Tuesday, 9 July 2019

Film Review: "Spider-Man: Far From Home" (2019).

"The world needs the next Iron Man." Well, here he comes in Spider-Man: Far From Home. This superhero film directed by Jon Watts, written by Chris McKenna and Erik Sommers, based on the Marvel Comics character created by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko. It is the sequel to Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017), the twenty-third film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), and the final film of Phase Three. Following the events of Avengers: Endgame (2019), Spider-Man must step up to take on new threats in a world that has changed forever.

In June 2016, Sony Pictures chairman Tom Rothman stated that Sony and Marvel Studios were committed to making future Spider-Man films after Homecoming. In December 2016, after the release of the first trailer of the first film, Sony announced a sequel for a July 5, 2019 release date. In July 2017, Tom Holland was confirmed to reprise his role as the titular superhero. By December, Watts, as well as McKenna and Sommers, returned as director and writers, and had entered pre-production. In May 2018, Jake Gyllenhaal was cast as Mysterio after Matt Damon turned down the role. In late June, Holland announced via an Instagram post the film's title as Spider: Far From Home. By early July, Samuel L. Jackson, Zendaya, Cobie Smulders, Jon Favreau, J. B. Smoove, Jacob Batalon, Martin Starr, Marisa Tomei, Tony Revolori, and Angourie Rice rounded out the cast. At the same time, principal photography commenced and wrapped in mid October, under the working title Fall of George. Filming took place in England, the the Czech Republic, Italy, New York, and New Jersey. In October, Homecoming composer Michael Giacchino was confirmed to return to score the film. In April 2019, Sony moved the film's release date up to July 2, 2019.

The film stars Tom Holland, Samuel L. Jackson, Zendaya, Cobie Smulders, Jon Favreau, J. B. Smoove, Jacob Batalon, Martin Starr, Marisa Tomei, Tony Revolori, Angourie Rice, and Jake Gyllenhaal. Gyllenhaal makes a more supervillain than Michael Keaton's Vulture, Holland (as always) effortlessly suggests a heroic adolescent presence, whilst the rest of the cast seem happy giving us more of the same. 

Boasting an entertaining villain and deeper emotional focus, Spider-Man: Far From Home improves upon its predecessor in almost every way. The film effortlessly combines spectacular action set pieces with a human story. The filmmakers have delivered an iconic and compelling version of Spider-Man's lesser-known foe. We almost wish there was a way to retroactively add some of these to the original character. The web-slinging sequences are bigger-better-brighter-faster than the already spectacular ones in Homecoming, and at the same time, the film's smaller emotional moments are denser and more resonant than those in the first. The film displays the kind of poise and confidence that can only happen when you're following on from a smash hit that is also a part of one of the most successful franchises of all time. It is the best Spider-Man movie since Spider-Man 2 (2004).

Simon says Spider-Man: Far From Home receives:

Also, see my reviews for Spider-Man: Homecoming and Avengers: Endgame.

Saturday, 6 July 2019

'Once Upon a Time in Canada' Epilogue.

The thought of not being in Toronto has caught me off guard for the past month. In Toronto, this was kind of the same thing for the first month or two. It may be summer there in Canada, but’s rainy winter here in New Zealand. And you now what? It doesn’t matter as much as it used to because, for the past month, I’ve settled back into my old life. Oh well, I’m really not in Toronto anymore. I can tell because there are no streetcars here, there is no TIFF Lightbox, and, most importantly, the people I truly call my friends are not here. I’m still adjusting to this fact.

If this were a movie, everyone I have known there would have seen me go at the airport, and there would have been tears and painful goodbyes all around, especially from me. But it didn’t out pan out that way even though I was crying in the inside as my plane took off from Lester Pearson International Airport. I was suffering from heartache during the entire flight back home. I was aching the whole time, but I was especially aching when I was at Lester Pearson and Auckland International Airport. I didn’t want to break down in actual tears and bother people on the plane, so I just watched a lot of movies to get my mind of it. If that didn’t work, which it didn’t for a few moments, I would go to the bathroom and let out a few tears privately.

Once I got back from heartache-land, I went back to my seat and continue whatever movie I was watching. The flight was a LONG one, so there was a long movie marathon and more private breakdowns. My brother told me this was going to happen and warned me in advance (which didn’t serve me well since I didn’t it to be this painful when the time finally came). Once my Dad and I got back from the airport, I had a long rest for the entire day. I got plenty of rest since I couldn’t sleep on the plane because of… you know, and it was more than I needed. It would be a pretty shitty day if I got back after two years and I couldn’t be left alone to rest. After about a week of rest, my mum made me help her out with her concert by creating the programme in the shortest time frame ever for any of her concerts. After I had created the programme to the best of my abilities and as fast as I could, I was then tasked to oversee the technical aspects of the concert, such as lighting and heating. Pretty straightforward. After the concert, it was time to start job-hunting again until I could do my Honours degree at the University of Auckland. Then also came to do some extra work on my blog. I had a bunch of movies and shows I had to watch either in cinemas or on Netflix. So now I have stuff to do.

In the midst of all of this, I still think about Canada and my friends whom I miss dearly, and I can’t get these thoughts out of my mind. I had leave behind my life when I finally realised that I wasn’t going to get a work visa from anywhere. Countless time and energy spent trying make it this happen. All of that resulted in nothing, which destroyed me when I came to the terrible realisation. Then, instead of continuing to fight a losing battle, I made the painful decision to return home. New Zealand will become my safety net until my next venture. The result for all of my time and energy put into this venture was nothing. All of that for nothing? Why bother? Well, okay, I have an answer for that. Part of it might be what I represent: progress and the future I’ve always strive for and dreamt ever since I was five years old. But really, I did it because, quite simply, to get out of my comfort zone, broaden my perspective and grow personally and creatively. It might not seem that way to some readers, but it’s true.

If I hadn’t gone to Canada, I would not have broadened my perspective. If I hadn’t gone and built my own life on my own, I would not have learned a lot more about myself. If I had not grown as a person, then I would not be the person I am now. This is so fundamentally important to someone such as myself without exception. Yes, the future I had hoped didn’t work out and I had to return, but I learned about the wider world and more about myself that I could never had imagined. And because of that, I can take all the lessons I had learned and apply them here so that for the next destination, I’ll be more than ready.

Also, see Chapters 90 and 1.

Wednesday, 3 July 2019

NZIIA Seminar: 'Oceans Apart? UK and the Pacific: Partnerships and Shared Values.'

Despite sitting on oppositesides of the globe, the UK and the Pacific are brought together through partnerships based on shared priorities and shared values – and a hared commitment to the Commonwealth. The idea of being oceans apart is thus turned on its head. Tonight’s seminar was given by none other than than the British High Commissioner to New Zealand and Samoa, H. E. Laura Clarke.

Ms Clarke is a graduate from Cambridge University and the London School of Economics, studying modern languages and International Relations. Since January 2018, she has served as the High Commissioner to New Zealand, and the Governer of the Pitcairn Islands. Since March 2018, she became the High Commissioner to Samoa. In addition, her resume includes being the Head, South Asia Department, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, and Government Coordinator for India, Chief of Staff to the Minister for Europe, and working in EU Justice and Home Affairs, just to name a few. Prior to those, she also served in the Ministry of Justice, the European Commission, and the British Parliament.

In her address, Clarke detailed the UK’s collaborative role and policies in the Pacific, with specific reference to the challenges involved in fostering economic and climate resilience in the region. This is after a long period of “down-sizing” their presence in the Pacific, however now they have ramped up their diplomatic ties. She also detailed how the UK and Pacific Island states work together in pursuing common goals, in the Commonwealth and beyond. This also includes tackling climate change and environmental issues, such as the discovery and disposal of 6000 tons of plastic over the course of eleven days on various beaches across the Pacific. The disposed plastic wastes were discovered to have originated from various countries such as China and Argentina, as well as Australia and New Zealand. Furthermore, the UK and the Pacific’s partnership is also strengthened in their combat against the use of chemical weapons on unarmed civilians. This was prompted by the Syrian President Bashar Hafez al-Assad regime’s use of these weapons in the Syrian Civil War and the incident in Salisbury where the Intelligence Officer Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia were poisoned by A-234; an organophosphate nerve agent.Finally, despite the inclusion of Brexit since 23rd June 2016, the UK is looking to strengthen their partnership with Australia and NZ in the Pacific.

This New Zealand Institue of International Affairs seminar was presented in association with the British New Zealand Business Association, and the India New Zealand Trade Alliance.

Also, see the previous seminar here.

Tuesday, 2 July 2019

Film Review: "Annabelle Comes Home" (2019).

"Welcome to the home of The Conjuring Universe" in Annabelle Comes Home. This supernatural horror film written and directed by Gary Dauberman, and based on the legend of the Annabelle doll. It is the third Annabelle film following Annabelle (2014) and Annabelle: Creation (2017), and it is the seventh installment in the Conjuring Universe franchise. Determined to keep Annabelle from wreaking more havoc, demonologists Ed and Lorraine Warren bring the possessed doll to the locked artifacts room in their home, placing her "safely" behind sacred glass and enlisting a priest's holy blessing. But an unholy night of horror awaits as Annabelle awakens the evil spirits in the room, who all set their sights on a new target--the Warrens' ten-year-old daughter, Judy, and her friends.

In early April 2018, Warner Bros. announced the then-untitled new film in the Conjuring franchise for a July 3, 2019 release date. In May, it was announced that the film would be the third instalment in the Annabelle series, with Dauberman to once again pen the script, based on a treatment co-written  by Dauberman and James Wan, and make his directorial debut. During the 2018 San Diego Comic-Con, Wan and producer Peter Safran revealed the film's events would take place directly after The Conjuring (2013) and would focus on the doll after she was kept in the glass case in the Warrens' museum. Therefore, the movie would take place in the Warren house. By mid October, Mckenna Grace, Madison Iseman, and Katie Sarife were cast, with Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga reprising their roles as Ed and Lorraine Warren. Grace replaced Sterling Jerins as Judy Warren. At the same time, principal photography commenced and wrapped in mid December. Filming took place in Los Angeles with a budget of $32 million. In February 2019, Joseph Bishara, the composer of The Conjuring, Annabelle, The Conjuring 2, and The Curse of La Llorona, was revealed to score the film. Though slated for July 2019, the release date was later moved up to June 28, and then to June 26. The film is dedicated to Lorraine Warren, who passed away in mid April 2019.

The film stars Wilson, Farmiga, Grace, Iseman, and Sarife. The cast gave solid performances that added to the tension of the film as the titular haunted doll's horrors are unleashed one by one. Even if the Warrens themselves were under utilised.

Annabelle Comes Home adds another strong chapter to the Conjuring franchise–and offers further proof that freaky-looking dolls remain reliably terrifying. The film is wickedly terrifying, and manages to conjure some effective scares. Like Annabelle: Creation, it is closer in tone and old-school psychological fright tactics to the original film than either The Conjuring 2 or Annabelle. Even though it can't hold a flickering candle to the James Wan-directed entries in the series. This effective yet empty-headed horror movie goes to show how eager audiences are to be scared, and how even an unsightly doll can do the trick when the spirit is willing.

Simon says Annabelle Comes Home receives:

Also, see my reviews for Annabelle: Creation.

Monday, 1 July 2019

Film Review: "Yesterday" (2019).

"Everyone in the world has forgotten the Beatles. Everyone except Jack" in Yesterday. This British romantic comedy film directed by Danny Boyle and written by Richard Curtis. Jack Malik is a struggling singer-songwriter in an English seaside town whose dreams of fame are rapidly fading, despite the fierce devotion and support of his childhood best friend, Ellie. After a freak bus accident during a mysterious global blackout, Jack wakes up to discover that The Beatles have never existed. Performing songs by the greatest band in history to a world that has never heard them, Jack becomes on overnight sensation with a little help from his agent.

In March 2018, a musical comedy set in the 1960s or 70s and would centre on "a struggling musician who thinks he's the only person who can remember The Beatles" written by Curtis was announced as Boyle's next film after departing from Bond 25 over creative differences. Later that month, Himesh Patel and Lily James were cast in the lead roles. By late April, Kate McKinnon, Ed Sheeran, Lamorne Morris, Sophia Di Martino, Joel Fry and Harry Michell rounded out the film's cast. Around the same time, principal photography began under the pseudonym Polo, filming took place around England and Los Angeles. Specifically, all around Suffolk in Halesworth, Dunwich, Shingle Street, Latitude Festival and Clacton-on-Sea, Essex, the Principality Stadium in Cardiff, Wales, Gorleston-on-Sea Beach in Norfolk, and Wembley Stadium. In February 2019, the title of the film was announced as Yesterday. Including the Beatles songs was no easy task, as it cost the filmmakers an estimated $10 million in order to secure the rights from Apple Records and Sony/ATV Music Publishing. Boyle informed the surviving members and widows of the band about the film and received their blessings. With one reply he described as "lovely" from Ringo Starr. According to Boyle, some 20 Beatles songs were secured for use in the film, of which about 17 appear in the final cut.

The film stars Himesh Patel, Lily James, Ed Sheeran, Joel Fry, and Kate McKinnon. The cast gave solid performances with Patel giving fine covers of classic Beatles songs, and have solid chemistry with James, who provides the heart of the film. Sheeran provided equal acting talents on top of his vocal even though he was playing himself. McKinnon gave a surprising and love-to-hate performance as the ruthless agent.

Practically bursting with its love for the Beatles, Yesterday builds past its formulaic story when it captures the euphoria of singing a song you love. A nostalgic ode to the power of music so tender and heartfelt but not to the extent that it disarms even the most misanthropic critic's instincts. However, the film is a breath of fresh air, though not because it feels new or unconventional. Rather, it deals strictly with the familiar (for better and for worse), though it does so with incredible passion. A charming and loving tribute to the music of the Beatles, the film is a predictable but enjoyable crowd-pleaser.

Simon says Yesterday receives:

Also, see my review for T2 Trainspotting.

Thursday, 27 June 2019

Film Review: "Anna" (2019).

"Never make the weapon the target" in Anna. This English-language French action thriller film written, produced and directed by Luc Besson. Beneath Anna Poliatova's striking beauty lies a secret that will unleash her indelible strength and skill to become one of the world's most feared government assassins.

In early October 2017, it was reported that Luc Besson's next film would be Anna, which would star newcomer Sasha Luss along with Helen Mirren, Luke Evans, and Cillian Murphy. EuropaCorp would produce the film while Lionsgate would handle the distribution under their Summit Entertainment label. In early November, Principal photography on the film commenced.

The film stars Sasha Luss as the eponymous assassin, with Luke Evans, Cillian Murphy, Helen Mirren and Alexander Petrov. The cast gave stale performances, as well as pale imitations of characters in Besson's La Femme Nikita and countless other films of the genre. What makes the movie so appalling is Luss' tame performance. Luss, who had previously been cast in Besson's Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets as Princess Lihio-Minaa, proved to be another addition to Besson's catalogue of bland and generic "strong" female characters. Besson is known to cast famous models as leading women in his films, which includes Cara Delevingne as Laureline in Valerian. Milla Jovovich in The Fifth Element and The Messenger: The Stiry of Joan of Arc. Kate Nauta in Transporter 2. Natalya Rudakova in Transporter 3. Penelope Cruz and Salma Hayek in Bandidas. The results range from good to bad. I would place Luss in the bad category for she is nowhere near Anne Parillaud's badass female assassin.

If Besson's La Femme Nikita went into absurd overdrive with entertaining finesse, then Anna falls short of that. After a cornucopia of films and television series knock-offs were spawned after Nikita, Besson's new unoriginal English-language French spy thriller sets a low bar for the girl-with-a-gun movie trope. Even though, like the title heroine, the film exudes a cool sensory indulgence, it actually disguises its irksomely lightweight nature. Unlike Nikita, which sparked many wannabes, it's clear that this films stands alongside those wannabes barely on its two feet and barely kicking you in the head. Though very stylish and action-packed, it's lacklustre and charisma-less title performance is what makes this anything but another Besson classic. Though Stylish and stunning, the film is hardly a real trend-setter. Besson seems to like playing off the generic, though he probably thinks of it as working with the mythic, the classic. A stale thriller scored to typical loud and ugly action movie music, the film fails to set out a whole world of espionage and violence like Nitika, and barely engages with a tame lead with absolutely no badassery whatsoever. Beware Anna. Absolutely not for Besson fans and action movie lovers. Just another action movie, with the usual tenuous-at-best grip on reality. The film is hardly high art or intellectual philosophy. Even with a good cast, slick production values, and gritty action, it hardly passes as an enjoyable two hours.

Simon says Anna receives:

Wednesday, 26 June 2019

Film Review: "Toy Story 4" (2019).

"Get Ready To Hit The Road" in Toy Story 4. This computer-animated comedy film directed by Josh Cooley, written by Stephany Folsom and Andrew Stanton, produced by Pixar Animation Studios. It is the fourth installment in the Toy Story series and the sequel to Toy Story 3 (2010). Woody has always been confident about his place in the world and that his priority is taking care of his kid, whether that’s Andy or Bonnie. But when Bonnie adds a reluctant new toy called "Forky" to her room, a road trip adventure alongside old and new friends will show Woody how big the world can be for a toy.

In 2010, after the release of Toy Story 3, Lee Unkrich stated that Pixar was not planning a fourth film. Tom Hanks and Tim Allen signed on tentatively to reprise of Woody and Buzz. Lasseter has said that Pixar would only make a fourth film if it was just as good as or better than the previous three films. In early November 2014, Disney officially announced the film with John Lasseter directing. Rashida Jones and Will McCormack were then hired to pen the script after Lasseter saw Celeste & Jesse Forever (2012). In March 2015, the film was described by Pixar as a romantic comedy and stated it would not be a continuation of the third film. The same month, it was reported that Cooley was named co-director. In July 2017, at D23 Expo, Lasseter announced he was stepping down and leaving Cooley as sole director due to commitments running both Pixar, Walt Disney Animation Studios, and Disneytoon Studios. Although he would still be involved in the film as executive producer, however he was uncredited as executive producer in the final film. In November 2017, Jones and McCormack withdrew from the film citing "philosophical differences." By January 2018, Stephany Folsom was brought on to rewrite Jones and McCormack's script. Due to rewrites, the film had its release date pushed back twice from June 16, 2017 to June 15, 2018 and, finally, to June 21, 2019. Thus the film had the longest production cycle of any Toy Story film to date. This film marked Lasseter's final involvement with Pixar Animation Studios before he exited the Disney company as chief creative officer due to sexual misconduct allegations. The film is dedicated to Don Rickles and animators Adam Burke and Bud Luckey.

Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, Annie Potts, Joan Cusack, Bonnie Hunt, Wallace Shawn, John Ratzenberger, Blake Clark, Don Rickles, Estelle Harris, and Timothy Dalton gave another stellar round of performances as the beloved toys we all know and love. Moreover, Tony Hale, Keegan-Michael Key, Jordan Peele, Madeleine McGraw, Christina Hendricks, Keanu Reeves, Ally Maki, Jay Hernandez, and Lori Alan made fine additions as the new toys.

I never thought I wanted another film to the Toy Story series, but here we are and I'm happy it exists. And, for me, it wasn't as an emotional experience as the previous films. But Toy Story 4 got me—it made me smile.

Simon says Toy Story 4 receives:

Also, see my review for Incredibles 2.