Thursday, 25 May 2017

NZIIA Seminar: 'A Historical Perspective on the Agency of the Displaced: Hospitality or Refuge'.

Since ancient times, the concept of refugees and displacement has been an old one. But how much has it changed throughout human history? By the end of last night's seminar by speaker Elena Isayev, Historian and Professor of Ancient History at the University of Exeter, the answer: not much. Using ancient sources and texts, Professor Isayev’s seminar explored the concepts and themes of the displaced, or in this case "The Stranger". First using the ancient Mediterranean as the starting point, the seminar explored the potency of refugee agnecy and the innovations that emerge in the lesdt expected contexts to re-claim, and re-frame, the so-called ‘non-exceptional’ state itself.

The inflow of people into many points of southern Europe demonstrates the huge impact that refugees are having on economic, political, and social circumstances in the European Union. Professor Isayev has a particular perspective on this inflow, as an expert in the ancient history of the Mediterranean area. The difference between now and then, the Professor first highlighted, lied in the fact that there were no 'borders' and passports back then. In actuality, migration was only permitted depending on the refugees' status and reason to be in the land they were displaced in. And when these refugees did flock, it created problems. However, it did not necessarily create problems in terms of getting rid of the refugees, but rather how to keep their own citizens from leaving. These factors have remained still to this day. To help Illustrate her points further, she looked towards ancient texts, such as Homer's The Odyssey and Aeschylus' The Suppliant Women (two prominent texts used by the Professor) and others. The former is seen as an example of migration as it tells the tale of Odysseus (known as Ulysses in Roman myths), king of Ithaca, as he sets on his journey home after the fall of Troy. The theme of wandering is evident as Odysseus wanders from place to place and encounters humble and sinister hosts after another on his ten year journey back home. The same applies to the latter text as it follows The Danaids as they flee to Argos to escape their forced marriages to their Egyptian cousins.

This has created a contradiction in the predicament of such seemingly helpless groups like the Suppliants in Aeschylus’s tragedy. We find these helpless victims clinging to an altar between sea and polis – trapped in a liminal space. They are at the mercy of their reluctant protectors and have become stateless, even though they are not actually. Therefore they are without any rights whatsoever. Such a state of exception has been the center of every situation regarding displacement from the ancient Mediterranean to World War II to the Dadaad Refugee Camp in Kenya. The latest refelctions on the current predicament shows the inability in the articulation of displaced people in terms of rights and agency. Instead a re- investigation of scenarios both ancient and modern, reveals the potential, and arguable necessity, for continued action and self-determination – leading to a politics that challenges the helplessness implied by exceptionalism.

To shed some light on last nigh’s speaker, Professor Isayev, in addition to being a historian and a Professor, is also a practitioner investigating human mobility, constructions of place, and the potency of displaced agency. She also works in current refugee contexts including with Campus in Camps in Palestine; as a trustee of Refugee Support Devon; and she is founder of Future Memory, which co-creates initiatives with artists in communities where there are tensions. In addition to her published work Ancient Lucania (London 2007), and currently co-editing Displacement and the Humanities, her latest published work Migration, Mobility and Place (Cambridge 2017) will be released in June.

Also, see the previous seminar here.

Tuesday, 23 May 2017

Film Review: "King Arthur: Legend of the Sword" (2017).

"From myth to legend." "From nothing comes a king." "Take back the kingdom." These taglines all describe King Arthur: Legend of the SwordThis fantasy epic film directed by Guy Ritchie, written by Ritchie, Joby Harold and Lionel Wigram, loosely based on the Arthurian legend. Robbed of his birthright, Arthur comes up the hard way in the back alleys of the city. But once he pulls the sword from the stone, he is forced to acknowledge his true legacy - whether he likes it or not.

Warner Bros. had tried to remake John Boorman's Excalibur (1981) with Bryan Singer to direct. But due to the commercial failure of Singer's Jack the Giant Slayer (2013), it was ultimately cancelled. Instead, Warner Bros. went through several stages to bring the Arthurian legend to the screen. The first version was to Kit Harington as King Arthur and Joel Kinnaman as Lancelot with David Dobkin at the helm. However, the cast was deemed too unknown, so it was delayed. The second version was to star Colin Farrell was cast as King Arthur and Gary Oldman as Merlin. However it was inevitability dropped as it was deemed too expensive. Ultimately, Guy Ritchie's pitch was eventually green-lit with a script by Ritchie, Joby Harold and Lionel Wigram, under the working title of Knights of the Roundtable: King Arthur. The film was intended to be the first installment of a planned six film series. Ritchie then rounded his knights, Henry Cavill and Jai Courtney were among the list of contenders to play the title role. However, Ritchie's top choice was Charlie Hunnam. The final audition comprised two rounds. The first was a sit-down chat with Ritchie and the second round was a full-fledged audition. Ritchie instantly liked Hunnam after their ninety-minute talk. Hunnam performed equally well in the audition and won the role. For the female lead, Elizabeth Olsen, Felicity Jones and Alicia Vilkander were among the actresses considered. Ultimately, Ritchie cast Àstrid Bergès-Frisbey. By late February 2015, the cast had been rounded with established character actors that included Djimon Hounsou, Aidan Gillen, Jude Law and Eric Bana. Principal photography began in March. Locations included Windsor, North Wales, the Northwest highlands of Scotland and the Warner Bros. Studios in Leavesden. Initially set for a July 22, 2016 release date, Warner Bros. then moved the date to February 17, 2017 in December 2015. Then in January 2016, the film was to be pushed back again to March 24, 2017. In July 2016, the title was changed to King Arthur: Legend of the Sword. In December 2016, the release was pushed back once again to May 12, 2017.

The film stars Hunnam, Bergès-Frisbey, Hounsou, Gillen, Law and Bana. The cast were unfortunately a letdown due to their underdeveloped characters and atrocious dialogue, despite their best efforts.

King Arthur: Legend of the Sword is both a wondrous vision and a mess. The film is all images flashing by with atrociously developed characters and dialogue, so we miss the dramatic intensity that we expect the stories to have. But thanks to Ritchie, there's always something to look at.

Simon says King Arthur: Legend of the Sword receives:

Also, see my review for The Man From U.N.C.L.E.

Monday, 22 May 2017

Film Review: "The Lost City of Z" (2017).

"In 1925, Percy Fawcett ventured into the Amazon in search of a myth. What he discovered became legendary."
This is
The Lost City of Z
. This biographical adventure drama film written and directed by James Gray, based on the 2009 book of the same name by David Grann. A true-life drama, centering on British explorer Major Percival Fawcett, who disappeared whilst searching for a mysterious city in the Amazon in the 1920s.

In February 2009, Paramount Pictures and Plan B Entertainment hired Gray to write and direct a film based on Grann's book. But, for six years, the film remained in development hell, with numerous actors intended to play the lead role. Brad Pitt was initially to star as Fawcett, additionally providing production duties through his company Plan B Entertainment. However, in November 2010, Pitt withdrew from the lead role due to scheduling conflicts, but remained attached as producer. In early September 2013, Benedict Cumberbatch came on board to portray Fawcett. In February 2015, Cumberbatch dropped out also due to scheduling conflicts, and was ultimately replaced with Charlie Hunnam. By late August, Robert Pattinson, Sienna Miller, Tom Holland, Angus Macfadyen, Ian McDiarmid, Franco Nero, Harry Melling, Daniel Huttlestone, and Murray Melvin rounded out the film's cast. At the same time, principal photography commenced, and took place in Belfast, Northern Ireland, and Santa Marta, Colombia. Intent on capturing the reality faced by the actual explorers a century earlier, Gray committed to shooting in remote rainforest locations, which presented challenges from all directions - including the trees. Gray wrote to Francis Ford Coppola asking for advice about shooting in the jungle. Coppola's two-word reply was "Don't go." When Coppola decided to make Apocalypse Now (1979), he received the same advice from Roger Corman. The film was shot on 35mm, and added an an additional $750,000 to its $29.25 million budget. If shooting on 35mm film posed significant logistical challenges in the middle of the Colombian jungle. Gray set up an elaborate routine in order to ship, process and review the film during production. After a series of plane changes, the film canisters eventually made their way to London to be processed.

The film stars Hunnam, Pattinson, Miller, Holland, Macfadyen, McDiarmid, Nero, Melling, Huttlestone, and Melvin. The performances, given by the cast properly larger than life, especially Hunnam as the British explorer, a lean, driven but relentless man who goes to the ends of the earth to any which way in his quest of exploration.

The Lost City of Z is a compelling piece of historical fiction that lingers in the memory largely because of its lush, claustrophobic atmosphere and the strong presence of Hunnam. The whole movie merges landscapes and character with such force that, once seen, you never forget it. It looks more magnificent and mad than any film in recent years, one of the great folies de grandeur of modern cinema, an expeditionary Conradian nightmare like Coppola's Apocalypse Now. Modern idiosyncratic visionaries don't come any more idiosyncratic or visionary than Gray.

Simon says The Lost City of Z receives:

Also, see my review for The Immigrant.

Saturday, 20 May 2017

Film Review: "Blame!" ("ブラム!") (2017).

From the director and animation studio behind Knights of Sidonia, and Netflix comes Blame! (ブラム!). This Japanese CGI anime science fiction action film directed by Hiroyuki Seshita, written by Tsutomu Nihei and Sadayuki Murai, based on the manga series of the same name written and illustrated by Nihei, and produced by Polygon Pictures. Inside a vast, self-replicating city bent on eliminating all life, mysterious loner Killy emerges to guide a remnant of humanity desperate to survive.

Nihei's ten-volume manga, Blame! (ブラム!), was published by Kodansha from 1996 to 2003, and has since gone on to spawn a spin-off, a sixteen-page one shot, a sequel, and a six-part anime series produced in 2003. In 2007, plans for a full-length CG animated movie were revealed. However, in 2011, Micott and Basara, the original studio hired to produce the film, filed for bankruptcy. In November 2015, an anime theatrical film adaptation was announced with Seshita as director, Nihei and Murai penning the script, Nihei as a creative consultant, animation by Polygon Pictures, and character designs by Yuki Moriyama. Polygon would distribute the film domestically, whilst Netflix would distribute it globally.

The film features the voice talents of Takahiro Sakurai, Kana Hanazawa, Sora Amamiya, Mamoru Miyano, Aya Suzaki, Nobunaga Shimazaki, and Yuki Kaji. Despite the best efforts of the talented voice cast, its character development and writing is rather weak, it kind of cracks on screen.

Adapting the manga and anime into a single feature film is not an easy task, but Seshita, Murai, Nihei and Polygon achieved an admirable effort. Blame! is satisfactory adaptation of the manga and anime series, though the characters and ideas take a bit of a back seat to the CG animation. Though its themes are a but of a departure from the manga and anime series, the film is a worthy adaptation packed with popcorn-friendly thrills. Though introducing some new ideas and visuals, the film is not as exciting as the anime series, suffering from problems that often inflict feature film adaptations. Nonetheless, the story is solid, even reminiscent of Matrix Reloaded and Revolutions at some points, and the ending definitely compensates. The film re-establishes the genre and even raises the bar a notch. The film leaves quite a gamut of questions open for the audience, nothing on the surface to give the reader a sense of direction or purpose. Therefore, in turn, there will be quite a strong line dividing those who love and hate Nihei’s unique and convoluted cyberpunk journey. Indeed, if you loved the manga and the anime series with its mix of comic-book angst, martial arts, post apocalyptic world, video-game punch-ups, pop philosophy, disturbing robots and awesome sci-fi tech and weapons, then you won't be disappointed. It's everything you would want in a Blame! movie. I liked this movie and can recommend it with a clear critical conscience, but it never moved me even half as much as Ghost in the Shell or Akira.

Simon says Blame! (ブラム!) receives: