Monday, 31 July 2017

'Once Upon a Time in Canada' Chapter 11.

I spent most of the day hanging out with Rachel and, to my great surprise, Kevin Min. It was an incredibly exciting day, but it came out of left field. Nonetheless, it was exciting. I never could’ve imagined that I would see Kevin today, considering he now resides in Cleveland, Ohio. 

I invited Rachel out for lunch. Number one reason was to thank her for helping me out while I am here. I felt pretty confident about having a nice lunch and have a good time with her, because I spent the previous few days planning it and finally ask her, and it went pretty much according to plan. Then when I got to the restaurant, Pai, and that’s when things started to go off a little off course. Not too much mind you but a little bit. Firstly, her train was running twenty minutes late, so I had to wait in front of the restaurant for while like a schoolboy waiting in line to get into the classroom. No problem… I guess. Then twenty minutes went agonizing by, still she was no show. She called to tell me that she would take an extra ten minutes to walk from the station to the restaurant, and that someone was joining us. There I didn’t know whether to be a tiny bit upset or confused. Then came the critical time… I checked my phone. It took about a minute or two until she finally showed up with, to my surprise, Kevin. I was pleasantly surprised too see him. As I said, it’s been ten years since I’ve seen either of the Mins. 

With a surprised mindset, I was excited to enter the restaurant and spend some quality time with them and catching up, just like old times. I had dozens of questions I wanted to ask them both, especially Kevin (since he was only here during his tight two week break), and we had a lot of time to talk about what happened since they left ten years ago. Then when we wrapped up lunch, Rachel ended up paying for it. And it was pretty upsetting for me since this whole thing was my idea. So what happened? Well it’s simple. Since I’m a recent immigrant with no job and little money, and since she is a successful woman with a job in the arts, she felt pity for me and decided to pay herself. Sweet but unnecessary. I decided to get over it as quickly as possible, and continue to have fun with them. I know what you’re thinking, shouldn’t I just be grateful that I didn’t have to pay for it. I guess you’re right. But this whole thing was my idea. But there’ll be another day to do that I suppose. Next time, I’m just going to have to be pretty sneaky. It’s kind of a good thing that it happened. Now I know what to do next time.

These all started as a day for me to hang out with my old friends, just like how I did back in my childhood, and have a good time. Other than the fact that I couldn’t see the third Min, Johnny, and not being able to pay for the lunch, I had a good time just as I intended. Quite a bit happened today. I had a good time and meal with my friends whom I hope we’ll rekindle our friendship for the rest of my days here. Let’s keep our fingers crossed and hope for the best.

I had one of the most interesting days today. Twenty-four days after I have arrived here, my opportunity had finally arrived to finally get my foot in the Canadian film industry. Enthusiastically, I dragged myself out of bed early and got myself prepared for my meeting with Robert Nowacki. Mr. Nowacki is one of the most respected Art Directors working in Toronto. His credits include the late George A. Romero’s Land of the Dead, Vincenzo Natali’s Splice, Covert Affairs, Nikita, Shadowhunters and Designated Survivor. He also happened to be the brother of my bnb host’s roommate. So you get the idea of how we got connected. 

So I got my best suit on and got myself all the way to the restaurant where we were going to meet up, The Craft Brasserie & Grill. And I got there twenty minutes early, too. I was excited. I was nervous. I was both excited and nervous. This wasn’t the most helpful feeling in this type of situation, but nonetheless it was a natural human insecurity. I’m sure I can get over it without screwing it up in the end. I hope. You know what would really suck? If Mr. Nowacki turns out to be an asshole and he has nothing to say to me except that I should go back home. You’d think that him not showing up would be the worst, but nope, my worst fear was the worst I could have imagined. This thought plagued me. I’d be able to avoid screwing up this meeting when I stop thinking about this worst-case scenario.

When the moment finally came, when I finally met the man and shook his hand, the feeling kind of lowered. In the end, we had a good time. Two, three hours went by and we talked about all kinds of things, particularly movies and the industry. It only took about the last thirty minutes of the conversation for Mr. Nowacki to finally give me some generous advice and directions to get my foot in the door since he couldn’t directly give me a job. I’ll always remember this day and look back at it. And, to be honest… I was kind of expected that it wasn’t going to go all according to plan. But should I regret this day? I don’t think so.

Also, see Chapters 10 and 12.

Wednesday, 26 July 2017

Film Review: "A Ghost Story" (2017).

"It's all about time" in A Ghost Story. This supernatural drama film written and directed by David Lowery. Recently deceased, a white-sheeted ghost returns to his suburban home to console his bereft wife, only to find that in his spectral state he has become unstuck in time, forced to watch passively as the life he knew and the woman he loves slowly slip away. Increasingly unmoored, the ghost embarks on a cosmic journey through memory and history, confronting life’s ineffable questions and the enormity of existence.

In Spring 2016, Lowery began to write the screenplay for the film. Lowery wrote the film as a reaction to the 2015 New Yorker article The Really Big One by Kathryn Schulz. He was scheduled for production after completing post-production on Pete's Dragon. Prior to this Lowery had wanted "for a while" to make a film featuring a man in a simple rudimentary ghost costume. Finally, the chance to use such a plot device came when he and his wife got in an argument about moving back to Texas. Lowery began to write down the argument "thinking about my own attachment to physical spaces." Combining both ideas he came up with the basic concept for the movie fairly quickly. Lowery also used the film to work through what he termed "An existential crisis" brought on by reading an article about the possibility of a catastrophic earthquake. In November, the project was officially announced with Casey Affleck and Rooney Mara to star. Principal photography took place in Fort Worth and Irving, Texas. Filming was hidden from the public. The project wasn't announced until months after filming had wrapped. Affleck's costume was more difficult to deal with than Lowery was prepared for. At first the team attempted to simply use a normal bed sheet. They soon found that even a king-sized sheet would not fully cover a grown adult male. In order to achieve the shape for the ghost Affleck had to wear several petticoats and a hoop under the sheet. The team also found they had to resort to some "puppeteering" to keep the eyes in place. Beyond the practical constraints of the costume, Lowery also found the simple costume impeded Affleck's ability to act, noting "every unique physical trait as a human being was pronounced and exaggerated by this sheet over his head." This did not give Lowery the results he wanted. Lowery eventually solved this problem by reducing the amount of movement so that "it became a matter of patience and posture and moving very specifically, slowly and rigidly." Some shots of the ghost, specifically those done during pickups or reshoots, do not use Affleck at all, instead replacing him with the film's art director, David Pink, who was found to have a similar build.

The film stars Affleck and Mara. The film is anchored by two strong performances from Affleck and Mara.

The film is sparse and slow. It's dusky palate and hazy, starcrossed-fairy-tale mannerisms will come off as pretentious affectations to those not gripped by paralyzing emotional attachment.

Simon says A Ghost Story receives:

Tuesday, 25 July 2017

'Once Upon a Time in Canada' Chapter 10.

I’ve known since Day 1 that the time for sightseeing was going to end. But I figured it would be so when I finally found a place and a job. I didn’t think it would end this early. Despite the fact that I had only explored the city centre. However, I am fired about the last place on my list: TIFF Lightbox. My mission for the day was to explore and spend as much time as I could for the time I was allowed before I had to head off to go and see Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets and Dunkirk at the Cineplex Cinemas. Even with a brief idea of my final destination, I had no idea how much would come to fall in love with it. When I finally set foot in the awesome place, it was as though I finally found gold in the city of maple syrup and the Blue Jays. Setting my eyes on everything the sanctuary offered, it was like Neverland. I never ever wanted to leave. So I spent most of my day there, which was four to five hours. Exploring everything from the exhibition, that was on display, to the many, many books, that captured my attention, in the gift shop. The two books that captured my attention, and took the most time reading, were The Art and Making of Alien: Covenant and The Making of Dunkirk. I really wished I could buy these two books. In addition, I really wanted to buy a Bong Joon-Ho t-shirt. But alas, I couldn’t. For the reason being that I didn’t have any money to buy memorabilia. 

When my sweet time was up, it was time to head off to the cinemas. To see two of my many highly anticipated films of the year. I saw Dunkirk in the VIP section of the cinema. Where it had the biggest screen, the best sound system and good food service. It wasn’t cheap, of course. But for a Christopher Nolan movie that has become my favourite Nolan film since Memento, it was worth every cent. Valerian was just on a normal sized screen, which was still huge to my eyes. After the films, I went to have dinner at the Jazz Bistro. An establishment that had live Jazz performances playing while you enjoyed your meal. Basically, dinner and a show. The best kind of dinner when you’re eating out.

Summerlicious ends today. God damn it. I’m really going to miss going to fancy restaurants and eating full-on three-course meals for reasonable prices. But you know what they say: all good things must come to an end. So to enjoy my last Summerlicious meal, I went to one of the best Asian restaurants in town: Momofuku Noodle Bar on University Avenue. It was an unsurprisingly fancy restaurant that made surprisingly delicious ramen. Which was what I had for my main. For the appetizer and dessert, I had pork belly pun and a Japanese snow cone. It was probably the best Summerlious dinner I had had out of all of them.

The next day was pretty standard. Pretty much renewed for another two weeks to stay at the bnb. Pretty much, in the immortal words of Red from The Shawshank Redemption“Same old shit, different day.” My favourite catchphrase that I used in my high school days. A catchphrase that I still sometimes use. When I describe a day that was either boring or shit. It’s funny, one day I was happily eating my dinner at a five-star Asian restaurant; the next I was paying an extra $950 for another two weeks at a bnb that I was starting to “get used to”. My first thought was: “Damn it.” Then I thought, “What I am doing” and I became depressed to the point that I started to get a headache. I groped my head with my right hand, calming it down and desperately hoped it would calm down and go away. But this feeling in my mind revealed a true problem I had to solve. My future depended on me finding a place of my own and a job soon. So that I could get out of my bnb, and be a little happier than I am now.

Also, see Chapters 9 and 11.

Saturday, 22 July 2017

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:

Also, see my review for Interstellar.

Friday, 21 July 2017

'Once Upon a Time in Canada' Chapter 9.

I’m still exploring the city, but I’ve been thinking about a lot of stuff. And I don’t know how I’m going to go about it. I thought about apartments and jobs. It’s been on my mind a lot lately. I have to start paying attention to these things. That’s how serious it was starting to become and how anxious I’ve become. The problem, as I said, it’s something I have no idea whatsoever how to solve the dilemma. Another problem, it’s just something I can’t even pull ideas out of my own ass. The issue is that I have to find an apartment and a job that will shelter and keep me occupied for at least a year until my brother arrives. But I can’t let this bummer of a thought get in the way of me having fun. Because today I visited the University of Toronto, the Royal Ontario Museum, and Art Gallery of Ontario. Exciting day.

Here’s what happened: I visited UT and first stumbled upon the university’s Music Department. Which blew my mind. Already standing in front of it, I could sense the rich history and reputation the department buildings exuded. Since the university’s reputation involves it being Canada’s leading educational institution, as well as being one of the world’s top research universities. A reputation that has been synonymous since the university’s founding in 1827. Something I could not sense, even in the slightest bit, with the University of Auckland’s Music Department. Then explored the rest of the campus as much as I could in my three-or-so-hour of walking.

I then moved on to the Royal Ontario Museum - one of the largest museums in North America, and the second most visited Canadian museum after the Montreal Museum of Fine Art. With more than six million items and forty galleries, the museum’s diverse collections of world culture and natural history contribute to its international reputation. The museum contains notable collections of dinosaurs, minerals and meteorites, Near Eastern and African art, Art of East Asia, European history, and Canadian History. It houses the world’s largest collection of fossils from the Burgess Shale with more than 150,000 specimens. The museum also contains an extensive collection of design and fine arts, including clothing, interior, and product design, especially Art Deco. Long story short, I just looked at it from the outside and took photos. I didn’t really go inside. The customer service desk was the furthest I went in the museum. I know, disappointing. 

Right away, I headed towards the Art Gallery of Ontario. It took a little while to get to. Along the way, I saw different UT departments and buildings that I never imagined I’d see or never knew existed. Finally, I reached AGO. One of the most distinguished North American art museums, with its collection of more than 90,000 works of art that spans from the first century to the present day. Significant collections include the largest collection of Canadian art, an expansive body of works from the Renaissance and the Baroque eras, European art, African and Oceanic art, and a modern and contemporary collection. The photography collection is a large part of the collection, as well as an extensive drawing and prints collection. The museum contains many significant sculptures, such as in the Henry Moore sculpture centre, and represents other forms of art like historic objects, miniatures, frames, books and medieval illuminations, film and video art, graphic art, installations, architecture, and ship models. During the AGO's history, it has hosted and organized some of the world's most renowned and significant exhibitions, and continues to do so, to this day. It was just as I imagined it. An art gallery that made the Auckland Art Gallery look like a child’s colouring book. I didn’t explore the museum itself, but I did have a peak at the git shop. Already, I was impressed. That did it for me for the day. That’s most of my sightseeing done, only one place left. Well, it was time to go back to rest and chow down.

Also, see Chapters 8 and 10.