Sunday, 9 April 2017

Film Review: "The Salesman" (2016).

Charles Bramesco of Rolling Stone called it "Gripping". Bilge Ebril of Village Voice called it "An expertly made suspenseful film". This is The Salesman (فروشنده‎). This Iranian drama film directed and written by Asghar Farhadi. The film centres on a married couple who are both participating in a production of "Death of a Salesman". During the production, the wife is assaulted in her new home, which leaves the husband to identify the perpetrator over his wife's objections, while she struggles to cope with post-trauma stress.

Long before it went into production, the story for the film gestated in the mind of director Farhadi for years. The purpose for its long gestation was due to the lack of characterisation Farhadi needed for his two main characters. This was finally solved when he conceived the idea of having his main characters being stage actors. Part of this decision owed to Farhadi's own background in the theatre, and his desire to re-immerse himself in that atmosphere. He also felt actors had to think of themselves as other people and create empathy, and his male protagonist would be forced to feel empathy for another man. Searching for a play within the film, Farhadi researched the work of Jean-Paul Sartre and Henrik Ibsen before finally settling on Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman, which he described as "a gift for me". In Miller's play and his script, Farhadi said he found parallel themes of "humiliation", and also compared the relationship between his characters Rana and Emad to that of Linda and Willy Loman. More symbolism was added with the crumbling buildings, which Farhadi said represented crumbling relationships. Farhadi was so taken by this project that he decided to stop his ongoing project in Spain with Penelope Cruz and return to Iran to make the film. He decided to cast and collaborate again with Shahab Hosseini in the lead role, marking their third collaboration. During early production, Farhadi posted an ad on social media asking people to send in short video auditions of themselves. Thousands of Iranians participated in this call for auditions with the hope of appearing in Farhadi's latest film. Other actors from Farhadi's 2011 film A Separation are also cast, and he explained the connection was because his films are about young couples. 

The film was the official submission for the 'Best Foreign Language Film' category of the 89th Academy Awards for Iran in 2017. The film ultimately won, making the film Farhadi's second nomination and win for Best Foreign Language Film in the Academy Awards: the first one was A Separation. However, under U.S. Executive Order 13769 mandated by President Donald Trump, Farhadi was not there to receive the award. A few days after the Oscar nominations were announced, Farhadi made a statement that he would not attend the ceremony due to Donald Trump's executive order barring Iranians from entering in U.S. Farhadi then announced that Anousheh Ansari, known as the first female space tourist, and Firouz Naderi, a former director of Solar System Exploration at NASA – would represent him at the Oscars ceremony. When the Oscar was awarded to the film, Anousheh Ansari read his prepared statement during the acceptance speech: "I'm sorry I'm not with you tonight. My absence is out of respect for the people of my country and those of the other six nations who have been disrespected by the inhumane law that bans entry of immigrants to the U.S. Dividing the world into the us and our enemies categories creates fear, a deceitful justification for aggression and war. These wars prevent democracy and human rights in countries which themselves have been victims of aggression. Filmmakers can turn their cameras to capture shared human qualities and break stereotypes of various nationalities and religions. They create empathy between us and others - an empathy that we need today more than ever."

The film stars Taraneh Alidoosti, Shahab Hosseini, Babak Karimi and Farid Sajadhosseini. As in all the director's work, the cast is given top consideration for their realistic acting results and unusual depth of characterization.

Morally complex, suspenseful, dense and consistently involving, The Salesman captures the messiness of a dissolving relationship during its dark descent into "justice" with keen insight and searing intensity. Just when it seemed impossible for Farhadi to top A Seperation, this film comes along to prove the contrary. Just the former, the film is simple on a narrative level yet morally, psychologically and socially complex, it succeeds in bringing Iranian society further into focus in today's troubling geo-political climate in a way few other films have done. The provocative plot further casts a revealing light on contemporary Iranian society, taking on issues of gender, class, justice and honour as a married couple, in the midst of upheaval, winds up in conflict with a morally complex one. Showing a control of investigative pacing that recalls classic Hitchcock and a feel for ethical nuance that is all his own, Farhadi has hit upon a story that is not only about love, family and justice in today's Iran, but that raises complex and globally relevant questions of responsibility, of the subjectivity and contingency of "seeking justice", and of how thin the line can be between justice and revenge – especially of the male variety. It is a shattering experience, fueled by Farhadi's expert direction and his superb cast that includes Alidoosti and Hosseini. You cannot watch the film without feeling kinship with the characters and admitting their decency as well as their mistakes. The Hollywood films made this year that deal with the internal detail and difficulty of family life are airy, pretty and affluent compared with this film. With the best will in the world, Hollywood's finest cannot discard their aura of stardom, yet the actors in the Iranian film seem caught in their characters’ traps. Even though the film's tense, fast-moving editing from start to finish can not help the film's somewhat draining over two hour runtime, it is still one of the best films of the year.

Simon says The Salesman receives:

Saturday, 8 April 2017

Film Review: "The Boss Baby" (2017).

"Born Leader"
and "He's the Boss" perfectly describe The Boss Baby. This computer-animated comedy film directed by Tom McGrath, adapted by Michael McCullers, loosely based on the 2010 picture book of the same name written and illustrated by Marla Frazee, and produced by DreamWorks Animation. The arrival of a new baby impacts wildly imaginative seven year old Tim Templeton and his family. But the baby just happens to be a secret agent in the secret war between babies and puppies.

In mid June 2014, DreamWorks Animation announced plans to release their 34th animated feature film on a March 18th, 2016 release date, with Madagascar series (2005, 08, 12) and Megamind (2010) director Tom McGrath hired to direct with a script penned by Michael McCullers. By June 2016, Alec Baldwin, Miles Christopher Bakshi, Jimmy Kimmel, Lisa Kudrow, Kevin Spacey and Patton Oswalt were announced to have joined the film. But Spacey and Oswalt were ultimately replaced by Steve Buscemi and Tobey Maguire. The film marks Baldwin's third animated film for DreamWorks after Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa and Rise of the Guardians (2012), and his second collaboration with Maguire after Cats & Dogs (2001). In December 2014, it was announced that the film had been removed from DreamWorks' schedule and was replaced with Kung Fu Panda 3 (2016), with a new release date yet to be announced. In January 2015, the film was given a new release date of January 13th, 2017, only to be pushed back further to a March 10th, 2017 release date in September 2015, taking over the original Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie (2017) release date, and finally pushed back to its March 31st, 2017 release date.

The film stars the voices of Baldwin, Bakshi, Buscemi, Kimmel, Kudrow and Maguire. The cast gave terrific and entertaining performances. Baldwin gave an entertaining performance, even though his demeanour was more gangster, at times, rather than corporate agent. Bakshi gave a boyish performance that perfectly captured the spirit of a seven year old and their attitude towards having a younger sibling. There's a nice, snappy playfulness in the rapport between Baldwin and engaging newcomer Bakshi. That lively, sibling rivalry vibe is very reminiscent to Woody and Buzz's relationship in Toy Story. Buscemi gave a fine performance despite being somewhat of a retread of his previous roles of a similar nature. Kimmel and Kudrow made a nice pair as the parents. Finally, Maguire did the best he could despite being relegated to a less-than-impressive narrator role.

Colourful animation and a charming cast helped The Boss Baby achieve success, but scattershot gags and a confused, hyperactively unspooled plot kept it from truly achieving its mission. Whoever now is running DreamWorks Animation appears to be allowing the studio to steer off-course, and that has resulted in a film that is preposterous and wasn't quite sure what it wanted to be. The film started off well enough and delivered a few laughs along the way, but in the end it didn't quite live up to its studio's legacy.

Simon says The Boss Baby receives:

Tuesday, 4 April 2017

Film Review: "Ghost in the Shell" (2017).

"They created me. But they can not control me.
" This is Ghost in the Shell (2017). This science fiction action film directed by Rupert Sanders, adapted by Jamie Moss, William Wheeler & Ehren Kruger, based on the Japanese manga of the same name by Masamune Shirow. Set in the near future, terrorism has reached a new level that includes the ability to hack into people's minds and control them. Major, a cyber-enhanced human, is uniquely qualified to stop it. As she prepares to face a new enemy, Major discovers that she has been lied to: her life was not saved, it was stolen. She will stop at nothing to recover her past, find out who did this to her and stop them before they do it to others.

After the U.S. theatrical release of Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence in 2008, DreamWorks acquired the rights to produce a live-action film adaptation of the original manga. Jamie Moss was hired to pen the script, which was later re-written by Laeta Kalogridis. In January 2014, it was reported that Rupert Sanders was hired to direct, with a screenplay now being re-written by William Wheeler and Jonathan Herman. In October, it was announced that Scarlett Johansson was cast after Margot Robbie turned the role, and being offered $10 million by DreamWorks. By April 2016, the cast were finally rounded out with established character actors that included Takeshi Kitano, Michael Pitt, Pilou Asbæk, Chin Han and Juliette Binoche. The production was met with controversy over the choice of Johansson's casting as Major Motoko Kusanagi (a Japanese character). Online protests over Hollywood whitewashing flared up in April 2016 when Paramount Pictures released the first promotional image of Johansson in costume. Ironically, in Japan, some fans of the manga were surprised that the casting caused controversy, as many already assumed that a Hollywood production would choose a white actress in the lead role. Mamoru Oshii (director of the original films) stated, in an interview, that "The Major is a cyborg and her physical form is an entirely assumed one. The name 'Motoko Kusanagi' and her current body are not her original name and body...", and also stating, "I can only sense a political motive from the people opposing it, and I believe artistic expression must be free from politics." During a launch event in Tokyo, producer Steven Paul addressed the controversy, referring to the setting of the film as "an international world", stating "There [are] all sorts of people and nationalities in the world in Ghost in the Shell. We're utilizing people from all over the world..." Johansson replied to the criticism, stating, "I certainly would never presume to play another race of a person... and I would never want to feel like I was playing a character that was offensive..."

The film stars Johansson, Kitano, Pitt, Asbæk, Han and Binoche. The cast gave the best performances they could despite their mechanical deliveries, especially Johansson's, lack of characterisation and given very little to do throughout the film.

Executed with only visual panache and little invention, Ghost in the Shell is nothing more than another failed Hollywood experiment like Dragonball Evolution before it.

Simon says Ghost in the Shell (2017) receives:

Sunday, 2 April 2017

Film Review: "The Lego Batman Movie" (2017).

"From the team that assembled The Lego Movie"
comes The Lego Batman Movie. This computer-animated superhero comedy film, directed by Chris McKay, and written by Seth Grahame-Smith, Chris McKenna, Erik Sommers, Jared Stern & John Whittington. The film is a spin-off installment of The Lego Movie, with its story focusing on the titular DC Comics character. The centers on non other than Lego Batman in his own big-screen adventure. But there are big changes brewing in Gotham, and if he wants to save the city from The Joker’s hostile takeover, Batman may have to drop the lone vigilante thing, try to work with others and maybe, just maybe, learn to lighten up.

After stealing the show in The Lego Movie, it was inevitable that a film starring it's break-out character would come to fruition. In October 2014, it was announced that Will Arnett was set to reprise his role for a Lego Batman spin-off film. For his portrayal of the character, Arnett revealed in an interview about how voicing Batman affected his voice, saying, "It's real gravelly; it doesn't feel great doing it a lot. And so when we do the sessions that are like four hours long, it would hurt. It's hard to sing doing it because I'm a bad singer anyway, so I'm thinking about trying to keep in time and then doing the voice. The rap at the end of the movie was hard. [I told the song writers] this is how it's going to be; I can't do it any better. And then all the things they call 'exertions' like running, jumping--you have to do all those kind of separately and sort of shouting stuff too. To shout doing the Batman voice is rough." In the same month, Chris McKay hired to direct, after he was considered to direct the long in-development Lego Movie sequel. The film was set for a 2017 release. In addition, Australia-based animation studio Animal Logic was in talks to produce the next three Lego films for Warner Bros., and the New South Wales government would make financial contributions to all the films. In July 2015, The Hollywood Reporter reported that Michael Cera, Arnett's Arrested Development co-star, was cast to voice Robin. In August 2015, it was revealed that Zach Galifianakis was cast to voice the Joker when originally Steve Buscemi was the front runner. Galifianakis stated in an interview about voicing the Joker, "It was really fun! I've only done a couple of sessions, it's crazy; I'm lucky. I was telling diarrhea jokes in coffee houses ten years ago, so I'm very fortunate." In October 2015, Rosario Dawson signed on to voice Barbara Gordon. In November 2015, Ralph Fiennes was cast to voice Alfred Pennyworth. In November 2015, THR reported that Mariah Carey was cast to voice the Mayor of Gotham City, McCaskill, instead of voicing Commissioner Gordon. Ultimately, it was revealed that Héctor Elizondo was cast to voice Commissioner Gordon one week before the film's release. In July 2016, it was revealed Jenny Slate was cast voice Harley Quinn. In November 2016, it was announced that Billy Dee Williams would reprise his role of Harvey Dent for the film. He had previously portrayed the character in Tim Burton's Batman (1989). He was very eager to also portray Two-Face in future installments, however due to Joel Schumacher taking over the franchise with Batman Forever (1995), the role was ultimately recast with Tommy Lee Jones. In January 2017, comedian Chris Hardwick announced on an episode of his Comedy Central program @midnight that he is part of the film's cast. Conan O'Brien, Riki Lindhome, Zoë Kravitz, and more were revealed to round out the cast of villains in February 2017.

The film features an ensemble cast that includes Arnett, Galifianakis, Cera, Dawson and Fiennes, who all gave wonderfully enjoyable performances. Galifianakis made a terrific incarnation of the Joker, a Joker that desperately yearns for Batman's attention like a needy girlfriend seeking her remote boyfriend's attention. May not have beaten Ledger's Joker but he's in my top five favourite incarnations. Cera, as always, brought his loveable dorkish charm to the Boy Wonder. Dawson imbued her character with a new level of confidence that is not seen in previous incarnations. Finally, Fiennes ba new comical dimension to the character without sacrificing his immpeacable Shakespearian delivery. In the end, Arnett, especially, deserves most of the compliments for bringing us the best incarnation of Batman, alongside Affleck's, that appeal to both children and adults alike with his unique and charming blend of brooding yet comical. Finally, Jenny Slate, Héctor Elizondo, Mariah Carey, Eddie Izzard, Seth Green, Jemaine Clement, Billy Dee Williams, Riki Lindhome, Conan O'Brien, Zoë Kravitz, Kate Micucci, Channing Tatum, Ellie Kemper, Jonah Hill, Adam DeVine, Brent Musburger and Chris Hardwick provided fantastic cameos.

The Lego Batman Movie is a wonderful surprise, cleverly written and executed brick by brick with a visual panache. It is another intricate piece that delights in both celebrating and mocking the Batman universe and its characters. In what is sure to be another lighting-in-the-bottle for Warner Bros., this crazy-funny animated adventure takes us into a familiar world where we think we know it but ultimately puts a wonderfully unique spin on it. It is as fresh, fast and funny as it can be. Delightful, inspired, affecting, utterly hilarious stuff, and certainly the first feature starring Batman to earn a couple of those compliments. It's equal parts clever, hilarious and full of heart. The film teaches our kids what it means to be heroic throughout teamwork and having a family to back you up all the way. The idea that teamwork is the greatest asset shows that sometimes the most simplistic of lessons can probably be the best lesson of all for children. Even though at times, the lessons and its jokes may end up somewhat cliche and flat. However, it's hard to imagine a more inspired Lego film for Batman, or one less concerned with selling Batman toys.

Simon says The Lego Batman Movie receives:

Tuesday, 28 March 2017

Film Review: "Life" (2017).

"We were better off alone."
 For Life is not what we had hoped for. This science fiction horror film directed by Daniel Espinosa, and written by Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick. Life tells the tale of the six-member crew of the International Space Station that is on the cutting edge of one of the most important discoveries in human history: the first evidence of extraterrestrial life on Mars. As the crew begins to conduct research, their methods end up having unintended consequences and the life form proves more intelligent than anyone ever expected.

In November 2015, Deadline reported that Daniel Espinosa would helm the science fiction horror from a script from Deadpool writers Paul Wernick and Rhett Reese. David Ellison and Dana Goldberg, of Skydance Media, along with Bonnie Curtis and Julie Lynn would produce. Paramount Pictures, Skydance's regular distributor, was interested in handling the distribution rights to the film. However, in March 2016, it was announced that Sony Pictures signed on to handle the worldwide distribution rights and to co-finance the film with Skydance. This marked Skydance's 1st project not released by Paramount. By July 2016, Espinosa had assembled his cast with established leading and characters which included Jake Gyllenhaal, Rebecca Ferguson, Ryan Reynolds, Hiroyuki Sanada, Ariyon Bakare and Olga Dihovichnaya. Originally, Reynolds intended to play the main character, but scheduling conflicts with The Hitman's Bodyguard (2017) forced him to take a supporting part instead. The casting of Reynolds make this film his second collaboration with director Espinosa, after Safe House (2012). In the same month, Principal photography on the film began, the film was primarily shot at Shepperton Studios, outside London. Originally slated for a March 24th 2017 release date, the film was ultimately moved up to a May 26, 2017 in order to avoid competition with Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales (2017).

The film stars Gyllenhaal, Ferguson, Reynolds, Sanada, Bakare and Dihovichnaya. The performances in the film were well-acted and thus differentiates itself from all the other science fiction horror flicks. As each cast member are equally given enough characterisation where not one cast member is the lead, rather making it an ensemble piece.

The majority of Life portrays itself as an empty bag of tricks whose production values and expensive special effects can not hide this unfortunate fact. The film is basically just an intergalactic haunted house thriller set inside a spaceship, in the tradition of Alien (1979) and The Thing (1982). Making it a disappointment. However, we can still enjoy its unique weirdness, and the story is solid enough. It's still scary and entertaining stuff. Though now I have the feeling that nothing in it lives up to the tremendously audacious ending. It personifies the definition of "popcorn entertainment" - that is, the kind of film that relishes the thrill of its many ambitious moments without seeking total transcendence. So if you want cinematic kicks, Daniel Espinosa's film will give you them in profusion. It is still a worthwhile big budget flick amongst today's Hollywood slate.

Simon says Life receives:

Wednesday, 22 March 2017

Film Review: "A Cure For Wellness" (2017).

"Do you know what the cure for the human condition is? Disease. Because that's the only way one could hope for a cure."
This is A Cure For Wellness. This psychological horror thriller film directed by Gore Verbinski and written by Justin Haythe. The film follows an ambitious young executive who is sent to retrieve his company's CEO from an idyllic but mysterious "wellness center" at a remote location in the Swiss Alps. He soon suspects that the spa's miraculous treatments are not what they seem. When he begins to unravel its terrifying secrets, his sanity is tested, as he finds himself diagnosed with the same curious illness that keeps all the guests here longing for the cure.

In October 2014, it was announced that Gore Verbinski would direct the film, with a script by Justin Haythe, for New Regency Pictures. By early June 2015, Dane DeHaan, Mia Goth and Jason Isaacs were cast for the film. Principal photography for the film began in late June, lasting 5 months. Interior shooting took place at Beelitz-Heilstätten, a huge abandoned hospital complex and mainly at Babelsberg Studio in Potsdam. The building itself and the area around it have been completely renovated after being a ruin for decades. 750 windows (1,000 sq m of glass), 350 doors, 1,200 sq m of walls and many other things had to be replaced or repaired to restore the original look of the building. Exterior shooting  took place at Castle Hohenzollern in the German municipality of Bisingen. The castle was closed to the public for filming from July 13 to July 24, 2015. Aside from Hohenzollern, parts of the film were also shot in Saxony-Anhalt and Zella-Mehlis, Germany. The scenes in the grotto were planned to be shot in Vienna but the shooting was canceled shortly before the start. The film studio in Babelsberg therefore had to build an entire grotto of 2000 sq m on their own. The film received funds of €8.1 million, from the German Federal Film Fund (DFFF), as well as €500,000 from Medienboard Berlin-Brandenburg. 

The film stars Dane DeHaan, Jason Isaacs and Mia Goth. DeHaan gave a fine performance despite portraying a completely unlikable character. Isaacs and Goth both gave eerie and unsettling performance as two characters who are not what they seem beneath the surface.

There are those times that you can enjoy horror movies because they're just fun despite being bad. A Cure For Wellness is not Gore Verbinski's best film, but it's far from his worst. It's eerie and unsettling, but it's also fun. However, it is a particularly uneven piece of work; yet, Verbinki’s eye is consistently impressive, creating swathes of Gothic imagery, sterling use of light and muted colour palette in his framing, and a great location in the form of the wellness center. Making this another rich visual experience with that distinctly European feel. While it certainly isn’t anywhere near the upper echelons of his filmography, it offers enough in the way of style and the gleefully macabre to keep it afloat.

Simon says A Cure For Wellness receives:

Sunday, 19 March 2017

FFF Film Review: "Dark Inclusion" ("Diamant Noir") (2016).

"The best way to have revenge on a family is to become a part of them." This is the tragedy that is Dark Inclusion (Diamant Noir). This French/Belgian heist drama thriller film directed by Arthur Harari, written by Harari, Vincent Poymiro, Olivier Seror and Agnès Feuvre, loosely based on William Shakespeare's Hamlet. After the death of Pier Ulmann’s father, poverty stricken and ousted by his family after a fatal accident. Pier’s desire to avenge his father leads him to infiltrate the ranks of his affluent diamond-dealing extended family. Considering the family culpable for his father’s loss, Pier plans a heist under the guise of carrying out construction work on the diamond firm.

A modern interpretation of the classic film noir genre, Dark Inclusion stages all the ingredients: a criminal the audience feels for, a fast, forward-moving, gripping story, and a heist. In the vein of French masters of the genre such as Jean- Pierre Melville (Le Doulos) and Jules Dassin (Rififi), Harari’s polished film noir is set in the diamond district of Antwerp, Belgium. Originally conceptualised as a modern reinterpretation of Shakespeare’s Hamlet, playing on the traditional formula of a vengeful son taking apart his family for the sake of his tragically deceased father, the film is characterised by intense scenes and confronting cinematography. The audience can’t help but be on the edge of their seat as Pier’s quest for revenge quickly becomes compromised by unforeseen complications.

The film stars Niels Schneider, August Diehl, Hans-Peter Cloos, Abdel Hafed Benotman, Raphaële Godin, Raghunath Manet and Jos Verbist. The cast gave terrific performances, each bringing their own to characters that are just as complex and twisted as the film itself. Schneider, especially, strikes a balance between Pier the brooding and Pier the indecisive. It's one of the best Hamlet performances you'll ever see. This is the tragedy of a man who could not make up his mind.

Dark Inclusion has a sincerity and humanity that is along the lines of the conventions of a crime film, and manages to touch our nerves. The film is atmospheric, intriguing, intelligent and brutal. It is perhaps one of the most raw crime films that has ever come out of France. Viewers become something like collaborators, invested in working out whether what Pier is doing and thinking and then pleased to discover whether we've gotten it right or not. Director Arthur Harari doesn't waste much time in expressing exactly what he thinks of Pier and the family that rule the diamond business. However, this interpretation of Shakespeare's play suffers slightly from his pop-Freud approach to the character and from some excessively flashy, wrongheaded camera work. This film is unfortunately stands as one of the least important productions of the famous play. The film turns moralistic and sour in the last half, when things all go horribly wrong. Lastly, if elements of it seem overly familiar, that's only because films such as Rififi had done it first, and this film picked up by every heist film that came before it.

Simon says Dark Inclusion (Diamant Noir) receives:

Thursday, 16 March 2017

FFF Classic Film Review: "The Umbrellas of Chebourg" ("Les parapluies de Cherbourg") (1964).

Though the film's tagline says "For All the Young Lovers of the World", but The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (Les Parapluies de Cherbourg) is more than just a valentine. This French musical film was written and directed by Jacques Demy, with music and lyrics by Michel Legrand. Set in Cherbourg, November 1957. The film centers on Madame Emery and her daughter, Geneviève, who run a store called The Umbrellas of Cherbourg. Geneviève is in love with Guy, a mechanic working in a garage. Their brief romance is interrupted when Guy is drafted to serve in the Algerian War. Suddenly left pregnant and desperate because she has little news of Guy, Geneviève is forced to make life-altering decisions.

The second film in Demy's informal "romantic trilogy", between Lola (1961) and The Young Girls of Rochefort (1967), Demy and Legrand made a unique and crazy experiment: a melodrama entirely sung much in the style of an opera of the everyday, and is displayed through cinematographer Jean Rabier's vividly and brightly coloured photography. Both the continuous musical score and the sumptuous photography contributed to the popularity of the film. Formally the work is operatic, with the plot advanced entirely through dialogue sung with accompanying music. The whole is united by an orchestral score of simple rhythms and tunes that are integrated with the story covering five years. Thus resulted in Catherine Deneuve’s Geneviève singing herself into the hearts of audiences around the world. Either crazily admired or mocked, the film was an international success upon its release and has since become a major reference in world cinema. The film score established composer Michel Legrand's reputation in Hollywood. He later scored other films, winning three Oscars. In North America, two of the film's songs became hits and were recorded by many artists: I Will Wait For You (the main theme) and Watch What Happens (originally Recit de Cassard, Cassard's Story). Both were given new English lyrics by lyricist Norman Gimbel. Tony Bennett's performance of the theme song was added to one version of the soundtrack. Harry James recorded a version of Watch What Happens on his 1977 album Comin' From A Good Place (Sheffield Lab LAB 6). The film would go on to inspire many musicals afterwards, especially that of La La Land (2016), whom writer/director Damien Chazelle has cited as a primary influence and is one of his all-time favorite films.

The film stars Catherine Deneuve, Nino Castelnuovo, Anne Vernon, Marc Michel and Ellen Farner. The cast gave terrific performances, especially that of Catherine Deneuve who radiated throughout the film and defined the term "Blonde Bombshell".

The Umbrellas of Cherbourg adds a new dimension into a bygone genre with its unique and experimental direction, terrific performances, and its bittersweet yet poignant heart. It may look like the world that we dream about, but it also bravely shows the bittersweet, and sometimes cruel, reality of that world. The film is probably the most daring musical and that's why it deserves all the credit.

Simon says The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (Les Parapluies de Cherbourg) receives:

Tuesday, 14 March 2017

Film Review: "Kong: Skull Island" (2017).

"Awaken the King"
He has finally awaken in Kong: Skull Island. This monster film directed by Jordan Vogt-Roberts, written by Dan Gilroy, Max Borenstein and Derek Connolly, from a story by John Gatins and based on the eponymous character by Merian C. Cooper and Edgar Wallace. The film is a reboot in the King Kong franchise and serves the second instalment in Legendary's MonsterVerse. The film centres on a team of scientists explore an uncharted island in the Pacific, venturing into the domain of the mighty Kong, and must fight to escape a primal Eden.

In July 2014, Legendary Pictures announced a King Kong origin story, initially titled Skull Island, with a release date of November 4, 2016 at the 2014 San Diego Comic-Con. Guillermo del Toro and Joe Cornish were originally considered for the director's chair before Jordan Vogt-Roberts was announced in September. In the same month, Legendary announced that film was moved from Universal to Warner Bros, so they could later make a King Kong and Godzilla crossover film, which would be released in 2020, since Legendary still had the rights to two Godzilla sequels with Warner Bros. The studio also announced that Tom Hiddleston would play the lead role. In December, the film was re-titled to Kong: Skull Island. Several screenwriters were attached to pen the script, which included Max Borenstein, John Gatins, Dan Gilroy and Derek Connolly. Borenstein and Vogt-Roberts' initial influence for the film was Apocalypse Now (1979). By November 2015, Samuel L. Jackson, John Goodman, Brie Larson, Jing Tian, Toby Kebbell, John Ortiz, Corey Hawkins, Jason Mitchell, Shea Whigham, Thomas Mann, Terry Notary and John C. Reilly were confirmed for the film. Principal photography began in October 2015, the film was shot throughout various location in Australia, Hawaii and Vietnam. The film features the tallest incarnation of Kong in an American film, standing approximately 104 feet (31.6 meters) tall, this is the tallest incarnation since King Kong vs. Godzilla (1962), which stood approximately 147 feet (45 meters) tall. By comparison, Peter Jackson's Kong was only 25 feet (7.6 meters) tall. Kong's design is inspired by a combination of the 1933 incarnation and the Japanese incarnation.

The film features an ensemble cast that includes; Hiddleston, Jackson, Goodman, Larson, Tian, Kebbell, Ortiz, Hawkins, Mitchell, Whigham, Mann, Notary and Reilly. With little to no characterisation, the cast gave the best performances they could. Hiddleston and Larson's characters were the weakest and the least interesting. While John C. Reilly was the best character in the film and stole the entire show.

With just enough Apocalypse Now inspired flair to anchor the spectacle of Kong roaming and brawling, Jordan Vogt-Roberts' Kong: Skull Island satisfyingly restores the franchise's giant ape glory. It is truly the first joyous popcorn action movie of the season. However, like Godzilla (2014), the issue with the film was that the human characters were not that fun to watch. Sometimes we wish they would just leave the screen when he or she was there, they were a letdown.

Simon says Kong: Skull Island receives:

Saturday, 11 March 2017

FFF Film Review: "Planetarium" (2016).

"We will never know what is on the point of changing."
This is at the heart of Planetarium. This French-Belgian drama film directed by Rebecca Zlotowski. The film follows the journey of sisters who are believed to possess the supernatural ability to connect with ghosts. They cross paths with a visionary French producer while performing in Paris.

After the success of her second feature Grand Central in 2013, in May 2015, it was announced that Rebecca Zlotowski would be directing from a screenplay by her and Robin Campillo (They Came Back (2004)), with Frederic Jouve (who also produced Zlotowski's Grand Central) and his Les Films Velvet banner producing and financing. The film is loosely based on the lives and works of the Fox sisters and other formative figures in the field of Spiritualism. It was also announced that Natalie Portman and Lily-Rose Depp had been cast in the film as the Barlow sisters, who specialise in seances. Principal photography for the film began late September 2015, and was shot throughout France, especially Paris. The film was the first film to be entirely shot on the Alexa 65. The filmmakers utilised the digital format to reanimate the gauzy quality of the weathered and lucid celluloid quality found in the 1930s.

 The film stars Natalie Portman. Lily-Rose Depp, Louis Garrel and Emmanuel Salinger. The cast gave fine performances that elevated and carried the film, especially the two female leads. Both Portman and Depp gave surprisingly fine performances and their French was immaculate. This shouldn't have been a surprise considering that Depp is the daughter of Vanessa Paradis, the famous French actress and singer. As for Portman, it shouldn't be a surprise since Portman is a Harvard graduate and is married to French ballet dancer Benjamin Millepied. Whom Portman met during the filming of Black Swan in 2009. Plus, she is undeniably one of the best actresses of her generation, there is a role she can't take on at this point and she is, by definition, a chameleon. However, her performance in the film is not as powerful or Oscar-worthy as her performance in Jackie.

Planetarium is a film that is both underwritten and over-performed. Many of the scenes seem to have been whittled down to the nub, which at times turns it into a succession of wordless gestures and poses. Given the generally risible dialogue, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. However, at time, the film feels more unimaginative than compelling, and is an oddly plotted and frantically paced pastiche. In addition, even though it features some extravagant and entertaining moments, the film feels more like a European TV drama than an actual cinematic period drama. In the end, it is a spiritual drama that tries to be drama, comedy, romance and fantasy all in one bag, mixed together to become a not-so successful result. A film that sometimes appears more silly, muddled and confusing as though a hex has been placed on it.

Simon says Planetarium receives:

Thursday, 9 March 2017

Film Review: "Moonlight" (2016).

"This is the story of a lifetime."
This is Moonlight. This African-American LGBT drama film directed by Barry Jenkins, written by Jenkins and Tarell Alvin McCraney, based on the previously unpublished play In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue by McCraney. The film is a chronicle of the childhood, adolescence and burgeoning adulthood of a young gay black man, and his struggle to find himself.

McCraney's play was shelved for about a decade after he first completed in 2003. After the release of his debut feature film Medicine for Melancholy (2008), Jenkins struggled to get future projects off the ground. In January 2013, producer Adele Romanski urged Jenkins to make a second film. The two brainstormed a few times a month through video-chat, with the goal of producing a low-budget "cinematic and personal" film. Jenkins was introduced to McCraney’s play through the Borscht arts collective in Miami. After discussions with McCraney, Jenkins wrote the first draft for the film during his month-long visit to Brussels. Jenkins took narrative structural inspiration from Three Times (2005) by Taiwanese director Hsiao-Hsien Hou. Although the original play contained three parts that chronicled a day in the life of Little, Chiron and Black simultaneously, Jenkins instead chose to split the film into three distinct parts and to focus on Chiron's story from the perspective of an ally. The result was a screenplay that reflected the similar upbringings of Jenkins and McCraney. Both grew up in Miami, specifically in Liberty Square, and both their mothers struggled with drug addiction. In 2013, Jenkins then began his search for financing, which he successfully obtained after an early meeting with Brad Pitt. Pitt helped Jenkins get the necessary funds and distribution deal he required. With a minuscule budget of $1.5 million, Principal photography commenced in October and concluded in November 2015. The film was shot throughout Miami during its breakneck 25-day shoot. In regards to the look of the three different chapters, Jenkins and his longtime cinematographer James Laxton achieved this by shooting on widescreen CinemaScope on an Arri Alexa digital camera. Then manipulated the colours and looks of the different chapters. This was achieved by increasing the contrast and saturation while preserving the detail and color, as well as imitating three different film stocks. The first chapter emulated the Fuji film stock to intensify the cast's skin tones. The second chapter imitated the Agfa film stock, which added cyan to the images, while the third chapter used a modified Kodak film stock.

The film stars Trevante Rhodes, André Holland, Janelle Monáe, Ashton Sanders, Naomie Harris, and Mahershala Ali. Each of the cast gave raw, gritty and unique performances that anchored the film and carried it forward.

An honest examination of finding ones self, in this case their sexuality, has rarely impacted more powerfully than Moonlight. The first African-American film in a long line of coming-of-age LGBT dramas. However, the film's merits comes more from its distinctive visual beauty rather than its sometimes chopped and screwed narrative.

Simon says Moonlight receives:

Wednesday, 8 March 2017

Film Review: "Logan" (2017).

"His time has come."
The time has finally come with Logan. This superhero film directed by James Mangold, written by Mangold, Scott Frank and Michael Green, and based on the graphic novel Old Man Logan by Mark Millar and Steve McNiven. The film is the tenth installment in the X-Men film series, as well as the third and final Wolverine film, following X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009) and The Wolverine (2013). In the near future, a weary Logan cares for an ailing Professor X in a hide out on the Mexican border. But Logan's attempts to hide from the world and his legacy are up-ended when a young mutant arrives, being pursued by dark forces.

Development for Logan began in November 2013, when Mangold was hired to write a treatment that took inspiration from the graphic novel Old Man Logan. In March 2014, Jackman signed on to star as Logan, in what is intended to be his final portrayal of the character, after having played the role for 17 years. Jackman has cited his age and his skin cancer as factors in him retiring from the role. The same month, Fox set a release date and officially brought Mangold onboard to direct. Green took over writing duties in April 2015. By the following April, most of the supporting roles, which includes Patrick Stewart, Richard E. Grant, Boyd Holbrook, Stephen Merchant and Dafne Keen, had been cast. Principal photography began in May 2016 and concluded in August 2016. Locations included New Orleans, Louisiana, Natchez, Mississippi, and Albuquerque, Rio Rancho, Abiquiú, Tierra Amarilla and Chama, New Mexico. In the same month, producer Simon Kinberg confirmed that the film will be R-rated. Mangold revealed that Fox was hesitant for the film to be R-rated. However, thanks to the success of Deadpool (2016) and Jackman taking a salary cut, the film was able to keep its R rating. 

The film stars Hugh Jackman, Patrick Stewart, Richard E. Grant, Boyd Holbrook, Stephen Merchant and Dafne Keen. The cast gave spectacular performances, especially Jackman. Jackman gives a career-defining performance for the ages. Jackman creates a galvanizing and deeply moving portrait that instantly takes its place among the great, iconic screen performances. Jackman's performance is a celebration of a silver-screen comic book character that we have loved since he was first brought to life in 2000.

Logan is a rich and dramatic swan song of the beloved X-Men character and a career-defining film for Hugh Jackman. The film contains something more than the action and the grandeur that we have come to have loved about the X-Men films. It contains a tremendous comprehension of the bitterness and passion of the character of Logan. It contains a human revelation of the soul of Logan that prevailed in his heart all along, instead of the soul of the savage animalistic killer we know. And it also contains a very wonderful disection of the father/child relationships in Logan, Charles Xavier and Laura amid all the action-packed moments, the blood-soaked violence and landscapes of a futuristic western frontier.

Simon says Logan receives:

Sunday, 19 February 2017

Film Review: "Toni Erdmann" (2016).

Charles Ealy, of the Austin American-Statesman, calls it "Absolutely nuts!" This is certainly the case for Toni Erdmann. This German-Austrian comedy-drama film directed, written and co-produced by Maren Ade. Winfried doesn't see much of his working daughter Ines. He pays her a surprise visit in Bucharest, where she's busy as a corporate strategist. However, this doesn't help them to see more eye to eye. Ultimately, father and daughter reach an impasse, and Winfried agrees to go home to Germany. Enter Toni Erdmann: Winfried's flashy alter ego. Disguised in a tacky suit, weird wig and fake teeth, Toni barges into Ines' work circle, claiming to be her CEO's life coach. As Toni, Winfried doesn't hold back, and Ines meets the challenge. The harder they push, the closer they become. In all the madness, Ines begins to see that her eccentric father deserves a place in her life.

The making of the film itself is as strange and enduring as its titular character. A few inspirations influence writer/director Maren Ade's script. According to Ade one inspiration for the film's tone and the title character's humour was that of the irritating humour of the late comedian Andy Kaufman. For the character himself, Ade took inspiration from real life in the form of her own father who, like Winfried, possessed a bizarre sense of humour, and actually liked to put in fake teeth to joke with people. In regards to the film, Ade does not view her film as a comedy because she told her producer she was making it "sad" and "super-serious". The actors expressed Ade's sentiments. For filming, Ade shot 120 hours of footage during the 56 days shoot. Ade would typically do between 20 to 30 takes of each shot. If it was a scene that required multiple coverage of each actor the number of takes would double to between 40 to 60 so that each actor would get the coverage they needed. Ade threw out two days of footage and re-shot it after she felt she wasn't getting what she needed. Ade then spent over a year editing the film. During the process she encountered various situations varying from considering a shorter cut of the film, which would compromise the film's pacing and themes, to giving birth to her second child in the middle of Post-Production.

It stars Peter Simonischek, Sandra Hüller, Ingrid Bisu, Lucy Russell, Michael Wittenborn, Thomas Loibl and Trystan Pütter. The cast gave surprising performances, especially Simonischek and Hüller, who carried the film through its comically and outrageously loaded 162 running time.

Toni Erdmann is a surprising comedy drama full of bizarre and poignant material. The two leads, Simonischek and Hüller, are solid, they succeed in holding the audience's interest throughout the film's 162 running time. However, some of the film's iffy plot points undercut what the film truely is and what it wants to say. But in the end, the film is perhaps the most direct and most relevant film in a while.

Simon says Toni Erdmann receives:

Wednesday, 8 February 2017

"No Ban, No Wall": Protest Trump’s Racist Border Orders.

Donald Trump has made executive orders to implement a 120-day ban on refugees, a 90-day ban on Muslim majority countries: Iran, Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Sudan, Libya and Somalia and an indefinite ban on all Syrian refugees. These bans are designed to terrorise millions in the U.S. and beyond.

But Trump's racist assault is being met with inspiring protests which have erupted across the US, especially outside airports, to overturn the ban on Muslims and refugees and to release those detained.

This protest made a statement that they are against Trump’s Muslim and refugee ban and they do not tolerate racism in any form. They cannot let prejudice and (21st century) fascism define their global future, and the future of the generations to come.

Tuesday's protest did not just stand in solidarity with those targeted in the US. They spoke out against rampant Islamophobia in Aotearoa New Zealand and Australia.

They joined together on Tuesday 7th February at 6:00pm at Aotea Square to make a statement that the people of Aotearoa are against Trump’s Muslim ban and racist immigration policies. They stood in solidarity with the people in the US who are resisting the Muslim and refugee ban and all those affected by Islamophobia worldwide.