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:

Sunday, 14 June 2020

Film Review: "Artemis Fowl" (2020).

"Where our world ends, his begins." This is Artemis Fowl. This science fantasy adventure film directed by Kenneth Branagh, adapted by Conor McPherson and Hamish McColl, and based on the 2001 novel of the same name by Eoin Colfer. The film follows the journey of a twelve-year-old genius, Artemis Fowl, a descendant of a long line of criminal masterminds, as he seeks to find his father who has mysteriously disappeared.

In 2001, plans were announced for a film adaptation of the series. Miramax Films purchased the film rights, before the series' publication, with Lawrence Guterman signed to direct and Jeff Stockwell to pen the adaptation. In 2003, Colfer stated that a screenplay had been finalized and that casting was due to start the same year but expressed skepticism over whether or not this would come to pass. The film remained in development and was assumed to be in development hell until 2011, when it was reported that Jim Sheridan was interested in directing the movie, with Saoirse Ronan attached to star. In July 2013, Disney announced that they would produce the adaptation, with The Weinstein Company, covering the events of the first and second novels of the series, with Michael Goldenberg to pen the adaptation. In early September 2015, Branagh had been hired to direct the film, with McPherson to pen the adaptation. In mid September 2017, Disney set the film for an August 9, 2019 release date. The following month, Disney removed Harvey Weinstein as producer of the film and terminated its production partnership with The Weinstein Company following Weinstein's sexual misconduct scandal. Colfer has stated that he supports the changes from the source material in the film. In late December, it was announced that Irish newcomer and grandson of Robert Shaw, Ferdia Shaw, had been cast in the title role. By mid March 2018, Lara McDonnell, Josh Gad, Tamara Smart, Nonso Anozie, Colin Farrell, Judi Dench, and Hong Chau rounded out the cast. At the same time, with a budget of $125 million, principal photography commenced and took place in England, Northern Ireland, Vietnam, Italy and Scotland. In May 2019, the film's release date was pushed back to May 29, 2020. Later however, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the film's theatrical release was cancelled and it was exclusively released on Disney+ on June 12, 2020.

The film stars Shaw, McDonnell, Gad, Smart, Anozie, Farrell, Dench, and Chau. Despite its stellar cast, the film is generally not in good company. Harry Potter: Relax. You could whip Artemis Fowl and his pals with your wand hands tied behind your back.

A safe, bland, test-marketed product made for tween mass consumption. Like most films arriving with ampersands and colons in the title, it's a bore. For every creative aspect, there is a contrived and rather nonsensical counter that unfortunately tips the scales more towards derivative than innovative. The film is simply uninspired in every single meaning of the word. It's probably the crassest, most obviously derivative work of this sort since Percy Jackson.

Simon says Artemis Fowl receives:

Also, see my review for All Is True.

Film Review: "The King of Staten Island" (2020).

"From the director of Trainwreck, Knocked Up and The 40-Year-Old Virgin" comes The King of Staten Island. This comedy-drama film directed by Judd Apatow, and written by Apatow, Pete Davidson, and Dave Sirus. Scott Davidson has been a case of arrested development ever since his firefighter father died when he was seven. He’s Now reached his mid-20s having achieved little, chasing a dream of becoming a tattoo artist that seems far out of reach. As his ambitious younger sister heads off to college, Scott is still living with his exhausted ER nurse mother and spends his days smoking weed, hanging with the guys—Oscar, Igor and Richie - and secretly hooking up with his childhood friend Kelsey. But when his mother starts dating a loudmouth firefighter named Ray, it sets off a chain of events that will force Scott to grapple with his grief and take his first tentative steps toward moving forward in life.

In late January 2019, it was announced that Universal Pictures would produce a new film with Apatow, written by Apatow, Davidson, and Sirus, and with Davidson to star. Davidson first came to Apatow's attention while working on Trainwreck (2015) after he was recommended by Amy Schumer, and he was cast in a cameo role in that film. The script was based in-part on Davidson's life, depicting what it might have been like if he had not become a comedian, and Davidson's father, who was a firefighter who died in the line of duty. Scott Davidson's unit, Ladder Company 118 in Brooklyn Heights, responded to the call to the World Trade Center after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. They were rescuing people in the Marriott World Trade Center Hotel when the tower collapsed on the building. Pete was seven years old. By early June, Marisa Tomei, Bill Burr, Bel Powley, Maude Apatow, Steve Buscemi, Pamela Adlon, Kevin Corrigan, Domenick Lombardozzi, and Moisés Arias were cast. At the same time, principal photography commenced, and took place in Staten Island. The film was originally scheduled for a March 13, 2020 premiere and June 19, 2020 release date, but both were cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. It was initially set to play in about 100 theaters, mostly drive-ins, but ultimately its release was limited to video-on-demand.

The film stars Davidson, Tomei, Burr, Powley, Apatow, Buscemi, Adlon, Corrigan, Lombardozzi, and Arias. The cast are a complete delight. Davidson, who takes the lead role and co-writes here, delivers an attractively underplayed performance that makes his character's outrageous behaviour even funnier.

The classic comedy-drama formula is represented here without deviation, but the film works because it's all just a frame for Davidson's personality and charisma, which is rich and colorful enough to carry any plot, even unimaginative ones, to success. For the sections of its 136-minute running time that it focuses on Scott's personal foibles, the film is a good time at the movies. The film ultimately fails to match the remarkable, politically-informed comedic zeniths of Davidson's superb sketch series. But it still frequently impresses by further acquainting us with the radically refreshing transparency of Pete Davidson, actor.

Simon says The King of Staten Island receives:

Also, see my review for The Zen Diaries of Garry Shandling.

Films Review: "Da 5 Bloods" (2020).

From Netflix and the director of BlacKkKlansman comes Da 5 Bloods. This war drama film directed by Spike Lee, and written by Danny Bilson, Paul De Meo, Kevin Willmott, and Lee. The film tells the story of four African American Vets - Paul, Otis, Eddie, and Melvin - who return to Vietnam. Searching for the remains of their fallen Squad Leader and the promise of buried treasure, our heroes, joined by Paul's concerned son, battle forces of Man and Nature - while confronted by the lasting ravages of The Immorality of The Vietnam War.

The film was originally a spec script entitled The Last Tour by Bilson and De Meo that was set to be directed by Oliver Stone and produced by Lloyd Levin. However, in 2016, Stone dropped out. Levin then read in an interview that Lee's favorite film is The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948), and thought Lee would appreciate the similar elements in the script. Lee liked the premise. In 2018, after the completion of Black KkKlansman (2018), Lee and Willmott rewrote the script to fit an African-American perspective. Samuel L. Jackson, Giancarlo Esposito, Don Cheadle and John David Washington were eyed for the lead roles, but all passed due to scheduling conflicts. In February 2019, it was announced that Netflix would distribute the film. By late March, Delroy Lindo, Jonathan Majors, Clarke Peters, Norm Lewis, Isiah Whitlock Jr., Johnny Trí Nguyễn, Mélanie Thierry, Paul Walter Hauser, Jasper Pääkkönen, Jean Reno, Veronica Ngo, and Chadwick Boseman were cast. At the same time, principal photography commenced, and wrapped three months later. Filming took place in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, as well as Bangkok and Chiang Mai, Thailand. The film was shot on the Arri Alexa LF and Arri Alexa Mini cameras for the present day sequences, and on the Arri 416 cameras for the 1960s sequences. The latter was shot on 16 mm film, a choice Lee had to convince Netflix to allow him to do, with the modern scenes using digital film. Cinematographer Newton Thomas Sigel came up with the idea to shoot the Vietnam sequences using the kind of camera and film stock that would have been available during the era. Unlike other films, including Netflix's The Irishman (2019), Lee had the main cast (most of whom were in their sixties) play the twenty-year-old versions of themselves in flashback sequences without the use of  de-aging technology or make-up. The film was originally scheduled to premiere out-of-competition at the 2020 Cannes Film Festival, then play in theatres. However, it was cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and was ultimately released only on Netflix.

The film stars Lindo, Majors, Peters, Lewis, Whitlock Jr., Nguyễn, Thierry, Hauser, Pääkkönen, Reno, Ngo, and Boseman. A word of praise for the energetic performances by the cast. In the cast, Lee found actors who understood his methods and delivered exceptional performances.

Da 5 Bloods uses the Vietnam War to offer bitingly trenchant commentary on current events—and brings out some of Lee's hardest-hitting work in decades along the way.

Simon says Da 5 Bloods receives:

Also, see my review for She's Gotta Have It (2017-19).

Sunday, 7 June 2020

Film Review: "Onward" (2020).

From the director and studio that brought you Monsters University comes Onward. This computer-animated urban fantasy-adventure film directed by Dan Scanlon, written by Scanlon, Jason Headley and Keith Bunin, and produced by Pixar Animation Studios. Elf brothers, Ian and Barley, get to spend a day with a day with their late dad and go on a quest aboard Barley's epic van Guinevere. When their mom Laurel realises her sons are gone, she teams up with The Manticore to find them.

In July 2017, at the D23 Expo, Pixar announced a "suburban fantasy world" film with Scanlon as writer and director. The film was inspired by the death of Scanlon's father, when he and his older brother were very young children, and their relationship with each other. He decided to write the story after hearing an audio clip of his father. In mid December 2018, the title was revealed as Onward. In 2019, Headley and Bunin were hired to rewrite the script. In mid April 2019, Mychael and Jeff Danna were hired to compose the film's score. By late February 2020, Tom Holland, Chris Pratt, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Octavia Spencer, Lena Waithe, Ali Wong, Grey Griffin, Tracey Ullman, Wilmer Valderrama, Bonnie Hunt, and John Ratzenberger were cast. The film is the first Pixar film without any involvement from John Lasseter, following his departure as CEO of Disney's Animation Areas. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, this is the first Disney movie to be released for digital download while still in theaters.

The film features the voice talents of Holland, Pratt, Louis-Dreyfus, Spencer, Waithe, Wong, Griffin, Ullman, Valderrama, Hunt, and Ratzenberger. Holland and Pratt are an appealing duo, and the colorful cast of characters is great fun.

Technically and talent-wise, the film is a fine one and at any other studio would be an instant Oscar contender. At Pixar, it comes off as a first-pass on a much better, deeper film that has yet to manifest. Not the best tale Pixar has told, but is still a much better and more thought-out one than most would put into a kid's film. This latest outing just goes to show that even an off-day at Pixar HQ can result in a well-told tale more than worthy of your time and attention. This film suffers slightly from that: while it may not be the most compelling story-frankly, it's a tad esoteric-it is absolutely visually breathtaking. However, the film is a physically gorgeous work that succeeds in transporting us to another world and immersing us there, where we find touching and even memorable characters. The brother relationship is the film's strength, with some heartfelt exchanges that feel as authentic as most live action films. Pixar's twenty-second full-length film is the studio's first to feature elves as its central characters, and memorable creation they are, too. The film may not match the calibre of story that's come to be expected from the studio, but it does introduce wonderful new characters that will inspire long after the credits roll.

Simon says Onward receives:

Also, see my reviews for Monsters University and Toy Story 4.