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: