Friday, 21 July 2017

Film Review: "Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets" (2017).

"From the visionary director of The Fifth Element and Lucy"
comes Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets. This English-language French science fiction action film written and directed by Luc Besson. It is based on the French science fiction comics series Valérian and Laureline, written by Pierre Christin and illustrated by Jean-Claude Mézières. In the 28th century, Valerian and Laureline are a team of special operatives charged with maintaining order throughout the human territories. Under assignment from the Minister of Defense, the two embark on a mission to the astonishing city of Alpha - an ever-expanding metropolis where species from all over the universe have converged over centuries to share knowledge, intelligence and cultures with each other. There is a mystery at the center of Alpha, a dark force which threatens the peaceful existence of the City of a Thousand Planets, and Valerian and Laureline must race to identify the marauding menace and safeguard not just Alpha, but the future of the universe.

Besson first publicly announced the project in 2012 after decades of development hell. Dane DeHaan and Cara Delevingne were announced in May 2015 to the titular roles. Besson deliberately chose to shoot the film in English with English-speaking actors in order to raise its chances of a wider audience. The film was given a budget of EUR €197.47 million (US $210 million), making the film is officially the most expensive ever made in France. It significantly exceeded the budget of the previous record holder, Asterix at the Olympic Games (2008), which cost EUR102 million (US $113 million). Twenty years earlier, The Fifth Element was the most expensive French movie of its time with a budget of EUR90 million ($100 million). Principal photography on the film began in January 2016, it was shot at Cité du cinéma, in Saint-Denis, north of Paris. For the visual effects, Weta Digital and ILM provided the film's visual effects. The film had 2734 effect shots, compared to The Fifth Element's 188 effect shots.

The film stars Dane DeHaan as Valerian and Cara Delevingne as Laureline, with Clive Owen, Rihanna, Ethan Hawke, Herbie Hancock, Kris Wu and Rutger Hauer in supporting roles. Despite the other cast members being perfectly cast and turning out great performances, sadly, the same thing can not be said for the film's two leads. DeHaan and Delevingne were unfortunately miscast. DeHaan came off too brooding, whilst Delevingne just came off wooden.

Visually inventive and gleefully over the top, Luc Besson's Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets is a fantastic piece of pop sci-fi that never takes itself too seriously. The film is an elaborate, even campy sci-fi extravaganza, and one of the great popcorn movies of the year. It's a lot warmer, more fun and boasts some of the most sophisticated, witty production and costume design you could ever hope to see. However, it is a misfired European attempt to make an American-style sci-fi spectacular, the film consists of a hodgepodge of elements that don't comfortably coalesce. But I would not have missed seeing this film, and I recommend it for its richness of imagery.

Simon says Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets receives:

Film Review: "Dunkirk" (2017).

"When 400,000 men couldn't get home, home came for them."
This is the story of Dunkirk. This war film written, co-produced and directed by Christopher Nolan. The film depicts the dramatic and true story of the Dunkirk evacuations from a war torn beach and harbour in France, following the seemingly doomed plight of allied soldiers in World War II. As the enemy forces close in it seems the troops have nowhere to go, but help is at hand and a fierce battle ensues.

Director Christopher Nolan came upon the idea after he and his wife Emma Thomas sailed across the English Channel to Dunkirk. Nolan wrote the seventy-six-page screenplay, about half the length of his usual scripts, and his shortest to date. It was written with a precise mathematical structure. Nolan decided to make the film as a triptych, told from three perspectives – the land, sea, and air. Nolan structured the story from the point of view of the characters, with the intention that most of it was to be told visually, which meant doing away with dialogue and backstory. The entire film was made to encompass the snowball effect that had only been used in the third acts of his previous films. He approached the research as though it were for a documentary film. What made the project attractive to Nolan was its inherent contradiction to Hollywood formula, as the Battle of Dunkirk was not a victory, did not involve America, and yet demanded a big-scale production to be put on screen. Nolan decided to postpone Dunkirk until he had plenty of experience directing large-scale blockbuster action films. Nolan then found inspiration in Intolerance: Love's Struggle Throughout the Ages (1916), Greed (1924), Sunrise (1927), All Quiet on the Western Front (1930), Foreign Correspondent (1940), The Wages of Fear (1953), A Man Escaped (1956), Pickpocket (1959), The Battle of Algiers (1966), Ryan's Daughter (1970), Alien (1979), Chariots of Fire (1981), Speed (1994), Saving Private Ryan (1998) and Unstoppable (2010). Author Joshua Levine served as the film's historical consultant. Levine accompanied Nolan while interviewing veterans. During these interviews, Nolan was told a story of soldiers who were observed walking into the sea in desperation and incorporated it into the screenplay. Nolan and his production designer Nathan Crowley toured the beach while location scouting, having decided to film there despite the logistical challenges of shooting on-location.

Tom Hardy, Kenneth Branagh and Mark Rylance were in talks to join the ensemble as supporting characters in late 2015. Fionn Whitehead was cast as the lead in March 2016, while Jack Lowden, Aneurin Barnard and Harry Styles were added to the list shortly after. Cillian Murphy joined the following month. James D'Arcy, Barry Keoghan and Tom Glynn-Carney were included in the line-up later that May. After first-hand accounts of the Dunkirk evacuation revealed to Nolan how young and inexperienced the soldiers were, he decided to cast young and unknown actors for the beach setting. Principal photography commenced in late May 2016. Filming took place in the same location as the real historical evacuation, as well as Urk, Netherlands; Swanage and Weymouth in Dorset, United Kingdom, and the Point Vicente Interpretive Center and Lighthouse in Rancho Palos Verdes, United States. Around six thousand extras were used as soldiers during the shoot. The film was shot on a combination of IMAX 65 mm and 65 mm large format film stock in Panavision System 65, with more IMAX footage shot than in any of Nolan's previous films – an estimated seventy-five percent. Panavision and IMAX lenses provided the ability to shoot at night. For the first time in a feature film, IMAX cameras were used in a hand-held capacity. Nolan, with the aid of Marine coordinator Neil Andrea, Nolan had located and reconditioned up to sixty actual warships, twelve actual civilian boats and several actual planes during the course of filming. All of which was done to avoid the use of computer-generated imagery and to contribute to the realism.

For Post-Production, Nolan's regular collaborator Lee Smith assembled the shots unsupervised while filming was still in progress. Editing took place in Los Angeles, composed of an audio mixing team of eight people. Nolan said of the process, "You stop seeing the wood for the trees", concluding that detail was its most predominant purpose. Nolan singled out the editing of aerial sequences as a particular challenge, likening them to a chess game. Double Negative underwent the visual effects work while FotoKem, which also assisted as the production's film laboratory, handled the release prints. By January 2016, composer Hans Zimmer had already begun working on the score. For the purpose of intensity, the script was written to accommodate the auditory illusion of a Shepard tone, which had previously been explored in Nolan's 2006 film The Prestige. This was coupled with the sound of a ticking clock, that of Nolan's own pocket watch, which he recorded and sent to Zimmer to be synthesised.

The film stars Fionn Whitehead, Tom Glynn-Carney, Jack Lowden, Harry Styles, Aneurin Barnard, James D'Arcy, Barry Keoghan, Kenneth Branagh, Cillian Murphy, Mark Rylance, and Tom Hardy. The cast gave terrific performances no matter how small the part or the amount of lines given. They gave so much with so little.

Dunkirk is not just a relentlessly gripping entertainment but also a cinematic ticking time bomb, a physically exhilarating work of art that has us on the edge of our seats. It uses realism as an effect, silent cinema as a style. It establishes a kinetic documentary effect, making the impact of every moment a deeply personal experience. You feel that you're really there, and you can't help but be racing against the clock. Serving both as a how-to manual for immersive cinema and a breathing document about a least-known chapter in human history. The continued relevance of The Dunkirk Evacuation is both a point of fascination and something to mourn. It's also quite possibly the finest war film ever made. Its content has classic and tragic dimensions that transcends war. This seminal work of cinema about the Dunkirk Evacuation should finally land Christopher Nolan the elusive Best Director nomination, and hopefully his first deservedly Best Director Oscar.

Simon says Dunkirk receives:

Tuesday, 18 July 2017

Film Review: "War For the Planet of the Apes" (2017).

"Witness the end."
This is War For the Planet of the Apes. This science fiction film directed by Matt Reeves and written by Mark Bomback and Reeves. It is a sequel to Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (2014), it is the third installment in the Planet of the Apes reboot series. Caesar and his apes are forced into a deadly conflict with an army of humans led by a ruthless Colonel. After the apes suffer unimaginable losses, Caesar wrestles with his darker instincts and begins his own mythic quest to avenge his kind. As the journey finally brings them face to face, Caesar and the Colonel are pitted against each other in an epic battle that will determine the fate of both their species and the future of the planet.

After the rough cut preview and release of Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, 20th Century Fox and Chernin Entertainment announced a third installment with Reeves returning to direct and co-write along with Bomback, and Peter Chernin, Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver serving as producers. Reeves is only the second director to return to helm a Planet of the Apes film, after J. Lee Thompson, who directed Conquest of the Planet of the Apes (1972) and Battle for the Planet of the Apes (1973). In May 2015, the title was first given as War for the Planet of the Apes and was given a July 29, 2016, release date. With a release date set, this led to an accelerated production schedule. However, Fox wanted to give the third instalment plenty of time to be developed. In interviews for Dawn, Reeves talked a bit about the inevitable war Caesar would have with the humans: "As this story continues, we know that war is not avoided by the end of Dawn. That is going to take us into the world of what he is grappling with. Where he is going to be thrust into circumstances that he never, ever wanted to deal with, and was hoping he could avoid. And now he is right in the middle of it. The things that happen in that story test him in huge ways, in the ways in which his relationship with Koba haunts him deeply. It’s going to be an epic story. I think you’ve probably read that I sort of described it where in the first film was very much about his rise from humble beginnings to being a revolutionary. The second movie was about having to rise to the challenge of being a great leader in the most difficult of times. This is going to be the story that is going to cement his status as a seminal figure in ape history, and sort of leads to an almost biblical status. He is going to become like a mythic ape figure, like Moses." At New York Comic-Con 2016, Reeves explained that he and Bomback were influenced by many films before the writing process. Reeves said, "One of the first things that Mark and I did because we had just finished Dawn was that we decided to watch a million movies... We watched every Planet of the Apes movie, war movies, westerns, Empire Strikes Back... We just thought, 'We have to pretend we have all the time in the world,' even though we had limited time. We got really inspired." Reeves and Bomback sought broader inspirations from war films like Bridge on the River Kwai, The Great Escape and Apocalypse Now; Biblical epics like Ben-Hur (1959) and The Ten Commandments (1956); and the 1976 Clint Eastwood western, The Outlaw Josey Wales. In January 2015, Fox postponed the film's release date to July 14, 2017. Andy Serkis and previous cast members, Karin Konoval, Terry Notary, Judy Greer and Devyn Dalton, were announced to return. In September 2015, The Hollywood Reporter announced that Woody Harrelson had been cast. In October 2015, TheWrap reported that Steve Zahn was cast. Principal photography on the film began in October 2015 and concluded in March 2016. The film was shot in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada under the working title Hidden Fortress. As with Rise and Dawn, the visual effects for War were created by Weta Digital through ; the apes were created with a mixture of motion-capture and CGI key-frame animation.

The film stars Andy Serkis, Woody Harrelson, Steve Zahn, Karin Konoval and Terry Notary. Serkis has given another outstanding turn as Caesar and has sealed his place in Planet of the Apes lore and fandom. Harrelson's The Colonel was a bit less interesting to watch than Kebbell's Koba, despite giving the best rogue military leader since Marlon Brando's Colonel Kurtz in Apocalypse Now (1979). Lastly, Zahn stole the show and gave a performance that could have easily had people laugh at him. Luckily it didn't turn out to be another Jar Jar Binks.

War For the Planet of the Apes is an ambitious, thoughtful, and potent action film that concludes the outstanding reboot series in spectacular fashion. The film is more than an exceptional science fiction movie, it is masterful filmmaking by any standard. A cinematic, cultural and personal triumph, the film is emotionally inspiring, aesthetically significant and critically important for the world, especially America – as a mirror of sober reminder. Reeves' film is a reminder that the Planet of the apes films aren't merely a frivolous distraction, but an embodiment of our selves. Rise's grounded origin tale and War's masterfully brazen science fiction saga are closed off with a complex and relevant war epic. War is a worthy, epic conclusion to a trilogy that has raised the bar for an entire genre. Reeves somehow never loses control - this is an accomplished and tremendously confident filmmaker, both in the execution of his thrilling chases and action beats, and in his manipulation of the complicated, multi-faceted narrative. Overall, it's a majestic, gorgeous, brutal and richly satisfying epic that is one of the best threequels ever made, and one of the best films of the year.

Simon says War For the Planet of the Apes receives:

Friday, 30 June 2017

Film Review: "Okja" (2017).

A Netflix original movie by Bong Joon-ho. This is Okja. This American-South Korean action-adventure film directed by Bong, and co-written by Bong and Jon Ronson. A young girl who risks everything to prevent a powerful, multi-national company from kidnapping her best friend - a massive animal named Okja.

In October 2015, it was announced that director Bong Joon-ho's next film will feature a South Korean female lead and a cast of English-speaking supporting actors, with filming set in New York. In November 2015 it was picked up by Netflix and Plan B Entertainment with a budget of $50 million, with production starting in late 2016 for release in 2017. Bong sought out Welsh author Jon Ronson to rewrite the script. Working with a rough draft of the story, Ronson helped develop the English-speaking characters. Principal photography began in April 2016, locations included Seoul, South Korea, and Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. Director Bong Joon-ho has called Okja "a very shy and introverted animal. It's a unique animal that we've not seen before." This is very clear from a single watch of the film, wherein we are shown repeatedly that Okja's level of intelligence is far above that of any cat or dog, despite her large size and original appearance. Okja was modelled after pigs and manatees.

The film generated some controversy after being selected for the competition line-up of the 2017 Cannes Film Festival, due to the fact that, as Netflix productions, they wouldn't receive a theatrical release in France after the festival. Netflix did try to make a deal with French distributors and cinema chains for a limited release prior to the streaming premiere, but this was hindered by very strict French laws which prevent any film that's released in cinemas from being available on a streaming service prior to 36 months after the original theatrical release date. Although both films were retained in the competition line-up, the festival did respond to the controversy by amending its rules, specifying that all filmmakers and producers submitting their work for consideration for the competition must be committed to obtaining regular theatrical distribution in France. When the movie premiered at the Cannes Film Festival, the audience began to boo when the Netflix's title card was shown in the opening credits, they then followed up by showing the first 10 minutes of the film in the wrong ratio causing more booing. The film was played again from the beginning with even louder boos when the Netflix's title card was shown for the second time.

The film stars an ensemble cast headed by South Korean child actress Ahn Seo-hyun, alongside Hollywood actors Tilda Swinton, Paul Dano, Steven Yeun, Lily Collins, and Jake Gyllenhaal. The performances given the cast were as unique and multilayered as you would expect from a Bong Joon-ho film.

Bong Joon-ho's Okja is a socially-conscious genre hybrid about the cruelty and the inhumanity of corporate manipulation of nature that is consumed everyday within our society.
An international action-adventure, a political satire, and an unusual and touching love story, Bong Joon-ho's latest is a subversive blast.

Simon says Okja receives:

Tuesday, 27 June 2017

Film Review: "My Cousin Rachel" (2017).

"Did she? Didn't she? Who was to blame?"
This is My Cousin Rachel. This American-British romantic drama film, written and directed by Roger Michell, based upon the 1951 novel of the same name by Daphne du Maurier. The film centres on a young Englishman who plots revenge against his late cousin's mysterious, beautiful wife, believing her responsible for his death. But his feelings become complicated as he finds himself falling under the beguiling spell of her charms.

The film is the latest of several recent adaptations of Daphne du Maurier's work. This is the first cinematic adaptation of My Cousin Rachel since the 1952 film of the same name. When it came to the first cinematic adaption, Twentieth Century-Fox brought the rights to the story in September 1951 when every major studio in Hollywood rejected it. Fox also secured George Cukor as director. However, du Maurier and Cukor reviewed a screenplay draft and found it unfaithful to the novel, with du Maurier declaring it "Quite desperate." Cukor also disapproved of the comedic additions, and without achieving his desired revisions to the screenplay, opted to quit. Henry Koster later took over Cukor's role. According to Burton, Cukor planned for either Greta Garbo or Vivien Leigh to star as Rachel. The part ultimately went to de Havilland, marking her first film role since The Heiress (1949), as she had afterwards taken stage roles. The film also marked Richard Burton's first time starring in a U.S. film. Though uninterested in the novel or screenplay, Burton accepted the role due to his respect for Cukor, and he traveled to New York City for production. Background shots were filmed in Cornwall, where the story is set. The film went to become a success upon its initial release.

In January 2015, Fox Searchlight secured Roger Michell to direct the film and write the screenplay. In September 2015, it was announced Rachel Weisz was in talks to star in the film. She took the role, and envisioned the character as "sexually liberated". That same month, Sam Claflin joined the cast, stating he was interested because Philip was an ordinary, immature character, who was virginal until discovering Rachel. In February 2016, Holliday Grainger joined the cast, followed by Iain Glen in March. Principal photography began in April 2016, and lasted through the spring in South Devon, Oxfordshire and Surrey, England, and Arezzo, Italy. 

The film stars Rachel Weisz, Sam Claflin, Iain Glen and Holliday Grainger. The cast gave intense and excellent performances. As to Ms. Weisz herself, she gave a rather ambigious performance. Throughout the film, you wonder if she is who she says she is, which was a tremendous feat.

Thanks to the suspense, atmosphere and the performance given by Rachel Weisz, My Cousin Rachel is simply excellent. Weisz's performance, as well as Claflin's, gave a strong impression while watching the film unfold, and long after you have left the cinema. Weisz was just simply brilliant as the title character.

Simon says My Cousin Rachel receives:

Monday, 26 June 2017

NZIIA Seminar: 'An Outsider’s View From the Inside on Current British Politics'.

Just like, and prior to, their U.S. counterparts, the United Kingdom were hit with their own bombs in the form of the referendum of the U.K. leaving the European Union, which was issued on 23rd June 2016, and the recent general election in June. Which resulted in a hung parliament, which saw the conservative party losing the number of seats from 330 to 318. These factors raised a fundamental question: What is the future of the U.K. and the E.U.? To answer this important was last night’s speaker Sir Lockwood Smith. By the end of the seminar, the answer was as speculative and uncertain as the future of the U.K. and the E.U.

Throughout, Sir Lockwood addresses the turmoil that has befallen onto the world, especially the U.K., the uncertain future of Brexit and its possible consequences, and the dramatic backfire of Theresa May, who advocated for a "strong and stable" leadership that can successfully negotiate a "hard Brexit", which was originally intended for her to consolidate her power following David Cameron’s resignation. In addition, discussing the Labour Party’s surge of popularity, thought to be left for dead under the new leadership of Jeremy Corbyn, after these cataclysmic events. 

During the Q&A, an interesting question was raised among a list of interesting questions, How will these recent events affect New Zealand and in particular, the Republic of Ireland? Sir Lockwood answered that New Zealand advocated that the United Kingdom remain in a "reformed" E.U., however David Cameron didn’t succeed in doing so. Even though he performed well on the economics front in preventing the UK from sliding into a deep recession, his legacy has been tarnished by the Brexit results. He continued that the Republic of Ireland on the other hand under their new leadership has been playing things very wisely since the situation in regards to the border with Northern Ireland has been troublesome to say the least in the last century. Sir Lockwood advocated a need for "smart politics" and not for "dumb politics" to rise (the latter can lead to catastrophic results – also fuelled by populism). Sir Lockwood’s outlook on NZ’s future – the most prosperous nation in the world right now since our industries are not regulated (regulation means falling behind competition) – a bit of a naïve and too optimistic outlook since the country is suffering from a brain drain.

For more information regarding Sir Lockwood Smith, his initial careers included agriculture (with a Ph.D. in Animal Science, he worked at the Dairy Board), academia (as a lecturer at Massey University) and the media (as a TV presenter). He entered Parliament in 1984. He was at various times the Minister for each of Education, Agriculture, Tourism and International Trade, and Associate Minister for Finance and for Immigration. His achievements include promoting the 100% Pure tourism campaign, spearheading New Zealand’s efforts at the 1999 APEC negotiations, and conceiving and initiating the negotiations with Singapore for a new-model Free Trade Agreement that morphed into the Trans-Pacific Partnership talks. From 2008 to 2013, he was the Speaker of the House. From 2013 to 2017, he was High Commissioner in London. He has recently become a patron of the British New Zealand Business Association.

Thursday, 22 June 2017

Film Review: "Transformers: The Last Knight" (2017).

"They have been here forever."
This time it's Transformers: The Last Knight. This science fiction action film based on the toy line of the same name created by Hasbro. It is the fifth installment of the live-action Transformers film series and a sequel to 2014's Transformers: Age of Extinction. The film is once again directed by Michael Bay, with a ghastly script written by Art Marcum, Matt Holloway and Ken Nolan. The Last Knight once again destroys the core myths of the Transformers franchise, and redefines what it means to be a cinematic abomination. Once again, humans and Transformers are at war, Optimus Prime is gone. The key to saving our future lies buried in the secrets of the past, in the hidden history of Transformers on Earth. Saving our world falls upon the shoulders of a ridiculous alliance: a hopeless American inventor; a bizarre English Lord; and an unrealistically attractive Oxford Professor.

After the release of Age of Extinction, in March 2015, it was reported that Paramount Pictures was in talks with Oscar winner Akiva Goldsman to pitch new ideas for the Transformers franchise's future installments. Wanting to have a cinematic universe of their own similar to Marvel's/Disney's Marvel Cinematic Universe, thus a writers' room was set up to plan the franchise's future beyond the main film series. Goldsman became the head of the future projects and would work with Bay, Steven Spielberg, and Lorenzo di Bonaventura. In July 2015, Goldsman and Jeff Pinkner were announced as the film's screenwriters. However, in November, due to Goldsman and Pinkner's other commitments, Paramount began to negotiate with Art Marcum, Matt Holloway and Ken Nolan to write the film. Despite this, Bay had decided not to direct any future Transformers films. But in January 2016, in an interview with Rolling Stone, he confirmed that he would return to direct the fifth film, and that it would be his last Transformers film. Back in December 2014, Mark Wahlberg confirmed that he would return for the sequel, and like Bay, confirmed that this will be his last in the franchise. In May 2016, it was confirmed that Josh Duhamel would return for the film. In September 2016, Stanley Tucci confirmed his return. In October 2016, Bay announced that John Turturro would return. By late 2016, the cast was rounded out with actors such as; Anthony Hopkins, Laura Haddock, Isabela Moner, Santiago Cabrera, Peter Cullen, John Goodman, Ken Watanabe, John DiMaggio, Omar Sy, Frank Welker, Tom Kenny, Steve Buscemi and Gemma Chan. With a budget of $260 million, Principal photography began in May 2016. Locations included Cuba, Arizona, Michigan, Illinois, Scotland, Wales and England. Filming wrapped in December 2016. Like the previous instalment, the film was struck by controversy. During filming in England, Blenheim Palace was decorated as a Nazi headquarters for the World War II scenes. This caused controversy among British war veterans, who protested that the palace was the former residence of war hero Winston Churchill, and didn't deserve such treatment; Bay explained that this was part of the film, and Churchill's grandson Sir Nicholas Soames lambasted the British press for sensationalizing a mere film scene.

The performances given by the stellar cast once again have contributed nothing to Bay's 2 hours and 30 minute film of him masturbating and ejaculating to explosions, car chases and adolescent-looking female stock characters like a fourteen year old boy discovering how to.

With Transformers: The Last Knight, nothing is in disguise. Fans of the same old Hollywood/Michael Bay claptrap will find mentally-impaired satisfaction. The same can not be said for others who had enough of Bay's abhorrent antics for the past decade.

Simon says Transformers: The Last Knight receives: