vibe. This is a film for anyone who has ever loved baseball and for anyone who enjoys the American Graffiti style of narrative. Highly recommended. This is a film that allows its kids to be kids, that shows them in the insular world of imagination and dreaming that children create entirely apart from adult domains and values.

Simon says Mid90s receives:

Tuesday, 30 October 2018

Film Review: "Bel Canto" (2018).

From the director of About a Boy comes Bel Canto. This drama film directed by Paul Weitz, adapted by Weitz and Anthony Weintraub, and based on the novel of the same name by Ann Patchett. A famous American soprano becomes trapped in a hostage situation when she's invited to perform for a wealthy industrialist in South America.

In August 2016, it was announced that Julianne Moore and Ken Watanabe were cast in a cinematic adaptation of Patchett's novel with Weitz as director, and penned by Weitz and Weintraub. By mid February 2017, Sebastian Koch, Christopher Lambert, and Ryo Kase rounded out the film's cast. At the same time, principal photography commenced, and filming took place in Mexico, City, Mexico. As Moore is not a trained singer, she was coached to lip synch for her singing scenes. Reneé Fleming provided the singing voice for Moore.

The film stars Moore, Watanabe, Koch, Lambert, and Kase. To their credit, Moore and Watanabe actually gave committed performances for a change. But that doesn't mean what it once did. She might be guilty of showboating, but Moore's knockout performance is a declaration that the star of Boogie Nights and A Single Man isn't ready to hang up her gloves. I'm happy to report that Watanabe still has his chops. At least not quite. They have one of their best roles as people wavering between bravery and vulnerability.

This is a fine piece of writing, mixing tenderness and danger to an impressive degree. The film encompasses both lightning flashes of brutality and terror and long stretches of incarcerated ennui. Like Patchett, Weitz strained a bit too hard to highlight the terrorists' humanizing traits, which Patchett argued diminished the story's taut ambivalence, making some scenes near the end sound almost like accounts of a Boy Scout jamboree. I'm still not sure what this is all supposed to be about, save for a bunch of scenes that happened to somebody, sometime. The film is too dark to appeal to the faint of heart and too safe to draw in those looking for an honest portrayal of a troubled captor-captive relationship. The film bsolves Weitz for having made Little Fockers and makes up for most of his choices in the past few years. It's simply difficult to throw in with the film's reality-if not its essential story, then its details: the film feels indie art-directed instead of observed. It's captured a corner of a my imagination, getting me to think like I haven't in ages, and for all my mixed feelings those are traits I'll happily celebrate now and until the end of time. Weitz digs diligently for emotional truths and makes the most of his excellent cast. It's a complex emotional soup, taken from Patchett's novel, and one that demands much from all involved. Reactions to this film will depend on acceptance of the two men's performances, which are good despite some contrivances in circumstances that surround them.

Simon says Bel Canto receives:

Friday, 26 October 2018

'Once Upon a Time in Canada' Chapter 55.

I have to get prepared for Regis’ graduation. I’m off to congratulate the man and celebrate his accomplishment with him. I felt I should do this since he was a good friend of mine. Well… I’m ready. It’s time to head off.

I left at around 4pm. That gave me about two hours to get down and make it to AGO with plenty of time to spare. Then joined Michael at the AGO restaurant for food and drinks. And finally caught with the man of the hour. And boy was he over the moon and having the time of his life. And he wanted us to do the same.

Since it was rather early for the actual ceremony, all Michael and I did was the enjoy the rather fancy food and drinks laid out on the buffet table, and talked to some people. Now the day was getting very interesting, that kind of scares the shit out of me. In a good way. I need to be a situation like this. I asked myself, "What should I do?"

We drank and ate for a little while; we then made our way to the theatre, then found our seats and just enjoyed the show. Man, was it a show.

I’m making my way out of work. It’s not what it sounds. I have a ticket for the Toronto Raptors game: Toronto Raptors vs. Minnesota Timberwolves. There’s a grin on my face. But if the raptors lose, I’ll be dead inside. No point in thinking about that. But if that really happens, I’ll actually be very disappointed. That means I should hope and pray that wouldn’t be the outcome.

The stadium was pretty packed. When I entered, I was amazed. I then made my way through security, and then made my way to my seat. Also, I made sure to have my little tech bag with me, and if anything goes wrong, I’ll be ready to counter it; headphone cord just in case my headphone runs out of battery, iPhone cord just in case my phone runs out of battery, and a portable battery charger of course. And the game begins. Fingers crossed! By the end, the Raptors won! Thank God!

Also, see Chapters 54 and 56.

Wednesday, 24 October 2018

Film Review: "Halloween" (2018).

"Face your fate" with Halloween (2018). This slasher film directed by David Gordon Green, and written by Green, Jeff Fradley, and Danny McBride. It is the eleventh installment in the Halloween film series, and a direct sequel to the 1978 film of the same name, while retconing of all previous sequels. It's been 40 years since Laurie Strode survived a vicious attack from crazed killer Michael Myers on Halloween night. Locked up in an institution, Myers manages to escape when his bus transfer goes horribly wrong. Laurie now faces a terrifying showdown when the masked madman returns to Haddonfield - but this time, she's ready for him.

In 2011, a new Halloween movie was in development from Patrick Lussier and Todd Farmer, as well as well as Patrick Melton and Marcus Dunstan. However, in December 2015, after failing to develop a new Halloween movie in time, Dimension Films lost the production rights for a sequel. Ultimately, the rights reverted back to Miramax. In May 2016, Miramax partnered with Blumhouse Productions to co-finance, with original co-creator John Carpenter to shepherd the film, and with Universal Pictures distributing. In early February 2017, David Gordon Green and Danny McBride were announced as director and co-writers. In mid September, Jamie Lee Curtis announced on Twitter that she would be reprising her role as Laurie Strode for the film. Making this Curtis' fifth portrayal of Laurie Strode after Halloween (1978), Halloween II (1981), Halloween H20: 20 Years Later (1998), and Halloween: Resurrection (2002). In late December, it was announced that Nick Castle, who had portrayed Michael Myers in the original film, would reprise his role, with actor and stuntman James Jude Courtney set to portray Myers as well. By late July, Will Patton, Virginia Gardner, Haluk Bilginer, Jefferson Hall, Rhian Rees, and Toby Huss rounded out the cast, with Judy Greer and Andi Matichak winning the coveted roles of Laurie's daughter and granddaughter, Karen and Allyson. In October, it was announced that Carpenter would compose the score with his son Cody and his godson Daniel Davies. The film marks the return of Carpenter to composing since Ghost of Mars (2001). Principal photography commenced in mid January 2018, and concluded in mid February, under the working/production title of Uncle Orange. Filming took place in Charleston, South Carolina, lasting twenty-eight days.

The film stars Curtis, Greer, Matichak, Patton, Gardner, Bilginer, Hall, Rees, Huss, and Castle. Robust performances were given by the cast, particularly that of Curtis who returned to the role that defined her career and the Final Girl archetype. Instead of giving us the same Laurie from the first film, Curtis gave us a more prepared, well-armed, and bad-ass version, akin to Sarah Connor in Terminator 2: Judgement Day.

With Halloween, Green and McBride obviously know the franchise well and they built a film with the properly terrifying Halloween atmosphere through a well-crafted narrative. It's the most effective entry. Perhaps not quite so resonant as the original to which it pays due homage, but it nevertheless breathes the same air.

Simon says Halloween (2018) receives:

Also, see my review for Stronger.

Film Review: "Can You Ever Forgive Me?" (2018).

"Her greatest work will be her biggest crime" in Can You Ever Forgive Me? This biographical film directed by Marielle Heller, written by Nicole Holofcener and Jeff Whitty, and based on the confessional memoir of the same name by Lee Israel. Lee Israel made her living in the 1970s and '80s profiling the likes of Katharine Hepburn, Tallulah Bankhead, Estee Lauder and journalist Dorothy Kilgallen. When Lee is no longer able to get published because she has fallen out of step with current tastes, she turns her art form to deception, abetted by her loyal friend Jack.

In 2011, Sam Rockwell was set to play the character of Jack Hock. In April 2015, it was announced that Julianne Moore would play Israel, with Holofcener set to direct. In mid May, Chris O'Dowd joined the cast. In July, Moore and Holofcener dropped out of the project due to "creative conflicts." In May 2016, Melissa McCarthy was confirmed to have been cast as Israel, with Heller as director. By January 2017, Richard E. Grant, Jane Curtin, Ben Falcone, and Anna Deavere Smith rounded out the film's cast. At the same time, principal photography commenced, and wrapped in early March. Filming took place in New York City, New York.

The film stars McCarthy, Grant, Curtin, Falcone, and Smith. The film is a lighthearted yet heart-wrenching look at the making of a truly brilliant, if somewhat reluctant, con artist thanks to being fuelled by a wonderful performance from McCarthy and Grant. Arguably the most gifted comedians of her generation, McCarthy has definitely been a victim of her own success. McCarthy raging was all the hype there for a while after Bridesmaid (2010). By the end of the film, you'll understand why Grant needed to play the accomplice and the steps toward acting maturity McCarthy has already managed to take. A quick witted study of sneaky dualities: the story of a liar who falls victim to the undesired circumstances, starring an actress who's playing a very convincing actress.

Long and complex, the agility with which Heller directs the story of Lee Israel performed with incredible naturalness, promptness and charisma by McCarthy. I don't think anyone would argue that the film is one of the best films of the year. However, it is good enough and passes a pleasant couple of hours. Is this a light-hearted romp? Is this a psychological drama? Is it a thriller? Can it be all three? Not quite, Sort of. Uh Uh. And dear lord no. What could have been a great film is merely a good one, by way of forsaking the gritty details for directorial sleight of hand. This film got me grinning. There's a part of us that cannot help be entertained by the sight of someone getting away with something. Regardless of the outrageous elements of the plot, the talented people involved with this film made it into an enjoyable one. The film is slick as a salesman and shallow as a kiddie pool, it's more interested in the con than the consequences.

Simon says Can You Ever Forgive Me receives:

Friday, 19 October 2018

Film Review: "Illang: The Wolf Brigade" ("인랑") (2018).

"The human weapon called wolf." This is Illang: The Wolf Brigade (인랑). This South Korean science fiction action film directed by Kim Jee-woon and adapted by Kim and Jeon Cheol-hong. It is a live-action adaptation of the Japanese animated film Jin-Roh: The Wolf Brigade (1999). In 2029, the elite police squad Illang combats a terrorist group opposing reunification of the two Koreas. But another enemy may be lurking nearby.

In 2013, the film was announced with Kim in the director's chair and penning the script with Jeon, and financed by Union Investment Partners. Unlike Jin Roh, which is set in an alternate reality of 1950s Japan, the film sets the action in Korea and places the story ten years in the future. With a budget of 19 billion won (US$17.04 million), principal photography began in mid August 2017, and wrapped in late March 2018, with filming taking place at South Korea's filming complex Studio Cube. The militaristic Special Unit costumes were designed by Hollywood artist Vanessa Lee, who remained faithful to the designs in Jin Roh as much as possible. Before the film's South Korean release on July 25, Webtoon writer Yoon Tae-ho penned a prequel titled Illang: Prequel, which took place five years before the events of the film. It was developed by Kakao Pages and Daum Webtoon and was released on June 27, 2018, each chapter was released weekly that led up to the film's release.

The film stars Gang Dong-won, Han Hyo-joo, Jung Woo-sung, Kim Mu-yeol and Choi Min-ho. The cast gave confident performances. Gang gives Im Joong-kyung a tragic stature. He's a soldier torn between his duties and his emotions.

Cult director Kim Jee-woon delivers the goods with Illang: The Wolf Brigade, an ultra-stylish actioner. He keeps the suspense going for as long as possible with gorgeous cinematography, and bravura sequences. Consistently, astonishingly, relentlessly and ruthlessly brutal. Style may ultimately not triumph over content, but it's one hell of a fight. It fills the screen with enough show-stopping images to put an army out of work. It's carefully crafted chaos cloaked in gloriously gruesome colours. Mainstream audiences should get a kick out of this polished, often exciting militaristic action drama. But those looking for a deeper, mightier resonance would be well advised to keep their expectations in check. Several impressive action scenes sustain the tension and electrify this often hard-to-follow story. Parts of the movie are luridly enthralling, and its ugliness is strangely appealing. Yet it pushes too many buttons that eventually it becomes tiresome. I watched every frame attentively, and my mind was engaged with the action, but my heart was never in the story. While one might argue that it loses credibility and impact as it reaches further along the ledge of outrageous, tummy churning plot developments, there's no denying the turbulence it creates. It works best as a thrilling ride, a genre piece, not as a movie to gain insight into the human experience. Kim's frenzied thriller is entertaining to watch.

Simon says Illang: The Wolf Brigade (인랑) receives:

Also, see my review for The Age of Shadows (밀정).

Wednesday, 17 October 2018

Film Review: "First Man" (2018).

"Experience the impossible journey to the Moon." Experience First Man. This biographical drama film directed by Damien Chazelle, written by Josh Singer, based on the book First Man: The Life of Neil A. Armstrong by James R. Hansen. The film looks at the life of the astronaut, Neil Armstrong, and the legendary space mission that led him to become the first man to walk on the Moon on July 20, 1969.

In early 2003, Clint Eastwood and Warner Bros. bought the film rights to Hansen's book. In 2015, Universal and DreamWorks ultimately took up the project. After the release of Whiplash (2014), Damien Chazelle signed onto the film's production that year, and hired Josh Singer to rewrite an existing script. Chazelle wanted to approach this story as a thriller and make the public feel the dangers faced by the astronaut team. In November 2015, Gosling, who starred in Chazelle's La La Land (2016), joined the project to portray Armstrong. In November 2017, Principal photography began in Atlanta and Roswell, Georgia. Chazelle was particularly attached to making his film as authentic as possible. Chazelle, as well as Gosling, visited the Armstrong Air and Space museum in Armstrong's hometown of Wapakoneta, Ohio to do research on Armstrong and the Gemini VIII mission. This care for detail was maintained, even with the reproduction of the space capsules and Armstrong's home. For the space capsules, Chazelle and production designer Nathan Crowley agreed that no ship would be enlarged by more than 10%, even if it sacrificed the comfort of the actors. For Armstrong's home, using the original blueprints, the production crew built a replica of it in an empty lot in order to replicate the look of his house. Chazelle and cinematographer Linus Sandgren chose to shoot the Moon landing sequence on IMAX 70mm film as opposed to the 16mm and 35mm film the rest of the film was shot on. The sequence was shot in a local rock quarry at night. For the film's score, composer Justin Hurwitz featured various uncommon instruments including the theremin, Moog synthesizer and an Echoplex, which give the score its uniqueness. He also rerecorded a string orchestra being played back through a Leslie rotor cabinet to create special sound effects.

The film stars Gosling, Claire Foy, Jason Clarke, Kyle Chandler, Corey Stoll, Ciarán Hinds, Christopher Abbott, Patrick Fugit, and Lukas Haas. The cast gave stellar performances that were acted without pumped-up histrionics. It is because of the ensemble that the film is one hell of a ride from beginning to end.

In recreating the troubled space mission through the eyes of one of the legendary astronauts, First Man pulls no punches: it's a masterfully told drama from director Damien Chazelle, bolstered by an ensemble of solid performances. Chazelle lays off the manipulation to tell the true story of the dangerous 1969 Apollo 11 mission in painstaking and lively detail. It's easily one of the best films of the year. Although, I just wish that it worked better in the biographical drama department. Nonetheless, it's absolutely thrilling.

Simon says First Man receives:

Also, see my review for La La Land.

Tuesday, 16 October 2018

'Once Upon a Time in Canada' Chapter 54.

How the hell does anybody get around in a mall?! It’s late during the day. After a quiet morning of my usual breakfast and relaxing, I got a call from Michael. I was meet up with him and Herwin at a Swap meat. Well, it’s not like I’ve got anything better to do for the day. Anyways, as you might have guessed, I made my way there. The trip was long. Today was going to be quite a day.

First, I got dressed and got my stuff before I made my way out the door. I needed to walk to Sheppard-Yonge station since I wasn’t willing to wait for the bus to arrive, since it was a Sunday. Why wait for a bus to arrive in North York on a Sunday when I could just walk to the nearest station, which was fifteen to twenty minutes away by foot? Michael is good at making plans in the last minute, or when you least expect it. I am not. The dangerous part of this, to a certain degree, is to be prepared and get to the destination by a certain time in a certain amount of time. And I usually manage to get prepared and get there in time in a certain amount of time, just barely though. After twenty minutes of walking, I got on the Line 1 Southbound train. 

It was so much harder and longer to get down to downtown or anywhere south. Again, I managed anyway. I spent of the trip down just power napping. Then I made it on to the bus, leaving me with only fifteen minutes or so to get the destination. It took a little while to get there, and I was only a few minutes late (hey, I could have been even more late). It, however, was of no concern as Michael and Herwin had yet to arrive. Typical. Of Michael, of course. Then I sat around and waited. I waited. All was boring. I watched people walking back and forth to somewhat entertain myself. After almost thirty minutes of waiting for Michael, Herwin arrived. I got up and we just strolled around, waiting for Michael to arrive now.

You know, Michael has been rather a little bit more irresponsible these days. But neither Herwin, Belinda, Lena, his mother nor I could really do about it. A typical Michael situation, what could we do? I don’t know. So long as he didn’t act completely and utterly irresponsible. Once Michael had finally arrived, Herwin and I, with Michael, made our way around and did what we usually do. Then we wrapped up after nearly an hour there. I was getting a wee bit tired and hot, because it was a sunny day.

The three of us then made our way out. Then Michael called Belinda to see what she was up to, and how she was feeling. We were worried since she had to deal with a rather not-so-pleasant situation with one of her tenants, because she was our friend. Her response was not an optimistic one. The plan thus was take Belinda out somewhere where she can have some fun and forget about her problem. The plan then became a day for us to go to Vaughn and spend some time at the shopping mall there. Just like any other trip to a mall, we, or at least I, would spend hours and hours there walking around. And just like other trips before, this was one was no exception.

Originally, we planned to stay there for only a few hours, with Belinda, as she would go from store to store looking for whatever she was looking for. But we stayed there for the entire evening. She didn’t seem to mind it. Michael didn’t seem it mind it. But I somewhat did. Largely due to the amount of time spent walking around, especially in circles. By the end, I ran into a problem: I couldn’t get out of the mall and find them while they were waiting for me at the bus stop. There was no way for me to get out and join them without walking around in a gigantic circle, finding the right exit. It’s a little scary for someone like me for doesn’t really going to places like a mall, especially ones teaming with people. But I finally found the way out and got on the bus with them, making our way back home. I’ve done more than enough today, don’t you think?

Also, see Chapters 53 and 55.

Film Review: "Bad Times at the El Royale" (2018).

"All Roads Lead Here." This is Bad Times at the El Royale. This neo-noir thriller film written, produced and directed by Drew Goddard. The film is set circa 1968, several strangers, most with a secret to bury, meet by chance at Lake Tahoe's El Royale, a rundown hotel with a dark past. Over the course of one night, everyone will show their true colors - before everything goes to hell.

In early March 2017, it was announced that 20th Century Fox had bought Goddard's spec script Bad Times at the El Royale, which he would also direct and produce. The script was sold under total secrecy involving only the eyes and interest of top studio execs. Where the potential buyers has to read it on the spot and then return it when finished. In late August 2017, Jeff Bridges had been cast. That same day, Chris Hemsworth had also been cast, Hemsworth had to lose 25-30 lbs of muscle weight immediately after Avengers: Infinity War (2018) wrapped to star in this film. It was also reported that Tom Holland had passed on a role, and that Beyoncé was being courted for the role. Ultimately, Lewis Pullman won the role from Holland in May, and Cynthia Erivo won the role from Beyoncé. Later in the same month, newcomer Cailee Spaeny was added to the cast. In January 2018, Dakota Johnson and Russell Crowe joined the cast. In February, Jon Hamm (replacing Crowe), Nick Offerman and Mark O'Brien joined the cast. Principal photography on the film began in late January, locations included Vancouver and Burnaby, British Columbia.

The film stars Bridges, Erivo, Johnson, Hamm, Spaeny, Pullman, Offerman, Dolan, Whigham, and Hemsworth. The film doesn't drag because Goddard has stacked the deck with a cast and characters so wild and dangerously exciting that you almost want to slap your own hands for cheering these grimy characters in their sinister pursuits. As for Hemsworth, I think he gives one of the best, if not the best, performance of his career.

Bad Times at the El Royale offers another well-aimed round from Drew Goddard's signature blend of action, humor, and thrills - all while demonstrating an even stronger grip on his filmmaking craft. A high-wire thriller, full of masterfully executed twists, captivating dialogue, and a wildly entertaining narrative that gallops along at a pace to make the hundred-and-forty-one minutes evaporate in an instant. This is Goddard. And it's very entertaining, even when it's entertainingly , which happens a lot in this overlong movie's extended third act. This is a parlour-room epic, an entire ensemble in a single room, a film steeped in its own filminess but at the same time vital, riveting and real. Only Goddard can do this, and he’s done it again. However, the film often feels more like a sadistic stage play than a movie. The film is a lot of things. Boring, of course, isn't one of them. It is not a perfect film but this was damn-near the slow burn masterpiece my inner cinephile deserved.

Simon says Bad Times at the El Royale receives:

Also, see my review for The Cabin in the Woods.

Saturday, 13 October 2018

Film Review: "22 July" (2018).

"The true story of a day that started like any other." This is 22 July. This crime drama film written, co-produced and directed by Paul Greengrass. Based on the 2011 Norway attacks and the aftermath, as well as the book One of Us: The Story of a Massacre in Norway - and Its Aftermath by Åsne Seierstad. After devastating terror attacks in Norway, young survivor, grieving families and the country rally for justice and healing.

In late August 2017, Greengrass announced that he was working on a new Netflix movie focused on the 2011 Norway attacks and the aftermath. Greengrass' announcement was met with great controversy in Norway. A campaign against the film was established, and generated over 20,000 signatures to have the film shut down. The campaign failed. At the end of 2017, production on the film began. The film marked Greengrass' first time shooting digitally. For the cast, Greengrass revealed that he used Norwegian actors and crew for the film, because he considered that the film should be identified like a Norwegian film. He also revealed that he didn’t use the Norwegian language for the film, because he didn’t speak Norwegian, so he looked for actors who can speak English.

The film stars Anders Danielsen Lie, Jon Øigarden, Thorbjørn Harr, Jonas Strand Gravli, Ola G. Furuseth, Ulrikke Hansen Døvigen, Isak Bakli Aglen, Maria Bock and Seda Witt. The cast gave gripping performances that conveys one truth above all else: the killings of the seventy-seven victims on 22nd July 2011 is truly horrific.

I can say that 22 July has been done well - with intelligence, compassion, efficiency - and yet still question whether it was worth doing. The film is real-time reconstruction of events on the doomed flight that manages to encapsulate all the anxieties and sorrows of our age. Amazingly detailed in its narrative cohesion and editing, 22 July is a noble tribute to the tragedy. It's masterful and heartbreaking. This is first-rate, visceral filmmaking: taut, watchful, free of false histrionics, as observant of the fear in the young terrorist's eyes as the hysteria in Oslo and Utøya, and smart enough to know this material doesn't need to be sensationalized. It does honor to the memory of the victims. 22 July might be an insular response to a national tragedy, but - taken on its own, limited terms - it is powerful and sincere, giving reign to pity and fear without indulging jingoism or sentimentality. For that at least it deserves applause. It's a difficult and upsetting experience but a worthwhile one, which will linger in your mind long after the film ends. One of the most moving films of the year. What might be therapeutic for the families is not perhaps meant for public consumption. Impossible to recommend as a great Netflix night in, yet agonisingly vital as thought-urging cinema. This is not a film you go to for enjoyment, but because you have a duty to endure it. This is a picture we all must see.

Simon says 22 July receives:

Also, see my review for Jason Bourne.

Friday, 12 October 2018

Series Review: "The Haunting of Hill House" (2018).

"You're expected" in The Haunting of Hill House. This supernatural horror drama television series created and directed by Mike Flanagan, and loosely based on the 1959 novel of the same name by Shirley Jackson. It is the first entry in The Haunting anthology series. Flashing between past and present, a fractured family confronts haunting memories of their old home and the terrifying events that drove them from it.

After its publication in 1959, Jackson's gothic horror classic went on to become a finalist for the National Book Award and considered one of the best literary ghost stories published during the 20th century, it has been made into two feature films. Jackson's novel relies on terror rather than horror to elicit emotion in the reader, using complex relationships between the mysterious events in the house and the characters’ psyches.

In early April 2017, Netflix announced that it had ordered a 10-episode adaptation of the classic horror novel, with Flanagan and Trevor Macy as executive producers, and Amblin Television and Paramount Television as co-production companies. It is the first scripted series to be made for Netflix by Amblin. By mid October, Michiel Huisman, Elizabeth Reaser, Oliver Jackson-Cohen, Kate Siegel, Victoria Pedretti, Carla Gugino, Henry Thomas, and Timothy Hutton were cast. At the same time, principal photography commenced and took place throughout Atlanta, Georgia.

The series stars an ensemble cast that includes Huisman, Reaser, Jackson-Cohen, Siegel, Pedretti, Gugino, Thomas, and Hutton. The show is a barnstorming showcase for the cast, so often underused and/or unrecognised, who tackles a difficult, physically restricted role with gusto. Their performance is strong and varied enough to keep viewers riveted during a confronting personal ordeal ahead. Nothing about the show would have worked if they hadn't gotten the right cast, and the cast is spot on.

Unsurprisingly, the show is Flanagan's most accomplished to date, the result of the years he's spent giving a damn about his characters and their anguish. He's so good at it, he even makes it look easy. The show is able to please Jackson's fans and, at the same time, to propose a film that is perfectly maintained as a meticulous thriller and a horror artifact. What an awesome series! The Haunting of Hill House is a wonderful entry in the catalog of Flanagan's ever-growing and impressive body of work. Explores the dichotomy of truth and lies in a family, how men can transform into dangerous foes instead of family members to the other family members they supposedly love. Filmmaker Mike Flanagan delivers an efficiently-paced adaptation that grows more and more absorbing as it progresses into its midsection. The show, like the novel, plays with the limits between reality and imagination, masterfully crafted by Flanagan with his direction and edition. Combining strength and resiliency alongside gruesome imagery, Flanagan releases a relevant film to the times and pays homage to a lesser known literary gem in the most satisfactory manner. Finally, after the last abysmal adaptation of Jackson's classic, we have an adaptation that's worthy of the book.

Simon says The Haunting of Hill House receives:

Also, see my review for Gerald's Game.

Wednesday, 10 October 2018

Film Review: "A Star Is Born" (2018).

"Look, talent comes everywhere, but having something to say and a way to say it... that's a whole other bag. And unless you get out and you try to do it, you'll never know. That's just the truth..." This is the heart and soul of A Star Is BornThis musical romantic drama film produced and directed by Bradley Cooper (in his directorial debut), and written by Cooper, Eric Roth and Will Fetters. It is the fourth remake of the original 1937 film, after the 1954 musical, the 1976 rock musical, and the 2013 Bollywood romance film. The film follows seasoned musician Jackson Maine, who discovers-and falls in love with-struggling artist Ally. She has just about given up on her dream to make it big as a singer - until Jack coaxes her into the spotlight. But even as Ally's career takes off, the personal side of their relationship is breaking down, as Jack fights an ongoing battle with his own internal demons.

In 2011, talks of a remake of A Star Is Born began, with Clint Eastwood attached to direct, Beyoncé set to star, and a Kurt Cobain-inspired script penned by Fetters. For several years, the film lingered in development hell, after Beyoncé's pregnancy. Various actors were approached to co-star, these included; Christian Bale, Tom Cruise, Johnny Depp, Leonardo DiCaprio, Will Smith, Selena Gomez, Kesha, Jennifer Lopez, Demi Lovato, Janelle Monáe, Rihanna, Shakira, and Esperanza Spalding. In March 2016, Cooper signed on to star and direct, and, in August, Lady Gaga signed on to play the female lead. By May 2017, Sam Elliot, Andrew Dice Clay, Rafi Gavron, Michael Harney, and Dave Chappelle joined the cast. Principal photography began in April, and production was completed over a forty-two-day shoot. Locations included Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival, and Pyramid Stage of Glastonbury festival. The look of the film was said to be inspired by a Metallica concert Cooper saw when he was sixteen years old. The musical performances were done live as it was Gaga who pushed for this, since she always hated watching movies where the actors were not lip-syncing correctly to the songs. To avoid this and get it right they needed to sing live for the film. This was what caused Cooper to get more extensive vocal training. Many of the songs in the film were written by Lukas Nelson (son of country music singer Willie Nelson) and Lady Gaga, and produced by Mark Ronson.

The film stars Cooper, Lady Gaga, Elliott, Clay, Gavron, Harney, and Chappelle. There's not a single wrong note in any of the performances given by the cast. Cooper gave an amazingly adept, heartfelt performance as the doomed musician. Lady Gaga gives a stellar turn as the young, struggling, aspiring singer, whose tender chemistry with Cooper works entirely. Her fantastic and surprising acting chops shows to the best advantage her already incredible musical talent.

This new rendition of A Star Is Born has the rare distinction of being a superlative remake.

Simon says A Star Is Born (2018) receives:

Film Review: "The Sisters Brothers" (2018).

"Brothers by blood. Sisters by name." This is The Sisters Brothers. This black comedy Western crime drama directed by Jacques Audiard, adapted by Audiard and Thomas Bidegain, and based on the novel of the same name by Patrick deWitt. It's 1851, and Charlie and Eli Sisters are both brothers and assassins, boys grown to men in a savage and hostile world. The Sisters brothers find themselves on a journey through the Northwest, bringing them to the mountains of Oregon, a dangerous brothel in the small town of Mayfield, and eventually, the gold rush land of California -- an adventure that tests the deadly family ties that bind.

In 2011, it was announced that the film rights to deWitt's novel had been sold to John C. Reilly's production company, and Reilly was set to play one of the brothers. Four years later, Audiard announced on the radio station RTL that he would direct the film, his first English-language feature. In late April 2016, Deadline Hollywood reported that Joaquin Phoenix had joined the project. In February 2017, Variety reported that Jake Gyllenhaal had also been cast, later announcing that Riz Ahmed joined as well. By early June, Rutger Hauer, Carol Kane, and Richard Brake rounded out the film's cast. At the same time, with a budget of $38 million, principal photography commenced, and took place in Bucharest, Romania; Almería, Spain; and Gironde, France.

The film stars Reilly, Phoenix, Gyllenhaal, Ahmed, Hauer, Kane, and Brake. The film is an interesting one thanks to the fascinating characterisations and performances given by the cast, especially Reilly and Phoenix.

One interesting thing about the story is that it appears that the writers really did include a lot of research and attempted to create a lot of accurate details in the characters and in the story. The film sports pretty much everything one would want in a Western, and though it's not always eminently artful, it is rarely anything less than entertaining. The film is one of the finest modern Westerns to come along since the genre decided largely to pack up and ride into the sunset several years ago. It has an energetic flow, and a genuinely rugged, exciting feel, unlike many of the more bloated, picturesque examples of the Western genre. This is just one hell of a tight ship all round and anyone from action fans, to western buffs, to just folks who like decent films should bring plenty home from this puppy. Despite many flaws and plenty of missed opportunities, the film could still be recommended for all western fans. It's difficult to assign responsibility for the most serious of this film's shortcomings, but one thing is clear: somewhere along the way, the creative process misfired. Highly stylized fashion-wise but awkwardly unfocused in its plotlines, it aims for the western iconography of Clint Eastwood, but never gets past its own directorial hurdles. Most of the movie is above-average, but Reilly and Phoenix's performance is what makes it a must-see.

Simon says The Sisters Brothers receives:

Also, see my review for Rust and Bone (De rouille et d'os).

Film Review: "The Old Man & the Gun" (2018).

"This Story is Mostly True." This is The Old Man & the Gun. This biographical film written and directed by David Lowery, and loosely based on David Grann's 2003 The New Yorker article entitled The Old Man and the Gun, and 2010 book The Devil and Sherlock Holmes. Based on the true story of Forrest Tucker, from his audacious escape from San Quentin at the age of seventy to an unprecedented string of heists that confounded authorities and enchanted the public. Wrapped up in the pursuit are detective John Hunt, who becomes captivated with Forrest's commitment to his craft, and a woman, who loves him in spite of his chosen profession.

In October 2016, it was announced that Robert Redford was attached to star in a biographical film penned and to be directed by Lowery. It was Redford who was interested in talking to Lowery about adapting Grann's article and book. Lowery tried to write the true crime version of this movie and the journalistic version of what really happened, and Redford never felt like he fit into that. In other words, according to Lowery himself, his idea of who Redford was as an actor never really fit into the true story of Tucker. So after many, many drafts, he realized that what he needed to write was the film that Tucker would have wanted to see. He needed to write the version of Tucker that he saw in his own head as opposed to the one that really showed all the things he did. There was a thin line between two, but it was a very important line and that line allowed him to write a movie that was the version that Redford could excel playing. The film would be Redford's last film as an actor, and ultimately led his decision to quit acting. By early April 2017, Casey Affleck, Danny Glover, Tom Waits, Sissy Spacek, Elisabeth Moss, and Keith Carradine rounded out the film's cast. At the same time, principal photography commenced, and took place throughout Ohio, Texas, and Kentucky, USA. The film was shot on Super 16 mm film. The film was originally scheduled for an October 5, 2018 release date, but was pushed up to September 28.

The film stars Redford, Affleck, Glover, Waits, Spacek, Moss, and Carradine. The film serves as a wonderful showcase for Redford's dramatic talent and reveals how good the actor still can be when he is working with an interesting story and well-written script. More than enough evidence that Redford is the real deal as he emotes yet again his usual buoyant yet dramatic avenue. We give Redford well-deserved praise for taking on a role so unusual for him and so different than anything he's done.

At once a low-key crime drama, a period piece, and a biopic of sorts, The Old Man & the Gun is a loving tribute to a figure I'm sure many of us never knew about but deserves to be profiled all the same.

Simon says The Old Man & the Gun receives:

Also, see my review for A Ghost Story.

Tuesday, 9 October 2018

Film Review: "Venom" (2018).

"Embrace your inner anti-hero" with Venom. This superhero film directed by Ruben Fleischer, written by Jeff Pinkner, Scott Rosenberg, and Kelly Marcel, based on the Marvel Comics character of the same name. It is the first film in Sony's Marvel Universe. Journalist Eddie Brock is trying to take down Carlton Drake, the notorious and brilliant founder of the Life Foundation. While investigating one of Drake's experiments, Eddie's body merges with the alien Venom - leaving him with superhuman strength and power. Twisted, dark and fueled by rage, Venom tries to control the new and dangerous abilities that Eddie finds so intoxicating.

Sony first began developing a Venom film after the character made his cinematic debut in Spider-Man 3 (2007). However, the project fell into Development Hell, with various iterations. Shortly after the franchise was rebooted with The Amazing Spider-Man (2012), the film was announced once again, though this time within continuity of the Webb series. After the negative reception of The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (2014) was released, Sony and Marvel decided to once again reboot the franchise and place a Venom spin-off on hold. In March 2016, the project was again revived as a standalone film launching its own franchise, unrelated to Sony and Marvel Studio's new Spider-Man films. A year later, Sony set the film with a October 5, 2018 release date, with Rosenberg and Pinkner penning the script. Adi Shankar and Adam Wingard were both shortlisted to direct before Fleischer was ultimately chosen in May 2017. In the same month, Tom Hardy would star as the titular character. Loosely based on Venom: Lethal Protector and Planet of the Symbiotes, the film is also influenced by the film of John Carpenter and David Cronenberg, as well as An American Werewolf in London (1981) and Ghostbusters (1984). By October, Michelle Williams, Riz Ahmed, Scott Haze, Jenny Slate, and Reid Scott rounded out the cast. Principal photography began in October 2017, in Atlanta, New York City, and San Francisco. Inspired by 20th Century Fox's success with Deadpool (2016) and Logan (2017), the film was initially slated for an R-rating. However, this was changed to a PG-13 much to the chagrin of many fans, in order to allow more possible crossovers.

The film stars Hardy, Williams, Ahmed, Haze, Slate, and Scott. Hardy gave a terrific performance as the titular anti-hero. Despite their best efforts, Williams, Ahmed, Haze, Slate, and Scott's performances were no match for Hardy's, and came off as rather dull due to given very little to properly flesh out their characters and to do.

Though Hardy gives his all, he can't help Venom overcome a cliche-ridden script and familiar narrative. It's an O.K., not great, Marvel movie that tells the early story of the villain-turned-anti-hero, and attempts to make it climax in a perfect coupling with the start of another MCU-style universe. Hardy is capable of carrying even the most ridiculous effort, he singlehandedly makes the film an excellent start to the 2018 Fall season.

Simon says Venom receives:

See my reviews for Gangster Squad and Spider-Man: Homecoming.