Friday, 10 February 2017

Arrival

Arrival is Amy Adams. This is a point worth making because Adams appears in every scene; it is also important for the fact that rarely does a female character dominate a Hollywood movie to such an extent. All the better for the movie, because Arrival is good, original, science fiction.
A lot like Contact in themes and feel (as well as in clunkiness), Arrival deals with humanity’s handling of first contact by aliens. In Arrival’s case, these take the form of mysterious spaceships touching down at 12 places around the earth. For the American spaceship, military authorities pick on a credible linguist (Adams) for the task of establishing communication with the aliens. She is joined by a physicist (Jeremy Renner), whose main role in the movie is to supply that secondary role females tend to provide to the male lead in most other movies. Only that Adams’ character is heavily burdened by losing her teenage daughter to cancer, therefore putting to question her professional abilities. Or perhaps enhancing them?
I will not delve further into the plot. Suffice to say Arrival is driven by interesting science fictional ideas. Ultimately, though, Arrival is not an aliens genre movie but rather a very human centric movie about the choices us humans make on a daily basis.
Which renders Arrival into proper science fiction. The type that takes rarely considered concepts off Einstein’s Theory of Relativity and projects elements of fantasy into them so as to make a point about our world of today.
Overall: While never truly thrilling, Arrival is one of those movies that make one think. Coupled with Adams’ performance, it is a film well worth watching at 3.5 out of 5 crabs.

Wednesday, 8 February 2017

Space Pirate Captain Harlock

Although Japanese anime and anime based live action movies tend to disappoint me lately (check here for an example or two), I will never forget the impact Star Blazers had on this child. And in the Space Pirate Captain Harlock anime I managed to find the closest thing to that anime series of old.
This space opera takes place in an era where humans have depleted the resources in space and are fighting for control over earth, the home they spread out of. The ruling class that beat pretty much everyone else sends an infiltrator into the ranks of the space pirate Captain Harlock, whose magically powered spaceship remains its last significant threat. Through this infiltrator and the crew he mingles with we learn the secrets of the ruling government as well as those of the notorious pirate.
The result is a story of conflicting emotions that often trouble the Japanese but tend to be too complex to be told before Western audiences. Personally, that initial excitement that came through the realisation I am dealing with a space opera here disappeared through the movie’s second half, as I found myself disengaging from the story and the characters.
Worst scene: In a very typically Japanese way (think: Dead or Alive), proceedings break in order to offer us a nude zero gravity female shower scene. The scene is completely unrelated to the rest of the film and involves a relatively minor character. So yeah, chauvinism.
Overall: Suffering from the classic problem of having too much to deal with in the course of a single movie, this translation of an anime series into a movie fails to move yet again. 2.5 out of 5 space crabs.

Monday, 6 February 2017

The Shallows

Lowdown: A shark turns a girl into a woman.
Review:
An American woman in Mexico. Alone on a personal quest, to be achieved at a pristine beach. What can go wrong?
The music video like scenes of a photogenic girl on a surfing board are interrupted when a whale carcass appears, accompanied by a shark.
Our girl is left stranded in the water, on top of a rock, accompanied by a volleyball. Actually, an injured seagull she refers to as Steven Seagull.
A good, exciting, tale of girl against nature follows. Our hero is analytical, fact based and cool minded in her struggle. Only problem is that unlike The Old Man and the Sea, The Shallows turns to the ridiculous as it nears climax. Also, unlike Hemingway’s, the happy ending is all but inevitable. There is no way our young Texan will lose at Mexico!
Note: Although set in Mexico, The Shallows was filmed in Queensland. Yours truly believes he actually knows the specific beach, or at least one of the beaches, put into use.
Overall:
I am not into horror; on paper, The Shallows is not my type of movie. Yet it is not a horror movie per se; this is not a movie that tries to scare its viewer but rather a movie that tells a story.
Despite clearly targeting younger adults of the Insta generation, it is a well made feminist movie. 3 out of 5 sharks (crabs) for this one.

Tuesday, 17 January 2017

The Accountant

We’ve already seen Ben Affleck play a superhero in Batman, and now with The Accountant he plays another: a good accountant. And if that’s not super enough for you, he’s also crack commando that eats Rambo for breakfast, powered by years of experience as a social outcast for his autism/Asperger.
The nice thing about The Accountant is how we get to slowly gather information about our hero as the movie progresses. The not so nice is that, upon the settling of the dust, it is clear this is just another American action movie with all the illogical bullshit that tends to dominate such affairs. Predictability included.
So, yes, Affleck plays Chris, an autistic super accountant by day with the ability to push his accountancy further through the use of martial arts and/or firepower. Reluctant to delve further into the field of dealing with the dubious parts of society that usually hire his services, he asks his mysterious English accented operator for something peaceful; she gives him a challenging accounting task at a promising American technology company that seems to have stumbled upon suspected embezzlement. Our super accountant quickly figures things out, against all odds (yet in a way that makes it clear every accounting student in the world would have figured it out). In turn, this makes the baddies switch into full hostility mode, sends our reluctant hero back to his racks of guns & ammo, and proves to us viewers that one cannot cast an actor such as John Lithgow to play the CEO of that tech company and expect the role to be minor.
Action ensues; it is good, but seriously, you’ve seen it all before. At the end there are two things that stand for The Accountant: the performance of J. K. Simmons as the federal agent chasing our superhero, and the fact The Accountant is a movie that puts the case against the marginalisation of autistic people in the mainstream.
Overall: 3 out of 5 crabs.

Sunday, 15 January 2017

High-Rise

Lowdown: Animal Farm in a high rise building.
Review:
High-Rise certainly took us by surprise. Being a movie starring the cleaner looking than ever Tom Hiddleston, we’ve sort of expected some polished drama; instead, we got ourselves a weird, eccentric and dystopian allegory. It’s very NSFW, and in case you didn’t get it by now, very weird.
It’s the seventies. Our Tom, or rather our Dr Robert, is a very respectable brain scholar moving in to a new apartment at a middle upper floor of a newish giant residential high rise. The building is its own community, and Robert gets to know the attractive single mother above him and the people at the lower floors as well as those at the penthouse. And yes, the residents’ social class dictates what floor they’re on, and yes, class wars ensue.
Those class wars go way beyond their logical conclusion. For some reason, however, they do not go outside the realm of our high rise’s parking lot, making it obvious depicted events are not to be taken at face value. If you are into that kind of thing, you will like High-Rise; if you aren’t, you will probably suffer.
Overall: High-Rise is a well played smart film, no doubt about it. Only problem is I haven’t enjoyed watching it, not in the least. At 3 out of 5 crabs, I recommend one only approaches it if one is aware of what’s coming and one is well prepared to deal with the frontal assault that is High-Rise.

Wednesday, 11 January 2017

Suicide Squad

I will start at the end: Suicide Squad represents a mainstream attempt at addressing the question of good vs. evil. It does so through the seemingly good using the services of the seemingly bad in order to turn a bad situation into a good one. During this journey, we discover the good are just as bad and the bad can be just as good.
This mainstream attempt takes place in the DC Comics universe, straight after the conclusion of the previous DC Comics movie (Batman vs. Superman): as in, Superman is dead. Yet evil is still about doing its evil things, and with no Supergood to sort the world out, our [American] leaders have to call on the Superbad to do so.
Thus we are introduced to a gang of evil doers that the world has previously locked away and witness as they are put at an impossible position (hence the “suicide” part of the title). That is, they are forced to do their shtick in the name of good or pay the consequences. But since those alleged baddies are unknown to movie goers at large, the first act of Suicide Squad is spent on us acquainting ourselves with this badass gang.
Leading the way is Deadshot (Will Smith), but stealing the movie outright with her performance is Harley Quinn / Margot Robbie; it’s one of those performances that are so good it is hard to distinguish the fictional character from the talented actress. Let’s just hope Hollywood does not fail Robbie the way it does most female talent.
At this stage I will mention Suicide Squad sees the return of The Joker’s character to the DC universe. Jared Leto portrays him, and I guess Leto does a fine job at it. Yet as fine as it is, I could not help but think how vastly superior Heath Ledger’s Joker was.
Anyways, The Joker plays a relatively minor role here. The bulk of Suicide Squad involves our squad’s attempts to neutralise a super villain threat released into the wild by the alleged goodies; this allows each of the squad members to come out and give us a show, and thus we have ourselves a fairly entertaining movie. It is overlong, many of the plot twists make no sense, but as superhero movies go this ain’t all bad. Far from it, Suicide Squad waxes much more poetic than the bulk of them. Or, more bluntly, it is much more of a thinking person’s superhero movie than the manure we're accustomed to.
And then there’s Margot Robbie.
Overall: Hopefully, now that the Suicide Squad members have been introduced to the world, the inevitable sequels will treat them as well as they deserve. For now, Suicide Squad earns 3 out of 5 crabs while sporting some attributes of generally superior quality.

Monday, 9 January 2017

Captain Fantastic

We all hold some contradicting positions. Yours truly may be scared of global warming and I might point at it as a looming danger, but I will still drive my car and fly around the globe in a jet. I may complain against our consumer driven society, but I am also an active member. Well, Captain Fantastic is a movie about a character that, unlike you and I, is determined to follow its convictions through and do do all the right things.
Ben (Vigo Mortensen) is the father of several children whom he raises, hunter gatherer style, at a remote and secluded from civilisation hideaway. Ruling the day there are all the things we know but often ignore in the name of social practicality: religion is bullshit, the truth matters above all, power to the people, etc. His kids are all olympian grade athletes, having to fend for themselves in everything; they are also extremely smart, with Ben curating them with the best books humanity could offer instead of the commercial TV and the Insta that dominate the lives of their peers. Yet it is clear they lack in real world smarts.
Which matters once they are taken into the real world, on a journey to attend the funeral of their recently deceased mother. That journey takes them across (?) the USA and has them interacting with police, “normal” kids their age, and their “normal” grandparents. Who will give and who will win? Will conformist+consumerist American society win this family, too, or will our gang manage to preserve its Swiss Family Robinson lifestyle?
Captain Fantastic has its ups and downs, and sometimes it sags while other times the improbable happens. I can and I will forgive most of those issues, though, in the face of its attempt to answer a question that has been troubling me for decades.
Overall: An interesting attempt to answer an important question. Despite its failure at the answers department, Captain Fantastic is worth 3.5 out of 5 crabs.

Thursday, 5 January 2017

Cafe Society

Woody Allen’s latest takes place in the fantastic thirties, a world where Hollywood is still a magic weaver and there is no such thing as a great or even a small recession.
In this world we have a young and naive New Yorker (the always creepy Jesse Eisenberg) venture to Hollywood, to his estranged uncle (Steve Carell), in order to find himself. Our guy is trading a poor Jewish migrant family with this uncle that can open the doors of Hollywood to him. And open them he does.
The main thing our very Allen like hero falls for, however, is his uncle’s secretary (Kristen Stewart). They plan this and that, but at the end he falls victim to his family ties and loses the girl. He starts again at the Cafe Society, a New York club established by his mafia brother.
I won’t go any further, but I will say that Cafe Society is a well acted movie about people loaded with ideals who happen to bend them at their own conscience. Because life happens; and as we all know, some times a gangster taking out a neighbour can really help.
Overall: Allen brings us a smart and thoughtful script, for a change, another one in his series that is all about explaining himself to the world. Only that in Cafe Society, he explains a lot about us, too. It’s unremarkable, but it is not bad either; 3 out of 5 crabs.
P.S. Wikipedia tells us that Cafe Society was a real establishment in New York’s scene, although with circumstances mildly different to the ones depicted in the movie.