Sunday, 13 September 2020

Film Review: "The Social Dilemma" (2020).

"The technology that connects also controls us." This is The Social Dilemma. This docudrama film directed by Jeff Orlowski and written by Orlowski, Davis Coombe, and Vickie Curtis. Set in the dark underbelly of Silicon Valley, this film hybrid fuses investigative documentary with enlightening narrative drama. Expert testimony from tech whistle-blowers exposes our disturbing predicament: the services Big Tech provides-search engines, networks, instant information, etc.-are merely the candy that lures us to bite. Once we're hooked and coming back for more, the real commodity they sell is their prowess to influence and manipulate us.

In addition to exploring the rise of social media and the damage it has caused to society, it focuses on its exploitation of its users for financial gain through surveillance capitalism and data mining, how its design is meant to nurture an addiction, its use in politics, its effect on mental health (including the mental health of adolescents and rising teen suicide rates), and its role in spreading conspiracy theories such as Pizzagate and aiding groups such as flat-earthers. The film features interviews with former Google design ethicist and Center for Humane Technology co-founder Tristan Harris, his fellow Center for Humane Technology co-founder Aza Raskin, Asana co-founder and Facebook like button co-creator Justin Rosenstein, Harvard University professor Shoshana Zuboff, former Pinterest president Tim Kendall, AI Now director of policy research Rashida Richardson, Yonder director of research Renee DiResta, Stanford University Addiction Medicine Fellowship program director Anna Lembke, and virtual reality pioneer Jaron Lanier. 

Orlowski's suspenseful and thought-provoking documentary focuses on the ethical and existential crisis of technology. The film makes you feel vaguely sick, especially when it explains how the destruction of moral ethics could lead to the existential destruction of humanity. A story of passionate pioneers and experts who are concerned about technology's moral ambiguity becomes a clarion call for change and one of the year's most essential movies. The film is a remarkable experience, one that teeters between overwhelming the viewer with the scope of humanity's ruin and inspiring them to find ways to help. I strongly recommend watching the film, after which I urge you to please reconsider your social media accounts. Because seriously, folks, you will never see them in the same way again. The urgency of this problem requires people to become informed about the issues, starting with seeing the film either at the IFC or on Netflix. This cautionary tale is far more grand than social media, and once we realize as much, perhaps we can reverse the consequences before it is too late. By film's end, you'll not only see your social media differently but also as nightmares in which they will be no escape if you allow it to control you. The film makes a powerful case less through argument than by using cinema's most basic tool: visual proof. The message will stay with you, but so will the nagging sense that you can't really do anything unless you happen to be a world leader.

Simon says The Social Dilemma receives:

Also, see my review for Chasing Coral.

Tuesday, 8 September 2020

Film Review: "Bill & Ted Face the Music" (2020).

"The future awaits" in Bill & Ted Face the Music. This science fiction comedy film directed by Dean Parisot and written by Chris Matheson and Ed Solomon. It is the third film in the Bill & Ted series, and the sequel to Bill & Ted's Bogus Journey (1991). The ruler of the future tells best friends Bill and Ted they must compose a new song to save life as we know it. But instead of writing it, they decide to travel through time to steal it from their older selves. Meanwhile, their young daughters devise their own musical scheme to help their fathers bring harmony to the universe.

After the release and success of Bill & Ted's Bogus Journey, there were no immediate plans for a sequel. Around 2005, Keanu Reeves was asked if he had any interest in playing Ted again, to which he responded positively. Around 2008, conceptualization for a third film began. In September 2010, Alex Winter confirmed that they had come onto an idea for a plot that they felt appropriate with Matheson and Solomon beginning to work on the script with significant input from Reeves and Winter. By April 2011, the first draft of the script had been completed. By August 2012, Parisot was hired to direct. While Reeves and Winter were both eager to return to their roles, but there was little interest in the script from any studios. Around 2014, the filmmakers began trying to appeal to fans. In September 2014, after the release of John Wick, the film's outlook changed. David Haring and Patrick Dugan, came in to provide the financial backing for the film, and by the end of September 2014, rewrites on the film begun while efforts were made to find a studio. Even with initial funding, it still took several years for them to make necessary deals for the actual production. During this time, the script was mostly finalized and entitled as Bill & Ted Face the Music. The filmmakers then approached MGM to secure distribution, prior to its relaunch of Orion Pictures in September 2017. MGM accepted the offer. In early May 2018, the film was formally greenlit. In late March 2019, Winter and Reeves affirmed that production was ready to commence, and that they had secured an August 21, 2020 release date. By early July, Winter, Reeves, and William Sadler were confirmed to reprise their roles, with Kristen Schaal, Samara Weaving, Brigette Lundy-Paine, Anthony Carrigan, Erinn Hayes, Jayma Mays, Holland Taylor, Kid Cudi, and Jillian Bell. At the same time, principal photography commenced and wrapped in late August. Filming took place throughout California and New Orleans. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the film was moved to August 14, 2020 before then being delayed to August 28, 2020As further complications from the pandemic continued to threaten movie theater openings, it was announced in late July that the film would be released in a combined theatrical and Premium VOD premiere on September 1, 2020. Then, in early August, Winter announced that the film had been moved back to its August 28 slot.

The cast, especially Reeves and Winter, are clearly having a wonderful time. The enthusiasm is contagious.

Though not as strong as its predecessors, this is a better threequel than expected, and it's well worth an hour and a half of your time.

Simon says Bill & Ted Face the Music receives:

Also, see my review for RED 2.

Sunday, 6 September 2020

Film Review: "I'm Thinking of Ending Things" (2020).

"I'm thinking of ending things. Once this thought arrives, it stays. It sticks, it lingers, it dominates. There's not much I can do about it, trust me. It doesn't go away. It's there whether I like it or not. It's there when I eat, when I go to bed. It's there when I sleep. It's there when I wake up. It's always there. Always." This is I'm Thinking of Ending Things. This psychological drama film adapted and directed by Charlie Kaufman, and based on the 2016 novel of the same name by Iain Reid. Despite second thoughts about their relationship, a young woman takes a road trip with her new boyfriend to his family farm. Trapped at the farm during a snowstorm with Jake's mother and father, the young woman begins to question the nature of everything she knew or understood about her boyfriend, herself, and the world.

Described as a psychological thriller and horror fiction, Reid's debut novel was first published in 2016. The novel was selected by National Public Radio as one of the best books of 2016, was a finalist in the 2016 Shirley Jackson Award, and appeared on the 2017 Ottawa Independent Writers Frank Hegyi Award for Emerging Authors longlist. In January 2018, it was announced that Netflix would produce an adaptation of Reid's novel with Kaufman as writer and director. By mid March 2019, Jesse Plemons, Jessie Buckley, Toni Collette and David Thewlis were cast. Originally, in December 2018, Brie Larson was originally cast before being replaced by Buckley. At the same time, principal photography commenced and wrapped in late April. Filming took place in Fishkill, New York.

The film stars Plemons, Buckley, Collette and Thewlis. The cast are perfectly cast in this film. Buckley's vulnerability is stunning, and she has channelled her internal skills into a tightly controlled performance that makes the absurd completely believable and terrifying.

A spectacular film that delves into a primitive feeling more authentically than any other film. A modern classic. The film is a whirlwind of emotions, and it is the kind of psychological horror/thriller that is just grounded enough, in reality, to inspire and incite, but dark enough to deserve its own special place in the genre's history. It's a surprising, clever horror/thriller twist, even as the relationship drama it dredges up doesn't feel at all like horror/thriller. At its core, the film could have been just another horror/thriller. Refracted through Kaufman's wonderfully weird prism, it's something truly memorable. The result is a cinematic vagueness that makes the film less aesthetic yet more persuasive. This is how nightmares really look: like reality, only less so. It's a very Kaufmanesque narrative experiment, technically ingenious and sophisticated. It also looks like some lost psychological horror/thriller idea by Shirley Jackson. The latest and darkest psychological horror/thriller adapted by Kaufman, America's most - we should probably say only - intellectually provocative filmmaker. The film entertains for the most part and gives us a set of marvellous performances from this outstanding cast, even if it doesn't quite reach the near-genius of Kaufman's other works.

Simon says I'm Thinking of Ending Things receives:

Also see my review for Anomalisa.

Film Review: "The New Mutants" (2020).

"There is something new to fear" in The New Mutants. This superhero horror film directed by Josh Boone, written by Boone and Knate Lee, and based on the Marvel Comics team of the same name created by Chris Claremont and Bill Sienkiewicz. It is the thirteenth and final installment in the X-Men film series. Five teenage mutants undergo treatments at a secret institution that will cure them of their dangerous powers. However, their memories soon turn into terrifying realities as they start to question why they're being held and who's trying to destroy them.

After completing work on The Fault in Our Stars (2014), Boone created a comic book with Lee to illustrate what a potential film trilogy adapting the New Mutants comics would be like. Boone and Lee took the comic to producer Simon Kinberg who "really liked it". In May 2015, Fox hired Boone to co-write and direct the film. In March 2016, Kinberg said that, like Deadpool (2016), the film would be different from the core X-Men films and would have a young adult "vibe". In May, Kinberg stated his hope for filming to start at the beginning of 2017. In April 2017, the film entered pre-production in Boston, Massachusetts. Fox scheduled the film for an April 13, 2018 release date. Boone confirmed the film would be "a full-fledged horror movie set within the X-Men universe..." By early July, Maisie Williams, Anya Taylor-Joy, Charlie Heaton, Alice Braga, Blu Hunt, and Henry Zaga were cast. At the same time, principal photography commenced and wrapped in mid September. Filming took place in Medfield, Massachusetts. Boone and editors Matthew Dunell and Robb Sullivan delivered a cut of the film to Fox that they were happy with. Three days of additional photography were planned to complete the "YA movie" that Boone, Lee, and Fox had agreed to make. However, following the successful release of the film It (2017), Fox decided to make the film more like Boone's original vision rather than completing the version that they had been making during production. In January 2018, the film's release date was pushed back to February 22, 2019. It allowed time for the reshoots required to make the film more frightening. The additional photography was soon set for mid-2018. In March, Fox again delayed the film's release to August 2, 2019. However, following the acquisition of Fox by Disney in March 2019, the studio pushed the film's release back to April 3, 2020. Reshoots for the film ultimately did not take place as Boone found that the cast had aged too much since principal photography had taken place. In early March 2020, Boone stated that the film was complete. However, Disney removed the film from its release schedule, along with several other films due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Ultimately, Disney scheduled the film for an August 28, 2020 release date.

Though confident performances were given by the cast, they never really generated any sympathy for their characters.

The film offers an imaginative and perfectly competent entry for a franchise already starting to succumb to franchise fatigue.

Simon says The New Mutants receives:

Also see my reviews for The Fault in Our Stars and Deadpool 2.

Tuesday, 1 September 2020

Film Review: "Tenet" (2020).

"Time Runs Out" in Tenet. This spy film written and directed by Christopher Nolan. Armed with only one word, Tenet, and fighting for the survival of the entire world, a Protagonist journeys through a twilight world of international espionage on a mission that will unfold in something beyond real time.

Over twenty years, Nolan conceived the ideas for the film, but remarked "I've been working on this iteration of the script for about six or seven years". In March 2019, John David Washington, Robert Pattinson, and Elizabeth Debicki were cast. By late May, Kenneth Branagh, Dimple Kapadia, Michael Caine, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Clémence Poésy, Himesh Patel, Martin Donovan, and Mélanie Laurent rounded out the film's cast. Nolan chose Washington for his performance in BlacKkKlansman (2018). There was much secrecy surrounding the project before its release. Nolan chose Pattinson after seeing his performances in Good Time (2017) and The Lost City of Z (2016). When casting for the female lead, Nolan nearly passed on Debicki because he thought that she was an American after seeing her in Widows (2018). So when Thomas suggested the actress, she had to inform him that she wasn't American. Kapadia's screen test was put together by director Homi Adajania while working on his 2020 film Angrezi Medium. Washington, Pattinson and Debicki were only allowed to read the script once, in a locked room at Warner Bros. studios. It took Washington around five hours to finish reading it because he kept flipping back and forth "in pure amazement." Branagh revealed that he read the script more times than anything he had ever worked on. He compared navigating through the script to doing the Times' crossword puzzle every single day. Caine wasn't even allowed to read the entire script; he was only given his scenes to read before shooting. Prior to the film's release, Caine told press that he had no idea what the movie was about, despite being a close friend and a frequent collaborator of Nolan. 

At the same time, with a budget of $205 million, principal photography commenced and wrapped in early November. Filming took place in Denmark, Estonia, India, Italy, Norway, the United Kingdom, and United States under the working title Merry Go Round. The film was shot on IMAX and 70mm film with Panavision lenses. Custom equipment and lenses were made for the film, that allowed IMAX cameras to be used more heavily. For instance, a custom camera head was built for the film, that would fit within a car and let an IMAX camera be turned around 360 degrees. Lenses were also constructed that would allow the filmmakers to shoot in lower-light situations, something that is traditionally limited when shooting with IMAX cameras. Nolan is a huge fan of the James Bond movies, and that love of the spy genre flows through the film. However, Nolan tried his best not to watch any movies that may overtly influence him while working on the film - this was the longest period of time the director had ever gone in his life without watching a Bond film. This is because he wanted to work from a memory and a feeling of that genre; he wasn't trying to do his own version of a James Bond movie, but was instead attempting to create the excitement that many people felt watching the Bond films when they were kids. One of director Nolan's filmmaking traditions is to gather his cast and crew together before production begins and screen movies that served as inspiration to the project they're working on together. For this film, however, Nolan intentionally broke his longstanding tradition and didn't host any screenings. He wanted the cast and crew to work from a feeling and memory of the spy genre (including the James Bond films), as opposed to trying to recreate them. Special effects supervisor Scott R. Fisher watched World War II movies and documentaries to find reference points for realism. 

For the film's score, Zimmer turned Nolan down for the first time in over a decade due to scheduling conflicts with scoring his longtime passion project Dune (2020). He was replaced by newcomer Ludwig Göransson, who had recently won an Oscar for his work on Black Panther (2018). Zimmer is friends with Göransson and had suggested him to Nolan. Göransson was about to begin orchestral sessions for the film's score when the United States shut down to stop the spread of the coronavirus. As a result, the soundtrack was completed by putting together individual recordings of the musicians in their homes. Warner Bros. Pictures originally scheduled Tenet for a July 17, 2020 release in IMAX, 35 mm, and 70 mm film. However, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it was first delayed to July 31, and subsequently August 12. After being held up indefinitely, Warner Bros. arranged the film to be released internationally on August 26 in seventy countries, including Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, South Korea, Russia, and the United Kingdom. It will then move to select cities in the United States on September 3, gradually expanding in the ensuing weeks. Although many film productions were impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, Nolan was able to complete post-production in more or less the same way he normally would. A rough cut of the film was finished before the lockdown came into place, and further editing was completed in Nolan's edit suit in his Los Angeles home, where he's worked on his films since The Dark Knight (2008). It also helped that, though based in California, Nolan has used visual effects house Double Negative London for years and therefore is used to corresponding remotely.

Washington confidently embodied The Protagonist while Pattinson has all the fun in the best action sequence. It is Debicki's performance that does the emotional heavy lifting. Branagh is his usual terrific self. He is the Sir Laurence Olivier of this generation.

A smart summer thriller filled with visionary set pieces, grand imagery and exciting twists, but its lack of a straightforward and emotional center keeps it just short of greatness. However, it is a different kind of espionage thriller that is hard to imagine it coming from any filmmaker other than Nolan.

Simon says Tenet receives:

Also, see my review for Dunkirk.

Sunday, 9 August 2020

Film Review: "Peninsula" ("반도") (2020).

"Four years after Train to Busan" comes Peninsula (반도). This South Korean action horror film directed by Yeon Sang-ho and written by Yeon and Park Joo-Suk. It is a standalone sequel to Train to Busan (부산행) (2016). Four years after South Korea’s total decimation in Train to Busan comes the next nail-biting second chapter in this post-apocalyptic world. Jung-seok, a soldier who previously escaped the diseased wasteland, relives the horror when assigned to a covert operation with two simple objectives: retrieve and survive. When his team unexpectedly stumbles upon survivors, their lives will depend on whether the best - or worst - of human nature prevails in the direst of circumstances.

Immediately after the success of Train to Busan, an animated prequel, Seoul Station, also directed by Yeon, was released and a follow-up film was announced. Yeon has stated that, "Peninsula is not a sequel to Train to Busan because it's not a continuation of the story, but it happens in the same universe." The film was selected to be shown at the 2020 Cannes Film Festival, however, the festival was eventually cancelled due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

The film stars Gang Dong-won, Lee Jung-hyun, Lee Re, Kwon Hae-hyo, Kim Min-jae and Koo Kyo-hwan. Though not as strong as the previous cast, the cast here also come to realize that selfish short-sighted attention is inherently inhuman. Metaphorically, it's what separates us from the zombies. During the harrowing ordeal, you're hunkered down with a likable group of survivors who jump resourcefully from one trap to the next, with the real monsters being the executive types.

The film doesn't blaze any new trails, but it transcends the tricks and tropes of a genre that so often feels it has nothing more to offer. This South Korean thrill-ride doesn't quite feels as fresh -- not because it doesn't do anything new, but because it doesn't greases the wheels of the old machine, and delivers an unending series of emotional-less gut-punches at a tedious pace. In visual terms, the film is mesmerising. The actual horror scenes are not overly gory, and the chase scenes are excellently choreographed and filled with pure adrenaline, however, it leaves you waiting for the film to be over and leave with a tired yawn. The bad stuff can be ignored and the good stuff, if there is any, is good enough. The terror is nuanced and visceral enough, a gut reaction to the scale and speed of the attacks on screen. There is much to enjoy here, but is there ever really any justification for a two-hour long zombie movie? The film argues not. However, the amount of energy that director Yeon Sang-ho is able to infuse into the film is a welcome change from the stop and go nature of recent entries in the genre. Part horror and part satire, this is an exceptional movie that drags you screaming along at bullet-train speed. Extraordinary tension is counterbalanced with eerie calm, as survivors embark and disembark in quiet fear.

Simon says Peninsula (반도) receives:

Also, see my review for Train to Busan (부산행).

Tuesday, 4 August 2020

Film Review: "Where'd You Go, Bernadette" (2019).

"Bernadette Fox has it all. A loving husband, and a brilliant daughter. But the one thing missing, is her." This is Where'd You Go, Bernadette. This mystery comedy-drama film directed by Richard Linklater, adapted by Linklater, Holly Gent, and Vince Palmo, and based on the novel of the same name by Maria Semple. Based on the runaway bestseller, this inspiring comedy centres on Bernadette Fox, a loving mom who becomes compelled to reconnect with her creative passions after years of sacrificing herself for her family. Bernadette's leap of faith takes her on an epic adventure that jump-starts her life and leads to her triumphant rediscovery.

In January 2013, Annapurna Pictures and Color Force acquired the film rights to Semple's novel, with Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber to pen the adaptation. In February 2015, Linklater was announced to direct the adaptation. Linklater was attracted to the story because of the strong mother/daughter relationship, he being the father of three daughters and brother of two older sisters. In April 2016, It was announced that Linklater, Holly Palmo and Vince Palmo had taken over writing duties from Neustadter and Weber. By early July 2017, Billy Crudup, Emma Nelson, Kristen Wiig, Judy Greer, Laurence Fishburne, James Urbaniak, Troian Bellisario, Steve Zahn, and Megan Mullally. At the same time, principal photography commenced, and took place in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; Seattle, Washington; British Columbia, Canada; and Greenland. While on location in Greenland, the production was hampered by a hurricane that lasted for thirty-six hours. Rather than wait it out, the crew went ahead and filmed the hurricane and included it in the final cut.

The film stars Blanchett, Crudup, Nelson, Wiig, Greer, Fishburne, Urbaniak, Bellisario, Zahn, and Mullally. It's a spell-binding display of wonderful acting with what looks like occasional skilled improvisation. Linklater allows Blanchett and the cast to give performances of a richness and depth that you won't find in their more obviously crowd-pleasing movies. 

Where'd You Go, Bernadette balances raw drama against refreshing moments of humor in an impeccably cast film that wrestles with questions of patriotism, family, and grief. It's good fun and has a warm heart, but there's nothing of real substance on offer in the film. Blanchett is still immensely watchable, however, in one of his best film roles to date. Linklater can't protect them from all the script's potholes, including sentiment, contrivance and a galling mixed-message ending. But spending time in the company of Blanchett and cast? That truly is a pleasure. It is an uneven film, that succeeds best when it focuses on the spiritual journey of its protagonist. The film may feel like it is meandering at times, but once it gets to its destination it leaves you with a powerful final punch. The film may not be completely smart and challenging, but it contains great performances and writing that may tug hard at the heart. It's gently and marvellously unpacked for our viewing pleasure. It's as funny as it is moving.

Simon says Where'd You Go, Bernadette receives:

Also, see my review for Last Flag Flying.

NZIFF Film Review: "The Perfect Candidate" (2019).

From the trailblazing director of Wadida (وجدة) comes The Perfect Candidate. This Saudi Arabian drama film directed by Haifaa al-Mansour and written by al-Mansour and Brad Niemann. A determined young Saudi doctor’s surprise run for office in the local city elections sweeps up her family and community as they struggle to accept their town's first female candidate.

Like the film's central heroine, al-Mansour's journey to becoming Saudi Arabia's first female filmmaker, on top of being one of the country's best-known and controversial directors, was a long and arduous one. Born on August 10, 1974, al-Mansour was born as the eighth (out of twelve) children to poet Abdul Rahman Mansour, who introduced her to films by video, there being no movie theaters in Saudi Arabia between 1983 and 2018. With her father's encouragement, she studied comparative literature at The American University in Cairo. She later completed a master's degree in Film Studies from University of Sydney, Australia. She began her filmmaking career with three shorts, Who?, The Bitter Journey and The Only Way Out. The latter won prizes in the United Arab Emirates and in the Netherlands. She followed these with the documentary Women Without Shadows, which deals with the hidden lives of women in Arab States of the Persian Gulf. It was shown at seventeen international festivals. The film received the Golden Dagger for Best Documentary in the Muscat Film Festival and a special jury mention in the fourth Arab Film Festival in Rotterdam. Her feature debut, Wadjda, which she wrote as well as directed, made its world premiere at the 2012 Venice Film Festival; it is the first full-length feature to be shot entirely in Saudi Arabia and as of 2013, the only feature-length film made in Saudi Arabia by a female director. The film tells the story of a ten-year-old girl growing up in the suburbs of Riyadh, who dreams of owning and riding a green bicycle. The film was selected as the Saudi Arabian entry for the Best Foreign Language Film at the 86th Academy Awards, which is the first time Saudi Arabia has submitted a film for the Best Foreign Language Oscar. In 2014 it was reported that Al-Mansour was to direct A Storm in the Stars, an upcoming romantic drama film about the early life of writer Mary Shelley. The film was later retitled Mary Shelley and premiered at the 2017 Toronto International Film Festival. Al-Mansour next film was Nappily Ever After, a Netflix adaptation of the book of the same name by Trisha R. Thomas. In April of 2020 it was announced that she would direct another Netflix film The Selection, based on the first entry in Kiera Cass’ popular book series.

The film stars Mila Al Zahrani, Dae Al Hilali, Nora Al Awad, Khalid Abdulraheem, Shafi Alharthy, Tareq Al Khaldi, and Khadeeja Mua'th. Al Zahrani as the protagonist gives a great performance. She's uncompromising and compassionate depending on what the situation calls for.

In presenting political agenda whilst focusing on her character, Al-Mansour has created a 'perfect' little film that just happens to be set against an imperfect and deeply misogynistic society.

Simon says The Perfect Candidate receives:

NZIFF Film Review: "Once Were Brothers: Robbie Robertson and The Band" (2019).

From executive producers Martin Scorsese, Brian Grazer and Ron Howard comes Once Were Brothers: Robbie Robertson and The Band. This Canadian documentary film, directed by Daniel Roher and based in part on Robertson's 2017 memoir Testimony. The film is a confessional, cautionary, and occasionally humorous tale of Robertson's young life and the creation of one of the most enduring groups in the history of popular music, The Band.

Rick Danko, Garth Hudson, Richard Manuel, Robbie Robertson and Levon Helm would go on to form the roots rock group, The Band. Between 1958 and 1963, they originally formed as The Hawks, a backing band for rockabilly singer Ronnie Hawkins. In 1964, they separated from Hawkins, after which they toured and released a few singles as Levon and the Hawks and the Canadian Squires. In the mid-1960s they gained recognition backing Bob Dylan, and the 1966 tour was notable as Dylan’s first with an electric band. After leaving Dylan and changing their name to the Band, and with help from Dylan and his manager, they moved to Saugerties, New York and released several albums to critical and popular acclaim. Their influence on several generations of musicians has been substantial. Dylan continued to collaborate with the Band over the course of their career, including a joint 1974 tour. In 1976, the original configuration of The Band ended its touring career with an elaborate performance at Winterland Ballroom in San Francisco, California, that featured numerous musical celebrities of the era. This performance was filmed for Scorsese's 1978 documentary The Last Waltz. Although the members of the group intended to continue working on studio projects, they drifted apart after the release of Islands in March 1977. The Band resumed touring in 1983 without Robertson, who had found success with a solo career and as a Hollywood music producer. As a result of their diminished popularity, they performed in theaters and clubs as headliners and took support slots in larger venues for onetime peers such as the Grateful Dead and Crosby, Stills and Nash. Following a 1986 concert, Manuel committed suicide in his hotel room. The remaining three members continued to tour and record albums with a succession of musicians filling Manuel's and Robertson's roles. The final configuration of the group included Richard Bell, Randy Ciarlante, and Jim Weider. In 1999, Danko died of heart failure, after which the group broke up for good. In 1998, Helm was diagnosed with throat cancer and was unable to sing for several years but he eventually regained the use of his voice. He continued to perform and released several albums until he died in 2012.

The great thing about Once Were Brothers is that the documentary enables a new-found respect and regard for an incredibly energetic and creative band that recognize their strength as the sum of their talented parts. Conveying information and insight without artifice, the film uses every frame to wittily and touchingly convey a story that had yet to be properly told -- about a band and their tumultuous journey.

Simon says Once Were Brothers: Robbie Robertson and The Band receives:

Also, see my NZIFF review for The Last Wave.

Sunday, 2 August 2020

NZIFF Classic Film Review: "The Last Wave" (1977).

"Hasn't the weather been strange... Could it be a warning? From the makers of 'Picnic at Hanging Rock' comes another terrifying and disturbing story" comes The Last Wave. This Australian mystery drama film directed by Peter Weir and written by Weir, Tony Morphett and Petru Popescu. A lawyer whose seemingly normal life is turned upside-down when he takes on a murder case and discovers that he shares a strange and unexplained mystical connection to the Australian aboriginals.

In an interview on the Criterion Collection DVD release, Weir explained that the film explores the question, "What if someone with a very pragmatic approach to life experienced a premonition?" By late February 1977, Richard Chamberlain, Olivia Hamnett, David Gulpilil, Fred Parslow, Vivean Gray, Peter Carroll, Wallas Eaton and Nandjiwarra Amagula were cast. Prior to Chamberlain's casting, two Australian actors were considered. One was rejected and the other wasn't available. A short-list was made of six actors who had international recognition. Chamberlain was sent the script which he thought interesting but was at first cautious about making a film in a foreign country and with a director he was unfamiliar with. Peter Weir visited Chamberlain at the Broadway Theatre where he was starring in Night of the Iguana and the two clicked. Chamberlain was then screened Weir's previous film Picnic at Hanging Rock (1975) where the film had yet to be shown at all in the USA. Chamberlain liked this film and at some time soon after this, Chamberlain was signed. Weir asked Gulpilil and Amagula about the script and incorporated their reactions to the finished dialogue. At the same time, principal photography commenced and took place in Sydney and Adelaide. During filming, Sydney experienced harsh weather conditions with constant heavy rain. The production then moved to Adelaide which doubled for Sydney. Ironically, the weather in Sydney had to be recreated in Adelaide, which was sunny and pleasant during filming. The dark and black, stormy and rainy weather conditions were created by using wind machines and gigantic hoses, the latter being operated from a number of fire engines. Finance was provided by the Australian Film Commission ($120,000), the South Australian Film Corporation ($120,000), Janus Films (US$50,000) and United Artists ($350,000). Reportedly, producers Hal McElroy and Jim McElroy mortgaged their homes and their business interests in Picnic at Hanging Rock so this picture could maintain its cash flow and continue production.

The film stars Chamberlain, Hamnett, Gulpilil, Parslow, Gray, Carroll, Eaton and Amagula. Skilfully enigmatic, reserved and raw performances were given by the cast, especially by Chamberlain, Gulpilil and Amagula.

Technically well shot and edited, as well as carefully paced, Weir's The Last Wave has a dreamlike quality that sets it apart even among his fellow Australian New Wavers. The film's slow pacing can detract from and defuse what is in other respects, one of the more interesting screen imaginations at work today. However, the film works at various levels and certainly sparks discussion, as people attempt to figure out what they've just seen.

Simon says The Last Wave receives:

Also, see my NZIFF review for Leap of Faith: William Friedkin on The Exorcist.

NZIFF Film Review: "Leap of Faith: William Friedkin on The Exorcist" (2019).

From the director of Memory: The Origins of Alien comes Leap of Faith: William Friedkin on The ExorcistThis documentary film directed by Alexandre O. Philippe. The film is a lyrical and spiritual cinematic essay on The Exorcist, it explores the uncharted depths of William Friedkin’s mind’s eye, the nuances of his filmmaking process, and the mysteries of faith and fate that have shaped his life and filmography.

On December 26, 1973, the supernatural horror film was unleashed to audiences and went on to gross $441.3 million (adjusted for inflation). The film was directed by Friedkin and produced and adapted by William Peter Blatty, based on his 1971 novel of the same name. The film stars Ellen Burstyn, Max von Sydow, Lee J. Cobb, Kitty Winn, Jack MacGowran (in his final film role), Jason Miller, and Linda Blair. The film follows the demonic possession of a twelve-year-old girl and her mother's attempt to rescue her through an exorcism conducted by two priests. Although the book had been a bestseller, Blatty, his choice for director, had difficulty casting the film. After turning down, or being turned down, by major stars of the era, they cast in the lead roles the relatively little-known Burstyn, the unknown Blair, and Miller, the author of a hit play who had never acted in movies before, casting choices that were vigorously opposed by Warner Bros. executives. Principal photography was also difficult. Most of the set burned down, and Blair and Burstyn suffered long-term injuries in accidents. Ultimately the film took twice as long to shoot as scheduled and cost more than twice its initial budget. The film was released in twenty-four theaters throughout the United States and Canada. Audiences flocked to it. Some viewers had adverse physical reactions, often fainting or vomiting. There were reports of heart attacks and miscarriages; a psychiatric journal carried a paper on "cinematic neurosis" triggered by the film. Many children were taken to see the film, leading to charges that the MPAA ratings board had accommodated Warner Bros. by giving the film an R-rating instead of the X they thought it deserved in order to ensure its commercial success. The cultural conversation around the film, which also encompassed its treatment of Roman Catholicism, helped it become the first horror film to be nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture, one of ten Academy Awards it was nominated for, winning for Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Sound Mixing. The Exorcist has had a significant influence on popular culture and has received critical acclaim, with several publications having regarded it as one of the greatest horror films of all time. In 2010, the Library of Congress selected the film to be preserved as part of its National Film Registry as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant".

Amid the steady outpouring of Exorcistmania, the 105-minute-long Leap of Faith: William Friedkin on The Exorcist may be the least exotic, but it still gives any Exorcist fan a heady share of morsels to chew on.

Simon says Leap of Faith: William Friedkin on The Exorcist receives:

Also, see my NZIFF review for While at War (Mientras dure la guerra).

NZIFF Film Review: "While at War" ("Mientras dure la guerra") (2019).

"Sometimes silence is the worst lie" in While at War (Mientras dure la guerra). This Spanish historical drama film directed by Alejandro Amenábar and co-written by Amenábar and
Alejandro Hernández. Set in the first months of the Spanish Civil War, this riveting and timely chamber drama tracks the country’s slide into nearly four decades of fascism under dictator Francisco Franco.

By late May 2018, Karra Elejalde, Eduard Fernández, Santi Prego, Nathalie Poza, Luis Bermejo, Mireia Rey, Tito Valverde, Luis Callejo, Pep Tosar, and Miquel García Borda were cast. At the same, principal photography commenced and took place in Castilla y León, Biscay and Madrid, Spain. An important part of the movie is set in the town of Salamanca, being the Main or Major Square (Plaza Mayor) widely relevant. It was actually shot in that very square, although the vegetation shown had to be added as in the moment of shooting the square had none. On September 6, 2019, the film had its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival. The Plataforma Patriótica Millán-Astray, an organization of veterans of the Spanish Legion, accused the script writers of plagiarism of the 1941 work Unamuno's Last Lecture by Luis Portillo, a text the organization claims is defamatory towards José Millán-Astray, founder of the Spanish Legion. The accusation was based on the content of the official trailers. The organization demanded the public funds received for the making of the film be returned.

The film stars Elejalde, Fernández, Prego, Poza, Bermejo, Rey, Valverde, Callejo, Tosar, and Borda. The acting in the film is superb, especially by Elejalde, who richly deserved the notoriety that he has received.

A humourless historical political drama that fascinates with its intelligence and its abhorrence of the birth of Spanish nationalist culture. The film is intelligent, stirring and, as the cultural devastation wrought by political zealots plays out on screen, heartbreaking. Ambitious, sprawling and melodramatic, this historical political drama lacks subtlety and struggles to provide much charm - ultimately dissolving into a rather obvious morality tale about the rise of Spanish nationalism. The film could have been a powerfully subversive political film, but while it does have its moments it never truly lives up to its ambitious potential. Amenábar creates a palpable sense of place and never strays too far from his duty to stage big, sense-filling set pieces. Well researched, and anchored by Elejalde's impressive lead performance, this is a fascinating film that avoids the Hollywood route. A contentious piece of history in which we see how the most primitive aspects of fundamental religious beliefs drove public life and generated hatreds. Although the film's history is spotty, its dialogue is sometimes clunky, and time frames are telescoped, its overall impact packs a powerful punch. An interesting but often frustrating effort by the director of The Sea Inside, who proves that ambition and talent aren't enough to ensure a compelling drama. It's still more than watchable thanks to the ministrations of talented Spanish director Amenábar, but the politics seem to have brought out the stiff, declamatory earnestness in everyone.

Simon says While at War (Mientras dure la guerra) receives:

Also, see my NZIFF review for Kubrick by Kubrick.

NZIFF Film Review: "Kubrick by Kubrick" (2020).

From the director of Monsieur de Funès and Racing Through Life: Toulouse-Lautrec, and based on Michel Ciment's interviews comes Kubrick by Kubrick. This documentary film directed by Gregory Monro. The film is a rare and transcendent journey into the life and films of the legendary Stanley Kubrick like we've never seen before, featuring a treasure trove of unearthed interview recordings from the master himself.

"A film is - or should be - more like music than like fiction. It should be a progression of moods and feelings. The theme, what's behind the emotion, the meaning, all that comes later." These are the words of a photographer, a filmmaker and an artist. On July 26, 1928, the renowned American filmmaker and photographer was born, and has been frequently cited as one of the most influential filmmakers in cinematic history. Born and raised in the Bronx, New York City, he attended William Howard Taft High School from 1941 to 1945. He received average grades, but displayed a keen interest in literature, photography, and film from a young age, and taught himself all aspects of film production and directing after graduating from high school. From the late 1940s to the early 1950s, he worked as a photographer for Look Magazine. Afterwards, he began making short and feature films on shoestring budgets, such as Day of the Fight (1951), Flying Padre (1951), Fear and Desire (1953), The Seafarers (1953) and Killer's Kiss (1955), and made his first major Hollywood film, The Killing (1956). This was followed by Paths of Glory (1957) and Spartacus (1960). In 1961, after creative differences arising from his work with Kirk Douglas and the film studios, a dislike of the Hollywood industry, and a growing concern about crime in America prompted Kubrick to move to the United Kingdom, where he spent most of the remainder of his life and career. His home at Childwickbury Manor in Hertfordshire became his workplace, where he did his writing, research, editing, and management of production details on top of his personal home with his wife Christiane and their three children, Katharina, Anya and Vivian. This allowed him to have almost complete artistic control over his films, but with the rare advantage of having financial support from major Hollywood studios. His latter productions in Britain consisted of Lolita (1962), Dr. Strangelove: Or How I Learn to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964), 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), A Clockwork Orange (1971), Barry Lyndon (1975), The Shining (1980), Full Metal Jacket (1987) and Eyes Wide Shut (1999). Though mostly adaptations of novels or short stories, his cinematic body of work cover a wide range of genres, and are noted for their realism, dark humour, unique cinematography, extensive set designs, and evocative use of music. A demanding perfectionist, Kubrick assumed control over most aspects of the filmmaking process, from direction and writing to editing, and took painstaking care with researching his films and staging scenes, working in close coordination with his actors and other collaborators. He often asked for several dozen retakes of the same shot in a movie, which resulted in many conflicts with his casts. Despite the resulting notoriety among actors, many of Kubrick's films broke new ground in cinematography. The scientific realism and innovative special effects of 2001: A Space Odyssey were without precedent in the history of cinema, and the film earned him his only personal Oscar, for Best Visual Effects. The film is regarded as one of the greatest films ever made. For Barry Lyndon, Kubrick obtained lenses developed by Zeiss for NASA, to film scenes under natural candlelight. With The Shining, he became one of the first directors to make use of a Steadicam for stabilized and fluid tracking shots. While many of Kubrick's films were controversial and initially received mixed reviews upon release—particularly A Clockwork Orange, which Kubrick pulled from circulation in the UK following a mass media frenzy—most were nominated for Oscars, Golden Globes, or BAFTA Awards, and underwent critical reevaluations. On March 7, 1999, at the age of seventy and shortly after the completion of his last film Eyes Wide Shut, Kubrick died.

The real reason to watch it is to observe a filmmaker examining one of the most popular and one of the most enigmatic filmmakers of all time, and to see what he's learned in the intervening years between Kubrick and Ciment. Notable French critic and author, Michel Ciment, is in a fine position to have the inside skinnny on the enigmatic director. Monro alternates theory with production specifics to give a fully rounded and fleshed-out account of the singular achievements that is Kubrick's filmography. Not influenced by ego or career, Kubrick is sincere and matter of fact as he gives the definitive oral history of his entire body of work. While some of the stories have been told elsewhere from other people, you get the feeling here that Kubrick's truly an open book and relishing the opportunity to dig into his work between 1975 and 1987. Insightful, thought-provoking, and candid in a matter that's befitting of Kubrick's own enigmatic personality, the film is a must-see for anyone who loves Kubrick. Monro gives us a Kubrick master class on the creative process of film and a set of expertly told stories that thrill and inform. It just doesn't get better than this. Not lacking any presentational flash whatsoever, the film also proves the show-stopping power of a transfixing interview subject. These are not astonishing anecdotes, but they are, by and large, entertaining ones: Kubrick is as deft a storyteller on record as he is behind the camera. Monro believes that the only thing more fascinating than a Stanley Kubrick film is Stanley Kubrick himself and the legendary filmmaker is a great documentary. The legendary filmmaker remains an articulate and forceful presence on record, refreshingly unburdened by modesty and clearly keen to display his highbrow cultural smarts. While hardcore fans of the auteur will be au fait with pretty much all the topics on the discussion here, the film is still a riveting masterclass from a great filmmaker.

Simon says Kubrick by Kubrick receives:

Also, see my NZIFF review for State Funeral.

NZIFF Film Review: "State Funeral" ("Прощание со Сталиным") (2019).

From the director of Donbass (Донбас) comes State Funeral (Прощание со Сталиным). This Russian documentary film directed by Sergei Loznitsa. This Unique, mostly unseen before, archive footage from March 1953, presents the funeral of Joseph Stalin as the culmination of the dictator's personality cult. The news of Stalin's death on March 5, 1953, shocked the entire Soviet Union. The burial ceremony was attended by tens of thousands of mourners. We observe every stage of the funeral spectacle, described by Pravda newspaper, as the Great Farewell, and receive an unprecedented access to the dramatic and absurd experience of life and death under Stalin's reign. The film addresses the issue of Stalin's personality cult as a form of terror-induced delusion. It gives an insight into the nature of the regime and its legacy, still haunting the contemporary world.

In early March 1953, after three decades of tyranny and terror, Stalin's staff found him semi-conscious on the bedroom floor of his Volynskoe dacha. He had suffered a cerebral hemorrhage. He was moved onto a couch and remained there for three days. On March 5, 1953, Stalin died. An autopsy revealed that he had died of a cerebral hemorrhage and that he also suffered from severe damage to his cerebral arteries due to atherosclerosis. It was rumoured that Stalin was murdered. On March 6, Stalin's death was announced. The body was embalmed, and then placed on display in Moscow's House of Unions for three days. Crowds were such that a crush killed around a hundred people. On March 9, the funeral culminated in the body being laid to rest in Lenin's Mausoleum in Red Square; hundreds of thousands attended. That month featured a surge in arrests for "anti-Soviet agitation" as those celebrating Stalin's death came to police attention. The Chinese government instituted a period of official mourning for Stalin's death.

The film is relatively silent - there is no added commentary, no titles, no extra sound - capturing an emotional detachment that is hard to shake, all the more so because of its prevalence. It is precisely the director's economy and calm before this loaded historical subject that makes Austerlitz all the more powerful. The film's visual and spatial incongruities impose tacit condemnation-a kind of guilt-by-participation determination-but, more plaintively, the contrasts allow for a sustained contemplation of the elegiac, of memorialization. Exhibiting a simplicity and intellectual acuity that is far too rare in the field of documentary, Loznitsa has created a film whose cumulative impact will stay with you long after you watch it. Prepare to draw plenty of conclusions about and insights into human nature from their ordinary exploits, including many that you won't expect. What one collects by the end is a rounded portrait of humanity, and, somehow, one of hope, despite the ghastliness of the controversial ideology and the need to revisit them. The present-day worth of preserved Soviet relics is tacitly addressed in Sergei Loznitsa's brilliant observational doc. While the film explores an important thesis, its presentation is all but enticing.

Simon says State Funeral (Прощание со Сталиным) receives:

Also, see my reviews for Donbass (Донбас) and Ema.

NZIFF Film Review: "Ema" (2019).

From the director of Jackie comes Ema. This Chilean drama film directed by Pablo Larraín, and written by Guillermo Calderón and Alejandro Moreno. The film centres on a couple who deal with the aftermath of an adoption that goes awry as their household falls apart.

By August 2018, Mariana di Girolamo, Gael García Bernal, Santiago Cabrera, and Catalina Saavedra were cast in a film with Larraín as director. In preparation for the role, di Girolamo took dancing lessons. She also went to ballet and pilates classes to improve her posture and make her look like a professional dancer. At the same time, principal photography commenced and took place throughout Valparaíso, Región de Valparaíso, Chile.

The film stars di Girolamo, Bernal, Cabrera, and Saavedra. The performances are ones that don't quite transcend. I never felt like I was watching them become their characters, but more of they just played their characters, but they were still stirring in their own right. Di Girolamo gave a virtuoso performance as Ema, capturing her breathy feminine tones and the fashion-plate image that hides inner devastation, hinting at a contained breakdown in the privacy of her own empty household.

A uniquely constructed psychological character study, Chilean director Pablo Larrain tackles it all with unconventional aesthetics and non-sequential editing. A complex portrait of a personality drowning in personal turmoil can be very speculative. The portrait that Chilean director Pablo Larraín painted with Ema has so much color and life and emotion that it may be one of the intriguing dramas ever committed to film. The film has a note worthy performance from di Girolamo and a truly unconventional score but it's a series of well done events that doesn't form a cohesive whole. It's enlightening and insightful, using unusually creative filming, to experience Ema's life and perspective firsthand. While many small details are profoundly beautiful, Larraín's attempt feels weighed down by self-importance, as if history were a wet blanket of one's own making that is ultimately inescapable. Although the film suffers from complacency, it is still a visual spectacle, full of emotions, great performances, an impressive production design and above all, much intimacy within the pain. And yet, for every element in the film that's obvious and overplayed, there are stray, marginal details that manage to resonate, moments during which the pretense falls away and its amorphous stew of ideas finally coalesce. The film is a self-serious affair, and despite its dedication to getting under the skin of its titular character, it remains largely on the surface of things - glossy, sleek, and to a certain extent oddly detached. Larraín's drama is soaked in atmosphere, bleeding emotion, life, death, happiness, sadness and anxiety. It's easy to recognize some of the shared elements between Ema and Jackie. But it's still striking to see Larraín tackle such quintessentially Chilean material and managing to hit the mark so cleanly once again. Not your typical biopic, the film is an extraordinary exploration of a complex woman navigating her loss.

Simon says Ema receives:

Also, see my review for Jackie.

Sunday, 26 July 2020

Film Review: "Shirley" (2020).

From executive producer Martin Scorsese and the director of Madeline's Madeline comes Shirley. This biographical drama film directed by Josephine Decker, written by Sarah Gubbins, and based upon the novel of the same name by Susan Scarf Merrell. Renowned horror writer Shirley Jackson is on the precipice of writing her masterpiece when the arrival of newlyweds upends her meticulous routine and heightens tensions in her already tempestuous relationship with her philandering husband. The middle-aged couple, prone to ruthless barbs and copious afternoon cocktails, begins to toy mercilessly with the naïve young couple at their door.

In mid May 2018, an adaptation of Merrell's novel by Gubbins was announced with Decker to direct and Elisabeth Moss and Michael Stuhlbarg to star as Shirley Jackson and Stanley Hyman, respectively. By late July, Odessa Young, Logan Lerman, Victoria Pedretti, and Robert Wuhl rounded out the film's cast. At the same time, principal photography commenced and took place in Jefferson Heights and Poughkeepsie, New York.

The film stars Moss, in the title role, Stuhlbarg, Young, Lerman, Pedretti, and Wuhl. Thanks to the cast, led by the amazingly versatile Moss, the film is a well-acted low-budget aesthetic one that might impress even if seemingly going the mumblecore route without any easy solutions to the problems it raises

On the surface, the film is an uncompromising portrait of a troubled woman who finds sanctuary in a troubled writer. But, look deeper, it provides self-aware commentary about the acting process itself. The film is not a statement but a fiercely curious exploration of the dense relationships between artist and viewer, art and life, story and teller, and the different ways we perform ourselves every day. The entire film is an exercise in immersion. This could be off-putting to those less adventurous among us, but if you're brave enough to stick with the film into its second act, Decker delivers something quite impressive amidst the chaos. This really is a superbly made film. The sound design is really fantastic and quite disturbing in a way. It takes a while as a viewer to find its rhythm, but once you do you'll be with it the whole way. There's no getting away from the fact that it's a Marmite film, but love it or loathe it, Moss' performance as Shirley Jackson is phenomenal and award worthy. A quietly radical film about who has the right to tell what story, one that cuts seamlessly between its three excellent female leads' points of view. An honest exploration of the brutality inherent when uneven power dynamics in close relationships reach their breaking points. Is it fair to ask someone to traumatise (or retraumatise) themselves for the sake of art? Rather boldly, it seems as though Decker is also asking the question of herself. With her fourth feature film, Decker is cementing herself as an irreplaceable voice in contemporary independent filmmaking. Decker hones in on a seminal time in the development of a young woman's identity; as Rose filters out the noise, she finds her soul through Shirley.

Simon says Shirley receives:

Sunday, 19 July 2020

Film Review: "The Personal History of David Copperfield" (2019).

"From rags to riches... and back again." This is The Personal History of David Copperfield. This comedy-drama film adapted and directed by Armando Iannucci, and based on the Victorian literary classic David Copperfield by Charles Dickens. Th film reimagines Dickens' iconic hero on his quirky journey from impoverished orphan to burgeoning writer in Victorian England.

In February 2018, it was announced that Iannucci would be co-adapting, co-producing, and directing a new adaptation of Dickens literary classic. The film marked the first theatrical film adaptation of Dickens' novel in fifty years. In March, Dev Patel was cast in the title role. By June, Tilda Swinton, Hugh Laurie, Peter Capaldi, Ben Whishaw, Paul Whitehouse, Aneurin Barnard, Benedict Wong, Gwendoline Christie, Sophie McShera, and Divian Ladwa rounded out the film's cast. At the same time, principal photography commenced, and wrapped in August. Filming took place throughout Buckinghamshire, Norfolk, Suffolk, Yorkshire, and London, England.

The film stars Patel, Swinton, Laurie, Capaldi, Whishaw, Whitehouse, Barnard, Wong, Christie, McShera, and Ladwa. Patel leads the cast valiantly in what are sharp comedic performances all around. The performances from the cast have to be rated for their comic timing more than for historical nuance, and of the group, Beale stands out the most as he feels the walls of conspiracy closing in.

It may be cringe-worthy at times, what with its propensity for showing the world of poverty, wealth, and everything in between, but for those who like their parables to be challenging and salty, do not miss this exceptional film. It is a very funny comedy with an inspired cast that makes sure the political component will not dilute but neither monopolize the plot too much. It is a clever, intelligent bit of comedy, history played for laughs, that is a refreshingly change from the usual low humor comedies of recent years.
The narrative is no slack and there's always something happening that keeps us alert and grinning from ear to ear. This is humor at its finest. It shoots a taproot down to our deepest humanity, and it does so, ironically enough, by revealing the hellish sources of our own inhumanity. No joke is without a later payoff that mixes two or more things we've already laughed at together for another when you least expect it. As great as the ensemble is, the script is even better, easily making the film the best and funniest of 2019 thus far. The movie veers into slapstick territory at times, as Iannucci continually takes the spark of a true story and sets it on comic fire. Maybe the movie doesn't live up to the most lavish praise that's been heaped on it, but there's a certain grim pleasure to be had from seeing its knaves and fools stripped down to their essential, vulgar meanness. From start to finish, Iannucci delivers an audacious and insightful and ridiculous and hilarious send-up that reminded me of the classic Monty Python films of the 1970s and 1980s.

Simon says The Personal History of David Copperfield receives:

Also, see my review for The Death of Stalin.

Sunday, 12 July 2020

Film Review: "Mucho Mucho Amor: The Legend of Walter Mercado" (2020).

"I always wish you lots of peace, but I also wish you lots of love!" This is Mucho Mucho Amor: The Legend of Walter Mercado. This documentary film directed by Cristina Costantini and Kareem Tabsch. Dazzling and tender-hearted, legendary astrologer Walter Mercado vanished at the peak of his fame. This documentary poignantly explains what happened.

Born on March 9, 1932, Puerto Ricanastrologer, actor, dancer, writer, and television astrologer Walter Mercado Salinas was born in Ponce, Puerto Rico. Even as a child, Mercado believed that he had spiritual abilities. He attended university majoring in pedagogy, psychology and pharmacy, and used these skills to teach others, to study the human mind and to learn about the healing properties of medicinal plants. Since 1970, his astrological prediction shows aired for decades in Puerto Rico, Latin America and the United States, and he became a cultural phenomenon in the Hispanic community. However, in January 2012, this came to an end when Mercado lost a lawsuit against Bart Enterprises International. He was trying to prevent it from using his name and likeness in future commercial ventures. Mercado signed a contract with the company in 1995. He severed ties with the company in 2006, which resulted in litigation being filed by both parties against each other. Chief Judge Sandra Lynch of the United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit ruled that Bart Enterprises can continue using Mercado's name and likeness in future commercial projects. Shortly afterwards, Mercado was flown to Cleveland Clinic, Cleveland, Ohio, with cardiac problems. Then onwards, on a limited basis, Mercado continued to make public appearances. On the night of November 2, 2019, Mercado died, reportedly from kidney failure, at Auxilio Mutuo Hospital in San Juan, Puerto Rico. He was eighty-seven. He is buried at Señorial Memorial Park in Cupey barrio, San Juan, Puerto Rico.

Despite failing to dive deeper, the film is an emotive homage to the legend that is Walter Mercado. A charming and moving tribute made with mucho, mucho amor that honors the legacy of one of the greatest Hispanic TV figures. If you've never heard of Walter Mercado, when you see him, he appears to be the love child of Liberace and Charro who found an astrology book, but he is so much more. The film is a true reflection of its subject, by accomplishing the intended goal of making people feel uplifted and entertained. A treat for his multitudes of fans and an eye-opening introduction for others, this film is a festival of Walter Mercado: a one-person testament to audacity, kindness, and amiable self promotion. The film may not be a groundbreaking cinematic work, but its effortless combination of whimsical mysticism, quiet reverence, and just the right dash of over-the-top eccentrics makes it the perfect tribute to Mercado. A wildly entertaining and touching work that takes one of the most unique and distinctive personalities imaginable and fully does him justice. The film is a fond farewell to Mercado and a celebration of his life, and enlightening both for Mercado newbies and those who grew up at his proverbial knee.

Simon says Mucho Mucho Amor: The Legend of Walter Mercado receives:

Sunday, 28 June 2020

Film Review: "Athlete A" (2020).

"Was winning worth the cost?" This is the ultimate question presented in Athlete A. This sports documentary film directed by Bonni Cohen and Jon Shenk. focuses not the gymnastic who survived USA Gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar's abuse and the reporters who exposed USAG's toxic culture.

In Summer 1936, the U.S. sent its first women's gymnastics team to the Olympics held in Berlin. In 1963, The United States Gymnastics Federation was founded. Prior to the 1972 Summer Olympics, Women's Gymnastics was a sport competed by athletes who were well into their twenties. This began to change when the seventeen-year old Olga Korbut became the darling of that year's games held in Munich with three gold medals and one silver. The turning point came in the 1976 Montreal Summer Olympics where a fourteen-year old Nadia Comăneci scored an unprecedented "perfect ten" in the games as well as capturing three gold medals, one silver and one bronze. Buoyed by the success of the Warsaw Pact countries' success in Women's Gymnastics with their child-like aesthetic and coupled with the high profile defection of Comăneci's coaching staff, Márta and Béla Károlyi, the USA Gymnastics installed the Károlyis as the Women's national team coordinators in their quest for Olympic success. This is a move that would pay off tremendously as the country would produce a substantial amount of medalists on the international stage such as Mary Lou Retton, Shannon Miller, Gabby Douglas, Simone Biles and McKayla Maroney, just to name a few. The success would reap a financial jackpot as USAG would attract major corporate sponsors such as McDonalds, Dodge, K-Mart, Kellogg’s, and Hershey’s. But behind the scenes, sinister acts were being committed on a gargantuan scale. The organisation was prioritising medals over the well-being of their athletes. The athletes were subjected to a variety of abuse including sexual molestation on a daily basis by Nassar, the former USA Gymnastics National Team Doctor and Osteopathic Physician at Michigan State University. Nassar joined the USAG National Team Medical Staff in 1986 as an Athlete Trainer. USAG was aware of the sexual misconduct complaints since 1998; however USAG did not investigate the abuse due to lack of letter complaint from a parent or athlete. Therefore, USAG continued to turn a blind eye. In early August 2016, The Indianapolis Star launches an investigation with their article A blind eye to sex abuse: How USA Gymnastics failed to report cases. This culminated in more than two hundred and sixty five women accusing Nassar of sexual assault. Finally, by late January 2018,  Nassar was sentenced to forty to a hundred and seventy five years in prison on sexual charges, plus sixty years for child pornography charges.

The film, which documents the crimes of Nassar and USAG, is a near two hour nightmare that will probably be aggravating if not triggering for a lot of people. There's a bigger, broader story to be told about Nassar and USAG, their web of secrets, the network of the organisation and the ways that money corrupts.

Simon says Athlete A receives:

Sunday, 21 June 2020

Film Review: "Disclosure" (2020).

From Netflix comes Disclosure: Trans Lives on Screen. This documentary film directed by Sam Feder. In this documentary, leading trans creatives and thinkers share heartfelt perspectives and analysis about Hollywood's impact on the trans community.

The film is a fascinating story of the dynamic interplay between trans representation on screen, society's beliefs, and the reality of trans life. The film explores transgender people and depicts transgender violence and exclusion from society and abuses of education. The film also presents how society interacts, behaves, and boycotts them, as well as explore a history that society is inhumane, with films and shows such as A Florida Enchantment (1941), Dog Day Afternoon (1975), The Crying Game (1992), Boys Don't Cry (1999), The Jeffersons (1975-85), The L-Word (2004-09) and Pose (2018-present). To reimagine familiar scenes and iconic characters in a new light, Feder calls on viewers to confront unfamiliar perceptions and show how we see understand trans people, with notable figures such as Laverne Cox, Susan Stryker, Alexandra Billings, Jamie Clayton, Chaz Bono, Alexandra Grey, Yance Ford, Trace Lysette, Jazzmun, Mj Rodriguez, Angelica Ross, Jen Richards, Elliot Fletcher, Brian Michael Smith, Sandra Caldwell, Candis Cayne, Zackary Drucker, Lilly Wachowski, Ser Anzoategui, Zeke Smith, and Leo Sheng, featuring their reactions and resistance to some of Hollywood's most beloved pals.

This intelligent, fascinating film is well worth a watch and is stuffed full of clips and contributions from stars, filmmakers and academics. The film goes all the way back to the birth of cinema to trace the odd, funny, sad and disgraceful history of transgender iconography on film. A fascinating account of how Hollywood has dealt with transsexual and transsexuality through its history. The film reveals a shifting kaleidoscope that underlines just how influential, for good or bad, the movies can be. An immensely entertaining, galloping reflection on screen perceptions of transgender women and men, from the humorous to the heinous to the heartening. It's engrossing, brings a healthy sense of humor to the discussion, and enlightening without being bludgeoning. Like a scrapbook of movie memorabilia from some of the most notable films ever made, it's a look back at the ever-changing times of the world around us. Even if the film isn't quite the most perfectly political piece of filmmaking that you'd expect (or hoped) it would be, it's still a pretty convincing argument and, what's more, likably entertaining. Makes it clear Hollywood wanted it both ways: It benefitted from the richness that transpeople added to films, but didn't want to acknowledge their sexuality. Top-notch entertainment, not only because it's enjoyable, but because it argues its case with an effectiveness that would impress even a top-notch, homophobic attorney. Although the film will clearly appeal to homosexuals and to film buffs, I believe that anyone seeing this documentary will find it an absolutely engrossing and fascinating movie. The film is a first-rate work of cinematic criticism, tracing the ways in which, despite cultural disapproval, gay images, ideas, and implications have slipped into the medium.

Simon says Disclosure receives: