Tuesday, 21 March 2017

The Girl on the Train

Funny that. If you travel on a Melbounre train, you will hardly see any people outside those waiting to board the train at the various stations. Let alone observe folks’ entire life stories. Yet this is exactly what we get with this American interpretation of the British book, The Girl on the Train.
A woman (Emily Blunt), who - we quickly learn - is a rather disturbed alcoholic - is a regular train traveler who can tell us all about several people she observes daily out of her ride. With two other women entering the story, these observations quickly turn into a murder story. Which, in turn, makes The Girl on the Train into yet another member of the “it's always the one you least suspect” club movie. With, dare I say, not much to add to the genre.
Blunt is good, but the whole skipping between timelines and women is rather heavy handed. I haven’t read the book; it could well be that it does not have much to offer beyond easy to sell cheap thrills. But I doubt this big screen rendition does the book much good.
Overall: 2.5 out of 5 crabs.

Monday, 20 March 2017

The Meaning of Science by Tim Lewens

Once upon a time in another world, I had a book called The Philosophy of Science that I developed a weird relationship with. First time I read it as a young boy, I thought it was bizarre; I was going for the science and ended up reading arguments piled over counter arguments. But with time I realised this made sense, revisited that book several times, and have grown fond of the complicated scene it exposed before me. Explaining what makes science different to other philosophies is no easy feat!
Years went by and that book got lost as I skipped several continents across the world. Then I bumped upon this book called The Meaning of Science, and immediately thought that, hey, here is a great opportunity for me to revive old acquaintances.
Only that this did not turned out to be the case.
The Meaning of Science is split into two parts, each with its own allegedly standalone chapters (I say allegedly because while the book may claim chapters can be read out of order, I did find inter references). The first part aims to establish what science is, philosophically, and the second tries to discuss the implications of that through practical examples.
However, right from the word go, with its discussion on science vs. pseudoscience, The Meaning of Science lost me. I understand philosophy can be a complicated affair, but I could not understand was that first chapter’s message - did it tell me there is a way to tell pseudoscience apart from science or did it argue the two are indistinguishable?
Whichever way the author had intended to be, the whole book is quite poor on the readability department. So much so it made it hard for this reader to tell the chaff from the wheat; or, more importantly, be able to critically assess the examples used by the book.
Overall:
I admit it entirely possible The Meaning of Science is a book way above my current intellectual capacity. However, even if that is the case, it only proves this is not a book that qualifies as a good dose of popular philosophy to the intermediate reader seeking to learn philosophy the way one learns science from a popular science book.
I therefore award The Meaning of Science 1 out of 5 crabs.

Sunday, 19 March 2017

Inferno

If you’ve watched one of the other Dan Brown book based movies starring Tom Hanks, The Da Vinci Code and Angels & Demons, you would know exactly what to expect out of Inferno. More of the same of the little these two other movies had to offer, that is.
The plot starts off like your classic JRPG: our hero (Hanks) wakes up suffering from amnesia, but through the occasional flashback comes back to realise what is truly going on around him (an experience uncomfortably stretched across the width of this entirely uninspiring film). In between we are exposed to the occasional improbable action scene taking place at classic historic places in Florence, Venice and Istanbul and featuring much 2c occult bullshit.
It’s good to see Sidse Babett Knudsen, of Borgen fame, again in a supporting role. Yet both her and Hanks deserve so much better!
Overall: A numb time waster if there ever was one. 2 out of 5 crabs.

Sunday, 26 February 2017

The Neon Demon

A 16 year old girl (Elle Fanning) comes to LA and, through her looks, conquers the modelling scene. She quickly attracts all the eyes that matter, brushing aside two other models as well the makeup artist that assumed the position of looking after her. Even the guy who took the first photos that opened doors for her loses touch.
Clearly, something has to give; in the absence of a trade union to turn to, our neglected models apply an approach that classifies The Neon Demon as a psychological horror film. Oh, and as a bonus, drop Keanu Reeves in for a small “guest appearance” that's actually very effective in emphasising the horror element.
Style matters in a movie about models. Proceedings are slow and carefully articulated through occasional electronic music, quiet & slow dialog, but otherwise deafening quiet. Rarely do our characters blink.
As the movie progressed, and more and more opportunities for nudity were denied, I started to think The Neon Demon is another of those American cinema samples of puritanism. Actually, that's probably good, given Fanning’s age. However, that last act breaks the traditions of the preceding hour and a half with some gruesome stuff, necrophilia included.
Ultimately, the question to ask in this movie about beautiful women is just how important the external image is. Do we care at all for what's on the inside? Just how shallow are we? I often think such thoughts when I examine a piece of computer code, but The Neon Demon’s approach is more sexual. Its is a male dominated society where the females have to fight for the scraps.
Overall: Generally speaking, The Neon Movie is not my cup of film; I'm no fan of horror. However, there can be no denying its style and careful crafting. It is a work of art, not another product in the production line. 3 out of 5 crabs.

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.