Thursday, 22 June 2017

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

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

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

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

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

Simon says Transformers: The Last Knight receives:

Sunday, 18 June 2017

Film Review: "Despicable Me 3" (2017).

"Oh Brother." It's Despicable Me 3. This 3D computer-animated comedy film directed by Pierre Coffin & Kyle Balda, co-directed by Eric Guillon, written by Cinco Paul and Ken Daurio and produced by Illumination Entertainment. It is the third installment in the Despicable Me film series, and the sequel to Despicable Me 2 (2013). Gru meets his long-lost charming, cheerful, and more successful twin brother Dru who wants to team up with him for one last criminal heist.

Steve Burke, the NBCUniversal CEO, confirmed in September 2013 that a third instalment in the Despicable Me series was in development. Cinco Paul and Ken Daurio, the writers of the first two films, announced that they would return to write the screenplay for the film. By April 2016, the original cast were confirmed to return, alongside with the additional casting of Trey Parker, co-creator of South Park, as the main antagonist for the film, Balthazar Bratt. The antagonist's name is a tribute to actor Benjamin Bratt, who had previously voiced the villain, El Macho, from the previous film. Steve Carell said that Despicable Me 3 may be his last film as the voice of Gru. However, Carell stated that if he was asked to do a cameo in any future Minion sequels, he happily would. Agnes's voice actress Elsie Fisher from the first and second movies was replaced by Nev Scharrel due to Fisher getting too old for the role.

It stars the voice talents of Steve Carell, Kristen Wiig, Miranda Cosgrove, Steve Coogan, Julie Andrews, Jenny Slate and Trey Parker. The previous cast gave terrific performances that has the same qualities as their previous performance. As for Mr. Parker, he gave an incredible performance of a character who has surpassed the previous antagonists in terms of comic villainy and memorability. Parker was an absolute show-stealer.

Despicable Me 3, unlike its previous instalment, boasts the requisite dramatic richness that adds to the animated fun for the whole family. The film offers a fun-filled, action-packed conclusion to Illumination's endearing animated series. With a plethora of less-than-ambitious animated options, or a lack there of, out there, the film is a good addition to the summer slate. Being a good addition justifies the money (and time) required for a viewing. At times, it's a dramatically rich movie, filled with likable characters, as well as digestible gags, that should keep kids smiling and giggling. In spite of its abundant action – and for all the mashups, this is as much an action-adventure animated movie as it is a funny animated movie – is a pretty relaxing experience, even for the adult viewer. The film's story is complete enough to reward steady viewers and just simple enough for parent escorts to enjoy without much prior knowledge. While the storyline, in which Carell's villain-turned Anti-Villain League agent is reunited with his long lost twin brother, doesn’t quite fulfill its promises, visually speaking, dramatically speaking it’s quite impressive — one of those very rare animated features that completely justifies its viewing. In the end, while generally entertaining, this third instalment of the Illumination Entertainment franchise is a comedown from the first entry.

Simon says Despicable Me 3 receives:

Thursday, 8 June 2017

NZIIA Seminar: 'Recalibrating New Zealand's Small State Foreign Policy.'

With factors such as a rising China, Brexit and the Trump presidency, New Zealand’s future is come into question with all these signals of change. New Zealand’s independent foreign policy has served the country well, but may now require some modification. Which was the focus of last night’s seminar presented by Professor Alan Tidwell (director of the Centre for Australian, New Zealand and Pacific Studies at the Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University).

Using the three Bs (Bandwagoning, Balancing, and Being Neutral), Professor Tidwell "pitched" his ideas and views on New Zealand’s challenge is to create a foreign policy response while maintaining foreign policy independence with the changing and challenging environment they are in. In his words, New Zealand is somewhere between Bandwagoning and Balancing, as they ally themselves with the United States and China (in a somewhat minor capacity), as well as being able to maintain its own interests such as its relations with its indigenous populace and the rest of the Pacific. Professor Tidwell emphasized that an important element of New Zealand’s stance and independence is maintaining access and relevance to great powers. Strengthening New Zealand’s peace-making capacity may provide the best way forward in adjusting to the international changes while keeping true to New Zealand’s foreign policy goals. He suggested that New Zealand could achieve a higher and more important position by continuing to be a successful player in indigenous policies and maintain its relations. Despite problems in trying to maintain and being a successful player in that game. In addition, New Zealand needs to step up its game in trying to gain a prominent stance by paying more attention to more international issues and gaining stronger relations with China and U.S., whilst reducing its efforts in the Pacific. Finally, New Zealand needs to play more of the intermediary role like its Scandinavian role models such, Switzerland and Norway (both of whom played the role very well).

To those who are curious to gain better insight into last night’s speaker, prior to becoming the director of the Centre for Australian, New Zealand and Pacific Studies at the Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University, Professor Tidwell was a program officer with the United States Institute of Peace, where he specialized in conflict resolution and capacity building in Southeast Asia. His work focused particularly on the peace processes in Mindanao and Aceh. Tidwell collaborated with scholars from these conflict-affected regions to develop conflict resolution curriculum programs. In 1992 Tidwell, a Washington D.C. native, moved to Sydney, Australia where he was a lecturer in the Centre for Conflict Resolution at Macquarie University. Later, he moved to Sydney University where he became the research director of the Australian Centre for American Studies. At Sydney University Tidwell focused on enhancing the Australian American relationship through research and public education. He returned to Macquarie University as a senior lecturer at the Graduate School of Management, specializing in conflict resolution and negotiation. He holds a PhD. in international relations from the University of Kent, a Masters in professional ethics from the University of New South Wales, and a Masters degree in conflict management from George Mason University.

Thursday, 1 June 2017

Film Review: "Wonder Woman" (2017).

"Power. Grace. Wisdom. Wonder."
These attributes all perfectly describe Wonder Woman. This superhero film based on the DC Comics character of the same name. It is the fourth installment in the DC Extended Universe, as well as being the first live action theatrical film based on the character, following her first live action theatrical appearance in 2016's Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. The film is directed by Patty Jenkins and written by Allan Heinberg. Before she was Wonder Woman, she was Diana, princess of the Amazons, trained to be an unconquerable warrior. Raised on a sheltered island paradise, when an American pilot crashes on their shores and tells of a massive conflict raging in the outside world, Diana leaves her home, convinced she can stop the threat. Fighting alongside men in a war to end all wars, Diana will discover her full powers and her true destiny.

Development for the film was on-going since 1996, when Ivan Reitman was hired to write and direct. In 2001, Todd Alcott was hired to pen a script for Joel Silver. In 2003, Laeta Kalogridis replaced Alcott and was hired for rewrites. In 2005, Joss Whedon was hired to not only write but also direct the film, but in 2007, he left due to creative differences. In 2014, Kathryn Bigelow, Catherine Hardwicke, Mimi Leder, Karyn Kusama, Julie Taymor, Tricia Brock and Nicolas Winding Refn were considered to direct the film before Michelle MacLaren was given the job. However, in 2015, MacLaren dropped out of the project due to creative differences. In 2015, Patty Jenkins replaced MacLaren. Ironically, in 2005, Jenkins was originally in talks with WB to replace Whedon as director, but due to her unexpected pregnancy, she had to step down. Jenkins claimed that Wonder Woman is the film she's been wanting to do her whole life and that she was fortunate to come back to it. This made Jenkins the first female director to helm a female led superhero film. Angelina Jolie, Beyoncé Knowles, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Charisma Carpenter, Christina Hendricks, Eliza Dushku, Elodie Yung, Eva Green, Jessica Biel, Kate Beckinsale, Kristen Stewart, Lucy Lawless, Megan Fox, Mischa Barton, Morena Baccarin, Nadia Bjorlin, Olga Kurylenko, Priyanka Chopra, Rachel Bilson, Sandra Bullock, Sarah Michelle Gellar and wrestler Chyna were all considered to play the role of Wonder Woman throughout the years before Gal Gadot landed the coveted role. The film takes inspiration from the New 52 portrayal and origin of Wonder Woman, where is she depicted as a demigoddess, the daughter of Zeus. The filmmakers also cited Superman (1978), Batman Begins (2005), the Indiana Jones series, Casablanca (1942) and The Little Mermaid (1989) as influences. Principal photography began in November 2015, before filming wrapped in May 2016 (the same month Wonder Woman creator, William Moulton Marston was born), under the working title Nightingale. Filming took place throughout the United Kingdom, France, and Italy. For the look of the film, Jenkins and cinematographer Matt Jensen revealed that they were inspired by painter John Singer Sargent. Additional filming also took place in November 2016 while Gadot was five months pregnant. A green cloth was placed over her stomach to edit out her pregnancy during post-production.

The film stars Gal Gadot as the titular character with Chris Pine, Robin Wright, Danny Huston, David Thewlis, Connie Nielsen and Elena Anaya in supporting roles. The cast all gave spectacular and powerful performances, especially that of Gadot. Gadot has, without a shred of doubt, single-handedly laid to rest my concerns whether or not she can carry her own franchise. The answer is a resounding YES. Gadot has just the right touch of strength and femininity. She really is Wonder Woman. Gadot is perfectly cast in the role. Any poor choice would have ruined the film. Gadot makes the character her own, while also reminding us of why we love the character. She's definitely pulled off an amazing performance as the first cinematic incarnation of the titular Amazon. I can not wait for her future films. Bravo Ms. Gadot! She and Pine had great on-screen chemistry where their personalities and ideologies suited for each other's characters, and is what made their dynamics interesting. However, despite the amazing performances, there were characters that were not completely without flaws. This regards the villains played by Huston, Anaya and Thewlis, who all suffered the same razor-thin characterisation found in Marvel films, despite the three actors giving their best.

Wonder Woman brilliantly blends humour and gravitas, taking advantage of the perfectly cast Gadot to craft a loving cinematic tribute to an American pop culture feminist icon. I was more than delighted to see the titular Amazon on the big screen. I got chills. The film is a pure delight, a wondrous combination of all the old-fashioned things we never really get tired of: adventure and romance, heroes and villains, earthshaking special effects and wit. Fantastical and gritty, but also exciting and fun, this is a film that understands the essence of one of the definitive superheroes. Director Jenkins and Screenwriter Heinberg's work in creating understanding into who Wonder Woman is and what motivates her must be applauded. They have accomplished something that the original TV series had somewhat lacked. It's the gritty, Greek-God mythology quality of the film that makes this comic-book fantasy soar. By keeping the spectacular possibilities open throughout the entire film, from the opening scene, and the subsequent growth to womanhood of the titular Amazon princess in the middle of war-torn Europe, the film allows Diana's naiveté and knowingness to coexist. There's no doubt that, at times, it's a flawed movie, but it is still nonetheless one of the most wonderfully entertaining movies made in recent years. It's exactly what comic book fans hoped it would be. It is arguably one of the most solid 'origin' and emotion-churning superhero stories on the big screen. In the end, it is absolutely, without a single thought of hesitation, one of the best films of the year, and one of the best superhero films of all time.

Simon says Wonder Woman receives:

Thursday, 25 May 2017

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, 23 May 2017

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

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

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

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

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

Simon says King Arthur: Legend of the Sword receives: