Friday, 9 December 2016

The 5th Wave

Given the YA genre seems to flourish in recent times, it is worthwhile mentioning a specific branch of the genre seems to be flourishing the most. I am referring to the one dealing in post apocalyptic scenarios where our Young Adults have to deal with a world devoid of adults or even a world where the adults are the baddies. And I am pointing at films such as Tomorrow When the War Began or The Hunger Games. And now, The 5th Wave.
If you’re familiar with the genre, you will find nothing new to see here. As per genre standards, we have a good looking American teen surrounded by fellow good looking Americans as they fight off aliens from outer space that invaded and killed the adults. I will note these evil aliens look like humans, which made me wonder aloud regarding budget calls.
So yes, another movie where younglings show adults where fish pee from. Most importantly, throughout their adventures their fair [white] legs are freshly shaved, their hair is kept dyed (roots and all), and makeup is generously applied. Because we might let aliens take our parents out, but we will never let them make us look anything but the photoshopped versions of ideal beauty Western society is constantly trying to sell us.
And if you think that is not enough for turning a movie into a pile of shite, do consider the fact this movie leaves an opening as wide as Donald Trump’s mouth for a sequel to come.
Overall: Our young adults deserve more than this 1.5 out of 5 shite crabs.

Wednesday, 7 December 2016

Our Kind of Traitor

John le Carre's books often make for good movies (Constant Gardener), and Our Kind of Traitor fits into that distinguished list quite eloquently.
Traitor tells a very plausible story of Russian / British corruption. A British couple (an interracial marriage, if I might note, although race doesn't play much of a factor in this movie), made of poetry scholar Perry (Ewan McGregor) and barrister Gail (Naomi Harris), tries to make amends for a marital crisis through a Moroccan holiday. There they stumble upon a flamboyant and extravagant Russian, Dima (Stellan Skarsgard), who manages to grab a mental hold on Perry.
It turns our Dima needs Perry's help in order to keep himself and his family alive. They are Russian mafia, you see, stuck in the middle when the state seeks to take over mafia business and make it its own. With the help of some politicians in the UK pulling the strings, that is; we all know London's core attraction with its financial services industry lies in its ability to turn a blind eye when laundering blood money.
So, yeah, le Carre's ability to create a feasible plot that smells so realistic in uncanny. It's not just the international conspiracy that is so well portrayed; the story of our estranged couple is just as fascinating, if not more, providing an analogy for the core story. The cheating husband is the one to become the morally good party while the seemingly virtuous freedom fighting barrister hesitates. And Skarsgard does a very good Russian, in effect stealing the film with his performance.
Overall: Very well done and acted, Our Kind of Traitor is entertaining as well as wise. 4 out of 5 my kind of crabs.

Tuesday, 29 November 2016

Independence Day: Resurgence

Back in the nineties, independence Day was one of those laserdiscs that caused mass migration into my house. People who did not think much of the movie - let's be frank, it was a silly movie - came to appreciate is as a celebration of fun. Could the sequel that took two decades to come, Independence Day: Resurgence, be as good?
Short answer: No. Slightly longer answer: very, very, far from it.
So, yes, two decades later the aliens make a comeback to have another go at earth. Their interest in earth is actually explained this time around: they want its core, and us humans only have a day or so before they take it from us and leave us coreless. Which, we are told, would destroy the earth because of the lack of a magnetic field (something that happened several times in earth's history already). Come to think of it, we are not told what's so unique about the earth's core; those same aliens could have peacefully gone for the cores of Venus and Mars, not to mention other solar systems.
Anyway, joining the stupid plot are cliche characters portrayed by various famous actors, some of which reprise their older roles. I will also note many - like Will Smith - had the great wisdom to avoid this disaster and didn't show up.
The result is so pathetic I will not even bother analysing it (and the further sequels inviting ending only renders things worse). I know, what is the point of a review if I do not review? Well, some things go even below yours truly's standards.
The duo of director Roland Emmerich and producer Dean Devlin had a few promising movies in their past. More recently, however, theirs are just a repeat of the same theme - America saving the world. Maybe theirs are films for the Trump era; as far as I am concerned, they should have quit while ahead. Around two decades ago.
Overall: Pathetic through and through. At 1 out of 5 crabs, I urge you to avoid this Resurgence in any way possible.

Monday, 28 November 2016

Sausage Party

Remember this movie called Toy Story? Or the ten sequels that followed?
Now, think of the same movie but replace the ecosystem of toys living in a child's bedroom with that of food living at a supermarket. Replace the child friendly themes with Seth Rogen, too, and you got yourself a Sausage Party.
What this translates into is a sausage (Rogen) whose chief ambition in life is to get into a bun (Kristen Wiig). More importantly, they live in a computer animated supermarket where they recite a hymn about the wonderful heavenly world that awaits when the gods (humans) purchase them and take them along and away from the shop. Clearly, our groceries are in for the shock of their lives when they discover what their post supermarket fate actually is, hence a movie full of theological themes. Let me make it very clear that in this discussion that does not try and hide its religious aspects, secularism does win; on the negative side, being this is a Seth Rogan movie, the answer to all questions is sex.
Surprisingly enough, there is a second theme to the movie revolving around the Arab-Israeli conflict. Escorting our lips & asses made hero is a Jewish bagel (Edward Norton doing a very Woody Allen character) and a Palestinian lavash, and as you can imagine there is a lot of antagonism between these two. As you can also imagine, they would also discover they have much more in common than not, and as you should also be able to imagine this will lead them to have sex.
Look, Sausage Party is a very silly movie in spite of dealing with heavy themes (how they manage that should be the subject of a university course). More importantly, Sausage Party is a movie that clearly demonstrates the absence of adult animation movies is a failure of the free market.
Overall: 3 out of 5 crabs.

Sunday, 27 November 2016

The Lobster

The name and the poster give it away: The Lobster is an eccentric film featuring an ensemble of weirdo characters. To that I will add it qualifies as science fiction and, more notably, fine art.
The Lobster is a black comedy about a society where one has to follow rules and conform, even when one doesn't want to, in order to get anywhere in life. In order to make its statement, The Lobster takes this everyday rule into the extreme: in The Lobster's universe, if you do not have a partner and you fail to acquire one within a certain period of time, you're turned into an animal of your choice. Our hero, David (Colin Farrell), chooses to become a lobster (hence the movie's name). But he still has time to get a grip and conform in this rehabilitation institution he's at, an Orwell grade recovery centre that's meant to teach him how to be a social person. He can even extend his time there by hunting down fugitive non conformists!
There can be no doubt about it, The Lobster is brilliant, and as long as one can manage with its mild eccentricities one should be able to enjoy its social commentary. Immensely so. Alas, it also deteriorates half way through, though, significantly deducting its effectiveness.
Overall: Imperfect yet immensely clever, this movie gets 3.5 out of 5 lobsters. Sorry, crabs.

Wednesday, 16 November 2016

Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari

Lowdown: An examination of the unique nature of our species through the eye of historical fact.
Review:
Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind (or just Sapiens from now on) by Yuval Noah Harari was first published in 2011 in Hebrew, which happens to be my mother tongue. I first heard of the book in 2012 and since then made one attempt after another to acquire the ebook in its original language; with the recent publication of Harari's Homo Deus I decided that enough is enough, the ebook market is never going to satisfy my need for DRM-less editions, and took the plunge to read the English translation. I don't know just how much this book loses through translation - they always lose something - but I will say this: Sapiens is one of those books that opened my eyes and made me perceive the world around me in such a different light that I hereby charge you to drop everything and read it. Now. In whatever language you can digest.
Harari is a historian and his book is a history book. The catch is, this history book dares to go where no other [I am aware of] ventures in its analysis of historical events and their implications on this world of ours. Essentially, Harari covers the history of our species, Homo Sapiens, from its evolution out of some preliminary Sapiens species and up to this modern day and age. What separates our particular breed of Sapiens from all others, Neanderthals and such, is - according to Harari - some mutation that seems to have hit our great great grandparents' cognitive minds some 50K years ago. This mutation allowed our ancestors to imagine things and then hold on to these ideas, collectively. In turn, this allowed us humans to do things like believing these bills in our wallets stand for something; or let the clocks on our wristwatches dictate what we do and when.
For lack of time and ability to do Sapiens justice I will leave the book's ideas at that. What I will say is that Harari is not afraid to pick sides, as per when he argues the agricultural revolution that we are taught to regard as one of humanity's biggest achievements was actually a major cause of suffering that - for economic reasons - we are now firmly trapped with. Neither isn't Harari shy to point out the religious origins (that is to say, the fictional/mythical origins) of the themes dictating the culture of our liberal/humanist democracies we aspire to be living in today.
Overall:
Sapiens' impact on me was so big I find myself unable to read other books; the two I have tried since, highly recommended by Time, felt so inferior I deleted them in disgust. On the other hand, I'm holding myself from rushing straight away to Homo Deus.
Regardless of my personal failings, I highly recommend you broaden your horizons with Sapiens. This is as 5 out of 5 crabs as any book can get.

Thursday, 10 November 2016

Demolition

Lowdown: A husband who lost his wife to a traffic accident develops an eccentric relationship with the customer service woman of a faulty vending machine.
Review:
The opening scene to Demolition shows us this movie's first act of demolition: Davis (Jake Gyllenhaal) loses his wife to a meaningless traffic accident. He, the passenger, is unharmed; she is dead. What follows on is the story of Davis' recovery from this cataclysm.
It's not what you'd expect. Davis does not have to battle with the notion of having lost the person he loved the most; instead, he's contending the feeling that he never really loved his wife, and that only now, through this freak event, is he able to finally figure it out. Which makes contending with his boss, also his wife's father, Phil (Chris Cooper) extra hard. Not only because Davis' exuberant material wealth and comfy Wall Street job comes off his wife's side of the family.
Clearly lost, Davis embarks upon writing complaint letters to the owners of the hospital snack vending machine that swallowed his change while he was there for his dying wife. Only that the scope of Davis' letters is rather expansive, including detailed accounts of his life before and after the accident. The customer service woman on the receiving end of these letters, Karen Moreno (Naomi Watts) ends up getting personally involved, as well as her teenager son. Along their path to salvation several things get demolished, including Davis' house.
Watching Demolition I could not help finding myself totally captivated by the characters and their handling of traumatic events. Clearly, Demolition offers excellent acting performances. However, at the same time I took note how certain parts of this film border on the nonsensical, most notably Davis demolishing his own luxury house without even the slightest police intervention. My personal solution to this contradiction was to consider this demolition metaphorical, the sort of thing that can happen in movie world but not in real life.
Regardless, Demolition presents viewers with a recurring pattern of people whose lives were diminished by doing the ordinary things that were expected of them instead of being what they are / doing what they want. Again and again I was taken aback with the message it offered, essentially arguing that yes, you will get hurt if you follow your heart and go against the flow, but you will also find internal happiness that is otherwise impossible to achieve. Just ask Karen Moreno's son after he got the shit beaten out of him while exploring his gay tendencies.
Sure, you can argue Demolition's message is too much of a cliche. I, on the other hand, found it a well aimed, poignant artistic statement. As someone standing at a personal crossroad in my own life, I have found Demolition a kind of a beacon in the dark.
Overall: Potentially confusing and disorientating, Demolition is also somewhat inspirational. All of which combine to make a fine piece of art deserving 4 out of 5 crabs.

Thursday, 3 November 2016

Warcraft

Isn't it funny that no one was able to come up with a worthy Dungeons & Dragons like movie yet?
Warcraft is the latest to attempt this feat. I will grant it entertainment; I did not suffer watching this movie. I will not, however, grant it quality approval; Warcraft is your typical collection of underdeveloped characters, special effects laden, minimal story affair designed to make money out of an existing brand. Oh, and there is no ending either, with the powers that be seeking to make more money out of this franchise through the dreaded Sequel.
True, Warcraft is no D&D but rather a computer game. A point only the truly invested folk will care about, because for all intents and purposes this is a D&D story of a world invaded by orcs. The orcs are not necessarily baddies but rather refugees from a dying world; regardless, fighting they come, with only fair and compassionate white humans to stand between them and another destroyed world. Of these humans, the one we're meant to keep an eye on the most is that of the character portrayed by Ragnar Lothbrok (sorry, I meant to say Travis Fimmel). Alas, like the rest of them, his is underdeveloped; if anything, the most interesting character is that of a half orc female (Paula Patton).
Warcraft is directed by ex Moon's Duncan Jones (yes, Bowie's son). Things often reminded me of a Peter Jackson production, probably due to trying to cram too much into a movie length affair but then still forcing a sequel upon us.
Overall: Light entertainment at 2.5 out of 5 crabs.