Monday, 30 December 2019

Film Review: "Portrait of a Lady on Fire" ("Portrait de la jeune fille en feu") (2019).

From the director of Tomboy and Girlhood (Bande de filles) comes Portrait of a Lady on Fire (Portrait de la jeune fille en feu). This French historical drama film written and directed by Céline Sciamma. Set in France, 1770. The film follows Marianne, a painter who is commissioned to do the wedding portrait of Héloïse, a young woman who has just left the convent. Héloïse is a reluctant bride to be and Marianne must paint her without her knowing. She observes her by day, to paint her secretly.

According to Sciamma, It was her initial desire to shoot a love story. With two apparently contradictory wishes underlying the writing. Firstly, to show, step by step, what it is like to fall in love, the pure present and pleasure of it. There, her direction focuses on confusion, hesitation and the romantic exchange. Secondly, to write the story of the echo of a love affair, of how it lives on within us in all its scope. There, her direction focuses on remembrance, with the film as a memory of that love. Likewise, the film is designed as an experience of both the pleasure of a passion in the present and the pleasure of emancipatory fiction for the characters and the audience. This dual temporality, for Sciamma, allows the viewer to experience the emotion and to reflect on it. Additionally, the film is a love story based on equality. In other words, it is not based on hierarchies and relationships of power and seduction that exist before the encounter. The feeling of a dialogue that is being invented and that surprises us. The whole film is governed by this principle in the relationships between the characters. By late October 2018, Noémie Merlant, Adèle Haenel, Luàna Bajrami, and Valeria Golino were cast. The role of Héloïse was written with Haenel in mind. Sciamma and Haenel are ex-lovers. They split amicably prior to filming. At the same time, principal photography commenced and wrapped in early December. Filming took place throughout France, and was shot in 8k with the Red Weapon Monstro camera with Leica Thalia Lenses. Sciamma wanted to capture a large dynamic range of colors and for the film to feel contemporary, whereas 35mm felt too timeless. The paintings by Marianne were all created by painter Hélène Delmaire, whom Merlant worked closely with to inform her character's perspectives and sight lines when painting. According to Sciamma, the reason why the film features no musical score is to be obsessed with rhythm, to make the music arise elsewhere, in the movements of the bodies and the camera. Especially since the film is mostly made up of sequence shots and therefore with a precise choreography.

The film stars Merlant, Haenel, Bajrami, and Golino. Merlant and Haenel give outstanding performances, and their onscreen chemistry is palpable, which makes up for everything else this movie lacks.

Portrait of a Lady on Fire is that rare film about female sexuality that is made for females to relate to, not for males to fantasize about.

Simon says Portrait of a Lady on Fire (Portrait de la jeune fille en feu) receives:

Film Review: "Happy New Year, Colin Burstead" (2018).

From the director of High-Rise comes Happy New Year, Colin Burstead. This British comedy-drama film written and directed by Ben Wheatley. The film follows Colin, who hires a lavish country manor for his extended family to celebrate New Year. Unfortunately for Colin his position of power in the family is under serious threat from the arrival of his estranged brother David.

Loosely based on the Shakespearian tragedy, based on the life of the legendary Roman leader Caius Marcius Coriolanus. Coriolanus is the name given to a Roman general after his military success against various uprisings challenging the government of Rome. Following this success, Coriolanus becomes active in politics and seeks political leadership. His temperament is unsuited for popular leadership and he is quickly deposed, whereupon he aligns himself to set matters straight according to his own will. The alliances he forges along the way result in his ultimate downfall. After seeing Tom Hiddleston playing Coriolanus while casting High-Rise (2015), Wheatley wrote the script. He reduced the plot to its bare bones and rebuilt it in a modern context. The film's working title was Colin You Anus. By the beginning of 2018, Neil Maskell, Hayley Squires, Sam Riley, Doon Mackichan, Joe Cole, and Charles Dance were cast. At the same time, principal photography commenced, and took place at Pennsylvania Castle at the Isle of Portland, Dorset, England.

Wheatley has made smart choices here, notably by surrounding Maskell with a strong secondary cast. The other actors do their best to help Maskell define this curious anti-hero. Incapable of playing the role of peacetime compromiser, his Coriolanus archetype comes across as a son who simply can't function without conflict. Maskell leads a cast that, at least in the major roles, is uniformly powerful. The performances are uniformly excellent, and Maskell owns the role, conceiving of him as a son with his descent into wilfully family activities.

Visceral and visually striking, Wheatley's version of Coriolanus proves Shakespeare can still be both electrifying and relevant in a modern context. Happy New Year, Colin Burstead not only finds all the contemporary parallels, it reiterates the tragedy of the endlessly exploited individual who hopes to earn love at the end of a barrel. It's writing that entertains while tapping into enduring human truths. The play's inherent difficulties notwithstanding, the film is a perfectly sound achievement. While setting Shakespeare in modern times is nothing new, Wheatley's bruising, brutal take is both refreshing in its honesty and may be true to the Bard's spirit. Wheatley's choice to adapt the play as a modern political power struggle is sometimes successful in its union of Shakespeare's prose to contemporary sociopolitical unrest, but also reveals itself to be a stale, pale echo of the bard's original play. The film is a determinedly grim but smart, resonant, faithful to the tone of the original, done with some skill and conviction. This play very rarely gets performed in any medium, so for Shakespeare enthusiasts I'd say it's a must-see but you can skip it if that's not your bag.

Simon says Happy New Year, Colin Burstead receives:

Also, see my review for Free Fire.

Wednesday, 25 December 2019

Film Review: "Cats" (2019).

"You will believe" with Cats. This musical fantasy film directed by Tom Hooper, adapted by Hooper and Lee Hall, and based on the stage musical of the same name by Andrew Lloyd Webber and the 1939 poetry collection Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats by T. S. Eliot. The film follows a tribe of cats who must decide yearly which one will ascend to the Heaviside Layer and come back to a new life.

In the 1990s, an animated adaptation was initially planned by Amblimation, but was abandoned with the studio's closure. Soon afterwards Universal Pictures had purchased the film rights, and the project then lingered in development hell. In December 2013, Webber teased that Universal was putting the project into active development. In May 2016, it was announced that Hooper was hired to direct. In January 2018, Hooper began officially casting for the film, while looking into the technical aspect of whether the film would be entirely live-action or computer generated or a mix of both. In addition, Lloyd Webber announced that he would be writing a new song for the film adaptation. By mid December, James Corden, Judi Dench, Jason Derulo, Idris Elba, Jennifer Hudson, Ian McKellen, Taylor Swift, Rebel Wilson, Les Twins, Ray Winstone, and newcomer Francesca Hayward were cast. At the same time, with a budget of $95 million, principal photography commenced, and wrapped in early April 2019. Filming took place at Warner Bros. Studios in Leavesden, Hertfordshire, England. In late July 2019, the first trailer was released, and received overwhelmingly negative reactions from viewers. Many viewers were unsettled by the mix of CGI and live-action used to portray the cats, and cited the effects as an example of the uncanny valley. In late October 2019, it was announced that the new song is titled Beautiful Ghosts, written by Swift and Webber.

The film features an ensemble cast that includes Corden, Dench, Derulo, Elba, Hudson, McKellen, Swift, Wilson, Les Twins, Winstone, and Hayward. Flaws - and there are a great many that would have never made the cut were this a perfectible studio recording - are conveniently swept under the rug of candid expression. The cast brought nothing. It wasn't that they were choosing to sing like that, they just couldn't do anything else. They could have done better with their amazing talents. Why couldn't the film cast actors who could actually sound good? The singing was so distracting at times it pulled me out. Hooper can be very good with actors. But his inability to keep any actor in line was, without a shadow of a doubt, pathetic and tragic.

Cats is something quite rare in movies these days - an unqualified disaster. The film was as though one was forced to ingest a toxic combination of LSD and Magic Mushroom. It fails so completely that you might suspect Mr. Hooper sold his soul to the devil to obtain the success of the theatre production and the Devil has just come around to collect.

Simon says Cats receives:

Also, see my review for The Danish Girl.

Sunday, 22 December 2019

Film Review: "Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker" (2019).

"The Saga Concludes" with Star Wars: The Rise of the Skywalker (or Star Wars: Episode IX – The Rise of Skywalker). This epic space-opera film directed by J. J. Abrams, co-written by Abrams and Chris Terrio, and based on the characters and universe created by George Lucas. It is the third installment of the Star Wars sequel trilogy, following The Force Awakens (2015) and The Last Jedi (2017). The film follows the surviving Resistance as they face the First Order once more in the final chapter of the Skywalker saga.

In August 2015, Colin Trevorrow was hired to direct and pen the last installment with Derek Connolly. In February 2016, Disney CEO Bob Iger confirmed that pre-production on Episode IX had begun. In late December, Carrie Fisher died. In January 2017, Lucasfilm stated that there were no plans to digitally generate Fisher's performance as they had for Rogue One (2016). In April, Fisher's brother Todd revealed that Fisher's daughter, Billie Lourd, had granted Disney the rights to use recent footage of Fisher. In addition, Disney announced a May 24, 2019 release date. In August, it was announced that Jack Thorne would rewrite the script. In early September, Lucasfilm stated that Trevorrow had left the project due to creative differences. The Hollywood Reporter reported an unmanageable working relationship with Kathleen Kennedy. Rian Johnson was rumored as the top choice to replace Trevorrow. However, it was announced that Abrams would return to direct the film, penning a new script with Terrio, and that the film's release date would be moved to December 20, 2019. In early January 2018, it was confirmed that John Williams would return to compose and conduct the film. In February, Williams announced that it would be the last Star Wars film for which he would compose the score. In July, Abrams announced that unused footage of Fisher from The Force Awakens would be used to help complete the story. By early August, Mark Hamill, Adam Driver, Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Anthony Daniels, Domhnall Gleeson, Lupita Nyong'o, Joonas Suotamo, Kelly Marie Tran, Ian McDiarmid, Billy Dee Williams, Billie Lourd, and Greg Grunberg returned to reprise their roles. Naomi Ackie, Richard E. Grant, Keri Russell, and Dominic Monaghan were cast. At the same time, principal photography commenced, and wrapped in mid February 2019. Filming took place at Pinewood Studios in Buckinghamshire, England, and Wadi Rum, Jordan. In April, at Star Wars Celebration in Chicago, the title was announced.

Despite the best effort of the cast, they couldn't stick the landing for their characters and arcs, with some of them feeling incomplete and unearned.

While it honours the saga's rich legacy, it doesn't at all add anything new — and doesn't at all deliver on the emotionally-rich conclusion that fans had hoped for. It is nothing more than the work of a talented mimic or ventriloquist who can just about cover for the fact that he has nothing much to say. In the end, it didn't justify a return to the universe.

Simon says Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker receives:

Also, see my review for The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi.

Saturday, 21 December 2019

Film Review: "The Two Popes" (2019).

"Inspired by true events." This is The Two Popes. This biographical drama film directed by Fernando Meirelles, adapted by Anthony McCarten, and based on his 2017 play The Pope. An intimate story of one of the most dramatic transitions of power in the last 2,000 years. Frustrated with the direction of the church, Cardinal Bergoglio requests permission to retire in 2012 from Pope Benedict. Instead, facing scandal and self-doubt, the introspective Pope Benedict summons his harshest critic and future successor to Rome to reveal a secret that would shake the foundations of the Catholic Church. Behind Vatican walls, a struggle commences between both tradition and progress, guilt and forgiveness, as these two very different men confront their pasts in order to find common ground and forge a future for a billion followers around the world.

In early September 2017, Netflix confirmed that they would produce an adaptation of McCarten's play with Meirelles as director. By April 2018, Jonathan Pryce and Anthony Hopkins were cast to play Cardinal Bergoglio and Pope Benedict XVI, respectively. At the same time, principal photography commenced, and took place in Rome, Lazio, Italy, and Buenos Aires, Federal District, Argentina.

The film stars Hopkins as Benedict XVI and Pryce as Bergoglio. With their ideologies front and centre, the appealing, the impeccably professionals Hopkins and Pryce rise to the acting occasion by twinkling and growling as their characters warily circle each other before settling into the therapeutic swing of things and unknowingly preparing for the big event. The two men are formidable with conviction, charisma and utter self-righteousness. They once again reminds us of what great actor they are.

Hopkins and Pryce gave masterful performances in The Two Popes, a predictable but stylishly produced and rousing drama. It is an intelligent, winning drama fit for a pope – and the rest of us. What we have here is a strong drama and a powerful personal one. McCarten clearly did his homework, and the script is rich with dialogue uttered by the religious prototypes. Though he takes artistic license with certain facts, most such liberties are acceptable. Meirelles' richly enjoyable and handsomely produced film is a massively confident crowd-pleaser. It's an uplifting audience pleaser that also showcases film-making arts and crafts at an exalted level. The film is richly rooted, with splendid trappings, including pea-soup fogs. For all the pomp and protocol, it's an intimate story about two strong men who must find a common ground, in regal stature, above their religious robes. It explores the backroom of power, its anxieties and chiaroscuros, as an artifice of representation. A powerful back story does not necessarily improve a film, but the film has a pretty irresistible one. The spectator never doubts the fear of this pope, the genius, good heart and the courage of the cardinal who will become pope. It might even end with a dramatic night at the Oscars in February. Overall, it is a strong and respectable drama that is anything but revolutionary, but admirably tells its story with dignity and grace.

Simon says The Two Popes receives:

Also, see my review for 360.

Sunday, 15 December 2019

Series Review: "Watchmen" (2019).

"Nothing Ever Ends..." in Watchmen. This dystopian superhero drama limited series written and created by Damon Lindelof and based on the 1986 DC Comics series of the same title created by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons. Set in an alternate history where masked vigilantes are treated as outlaws, the series embraces the nostalgia of the original groundbreaking graphic novel of the same name while attempting to break new ground of its own.

In October 2015, rumors of a potential Watchmen television series adaptation first surfaced with HBO in preliminary discussions with Zack Snyder. In November, HBO confirmed that they were seeking to develop a Watchmen series. This would be the second attempt at a Watchmen TV series. Terry Gilliam attempted an adaptation in the early 90s but could only conceive the story being so epic that the time it would take could only be accomplished on television rather than film. Gilliam's vision went into pre-production with HBO and cast Robin Williams as Rorschach, Jamie Lee Curtis as Silk Spectre, Gary Busey as The Comedian, & Kevin Costner as Nite Owl. The project ultimately dissolved after HBO failed to provide a large enough budget for Gilliam's vision. Gilliam himself later claimed afterwards that an adaptation would've been "unfilmable" anyway. By June 2017, HBO had begun negotiations with Lindelof, as Snyder was no longer involved with the production. According to Lindelof, he had been long interested in making a Watchmen work since he read the comic as a teenager, and had been approached to write it at least twice before, but rejected the offers as they came out shortly following Snyder's film and felt he could not improve on that. In the interim, he developed the HBO series The Leftovers. The series was met with high acclaim, and led to yet another offer to write a Watchmen series, which Lindelof then accepted. In late September, HBO officially greenly the production and Lindelof began writing the pilot. Lindelof stated that his vision for the series was to be a "remix" of the comic series. While the show is a sequel to the comic, he wanted to make a story of his own that felt part of that universe without creating a reboot, and made sure that this was apparent from the first episode. In late May, he affirmed this idea in an open letter to fans. One of the first challenges for Lindelof was determining what the focus of the narrative would be. He considered that at the time the original Watchmen comic was released, it reflected on the public anxiety over the ongoing Cold War. In looking for a similar anxiety for contemporary times, Lindelof determined that racial tensions posed the same type of larger picture that would work well for the Watchmen universe, since it presented both historical and present conflicts. The show's credits identify the work as based on characters co-created by Gibbons, who along with Moore created the Watchmen comic. Due to multiple disputes with DC Comics and the producers of previous films, Moore has asked for his name to be no longer associated with any film production of his works from that period, including for the Watchmen film. Lindelof had tried to reach out to Moore to get his blessing for the show but was rebuffed. Gibbons however was an active contributor to the show, providing illustrations in the same style as the original comic series. In late January 2018, Nicole Kassell was announced as the director and executive producer. By late June, Regina King, Don Johnson, Tim Blake Nelson, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Louis Gossett Jr., Jeremy Irons, Jean Smart, Hong Chau, James Wolk, Jessica Camacho, Dustin Ingram, Jim Beaver, and Glenn Fleshler were cast. At the same time, principal photography commenced and wrapped in early June for the pilot. Filming took place in Atlanta, Georgia. In late August, HBO greenlit a full season, scheduling the premiere in 2019. Due to the time between filming the pilot and the remaining episodes, a new production crew had been brought on board, and Kassell remained the director for the second episode to provide necessary continuity. In early September, it was announced that the series was set for an October 20, 2019 premiere date. In late September, Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross were announced as the series' composers.

The series features an ensemble cast that includes King, Johnson, Nelson, Abdul-Mateen II, Gossett Jr., Irons, Smart, Chau, Wolk, Camacho, Ingram, Beaver, and Fleshler. The series has pretty grim stuff - but quite engrossing and worth your time, thanks to intense performances given by the stellar cast.

Yes, the series is baffling. There is a beauty about it too, though. Plus promise - that if you put the effort in you will be rewarded, with a drama that is more about people after a catastrophic event, than the event. The series depicts with uncomfortable authenticity the psychological toll it would take on a society to have demonstrable evidence that they've been left behind. The series puts a sobering spin on the popular comic-book genre, eschewing action to explore the remnants of a shattered society riddled with pain. The series look to be intense, unpredictable and occasionally brilliant, but they'll almost always leave you feeling heavy. Lindelof is adept at opening a show with a humdinger of a hook, and while parts of the series unfold slowly, it's hard not to take the bait and come back for more. Lindelof has successfully cast aside the whiz-bang nerd totems of his previous work and managed to tap into something deeper and more human - which is precisely what makes the series so unnerving. The series conveys nicely the difficulty of maintaining order, physical or psychological, in the wake of inexplicable mass trauma. Many will hate it. But there will be viewers in whom it strikes a chord so deeply that they will feel themselves overwhelmed by it in the best possible way: not like they're drowning in the misery, but like it's teaching them a new way to breathe.

Simon says Watchmen receives:

Also, see my review for The Leftovers.

Saturday, 14 December 2019

Film Review: "6 Underground" (2019).

"They Say No One Can Save The World. Meet No One" in 6 Underground. This action thriller film directed by Michael Bay, and written by Paul Wernick and Rhett Reese. Meet a new kind of action hero. Six untraceable agents, totally off the grid. They've buried their pasts so they can change the future.

In early March 2018, it was reported that Bay would direct an action thriller script penned by Wernick and Reese, which was to be produced by Skydance Media's David Ellison, Dana Goldberg, and Don Granger. In May 2018, it was reported that Netflix would distribute the film, for what they intend to be a new action franchise with Ryan Reynolds starring in the lead role. By late July, Mélanie Laurent, Manuel Garcia-Rulfo, Adria Arjona, Corey Hawkins, Ben Hardy, Dave Franco, Lior Raz, Peyman Maadi, and Yuri Kolokolnikov rounded out the film's cast. At the same time, with a budget of $150 million, principal photography commenced, and wrapped in early December. Filming took place in Los Angeles, as well as throughout Italy and United Arab Emirates.

The film stars Reynolds, Laurent, Garcia-Rulfo, Arjona, Hawkins, Hardy, Franco, Raz, Maadi, and Kolokolnikov. The cast, and Bay, shows how the film's bad-ass heroes become rogue fighters. But takes an age to do so, and does it without an ounce of intelligence.

Let down by a disappointing script, dodgy dialogue, poor CGI effects, panicky editing and a subplot that's both morally reprehensible and entirely out of place, Bay's movie is loud and vulgar and disorienting, and not at all an exhilarating kind of fun. The film is a cocktail of convoluted scheming, smirking one-liners, and unabashed Bayhem is unsurprisingly well-suited to its demands. But it's still s**t. Surely we've moved on? Had the action sequences been better framed and presented, this might have been one of the summer's mindless high points. As it is, it's a passable diversion. For those of us who like action, we can talk sensibly. Is the film a dumb film? Yes. How dumb is it? It's incredibly dumb-nay, exuberantly dumb. And who was it who said, "exuberance is beauty?" The film combines over-the-top action scenes with lifeless jokes and the disappointing result is an uninspired action comedy. It may well annoy a few of you as much as it occasionally did me, and it will definitely not elicit a good laughs. I don't hate action thrillers, but as well-intentioned as this film might be, it never gels for me. It's so awash in constant action that it takes all the fun of the characters right out of it. The set pieces are a confused mess and the character chemistry too weak to hold together the sloppy script despite good casting. Even committed action fans may acknowledge the editing is so frenetic that it's often impossible to know what is going on - or why. It's all shot and edited in a cut-to-ribbons, unsatisfying, no-stakes CGI way. Go and rent the far superior and similarly themed The Losers (2010) instead.

Simon says 6 Underground receives:

Also, see my review for Transformers: The Last Knight.

Monday, 9 December 2019

Film Review: "The Good Liar" (2019).

"Read between the lies" in The Good Liar. This crime thriller film directed and produced by Bill Condon, adapted by Jeffrey Hatcher, and based on the novel of the same name by Nicholas Searle. The film centres on career con artist Roy Courtnay, who can hardly believe his luck when he meets well-to-do widow Betty McLeish online. As Betty opens her home and life to him, Roy is surprised to find himself caring about her, turning what should be a cut-and-dry swindle into the most treacherous tightrope walk of his life.

In March 2018, it was announced that a film adaptation of Searle's novel was to be directed by Condon with Ian McKellen and Helen Mirren to star. By April, Russell Tovey, Jim Carter, Mark Lewis Jones, Laurie Davidson, Phil Dunster, Lucian Msamati, Jóhannes Haukur Jóhannesson, Tunji Kasim, Stella Stocker, Daniel Betts, and Céline Buckens rounded out the film's cast. At the same time, principal photography commenced, and took place throughout England, as well as Berlin, Germany.

The film stars McKellen, Mirren, Tovey, Carter, Jones, Davidson, Dunster, Msamati, Jóhannesson, Kasim, Stocker, Betts, and Buckens. The film serves as a creaking "star vehicle" for two stars who should have known better, and maybe had a little chemistry. Both McKellen and Mirren are at once an obvious choice for the parts and a hard sell to audiences soothed by their ageing star power after their string of less-than-stellar efforts after decades of reliability and class.

The two leads and their star power are undeniably appealing, but they can't make up for The Good Liar's slow, muddled plot, or the lack of chemistry between McKellen and Mirren. The film displays austere cinematography and Condon's waning skill at working with actors, especially with McKellen. The tone is lightly comic, the dialogue flirty and amusing but the performances are unengaged. There's no floor of reality, as there always was in a Hitchcock film, even his light confections. It is a tense, troubling thriller, marred only by problems of pacing and some implausible characterisation, it's full of vivid, miserable life. The film begins as an ingenious exposition of the great truth about charming people having something to hide: namely, their utter disturbing past. It ends up as a dismayingly unthrilling thriller and bafflingly unconvincing character study. The film's dreadful dialogue and plot-holes do not help. It is nothing more than a silly inane story lacking strong characters and ay sense of adventure. Despite the star power, the film lacks fireworks. It proves to be a case of big star power with low wattage. With bland visuals, cookie-cutter characters, and cliched Hitchcockian plot twists, the film offers an unpleasantly pungent treat for fans of the genre. In the end, the film was a bland, badly directed, star-driven cinematic molestation of Searle's tight-as-a-drum novel. This should have been a potent combination, but it turns out to be a fizzer. What's to enjoy about this one from the director and star that brought you Gods and Monsters?

Simon says The Good Liar receives:

Also, see my review for Mr. Holmes.

Film Review: "The Addams Family" (2019).

"Think your family is weird? Think again" for The Addams Family. This 3D CGI-animated supernatural fiction fantasy black comedy horror film directed by Conrad Vernon and Greg Tiernan, written by Matt Lieberman and Pamela Pettler, and based on the characters created by Charles Addams. Members of the mysterious and spooky Addams family - Gomez, Morticia, Pugsley, Wednesday, Uncle Fester and Grandma - are readily preparing for a visit from their even creepier relatives. But trouble soon arises when shady TV personality Margaux Needler realizes that the Addams' eerie hilltop mansion is standing in the way of her dream to sell all the houses in the neighborhood.

In 2010, Illumination Entertainment acquired the rights to The Addams Family comics and announced an animated film with Tim Burton attached as director. The film was planned to be entirely stop-motion animated with the characters based on Addams' original drawings. However, in July 2013, the film was cancelled. Eventually, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures brought the rights and announced that they would produce an animated film, with Pettler hired to pen the script. In October 2017, it was announced that the film would be produced and directed by Vernon, and Lieberman rewrote Pettler's script. In December, it was reported that Oscar Isaac was in talks to voice the role of Gomez Addams in the film. For many years fans have lobbied for Isaac to take the role of Gomez, and prior to this film, when he was asked about the idea, Isaac expressed interest. In June 2018, Isaac was officially cast, alongside Charlize Theron, Allison Janney, Bette Midler, Chloë Grace Moretz, Finn Wolfhard and Nick Kroll. By August 2019, Aimee Garcia, Elsie Fisher, Catherine O'Hara, Martin Short, Snoop Dogg, Pom Klementieff, Tituss Burgess, and Jenifer Lewis rounded out the film's cast.

The film features the voice of Isaac, Theron, Grace Moretz, Wolfhard, Kroll, Dogg, Midler, Janney, O'Hara, Short, Fisher, Klementieff, Dogg, Garcia, Burgess, and Lewis. The performances given by the cast were both creepy and predictable, mysterious and rather tame. The performances was an extended collection of one-liners and not much more. However, the film displays the bizarre rhythms of the cast, and moves us from gag to gag with a stately slowness that keeps a fundamentally slapstick-driven film from ever feeling too busy or rushed.

The Addams Family is peppered with amusing sight gags and one-liners, but the disjointed script doesn't cohere into a successful whole. However, the film captures the family's droll humor with just the right mixture of morbidity and genuine care. At times this can all become a little silly but Vernon and Tiernan manages to rein the film in before things get too ridiculous. Vernon and Tiernan infused the film with a gleefully broad visual sensibility that remains a highlight from start to finish. Ultimately, despite inspired casting and nifty visual trappings, the eagerly awaited animated effort may be a major disappointment. The film's aimlessness and repetitiveness eventually become draining. A late Halloween treat giftwrapped for Christmas, the film does not live up to its packaging.

Simon says The Addams Family receives:

Also, see my review for Sausage Party.

Sunday, 8 December 2019

Film Review: "Marriage Story" (2019).

From Netflix and the director of The Squid and the Whale and Frances Ha comes Marriage Story. This comedy-drama film written and directed by Noah Baumbach. The film is an incisive and compassionate look at a marriage breaking up and a family staying together.

In 2016, during post-production of The Meyerowitz Stories, Baumbach first conceived the idea of the film based on his divorce from actress Jennifer Jason Leigh, as well as his parents' divorce. He began to research the subject, and met with three-time collaborator Adam Driver to discuss the role. Speaking of writing the film, Baumbach said: "I have a real connection to the material ... [but] I was also at a time in my life where many of my friends were getting divorced. I saw it as an opportunity to do something more expansive, so I did a lot of research. I interviewed a lot of my friends, and friends of friends, and then also lawyers, judges, mediators." Following the release of the film, Baumbach said, "I showed [Leigh] the script and then I showed her the movie a little bit ago. She likes it a lot." In November 2017, it was announced Driver and Scarlett Johansson set to star. In addition, Netflix would produce and distribute the film. Driver and Johansson were cast before the script was complete. Hence, throughout the script writing process, the cast collaborated with Baumbach on certain character aspects. By mid January 2018, Laura Dern, Alan Alda, Ray Liotta, Azhy Robertson, Julie Hagerty, Merritt Wever, Mark O'Brien, and Wallace Shawn rounded out the film's cast. At the same time, principal photography commenced, and lasted forty-seven days. Filming took place at Warner Bros. Studios in Los Angeles, California, and New York City. Persona (1966) served as a visual influence for the film. The film was the first Netflix film to be granted the longest theatrical release of thirty days. Netflix reopened the previously closed Paris Theatre in New York to exclusively play the film.

It's the movie's pitch-perfect performances, especially from Johansson and Driver, that provide a rock-solid foundation for its tale of crumbling relationships. Don't look now, but Johansson and Driver's days as Black Widow and Kylo Ren may be coming to an end.

Marriage Story is a piercingly honest, acidly witty look at divorce and its impact on a family. It's a rare film that can be convincingly tender, bitterly funny, and ruthlessly cutting over the course of fewer than a hundred and thirty-six minutes. The film not only manages this, it also contains moments that sock you with all three qualities at the same time.The film is domestic tragedy recollected as comedy: a film whose catalog of deceits and embarrassments, and of love pratfalling over itself, makes it as painful as it is funny. A wry exercise in acute observation and emotional distancing, Baumbach's film represents what's best in autobiographical filmmaking. Baumbach has created an unforgettable film about horrifyingly human people.

Simon says Marriage Story receives:

Also, see my review for Frances Ha.

Thursday, 28 November 2019

Film Review: "The Irishman" (2019).

"Time Changes Nothing" in The Irishman. This epic crime film directed by Martin Scorsese, written by Steven Zaillian, and based on the 2004 book I Heard You Paint Houses by Charles Brandt. This is an epic saga of organized crime in post-war America told through the eyes of World War II veteran Frank Sheeran, a hustler and hitman who worked alongside some of the most notorious figures of the 20th century. Spanning decades, the film chronicles one of the greatest unsolved mysteries in American history, the disappearance of legendary union boss Jimmy Hoffa, and offers a monumental journey through the hidden corridors of organized crime: its inner workings, rivalries and connections to mainstream politics.

In 2007, development on the project commenced after Robert De Niro read Brandt's book with Scorsese set to direct, and De Niro, Al Pacino and Joe Pesci set to star. According to Deadline, before accepting the role of Russell Bufalino, Pesci refused multiple times to come out of retirement in order to appear in this film. Some sources say the actual number of refusals was fifty. In July 2009, Brandt received a phone call from De Niro. In August, Brandt then met with Scorsese and Zaillian. The project was initially set up at Paramount Pictures, who was planning to release it domestically, as well as Media Asia, who picked up Chinese distribution, and STX Entertainment, who took international rights. However, the project fell into development hell due to new plot materials, rewrites, scheduling conflicts, and budget concerns, and led to Paramount losing confidence in the film. Scorsese couldn't get a Hollywood studio to back the film, claiming nobody was interested in making a film with him and De Niro anymore. Ultimately, Netflix acquired the film rights for $105 million and agreed to finance the film's proposed $125 million budget with a projected release date of October 2019. Scorsese went on to direct Hugo (2011), The Wolf of Wall Street (2014) and Silence (2016) instead. In September 2014, Pacino confirmed that the film would be his next project after Silence. In October 2015, De Niro stated that the film was still happening, and Zaillian was hired to pen the script. In July 2017, it was reported that the film would be presented as a series of flashbacks of an older Frank Sheeran, depicted as recollecting his many criminal activities over several decades, with De Niro appearing "as young as 24 years and as old as 80." 

By mid September 2017, Ray Romano, Bobby Cannavale, Anna Paquin, Stephen Graham, Harvey Keitel, Stephanie Kurtzuba, Kathrine Narducci, Jesse Plemons, Jack Huston, and Domenick Lombardozzi rounded out the film's cast. At the same time, with a finalised budget of $159 million, principal photography commenced, and wrapped in early March 2018. Filming took place in a hundred and seventeen different locations throughout New York and Long Island. The film was shot on both 35mm film and digital with the Arricam ST & LT cameras, as well as the RED Helium cameras. The latter was utilised for the de-aging sequences, and they required de-aging effects were shot digitally with a custom three-camera rig. Industrial Light & Magic and visual effects supervisor Pablo Helman handled the effects for the film. De-aging was facilitated by infrared makeup and flesh-colored tracking markers glued to the actors' skin. These tracking marks were then illuminated with infrared light, invisible to the main Helium camera but visible to the two witness-cameras attached to the rig. The two auxiliary witness-cameras captured facial performance data based on these infrared markers and allowed a portion of the complex de-aging process to be automated. A posture coach was brought on set to offer tips to De Niro, Pacino, and Pesci on how to comport themselves like much younger men. 

In February 2019, it was reported that Netflix would possibly give the film a wide theatrical release, at the request of Scorsese. However, due to Netflix's financial backing, the film had some serious side effects with regards to its theatrical release. The film would receive a limited theatrical release on November 1, 2019 in the United States. As part of the continuing tensions between the film markets for direct to digital streaming and theatrical releases and distribution of films, several theater chains protested the policy of Netflix for the film's release. The film will not play at the theaters owned by AMC, Cinemark, Regal or Cineplex, because the "four week progression to SVOD remains unacceptable to those chains." The heads of several theater chains, including AMC's Adam Aron, who refused to play Roma the previous November, said they would only be open to playing the film if Netflix "respects the decades old theatrical window, that suggests that movies come to theaters first for a couple of months, and then go to the home." Two major chains offered to exhibit the film if given an exclusivity window of 60 days, approximately two weeks shorter than the typical window, but could not reach an agreement with Netflix.

All of the performances are first-rate; De Niro is just stellar, Pacino is steals the show, Pesci stands out with his surprisingly subdued manner, and Romano, Cannavale, Paquin, Graham, and Keitel are strong as strong can be. The film has been beautifully cast from the leading roles to the bits. 

Hard-hitting and stylish, The Irishman is, and will be, a gangster classic - and will arguably be one of the high point of Scorsese's career. No finer film has ever been made about organized crime. More than any earlier Scorsese film, the film is memorable for the ensemble nature of the performances. Despite the three and a half-hour length, it is Scorsese's triumph, and the film offers the most immersive and sharpest ride in recent film history. Every crisp minute of this long, teeming movie vibrates with outlaw energy. Big, rich, powerful and explosive. One of Scorsese's best films! It is great entertainment. The film is, without a doubt, great cinema—and also a whopping good time both on Netflix and in the cinemas.

Simon says The Irishman receives:

Sunday, 24 November 2019

Film Review: "Knives Out" (2019).

"Everyone has a motive. No one has a clue" in Knives Out. This mystery film written and directed by Rian Johnson. When renowned crime novelist Harlan Thrombey is found dead at his estate just after his 85th birthday, the inquisitive and debonair Detective Benoit Blanc is mysteriously enlisted to investigate. From Harlan's dysfunctional family to his devoted staff, Blanc sifts through a web of red herrings and self-serving lies to uncover the truth behind Harlan's untimely death.

In May 2005, after the completion and release of his debut film Brick, Johnson came up with the basic concept for the film. In June 2010, he expressed interest in making an Agatha Christie-inspired murder mystery film, and that he wanted to make the film after finishing Looper (2012). However, Johnson's next film project after Looper turned out to be Star Wars: The Last Jedi (2017). In September 2018, the film was announced with Daniel Craig starring. Johnson cited several classic mystery thrillers and mystery comedies as influences on the film, including Something's Afoot, The Last of Sheila (1973), Murder on the Orient Express (1974), Murder by Death (1976), Death on the Nile (1978), The Private Eyes (1980), The Mirror Crack'd (1980), Evil Under the Sun (1982), Deathtrap (1982), Clue (1985), and Gosford Park (2001). By late October, Chris Evans, Ana de Armas, Jamie Lee Curtis, Michael Shannon, Don Johnson, Toni Collette, Lakeith Stanfield, Katherine Langford, Jaeden Martell, Noah Segan, Edi Patterson, Riki Lindhome, K Callan, Frank Oz, M. Emmet Walsh, and Christopher Plummer rounded out the film's cast. At the same time, principal photography commenced, and wrapped in late December. Filming took place in Boston, Massachusetts.

The film stars an ensemble cast that includes Craig, Evans, de Armas, Lee Curtis, Shannon, Johnson, Collette, Stanfield, Langford, Martell, Segan, Patterson, Lindhome, Callan, Oz, Emmet Walsh, and Plummer. The cast were credible in their roles. Craig was a very, very funny as the American, somewhat prissy, take-off on the Hercule Poirot archetype. Curtis, Shannon, Johnson, and Lindhome were marvelous as Linda, Walter, and Richard, though they haven't enough to do.

Knives Out is a very good silly-funny Neil Simon-esque satirical comedy, with a super all-star cast cavorting as recognizable pulp fiction detectives gathered at the home of Plummer, wealthy novelist fed up with despicable characters. It also has one of the nicest, breeziest screenplays I've seen to date. A mixture of all the great whodunnit mysteries; and perceptive social commentary, the film ranks among director Johnson's best. It's the sort of film one could see more than once and pick up on comedy bits unnoticed at first. It's a comic study of ancient and honorable human defects, including greed, envy, lust, pride, avarice, sloth, and falsehood. Nathan Johnson's music is another highlight. It wants to mislead us at every turn, confound all our expectations, and provide at least one moment when we levitate from our seats and come down screaming. It succeeds, more or less. Generally successful send-up of classic mysteries with a solid finale.

Simon says Knives Out receives:

Also, see my review for Star Wars: The Last Jedi.

Tuesday, 19 November 2019

Film Review: "Ford v Ferrari" (2019).

"They took the american dream for a ride." This is Ford v Ferrari. This sports drama film directed by James Mangold, and written by Jez Butterworth, John-Henry Butterworth, and Jason Keller. Based on the remarkable true story of the visionary American car designer Carroll Shelby and the fearless British-born driver Ken Miles, who together battled corporate interference, the laws of physics, and their own personal demons to build a revolutionary race car for Ford Motor Company and take on the dominating race cars of Enzo Ferrari at the 24 Hours of Le Mans in France in 1966.

A film based on the rivalry between Ford and Ferrari had lingered in development hell at 20th Century Fox. Initially, under the working title Go Like Hell, Tom Cruise and Brad Pitt were set to star  with a script by Keller and Joseph Kosinski set to direct. But the project fell apart. At the same time, Michael Mann was developing a Enzo Ferrari biopic with Christian Bale originally set to play Ferrari. But Bale dropped out to due concerns he had regarding gaining the proper weight in time. The project was ultimately shelved. In early February 2018, it was announced that Mangold had been brought on board to direct the film after the success of Logan (2017). The Butterworths were hired to provide rewrites. In March 2018, Christian Bale and Matt Damon were eyed for the lead roles. Damon said the number one reason he wanted to do the film was to work with Bale. In preparation for his role, Bale took race driving lessons at the Bondurant High Performance Driving School founded by the friend of Miles. By early July, Jon Bernthal, Caitriona Balfe, Tracy Letts, Josh Lucas, Noah Jupe, Remo Girone, and Ray McKinnon rounded out the film's cast. At the same time, with a budget of $100 million, principal photography commenced, and took place in Savannah, Georgia, and Los Angeles, California. In order to recreate the 1960s Le Mans circuit, the scenes had to be shot in five different locations. This proved a challenge in terms of continuity as not only the cars had to be correctly placed for each shot but the weather had to be consistent as well. VFX was critical in fixing a variety of continuity errors some of which were as simple as adjusting clocks to the right time. In North America, the film is marketed as Ford v Ferrari, whilst, in most other countries, it was marketed as Le Mans 66.

The film stars Damon, Bale, Bernthal, Balfe, Letts, Lucas, Jupe, Girone, and McKinnon. Strong performances were given by the cast, especially from Damon and Bale. Even if occasionally it stalls because of its sometimes heavy-handed treatment of Ford and Ferrari's rivalry. Also if its two protagonists were behaving like little more than boys with very fast toys.

A sleek, slick, well-oiled machine, Ford v Ferrari is a finely crafted sports drama with exhilarating race sequences and strong performances from Damon and Bale.

Simon says Ford v Ferrari receives:

Also, see my review for Logan.

Tuesday, 12 November 2019

Film Review: "Pain and Glory" ("Dolor y gloria") (2019).

From the director of All About My Mother and Julieta comes Pain and Glory (Dolor y gloria). This Spanish drama film directed and written by Pedro Almodóvar. A film director reflects on the choices he's made in life as the past and present come crashing down around him.

In April 2018, El Deseo announced the film. Federico Fellini's 1963 Italian neo-realism classic served as an inspiration for the filmBy mid July, Antonio Banderas, Penélope Cruz, Asier Etxeandia, Cecilia Roth, Susi Sánchez, Julieta Serrano and Leonardo Sbaraglia were cast. The film marks Almodóvar's eighth collaboration with Banderas and sixth collaboration with Cruz, as well as Banderas and Cruz's second collaboration in a Almodóvar film after I'm So Excited! (2013). At the same time, principal photography commenced, and wrapped in mid September. Filming took place throughout Madrid, Spain.

The film stars Banderas, Cruz, Etxeandia, Roth, Sánchez, Serrano and Sbaraglia. Thanks to the complex performances given by the cast, there's no clean way to boil the characters of the film down to their psychoanalytical essence. Banderas still proves that he is a great avatar for Almodovar in the surreal cinematic self-interrogation that takes place in the film.

A marvellous and immensely personal piece of self analysis, which journeys into the heart, mind and soul of its illustrious director, Almodovar. It is a delightful piece of filmmaking full of psychological flights of creative delirium and accomplished with wit, verve, style, grace, and a tongue-in-cheek joy. Amiably spiking all criticism through a gloomy scriptwriter mouthpiece, Almodovar pulls a multitude of rabbits out of the showman's hat. Almodovar is so incredibly creative that when he was enduring physical pain, he turned his personal struggle into a phenomenal masterpiece of introspection. Almodovar's flights into the surreal are his self-examination and confession. Like Fellini, his confession is without moral rigor; he wants to be indulged, not absolved. Here is a piece of entertainment that will really make you sit up straight and think, a film endowed with the challenge of a fascinating intellectual game. Though he can't face up to the total case, we must be grateful to Almodovar for having presented so much of it, and with such flair and exuberance. It is probably the most potent movie about film-making, within which fantasy and reality are mixed without obfuscation, and there's a tough argument that belies Almodovar's usual felicitous flaccidity. The effect is sometimes confusing - but always beautiful - and eventually intertwines to a singular life-confirming realisation that cuts through the madness and embraces it. Somehow, the movie is more than the dated crisis of a naval-contemplating artist. It's about the inability in all of us to make sense of our lives, put it all together and come up with something meaningful. Maybe it is a film that will grown on me over time? I'm not sure but it didn't do much for me on this watch. Still, it does look great so I will give it that. Almodovar is that rare sort of artist who can be loved, revered and just barely tolerated, all at the same time.

Simon says Pain and Glory (Dolor y gloria) receives:

Also, see my review for Julieta.

Sunday, 10 November 2019

Film Review: "Doctor Sleep" (2019).

"The next chapter in The Shining story." This is Doctor Sleep. This horror film adapted and directed by Mike Flanagan, and based on the 2013 novel of the same name by Stephen King. It is a sequel to King's 1977 novel The Shining, and to Stanley Kubrick's 1980 film of the same name. Still irrevocably scarred by the trauma he endured as a child at the Overlook, Dan Torrance has fought to find some semblance of peace. But that peace is shattered when he encounters Abra, a courageous teenager with her own powerful extrasensory gift, known as the "shine." Instinctively recognizing that Dan shares her power, Abra has sought him out, desperate for his help against the merciless Rose the Hat and her followers, The True Knot, who feed off the shine of innocents in their quest for immortality. Forming an unlikely alliance, Dan and Abra engage in a brutal life-or-death battle with Rose. Abra's innocence and fearless embrace of her shine compel Dan to call upon his own powers as never before—at once facing his fears and reawakening the ghosts of the past.

In late 2013, shortly after its publication, Warner Bros. began developing a film adaptation of King's 2013 novel of the same name. In 2016, writer-producer Akiva Goldsman was hired to pen the script. In late 2017, after the release and box-office success of It, another King adaptation, led the studio to fast-track production of the film. In January 2018, Flanagan was hired to rewrite Goldsman's script and direct. Flanagan said that the film would try and reconcile the differences between King's novel and Kubrick's film. Flanagan had to convince King that, despite his own distaste for Kubrick's film, audiences were more familiar with that version, and largely preferred it to King's 1997 mini-series. As such, this film had to be a sequel to Kubrick's film and include some direct references to it. Flanagan ultimately received King's blessing. By September, Ewan McGregor, Rebecca Ferguson, Cliff Curtis, Carl Lumbly, Zahn McClarnon, Bruce Greenwood, Jacob Tremblay, Alex Essoe, Henry Thomas, and Kyliegh Curran were cast. Dan Stevens, Chris Evans, Matt Smith, Jeremy Renner, and John Cusack were considered for the role of Danny Torrance, and have met with the director for the lead role. McGregor was ultimately cast with King's blessing. At the same name, principal photography commenced, and wrapped in December. Filming took place in Atlanta, Georgia. Flanagan painstakingly recreated the sets of the Overlook hotel from blueprints acquired from Kubrick's estate.

Like the film itself, the cast gave terrific performances that paid great tribute/homages to both King's novel and Kubrick's film. McGregor made a terrific older Danny, and Ferguson was the perfect terrifying adversary.

Doctor Sleep struggles to escape from the shadow of Kubrick's horror masterpiece, but offers a terrifying adventure in a more straightforward voyage to the Overlook. It may not match the poetry and the mystery of Kubrick's film, but it does continue the story, and it offers sound, pragmatic explanations for many of the strange and visionary things in King's novel.

Simon says Doctor Sleep receives:

Also, see my reviews for The Haunting of Hill House and The Shining: Extended Cut.

Monday, 4 November 2019

Film Review: "Terminator: Dark Fate" (2019).

"Welcome to the Day after Judgment Day." Welcome to Terminator: Dark Fate. This science fiction action film directed by Tim Miller, and written by David Goyer, Justin Rhodes, and Billy Ray. It is the sixth installment in the Terminator franchise and a direct sequel to Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991). More than two decades have passed since Sarah Connor prevented Judgment Day, changed the future, and re-wrote the fate of the human race. Dani Ramos is living a simple life in Mexico City with her brother and father when a highly advanced and deadly new Terminator - a Rev-9 - travels back through time to hunt and kill her. Dani's survival depends on her joining forces with two warriors: Grace, an enhanced super-soldier from the future, and a battle-hardened Sarah Connor. As the Rev-9 ruthlessly destroys everything and everyone in its path on the hunt for Dani, the three are led to a T-800 from Sarah's past that may be their last best hope.

In July 2015, Genisys was eventually released to a disappointing box-office performance. The development of a planned trilogy was ultimately cancelled. Ellison then recruited Cameron to produce a subsequent film with him in hopes of creating a better film. Cameron was intrigued by Ellison's proposal to make the film a direct sequel to Judgment Day, ignoring the events of Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines (2003), Terminator Salvation (2009) and Genisys. Cameron agreed to produce the film on the condition that Arnold Schwarzenegger and Linda Hamilton be involved in it. As producer, Cameron was involved in pre-production and script work. In October 2016, Miller was hired as director. In July, Cameron said that he was working with Ellison to set up a trilogy of films and supervise it. In mid September, Skydance Media confirmed that the film was scheduled for a July 26, 2019 release date. In addition, Schwarzenegger and Hamilton were confirmed to reprise their roles. Miller, Cameron, and Ellison conceived the story with Charles H. Eglee, Josh Friedman, Goyer and Rhodes, whist Goyer and Rhodes were hired to pen the script. In November, Ray was hired to rewrite Goyer's script. By early June 2018, Mackenzie Davis, Natalia Reyes, and Gabriel Luna were cast. At the same time, with a budget of $185 million, principal photography commenced, and wrapped in mid November, under the working title Terminator 6: Phoenix. Filming took place at Origo Film Studios in Budapest, Hungary; Almería, Madrid and Murcia, Spain; Chicago, Illinois; and Los Angeles, California. Cameron was heavily involved during post-production. The film was cut down from two hours and 50 minutes to two hours and eight minutes, based on Cameron's notes. In March 2019, the film's title was announced.

Hamilton and Schwarzenegger reprised their iconic roles beautifully. Schwarzenegger's role was his best since T2. Hamilton made a long overdue and spectacular return. Davis, Reyes, and Luna made fine new additions.

Dark Fate strikes all the right chords, emotionally and narrative-wise, even though it may be extremely derivative of the first two films.

Simon says Terminator: Dark Fate receives:

Also, see my review for Deadpool and Terminator: Genisys.

Tuesday, 29 October 2019

"The True Da Vinci Code" Lecture.

The Embassy of Italy in Wellington in collaboration with the Italian Cultural Institute in Sydney and the University of Auckland was pleased to present a lecture by the Italian mathematician, logician, writer and expert of the history of science, Piergiorgio Odifreddi. The lecture took place at the University of Auckland, at the Owen G. Glenn Building.

The word polymath comes to minds when the name Leonardo da Vinci is mentioned. He is widely considered one of the greatest painters of all time to come out of the Renaissance period, known for The Mona Lisa (the most famous of his works and the most popular portrait ever made), The Last Supper (the most reproduced religious painting of all time), and his Vitruvian Man drawing (regarded as a cultural icon). His paintings and preparatory drawings—together with his notebooks, which contain sketches, scientific diagrams, and his thoughts on the nature of painting—compose a contribution to later generations of artists rivalled only by that of his contemporary Michelangelo. Although he had no formal academic training, many historians and scholars regard Leonardo as the prime exemplar of the "Universal Genius" or "Renaissance Man", an individual of "unquenchable curiosity" and "feverishly inventive imagination." He is widely considered one of the most diversely talented individuals ever to have lived. Revered for his technological ingenuity, Da Vinci conceptualized flying machines, a type of armoured fighting vehicle, concentrated solar power, an adding machine, and the double hull. He is also sometimes credited with the inventions of the parachute, helicopter, and tank. He made substantial discoveries in anatomy, civil engineering, geology, optics, and hydrodynamics, but he did not publish his findings and they had little to no direct influence on subsequent science.

On the occasion of the 500th anniversary of Leonardo Da Vinci’s death, the lecture explored the theme of The true Da Vinci Code. The 2003 Dan Brown novel, The Da Vinci Code, is just the last chapter of the secular path which led to the association of the figure of Leonardo to words like 'genius', 'superlative intellect' and 'visionary': a journey celebrated around the world this year on the occasion of the five hundredth anniversary of his death.

Like with any journey, we must go back to the beginning. Da Vinci was born on either 14 or 15 April 1452 in Vinci, Republic of Florence (present-day Italy) as Leonardo di ser Piero da Vinci. Odifreddi then remarked a quote from the Russian literary giant, Vladimir Nabokov, in which he said "There are three ways of looking at a painting, a reading a book or a theorem. The fist is the infantile; the way a boy or a girl would look at a painting or reading a book in which they are struck by the story of the painting or the book... Then there's the adolescent; the way a mature viewer or reader is intrigued by the message of the painting or book when viewing them in order to understand how the mind of the creator works.." Odifreddi used Da Vinci's Annunciation and The Last Supper as examples, two pieces of art in which one can notice, when viewing with the adolescent eyes, intentional lines which are organised to create a one-point perspective. This is known as Linear Perspective, a method in Renaissance art that was coined by Filippo Brunelleschi in 1415. This exemplified not only his artistic eye but also his mathematical mind. However, Da Vinci would prove unsuccessful with the former example due to a lack of rudimentary mathematical knowledge, as well as of the Divine Proportion/Golden Ratio. Since he lacked formal education in mathematics, contemporary scholars mostly ignored Leonardo the scientist. In the 1490s he studied mathematics under Luca Pacioli and prepared a series of drawings of regular solids in a skeletal form to be engraved as plates for Pacioli's book Divina proportione, published in 1509. Da Vinci completed over sixty drawings for Pacioli. Da Vinci spent the last four years of his life in Amboise, Kingdom of France (present-day France), until his death on 2 May, 1519. Today, the house now serves a museum where his works are preserved for display.

All the qualities that Da Vinci possessed, and was celebrated for, can be said for Odifreddi. Born on 13 July, 1950 in Cuneo, he is an Italian mathematician, logician, and aficionado of the history of science, as well as being extremely active also as a popular science writer and essayist, especially in a perspective of philosophical atheism as a member of the Italian Union of Rationalist Atheists and Agnostics. In addition, he is philosophically and politically near to Bertrand Russell and Noam Chomsky. Indicated in his writings, he has repeatedly manifested his opposition to US policies, in particular against that of George W. Bush and Israel. In 1973, Odifreddi received his Laurea cum laude in mathematics in Turin; he then specialized in the United States, at the University of Illinois and UCLA, and in the Soviet Union, at Novosibirsk State University. He taught Logic at the University of Turin and Cornell University. In 2011 he won the Galileo Award for Scientific Dissemination.

Film Review: "The Dead Don't Die" (2019).

"The Road To Survival Could Be A Dead End" in The Dead Don't Die. This zombie horror comedy film written and directed by Jim Jarmusch. In the sleepy small town of Centerville, something is not quite right. The moon hangs large and low in the sky, the hours of daylight are becoming unpredictable, and animals are beginning to exhibit unusual behaviors. News reports are scary, and scientists are concerned, but no one foresees the strangest and most dangerous repercussion that will soon start plaguing Centerville: the dead rise from their graves and feast on the living, and the citizens must battle to survive.

During production of their last effort Only Lovers Left Alive (2013), Tilda Swinton gave Jarmusch the idea of doing a zombie movie. George A. Romero's Night of the Living Dead (1968) served as an influence. By July 2018, Bill Murray, Adam Driver, Chloë Sevigny, Steve Buscemi, RZA, Swinton, Danny Glover, Caleb Landry Jones, Rosie Perez, Carol Kane, Selena Gomez, and Tom Waits were cast in a zombie comedy with Jarmusch penning the script and to direct. At the same time, principal photography commenced, and took place in Fleischmanns, Elizaville, Margaretville, Ancram, and Catskill, New York.

The film features an ensemble cast the includes Murray, Driver, Sevigny, Buscemi, RZA, Swinton, Glover, Jones, Perez, Kane, Gomez, and Waits. In the time-honoured Jarmuschian fashion, the few things that happen in the film happen very slowly, but the dialogue is always gloomily amusing, and Murray and Driver's delivery of the gags is as cold and crisp as footsteps in fresh snow. Murray, Driver and cast play their characters not as blasé hipsters but, rather, deeply reflective, almost hopeless fools who seem to have decided that the zombie apocalypse is something they can handle.

Worth watching for Murray and Driver's performances alone, The Dead Don't Die finds writer-director Jim Jarmusch adding a typically offbeat entry to the zombie genre. The film cleverly balances scares and witty satire, making for a bloody good zombie movie with loads of wit. The film is side-splitting, head-smashing, gloriously gory horror comedy that will amuse casual viewers and delight genre fans. Instead of focusing on the Undead and trying to get the laughs there, it treats the living characters as sitcom regulars whose conflicts and arguments keep getting interrupted by annoying flesh-eaters. Though it is not the perennial downtown filmmaker's best work which it shares a sense of noise, heady, perilous passage. However, the real pleasure of the film is in its languid droll cool and its comedic portrayal of the zombie apocalypse, which is now our number one scenario in the inevitable event of us facing the zombie apocalypse. This is a film that finds horror not in the extreme, but in the mundane. That alone makes it a worthwhile entry in a genre that it both inhabits and rises above. The film is a droll, classy piece of cinematic dandyism that makes the Walking Dead cycle redundant in one exquisitely languid stroke.

Simon says The Dead Don't Die receives:

Also, see my review for Paterson.

Sunday, 27 October 2019