Monday, 24 February 2020

Film Review: "The Call of the Wild" (2020).

"Based on the legendary novel" comes The Call of the Wild. This adventure film directed by Chris Sanders, in his live-action directorial debut, adapted by Michael Green, and based on the Jack London 1903 literary classic. Adapted from the beloved literary classic, the film vividly brings to the screen the story of Buck, a big-hearted dog whose blissful domestic life is turned upside down when he is suddenly uprooted from his California home and transplanted to the exotic wilds of the Yukon during the Gold Rush of the 1890s. As the newest rookie on a mail delivery dog sled team--and later its leader--Buck experiences the adventure of a lifetime, ultimately finding his true place in the world and becoming his own master.

In October 2017, it was announced that 20th Century Fox was developing the film adaptation of London's classic novel, with Sanders as director and Green penning the adaptation. In July 2018, Harrison Ford set to star as John Thornton. By late September, Dan Stevens, Omar Sy, Karen Gillan, Bradley Whitford, and Terry Notary were cast. At the same time, principal photography commenced, and took place in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, and Santa Clarita, California. In January 2019, it was announced that John Powell will compose the film's score. MPC Montréal provided the film's visual effects. The film's producers chose to go with a CGI canine in order to give him a fuller range of emotion and expression as well as to avoid putting any real dogs at risk of being injured or frightened in this tale of overcoming hardships in a harsh environment. The fully CGI model of Buck is a digital scan of Buckley, a real dog that Sanders' wife, Jessica Steele-Sanders, adopted from an Emporia, Kansas animal shelter during production. By the time post production wrapped, the film had a $125–150 million budget.

The film stars Ford, Stevens, Sy, Gillan, Whitford, and Notary. Despite being no Clark Gable, Ford acts with pure soul here (he also narrates the film with his lovely storybook growl); it's a minimalist performance, mostly very reactive, but the saintly gruffness of Ford’s thick-gray-bearded, sad-eyed presence helps to nudge Buck to life as a character. The cast does quietly powerful work as London's beloved characters, but their computer-generated co-star looks weird.

I don't know whether or not 20th Century Fox (or 20th Century Studios now) meant it that way, but its adaptation of London's The Call of the Wild is certainly a comedy. Thanks to its obviously laughable CGI canine hero. At any rate, London must be whirling in his grave. You are better off squinting your eyes and blurring out the effects (it's not only Buck - all the dogs, squirrels, wolves and bears are computer-generated). While the use of CGI sometimes creates distracting moments, the overall story is well-told enough to keep audiences hooked. The film is still a reverent and unsentimental portrait of a dog's life. The film is slightly preposterous, but it's still good entertainment. It is a perfectly serviceable family film.

Simon says Call of the Wild receives:

Also, see my review for The Croods.

Sunday, 23 February 2020

Film Review: "The Lighthouse" (2019).

"There is enchantment in the light." This is The Lighthouse. This psychological horror film directed by Robert Eggers, and co-written by Eggers and his brother Max. The film is a hypnotic and hallucinatory tale of two lighthouse keepers on a remote and mysterious New England island in the 1890s.

The film began as Eggers' attempt to adapt Edgar Allan Poe's unfinished short story The Light-House. Eggers became aware of his brother's idea while trying to pitch his debut feature, The Witch (2015), to studios. Max's project stalled, after which Robert offered to work on it based on his own vision. Max's idea was a contemporary ghost story set in a lighthouse. Eggers decided it had to be a period piece after he discovered The Smalls Lighthouse Tragedy, a 19th-century incident at Smalls Lighthouse in Wales involving two lighthouse keepers. But this film was put on the back-burner once The Witch finally got financing. Ultimately, the final story would bear no resemblance to Poe's story apart from the title. Maine-based writer Sarah Orne Jewett served as a significant point of reference for the dialects. The works of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Herman Melville and Robert Louis Stevenson influenced the maritime and surrealistic elements. By February 2018, Willem Dafoe and Robert Pattison were cast. By early April, principal photography commenced, and wrapped in mid May. Filming took place in Nova Scotia, Canada, and was shot on black-and-white 35mm film, with an orthochromatic aesthetic, in the 1.19:1 aspect ratio. From the beginning, Eggers wanted to shoot the film in black and white and a "narrow, vintage" aspect ratio that evokes 19th-century photography. The entire film was shot with Panavision Millennium XL2 cameras that were equipped with a vintage 1930s Baltar lens, and black-and-white Eastman Double-X 5222 film was used with a custom short pass filter. Blaschke almost exclusively set his aperture to T2.8, setting only the characters as the focus of shots. Due to the low sensitivity of the film used on set, 8k and 9k HMI lights were used through the entirety of filming, as natural light could not suffice. HMI light was bounced off muslin cloths for daytime scenes. Low voltage bulbs and china lights were used to light nighttime and closeup scenes.

The film stars Dafoe and Pattinson. Dafoe delivered another unsettling performance as the elderly Wickie, particularly with his usual intense eyes. Pattison delivered his most emotionally intense performance of his career that is sure to shatter his Twilight image.

The Lighthouse delivers a deeply unsettling exercise in slow-building horror that suggests great things for writer-director Robert Eggers. Its acting, lighting, music, writing, production design, cinematography, editing, and direction all immediately impress. While, at the same time, they combine to create an innately terrifying tale that keeps you on tenterhooks all the way up until its grandiose but enthralling finale. It is a stunningly crafted experience that'll have you seeking out a psychiatrist as soon as you leave the theater. It is a triumph of tone, mood and atmosphere.

Simon says The Lighthouse receives:

Also, see my review for The Witch.

Friday, 21 February 2020

2020 Oceania Open Jiu-Jitsu Championship: No-Gi.

NZ Grappler presents SJJFNZ Oceania's Open



See SJJIF Rules here.

Monday, 17 February 2020

Film Review: "Richard Jewell" (2019).

"The world will know his name and the truth." This is Richard Jewell. This biographical drama film directed by Clint Eastwood, written by Billy Ray, and based on the 1997 Vanity Fair article American Nightmare: The Ballad of Richard Jewell by Marie Brenner. During the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta, security guard Richard Jewell discovers a suspicious backpack under a bench in Centennial Park. With little time to spare, he helps to evacuate the area until the incendiary device inside the bag explodes. Hailed as a hero who saved lives, Jewell's own life starts to unravel when the FBI names him the prime suspect in the bombing.

In February 2014, the project was initially announced when Leonardo DiCaprio and Jonah Hill teamed to produce the film, with Hill set to play Jewell, and DiCaprio set to play the lawyer who helped Jewell navigate the media blitz that surrounded him. The project was initially set up at 20th Century Fox. Paul Greengrass began negotiations to direct the film, with Ray penning the script. However, Greengrass chose to do Jason Bourne (2016) instead. David O. Russell was eventually approached for the project, but a deal never developed. In April 2015, Eastwood began to circle the project as his follow up to Sully (2016), but Eastwood chose to direct The 15:17 to Paris (2018) instead. In December 2016, Ezra Edelman signed on to direct as his directorial narrative feature film debut, but dropped out in late 2018 after not getting it off the ground. In May 2019, Eastwood signed back on to direct. Additionally, DiCaprio and Hill dropped out of starring due to scheduling conflicts, though they remained as producers. In May 2019, Warner Bros. acquired the film rights from Fox. By June, Paul Walter Hauser was cast as Jewell, with Sam Rockwell, Kathy Bates, Jon Hamm, and Olivia Wilde rounding out the film's cast. At the same time, principal photography commenced, and wrapped in late August. Filming took place at the historic locations in Atlanta, Georgia.

The film stars Hauser, Rockwell, Bates, Hamm, and Wilde. Terrific performances were given by the cast that conveyed a vigorous and involving salute to professionalism and being good at your job. The cast earns your attention and respect by digging deep, by finding the fear and self-doubt inside a man who'd never accept being defined as a hero. This is Hauser's show, and he delivers a strong performance, quickly allowing us to forget that we're watching an actor. With his large, beefy physique and moustache to match, Hauser conveys a man confident in his abilities, yet humble in his actions, which could also be said of Eastwood as a director.

Richard Jewell is a beautifully balanced, classily nuanced and hugely engaging film that avoids all the clichéd pitfalls it could have slipped into. Hauser gives the best performance of his career and Eastwood's direction is beautiful and rich. It's not just a great film, it is one of the best pieces of cinema that a major Hollywood studio has released this year.

Simon says Richard Jewell receives:

Also, see my review for The Mule.

Sunday, 16 February 2020

Film Review: "For Sama" (2019).

"An intimate and epic journey into the female experience of war." This is For Sama (من أجل سما). This documentary film directed by Waad Al-Kateab and Edward Watts, and narrated by Al-Kateab. The film is a love letter from a young mother to her daughter, the film tells the story of Waad al-Kateab’s life through five years of the uprising in Aleppo, Syria as she falls in love, gets married and gives birth to Sama, all while cataclysmic conflict rises around her. Her camera captures incredible stories of loss, laughter and survival as Waad wrestles with an impossible choice– whether or not to flee the city to protect her daughter’s life, when leaving means abandoning the struggle for freedom for which she has already sacrificed so much.

The Battle of Aleppo was a major military confrontation in Aleppo, the largest city in Syria, between the Syrian opposition against the Syrian government, supported by Hezbollah, Shia militias and Russia, and against the Kurdish-led People's Protection Units (YPG). The battle began on 19 July 2012 and was part of the ongoing Syrian Civil War. A stalemate that had been in place for four years finally ended in July 2016, when Syrian government troops closed the rebels' last supply line into Aleppo with the support of Russian airstrikes. In response, rebel forces launched unsuccessful counteroffensives in September and October that failed to break the siege; in November, government forces embarked on a decisive campaign that resulted in the recapture of all of Aleppo by December 2016. The Syrian government victory was widely seen as a potential turning point in Syria's civil war. Al-Kateab was motivated to make the film because Syrian broadcasting was making no mention of the atrocities that were going on in Aleppo. Al-Kateab started making the film at the age of 21. She carried on filming over the next five years, capturing over 500 hours of footage. Filming covered five years, between the start of protests against the government of Syria in 2012, and 2017. In 2016, Al-Kateab fled to safety in Turkey. She is now a resident in England.

It is an artful unflinching analytical doc on the devastating civil war in Syria. For Sama documents a catastrophic crisis that still requires international attention, its mishmash of methods produce an effective end result, albeit lacking considerable evocation beyond the subject's raw intensity to sway its audience. The filmmakers deserve extra praise just for embedding and endangering their own lives to produce such a display of heroism. It is a gripping docu shows real-life footage of ongoing Syrian war. However, if you've seen other documentaries about Syria and its war in the past, I don't think the film will provide you with more insight. However, it gives chilling context to the weight of how long these conflicts have raged. It also provides an unforgettable look at people forced into their best, defined by constant moments of terrible clarity. An unflinching, grippingly realistic, and heart-rending documentary about the senseless carnage of war.

Simons says For Sama (من أجل سما) receives:

Monday, 10 February 2020

Film Review: "Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn)" (2020).

"Gotham's worst brings out their best. Meet Harley Quinn, Black Canary, Huntress, Renee Montoya, and Cassandra Cain." This is Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn). This superhero film directed by Cathy Yan, written by Christina Hodson, and based on the DC Comics team Birds of Prey. It is the eighth installment in the DC Extended Universe (DCEU). It's open season on Harley Quinn when her explosive breakup with the Joker puts a big fat target on her back. Unprotected and on the run, Quinn faces the wrath of narcissistic crime boss Black Mask, and every other thug in the city. But things soon even out for Harley when she becomes unexpected allies with three deadly women.

In 2015, during the production of Suicide Squad, Robbie pitched the idea of the film to Warner Bros. While Warner Bros. and DC Films had various other Harley Quinn-oriented films in development, Birds of Prey was the only one in which Robbie was directly involved with its development. In May 2016, Warner Bros. announced a spinoff film focusing on Harley Quinn and several other female DC Comics heroes and villains. Robbie was attached to reprise her role, and would also serve as producer. In November, Hodson was announced to be penning the script. In April 2018, Warner Bros. and DC Films hired Yan to direct. In July 2018, the film entered pre-production, and Robbie confirmed the film would be titled Birds of Prey. In addition, the line-up for the Birds of Prey team was revealed to include Black Canary, Huntress, Cassandra Cain, and Renee Montoya. In August, casting began with Warner Bros. considering a number of actresses to be cast, and Roman Sionis / Black Mask was revealed to be the film's antagonist. In late September, Warner Bros. set a February 7, 2020 release date. In October, during the U.S.-China Entertainment Summit, Yan confirmed that the film would be R-rated, and announced the cast with Mary Elizabeth Winstead as Helena Bertinelli / Huntress, Jurnee Smollett-Bell as Dinah Lance / Black Canary, Rosie Perez as Renee Montoya, Ewan McGregor as Roman Sionis / Black Mask, Chris Messina as Victor Zsasz Ella Jay Basco as Cassandra Cain, and Ali Wong as Ellen Yee. In November, Robbie revealed that the full title would be Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn). In January 2019, principal photography commenced, and wrapped in mid April. Filming took place throughout Los Angeles, California, and at the Warner Bros. Studios under the working title Fox Force Five. In September 2019, Daniel Pemberton was announced to compose the film's score.

Its female characters are up against a rather conventional villain, yet they managed to build up enough good will thanks to their standout performances. The female DC characters have been unleashed upon the world, with their very own movie, and they made it quite a lot of fun.

Birds of Prey plays like a graphic novel brought to life. It's a fun action romp with some great turns from a bunch of actors who are clearly having a blast.

Simon says Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn) receives:

Sunday, 9 February 2020

Film Review: "Timmy Failure: Mistakes Were Made" (2020).

"Small detective. Big imagination." This is Timmy Failure: Mistakes Were Made. This comedy film directed by Tom McCarthy, adapted by McCarthy and Stephan Pastis and based on the book series of the same name by Pastis. The film follows the hilarious exploits of our quirky, deadpan hero, Timmy Failure, who, along with his fifteen-hundred pound polar bear partner Total, operates Total Failure Inc., a Portland detective agency.

In late April 2017, it was reported that McCarthy was in talks to direct an adaptation of Pastis' novel for Walt Disney Pictures. McCarthy was expected to pen the adaptation with Pastis. By late June, Ophelia Lovibond, Wallace Shawn, Craig Robinson and Winslow Fegley were cast. At the same time, with a budget of $42 million, principal photography commenced and wrapped in mid September. Filming took place in Portland, Oregon, U.S.A. and Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. In early February 2018, it was announced that the film would premiere on Disney+.

The film stars Lovibond, Shawn, Robinson and Fegley, in the title role. Fegley is an absolute delight as the titular character and it's a shame he most likely won't be allowed to return to the role.

Ineffectual, irrelevant and amateurishly conceived from start to finish, this movie is so bad it could kill off Timmy Failure forever. The film is just barely entertaining and engaging enough to earn a recommendation for its target audience of young girls. For a book series that has been so prolific and so popular over the decades, one might expect more screen adaptations. This adaptation points to a possible reason why: The stories are rather thin. While most of the acting here is unexceptional and the direction/editing often reflects odd choices, the movie's intended demographic of adolescent and teenage boys will likely not care. The film ultimately fails to introduce the younger members of its audience to the pleasures of movie detective. Clearly made by people who have thought through the material and tried to make it enjoyable and palatable, but the set-up at the end for further sequels feels a little too hopeful. It remains true to the character's fearless, vivacious spirit while spinning a solid, engaging mystery with a palpable sense of youthful energy. A below mediocre adaptation of the popular novel that is nonetheless served well by the child lead, but all representative of the adults world are narrow, standard-issue constructions. The film doesn't live up to its promise as a movie that could have had a lot of fun exploiting the ingenuity-themed construct. There's a certain amateurish quality about the film, but it's more the TV-trained grownups behind the camera than the pint-sized thespians in front of it. There's dancing, and bubble blowing and bed bouncing that's entirely aimless and Timmy's neighborhood sleuthing becomes particularly pointless. While the well-loved novel was apparently about the admirable battle a kid must wage in order to become an artist in the face of peer disapproval, the movie seems to be about a mean-spirited tyke who has no scruples.

Simon says Timmy Failure: Mistakes Were Made receives:

Also, see my review for Spotlight.

Series Review: "Who Killed Malcolm X?" (2020).

"A Netflix original documentary series" comes Who Killed Malcolm X. This documentary miniseries directed by Rachel Dretzin and Phil Bertelsen. Decades after the assassination of African American leader Malcolm X, an activist embarks on a complex mission seeking truth in the name of justice.

Born May 19, 1925, Malcolm Little (ٱلْحَاجّ مَالِك ٱلشَّبَازّ‎, al-Ḥājj Mālik ash-Shabāzz), better known as Malcolm X, was born. X went on to become a prominent American Muslim minister, human rights activist, and civil rights movement figure. He is best known for his staunch and controversial black racial advocacy, and for his time spent as the vocal spokesperson of the Nation of Islam. A controversial figure accused of preaching racism and violence, X is a widely celebrated figure within African-American and Muslim American communities for his pursuit of racial justice.

Since his birth in Omaha, Nebraska, X spent his teenage years living in a series of foster homes, after his father's death and his mother's hospitalization, and engaged in several illicit activities. In 1946, he was eventually sentenced to ten years in prison for larceny and breaking and entering. In prison, he joined the Nation of Islam and adopted the name Malcolm X. In 1952, after being paroled, X quickly became one of the organization's most influential leaders. X then served as the public face of the organization for a dozen years, where he advocated for black supremacy, black empowerment, and the separation of black and white Americans, and publicly criticized the mainstream civil rights movement for its emphasis on nonviolence and racial integration. X also expressed pride in some of the Nation's social welfare achievements, namely its free drug rehabilitation program. Throughout his life beginning in the 1950s, X endured surveillance from the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) for the Nation's supposed links to communism.

In the 1960s, X began to grow disillusioned with the Nation of Islam, as well as with its leader Elijah Muhammad. He subsequently embraced Sunni Islam and the civil rights movement after completing the Hajj to Mecca, and became known as el-Hajj Malik el-Shabazz. After a brief period of travel across Africa, he publicly renounced the Nation of Islam and founded the Islamic Muslim Mosque, Inc. (MMI) and the Pan-African Organization of Afro-American Unity (OAAU). Throughout 1964, his conflict with the Nation of Islam intensified, and he was repeatedly sent death threats. On February 21, 1965, he was assassinated. Three Nation members were charged with the murder and given indeterminate life sentences. Since his death, speculation about the assassination and whether it was conceived or aided by leading or additional members of the Nation, or with law enforcement agencies, have persisted for decades.

For Netflix to make a documentary about who really assassinated Malcolm X seems about as likely as for the Koch Bros. to sponsor Bernie Sanders. But surprisingly it is really good - a fair forum for the legacy of Malcolm's assassination and an exceptional visual chronicle of how that came to be and how is remembered in the history books.

Simon says Who Killed Malcolm X? receives: