Friday, 25 April 2014

Film Review: "The Amazing Spider-Man 2" (2014).




“It's easy to feel hopeful on a beautiful day like today, but there will be dark days ahead of us too. There will be days where you feel all alone, and that's when hope is needed most. No matter how buried it gets, or how lost you feel, you must promise me that you will hold on to hope. Keep it alive. We have to be greater than what we suffer… I know it feels like we're saying goodbye, but we will carry a piece of each other into everything that we do next, to remind us of who we are, and of who we're meant to be.” This is what The Amazing Spider-Man 2 brings in this American superhero film featuring the Marvel Comics character Spider-Man, directed by Marc Webb and released by Columbia Pictures. It serves as a sequel to the 2012 film The Amazing Spider-Man and was announced in 2011. In the film, Peter Parker runs the gauntlet as the mysterious company Oscorp sends up a slew of supervillains against him, impacting on his life.

The film stars Andrew Garfield, Emma Stone, Jamie Foxx, Dane DeHaan, Campbell Scott, Embeth Davidtz, Colm Feore, Paul Giamatti and Sally Field. The performances in this film were all varied but brilliantly performed. Garfield showed appropriate earnestness. Stone was captivating, she gave this character a tough core of intelligence and wit. DeHaan was wonderfully debonair and Giamatti conveyed verve. However, Electro was a curiously meager and a more depressing character than his predecessor; I pitied him, but I did not fear him nor find him necessary for this film. The genius of Jamie Foxx is all but swallowed up in the paraphernalia of the role. But, it proved to me one thing; he is a good contender for the role of Spawn in Todd McFarlane's reboot of Spawn, to be released in 2015 (hopefully).

The Amazing Spider-Man 2 mostly just plods and lacks humor. For every slam-bang action sequence, there are far too many sluggish scenes. It’s missing the centrifugal threat of Rhys Ifans’ character, ultimately the three villains here don’t add up to one Lizard. Marc Webb overreached his grasp by allowing so many villains to roam in one flick. Especially with the Green Goblin is one bad guy too many. Easily the most complex and deftly orchestrated superhero epic ever filmed. However, the enormous amount of characters, action and sci-fi superhero plot going on in this film, the movie feels weighted down, tedious or boring. The script is busy with so many supporting characters and plot detours that the series' charming idiosyncrasy is sometimes lost in the noise. It will be a challenge for the filmmakers and the studio to fix the clusterf*** they have created. To conclude, the film is a mess. Having too many villains, subplots, romantic misunderstandings, conversations and street crowds looking high into the air and shouting 'oooh!' this way, then swiveling and shouting 'aaah!' that way.

Simon says The Amazing Spider-Man 2 receives:


Friday, 18 April 2014

Film Review: "Muppets Most Wanted" (2014)




“You mean all this time I've been trapped in a Russian Gulag, no one, not one single person from the Muppets, except Animal, noticed I'd been replaced by an evil criminal mastermind?” Which is what the Muppets bring this time around with Muppets Most Wanted. This American musical comedy caper film produced and released by Walt Disney Pictures. Directed by James Bobin, the film is the eighth theatrical film featuring the Muppets and is a sequel to 2011's The Muppets. In the film, the Muppets find themselves, while on a grand world tour, unwittingly involved in a European jewl-heist/crime caper headed by a Kermit the Frog look-alike and his dastardly sidekick.

The film was a breezy, mirthful caper enlivened by the comic talents of Ricky Gervais, Ty Burrell, Tina Fey the Muppets cast and its celebrity cameos. It was nice to see celebrity cameos such as Tony Bennett, Jemaine Clement, Celine Dion, Lady Gaga, Zach Galifianakis, Josh Groban, Salma Hayek, Tom Hiddleston, Frank Langella, Ray Liotta, Ross Lynch, James McAvoy, Chole Grace Moretz, Usher Raymond, Miranda Richardson, Saoirse Ronan, Danny Trejo, Stanley Tucci and Christoph Waltz, to name some. The performances in this film were hilarious, most of the laughs come courtesy of Tina Fey, in the role of a Siberian prison guard who can't/won't stop dancing. In addition, the Muppets once again did what they do best: put on a grand show.

It's not quite as sharp as The Muppets (2011), but Muppets Most Wanted is still a smart, delightfully old-fashioned tale that follows the formula established by the first film -- a madcap adventure assisted by a huge group of human stars. The plot of the movie has been seen before. However, everything in the film was enjoyable and Kermit and Miss Piggy finally solve their long-lasting relationship crisis. It’s another unexpected treat. The film effortlessly blends wised-up, self-reflective humor with old-fashioned let's-put-on-a-show pizzazz like its predecessor. Another mostly winning return for childhood favorites from a prior century that looks to accomplish its goal of pleasing old fans and winning new ones like The Muppets. The film has the same brilliant absurdity, anarchic humor, subtle uplift and ensemble comedy that fans have come to expect over the years. For those of us who've had Muppets in our memory since childhood, or the 2011 film, will find ourselves in a state of contentment. The result is refreshing on every level, a piece of nostalgia so old it's new again, and a breather from Hollywood's 3-D digital onslaught in favor of fur and fuzz. It’s much more than just an affectionate reimagining of familiar Muppets routines, but it is rooted in real emotions and characters, and that they remain as committed as ever to doing what Muppets do best: putting on a grand show. To conclude, it’s enjoyable outing with bouncy songs, a terrific ensemble cast and cameos and with nice use of various locations.

Simon says Muppets Most Wanted receives:


Monday, 14 April 2014

Film Review: "The Wind Rises" (2013).




“I wanted to create something that is realistic, fantastic, at times caricatured, but as whole, a beautiful film.” Which is what Hayao Miyazaki has brought to The Wind Rises (Kaze Tachinu 風立ちぬ). This Japanese animated historical drama film written and directed by Miyazaki, and adapted from his own manga of the same name which was loosely based on the 1937 short story The Wind Has Risen by Tatsuo Hori, a writer, poet, and translator from mid-20th century (Showa period) Japan. The film is a fictionalized biography of Jiro Horikoshi (1903–1982), it gives us a look at the life of the designer of the Mitsubishi A5M and its successor, the Mitsubishi A6M Zero; both aircraft were used by the Empire of Japan during World War II.

For this review of Miyazaki’s last film, let us reflect and look back on the man himself. Hayao Miyazaki (宮崎 駿 Miyazaki Hayao) is a world renowned Japanese film director, animator, manga artist, illustrator, producer, and screenwriter. Through a career that has spanned six decades, Miyazaki has attained international acclaim as a maker of anime feature films and, along with Isao Takahata, co-founded Studio Ghibli, a film and animation studio. The success of Miyazaki's films has invited comparisons with American animator Walt Disney, British animator Nick Park, and American director Steven Spielberg. Born in Bunkyō, Tokyo, Miyazaki began his animation career in 1963, when he joined Toei Animation. From there, Miyazaki worked as an in-between artist for Gulliver's Travels Beyond the Moon where he pitched his own ideas that eventually became the movie's ending. He continued to work in various roles in the animation industry over the decade until he was able to direct his first feature film Lupin III: The Castle of Cagliostro (1979). After the success of his next film, Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind (1984), he co-founded Studio Ghibli, where he continued to produce many feature films besides during a 'temporary retirement' in 1997 following Princess Mononoke. While Miyazaki's films have long enjoyed both commercial and critical success in Japan, he remained largely unknown to the West until Miramax Films released Princess Mononoke. The film was the highest-grossing film in Japan - until it was eclipsed by another 1997 film, Titanic - and the first animated film to win Picture of the Year at the Japanese Academy Awards. Miyazaki returned to animation with Spirited Away (2001). The film topped sales at the Japanese box office, beating Titanic, it also won Picture of the Year at the Japanese Academy Awards and was the first anime film to win an American Academy Award. Miyazaki's films often contain recurrent themes, like humanity's relationship with nature and technology, pro-feminism, and the difficulty of maintaining a pacifist ethic. The protagonists of his films are often strong, independent girls or young women. While two of his films, The Castle of Cagliostro and Castle in the Sky (1986), involve traditional villains, his other films like Nausicaä and Princess Mononoke present morally ambiguous antagonists with redeeming qualities. Miyazaki's latest film The Wind Rises will be his final feature-length film, when he announced his retirement on September 6th, 2013.

Miyazaki has claimed he was retiring several times, but on September 6th, 2013, he assured his fans that he is 'quite serious' this time. He believes he is getting too old for the business, and wants to make room for new animators. He also says that the task of animating is "quite strenuous" and that he cannot work as long as he was once able to. However, he plans on pursuing new goals, such as working on the Studio Ghibli museum, on which he commented "I might even become an exhibit myself". Studio Ghibli producer Toshio Suzuki revealed that Miyazaki will continue to illustrate manga and is currently working on a serialized samurai series. Fellow animator Isao Takahata has publicly stated that he believes Miyazaki's retirement to be non-permanent, "...I think there is a decent chance that may change. I think so, since I've known him a long time. Don't be at all surprised if that happens." During a New Year's Eve radio show, broadcast on Tokyo FM, on December 31, 2013, Toshio Suzuki speculated that Miyazaki might revoke his latest retirement (apparently his sixth to date). A previous home that Miyazaki spent part of his childhood in has been transformed into a museum. The home's current resident, Asuko Thomas, says that she did not know that the house has once belonged to the family of the world renowned animator. The current owner of the house has named the gallery "Hanna", meaning "bond" and "harmony". Many elements of the house have been the inspiration for scenes in several of his films. One example is the stairs in the household, very similar to the hidden stairs in My Neighbor Totoro (1988).

The Wind Rises is the first film that Miyazaki has solely directed in five years; his last work was the 2008 film Ponyo. After that, Miyazaki wanted his next film to be Ponyo on the Cliff by the Sea II, but producer Toshio Suzuki convinced him to make The Wind Rises instead. This film is based on a manga by Hayao Miyazaki, which was serialized in the monthly magazine Model Graphix in 2009. The story of the manga is in turn loosely based on Tatsuo Hori's short novel The Wind Has Risen, written in the late 1930s. Although the story in the film follows the historical account of Horikoshi's aircraft development chronologically, the rendition of his private life is entirely fictional. The character of Hans Castorp is borrowed from Thomas Mann's novel The Magic Mountain. Miyazaki was inspired to make the film after reading this quote from Horikoshi: "All I wanted to do was to make something beautiful".

With its epic story and breathtaking visuals, The Wind Rises, along with The Tale of Princess Kaguya (2014), is a landmark in the world of animation. The film is a powerful compilation of Miyazaki's world, an expression of his dreams and hopes, a cumulative statement of his moral and filmic concerns. It is not only more sharply drawn, it has an extremely complex and has an adult script and the film has the soul of a romantic epic, and its lush tones, elegant score by Joe Hisaishi and full-blooded characterizations give it the sweep of cinema's most grand canvases. The film brings a very different sensibility to animation, a medium Miyazaki views as completely suitable for straight dramatic narrative and serious themes. To conclude, it is a windswept pinnacle of its art and that it has the effect of making the average Disney film look like just another toy story.

Simon says The Wind Rises receives:


Friday, 11 April 2014

Film Review: "The Grand Budapest Hotel" (2014)





“It is an extremely common mistake. People think the writer's imagination is always at work, that he's constantly inventing an endless supply of incidents and episodes; that he simply dreams up his stories out of thin air. In point of fact, the opposite is true. Once the public knows you're a writer, they bring the characters and events to you. And as long as you maintain your ability to look, and to carefully listen, these stories will continue to over your lifetime. To him, who has often told the tales of others, many tales will be told. The incidents that follow were described to me exactly as I present them here, and in a wholly unexpected way.” Which is what you’ll see in the mind of Wes Anderson with The Grand Budapest Hotel. This comedy-drama film is written and directed by Anderson. The film follows a concierge who teams up with one of his employees to prove his innocence after he is framed for murder.

I would call The Grand Budapest Hotel major whimsy. It's a confection with bite, featuring an ensemble (that includes; Adrien Brody, Willem Dafoe, Jeff Goldblum, Saoirse Ronan, Edward Norton, F. Murray Abraham, Mathieu Amalric, Jude Law, Harvey Keitel, Bill Murray, Léa Seydoux, Jason Schwartzman, Tilda Swinton, Tom Wilkinson, Owen Wilson and Bob Balaban) led by the invaluable Ralph Fiennes, here allowed to exercise his farceur's wiles. As with all of Anderson's films, the magic is in the cast. Fiennes, with his stylized rapid-fire delivery, dry wit, cheerful profanity and rapier mustache, is hilarious, dapper and total perfection. In the end it's Fiennes who makes the biggest impression. He keeps the movie bubbling along. Here's to further Fiennes-Anderson collaborations. And Fiennes - who knew he was capable of such wicked, witty timing? My praise also goes to the rest of the cast who gave some of their best performances to date whether they are Wes Anderson-collaborators or not. But the praise also has to newcomer Tony Revolori, who gave a fine performance as the young Lobby-Boy.

The Grand Budapest Hotel is as richly conceived as the movie it appears to be. It is a film like no other, an epic, quirky comedy, with lots of ironic laughs and a humane and rather sad feeling at its core. The film is a delightfully funny feast for the eyes with multi-generational appeal – and it shows Anderson has a knack for a good show. The work done by his collaborators shows amazing ingenuity and skill, and the music is both eccentric and just right. Having a quirky auteur like Anderson making this kind of film really shows that, this is really a Wes Anderson film. It’s a self-consciously quirky movie that manages to be twee and ultra-hip at the same time. In an age when everything seems digital, computer-driven and as fake as instant coffee, more and more artists, like Anderson, are embracing the old ways of vinyl records, handcrafted miniatures and basic human stories. To conclude, it’s both a delightful amusement and a distillation of the filmmaker's essential playfulness.

Simon says The Grand Budapest Hotel receives:


Friday, 4 April 2014

Film Review: "Captain America: The Winter Soldier" (2014).




“… I think it's time to tell the truth. S.H.I.E.L.D. is not what we thought it was. It's been taken over by HYDRA… They almost have what they want. Absolute control… HYDRA will be able to kill anyone that stands in their way. Unless we stop them. I know I'm asking a lot. But the price of freedom is high. It always has been. And it's a price I'm willing to pay. And if I'm the only one, then so be it. But I'm willing to bet I'm not.” This is the essence of what is going down in Captain America: The Winter Soldier. This superhero film featuring the Marvel Comics character Captain America, is produced by Marvel Studios. It is the sequel to 2011's Captain America: The First Avenger and the ninth installment in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). The film was directed by Anthony and Joe Russo. In the film, Captain America struggles to embrace his role in the modern world, but he and the Black Widow join forces to battle stop a a new threat from old history: the Soviet agent known as the Winter Soldier. A covert enemy that is hiding in Washington, D.C.

Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, who wrote Captain America: The First Avenger, stated before that film's release that they were working on a sequel, and in June 2012, Anthony and Joe Russo entered negotiations to direct. The following month, casting of the supporting roles began with the additions of Anthony Mackie, Sebastian Stan and Robert Redford. Principal photography commenced in April 2013 in Los Angeles, California before moving to Washington, D.C. and Cleveland, Ohio.

The film stars Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson, Sebastian Stan, Anthony Mackie, Cobie Smulders, Frank Grillo, Emily VanCamp, Hayley Atwell, Robert Redford, and Samuel L. Jackson. The film contained brilliant performances, which added to the hard-driving old-school action, surprising character development and intriguing suspense in which the film intended to convey. Evans gave another brilliant performance as America's first avenger in which the soldier has to go through a darker and more personal battle just as Batman went through in The Dark Knight (2008). Johansson also gave another brilliant performance as the elusive and kick-ass agent. Stan gave such an intense performance as the film's main antagonist, without the aid of so much dialogue. Mackie gave a great performance as the first avenger's friend and sidekick. Finally, Redford gave a brilliant performance as the senior leader of S. H. I. E. L. D.

Dark, complex and unforgettable, Captain America: The Winter Soldier succeeds not just as an entertaining superhero film, but as a richly thrilling cinematic saga of its own. This political thriller captures the paranoid tenor of our time, thanks to the Russo's superb direction and excellent performances from Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson and Robert Redford. Like what The Dark Knight did, it redefines the possibilities for the superhero genre.The film goes much deeper than its predecessor, with a deft script that refuses to scrutinize its hero with popular psychology, instead pulling the viewer in with an examination of Steve Rodgers' psyche, as well as its political infused backdrop. The Russos have delivered the most accomplished, mature and the most technically impressive work , not only to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but to their career as well.

Simon says Captain America: The Winter Soldier receives:




See my full review of Captain America: The First Avenger at http://ss-film.blogspot.co.nz/2011/08/film-review-captain-america-first.html