Wednesday, 28 November 2018

Film Review: "Creed II" (2018).


"It may not seem like it now, but... this is more than just a fight." This is Creed II. This sports drama film directed by Steven Caple Jr., and written by Juel Taylor and Sylvester Stallone. It is a sequel to Creed (2015) and the eighth installment in the Rocky film series. In 1985, Russian boxer Ivan Drago killed former U.S. champion Apollo Creed in a tragic match that stunned the world. Against the wishes of trainer Rocky Balboa, Apollo's son Adonis Johnson accepts a challenge from Drago's son - another dangerous fighter. Under guidance from Rocky, Adonis trains for the showdown of his life - a date with destiny that soon becomes his obsession. Now, Johnson and Balboa must confront their shared legacy as the past comes back to haunt each man.

In early January 2016, it was confirmed by Sylvester Stallone and Gary Barber, CEO of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures, that a sequel to Creed was in development. Although due to both Coogler and Jordan's involvement with Black Panther (2018), the film was delayed. Coogler would serve as executive producer. In July 2017, Stallone completed the script and announced Lundgren would be reprising his role as Drago. In October 2017, it was announced that Stallone would direct and produce the film. However, Stallone backed out of directing the film. Ultimately, in December 2017, it was reported that Steven Caple Jr. would instead direct the film with Tessa Thompson confirmed to reprise her role of Bianca, Creed's love interest. In January 2018, Romanian amateur boxer Florian Munteanu was cast in the film to play Drago's son. In March 2018, Phylicia Rashad, Wood Harris, and Andre Ward were confirmed to reprise their roles from the prior film. In the same moth, principal photography began in Philadelphia, lasting through July.

The film stars Jordan, Stallone, Thompson, Lundgren, Munteanu, Rashad, Harris, and Ward. The cast gave terrific performances that extended their characters logically and grippingly, preserving all the traits that made their characters work so well.

Creed II is a movie that dares you to root again for the ultimate underdog - and succeeds due to an infectiously powerful climax. In its boxing and training scenes, the film packs much of the punch its predecessor did, complete with an exciting pugilistic finale that has even more emotional weight than its predecessor. What is most remarkable about the film is that it recalls so many scenes from the Rocky films and its predecessor, and yet - amazingly - it works. Almost every bit of it. However, in an attempt to tell the new story - that of Adonis' adjustment to near-success and an attempt to live a non-boxing life - the plot tends to drag and the picture takes on a murky quality. The film has a waxy feeling, and it never comes to life the way its predecessor did. It slavishly repeats the plot of Creed and Rocky II achieving differentiation only in dubious forms: soap opera detours, delaying tactics and an ugly new mood of viciousness surrounding a rematch between the boxers.

Simon says Creed II receives:



Also, see my review for Creed.

Tuesday, 27 November 2018

'Once Upon a Time in Canada' Chapter 58.


I’m out of energy. No more energy at this point. So it took a little bit longer for me to get prepared for the Toronto Marlies vs. Cleveland Monsters Game after a long, hard day at work. One nice thing about going to a game like this is that I get to forget about work and just enjoy myself: access to pure fun. For some reason, the crowd atmosphere wasn’t as strong as the last hockey game. Don’t know why. Doesn’t really matter, I suppose. The important thing is that I’m here and I get to have fun for two hours or so.

I made my way through security, and then made my way to my seat. I was seated up right on the edge of the ground seatings, where I was protected by a thick sheet of Plexiglas. But this time, it was a better viewing than the last game. That’s great, but having said, I wanted to be seated a little further away, right up the balcony seats so that I can see the action from a distance. After about an hour, I decided to make my way to the bathroom and get a hot drink during the break, so that for the next round, I would be a little warmer and won’t miss anything.

Once I did that, I got back to my seat feeling much better, with my hot chocolate. The hot chocolate came a reliable establishment, Tim Hortons, and was nice and hot, as any good hot chocolate should be. So I’m ready to enjoy the second round, but I’m still not exactly happy with my seat. My brother arbitrarily picked my seat since he paid for my ticket, so I was trapped in my seat until the game was over. I spent during the entire game trying to enjoy the game without getting too upset when the players would hit glass when they got tackled. I’d get a little jumpy when that happened until it ended. It kind of took me out of the game which kind of pissed me off. After the first couple of crashes, it got a little bit better.

Like the last hockey game, the Toronto Marlies won. And the crowd went wild, of course. After cheering, I then made my way out and made my way home. I’m sure the next game I go to will be just as great, if not better, than this one. No plans thus far, but we’ll see.

See videos of the game here. Also, see Chapters 57 and 59.

Monday, 26 November 2018

Film Review: "Roma" (2018).


"There are periods in history that scar societies and moments in life that transform us as individuals." This is the story of Roma. This Mexican drama film written, co-produced, co-edited, photographed, and directed by Alfonso Cuarón. A story that chronicles a year in the life of a high-class family's maid in Mexico City in the early 1970s.

In early September 2016, it was announced that Alfonso Cuarón would write and direct a project focusing on a Mexican family living in Mexico City in the 1970s. Cuarón has been talking about making this film since 2006. According to Cuarón, he has been building towards Roma since his debut, Sólo con Tu Pareja (1991). The film marks Cuarón's eighteen-year return to Mexico to make the film, a first for him since Y Tu Mamá También (2001). Cuarón calls Roma the "most essential movie" of his career. In the fall of 2016, production begin. The film was shot in sequence in 65mm black-and-white. Cuarón decided to shoot on location in Mexico City. This is one reason for the several appearances of airplanes, because they had a plane passing by every five minutes. Every scene of the movie was shot where the events depicted took place or on sets that were exact replicas. Roma is the first time that Cuarón became his own cinematographer on one of his own films. Cuarón originally intended for the film to be shot by his collaborator, Emmanuel "Chivo" Lubezki. Because of logistic reasons Chivo couldn't do it after he had already done some preparations. Also Cuarón didn't want to hire an English-language DP and have to translate his own experience which is why he ended up as a cinematographer. To avoid a "subjective depiction" of the period, Cuarón chose to shoot the bulk of the film in wide shots, slowing panning over a scene, taking everything in.

The film stars Yalitza Aparicio, Marina de Tavira, Marco Graf, Daniela Demesa, Enoc Leaño and Daniel Valtierra. Tour de force performances were given by the cast that conveyed life itself, with all of its sweet and bitter harmony, and chaos; and bonds and scars in an intimate and epic portrait interwoven that transcends space, memory and time.

Roma is a powerful, mature film. It is a serious and profound drama that has something to say. Beneath the typical family drama movie that the movie is happy to advertise is another level—and below that, a much more profound level. It is a drama with startling emotional depth and complexity, set against the backdrop of class differences in Mexico. Part family album, part history class, part meditation on class, mortality and intimacy, this extraordinary little movie might be the perfect harbinger of Mexican culture. The movie has an emotional kick that lingers like a primal memory. When the year is over, Cuaron's film will be remembered as one of 2018's finest. The film will also go on to become one of Cuarón's most fascinating work - and, increasingly, an outlier in his idiosyncratic filmography.

Simon says Roma receives:



Also, see my review for Gravity.

Saturday, 24 November 2018

Series Review: "The Little Drummer Girl" (2018).


"Seduction. Manipulation. Betrayal. Never trust a spy." This is The Little Drummer Girl (2018). This British-American television series directed by Park Chan-wook, adapted by Michael Lesslie and Claire Wilson, based on the novel of the same name by John le Carré. Set in the late 1970s, it follows young, idealistic actress Charlie, whose relationship with the mysterious Becker, an Israeli intelligence officer, leads her into a complex, high-stakes plot devised by spy mastermind Kurtz. She takes on the role of a lifetime as a double agent, and as she is drawn more deeply into a dangerous world of duplicity and compromised humanity, Charlie falls in love with both Becker and Kurtz.

Inspired by the Israeli-Palestinian conflict of the 1970s, John le Carré's controversial spy novel transcended the spy novel genre upon its publication in 1983. William F. Buckley, of The New York Times, wrote: "The Little Drummer Girl is about spies as Madame Bovary is about adultery or Crime and Punishment about crime." The novel went to become one of John Grisham's favorite novels. Grisham has said: "I love to read John le Carré, the British guy who's really probably my favorite writer. The Little Drummer Girl is a book I read about every four or five years. It's just so clever and brilliantly plotted. It's the kinda' book-and his writing is off the charts, the way he expresses himself and the way he describes people and dialogue - and every time I read that book, it inspires me to be better." The character of Charmian "Charlie" Ross, the novel's radical left-wing, anti-Zionist, English actress was rumoured to have been modelled after Vanessa Redgrave, but her personality was modeled le Carré's half-sister Charlotte Cornwell. The novel was adapted in 1984, directed by George Roy Hill and adpated by le Carré and Loring Mandel. It starred Diane Keaton as Charlie, Yorgo Voyagis as Joseph and Klaus Kinski as Kurtz. The film changes Charlie from an English twenty-something to a thirty-ish American. The film was met with divisive reactions.

The series stars Florence Pugh as Charmian "Charlie" Ross, Michael Shannon as Martin Kurtz, Alexander Skarsgård as Gadi Becker, and Charles Dance as Commander Picton. Solid performances were given by the cast. Pugh, especially, lives it up. Unlike Keaton in the 1984 incarnation, Pugh is young and passionate to capture the idealistic actress-turned-spy that le Carré imagined.

Speed, suspense, and surprises, all combine to make The Little Drummer Girl one of those agreeable thrillers that can beguile the idle hours of the television screen. Mystery experts will enjoy the whole thing, I think. Intriguing, complex, and entirely satisfying, Park Chan-wook's version of le Carré's novel succeeds from the strong performance of Florence Pugh in the lead role, who perhaps was perfectly cast. International spy stories are most always good, and this is one of the best, smartly cut, with sufficient humanity. Like a brilliant escape artist, director Park Chan-wook has pulled off that rarest of feats -- the thriller of ideas.

Simon says The Little Drummer Girl (2018) receives:



Also, see my review for The Handmaiden (아가씨).

Thursday, 22 November 2018

Film Review: "Widows" (2018).


"Left with nothing. Capable of anything." This is Widows. This heist film directed by Steve McQueen, adapted by McQueen and Gillian Flynn, based upon the 1983 ITV series of the same name by Lynda La Plante. The film tells the story of four women with nothing in common except a debt left behind by their dead husbands’ criminal activities. Set in contemporary Chicago, amid a time of turmoil, tensions build when Veronica, Linda, Alice and Belle take their fate into their own hands and conspire to forge a future on their own terms.

In late March 2015, it was announced that a project based on the 1983 British TV series was in development, with a script written by McQueen and Flynn, with McQueen attached to direct. Originally set in London, England, McQueen and Flynn moved the setting to Chicago, U.S.A. In September 2016, Viola Davis joined the cast as Veronica. In November, Cynthia Erivo joined the cast as Belle. In February 2017, Elizabeth Debicki and Michelle Rodriguez were cast as Alice and Linda. Originally, it was reported that Jennifer Lawrence was approached for Alice, but, due to scheduling conflicts, had to decline. By May, Daniel Kaluuya, Liam Neeson, Colin Farrell, Robert Duvall, Garret Dillahunt, Jacki Weaver, Manuel Garcia-Rulfo, Lukas Haas, Brian Tyree Henry, Carrie Coon, and Jon Bernthal joined the cast. In the same month, Principal photography began in Chicago, Illinois. Principal photography began on May 8, 2017 in Chicago, Illinois.

The film features an ensemble cast that includes Davis, Rodriguez, Debicki, Erivo, Farrell, Henry, Kaluuya, Dillahunt, Weaver, Coon, Duvall, Garcia-Rulfo, Bernthal, Haas, and Neeson. The cast gave poignant and gripping performances, especially from its four leading ladies who proved that anything a man can pull off, they can do it too. The ladies carrie the film from start to finish with utter beauty and badassness.

Widows is a sleek, accomplished piece of work, meticulously controlled and completely involving. The dark end of the street doesn't get much more inviting than this. The film  is uncommonly literate, with its psychological insight into the symbiotic relationship and fractured intimacy between women and men. It's not just an action picture. Above all, the dialogue is complex enough to allow the characters to say what they're thinking: They are eloquent, insightful, fanciful, poetic when necessary. They're not trapped with cliches. Of the many imprisonments possible in our world, one of the worst must be to be inarticulate - to be unable to tell another person what you really feel. Stunningly made and incisively acted by a large and terrific cast, McQueen's ambitious study of the relativity of women and men stands apart from other films of its type by virtue of its extraordinarily rich characterizations and its thoughtful, deeply melancholy take on modern life. McQueen's action scenes have an existential, you-are-there jitteriness, but the heist-planning and political-talking scenes are just dry and talky. Overall, it is one of the most intelligent crime-thrillers to come along in years.

Simon says Widows receives:



Also, see my review for 12 Years a Slave.

Wednesday, 21 November 2018

Film Review: "Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald" (2018).


"Who will change the future?" The ultimate question presented in Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald. This fantasy film directed by David Yates and written by J. K. Rowling. It is the sequel to Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (2016), and the second instalment in the Fantastic Beasts film series, and the tenth overall in the Wizarding World franchise. Since the last film, Gellert Grindelwald was captured by MACUSA with the help of Newt Scamander. But, making good on his threat, Grindelwald escaped custody and has set about gathering followers, most unsuspecting of his true agenda: to raise pure-blood wizards up to rule over all non-magical beings.

In October 2014, a second Fantastic Beasts film was announced, and, in July 2016, Rowling confirmed she had completed the script. In October, Rowling has confirmed on Twitter that Eddie Redmayne, Katherine Waterston, Dan Fogler, Alison Sudol, and Ezra Miller would return. In addition, she confirmed that Newt Scamander is still going be the main character in the following movies. In November, Depp was cast as Grindelwald, which caused some controversy due to domestic violence allegations recently made against him. Rowling, however, defended the casting choice. In April 2017, Law signed on as Dumbledore. Other actors considered for the role included Christian Bale, Benedict Cumberbatch, Mark Strong, and Jared Harris (son of Richard Harris, who played Dumbledore in the first two Harry Potter films). In July, principal photography began, and concluded in December. Filming took place at the Warner Bros. Studios in Leavesden, England, as well as London, Switzerland, and Paris. For the characters, Rowling had the cast and crew refer to them by code names due to the top secret nature of the script. In addition, Rowling gave all of the cast members extremely secret details about their characters individually and in private. As for the creatures, a set of puppeteers physically took the place of the animals which were then finalized in post production thanks to the visual effects. The puppets were of different sizes and materials depending on the beast: for example, small bags of marbles were used to double the Niffler and his babies. And the enormous Zouwu required no less than three puppeteers, one manipulating his large sculpted head while the others moved his body and tail nearly three meters long that they swayed at the end of a pole. As with the first film, animal making required months of graphic, pattern, and animation testing to determine the appearance, behavior, movements, attitude, and personality of each creature. 

The film features an ensemble cast that includes Redmayne, Waterston, Fogler, Sudol, Miller, Zoë Kravitz, Callum Turner, Claudia Kim, William Nadylam, Kevin Guthrie, with Law, and Depp. Despite terrific performances, this time round, the cast suffered from unsatisfactory character developments and/or characterizations largely thanks to the confusing character histories conjured by Rowling.

Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald benefits from an increased emphasis on thrilling action. However, they're undercut by a convoluted plot and underdeveloped characters.

Simon says Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald receives:



Also, see my review for Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.

Sunday, 18 November 2018

'Once Upon a Time in Canada' Chapter 57.

Yesterday was boring. I somewhat knew that it wasn’t going to be like WWE wrestling, but I didn’t expect it to be this tedious and uneventful. My day nearly was almost wasted watching the entire show. If I had stayed for the entire thing, I would have fallen asleep right then and there. But luckily I didn’t, and I only stayed for half the show, as one would expect. Looks like I had attended my first worst sports event during my time here. It would have been more awesome if there had been more action, maybe even a little bit of suspense.

I got up a little late in the morning. Everything was fine. If only I had slept a little better the night before, a good night sleep had been evading me for some nights for sometime. It was a pretty sunny but cold morning. If there was to be a sunny but cold morning, this was it. I was freezing as I made my way to the Ryerson Gymnasium, and I was relieved to get inside as fast as possible.



























































I decided it was a good time to go to the bathroom, and getting the camera set up. I got out the camera and decided to use my 35 to 70mm lense. Like every other sports event, this, other than my 70 to 200mm lense, was the only lense to use. Then I made my way around and above the gymnasium to capture the best shots possible despite the underwhelming subject matter.

I’m out of energy. No more energy by the end of the day. So I had a heavy and long sleep after I’ve attended another university wrestling event and a York University theatre production. One nice thing about going to events such as these to have something to photograph and write about it, as well as get out of the house: a reason to not stay locked away. But for some reason, the crowd atmosphere for the York Wrestling event was a little bit better than the Ryerson Wrestling event. Don’t know why that is. Does it really matter? The important thing is that I’m here and I have something to do for the day.





























As for the theatre production, it was interesting play entitled Rochdale. The play examines Rochdale college, an experimental, student-run alternative education and co-operative living that opened in 1968 in downtown Toronto. As the largest co-op residence in North America, it provided space for eight-hundred-and-forty residents. It was also a free university where students and teachers would live together and share knowledge. The project ultimately failed when it could not cover its financing and neighbours complained that it had become a haven for drugs and crime. The play explores the legacy of Rochdale, in all of its compelling fictions and sometimes difficult truths.

















Also, see Chapters 56 and 58.