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.