Sunday, 26 April 2020

Film Review: "The Turning" (2020).


"Keep an eye on the children" in The Turning. This supernatural horror film directed by Floria Sigismondi, adapted by Carey and Chad Hayes, and based on the 1898 horror novella The Turn of the Screw by Henry James. Kate Mandell takes a job as a nanny for two young orphans at an isolated Gothic mansion in the Maine countryside. She soon learns that the children - Miles and Flora - are emotionally distant and unstable. When strange events start to plague Kate and the siblings, she begins to suspect that the estate's dark corridors are home to a malevolent entity.

In early March 2016, a modern film adaptation of James' 1898 horror literary classic, then entitled Haunted, first entered development as a passion project for Steven Spielberg as he wanted to be involved in a horror film again. Ultimately, Spielberg backed out as director and remained as an executive producer instead. Ultimately, Juan Carlos Fresnadillo was hired to direct, with a script penned by the Hayes Brothers. By August, Alfre Woodard and Rose Leslie were cast. In late September, five weeks before filming was set to begin, Spielberg personally pulled the plug on the project because Scott Z. Burns' page-one rewrite caused seismic changes in the story's fabric, altering characters, action, and even the title, and it no longer resembled the project the studio had signed on to make. Spielberg and DreamWorks decided the best course of action was to fire Fresnadillo and Burns, and resume using Hayes' original script, looking to start fresh development with a new director despite $5 million having been spent of the $17 million budget. In late August 2017, Deadline reported that Amblin Entertainment had set Floria Sigismondi to direct the film, now entitled The Turning, with a new draft rewritten by Jade Bartlett. Production was expected to start in early 2018. By mid February, Mackenzie Davis, Finn Wolfhard, Brooklynn Prince, Joely Richardson, Barbara Marten, Niall Greig Fulton, and Denna Thomsen were cast. At the same time, principal photography finally commenced, and wrapped in early April. Filming took place at Killruddery House in County Wicklow, Ireland. Universal Pictures had originally scheduled the film for a February 22, 2019 release date. However, in September, the film was moved back to January 24, 2020.

The film stars Davis, Wolfhard, Prince, Richardson, Marten, Fulton, and Thomsen. Looking terrified and insane is really all that's required in the Hayes Brother's inane script. The cast are basically helpless with this.

When you're not yawning at the digital ghosts, you're watching a cast of fine actors dogpaddling in cliches and terrible dialogue. The people who made this movie forgot one simple rule of horror: It is what we don't know, and what we cannot see that leaves us quaking in our boots. Most of the blame for this butchery goes to Sigismondi, who shows less interest in relating a simple haunted-house story than in engineering a theme-park ride of pure overkill. This all-flash, no-substance--and no scare--thriller is a textbook example of soulless, money-burning Hollywood hype products.

Simon says The Turning receives:


Film Review: "Extraction" (2020).


From the Russo Brothers, directors of Avengers: Endgame, comes Extraction. This action-thriller film directed by Sam Hargrave, in his feature debut, adapted by Joe Russo, and based on the graphic novel Ciudad by Ande Parks, Fernando León González, Eric Skillman, Russo and his brother Anthony Russo. Tyler Rake is a fearless black market mercenary with nothing left to lose when his skills are solicited to rescue the kidnapped son of an imprisoned international crime lord, but, in the murky underworld of weapons dealers and drug traffickers, an already deadly mission approaches the impossible, forever altering the lives of Rake and the boy.

In late August 2018, it was announced that Hargrave would direct Dhaka written by Joe Russo with Chris Hemsworth was set to star. In November 2018, Randeep Hooda, Golshifteh Farahani, David Harbour, Pankaj Tripathi, Priyanshu Painyuli, and Rudhraksh Jaiswal rounded out the film's cast. At the same time, principal photography commenced, and wrapped in March 2019. Filming took place in Ahmedabad and Mumbai, India; as well as Ban Pong and Ratchaburi, Thailand under the new working title Out of the Fire. In late February 2020, the film's title was finally revealed to be Extraction.

The film stars Hemsworth, Hooda, Farahani, Harbour, Tripathi, Painyuli, and Jaiswal. The cast get to make vivid impressions, but of course it's Hemsworth who must carry this swiftly paced picture. As rugged as ever and attractively weathered, he does so with ease. The dialogue between the cast and Hemsworth's entertaining performance make this action worth seeing.

A slightly underwhelming action thriller derivative of the great Escape from New York. But not without its cheesy only-in-the-1980s charm. The film is too preposterous to be a good one. But in keeping with its title, it does provide a couple of hours of entertaining escapism. Hargrave's debut feature isn't smart, it doesn't have anything to say about the human condition and it never takes itself remotely seriously, but none of that matters with a film this much fun. Hargrave's vision of modern Dhaka, Bangladesh is a go-for-broke action extravaganza that satirizes the genre at the same time it's exploiting it. Not exactly the movie that would rescue Hargrave's sagging career, but it makes for an entertaining Saturday matinee show nonetheless. Intermittently clever ideas are rarely executed to full effect, but the film moves reasonably well on its way to surround-sound pyrotechnics amid a climactic aerial attack. An adrenaline fuelled amalgamation of frantic thrill-per-minute action with the claustrophobic tension of a modern action thriller. They don't make 'em like this anymore, except when they do and you remember why they stopped. Daft, but broadly enjoyable if you're in a charitable mood. Lean, fun, and always equipped with a one-liner, the film is refreshingly free of the bull**** that plagues so many genre films. It is a film derivative of several notable genre classics, but the film does offer some entertainment value. Nothing in this Russo Brothers-produced Netflix-filler is at all novel or particularly well-orchestrated, so it's down to an enjoyably sarcastic script to come to its rescue.

Simon says Extraction receives:


Sunday, 19 April 2020

Series Review: "Devs" (2020).


From the writer and director of Ex Machina and Annihilation comes Devs. This science fiction thriller television miniseries created, written, and directed by Alex Garland. A young software engineer, Lily Chan, investigates the secret development division of her employer, a cutting-edge tech company based in Silicon Valley, which she believes is behind the murder of her boyfriend.

In mid March 2018, the series was announced with Garland as creator, writer and director, and that FX had given the production a pilot order. In early August, during the Television Critics Association's annual summer press tour, FX announced that they had decided to bypass the pilot process and instead were giving the production a straight-to-series order consisting of eight episodes. By August, Sonoya Mizuno, Nick Offerman, Zach Grenier, Stephen McKinley Henderson, Cailee Spaeny, Karl Glusman, Alison Pill, Linnea Berthelsen, and Jefferson Hall were cast. At the same time, principal photography commenced, and filming took place in Marin County, Santa Cruz, and San Francisco, California, as well as London, Manchester, and Cumbria, England. In November 2019, it was announced the show would premiere on Hulu instead of FX, as part of "FX on Hulu". In early January 2020, it was announced that the series would premiere on March 5, 2020.

The series stars Mizuno, Offerman, Grenier, Henderson, Spaeny, Glusman, Pill, Berthelsen, and Hall. Excellent performances from the cast elevate this compelling material even further. The cast, especially Mizuno and Offerman, are equally effective at conveying the ethical perils posed by a future that could be closer than we are prepared to admit. Mizuno's ability to give her character an emotional edge is a major reason why this works - asking the audience to invest in her journey.

What's amazing about Devs is Garland's precise control over the audience both visually and through a singularly perfect script. The characters and the audience are both captive, processing the slightest information as fast as they can. Beautifully told, stunning with occasional outbursts of humour, it will leave you reeling. Garland's finest achievement may be his old-fashioned faith in science-fiction as an engine for profound parables about the state of humanity. It is a smart, slow-burning and fascinating sci-fi thriller that deals with themes of humanity and morality against a truly luscious backdrop. There are many questions raised in this enthralling psychological drama that begins with a meteor strike, a shimmer and a secret mission to a terrifying but wondrous world where astonishing possibilities are on display. Don't miss it! Absorbing and hypnotic, it is the best kind of sci-fi series - the kind that challenges and subverts the genre, all the while introducing new ideas that you'll see in films to come. It's certain that the astonishing special effects would have worked better on a larger cinema screen, and it's a shame to lose their impact. It is a smart and intelligent series. It's super ambitious and maybe a bit tedious. The movie requires patience and at times gets a bit too showy.

Simon says Devs receives:



Also, see my review for Annihilation.

Sunday, 12 April 2020

Film Review: "Tigertail" (2020).


From Netflix comes Tigertail. This drama film written and directed by Alan Yang. In this poignant multi-generational drama, Pin-Jui is a free-spirited yet impoverished young Taiwanese factory worker, who makes the difficult decision to leave his homeland - and the woman he loves - behind in order to seek better opportunities in America. But years of monotonous work and an arranged marriage devoid of love or compassion leave an older Pin-Jui a shadow of his former self. Unable to sympathize with his daughter Angela and at risk of living out his retirement in solitude, Pin-Jui must reconnect with his past in order to finally build the life he once dreamed of having.

In May 2018, it was revealed that Yang would write and direct a Taiwanese American drama film for Netflix. By late August, Tzi Ma, Joan Chen, Hong Chi-Lee, Yo-Hsing Fang, Fiona Fu, Kunjue Li, Christine Ko, Hayden Szeto, Margot Bingham, Yang Kuei-mei, and John Cho were cast. At the same time, principal photography commenced, and took place throughout New York and Taiwan. All of the flashback scenes were shot on film with the Arricam LT camera with Panavision G-Series and Zeiss Super Speed Lenses, while all the present day scenes were shot on digital.

The film stars Tzi Ma, Joan Chen, Hong Chi-Lee, Yo-Hsing Fang, Fiona Fu, Kunjue Li, Christine Ko, Hayden Szeto, Margot Bingham, and Yang Kuei-mei. So well-acted, you felt it. I thought it was a really, really solid movie, and I was very surprised by it. Yang and his fine ensemble of actors will soon enfold you in a journey of delightful twists and turns. And in the end, a romance you'll long remember. What makes a movie like this work is how much you care for the characters, and each one here is very well-drawn and fully dimensional. Playing a character who allows endless opportunities to speak his heart pass her by, Ma displays his full heartbreaking range dealing with the worst situation imaginable.

A richly textured drama about the tensions across two generations of a Taiwanese family, Tigertail typifies the filial focus of Yang. A wise and touching piece that matches the films of Wong Kar-wai and Ang Lee in its depiction of character and family dynamics as a source of human examination. The film is seasoned with humor and has a brisk pace. It's pleasing to the eye and stocked with zesty performances all the way around. This is a startlingly superior piece of craftsmanship, with the flavour of life and richness of the script conveyed via uniformly wonderful performances. The film is tender without being mushy, sweet without being syrupy -- and surprising in ways that can only make you feel moved. The film wins fans with its serious disposition as it turns a contemporary story about unrequited love into a deft Confucius farce and humanist drama. What the film isolates so incisively is a sense of cultural melancholia specific to the immigrant experience, a mourning for something lost in the process of existing between worlds.

Simon says Tigertail receives:


Film Review: "Trolls World Tour" (2020).


From the creators of Trolls comes Trolls World Tour. This computer-animated fantasy musical film co-directed by Walt Dohrn and David P. Smith, written by Jonathan Aibel, Glenn Berger, Elizabeth Tippet, Maya Forbes and Wallace Wolodarsky, and produced by DreamWorks Animation. It is a sequel to the 2016 film Trolls. Poppy and Branch discover that there are six different troll tribes scattered over six different lands. Each tribe is also devoted to six different kinds of music -- funk, country, techno, classical, pop and rock. When rockers Queen Barb and King Thrash set out to destroy the other music, Poppy and Branch embark on a daring mission to unite the trolls and save the diverse melodies from becoming extinct.

In late February 2017, Universal Pictures and DreamWorks Animation announced the sequel, with Anna Kendrick and Justin Timberlake reprising their roles. James Corden, Ron Funches, Icona Pop, Kunal Nayyar, Zooey Deschanel, and Christopher Mintz-Plasse also returned to reprise their roles. Rachel Bloom, Karan Soni, Sam Rockwell, Jamie Dornan, Kenan Thompson, Kevin Michael Richardson, Ozzy Osbourne, Kelly Clarkson, Chance the Rapper, Anthony Ramos, Flula Borg, J Balvin, Mary J. Blige, George Clinton, Ester Dean, Gustavo Dudamel, the McElroy brothers, and Red Velvet rounded out the voice cast. In mid June, the film's title was revealed as Trolls World Tour. Universal Pictures originally planned the film for a April 10, 2020 theatrical release date. However, it was later pushed up to February 14 before being moved to April 17. It was once again pushed up to its first release date, but in mid March, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Universal announced that the film would be released simultaneously in theaters and for rental on digital platforms. In response to Universal releasing the film without consulting theater owners, as well as comments from NBCUniversal CEO Jeff Shell suggesting that future Universal releases would premiere simultaneously in theaters, AMC Theatres stated that they would not license films that also premiere at the same time on digital release; "[AMC] will not license any Universal movies... on these terms." Regal Cinemas followed suit in a statement not just directed at Universal, saying they will "not be showing movies that fail to respect the [theatrical] windows".

The film features the voice talents of Kendrick, Timberlake, Corden, Funches, Pop, Nayyar, Bloom, Soni, Rockwell, Dornan, Thompson, Richardson, Osbourne, Clarkson, and Red Velvet. The voice cast, led by Kendrick and Timberlake, is energetic, sure, though sometimes predictable, and periodically bland.

Trolls World Tour is gloriously colourful, simultaneously silly yet often deceptively clever, and actually rather enchanting. However, the music in the film is programmed by your local karaoke bar and sung like everyone's getting paid REALLY WELL. Additionally, I didn't like it, not at all, and while I'm certain there are kids out there who will undoubtedly feel differently don't expect me to sing a different tune on the matter anytime soon. This inoffensive, highly formulaic affair differs only from other average 'toons in that it merrily pours on the audiovisual sugar to overload proportions.

Simon says Trolls World Tour receives:



Also, see my review for Trolls and Abominable.

Film Review: "Gretel & Hansel" (2020).


"A grim fairy tale." This is Gretel & Hansel. This horror film directed by Oz Perkins, adapted by Rob Hayes, and based on the German folklore tale Hansel and Gretel by the Brothers Grimm. When their mother descends into madness, siblings Gretel and Hansel must fend for themselves in the dark and unforgiving woods. Hungry and scared, they fortuitously stumble upon a bounty of food left outside an isolated home. Invited inside by the seemingly friendly owner, the children soon suspect that her generous but mysterious behaviour is part of a sinister plan to do them harm.

In October 2018, the Hollywood Reporter reported that Orion Pictures had started developing a film adaptation of the German folklore tale, with a script penned by Hayes, Perkins as director and Sophia Lillis to star. By early November, Lillis, Charles Babalola, Alice Krige, Jessica De Gouw, and Sam Leakey, in his debut role, were cast. At the same time, with a budget of $5 million, principal photography commenced, and wrapped in December. Filming took place in Dublin, Ireland. In January 2019, dditional filming and reshoots started in Langley, British Columbia, Canada.

The film stars Lillis, Leakey, Babalola, Krige, and De Gouw. The cast are all uniformly excellent, but they're stuck in a film that doesn't seem to know what to do with them. If a filmmaker tries to cast doubt over every character and every action, it can be hard to work up suspense, because it's unclear who is in danger. This is the case with this film. But beyond its compositional breadth, what Perkins conveys in the film lends itself a more feminine persuasion, one that addresses a set of impossible social responsibilities exclusive to women.

This methodical possession riff further establishes Perkins as one of the few horror filmmakers whose every work will have my attention, as the film is a beautiful way to get the jitters. Deserves to be studied in terms of its visuals and learned from by those who write and want to learn how to tell a story with minimal, haunting dialogue. A cold descent into madness in then hands of a director that manages to capture the very essence of evil in uncommon places. It is a haunting tale that breaths new life into the idea of possession and the loss of innocence. By the time the credits rolled I felt stunned and awestruck. It takes its time slowly setting its pieces into place, and some expecting a more full-throttled horror experience might get a little restless waiting for the jolts to come. The film layers on the dread until it's almost physically challenging to keep watching as shadows grow ever more oppressive and the school ever less welcoming. Something wicked this way comes, indeed. There are creepy moments throughout the film that stick with you, truly adding to the stylistic, haunted-house atmosphere of this whole narrative. While the film is intriguing and seductive at the start, in the end it doesn't quite live up to the insinuations it made in the beginning.

Simon says Gretel & Hansel receives:



Also, see my review for I Am the Pretty Thing That Lives in the House.