Tuesday, 30 July 2019

NZIIA Seminar: 'The North Korean State and the Kim Family Dynasty.'

North Korea, officially known as the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, has many times been the subject of fascination. A subject which had fascinated tonight's speaker, Ms. Jean H. Lee. Tonight, Ms. Lee helped us explore the Hermit Kingdom state-wise and policy-wise. The study of North Korea’s state and policy could not be discussed without exploring the Kim Family. Understanding the role of the Kim family, and in particular the current generation of Kim Jong Un, provided a context for the events currently being reported in the Western world. Across three generations, the dynasty has formed the core government, using history and culture to build the cult of personality. 

First was Kim Il Sung, who was the first leader of North Korea in which he ruled from the country's establishment in 1948 until his death in 1994. He rose to power after the end of the Japanese occupation of the Korean peninsula and the end of World War II. In 1950, he was authorised by the Soviet Union to invade South Korea, triggering an intervention in defence of South Korea by the United Nations led by the United States. Kim Il Sung and his army was ultimately forced to retreat, and this resulted in a ceasefire, which is still ongoing. Under his rule, North Korea was established as a communist state with a publicly owned and planned economy. It had close political and economic relations with the Soviet Union. By the 1960s, North Korea briefly enjoyed a standard of living higher than the South, which was fraught with political instability and economic crises. The situation however reversed in the 1970s, as a newly stable South Korea became an economic powerhouse fuelled by Japanese and American investment, military aid and internal economic development while North Korea stagnated and then declined in the 1980s. Differences emerged between North Korea and the Soviet Union, chief among them being Kim Il-sung's philosophy of Juche, which focused on Korean nationalism, self-reliance, and socialism. Despite this, the country received funds, subsidies and aid from the USSR (and the Eastern Bloc) until the dissolution of the USSR in 1991. The resulting loss of economic aid adversely affected the North's economy, causing widespread famine in 1994. During this period, North Korea also remained critical of the United States defence force's presence in the region, which it considered imperialism, having seized the American ship USS Pueblo in 1968, which was part of an infiltration and subversion campaign to reunify the peninsula under North Korea's rule.

Then came Kim Jong Il, who served as the second leader and ruled from the death of his father until his own death in 2011. By the early 1980s, Kim had become the heir apparent for the leadership of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) and assumed important posts in the party and army organs. He first served as the country's minster of propaganda and agitation, which fuelled one of his future devouring passion: film. His rule was the first dynastic succession in a communist country. During his rule, the country suffered famine and had a poor human rights record. Kim involved his country in state terrorism and strengthened the role of the military by his Songun ("military-first") politics. Kim's rule also saw tentative economic reforms, including the opening of the Kaesong Industrial Park in 2003. In April 2009, North Korea's constitution was amended to refer to him and his successors as the "supreme leader of the DPRK". The most common colloquial title given to Kim was "Dear Leader" to distinguish him from his father Kim Il-sung, the "Great Leader". Following Kim's failure to appear at important public events in 2008, foreign observers assumed that Kim had either fallen seriously ill or died. On 19 December 2011, the North Korean government announced that he had died two days earlier, whereupon his third son, Kim Jong-un, was promoted to a senior position in the ruling WPK and succeeded him.

Finally came Kim Jong Un, who now serves as the third leader of North Korea since 2012. From late 2010, he was viewed as heir apparent to the leadership of the DPRK, and following the death of his father, North Korean state television announced him as the "Great Successor". Under his rule, the regime has implemented a more brutal, oppressive and totalitarian rule than under his grandfather and father before him. On 12 December 2013, Kim ordered the execution of his uncle Jang Song-thaek for "treachery". Kim is widely believed to have ordered the assassination of his half-brother, Kim Jong-nam, in Malaysia in February 2017. On 12 June 2018, Kim and US President Donald Trump met for a summit in Singapore, the first-ever talks held between a North Korean leader and a sitting US President, to discuss the North Korean nuclear program. A follow-up meeting in Hanoi in February 2019 ended abruptly without an agreement. By 30 June 2019, Kim met with both South Korean President Moon Jae-in and US President Donald Trump at the Korean Demilitarised Zone. Now he faces economic and political pressures. Outside North Korea, he is engaged in direct diplomatic manoeuvring with Trump. According to Ms. Lee, Kim Jong Un is willing to make transactional actions rather than transformative actions in regards to regime and its relationship with both South Korea and the United States.

Ms. Lee is a graduate of Columbia University and its Graduate School of Journalism, with a Bachelor’s degree in East Asian and English Literature and a Master’s degree. After graduation, she worked as a reporter for the Korea Herald in Seoul, South Korea. She then moved to Associated Press, where she worked in Maryland, California, New York, and London. In 2008, she started in Seoul, South Korea as Bureau Chief. In 2011, she became the first American journalist to gain extensive access on the ground in North Korea, covering the passing of Kim Jong Il in that year. In 2012, she opened the AP’s bureau in Pyongyang. During her tenure, she had travelled to numerous farms, factories, schools, military academies and homes. Moreover, she has appeared frequently on the BBC, CNN and other broadcasters. In addition, she contributes to the New York Times and Esquire. Furthermore, she has taught courses in North Korean Studies at both Yonsei University’s Underwood International College and Korea University’s Graduate School of International Studies, both in Seoul. After leaving the AP, she is currently serving as Director of the Hyundai Motor Korea Foundation Centre for Korea History and Public Policy at the Woodrow Wilson International Centre for Scholars.

Also, see the previous seminar here.

NZIFF Film Review: "Meeting Gorbachev" (2018).

"A film by Werner Herzog and André Singer." This is Meeting Gorbachev. This biographical documentary film directed by Herzog and Singer about the life of Mikhail Gorbachev. The film consists of interviews between Herzog and Gorbachev, conducted over the span of six months.

On 2 March, 1931, the eighth and last leader of the Soviet Union was born to a poor peasant family, of Russian and Ukrainian heritage, in the village of Privolnoye, Stavropol Krai, under the rule of Joseph Stalin. In his youth, he, along with his father, operated combine harvesters on a collective farm. Like his grandfather and father, he later joined the Communist Party. He was later emitted into Moscow State University, where he was studying law. During this time, he met and married fellow student Raisa Titarenko in 1953. In 1955, he graduated and received his law degree. He moved back to Stavropol, where he worked for the Komsomol youth organisation and became a keen proponent of the de-Stalinization reforms of Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev. In 1970, he was appointed the First Party Secretary of the Stavropol Regional Committee, in which he oversaw construction of the Great Stavropol Canal. In 1978, he returned to Moscow to become a Secretary of the party's Central Committee and, in 1979, joined its governing Politburo. After the deaths of Leonid Brezhnev, Yuri Andropov and Konstantin Chernenko, the Politburo elected Gorbachev as General Secretary, the de facto head of government, in 1985.

Although committed to preserving the Soviet state and to its socialist ideals, Gorbachev believed significant reform was necessary, particularly after the 1986 Chernobyl disaster. These reforms included the withdrawl of the Soviet army from the Soviet–Afghan War, nuclear purification and ending the Cold War. Domestically, his policy of glasnost ("openness") allowed for enhanced freedom of speech and press, while his perestroika ("restructuring") sought to decentralise economic decision making to improve efficiency. His democratisation measures and formation of the elected Congress of People's Deputies undermined the one-party state. Gorbachev declined to intervene militarily when various Eastern Bloc countries abandoned Marxist-Leninist governance in 1989–90. Internally, growing nationalist sentiment threatened to break up the Soviet Union, leading Marxist-Leninist hardliners to launch the unsuccessful August Coup against Gorbachev. In the wake of this, the Soviet Union dissolved against Gorbachev's wishes and he resigned in December. Widely considered one of the most significant figures of the second half of the 20th century, Gorbachev remains the subject of controversy. The recipient of a wide range of awards—including the Nobel Peace Prize—he was widely praised for his pivotal role in ending the Cold War, curtailing human rights abuses in the Soviet Union, and tolerating both the fall of Marxist–Leninist administrations in eastern and central Europe and the reunification of Germany. Conversely, in Russia he is often derided for not stopping the Soviet collapse, an event which brought a decline in Russia's global influence and precipitated an economic crisis.

Whatever your opinion of the eighth and last leader of the Soviet Union is, Herzog has once again found a fascinating subject with Meeting Gorbachev.

Simon says Meeting Gorbachev receives:

Also, see my reviews for Into the Inferno and Long Day's Journey into Night (地球最後的夜晚).

Monday, 29 July 2019

NZIFF Film Review: "Long Day's Journey into Night" ("地球最後的夜晚") (2018).

From the director of Kaili Blues (路边野餐) comes Long Day's Journey into Night (地球最後的夜晚). This drama film written and directed by Bi Gan. Luo Hongwu returns to his hometown of Kaili after being away for a long time. Almost immediately, he begins the search for the woman he loved, and whom he has never been able to forget.

Bi Gan enlisted novelist Chang Ta-Chun as a consultant for the script, noting that Ta-Chun aided in the overall film structure as well as the division of the film into two parts. Bi Gan drew inspiration for the film from the paintings of Marc Chagall, specifically The Promenade, as well as the novels of Patrick Modiano. Bi Gan stated that he had difficulty choosing a title for the film, noting that the official international title is Long Day's Journey into Night, a title inspired by the Eugene O'Neil play of the same name, whereas the direct Chinese translation is Last Evenings on Earth, which refers to a short story written by Chilean author Roberto Bolaño. Regarding the two titles, Bi noted that he wanted to choose titles that "matched with the film's spirit" and that he ultimately chose them because they related to two works of literature he admired. The fifty-nine-minute unbroken long take 3D sequence that closes the film took two months to prepare, as techniques had to be devised to move a RED camera through the complicated environment of the scene. It took seven attempts at shooting the sequence before Bi was satisfied. The sequence was shot in 2D and converted to 3D in post-production because a 2D camera was lighter and therefore easier to move in difficult positions and small environments. The film is notable for utilizing three cinematographers - Yao Hung-I, Dong Jinsong, and David Chizallet. Their individual roles were broken down by Gan, who stated that "Yao Hung-I began shooting the first part. We worked together for several months and then he went back to Taiwan. Dong Jinsong then took over for half of the part in 2D and the preparation of the final sequence shot that David Chizallet eventually shot. Chizallet also shot one scene of the part in 2D."

The film stars Huang Jue, Tang Wei, Sylvia Chang, Lee Hong-chi, Chloe Maayan and Ming Dao. Despite the strong performances demonstrated by the cast, their performances more relied the tone and emotion rather than actual characterisations.

An outstanding effort from Gan, and while perhaps not one for mainstream audiences, it's a wonderful piece of craftsmanship that's well-deserving of its reputation. It is a genuine art-house film, confusing to follow but visually captivating and a great testament to Gan's directorial abilities. Gan's mastery of his cinematic resources is total: elegant all-encompassing paneos, impeccable framing and a perfectly choreographed sequence shot of almost an hour that would be the envy of Lubezki and Irritu. It is an achievement that stands above films of its kind for exceeding the aesthetic brevity that stands before it. It is immersive, unpredictable and heartfelt.

Simon says Long Day's Journey into Night (地球最後的夜晚) receives:

Also, see my NZIFF review for Koyaanisqatsi.

Sunday, 28 July 2019

NZIFF Classic Film Review: "Koyaanisqatsi" (1982).

"Until now, you've never really seen the world you live in." That is until you've seen Koyaanisqatsi. This experimental film directed by Godfrey Reggio with music composed by Philip Glass and cinematography by Ron Fricke. Drawing its title, this renowned documentary examines modern civilisation and technology. From the Hopi language, Koyaanisqatsi means "crazy life", "life in turmoil", "life out of balance", "life disintegrating", and "a state of life that calls for another way of living."

In 1972, Reggio, with Fricke, created a series of short films for the Institute for Regional Education (IRE), communicating the theme of invasion of privacy through a stream of images. With the failure to bring the films to national attention, and $40,000 remaining from the budget, Fricke convinced Reggio to produce a feature film as the next logical step. This led to the production of Koyaanisqatsi, marking Reggio's directorial debut. In 1975, principal photography began, with filming taking place throughout the United States in St. Louis, Los Angeles, New York City, and Santa Fe. Reggio and Fricke chose to shoot unscripted footage and edit it into an hour-long film. Reggio and Fricke used 16 mm film due to budget constraints, despite their preference to shoot with 35 mm film. As there was no formal script, Fricke shot whatever he felt would "look good on film". Reggio and Fricke utilised aerial photography, portrait photography, hand-held photography, and time-lapse photography. The footage was processed with a special chemical to enhance the film's shadows and details, as all footage was shot only with existing lighting. Halfway through filming, the film's budget was exhausted. The unedited footage was screened in Santa Fe to Fricke's dismay. Fricke then edited the footage into a twenty-minute reel, but "without regard for message or political content", whilst he was working in Los Angeles. In 1976, production resumed as the IRE was continuously receiving funding and was able to then shoot on 35 mm film. Additional photography was provided by Hilary Harris and Louis Schwartzberg, with stock footage provided by MacGillivray Freeman Films. The film utilised images and music instead of dialogue and/or vocalised narration. Reggio explained the lack of dialogue by stating "it's not for lack of love of the language that these films have no words. It's because, from my point of view, our language is in a state of vast humiliation. It no longer describes the world in which we live." The film took almost six years to complete, with three years dedicated to the score alone as a continually evolving process. Reggio originally wanted an uninterpretable symbol as the title of the film, but instead settled on Koyaanisqatsi. As he felt it "had no emotional baggage attached to it" due to its obscurity.

Koyaanisqatsi is an exquisite combination of sound and vision. The film shows the consequences of what we have done in the past and the danger of where we are heading. You'd be hard-pressed to find another movie that conveys the contrasts of life in the modern world more effectively.

Simon says Koyaanisqatsi receives:

Also, see my NZIFF review for Fire Will Come (O que arde).

NZIFF Film Review: "Fire Will Come" ("O que arde") (2019).

"A story of fire and sacrifice" comes Fire Will Come (O que arde). This drama film directed by Oliver Laxe and written by Laxe and Santiago Fillol. Amador is a notorious Galician arsonist who has been accused of causing a new fire. Lois, a young firefighter, explores the depths of a forest on fire. Their destinies are linked by the power of a mysterious fire.

The film stars Amador Arias Mon, Benedicta Sánchez, Inazio Brao, Nuria Sotelo, Rubén Gómez Coelho, Iván Yáñez and Luis Manuel Guerrero Sánchez. Certain scenes look as if they have been improvised on location and there is something exasperatingly non-committal and provisional about it. But it certainly looks wonderful partly thanks to the credible performances given by the cast.

Laxe favors long scenes, beautiful but slow-moving, of the caravan trudging through the immense landscape. When violence comes late in the film, the camera is so far away we can barely make out what is happening. Don't be afraid. Strengthen your faith. The film takes a rather circuitous route to a concisely unassuming but radical proposition. A movie that panders not at all to Western sensibilities, giving few pointers on a theme beyond the fortifying power of faith. For some viewers, that will be plenty. The cinematography impresses, particularly in long shots of the characters trudging through the snow or -- la Aguirre, the Wrath of God -- descending en masse from great heights. Mauro Herce's cinematography is stunning. There is a strange enchantment woven here. If the film speaks to you at all, you can expect to fall under its spell. An endurance test for anyone not especially keen on films packed with long shots of people traveling through landscapes for minutes at a time. Adventurous viewers are invited to take the road less travelled, and then some, in the film, an enigmatic mountain odyssey by Laxe. Perhaps this is the essence of the film; that self-discovery comes through experience, through daring, through pushing through to see what lies behind. None of them have any idea where this journey will take them, but it is what happens during and not the final destination that should matter to us, especially if Herce is in charge of filming the process. Despite offerings of the open landscapes of Spain, if there's a wild west in the film, it's internal and spiritual, the quest being for meaning in a world that, like the film, doesn't give easy answers. The land is glorious and forbidding and the soundtrack's howling winds whip up and exacerbate the feeling of isolation, but onwards they plod. A hypnotic and fascinating meditation on faith and religion that proposes the encounter of two different timelines (one possesses medieval echoes, while the other is situated in modernity). A film of imposing natural spaces and telluric faces of non-professional actors that fuses the mythical story and genre film with fantasy, western and adventure merging in strange harmony. A film where faith, generosity and the landscape form a story that goes in search of the miracle, as in the great adventures of life.

Simon says Fire Will Come (O que arde) receives:

Also, see my NZIFF review for Kind Hearts and Coronets.

Thursday, 25 July 2019

NZIFF Classic Film Review: "Kind Hearts and Coronets" (1949).

"A hilarious study in the gentle art of murder." This is Kind Hearts and Coronets. This British black comedy film directed by Robert Hamer, adapted by Hamer and John Dighton, and loosely based on the novel Israel Rank: The Autobiography of a Criminal by Roy Horniman. The film follows Louis D’Ascoyne, the would-be Duke of Chalfront. His mother was disinherited by her noble family for marrying beneath her. When her dying wish to be buried in the family crypt is refused, Louis vows to avenge his mother whilst at the same time gaining himself the title of Duke, by engaging in the gentle art of murder, killing off one by one each of the eight successors to the title.

In 1947, screenwriter Michael Pertwee suggested an adaptation of Horniman's novel. Screenwriter Simon Heffer observes that the plot of the source novel was dark in places and differed in several respects from the resulting film. The head of Ealing Studios, Michael Balcon, was initially unconvinced by the idea of the film; the studio's creative staff persuaded him to reconsider. Balcon chose Hamer as director. Hamer disliked Pertwee, who withdrew from the project, leaving the scriptwriting to Hamer and Dighton. By early September 1948, Alec Guinness, Dennis Price, Valerie Hobson, and Joan Greenwood were cast. Initially, Guinness was only offered four of the roles, but he insisted on playing all eight roles of The 8th Duke of Chalfont Ethelred, The Reverend Lord Henry, General Lord Rufus, Admiral Lord Horatio, Lord Ascoyne, Lady Agatha D'Ascoyne, Young Ascoyne and Young Henry. Guinness took his extensive roles very seriously, always showing up to work every day thoroughly professional and prepared. Playing eight different roles did come with its challenges, however. Of these, the Vicar D'Ascoyne was his personal favorite. At the same time, principal photography commenced and took place in Berkshire, Buckinghamshire, Kent and London, England. The scene where six members of the D'Ascoyne's family, all played by Guinness, are seen together, took two days to film. The camera was set on a specially built platform to minimize movement. In addition, the camera operator spent the night with the camera to ensure that nothing moved it by accident. A frame with six black matte painted optical flat glass windows was set in front of the camera, and the windows opened one at a time so each of the characters could be filmed in turn. The film was then wound back for the next character. Most of the time was spent waiting for Guinness to be made up as the next character.

The film stars Guinness, Price, Hobson, and Greenwood. The sly and adroit Mr. Guinness plays eight Edwardian fuddy-duds with such devastating wit and variety that he naturally dominates the film.

Drownings, explosions, and poisonings, their ethical status barely mentioned, let alone chastised, roll by like carriages in the park. The comedy is as black as widow's weeds. Artfulness is all. The most sophisticated and blackest of the Ealing comedies, Hamer's immaculate, serial-killer romp gives the splendid Guinness the roles of a lifetime.

Simon says Kind Hearts and Coronets receives:

Also, see my NZIFF review for Maria by Callas.

Tuesday, 23 July 2019

NZIFF Film Review: "Maria by Callas" (2017).

"The life story of the legend told completely in her own words." This is Maria by Callas. This French documentary film directed by Tom Volf. The film details an intimate look at the life and work of Greek-American opera singer Maria Callas, as told in her own words.

Leonard Bernstein called her "pure electricity", she was Maria Callas (December 2,1923 - September 16, 1977). The American-born Greek soprano was one of the most renowned and influential opera singers of the 20th century. Many critics praised her bel canto technique, wide-ranging voice and dramatic interpretations. Her repertoire ranged from classical opera seria to the bel canto operas of Donizetti, Bellini and Rossini and, further, to the works of Verdi and Puccini; and, in her early career, to the music dramas of Wagner. Her musical and dramatic talents led to her being hailed as La Divina. Born in New York City to Greek immigrant parents, she was raised by an overbearing mother who had wanted a son. Maria received her musical education in Greece at age 13 and later established her career in Italy. Forced to deal with the exigencies of 1940s wartime poverty and with near-sightedness that left her nearly blind onstage, she endured struggles and scandal over the course of her career. She turned herself from a heavy woman into a svelte and glamorous one after a mid-career weight loss, which might have contributed to her vocal decline and the premature end of her career. The press exulted in publicising Callas's temperamental behaviour, her supposed rivalry with Renata Tebaldi and her love affair with Greek shipping tycoon Aristotle Onassis. Although her dramatic life and personal tragedy have often overshadowed Callas the artist in the popular press, her artistic achievements and her influence have endured. In 2006, Opera News wrote of her: "Nearly thirty years after her death, she's still the definition of the diva as artist - and still one of classical music's best-selling vocalists."

Maria by Callas pays entertaining tribute to a towering cultural figure with a documentary whose evident affection for its subject proves contagious. The film serves as a vivid reminder of just how huge a role the great soprano played for a generation. The film paints a picture of a complicated woman, but it hits the high notes: the performances, the cheers, the adulation. Consider it a greatest hits. As the film demonstrates, while the music was mesmerising, so was the woman. A standard documentary about a famous person, but oh my gosh the singing is just incredible and I like the way they let the singing go for a long time. The film shows us why she was such a cultural force, and why nobody has filled the void she left behind. See it, if for no other reason than to learn the significance of her magnificent voice. The film confirms, but doesn't much augment, what we already know, it was a heck of a life and Volf traces it reverently.

Simon says Maria by Callas receives:

Also, see my NZIFF review for Andrei Rublev (Андрей Рублёв).

Monday, 22 July 2019

NZIIA Seminar: 'The Origins of the New Cold War.'

For over a decade, the US and China have made weekly headlines with their ongoing dispute across many areas, particularly economic and military. With tonight’s lecturer, Dr Charles Edel, we have reviewed the current dynamics of this Sino-American competition.

From 1945 to 47, the relationship between the US and the Soviet Union went from being a productive, if not, tense wartime alliance to a geo-political and ideological rivalry which would go on to span for multiple decades. Thus the Cold War was born. This was largely thanks to the Soviet Union’s desire to encompass large portions of both Europe and Asia. This was due to their expansionist, Marxist/Leninist mindset, as well as Stalin’s own insecurities. This thus led to the US’s efforts for continuing cooperation to be continuously rejected and rebuffed, with very little effort the US could make to appease Stalin. This is referred as the Neo Orthodox Interpretation. On the other hand, some have blamed the downturn on the US for their own desire to push their ideology, and blatantly ignoring Russian concerns and interests. But a third view argued that this was simply inevitable as two superpowers, with different histories, systems and concepts for world peace, were never going to meet eye-to-eye, especially after an event such as World War II.

As tensions rise between Beijing and Washington DC, there has been a growing fear of a new Cold War on the horizon. "A multi-decade contest to shape an international order", in Dr Edel's words. With this, questions have been mounting, especially who and/or what is responsible for this downslope in relations. But it is not an easy nor is it a simple answer. Because depending on your understanding on the policies involved, there are multiple answers or interpretations. One interpretation is that Washington should stop provoking Beijing. Another is that Xi Jinping’s government has become increasingly ambitious, aggressive and authoritarian. Which then leads to comparing Xi Jinping’s to Stalin in regards to personality and policies. Thirdly, and finally, that this contest was ultimately inevitable due to the fall of the Soviet Union and China’s growing fears of the US’s desire for ideological influence over Southeast Asia as China’s power grows. Thus making it impossible for China’s government to feel secure, and for the Washington to appease Beijing.

Though the similarities and differences between US’s relationship between Russia and China are vast, Dr Edel argues that the analogy presented holds a key for policy makers today. Dr Edel iterated that strong security arrangements, backed up by full military power, are likely to harden any feelings of antagonism and suspicion, and preserving peace. Furthermore, all politicians must understand the nature of the competition being geo-political and ideological. Dr Edel asserted that Xi Jinping’s China is not Joseph Stalin’s Soviet Union, but he asserted that China is continuing to undermine democracy with its authoritarian regime. An authoritarian, oppressive and technologically adept state such as China will always continue to protect its ideologies from the US and its allies.

Dr Edel is a Yale College and Yale University graduate with a BA in Classics and a PhD in History. At the US Naval War College, he was associate professor of strategy and policy. Moreover, he served on the US Secretary of State’s policy planning staff from 2015 to 2017. In that role, he advised Secretary of State John Kerry on political and security issues in the Asia Pacific region. Currently, he is a senior Fellow at the United States Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, Australia. He is the author of Nation Builder: John Quincy Adams and the Grand Strategy of the Republic, as well as The Lessons of Tragedy: Statecraft and World Order. In addition to his scholarly publications, his writings have appeared in The New York Times, Foreign Affairs, Foreign Policy, The American Interest, and various other outlets.

Also, see the previous seminar here.

NZIFF Film Review: "In Fabric" (2018).

From the director of The Duke of Burgundy and Berberian Sound Studio comes In Fabric. This British horror comedy film written and directed by Peter Strickland. The film is a haunting ghost story set against the backdrop of a busy winter sales period in a department store and follows the life of a cursed dress as it passes from person to person, with devastating consequences.

By September 2017, the film was announced with Strickland directing from a screenplay he wrote with Marianne Jean-Baptiste to star. Blue Bear Rook Films, Bankside Films, BBC Films and British Film Institute would finance and produce. By late October, Hayley Squires, Leo Bill, Gwendoline Christie, Julian Barratt, Steve Oram, Barry Adamson, Jaygann Ayeh, Richard Bremmer, Fatma Mohamed, and Sidse Babett Knudsen rounded out the film's cast. At the same time, principal photography commenced, and wrapped in late November. Filming took place in London and Kent, England.

The film stars Jean-Baptiste, Squires, Bill, Christie, Barratt, Oram, Adamson, Ayeh, Bremmer, Mohamed, and Knudsen. I have never encountered anything quite so auditorily menacing. I promise you have never seen, or heard, anything like it, and the cast's performance, especially that of Jean-Baptiste, are fantastically gripping.

In Fabric is a stand-out film that is seriously weird and seriously good. Its reach may exceed its grasp, but with In Fabric, director Peter Strickland assembles a suitably twisted, creepy tribute to British horror cinema, especially that of Hammer Horror movies of the '70s that benefits from a strong central performance by Marianne Jean-Baptise. While it's a loving homage to movies like Terence Fisher and is crafted with tons of style, it leaves out one key ingredient: being even remotely scary. A sometimes interesting, sometimes head-scratching movie that pays homage to the old ways of the sound mixing world and to the Hammer Horror films that was less prominent in British during the 1970s. If you're open to films that fearlessly twist the conventions, and that mine the language of sound and image for their own strange potential, you'll get a kick from this rivetingly inventive, abrasively un-British piece of nightmare cinema. People meet horrific ends at the hands of a cursed dress in this chiller, a down-the-earhole psychodrama where what you hear is more terrifying than what you see. It not only exploits one of cinema's most important modes, it also attempts something more difficult: turning a genre movie into a work of art. The film is definitely unique with some wonderful moments that nail what Strickland is going for, but it's too uneven to be something truly great. Strangely accessible for a ghost story art-house film; a pleasure from beginning to end, with lavish attention to detail. This is a real cinephile's delight - with Strickland almost gorging on the four cinematic elements of sound (quite literally), cinematography, editing and mise en scène. You have to hand it to the film for originality. Strickland has created a sublime piece of cinema that is intelligent, comic and one of the most profoundly disturbing films to be seen in recent years.

Simon says In Fabric receives:

Also, see my NZIFF review for Andrei Rublev (Андрей Рублёв).

Sunday, 21 July 2019

NZIFF Classic Film Review: "Andrei Rublev" ("Андрей Рублёв") (1969).

From Andrei Tarkovsky, comes his sophomore effort, Andrei Rublev (Андрей Рублёв). This Soviet biographical historical drama film directed by Tarkovsky, co-written by Tarkovsky and Andrei Konchalovsky, and loosely based on the life of the 15th-century Russian icon painter of the same name. The film explores the life, times and afflictions of the fifteen century Russian painter of religious icons.

In 1961, during the making of his debut film Ivan's Childhood (1962), Tarkovsky pitched the film to Mosfilm. In December 1963, the treatment was approved. Tarkovsky and Konchalovsky then spent more than two years on the script, studying medieval writings, history and art with Savva Yamshchikov, a famous Russian restorer and art historian, as the film's consultant. Tarkovsky did not intend the film to be a historical or a biographical film. Instead, he was motivated by the idea of showing the connection between a creative character's personality and the times through which he lives. He wanted to show an artist's maturing and the development of his talent. He chose Andrei Rublev for his importance in the history of Russian culture. In April 1964 the script was approved and Tarkovsky began working on the film. Livanov was ultimately cast in the title role. In April 1965, with a budget of 1 million Rubles, principal photography commenced. Filming took place in Vladimir/Suzdal, Pskov, Izborsk and Pechory, as well as the Nerl River. The production was plagued with budget restrictions and turbulent weather. This resulted in several scenes from the script being cut, the shoot being disrupted from November 1965 to April 1966, and the budget ballooned to 1.3 million Rubles. In July 1966, the first cut of the film, known as The Passion According to Andrei (Страсти по Андрею, Strasty po Andryeyo), which ran over three hours and fifteen minutes, was completed. However, due to its length, negativity, violence, nudity and themes, cuts were demanded by the Soviet Union and was ultimately not released domestically until five years later. It was finally shown at the 1969 Cannes Film Festival. The released cut was trimmed down to three hours and six minutes and was retitled. Several versions of the film were made, including a U.S. version and a censored by the Soviet Union. Although censorship obscured and truncated the film for many years following its release, the film was soon recognised by many critics and filmmakers as a highly original and accomplished work. Since being restored to its original version, the film has come to be regarded as one of the greatest films of all time.

The film stars Anatoly Solonitsyn, Nikolai Grinko, Ivan Lapikov, Nikolai Sergeyev, Nikolai Burlyayev, and Irma Raush. Profound performances were given by the cast despite their dialogue being delivered in a deadpan manner.

Even though the story was sparse, the drama gloomy, the length of the film long as eternity, Tarkovsky has mixed daring with poetry in making Andrei Rublev. He shows the Russian figure as an individual troubled with the doubts and complexities of life and religion.

Simon says Andrei Rublev receives:

Also, see my NZIFF review for Apocalypse Now: Final Cut.

NZIFF Film Review: "Apocalypse Now: Final Cut" (2019).

"The Horror. . . The Horror. . ." This is Apocalypse Now: Final Cut. This epic war film produced and directed by Francis Ford Coppola, co-written by Coppola and John Milius, and loosely based on the 1899 novella Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad. The setting was changed from late 19th-century Congo to the Vietnam War (1969–70). The film follows Captain Benjamin L. Willard, who is on a secret mission to assassinate Colonel Kurtz, a renegade Army officer accused of murder and who is presumed insane.

In the late 1960s, inspired by Heart of Darkness and encouraged by George Lucas and Steven Spielberg, Milius became interested in writing a Vietnam War film. He had read the novel when he was a teenager and was reminded about it by one of his college lecturers who had mentioned the several unsuccessful attempts to adapt it into a movie. He wanted to use Conrad's novel as "a sort of allegory. It would have been too simple to have followed the book completely." Milius wrote ten drafts, amounting to over a thousand pages, and changed the title from The Psychedelic Soldier to Apocalypse Now. He was influenced by the article The Battle for Khe Sanh written by Michael Herr, which referred to drugs, rock 'n' roll, and people calling airstrikes down on themselves, and Dr. Strangelove (1964). Milius felt that Lucas was the right person to direct. Lucas worked with him for four years developing the film. Lucas approached the script as a black comedy, and intended to shoot the film after THX 1138 (1971). Location scouts began in the Philippines, Vietnam and California. Lucas envisioned the film to be shot on a $2 million budget cinéma vérité style, using 16 mm cameras, and real soldiers, while the war was still going on. However, due to Warner Bros' concerns, the failure of THX 1138, and Lucas' involvement with American Graffiti (1973) and Star Wars (1977), the project was ultimately shelved. In the early 1970s, Coppola expressed interest and eventually decided to take on the project. He envisioned the film as a definitive statement on the nature of modern war, the difference between good and evil, and the impact of American society on the rest of the world. 

In 1975, Coppola began scouting locations in northern Queensland, Australia, but ultimately settled on the Philippines. Coppola revised the script with Milius and began negotiated with United Artists to secure financing. In early 1976, Coppola had persuaded Marlon Brando to play Kurtz for an enormous fee of $3.5 million. Coppola then secured a $15.5 million budget with Marlon Brando and Harvey Keitel attached to star. Robert Duvall, Frederic Forrest, Albert Hall, Sam Bottoms, Laurence Fishburne, G. D. Spradlin, Harrison Ford, and Dennis Hopper rounded out the cast. In early March 1976, principal photography commenced for a five month shoot. Filming took place in Manila and Iba, and was plagued with problems. Firstly, within a few days, Coppola was dissatisfied with Keitel, and ultimately replaced Keitel with Martin Sheen. In late May, Typhoon Olga hit the sets in Iba, and the production was closed down. This resulted in the shoot being six weeks behind schedule and $2 million over budget, with most of the cast and crew returning to the United States for six to eight weeks until issues were resolved. Coppola had to offer his car, house, Napa Valley winery, and The Godfather profits as security to finish the film. Afterwards, Brando arrived in Manila very overweight and completely unprepared. Coppola began working with Brando to shoot around his weight gain and rewrite the ending. In early 1977, production resumed. In early March, Sheen suffered a heart attack, and struggled for a quarter of a mile to reach help, but returned to work in late April. During the interim, his brother Joe Estevez filled in for him and provided voice overs needed for his character. In late May, a problematic sixteen-month production, principal photography finally wrapped. 

Problems continued after production as Coppola edited a million-two-hundred-and-fifty-thousand feet / two-hundred-and-thirty hours of film. In January 1978, Herr was asked to work on the film's narration due to Coppola's dissatisfaction of the original narration. In May, Coppola postponed the opening until Spiring 1979. In April 1979, "a work in progress" was screen to a lukewarm reception. That same year, he was invited to screen the film at the Cannes Film Festival. Despite objections from United Artists, Coppola agreed to screen the film. On May 10, 1979, the incomplete film premiered at Cannes to a lukewarm reception, but was honoured with the Palme d'Or. On August 15, 1979, the film was released. The film was a commercial success, grossing $78 million domestically and over $150 million worldwide. The initial reviews were mixed. Today the film is considered to be one of the greatest films ever made. It was nominated for eight Academy Awards at the 52nd Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Director, and went on to win for Best Cinematography and Best Sound. In 2000, the film was selected for preservation in the National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically or aesthetically significant". An extended cut of the film was released in 2001 as Apocalypse Now Redux. Redux restores forty-nine minutes cut from the original cut. For the 40th anniversary, the film was restored in spectacular 4K resolution personally supervised by Coppola. The Final Cut has a runtime of three hours and two minutes, with Coppola having cut 20 minutes of the added material from Redux. It is also the first time the film has been restored from the original camera negative. In April 2019, the film screened at the Tribeca Film Festival.

The film stars Brando, Sheen, Duvall, Forrest, Hall, Bottoms, Fishburne Hopper, Spradlin, and Ford. Tour de force performances were given by the cast, especially Brando and Sheen, who both personified the film's theme of descent into madness.

Apocalypse Now: Final Cut presents Coppola at his finest—and makes some remarkably advanced arguments about the Vietnam War's role in society that still resonate today.

Simon says Apocalypse Now: Final Cut receives:

Also, see my NZIFF review for The Farewell.

Friday, 19 July 2019

NZIFF Film Review: "The Farewell" (2019).

"Based on an Actual Lie." This is The Farewell. This comedy-drama film written and directed by Lulu Wang. Chinese-born, U.S.-raised Billi reluctantly returns to Changchun to find that, although the whole family knows their beloved matriarch, Nai-Nai, has been given mere weeks to live, everyone has decided not to tell Nai Nai herself. To assure her happiness, they gather under the joyful guise of an expedited wedding, uniting family members scattered among new homes abroad. As Billi navigates a minefield of family expectations and proprieties, she finds there’s a lot to celebrate: a chance to rediscover the country she left as a child, her grandmother’s wondrous spirit, and the ties that keep on binding even when so much goes unspoken.

The film was based on an story initially shared on This American Life. Wang said that the film was based on her grandmother's illness, stating that "I always felt the divide in my relationship to my family versus my relationship to my classmates and to my colleagues and to the world that I inhabit. That's just the nature of being an immigrant and straddling two cultures." In June 2018, principal photography commenced and wrapped after twenty-four days, with filming taking place in Changchun, China and New York. In an interview with Filmmaker, cinematographer Anna Franquesa Solano stated that the references for the film included Force Majeure (2014) and Still Walking (2008). However, she added that her main source of inspiration came from "spending time with Lulu's family at their home in Changchun, during pre-production."

The film stars Awkwafina, Tzi Ma, Diana Lin, Zhao Shuzhen, Lu Hong, Jiang Yongbo, Chen Han, and Aoi Mizuhara. The Acting is uniformly great, the players conveying as much of their struggles using body language as with words. But the most mind-blowing performance came from Awkwafina, who has come a long way since her days of making amateur music videos like My Vag.

With The Farewell, Wang has created a heartfelt celebration of both the way we perform family and the way we live it, masterfully interweaving a gently humorous depiction of the good lie in action with a richly moving story of how family can unite and strengthen us, often in spite of ourselves. Wang's darkly comedic family drama, set mainly in China, is a farewell to a family member without a farewell. The film is a gripping and deftly observed drama that adds caustic condemnation through its embracing of humour. Ultimately, the film becomes a thoughtful examination, through Billi, of the person who lives inside each of us, emerging only in the most unguarded moments - and not always a person we want to acknowledge. The film is incredibly thought-provoking and a frequently funny study of the Asian family dynamic. Wang's almost sage-like understanding of what makes modern families tick places her and this wonderful film in the league of Asian-American grand master, Ang Lee, and you can't ask for higher praise than that. Wang and her superb cast have made an odd, yet surprisingly relatable movie. Let it rock your world.

Simon says The Farewell receives:

Also, see my NZIFF review for Monos.

NZIFF Film Review: "Monos" (2019).

From the director of Porfirio comes Monos. This Colombian war drama film directed by Alejandro Landes, and written by Landes and Alexis Dos Santos. On a faraway mountaintop, eight teenaged guerillas with guns watch over a hostage and a conscripted milk cow. Playing games and initiating cult-like rituals, the children run amok in the jungle and disaster strikes when the hostage tries to escape.

Lord of the Flies (1954), Heart of Darkness (1899)Come and See (1985) and Beau Travail (1999) served as influences for the film. By late 2016, Julianne Nicholson and Moisés Arias were cast. More than eight hundred children across Colombia were considered for the main roles of child soldiers. First, twenty to thirty were chosen to participate in a weeks-long camp in mountains, where they received acting training from Argentine actress Inés Efron in the morning, and military training from Wilson Salazar in the afternoon, and the final eight were cast among them. Salazar was a FARC soldier from eleven to twenty-four, and Landes found him at one of the reinsertion programmes Landes visited for research. Landes first hired Salazar as a consultant before casting him as the Messenger. The role of Rambo, who goes by Matt, was originally written to be a boy, but Landes made its gender ambiguous during the casting process. Ultimately, Sofía Buenaventura was cast. The film marked the big screen debuts of the main actors aside from Arias and Nicholson. Karen Quintero and Laura Castrillón had acting experience in theatre. Since this film, Buenaventura and Giraldo have continued acting in film. At the same time, principal photography commenced, and lasted nine weeks. Filming took place throughout Columbia. The mountain scenes were shot in Chingaza National Natural Park, four hours outside of Bogotá and more than four thousand m (thirteen thousand ft) above sea level. The jungle scenes were shot around the Samaná Norte River in Antioquia Department, five hours from Medellín. According to cinematographer Jasper Wolf, both locations had never been captured on film before. Mica Levi came on board after seeing an unfinished cut. Landes asked Levi for a "monumental, but minimal" score. Levi first made short compositions involving whistles, made by Levi blowing into a glass bottle herself, timpani, and a synthesizer sound, around which further compositions were built. Different sounds were assigned to represent various characters: a shrill bottle whistle became the "authority whistle", evoking the presence of the Organization; a bird-like whistle represented the bond among the child soldiers; and timpani accompanied with the authority whistle represented "the shadowy force that tries to control the group from a distance". The score is used sparingly throughout the film, taking up only twenty-two minutes.

The true surprise in the film is how little these child actors actually don't feel like 'child actors'. With few exceptions, the acting rarely seems to be forced or flat. This practiced, well-honed craft aids Landes’ vision of a documentary approach that pulls the viewer into each scene.

Alejandro Landes' haunting, hallucinatory War drama epic is cinema at its most audacious and visionary.

Simon says Monos receives:

Also, see my review for Elle.

Wednesday, 17 July 2019

Film Review: "The Lion King" (2019).

"The king has returned" in The Lion King. This musical drama film directed by Jon Favreau, adapted by Jeff Nathanson, based on 1994 Disney animated classic. In the African savanna, a future king is born. Simba idolises his father, King Mufasa, and takes to heart his own royal destiny. But not everyone in the kingdom celebrates the new cub’s arrival. Scar, Mufasa’s brother—and former heir to the throne—has plans of his own. The battle for Pride Rock is ravaged with betrayal, tragedy and drama, ultimately resulting in Simba’s exile. With help from a curious pair of newfound friends, Simba will have to figure out how to grow up and take back what is rightfully his.

In late September 2016, following the success of The Jungle Book, plans for a remake of The Lion King was announced by Disney with Favreau in the director's chair, and would feature songs from the original film by Elton John and Tim Rice. In early October, Disney brought on Nathanson to pen the script. In November, Disney and Favreau stated that the film will utilise the "technologically groundbreaking" approach used for The Jungle Book. In addition to the 1994 film, the film was also inspired by the Broadway adaptation. Favreau aimed to develop his own take with what he said was "the spectacle of a BBC wildlife documentary". In mid 2017, production commended on a blue screen soundstage in Los Angeles. By early November, Donald Glover, Seth Rogen, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Alfre Woodard, Billy Eichner, John Kani, John Oliver, JD McCrary, Shahadi Wright Joseph and Beyoncé Knowles-Carter rounded out the film's cast as Simba, Pumbaa, Scar, Sarabi, Timon, Rafiki, Zazu, Young Simba, Young Nala and Nala, with James Earl Jones reprising his original role as Mufasa. It was also announced that the original film's composer, Hans Zimmer would return to score the film. The Moving Picture Company, who previously worked on The Jungle Book, provided the visual effects, under the supervision of Robert Legato, Elliot Newman and Adam Valdez. In late November 2018, the first teaser trailer and the official teaser poster debuted during the annual Dallas Cowboys' Thanksgiving day game. The trailer was viewed 224.6 million times in its first 24 hours.

The film stars the voice talents of Glover, Rogen, Ejiofor, Woodard, Eichner, Kani, Oliver, Knowles-Carter, and Jones. Despite the stellar new cast, they are no match against the original, and more powerful, cast. Jones' performance this time round seemed rather phoned-in and just did it for the hefty pay cheque.

The Lion King stumbles as it is too committed to being a near-shot-for-shot remake instead of going in a new and different direction. Favreau relies too heavily on the film's animated predecessor for plot, characterisation, songs, and set pieces, when he should have concentrated more on his own coherent vision. The better these talking animals look, the more the film resembles a gorgeous screen saver. You can admire it, but you can't lose yourself in it.

Simon says The Lion King (2019) receives:

Also, see my review for The Jungle Book (2016) and Aladdin (2019).

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 opposite sides 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 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 Institute 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.