Sunday, 22 March 2020

Film Review: "The Hunt" (2020).

"The Most Talked About Movie of the Year is One That No One's Actually Seen." This is The Hunt. This horror thriller film directed by Craig Zobel, and written by Nick Cuse and Damon Lindelof. Twelve strangers wake up in a clearing. They don't know where they are, or how they got there. They don't know they've been chosen - for a very specific purpose - The Hunt.

In March 2018, Universal Pictures acquired the rights to the film, with Cuse and Lindelof to pen the script, and Zobel to direct. The original title of the script was Red State Vs. Blue State, a reference to the red states and blue states. Later, Universal issued a statement denying that the film had ever had it as its working title. The elite hunters' reference to their quarry as "deplorables" is an allusion to the phrase "basket of deplorables", used by Hillary Clinton during the 2016 United States presidential election campaign to refer to supporters of then-presidential candidate Donald Trump. An early draft of the script depicted working-class conservatives as the film's heroes. By late February 2019, Betty Gilpin, Hilary Swank, Ike Barinholtz, Ethan Suplee, Emma Roberts, Glenn Howerton, Justin Hartley, Teri Wyble, Macon Blair, and J. C. MacKenzie were cast. At the same time, with a budget of $14 million, principal photography commenced, and wrapped in early April. Filming took place in New Orleans, Louisiana. The film was originally scheduled for a September 27, 2019 release date. However, it was moved back to October 18 before shifting back to its original release date. In early August, Universal announced that in the wake of the Dayton and El Paso mass shootings, they would be suspending the film's promotional campaign. Several days later, the film was pulled from the studio's release schedule. In February 2020, the film's release date had been rescheduled to March 13, 2020. However, due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the increased restrictions on screenings in movie theaters, Universal announced that the movie will be available to rent from March 20, 2020 with forty-eight-hour viewing windows for $19.99, merely one week after hitting theater screens and before the end of the usual 90-day theatrical run.

The film stars Gilpin, Swank, Barinholtz, Suplee, Roberts, Howerton, Hartley, Wyble, Blair, and MacKenzie. The only film of 2020 that had me actively cheering for the heroes and booing the villain - sinister monsters who are disguised as Republicans and who don't need to touch their victims to scar them for life.

Plausibly acted, if implausibly directed by Zobel, the credulity of this provocative scenario would snap had it not actually happened more than it already does right now. It's not an easy watch, which is kind of the point, and I'm not even sure what genre it is. But it will haunt and resonate. Zobel does a great job of just making you uncomfortable, making you want to just yell at the screen and tell the characters to just stop. It never loses sight of its goal to persuade us to be more aware, more questioning of our leaders, institutions and even ourselves.

Simon says The Hunt receives:

Also, see my review for Compliance.

Saturday, 21 March 2020

Series Review: "Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness" (2020).

"The wildest story you'll never believe." This is Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness. This true crime documentary miniseries directed by Eric Goode and Rebecca Chaiklin. Among the eccentrics and cult personalities in the stranger-than-fiction world of big cat owners, few stand out more than Joe Exotic, a mulleted, gun-toting polygamist and country western singer who presides over an Oklahoma roadside zoo. Charismatic but misguided, Joe and an unbelievable cast of characters including drug kingpins, conmen, and cult leaders all share a passion for big cats and the status and attention their dangerous menageries garner. But things take a dark turn when Carole Baskin, an animal activist and owner of a big cat sanctuary, threatens to put them out of business, stoking a rivalry that eventually leads to Joe's arrest for a murder-for-hire plot, and reveals a twisted tale where the only thing more dangerous than a big cat is its owner.

Since its release on March 20, 2020, the series has been viewed by 34.3 million people over its first ten days of release, ranking as one of Netflix's most successful releases to date, according to Nielsen TV Ratings. It has been suggested that its viewership success was aided by the COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic, which caused many global viewers to be restricted to their homes around the time of its release. The series has been so far-reaching even making its way to the oval office. At an April press conference regarding the coronavirus, U.S. President Donald Trump was questioned about the possibility of pardoning the series' key subject. A limited series adaptation is in development, headed by Universal Content Productions. It will be based on the second season of Wondery's Over My Dead Body podcast, with Kate McKinnon set to executive-produce and star as Baskin. No other castings, network or streaming platform attached have been announced yet. In early April, it was announced that a series titled Investigating the Strange World of Joe Exotic will premiere on Investigation Discovery. Additionally, Deadline Hollywood reported that Ryan Murphy is in talks to produce a film or limited series for Netflix with Rob Lowe starring as Exotic. In mid April 13, Fox and TMZ premiered a one-hour follow-up special titled TMZ Investigates: Tiger King — What Really Went Down?. However, the show was not entirely met with praise, Baskin and her husband felt betrayed by filmmakers, stating she was told the discussion of Exotic and Baskin's missing husband were just for context. Baskin has never been charged with anything related to Don's disappearance and has always denied anything to do with it.

Tiger King is an excellent documentary series that warns us about the dangers of charismatic eccentrics and the horror that comes when they are let loose upon society. I was hanging on every twist and turn, gobsmacked at the next bit of craziness that was revealed. Hey, it is still an exhaustive and utterly absorbing piece of work by Goode and Chaiklin. Overall, it is a redneck Game of Thrones and it is hella addictive.

Simon says Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness receives:

Sunday, 15 March 2020

Film Review: "Color Out of Space" (2019).

From author H. P. Lovecraft, the producers of Mandy and the director of Hardware comes Color Out of Space. This science fiction cosmic horror film directed by Richard Stanley, adapted by Stanley and
Scarlett Amaris, and based on Lovecraft's 1927 cosmic horror short story The Colour Out of Space. After a meteorite lands in the front yard of their farm, Nathan Gardner and his family find themselves battling a mutant extraterrestrial organism as it infects their minds and bodies, transforming their quiet rural life into a technicolor nightmare.

Stanley is a huge Lovecraft fan thanks to his mother, Penny Miller. She read Lovecraft's works to Stanley when he was young. At the age of twelve or thirteen, he read The Colour Out of Space. When his mother suffered from cancer, Stanley read Lovecraft's works to her in her declining years. Since 2011, Stanley nurtured the idea of bringing the short story to the screen, but always had trouble finding financing. In July 2013, he pitched the project to investors at Fantasia Film Festival with a proof of concept trailer, but was met with no success. However, in September 2015, things changed when it was announced that production company SpectreVision had came on board to produce with a projected start date of early 2016. After three years of silence, in December 2018, while doing promotional interviews for Mandy (2018), producer Josh C. Waller surprised everyone announcing that the project was still alive and kicking with Stanley as director and Nicholas Cage set to star, and it would begin production in early 2019. The film would mark Stanley's first feature film in more than twenty years since his infamous exit from The Island of Dr. Moreau (1996). By late January 2019, Joely Richardson, Madeleine Arthur, Brendan Meyer, Julian Hilliard, Elliot Knight, Q'orianka Kilcher, and Tommy Chong rounded out the film's cast. At the same time, principal photography commenced, and wrapped in early March. Filming took place throughout Portugal.

The film stars Cage, Richardson, Arthur, Meyer, Hilliard, Knight, Kilcher, and Chong. Strong performances were given by the cast, especially Cage. Cage is exceptional and more memorable than past performances, but this is only due to the world that Stanley has crafted for him to coexist within.

Color Out of Space backs up its sci-fi visual wonders and visceral genre thrills with an impressively ambitious - and surprisingly strange - exploration of challenging themes that should leave audiences pondering long after the end credits roll. Kudos to Cage and the rest of the cast, but bravo to Richard Stanley. Apparently you knew a masterpiece when you saw it, and you made sure we were able to see it as well. Stanley need make no apologies. It's a bracing brainteaser with the courage of its own ambiguity. You work out the answers in your own head, in your own time, in your own dreams, where the best sci-fi puzzles leave things. Even as it relies on horror tropes for shape the film's mission is to plumb the depths of Lovecraftian existential fear.

Simon says Color Out of Space receives:

Sunday, 8 March 2020

Film Review: "Dark Waters" (2019).

"The Truth Has a Man on the Inside"
in Dark Waters. This legal thriller film directed by Todd Haynes, written by Mario Correa and Matthew Michael Carnahan, and based on the 2016 The New York Times Magazine article The Lawyer Who Became DuPont's Worst Nightmare by Nathaniel Rich, the 2015 article Welcome to Beautiful Parkersburg, West Virginia by Mariah Blake, and the memoir Exposure by Robert Bilott. A tenacious attorney uncovers a dark secret that connects a growing number of unexplained deaths to one of the world's largest corporations. While trying to expose the truth, he soon finds himself risking his future, his family and his own life.

In late September 2018, it was announced that Haynes would direct the film, then titled Dry Run, from a script penned by Carnahan. In November 2018, Mark Ruffalo was officially set to star. By mid January 2019, Anne Hathaway, Tim Robbins, Bill Camp, Victor Garber, William Jackson Harper, and Bill Pullman rounded out the film's cast. At the same time, principal photography commenced, and took place in Cincinnati, Ohio.

The film stars Ruffalo, Hathaway, Robbins, Camp, Garber, Harper, and Pullman. The cast is outstanding, and the performances are so good I simply got caught up. As for Ruffalo, he is seriously, seriously good. Here, his performance is passionate, subtle and right on the money. Ruffalo gave the strongest performance of his career.

Dark Waters is one of the most sharply scripted films of 2019, with an engrossing premise and faultless acting. Haynes succeeds not only in capturing the audience's attention, but holding it until the credits roll. The film is a morally alert, persuasively realistic and increasingly suspenseful melodrama, impeccably acted and handsomely staged by Haynes. The film is not an exercise in high-tension energy; you'll never confuse its eponymous protagonist with Jason Bourne. But it does have enough of a melodramatic pulse to keep you engaged in its story and, better than that, it is full of plausible characters who are capable of surprising—and surpassing—your expectations. The deeper you get into the film, the more it becomes apparent that this is a masterful character study of how people react when pushed to the brink. A deliberately paced, endlessly riveting, highly suspenseful work that captivates and thrills with an assured hand. Haynes directs with a cool hand and an underplayed sense of drama, letting the words and the performances carry the film. There's a lot of skill involved in the film and an understated, ambiguous hero that's becoming rare in modern film. Even if under its subtle surface there isn't really much there, the surface is good enough to make it worthwhile. The film is a chilling, intense conspiracy thriller, filled with intriguing characters and great performances. A strong drama/thriller that starts a little slow, but ultimately gets into a nice rhythm. A straight-ahead suspense melodrama, complete with villain and a climax with satisfyingly clean lines. But Haynes constantly elevates the material with surprise gifts.

Simon says Dark Waters receives:

Also, see my review for Wonderstruck.

Film Review: "Spenser Confidential" (2020).

"The law has limits. They don't". This is Spenser Confidential. This action comedy film directed by Peter Berg, adapted by Sean O'Keefe and Brian Helgeland, and based on the 2013 novel Robert B. Parker's Wonderland by Ace Atkins. Spenser - an ex-cop better known for making trouble than solving it - just got out of prison and is leaving Boston for good. But first he gets roped into helping his old boxing coach and mentor, Henry, with a promising amateur. That's Hawk, a brash, no-nonsense MMA fighter convinced he'll be a tougher opponent than Spenser ever was. When two of Spenser's former colleagues turn up murdered, he recruits Hawk and his foul-mouthed ex-girlfriend, Cissy, to help him investigate and bring the culprits to justice.

In late June 2018, it was announced that Mark Wahlberg and Peter Berg would collaborate for on a Netflix film adaptation of Atkins' novel based on Robert B. Parker's character Spenser, as a continuation of the original series authorized by Parker's estate, with O'Keefe and Helgeland penning the adaptation. The film would be Wahlberg and Berg's fifth collaboration after Lone Survivor (2013), Deepwater Horizon (2016), Patriots Day (2016), and Mile 22 (2018). By late 2018, Winston Duke, Alan Arkin, Iliza Shlesinger, Bokeem Woodbine, Donald Cerrone, Marc Maron, and Post Malone were cast. At the same time, principal photography commenced and took place in Boston, Massachusetts.

The film stars Wahlberg, Duke, Arkin, Shlesinger, Woodbine, Cerrone, Maron, and Malone. The cast gave good performances but not nearly good enough to overcome the incoherent, woeful script, story, and direction. Hope & Crosby. Abbott & Costello. Laurel & Hardy. Wahlberg & Duke won't be joining this select group if the film is any indication.

If you liked Wahlberg and Berg's previous films, you'll probably find things to like about the film, but it's not a classic even for rabid Wahlberg enthusiasts. It's only when Wahlberg and Duke go head-to-head that the film sparkles and its unfortunate that such a good pairing is wasted. Basically you have Wahlberg -- whose recent output might charitably be described as "iffy" -- working a couple of dweeby riffs for all they're worth. A hit-and-miss parody of mismatched-buddy cop films, which is not that easy, given how that grizzled genre has pretty much ossified into parody all by itself. What would have been very funny for fifteen minutes, and pretty funny for forty-five, doesn't maintain the standard over the course of a feature-length film. I just didn't think that there were quite enough of them, and although the effort is a good one the film in my opinion remains a law and order police department parody that doesn't quite make the grade. The jokes begin to repeat themselves, and the plot becomes mired in unintelligible details of the white-collar crime that Wahlberg and Duke are investigating. Somebody didn't pack enough comedy for this long trip - the punchlines in the movie's second half are often callbacks to jokes you may not fondly remember from the first, until every gag is united with its mate.

Simon says Spenser Confidential receives:

Also, see my review for Mile 22.

Sunday, 1 March 2020

Film Review: "The Invisible Man" (2020).

"What You Can't See Can Hurt You" in The Invisible Man. This science fiction horror film film adapted and directed by Leigh Whannell, and based on the 1897 science fiction literary classic of the same name by H. G. Wells. Trapped in a violent, controlling relationship with a wealthy and brilliant scientist, Cecilia Kass escapes in the dead of night and disappears into hiding, aided by her sister, their childhood friend and his teenage daughter. But when Cecilia’s abusive ex commits suicide and leaves her a generous portion of his vast fortune, Cecilia suspects his death was a hoax. As a series of eerie coincidences turns lethal, threatening the lives of those she loves, Cecilia’s sanity begins to unravel as she desperately tries to prove that she is being hunted by someone nobody can see.

As early as 2007, development of a new The Invisible Man began with David S. Goyer was hired to pen the script. However, in 2011, Goyer left the project, and the project entered into development hell. In February 2016, the project was announced to be revived as a part of Universal's Dark Universe. Johnny Depp was cast as the titular role, with Ed Solomon hired to pen the script. However, after the critical and financial failure of The Mummy (2017), the project was once again cancelled and changes were made to the Dark Universe to focus on individual storytelling and moving on from the shared universe concept. In January 2019, Universal announced that all future Universal Monster movies would focus on standalone stories as opposed to inter-connectivity. Producer Jason Blum had at various times publicly expressed his interest in reviving and working on future installments. Ultimately, the project, and all future installments, would be set up at Blum's Blumhouse Productions with Whannell hired to direct and pen The Invisible Man. In April, Elizabeth Moss was officially cast in the female lead role. By mid July, Aldis Hodge, Storm Reid, Harriet Dyer, Michael Dorman, and Oliver Jackson-Cohen rounded out the film's cast, with Jackson-Cohen cast in the title role. At the same time, principal photography commenced, and wrapped in mid September. Filming took place in Sydney, Australia. Universal originally scheduled the film for a March 13, 2020 release date. But, in August, was moved up two weeks for a February 28, 2020 release.

The film stars Moss, Hodge, Reid, Dyer, Dorman, and Jackson-Cohen. The cast gave terrifically layered performances, especially Moss. Moss brought an edge to the damaged-girl-next-door role, and the dark, dashing Jackson-Cohen is chillingly twisted.

The film easily could have been just a B-picture, albeit an expensively-produced one, but Whannell is as serious about his social commentary as he is about entertaining us. It is much more than the sum of its parts, is as enjoyable as hell and taps into all of those innovative sci-fi movies that you already love without being a mere copycat. It begins as an unyielding look at a battered wife, but does not end as another one of those thrillers where the villain toys with his victim and the audience.

Simon says The Invisible Man receives:

Also, see my review for Upgrade.