Thursday, 22 September 2016

Me Before You

There is nothing wrong in movies acting out as vehicles for their actors. Clearly, the main point of Me Before You was to ride on the success of its star, Emilia Clarke (aka Game of Thrones' Mother of Dragons, Daenerys Targaryen) by providing her with a vehicle with which to display her romantic comedy talents. I, for one, will argue this particular escapade fails and that the otherwise lovely and talented Clarke should probably seek to make use of her talents elsewhere (as in, definitely on our screens, but perhaps not in romantic comedies).
Set in the Welsh town of Pembroke (I know because I have been there), yet offering no hint that our affairs take place in Wales - not even the slightest of accents or Welsh signs - our story follows Lou (Clarke). Lou is the 26 year old daughter still living at home of a loving but poor family, and when she loses her coffee shop job (no wonder, given what passes for coffee in the UK) her family is desperate. So she takes on the job of looking after the now paralysed following a traffic accident son of the town's stupidly rich family, the family that owns the town's castle.
That son (Sam Claflin) no longer wants to live, having been thrown from the heights of hedonism into the depths of disability. Thus starts a Pretty Woman / Pride & Prejudice romantic tale that is full of schmaltz, is awfully predictable, and we've all seen tons of times before. Sure, you can argue the theme is good enough for us to enjoy again, and you will probably be right; I, however, will argue that Clarke's exaggerated facial expressions with which she expresses her emotions were way too much for me. By this movie's third act I was simply too annoyed.
Overall: Welsh scenery aside, this is a failed ride telling a [too] familiar story. 2.5 out of 5 crabs.

Tuesday, 20 September 2016

The Huntsman: Winter's War

The direct sequel of 2012's Snow White and the Huntsman, The Huntsman: Winter's War comes back to tell us yet another fairytale based on the same setting. By cleverly jumping between events taking place before and after that first movie, it adds to that movie while standing pretty well on its own rights.
It turns out that the first movie's evil queen (Charlize Theron) has a sister, Freya (Emily Blunt), who through personal loss became evil as well. From the orphan victims her armies leave behind, Freya raises a new superior army of Huntsmen (thus explaining the origins of the first movie's Huntsman). And being the cold bitch that she is, she forbids love in her kingdom. Only that two of her best huntsmen, Eric (the returning Chris Hemsworth) and Sara (Jessica Chastain) fall in love.
Our queen comes between them and sends Eric on a journey of exile that sees him through the first movie. But with the aid of Nick Frost as a lovely dwarf and some fairytale stuff miracles, lovers shall be reunited, famous actors whose characters we deemed dead and gone shall make a comeback, and - eventually, after pleasuring our eyes with many a glamorous costume and lots of nifty special effects - good shall prevail.
It's all quite predictable and easy on the brain, but yes, it is also beautiful. It's a fairytale lacking any pretensions to be anything other than a fairytale. As such, it worked for me!
Overall: Winter's War is good, easy to digest, easy on the eyes entertainment. Nothing wrong with that! 3.5 out of 5 crabs.

Sunday, 18 September 2016

Creative Control

Is there anything real left in our world anymore? No, argues Creative Control.
In the world of the film Creative Control, nothing is real. The whole world is black and white, for a start. Affairs revolve around an ad agency, an company belonging to an industry that is all about selling folks false dreams. People take drugs to escape reality. People are insincere in business. People cheat on their best friends.
And into this reality comes a new invention of a virtual reality visor, through which our antihero for the duration of the film can fulfill his sexual fantasies with the woman he cannot otherwise engage (because she's the girl of his so called "best friend"). And in this world where nothing in real, that virtual world is the only thing that is real. We know that for sure because it's the only thing in color.
Creative Control goes to extremes, and overdoes it in the process, in order to tell us something about the world full of fictions, myths and lies that we live in. The result is contrived and too "in your face" to properly engage.
2.5 out of 5 crabs.

Saturday, 10 September 2016

Captain America: Civil War

Lowdown: The Marvel superheroes get to fight one another.
The second Captain America movie, The Winter Soldier, proved to be more than your average superhero movie by virtue of its very Edward Snowden like message. The third movie in the franchise, Civil War, which is actually a direct sequel to the second Avengers movie, aspired to do the same - justify its existence through deep messages - while providing entertaining action, mostly by doing a Superman vs. Batman and pitting the Marvel superheroes against one another.
It fails.
Through bringing Captain America's long lost friend Bucky as some sort of a retired Hydra agent that seem to have committed a serious crime, tension is created. Our Captain wants to make sure his friend gets his right for justice before getting lynched; the UN, annoyed with Bucky's latest adventures as well as the Marvel heroes part in destroying a country at the previous episode, wants to put a leash on our heroes; and certain members of Shield, notably Iron Man, would rather see the latter take over the former. Enter the division and let the fighting begin!
A couple of interesting thoughts are thus generated. Our Marvel superheroes, wrecking the world while saving it, offer an analogy to our real world's USA: the country that wages war on anything it feels like, claiming to save the world while doing so, but charging the rest of the world quite a collateral in the process. And then wondering why the rest of the world doesn't like it much.
Or the same USA using weapons it has a monopoly on - atomic weapons, once upon a time, and now drones and hacking abilities - to do the killing, all the while pretending the rest of the world would never catch up and cancel out its monopoly. Think about it: the USA is running a very "productive" drone program in the Middle East, Asia and Africa; how would it react if another country, say, Turkey, decided to run a drone attack in the USA in order to kill a person it considers its deadly enemy (for allegedly organising the recent failed coup)? Similarly, in our movie, we find Shield has no monopoly on superheroes; Africa can have its own.
The problem with Captain America: Civil War is that it just feels too contrived. You know everything is just an excuse to get our heroes to fight one another. And in order to get there, common sense was left out, the messages take second saddle and get smeared in the process. As for the action, there is nothing we haven't seen before; two and a half hours of the same CGI concepts are definitely an overdose.
As ridiculous as it may sound, Civil War misses out on its biggest ticket on the grounds of being pipped to the post by the very meh movie that was Batman vs. Superman.
Overall: I found Captain America: Civil War to be quite a mundane and uninvolving movie, a pale shadow of its prequel namesake. 2 to 2.5 crabs out of 5 from me.

Sunday, 21 August 2016

Snowden by Ted Rall

Lowdown: The Snowden story told through a ~200 page comic.
I don't know how you, book readers, do it. Reading a book, as opposed to an ebook, is shit! The lighting is bad, you have to hold the book open. You even need to physically flip through pages! Oy vey.
But I did make an exception for you for a book that stared me in the eye as I passed by my local public library: Snowden by Ted Rall (who, apparently, is a cartoonist for pretty big USA publications). Snowden the book is a comic book of a little more than 200 pages. At its end you will find two pages of closing off text as well as numerous pages offering citations for the points raised by the comic itself, with the point being that Snowden takes itself seriously.
The author's views are revealed on page 1: we are, he tells us, living the manifestation of Orwell's 1984 vision. I concur; you can tell why I made a sacrifice and chose to read this particular paper book. Snowden goes further, though, much further: readers are informed about some of Edward Snowden's biggest revelations.
Then the comic picks up on a new direction that represents the bulk of pages. That is, trying to figure out why it is that Edwards Snowden and no other came out to do what he had done and reveal this information to us. What does this say about Snowden? To answer that question, we get to explore Ed's personal history (where I got to learn he was (is still?) a libertarian - oy givald!).
I have to say it, I found myself identifying with Edward Snowden's personal journey. Not I am half as brave as he was, but rather on account of other similarities between us. Specifically, how we used to do the same things (video games, reading Ars Technica) and hold certain opinions that, upon being challenged by international travel and seeing the world with its different facets, we later changed.
If you care for the book's answer for the Snowden riddle, it is, and I quote, that Snowden had an "ideological awakening [while working] in an organisation that selects for conformism".
Then the book concludes with a discussion on whether those things that Snowden did were right or wrong. Perhaps because I'm not an American I do not even start to consider Edwards Snowden as a traitor, which leaves "hero" as the only option. Luckily for me, Rall provides ample evidence to show that, even for Americans, what Snowden did was an act of heroism of the best kind.
A comic is, indeed, a fine way to tell the Snowden story in a meaningful yet entertaining way. I have been regarding Snowden as a hero since June 2013 and, as far as I am concerned, he is welcome to seek asylum at my home for as long as he requires. That invitation is now even warmer through me knowing more about Edward Snowden and his journey through this fine comic.
4 out of 5 crabs for Snowden the comic, and all the crabs in the world to public libraries, one of humanity's better institutions.

Monday, 15 August 2016

Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice

Lowdown: A couple of stupid incredibly powerful men get too easily manipulated to fight one another; women come to save the day.
There is an eternal question when it comes to Hollywood movies: how much money can be poured into a blockbuster movie event in order to produce an empty, meaningless bullshit of a movie? Tons of flicks are competing to break a record on this question, but Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice (let's just stick to BvS, shall we?) clearly wipes them all out. This movie is just as dumb as it could run a medium sized first world country with its budget for a decade.
Clearly, dumbness is the direct result of the task handed to script writers: come up with a plot that would have Superman fight Batman, ASAP! And do it as a sequel to the last Superman movie, Man of Steel, so that we can create a Marvel like franchise!
And the problem is that they, the script writers, complied. Their contrived solution was to have Lex Luther son, Lex Luther (the weirdo typecast Jesse Eisenberg), manipulate Superman (a returning Henry Cavill) into fighting Batman/Bruce Wayne (welcome to the role, Ben Affleck) while utilising the duo's extreme stupidity. Only that the two are clearly not that stupid, or should not have been that stupid. Hence the film's main problem; one doesn't go to watch a movie entitled BvS expecting stupid superheroes.
There are tons of special effects laden fight scenes stretched over this three hour movie, tons of excellent actors playing crudely underdeveloped characters (Amy Adams, Holly Hunter, Jeremy Irons - I could go on), and there is a guest visit by Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) that's meant to introduce us to the next movie in the franchise. There's also tons of muscles - the male leads clearly pumped a lot of iron for their roles. What isn't there is brains; and if you think the movie breaks the injustice league's hall of fame with its silly excuses for pitting Batman against Superman, just wait till you see what it does to make them stop fight one another.
P.S. I will not get into the way Superman's character is Americanised in that good old "there's no country in the world other than America" [which is actually a continent].
Overall: I did not suffer; BvS is an entertaining roller coaster. But oh, what a poor movie this is! What a waste! 2.5 out of 5 de-intellectualised crabs.

Wednesday, 10 August 2016

Whiskey Tango Foxtrot

Lowdown: A small time American reporter comes of age through her assignment in battle torn Afghanistan.
They say every good story revolves some sort of a journey. Well, in the case of Whiskey Tango Foxtrot (let's agree to stick with WTF from now on) our story is the story of an unlikely female journalist from the USA, who for some small time reason finds herself temporarily assigned to Afghanistan for war coverage duties. As with all things temporary, she finds herself stuck there for about a decade. Stuck is a bad word, because her journey has her advocating for the cause and actually wishing to stay there fore longer.
The catch, I guess, is that this journey is based on the autobiography of a real person. The fact that person is a woman, and given the context of war and Burqa cladded Afghanistan, serve to explain why WTF got itself on film.
A significant part of the story has to be personal journey of Tina Fey, the comedian who plays a serious role here and also acts as a producer. Clearly, this movie represents some coming of age for her as a person, too. Fey fares very well, thank you very much, demonstrating heroines have no problem leading a movie, thank you very much!
The problem with WTF is that it doesn't take us places. Sure, there is Afghanistan, but it's not like I felt WTF expanded my horizons other than entertain me for the duration of the flick. Alfred Molina acting as a local weirdo warlord probably did the best job at entertaining me but it wasn't enough; nor were the talents of Martin Freeman and Margot Robbie.
Overall: A win for women, but not a spectacular film in any distinguished way. 3 out of 5 crabs.

Sunday, 7 August 2016

Ice Age Collision Course

Another year, another punishment for parents in the shape of an Ice Age episode. This franchise that does not know when to stop and has long outlived its welcome comes to us with Episode 5, Collision Course.
The plot is completely redundant; there is danger, the heroes figure it out, they travel a bit, they stumble upon baddies, they sort things out. Formula movies could not be more formulistic. As far as the heroes are concerned, they are pretty much the usual gang + Simon Pegg (who has been there before, too, but is a relatively recent addition).
The novelty, if you will, is with Scrat's character taking a more leading role. The same way the accountants at Despicable Me figured out it is the Minions that the kids like the most and are most likely to earn a buck, so did the Ice Age accountants figure out that with Scrat they are holding the key to parents' Port Knox. The other curious addition is a Neil deGrasse Tyson contributing his voice talent and the character of an astronomer.
But is this enough to generate a good movie? No, not in the least. Ice Age: Collision Course is just another parental trap devoid of any spark and worthy of 2 out of 5 crabs.