Canadian Gambling Industry is Working Towards Crypto Adoption

Canada has set its sights on the most popular cryptocurrency on the market, Bitcoin, as it aims to replace China as the world’s leading Bitcoin mining population. With Bitcoin interest and adoption high among Canadians, trying to appeal to the global Bitcoin mining industry seems like a natural fit for the forward-thinking country. Canada’s online casino industry is a prime example of a sector that has gradually broadened its scope to include players who like to gamble in the cryptocurrency, too, and more sectors want in. Let’s take a look.

China Cracking down on Bitcoin Miners

China used to be at the forefront of the international Bitcoin mining market, as many mining companies are based in the country. As mining, which includes digitally verifying transaction records of newly minted Bitcoins and getting rewarded in the cryptocurrency, requires a significantly high amount of energy to be carried out, Chinese authorities became worried about excessive electrical energy spending. Even though the Bitcoin system was devised as a decentralized platform on all fronts, the biggest chunk of mining is conducted by five mining pools that are owned by a handful of companies which control 75% of the global market. In 2017, mining required more energy than almost 160 countries combined. As energy usage seemed to soar, China decided to crack down on the industry, driving Bitcoin mining companies to seek relocation on friendlier terms. As the change in policy was long-anticipated, some of them had already mitigated risks by moving infrastructure and operations outside of the Asian country.

Canada Ready to Lure Mining Companies to Quebec

Canada seems like a prime location to move to, as the country’s energy industry has put forward proposals that seem beneficial for both sides. Quebec in particular has been spearheading the lobbying, as the country hopes to put its surplus energy supplies to good use in return for tax revenue and a boost to the region’s and the country’s economy. As one of the leading producers of hydroelectric power across the globe, Quebec carries a lot of traction in the negotiations, as it has cheap excess energy to offer. Hydro Quebec is currently lobbying with roughly 30 significant cryptocurrency mining companies who are thinking of moving operations there, while Bitmain, the biggest blockchain miner worldwide, has already set up shop in the country, followed by BTC.Top, another crucial player in the mining sector. Other countries like Bhutan, Venezuela, Chile and Kazakhstan (already a mining hub) are following Canada’s lead in trying to lure miners.

Canadian Gambling Industry Gradually Endorses Bitcoin

It seems that Canada will stay comfortably at the head of this race, as it has seen the cryptocurrency accepted across a number of sectors in the country, and very prominently its online gambling industry. Although gambling in Bitcoin carries significant advantages for online casino players, such as anonymity and speed, it has not yet been adopted consistently across the industry – for example, a Lucky247 review of the major popular online casino, reveals that payouts and bonuses are still set largely in US dollars, as many players prefer dealing in familiar fiat currencies to play games such as slots, blackjack, roulette and so on. Yet things are moving in that respect and more and more online casinos are offering the option to make deposits and take payouts in Bitcoin. With mining companies relocating to Canada, this trend will probably go upwards.

As China continues to battle the mining industry, it only remains to be seen how Canada will benefit from this massive mining exodus – and how effective its lobbying efforts will be.

 

Argentina’s Economy Is Placed in a Unique Situation

Argentina’s economy hasn’t had a very good year so far. The country saw one of the most severe droughts in decades, the collapse of the peso and equity markets and a $50 billion IMF bailout.

This has made many investors flee the country, but others are waiting for a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. The historic opportunity will present itself after investors will be able buy very cheaply, into an economy about the get a strong second wind due to the economic policies presented by the country’s president, Mauricio Macri.

The last 30 years have seen Argentina’s economy try a whole arsenal of mainstream economic solutions. The result was always the same: the country continued to drift into chaos. Maybe it’s time for an innovative, outside-the-box, crypto-positive approach. With Turkey sharing many of Argentina’s issues, maybe the whole world can take a good lesson from the current predicament.

Argentina’s economy suffers from a long time. The country’s broken civil institutions and many corrupt governments have ensured that the economy will fail repeatedly and almost inevitably will grow into monetary crises. These many factors have resulted in a stoked inflation, which makes economic planning incredibly difficult.

This is the place cryptocurrencies come in. The problems with trust can be resolved with crypto and blockchain’s unique, decentralized approach. It’s often that in countries with a huge corruption problem, strong personal bonds are forged between friends and family. These bonds provide the network and social safety to secure your property and well-being against the corrupt system, which cannot be charged to do that for you.

This brings us to fiat. If the government cannot be trusted the stability of the currency will vanish and its value can disappear completely overnight. Unfortunately, this is the usual story in Argentina’s economy and it repeats every 10 or so years. The problem is so huge, that it turned one of the wealthiest countries in the world at the start of the 20th century, to the definition of economic downfall.

President Mauricio Macri has pursued many sensible policies, but it simply is not enough. The rare case of one honest, well-intended politician, is not enough to end the ingrained structure of corruption and mistrust.

Argentina’s economy can use innovative new ideas

Santiago Siri, who is a San Francisco-based blockchain tech enthusiast developed the voting platform Democracy Earth. Siri is heading back to Argentina with a proposal for Luis Caputo, Argentina’s Central Bank President.

Siri proposes that 1% of the country’s natural reserves be kept in bitcoin. This idea seems quite modest, but has very large ramifications. Focusing on reserves to stabilize the currency is something many developing countries resort to. Argentina’s famous “convertibility plan” saw the peso being pegged 1-to-1 for the US dollar. The constitutional commitment required Argentina to hold at least the equivalent value of its money supply in USD. So this worked fine for a few years. Eventually, the Federal Reserve started hiking rates at a “surprisingly” terrible time for Argentina.

This broke the peg, bankrupted the country and set the country on its present day course. Siri’s concept doesn’t hold such serious pegging ramifications behind it. If accepted, his proposal will increase the diversity of the country’s reserves. Shifting the country’s reserves from the USD is not something the Federal Reserve would like. Siri always believes that Argentina’s nuclear power capacity should be used to mine bitcoin and expand the country’s reserves for almost no price at all.

If accepted, this modest proposal could increase the support for such financial innovations in the future. The volatility is limited by the 1% cap and a huge bitcoin rally would be significant when the USD starts being abandoned in the future trade wars.

Of course such a proposal has many questions. The ownership of the private keys is a huge issue, which is tied with the country’s corrupt politicians. This is why Siri proposes some changes to the law, as well as additional tax limitations on crypto.

If accepted, this proposal would be paramount the evolution of cryptocurrencies. Governments from all over the world will be monitoring the situation and preparing their own variants if this strategy succeeds.

 

'Terminator: Dark Fate': Finally, a worthy sequel to 'T2: Judgment Day'

The past is littered with the corpses of failed Terminator sequels and reboots.

It’s a testament to the iconic status of James Cameron’s 1984 original The Terminator (T1) and its 1991 follow-up Terminator 2: Judgement Day (T2) that those two movies still far outstrip whatever Terminator 3: Rise Of The Machines (2003), Terminator Salvation (2009) and Terminator Genisys (2015) could come up with, despite the far superior CGI effects and technology they could call upon.

The problem with T3, Salvation and Genisys wasn’t their visual effects or action setpieces. It was that they completely missed the fact that the true spirit of the franchise isn’t John Connor, nor is it even Arnold Schwarzenegger.

No, the first two Terminator movies were really about the evolution of Linda Hamilton’s Sarah Connor, who went from a timid, helpless waitress destined to give birth to the future saviour of mankind to a butt-kicking, warrior hero who would do anything to keep her son safe.

The true heart of the franchise has always been Sarah, something that the short-lived The Sarah Connor Chronicles TV series (starring future Cersei Lannister Lena Headey) got right, but sadly didn’t get enough time to truly expand upon.

Well, Hamilton’s back. And with her return, the flagging franchise gets the reboot it deserves. Yes, it only took them three movies and 28 years, but we’ve finally got a worthy sequel to T2.

Terminator: Dark Fate

Sarah Connor’s motto in life: Speak softly and carry a bazooka.

Cameron, who produced Dark Fate, has said that this is a direct sequel to T2, conveniently consigning the previous three Terminator movies into “alternate timelines” oblivion.

Set 27 years after events in T2 (in which Sarah destroyed Skynet before it could cause Judgement Day), a new modified liquid metal Rev-9 model Terminator (Gabriel Luna) is sent from the future to kill a Mexican factory worker named Dani Ramos (Natalia Reyes).

At the same time, an augmented half-cyborg soldier named Grace (Mackenzie Davis) is also sent back by the human resistance in order to protect Dani. Along the way, they get help from Sarah and a T-800 Terminator (Schwarzenegger, who finally looks like he is having fun in the role).

Terminator: Dark Fate

Bring your Terminator to work day was a blazing success.

So far, so Terminator. In terms of storyline, director Tim Miller (Deadpool) keeps things relatively simple, with none of the headache-inducing time-travelling shenanigans of Genisys or the insufferable dystopian gloom of Salvation. Sure, there are loopholes aplenty, as you would expect from a movie involving time-travel, but nothing that will stop you from enjoying the spectacle as a whole.

As expected, there are numerous callbacks to what made T1 and T2 great, from the usual catchphrases to the stunning action sequences. Luna’s Rev-9 Terminator is just as single-minded in its mission as the original T-800 and T-1000 models were, and its unique features (which we will not reveal here) make for some eye-popping visual imagery which flows with the action perfectly.

I asked for Justin Bieber and they gave me a half-cyborg bodyguard from the future!

Meanwhile, their “protector and charge” dynamic may remind you of T1’s Sarah and Kyle Reese, but Reyes and Davis manage to elevate their relationship beyond that with some strong emotional performances.

After three failed attempts to keep it going, the Terminator franchise has reached its Judgement Day. Dark Fate may mark a welcome comeback for Hamilton and Schwarzenegger, but the franchise cannot solely depend on these two veterans if it is to have a future.

Cameron and Miller, together with Reyes and Davis, have given us hope that there can be a way forward for the Terminator franchise, so here’s hoping it resonates enough with audiences to be able to break free from the shackles of its two most iconic characters. Otherwise, it’s hasta la vista, baby.


Terminator: Dark Fate

Director: Tim Miller

Cast: Linda Hamilton, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Mackenzie Davis, Natalia Reyes, Gabriel Luna, Diego Boneta

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Huawei Mate 30 Pro: Packed with bells and whistles

I have to say, I’ve never felt the urge to take as many photos as I have before my time with the Huawei Mate 30 Pro – so much so that I may have subconsciously sought out more Instagrammable cafes than I normally would, just to whip out the camera.

There’s no denying that the Mate 30 Pro is a stunning piece of hardware.

The Horizon Display, which is 6.53in, is nearly bezelless and shows colours in crisp, vivid detail, and at merely 8.8mm thickness, the phone weighs next to nothing (198g) while still managing to pack a massive 4,500mAh battery.

Cameras to the fore

Huawei has also packed the device with high-end cameras that take gorgeous shots, as the Mate 30 Pro is meant to be a top-of-the-line flagship model and it shows.

We took a boatload of photos and to my (admittedly untrained) eyes the photos look almost as good as those from DSLRs.

The SuperSensing and Cine cameras on the back – each boasting 40 megapixels – capture beautiful ultra wide-angle shots, feature OIS (optical image stabilisation), and can handle both bright and low-light conditions, compensating for the overabundance or lack of light with aplomb.

The other two cameras in the quad- camera setup – an 8-megapixel telephoto camera that also has OIS, and a 3D depth-sensing camera – round up the phone’s camera firepower.

On the front there is a 32-megapixel camera that also has a 3D depth sensing camera for Bokeh effects in selfies.

A bonus feature is that the lower back of the phone is supposed to be smudge-resistant.A bonus feature is that the lower back of the phone is supposed to be smudge-resistant.

In fact, you can have awesome Bokeh effects in not just photos but videos as well, and to top it off the phone also allows you to manually tweak all the camera settings, from apertures to ISO and shutter speed.

Those not satisfied with the normal settings can avail themselves of the camera’s Pro mode where they can drill down to even more specific settings.

If that’s not enough, the telephoto camera also comes with what Huawei claims is up to 45x zoom – that’s a combo of 3x optical and 30x digital – so you won’t miss a single detail.

The camera takes really beautiful shots, but videography is where it really stands out. It uses OIS to stabilise your videos so you’ll never end up with shaky clips.

Sports fans especially should find the Mate 30 Pro great for a live game – not only can you zoom in on the action in slow-mo mode, you’ll also be able to record and replay the action in ultra-slow motion.

It’s the closest thing to having your own VAR (video assistant referee) in your pocket.AI features

Thanks to the front facing sensors in the screen’s notch, you can also perform neat AI-enabled party tricks like (slowly) waving your hand up or down at the screen to remotely scroll, and make a grabbing motion to take screenshots.

The phone can also track your eye movement to auto rotate the screen depending on your position, useful for watching videos while lying in bed.

The physical volume rocker has gone the way of the Dodo, as Huawei has replaced it with a virtual volume slider that appears when you double tap the top left or right side of the phone, ostensibly to accommodate both left- and right-handed users.

On paper it was a brilliantly inclusive idea, but in reality it takes a fair bit of practice to reliably make it appear, adding an unnecessary learning curve to what is really a basic function.

The 3.5mm jack is also gone, leaving users to rely on either Bluetooth headphones or the included Type-C earphones for their music listening needs.

The Magazine layout displays a different photo each time you wake up the phone.The Magazine layout displays a different photo each time you wake up the phone.

Security-wise, the phone comes with both facial recognition and in-screen fingerprint sensor.

The interesting thing about the facial recognition feature is that when your phone is locked, the notifications will not be displayed in full to anyone other than you. Perhaps the most eye-catching feature is the Magazine layout, which displays a different (and dazzling) photo each time you wake up the phone.

Some might call it a gimmick but to me it lends the phone a fun element of surprise – plus it’s the one thing people seeing the phone for the first time never fail to comment on.

Android 10

The Mate 30 Pro will be shipping with the open-source version of Android 10 and as such will not include Google Mobile Services (GMS).

Simply put, this means Google apps won’t come preloaded on the phone and users won’t have access to the Google Play Store.

Huawei is working to address this with its own store, the AppGallery, deploying a US$1bil (RM4.19bil) fund to attract more developers over to its own ecosystem.

It’s worth noting that at the time of writing the AppGallery has more than 45,000 apps, including The Star, dimsum, iflix, GSC, MyMaxis and MyDigi, to name but a few.

For apps such as Instagram and WhatsApp, you can download the installation files from sites that host a copy of the app, usually known as APK websites, a process that’s called sideloading.

The Mate 30 Pro feels light and ergonomic in hand.The Mate 30 Pro comes with a narrow notch, slim bezels and an edge-to-edge Horizon Display.

We tried it successfully with WhatsApp and Spotify and can confirm that both the apps functioned normally, but Pokemon Go inexplicably refused to load.

The main risk, however, is that if you are not careful, you could install an app with malware so always visit a trusted APK website.

Or you can just get used to accessing the services on the Web instead of dedicated apps, and currently this is the only solution for some Google apps which won’t work even if you sideload them.

We can confirm that most of the Google services – Google Maps, YouTube and Waze – can be run from Huawei’s own pre-installed browser.

Conclusion

The Mate 30 Pro costs RM3,899, and if that’s beyond your budget, you could consider its sibling, the Mate 30, which packs fewer features but only costs RM2,799.

However, the Mate 30 Pro has the oomph to justify the higher price.

The high-end model should also appeal to those who dabble in high speed photography as the Mate 30 Pro can record videos in super slow-motion at up to 7,680fps (frames per second).

That’s enough to be able to see, for example, a hummingbird’s furiously flapping wings delineated in crystal clear clarity in slow motion.

The Mate 30 Pro comes in six colours but only Space Silver and Black are currently available for pre-order, which ends tomorrow.

The Mate 30 Pro comes with a narrow notch, slim bezels and an edge-to-edge Horizon Display.

MATE 30 PRO

(Huawei)

Android 10 smartphone

NETWORK: 4G

OPERATING SYSTEM: Android 10

PROCESSOR: Kirin 990 (2x Cortex-A76 2.86GHz + 2x Cortex-A76 2.09GHz + 4x Cortex-A55 1.86GHz) CPU

MEMORY: 256GB storage, 8GB RAM, nano memory card (up to 256GB)

CAMERA: Quad rear cameras – 40-megapixel Cine camera, 40-megapixel SuperSensing camera, 8-megapixel telephoto camera, 3D depth sensing camera ; front – 32-megapixel camera, 3D depth sensing camera

CONNECTIVITY: WiFi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac, Bluetooth, USB Type-C slot

OTHER FEATURES: Water and dust resistant (IP68); biometric security (facial recognition, in-screen fingerprint sensor), NFC

DISPLAY: 6.53in FHD+ (2,400 x 1,176 pixels)

DIMENSIONS (H x W x D): 158.1 x 73.1 x 8.8mm

WEIGHT: 198g

BATTERY: 4,500mAh

RATING: 4/5

PRICE: RM3,899

Review unit courtesy of Huawei Technologies Malaysia, 1800-22-3366

PROS: Solid build quality; excellent cameras; brilliant screen.

CONS: No Play Store.

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'Sadako': To Mount Doom with this Ring!

Like James Bond, arriving to thwart the schemes of megalomaniacs with “the tedious inevitability of an unloved season”, so too do the implacable spirits of J-horror keep coming back to darken our doors and electronic devices.

In their case, it’s usually to score a few more box-office bucks while dragging unfortunate souls to hell. After all, if the Hollywood version could have its reboot (2017’s Rings), then why not The One That Started It All – Japan’s own Ringu?

And in the case of Sadako, the latest attempt to continue the Ringu cinematic saga that began in 1998 (the book it’s based on came out in 1991 and the first adaptation, for TV, in 1995), “tedious inevitability” is an apt description.

To be honest, I have long since lost track of Sadako’s on-screen hijinks. And Sadako doesn’t seem too worried if series diehards, dabblers or newcomers are viewing it. Even with original Ringu helmer Hideo Nakata back in the director’s chair, Sadako spends too much time wallowing in the series’ well-worn tropes instead of striking out in new directions.

Although the relentless soul-eater Sadako has now ventured from videotape to the Internet, Sadako the movie wastes every opportunity to get creative with the possibilities held out by the notion of cyberspace hauntings.

Sadako

‘If someone had told me on the train this morning that I’d be hiding from a creepy long-haired girl in white while saving a creepy long-haired girl in white, I’d have splashed my latte in their face.’

It revolves (partly) around psychiatrist Dr Mayu Akikawa’s (a wide-eyed Elaiza Ikeda) efforts to reach an amnesiac, anorexic child (Himeki Himejima), whose mother torched their apartment because she was convinced the girl is the reincarnation of Sadako.

In a parallel plotline, Mayu’s brother Kazuma (Hiroya Shimizu) – a YouTuber specialising in outlandish videos, hoping to hit viral paydirt – decides to make a “scary urban experience” video in that very same fire-ravaged home. (He may be a ’tuber, but you won’t carrot all what happens to his dumb @$$.)

To cut a short story even shorter, Sadako does not deviate from the formula of its predecessors and, if it had been made before, say, 2005, it would be a passable horror entry.

But in these more cynical days of post-truth and hijacked narratives, fake news and cybertroopers, it just stands as a monument to wasted opportunity. It doesn’t even try to venture beyond the confines of its settings to see what happens if the curse really does go viral.

Sadako

‘So this has to be the dumbest, most ill-prepared rescue attempt in J-horror since … well, the last Ringu movie.’

With Nakata staying firmly within his comfort zone, Sadako just ends up as a cookie-cutter clone of the films that came before it.

From the little I know of the Koji Suzuki novels that inspired these films, the later books expanded on the cursed videotape premise, bringing in a virus, reincarnation, supercomputers and hybrid beings.

By harping on just one small aspect of all that rich source material, the film series clearly shows a lack of ambition – underestimating its audience while overestimating its own ability to hold our interest by simply splashing about in the shallow end of the pool.


Sadako

Director: Hideo Nakata

Cast: Elaiza Ikeda, Himeki Himejima, Hiroya Shimizu, Takashi Tsukamoto

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'Maleficent: Mistress Of Evil': So good to be bad

Weddings are such beautiful occasions, aren’t they? So much pomp and ceremony, people dressed in their best, two families coming together. The power of love and fluffy white dresses and all that jazz.

When it comes to weddings on screen, however, there are usually two kinds: very beautiful or very dramatic. And if you’re in a fantasy show? Better wear a suit of armour under your tuxedo. Because as Game Of Thrones memorably showed us, weddings can be very, very violent things indeed.

Want another example? Check out Maleficent: Mistress Of Evil, the sequel to Disney’s 2014 film Maleficent. While it centres around a wedding, the film has time to throw in exotic fantasy races, evil curses and epic battles. Perhaps the most magical thing about it, however, is that it manages to be an actually entertaining Disney sequel, one miles better than its predecessor.

In case you’ve forgotten: The first movie, Maleficent, was a retelling of the classic Disney film Sleeping Beauty, from the point of view of the villain, evil fairy Maleficent (Angelina Jolie).

There, we learnt that she wasn’t so bad after all, and really it was her true love that broke the curse that caused Princess Aurora (Elle Fanning) to fall into an enchanted sleep. (Yes, it was Maleficent who made that curse to begin with, but … ehhh).

Aurora (Elle Fanning) in a worried state, perhaps wondering if she can afford enough gardeners to maintain her many beautiful fairy gardens.

Aurora (Elle Fanning) in a worried state, perhaps wondering if she can afford enough gardeners to maintain her many beautiful fairy gardens.

This movie takes place five years later. Aurora is now queen of the Moors, her fairy kingdom, under the watchful eye of Maleficent. Things are disrupted, however, after Prince Phillip (Harris Dickinson, replacing Brenton Thwaites from the first film) proposes to her: Maleficent has a huge hatred of human kingdoms, and so opposes the union.

Maleficent is invited to dinner with Phillip’s parents, the kindly King John (Robert Lindsay) and the cunning Queen Ingrith (Michelle Pfeiffer), who takes an instant dislike to Maleficent. And you thought visiting your in-laws was bad!

From there, the movie could have just been two hours of Pfeiffer and Jolie throwing barbs and being witchy to each other, and it would have been a great success. Both veteran actresses seem to be having a ball in these roles, and get some really nice lines.

MAleficent

Queen Ingrith (Michelle Pfeiffer) is a blonde, temperamental leader of a nation who uses fear of foreigners to inspire loyalty…why does this sound so familiar?

But the plot throws in a crime and the complications that arise from it. Maleficent flees, only to discover she is part of the Dark Fae, a race of people who all have the same horns and wings as she does (not her supernaturally sharp cheekbones though, those are apparently all Jolie’s).

Queen Ingrith wants to start a war with the fairy kingdoms, and apparently Maleficent is the only one who can stop her. She’s a blond, temperamental leader who wants to use the fear of foreign races to maintain power among her subjects … now why does this seem so familiar?

The story may seem a lot to take, but it’s a fun ride from beginning to end. Director Joachim Ronning (Pirates Of The Caribbean: Dead Man Tell No Tales), goes full on fantasy film here, populating the world of Sleeping Beauty with a fascinating variety of creatures and concepts.

Maleficent (Angelina Jolie) and Queen Ingrith (Michelle Pfeiffer) clash in the most dramatic fantasy kingdom ‘Meet the Parents’ session since ‘Shrek 2’.

The film is a visual delight: the costumes are nice, the fairies are cool to look at, and its settings, especially the fairy kingdoms, are lovely.

The story does have a few holes: Queen Ingrith’s evil plans seem awfully reliant on luck to work, and a lot of the dark Fae’s decisions come across as convenient or frustratingly dumb. But overlook those, and the film is quite a fun ride, although it can sometimes be a bit dark. It has kidnapping and racial genocide as part of its themes!

Sadly also, the worst thing about the first film, Aurora’s three bickering fairy guardians (Imelda Staunton, Juno Temple and Lesley Manville) also return, although they are thankfully a lot more bearable here. Indeed a lot of the fairies, while interesting, can sometimes be so cute they become cloying.

Acting-wise, it’s a good cast. Dickinson is alright as Prince Phillip (whose character was bland in Sleeping Beauty), and Chiwetel Ejiofor musters some gravitas to play Conall, the leader of the Dark Fae.

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This film, however, belongs to the women. So much so, it should have been called Female-ficent.

Although her role feels a bit reduced here from the first film, Jolie is still terrific as Maleficent. You really can’t imagine anyone else pulling off her character’s icy regality. Fanning does well as the spirited Aurora, and Pfeiffer absolutely slays in her Wicked Queen character.

There’s been a lot of criticism of Disney making live-action versions of its popular animated films, but this film shows they can be done well. So let Maleficent: Mistress Of Evil cast her dark spell on you – it’s definitely good entertainment for two hours.

If anything, this film has a battle with two powerful women fighting over the fate of their kingdoms, and does it way, WAY better than the Game Of Thrones finale.


Maleficent: Mistress of Evil

Director: Joachim Ronning

Cast: Angelina Jolie, Ellie Fanning, Michelle Pfeiffer, Chiwetel Ejiofor

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'Gemini Man': Average actioner with way too much Will Smith

Gemini Man asks a very important question. The film is about an ageing master assassin who just wants to retire, but is forced to fight for his life against his clone, who is faster, stronger, and has almost the same skills as he does.

But the most important question Gemini Man asks isn’t whether it is ethical to clone humans, or about the moral issues of being an assassin. No, the real question here is… how much Will Smith can you handle in a single movie?

Smith has always been a larger than life movie star and a fine actor. His personality, his charisma, his looks, the way he talks, raps, and even the way he smirks are so distinct that he is practically a global brand all by himself. So, having not just one, but TWO Will Smiths in a movie should be a guaranteed hit, right?

Well, yes, and no. While that A-list star quality is evident throughout Gemini Man, it also threatens to completely overwhelm then film to the point where it should have been called Will Smith Vs Will Smith: The Will Smith Movie.

Gemini Man

Rule one of being a nace sniper: make sure you pick a spot in the grass that isn’t crawling with bugs.

Smith plays Henry Brogan, the best assassin in the business, who wants nothing but to retire. Unfortunately, he runs afoul of his government bosses when he finds out about some dodgy business a company called Gemini is up to.

Gemini is headed by the sinister Clay Verris (Clive Owen) who decides to silence Henry by sending his clone, Junior, to kill him. Junior is meant to be the perfect assassin – a clone with all of Henry’s skills and physical prowess, but without all the emotional baggage.

Mary Elizabeth Winstead plays Danny, a government agent who gets caught up in the crossfire, while Benedict Wong plays Baron, one of Henry’s old war buddies.

Gemini Man

Hey, at least I know I’ll still look good when I get older.

To be honest, I quite liked Gemini Man at first. Director Ang Lee does a great job of building up Henry’s restless and troubled character, while allowing him to maintain an aura of John Wick-like invulnerability that I would have liked to see more of. At this point, one Will Smith was already enough Will Smith for the entire movie.

However, the movie starts to go downhill when Junior shows up. Visually, the digitally de-aged Smith bears an uncanny resemblance to the real Smith, but having both of them in the same movie is Gemini Man’s downfall. Other movies used this technological advancement to great effect (like Captain Marvel with Samuel L. Jackson), but seeing the younger Smith alongside the real Smith evokes a jarring sensation that something is not quite right.

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Also, Smith’s larger-than-life personality means he tends to dominate any movie he is in, so having two of him around just creates a swirling Will Smith-shaped black hole that none of the other characters, nor even the storyline, can escape from.

What this means is we’re then subjected to countless scenes of Smith beating himself up, shooting himself, chasing himself around in motorbikes, giving himself pep talks, and not much else.

It’s a pity, because Gemini Man had the potential and premise to be a cult sci-fi movie if it didn’t star such a big name. As it is, it’s just an average action movie with way too much Will Smith in it.


Gemini Man

Director: Ang Lee

Cast: Will Smith, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Clive Owen, and Benedict Wong,

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'A Book Of Bones' lies in the darkness, lurking

Get the Sunday Star paper tomorrow, Oct 6, for a 25% discount coupon on A Book Of Bones by John Connolly. Look for the coupon in StarLifestyle.

A Book Of Bones

Author: John Connolly

Publisher: Hodder & Stroughton, supernatural mystery


Many popular series suffer from a major problem: they go on for far too long. Even the most compelling characters can be a chore to follow as they face the same sorts of problems over and over again as if trapped in some sort of personal hell.

It is to author John Connolly’s credit, therefore, that his latest offering, A Book Of Bones, does not suffer from this problem. Yes, despite this being the 18th(!) entry of his popular Charlie Parker novels, a number most authors can only dream of achieving. From the time his first book, Every Dead Thing, was published in 1999, Connolly’s supernaturally-charged thrillers remain fresh and exciting.

Charlie Parker's Story Is Still Fresh And Spooky In 18th BookAn 18th outing is definitely cause of celebration, and A Book Of Bones does feel like it’s set on a larger scale than previous books. Parker finds himself going international, with his investigation taking him all over the world, from the forests of Maine to the Mexican border, the canals of Amsterdam and the streets of London.

A series of crimes taking place in sacred locations in England turn out to be connected to old enemies of Parker’s – some of whom may not be completely human. The villains are hunting a mysterious artifact called the Fractured Atlas, which has the power to reshape reality. Parker has to track it down down, with the help of allies both old (hello Louis and Angel!) and new.

A Book Of Bones is a massive read at almost 700 pages. Thankfully, getting through it never feels like a slog. The pace is brisk and smooth and there is always sometimes interesting happening to keep the reader invested. Suspense is aplenty, and there are plenty of twists – there is a particularly clever bit of misdirection about one of the villains that is quite well done.

And while Connolly’s fiction is well done, the factual bits are really fascinating as well; much of the folklore behind many of the places in the novel is real, which only makes the book more entertaining.

That said, A Book Of Bones is perhaps not the place for newcomers to Connolly’s work (then again, the 18th outing is never a good place to start any series!). Much of it can stand alone, but the book does make a lot of references to Parker’s previous adventures.

Another thing about the book is that it features a whole horde of characters, as the author creates a new point of view for almost every situation, making it sometimes hard to track who is who. Most of the characters are interesting and fleshed out well; the problem sometimes is there are so many of them, and, arguably, some chapters could have been cut for a tighter story.

That said, the book features a trio of terrific villains: Mors, Quayle and Sellars are distinct and villainous in their own ways, and certainly stick in the memory.

Diehard fans of Connolly’s characters Parker, Louis and Angel may be slightly disappointed to learn that they don’t have the heaviest focus in this story. A lot of the action is down to a new bunch of characters, the English police investigators Priestman, Hynes and Gawoska, who sometimes feel like secondary protagonists. Again, they are great characters but, occasionally, they make A Book Of Bones feel like two books, one about Parker and the other about these investigators.

And yet, A Book Of Bones is still a terrific read. It cleverly blends classic horror motives, like vengeful ancient gods, with more modern, pressing issues, such as religious extremism, toxic masculinity, and inciteful hate-mongering. Yes, it’s massive size can be intimidating, but it’s length gives an epic scale to Parker’s latest story, allowing it to tackle various interesting characters and issues all at once. No bones about it. (Sorry, couldn’t resist!)

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Hypnotic ‘Joker’ dares us to feel empathy for the devil

Remember the Joker’s catchphrase from Tim Burton’s 1989 Batman – have you ever danced with the devil in the pale moonlight?

Well, this 2019 incarnation of the Clown Prince of Crime is one devil who just loves to dance.

He dances to old show tunes. He dances to music in his own head. He dances just for the heck of it. He dances to express his rage, his frustrations, sometimes even his hopefulness, and to invite us into his headspace.

Some of the time, he dances shirtless, and this is where star Joaquin Phoenix’s bones – he shed many pounds for the role, reportedly to the detriment of his well-being – appear to take on an identity all their own.

Physically, his character is difficult to look at while his mesmerising performance makes it just as hard to look away. (I’ve not felt more unsettled looking at someone lacing up his shoes than I did here.)

The overall effect of his near-cadaverous appearance, coupled with his deeply layered, strangely sympathetic turn as an iconic comic-book villain in a highly un-comic-book-like movie, is stunning.

Eschewing most previous Joker origin stories, the film introduces us to Arthur Fleck (Phoenix), a struggling individual. Not struggling comedian, or struggling employee, or struggling, devoted son, nope. Just plain struggling.

‘You wanna know what’s really funny? DC fans everywhere are going to be saying,

‘You wanna know what’s really funny? DC fans everywhere are going to be saying, “Jared Who?” after this.’

Already broken (by what, we eventually learn as the film goes along) when we meet him, Arthur has been left with a condition that causes him to laugh uncontrollably when he is troubled. Yep, he only laughs when he hurts.

It is a pained laugh that is not just difficult to hear, but also speaks volumes about his internal anguish. It is one more element of Phoenix’s tour de force performance that invites us to ponder just what is going on behind those makeup-obscured eyes.

We may find fleeting but familiar glimpses of our own struggles, or those of people close to us. Or recognise some of the heartbreak, the yearning, the pain of bluntly dismissive remarks from the ones we look up to, or count on.

Those given to more introspective moments may even recognise our words and actions in the people around Arthur. Whether we identify with victim or victimiser, this feeling of familiarity combines effectively with the film’s own relevance to the societal fractures of 2019, despite its early 1980s setting.

This dangerously evokes a sense of empathy for a character whose CV, as any fan of the comics will tell you, includes “mass murderer”.

‘A little bitty tear let me down, spoiled my act as a clown. Guess I’ll just dabble in anarchy and nihilism then.’ - Warner Bros

‘A little bitty tear let me down, spoiled my act as a clown. Guess I’ll just dabble in anarchy and nihilism then.’ – Warner Bros

The story of Joker, however, is set well before he carved out that credit on his resume. It is inspired by the character’s beginnings as told in the acclaimed graphic novel The Killing Joke, by way of Taxi Driver and The King Of Comedy.

And if you needed any further proof of those two cinematic influences, their star Robert De Niro is right here as well – ironically enough (and where The King Of Comedy connection comes in), playing a popular talk-show host whom Arthur idolises.

For a good deal of its running time, Joker seems to play fast and loose with what fans may hold sacrosanct. At one point, it even starts down a road that makes you want to shout curses at the screen, and at co-writer/director Todd Phillips.

Rest assured, however, that when all is stabbed and done, the film does not disrespect your … um, fanhood.

It begins as a grim, grimy character study, with the story gradually taking shape around Arthur’s travails (and with his transformation come callbacks to great screen Jokers of the past, notably the Jack Nicholson and Heath Ledger versions).

With most of the proceedings seen through his eyes, expect some twists and surprises that, increasingly, make us simultaneously sympathetic yet repulsed by Arthur’s actions.

‘All hail the new king in town, young and old, gather round … dang, I just can’t get

‘All hail the new king in town, young and old, gather round … dang, I just can’t get “Partyman” out of my head.’

But at this point, it seems all right to feel that way. After all, here, Arthur is just a guy sincerely trying to do what he believes is his calling in life. And, as life beats him down one crushing blow at a time, Joker seems to be inviting us to walk with Arthur and at least find common ground with his situation.

Make no mistake, though: it is ultimately about a descent into insanity.

The slow burn of Joker’s initial 80-odd minutes chronicle, in parallel, both Arthur and Gotham City’s downward spiral (this is a far more squalid and dismal Gotham than we’ve seen before) and show us just how entwined the two are – in a sense, setting up his future rivalry with Batman.

Then the whole powder keg is set off in staggering fashion, leaving us clutching the singed strands of our own expectations and wondering if, indeed, it just takes one bad day to bring our carefully curated worlds crashing down.

And we leave in a half daze, pondering the way Phillips and Phoenix harmonised so wonderfully to deliver a hypnotic, disturbing and challenging product that fairly transcends the genre, while remaining respectful towards it. And that’s no joke.


Joker

Director: Todd Phillips

Cast: Joaquin Phoenix, Robert De Niro, Zazie Beetz, Frances Conroy, Brett Cullen, Glenn Fleshler

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'Ad Astra': Brad Pitt gets a little lost in space

Is it humanity’s doom, that it takes its greed and nationalistic/ ideological differences everywhere – even to the stars?

In the unspecified near future of Ad Astra, mankind has established colonies on the Moon and Mars, but still fights over their resources.

It’s no different from what we’ve seen on shows like The Expanse, and certainly a far cry from the optimistic, integrated future posited by Star Trek and its spinoffs.

Ad Astra (Latin for “to the stars”) is not, however, a film about such conflicts, even if they do make their way into some scenes and conversations.

It is instead tightly focused on one man’s transformative journey and, in the process, powerfully drives home the enormity, burden and toll of space exploration (or any endeavour that seeks to bridge vast gulfs and blaze trails).

That man is astronaut Roy McBride (Brad Pitt), a tautly self-controlled individual as distant from the people around him as the stars are from our grasp.

When a lost space mission commanded by his long-presumed-dead father Clifford (Tommy Lee Jones) suddenly becomes a threat to Earth, Roy is summoned to help.

But it’s a mission fraught with danger (from the conflicts mentioned above) and obstacles (from his own secretive superiors).

Are you sure you should be wandering around without a helmet, Bard? You never know when a Face Hugger might attack you.

Are you sure you should be wandering around without a helmet, Bard? You never know when a Face Hugger might attack you.

It is in the journey required by Roy’s mission, and his own path to dealing with the effect on his life of his father’s absence, which co-writer/director James Gray (Little Odessa, We Own The Night) tries to get us invested. For the most part, he succeeds.

Firstly, by staggering us with one reminder after another of how vast, desolate and yet dangerous space can be, and turning even seemingly irrelevant detours into little capsule nightmares that leave the viewer more thoroughly shaken than entire movies (I’m looking at you, Life).

Secondly, by eliciting a remarkably contemplative and relatable performance from Brad Pitt, whose subtle shadings of Roy’s bottled emotions (and their gradual uncorking) keep the viewer glued to the personal drama unfolding amidst all the spectacle of space exploration.

The difficulties, however, come in connecting this effectively realised portrayal to the characters and situations around the main character.

‘I’m so glad we’re finally taking the fight to the Pod People’s home planet. Wait ... what do you mean this isn’t a sequel to Invasion Of The Body Snatchers?’

‘I’m so glad we’re finally taking the fight to the Pod People’s home planet. Wait … what do you mean this isn’t a sequel to Invasion Of The Body Snatchers?’

For one thing, the inevitable meeting of father and son (hardly a spoiler) is a little disappointing.

Clifford’s Captain Ahab-ness is frustratingly left undepicted, and we do not get enough of a handle on his character; snatches of classified transmissions and the brief face-to-face do not suffice.

(Some screen time would have been better utilised on this instead of, say, the lunar buggy chase sequence, impressive and believable as it is.)

And, with nearly every other supporting character reduced to mere plot propellant, we just have to make do with being told how much Roy’s aloofness has cost him – we never really get a sense of it, until quite late into his mission.

Fortunately, we have Donald Sutherland along for the early part of the ride (did his Space Cowboys connection to Tommy Lee Jones play a part in his casting?) to serve as kind of a guiding light, and we do get the sense that Roy misses having a father figure in his life in their scenes together.

‘And this is our Mars base library. Excuse the empty shelves … it’s so dull here that all our colonists are actually reading again.’ - Walt Disney Studios

‘And this is our Mars base library. Excuse the empty shelves … it’s so dull here that all our colonists are actually reading again.’ – Walt Disney Studios

Knowing of Gray’s work only from his gritty crime yarns, I have to say that the director proves quite sure-footed in his maiden voyage through a genre that can trip up the best of them.

And as space exploration dramas go, Ad Astra deserves praise for its scope, stunning visual achievements and strong central performance.

I did not feel cheated, like after watching Interstellar, for example; but was not as exhilarated as I was coming out of The Right Stuff, Gravity or The Martian, either.

While the intent of Gray’s bookends for the film is clear, too many unanswered questions remain about the aftermath of Roy’s journey – given everything that happens – for Ad Astra to be as uplifting and liberating as the personal triumph it declares.


Ad Astra

Director: James Gray

Cast: Brad Pitt, Liv Tyler, Tommy Lee Jones, Ruth Negga, Donald Sutherland, Loren Dean

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