Thursday, 25 March 2021

Film Review: "Godzilla vs. Kong" (2021).

"One will fall" in Godzilla vs. Kong. This monster film directed by Adam Wingard, written by Eric Pearson and Max Borenstein and based on the character of Godzilla created by Toho and the character of King Kong created Edgar Wallace and Merian C. Cooper. It is a sequel to Godzilla: King of the Monsters (2019) and Kong: Skull Island (2017), as well as being the fourth film in Legendary's MonsterVerse. It is also the thirty-sixth film in the Godzilla franchise, the twelfth film in the King Kong franchise. Kong and his protectors undertake a perilous journey to find his true home, and with them is Jia, a young orphaned girl with whom he has formed a unique and powerful bond. But they unexpectedly find themselves in the path of an enraged Godzilla, cutting a swath of destruction across the globe. The epic clash between the two titans—instigated by unseen forces—is only the beginning of the mystery that lies deep within the core of the Earth.

In September 2015, Legendary moved Kong: Skull Island from Universal to Warner Bros., which sparked media speculation that Godzilla and King Kong would appear in a film together. In October, Legendary confirmed that they would unite Godzilla and King Kong in Godzilla vs. Kong, with a May 29, 2020 release date. In March 2017, Legendary assembled a writers room to develop the story for the film, with Terry Rossio leading a team consisting of Patrick McKay, J. D. Payne, Lindsey Beer, Cat Vasko, T.S. Nowlin, Jack Paglen, and J. Michael Straczynski. Michael Dougherty and Zach Shields provided rewrites to ensure that certain themes from King of the Monsters were carried over and that some characters were properly developed. In May, Wingard was hired to direct. By early November, Alexander Skarsgård, Millie Bobby Brown, Rebecca Hall, Brian Tyree Henry, Shun Oguri, Eiza González, Julian Dennison, Kyle Chandler, Demián Bichir, Zhang Ziyi, Lance Reddick and Jessica Henwick were cast. At the same time, principal photography commenced and wrapped in April 2019. Filming took place throughout Queensland, Australia, as well as New York and Hawaii. In June 2020, Tom Holkenborg was hired to compose the film's score. The film was delayed several times, and was originally scheduled for a March 13, May 22, May 29 and November 20, 2020 release date. It was later pushed to a May 21, 2021 release date due to the COVID-19 pandemic However, it was ultimately moved forward to a March 31, 2021 release date for both a theatrical release with a simultaneous release on HBO Max.

Once again, despite the stellar cast, the characters are still hollow. But, once again, that's expected when the show is all about Godzilla and Kong.

The story is a little bit of hollow and a little bit forced... but - big but!- Godzilla and Kong make up for it. The return of Godzilla and Kong and all of their friends is pretty amazing and pretty epic.

Simon says Godzilla vs. Kong receives:

Also, see my review for Godzilla: King of the Monsters and Death Note.

Saturday, 20 March 2021

Film Review: "Operations Varsity Blues: The College Admissions Scandal" (2021).

"The man behind the scandal." This is Operations Varsity Blues: The College Admissions Scandal. This documentary film directed by Chris Smith and written by Jon Karmen. Reenactments drive this documentary investigating the mastermind behind a scam to get the kids of rich and famous families into top US universities.

In 2019, a scandal arose over a criminal conspiracy to influence undergraduate admissions decisions at several top American universities. The investigation into the conspiracy was code named Operation Varsity Blues. In early March, the investigation and related charges were made public by United States federal prosecutors. At least fifty-three people have been charged as part of the conspiracy, a number of whom pleaded guilty or agreed to plead guilty. Thirty-three parents of college applicants are accused of paying more than $25 million between 2011 and 2018 to William Rick Singer, organizer of the scheme, who used part of the money to fraudulently inflate entrance exam test scores and bribe college officials. Singer controlled the two firms involved in the scheme, Key Worldwide Foundation and The Edge College & Career Network (also known as "The Key"). He pleaded guilty and cooperated with the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) in gathering incriminating evidence against co-conspirators. He said he unethically facilitated college admission for children in more than 750 families. Singer faces up to sixty-five years in prison, and a fine of $1.25 million. Prosecutors in the Office of the U.S. Attorney for the District of Massachusetts, led by United States Attorney Andrew Lelling, unsealed indictments and complaints for felony conspiracy to commit mail fraud and honest services mail fraud against fifty people, including Singer, who has been "portrayed [...] as a criminal mastermind", university staff he bribed, and parents who are alleged to have used bribery and fraud to secure admission for their children to eleven universities. Among the accused parents are prominent business-people and well-known actors. Those charges have a maximum term of twenty years in prison, supervised release of three years, and a $250,000 fine. One month later, sixteen of the parents were also indicted by prosecutors for alleged felony conspiracy to commit money laundering. This third charge has a maximum sentence of twenty years in prison, supervised release of three years, and a $500,000 fine. The case is the largest of its kind to be prosecuted by the US Justice Department.

It's told with a great deal of style and energy, distilling the complex anatomy of a cock-up into just one hundred minutes of brisk, mixed bag storytelling. It's the perfect melding of groundwork-laying, commentary, comedy, tragedy and longform cinejournalism. It's a three-alarm indictment. At moments, its conspiratorial vibe feels like a friend sharing juicy gossip. But Smith digs deeper to show the damage wrought by Singer. This jaw-dropping film about the college admissions scandal that become a hot topic debacle is an absolute must-see. I sat watching it in a state of amused disbelief (while, yes, occasionally swearing). There's not too many places to see this much madness, ego, greed, and full-on stupidity on display at the same time.

Simon says Operations Varsity Blues: The College Admissions Scandal receives:

Also, see my review for The Disappearance of Madeleine McCann.

Friday, 19 March 2021

Film Review: "Zack Snyder's Justice League" (2021).

"'You said the age of heroes would never come again.' 'It will. It has to.'" Here comes Zack Snyder's Justice League. This superhero film directed by Zack Snyder, written by Chris Terrio and based on the characters created by DC Comics. It is the fifth film of the DC Extended Universe (DCEU). In Zack Snyder's Justice League, determined to ensure Superman’s ultimate sacrifice was not in vain, Bruce Wayne aligns forces with Diana Prince with plans to recruit a team of metahumans to protect the world from an approaching threat of catastrophic proportions. The task proves more difficult than Bruce imagined, as each of the recruits must face the demons of their own pasts to transcend that which has held them back, allowing them to come together, finally forming an unprecedented league of heroes. Now united, Batman, Wonder Woman, Aquaman, Cyborg, and The Flash may be too late to save the planet from Steppenwolf, DeSaad, and Darkseid and their dreadful intentions. 

Immediately after the critically and commercially-panned theatrical release of Justice League, fans created an online petition to release the "Snyder Cut" that gained more than eighteen-thousand signatures. The #ReleaseTheSnyderCut movement was ignited by the negative reviews of the theatrical cut, as fans knew that Snyder left directorial duties and the final cut of the film in the hands of Whedon; thus, they assumed that Whedon created an inferior film. The circumstances have been compared to the situation of Superman II (1980). Both involved a director who was replaced before completion, which led to a second director coming in and making substantial changes. Richard Donner had been able to complete his Superman II cut in 2006. Some assumed that an alternate cut of Justice League was inevitable because some of Snyder's films have been re-released in extended cuts for home media (such as Watchmen (2009) and Batman v Superman), which some critics see as superior to the theatrical versions. Members of the Justice League cast and crew showing support for the Snyder Cut's release included actors Jason Momoa, Ciarán Hinds, and Ray Fisher; photographer Clay Enos; storyboard artist Jay Oliva; cinematographer Fabian Wagner; and Ben Affleck's stunt double Richard Cetrone. On the two-year anniversary of the theatrical cut, cast and crew voiced support through social media. Other film- and comic book-industry figures not related to Justice League have also supported the release of a "Snyder Cut", including filmmaker Kevin Smith; television producer Steven S. DeKnight, and comic book writers Rob Liefeld, Robert Kirkman, and Jerry Ordway. Other figures were less optimistic such as chief analyst for Boxoffice Pro Shawn Robbins and writer Mario F. Robles. Throughout the movement, members of the media referred to the Snyder Cut as "fabled" or "mythical". Members of the #ReleaseTheSnyderCut movement engaged in acts of fan activism to promote it. In June 2018, fans reached out to executives at AT&T following a merger between the company and Warner. In June 2019, they reached out to new Warner Bros. CEO Ann Sarnoff, who replaced Tsujihara after his resignation, following that up a month later with a mass letter-writing campaign. In July, they reached out to the parent company of Warner Bros., WarnerMedia, after the announcement of its new streaming service HBO Max. Ahead of the 2019 San Diego Comic-Con, a fan launched a crowdfunding campaign with half of the funds to be spent on an advertising campaign and the other half to be donated to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP). For a similar campaign at the 2019 New York Comic Con, the movement purchased ad space on two billboards over Times Square featuring quotes from members of the cast and crew. In December, the movement rented another flying banner ad, this time passing over Warner Bros. Studios and directly asking Sarnoff to release the Snyder Cut. In January 2020, the movement bought four minutes of ad space advocating for the film's release on a digital banner wrapped around the interior of Riverside Stadium during the FA Cup. Their efforts garnered praise from Snyder and from the AFSP. However, members of the movement have also been described by members of the media as "toxic" for harassing, threatening, and cyberbullying those who express opinions about the Snyder Cut that are contrary to their beliefs. Among these critics included Yohana Desta of Vanity Fair and Brandon Katz of The New York Observer. In September 2018, former DC Entertainment president Diane Nelson deleted her Twitter account after substantial online harassment by members of the movement. Warner Bros. telephone operators, inundated with regular calls about the "Snyder Cut", were trained to treat these inquiries as prank calls. However, in late May 2020, Snyder announced during a Q&A after an online watch party of Man of Steel that his cut of Justice League would be released as Zack Snyder's Justice League on HBO Max in 2021

The film stars an ensemble cast that includes Ben Affleck, Henry Cavill, Gal Gadot, Ray Fisher, Jason Momoa, Ezra Miller, Amy Adams, Willem Dafoe, Jesse Eisenberg, Jeremy Irons, Diane Lane, Connie Nielsen, J. K. Simmons, Ciarán Hinds, Joe Morton, Joe Manganiello, Amber Heard, Harry Lennix, Kiersey Clemons, Peter Guinness, Ray Porter and Jared Leto. All of the performances are so perfectly acted and the characters are more realised this time round.

This version of Justice League is a triumph of intention, sending the imagination soaring again over this new angle on a very big question mark. Like so many other director's cuts, it is finally more of a complete work than an appendix: Snyder and co. really did a phenomenal job this time around. Our popular culture will owe so much to this Snyder masterpiece. What we lack today is the boldness and confidence to trust the characters and world we've set in action. However, the film suffers somewhat from an absurdly overlong running time that often threatens to negate its more overtly positive attributes. But it is a magnificent comic-book picture maintaining a high level of technical and artistic brilliance which only sheer exhaustion - it lasts almost four hours - prohibits from whole-hearted admiration.

Simon says Zack Snyder's Justice League receives:

Also, see my reviews for Justice League and Wonder Woman 1984.

Sunday, 14 March 2021

Film Review: "Cherry" (2021).

From the directors of Avengers: Endgame comes Cherry. This crime drama film directed by Anthony and Joe Russo, adapted by Angela Russo-Otstot and Jessica Goldberg and based on the novel of the same name by Nico Walker. The film follows the wild journey of a disenfranchised young man from Ohio who meets the love of his life, only to risk losing her through a series of bad decisions and challenging life circumstances. The unhinged character drifts from dropping out of college to serving in Iraq as an Army medic and is only anchored by his one true love, Emily. When Cherry returns home a war hero, he battles the demons of undiagnosed PTSD and spirals into drug addiction, surrounding himself with a menagerie of depraved misfits. Draining his finances, Cherry turns to bank robbing to fund his addiction, shattering his relationship with Emily along the way.

In August 2018, the Russo Brothers acquired the film rights to Walker's novel, beating out offers from Warner Bros. and Sony, to pen and direct the adaptation. In March 2019, Tom Holland was attached to star in the title role. By mid October, Ciara Bravo, Jack Reynor, Michael Rispoli, Forrest Goodluck, Michael Gandolfini, Damon Wayans Jr., Thomas Lennon, Kelli Berglund and Jose Pablo Cantillo rounded out the film's cast. At the same time, principal photography commenced and wrapped in late January 2020. Filming took place in Cleveland, Ohio, as well as Saudi Arabia and Morocco. Filming was initially reported to begin in mid July. The filmmakers had plans to shoot the film in Ohio, the setting of the novel and homestate of the Russo brothers, but due to the Greater Cleveland Film Commission's proposed changes in tax incentives were forced to move the planned shooting to California. However, the proposed figures were lowered from $100 million to $40 million, and production returned to the state. Because of this, filming did not begin until early October 2019. According to the Russo brothers, editing for the film took place as it was filmed to allow them to see what they were missing, and if they needed to "rewrite or reshoot" parts of the film. During the production, Holland lost thirty pounds for the role and had to gain it back within a short period of time for his future MCU films. In September 2020, Apple TV+ acquired distribution rights to the film for around $40 million. The film was theatrically released on February 26, 2021 and was released on Apple TV+ on March 12, 2021.

The film stars Holland, Bravo, Reynor, Rispoli, Goodluck, Gandolfini, Wayans Jr., Lennon, Berglund and Cantillo. The performances are unforgettable, particularly by Holland as the dreamy and masochistic-looking title character.

The depiction of PTSD, and then the subsequent destructive nature, is more potent and visceral because we feel the impact of the war on an innocent individual as well as the people around him. The film ultimately works because of the inherent dramatics of the script and the performance of Holland.

Simon says Cherry receives:

Also, see my review for Avengers: Endgame.

Sunday, 7 March 2021

Film Review: "Chaos Walking" (2021).

"No one escapes the noise" in Chaos Walking. This dystopian action film directed by Doug Liman, adapted by Patrick Ness and Christopher Ford and based on Ness' 2008 YA novel The Knife of Never Letting Go, the first instalment of his YA sci-fi trilogy Chaos Walking. In the not-too-distant future, Todd Hewitt discovers Viola, a mysterious girl who crash lands on his planet, where all the women have disappeared and the men are afflicted by "the Noise" – a force that puts all their thoughts on display. In this dangerous landscape, Viola's life is threatened – and as Todd vows to protect her, he will have to discover his own inner power and unlock the planet's dark secrets.

In October 2011, Lionsgate acquired the film rights for an adaptation of Ness's YA sci-fi trilogy. In 2012, Lionsgate then hired Charlie Kaufman to write the first draft of the screenplay. Jamie Linden, Lindsey Beer, Gary Spinelli, John Lee Hancock, Christopher Ford and Ness himself would later revise Kaufman's draft. In 2013, Deadline reported that Robert Zemeckis was being considered as the director before Liman was hired to direct in early June 2016. In early August, it was reported that Daisy Ridley joined the cast as Viola. In late November, Tom Holland joined the cast to play Todd. By late August 2017, Mads Mikkelsen, Demián Bichir, Cynthia Erivo, Nick Jonas and David Oyelowo rounded out the film's cast. At the same time, with a budget of $85 million, principal photography commenced and wrapped in mid November. Filming took place in Montréal, Québec, Canada. In April 2018, it was reported that the film was scheduled to have several weeks of reshoots in late 2018 or early 2019, following poor test screenings. Owing to Ridley's filming commitments to Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker and Holland's to Spider-Man: Far From Home, the reshoots were not able to commence until mid April 2019, with Fede Álvarez directing them. These reshoots took place in Atlanta, Georgia and wrapped in early May, added an additional $15 million to the film's budget, bringing the total cost to $100 million. The film was originally scheduled for a March 1, 2019 release date, but it was delayed to accommodate the film's reshoots. It was then scheduled for a January 22, 2021 release date, but was delayed again to March 5, 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The film stars Ridley, Holland, Mikkelsen, Bichir, Erivo, Jonas and Oyelowo. Despite Holland and Ridley's charmingly youthful screen presence, they comes across as an irritating children whose fascination with each other seems to start and end with the fact that they are a boy and a girl. Mikkelsen doesn't fare much better.

The film is a disappointment as a premise with much promise has been turned into a bland retread through YA's most familiar faults - despite some bold efforts from Holland, Ridley and Mikkelsen. It is a hot mess that throws a wet blanket of dystopian drivel over fresh young stars. 'Chaos Limping' is a more suitable title.

Simon says Chaos Walking receives:

Also, see my review for Locked Down.

Saturday, 6 March 2021

Film Review: "Coming 2 America" (2021).

"A sequel is in the heir." It is Coming 2 America. This comedy film directed by Craig Brewer and written by Kenya Barris, Barry W. Blaustein, and David Sheffield. It is a sequel to the 1988 comedy classic Coming to America. Akeem and Semmi are back! Set in the lush and royal country of Zamunda, newly-crowned King Akeem and his trusted confidante Semmi embark on an all-new-hilarious adventure that has them traversing the globe from their great African nation to the borough of Queens, New York - where it all began.

According to Murphy, the sequel came about after attempts to turn the first film into a play fell through, followed by a pitch meeting he had with Ryan Coogler. Murphy said that although he didn't like Coogler's idea for a sequel, it got him thinking about developing his own storyline for a sequel. In January 2017, a sequel to the 1988 comedy classic was announced with Barris, Blaustein, and Sheffield penning the sequel. However, a possible participation of lead actors Eddie Murphy and Arsenio Hall was left undefined. In early January 2019, it was announced that the sequel will be moving forward with Murphy, Hall, Shari Headley, John Amos, Paul Bates, and James Earl Jones reprising their roles, and with Brewer hired to direct. However, Madge Sinclair, who played Akeem's mother Queen Aoleon, would not return to reprise her role as she died in December 1995; her character was not recast, but is featured in archive footage. By mid August, Leslie Jones, Tracy Morgan, KiKi Layne, Wesley Snipes, Trevor Noah and Jermaine Fowler rounded out the film's cast as newcomers. At the same time, principal photography commenced and wrapped in early November. Filming took place in Atlanta, Georgia and New York City, New York. Earl Jones was eighty-eight years old when he filmed his scenes. Although in reasonably good health for a man of his age, and happy to appear in this movie, James did not want to travel far to do so. It is believed his few scenes were shot in one day on a rented TV soundstage nearer his home on the New York state/Connecticut border, without Murphy or any of the other Atlanta-based cast members present. The film was originally scheduled for an August 7, 2020 theatrical release date, but was pushed back to December 18, 2020, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In late November 2020, Amazon Studios acquired the distribution rights to the film for $125 million and released the film on March 4, 2021.

The film stars Murphy, Hall, Headley, Earl Jones, Amos and Bates, reprising their roles, with Jones, Morgan, Layne, Snipes, Noah and Fowler. The returning cast, including Murphy, are still undeniably amazing. But Murphy seems to have become a cash cow, delivering many repetitive roles in retreads of formerly popular films from Christmas past.

This lowbrow sequel is such a putrid blast of bad taste that, at times, it's hard to even pay attention to what's happening on the screen. It's silly, but it means well, which is definitely more than can be said about a lot of movies coming out these days.

Simon says Coming 2 America receives:

Also, see my review for Dolemite Is My Name.

Sunday, 28 February 2021

Film Review: "Pelé" (2021).

From Netflix comes the remarkable journey of the 'King of Football' - Pelé. This documentary directed by Ben Nicholas and David Tryhorn. Against the backdrop of a turbulent era in Brazil, this documentary captures Pelé’s extraordinary path from breakthrough talent to national hero.

On 23 October 1940, the Brazilian former professional footballer, Edson Arantes do Nascimento, also known as Pelé, was born. At age fifteen, Pelé began playing for Santos and the Brazilian National Team at sixteen. During his international career, he won three FIFA World Cups: 1958, 1962 and 1970, the only player to do so. Pelé is the all-time leading goalscorer for Brazil with seventy-seven goals in ninety-two games. At club level he is Santos' all-time top goalscorer with six hundred and forty-three goals from six hundred and fifty-nine games. In a golden era for Santos, he led the club to the 1962 and 1963 Copa Libertadores, and to the 1962 and 1963 Intercontinental Cup. Credited with connecting the phrase "The Beautiful Game" with football, Pelé's "electrifying play and penchant for spectacular goals" made him a star around the world, and his teams toured internationally in order to take full advantage of his popularity. Since retiring in 1977, Pelé has been a worldwide ambassador for football and has made many acting and commercial ventures. In 2010, he was named the Honorary President of the New York Cosmos. Regarded and labeled by FIFA as one of the greatest, if not "the greatest" player, he was among the most successful and popular sports figures of the twentieth century. During his playing days, Pelé was for a period of time the best-paid athlete in the world. In 1999, Pelé was voted World Player of the Century by the International Federation of Football History & Statistics, and was one of the two joint winners of the FIFA Player of the Century. That same year, Pelé was named Athlete of the Century by the International Olympic Committee and was included in the Time list of the 100 Most Important People of the 20th century. According to the IFFHS, Pelé is the most successful top division scorer in the sport with five hundred and forty-one goals in five hundred and sixty games. His total of one thousand, two hundred and seventy-nine goals in one thousand, three hundred and sixty-three games, which included friendlies, is a Guinness World Record.

The film completely captures the power of the story the man inspired and the fickle nature of mythmaking itself, even if the myth is all we are left with. As an engrossing documentation of the price of fame, the ups and downs of a player who took a major gamble in Brazil, during the 1964-1985 military dictatorship, and went from hero to zero in the nation's eyes, the film succeeds. It's all here: the great games, goals and great scandals. It teems with life and is unlike most biopics about a sports legend. That is, it actually delivers a pungent sense of the atmosphere surrounding him.

Simon says Pelé receives: