Saturday, 16 September 2017

Their Finest

Their Finest poses itself as a tale of a woman film script writer in the thick of World War 2 Britain. Not much goes around that does not involve the war effort, and that applies to the film industry, too; it is all about wartime propaganda. Thus our hero (friend of this blog's Gemma Arterton) finds herself in the wrangles of scripting a movie about the heroism of Dunkirk that is meant to not only appeal to British viewers at home, but also encourage Americans to get off their neutral @$$.
I said poses itself, because Their Finest is actually a movie about feminism and women making ends meet for men despite all the trouble men lead them through. It starts when our scriptwriter gets her first job and is explicitly told she will only get a fraction of what the men doing her role will get, because, hey, she's a woman. And it develops further and further. All while, it has to be said, leveraging off on the idea of movies as works of fiction that we accept for real (after all, that is the entire point of propaganda); but if that is the case, then what does it mean about a movie that shows us how valuable women are?
Arterton aside, I quite liked Bill Nighy in the role of the elderly actor who thinks too much of himself but falls so easily to the [positive] manipulations of "our" scriptwriter.
Overall: Fine, light but thoughtful, British entertainment. 3 out of 5 crabs.

Wednesday, 13 September 2017

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

There really isn't that much for me to say about the second episode of Guardians of the Galaxy; my main take out of the movie is that this is clearly a sequel, and a sequel designed to bring forth more sequels at that. Looks like there will be Guardians of the Galaxy movies produced till well after your grand grand children leave this earth.
Not that there's anything wrong with that, because as far as space adventures go, Volume 2 is a delightful mix of action of the shallow but fun type. Produced at Hollywood blockbuster production values grade, this one is as fun as; or rather, as they say, awesome!
The plot involves Star Lord's (Chris Pratt) encounter with the father he had never known (Kurt Russell), but it is actually more about the personal interactions between the Guardians' crew. To put it simply, they find things about one another.
If there are any surprises, these involve Pratt's brick like acting. Which is a surprise, given he was fully able to act in previous movies of his, and given others (say, Zoe Saldana) show no signs of similar infliction. On a personal note, I will add I quite like having the character of Nebula back; I think she is, by far, my series' favourite.
Overall: Shallow as, but what's wrong with having some fun between all those suns? 3.5 out of 5 crabs.
P.S. The soundtrack isn't half as good as the first episode's. So white bread music it's not even funny.

Monday, 11 September 2017


How often are you able to say, with regards to a movie, something along the lines of "yes, I remember when that happened"? Well, for me, Lion is one such case; I remember when its story broke over the news. That news story was a mesmerising one: an Indian boy adopted by an Australian family from Tasmania as an orphan, now in his twenties, had managed to locate his original family in India and reunite with them. And this time, it's personal; as in, it was not a Hollywood made plot.
The movie version of the tale is a story of two halves. The first tells the story of the young child that, for one reason or another, boards a train that sees him crossing to India's other side. He has no idea where he is and he doesn't even speak the local language. He does, however, manage to escape the doom of child molestation and ends up at an orphanage that, eventually, sees him adopted by an Aussie family (Nicole Kidman and David Wenham).
More than fifty minutes into the film we cross to its second half. The boy, now an Aussie through and through and a Melbourne university student, is coming to grips with the fact he actually had a family in India. I do wonder why Dev Patel was cast for the job, given the lack of shortage of Aussies of Indian origins. Anyway, supported by friends, including his girlfriend (Rooney Mara), he embarks on the seemingly impossible task of locating his original family using the tidbits of memories still in his head and the internet's mapping services.
On the upside, we do know this story has a happy ending. On the other, I cannot claim the movie has much more to offer beyond its authentic uplifting story. In all other ways, it follows the traditional extortion based film techniques that similar dramas have deployed for decades. I will also argue the film is significantly longer than it should have been, especially that second half.
Overall: Lion offers interesting insight into India. Most of all, it's got an ace of a story to tell. I’ll be a bit harsh, though, given this imperfect movie’s ample uplift-ifcation, and give it 3 out of 5 crabs.

Saturday, 9 September 2017

The Revenant

I will admit to being late to The Revenant's party, but I will also admit it's a party well worth admitting to. The story of a guy called Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio) out there in the wilds of the Wild West (before it even turned it to be The Wild West), surviving a bear attack to avenge the person who betrayed him, is a simple story by today's standards. It's just that this movie tells it well.
Complexity is added to this tale through weaving in the matter of Native Americans' relationships with the Europeans that were exterminating them. It also has to be said that while Glass was a real person, this - The Revenant movie - is a fictionalised version of his original tale. Through the passage of time and its unreliable sources, our story is bound to be almost as fictional as the Bible's.
Ultimately, The Revenant feels like a long David Attenborough like expansive, two and a half hour long, opus on humans vs nature. I particularly liked friend of this blog Tom Hardy's performance, this time in the role of the baddie.
Overall: 4 out of 5 crabs.

Thursday, 7 September 2017

Toni Erdmann

If I told you Toni Erdmann is a two and half hours long human drama featuring no music soundtrack, plenty of long cuts, and a handheld camera throughout you would probably think this one's a nightmare. I am here to tell you it's not; it is, actually, a movie that, for a change, does break the paradigm of movie making.
Story wise, we follow a mature German father who wishes to get close to his daughter, now a high flying executive working in Romania through a high flying company that's there to make a killing by, amongst others, depriving Romanians off their jobs. In order to get through to his daughter, the father creates the identity of this Toni Erdmann who is "there as a consultant".
The whole process exposes the humanity of the situation in a manner that is best left for you to explore by watching the movie. For our purposes here, I will state this is straight in your face cinema that goes for authenticity rather than the manufactured artificiality of Hollywood. And hooray for that!
Overall: Not the easiest movie to watch, but one to learn from. 4 out of 5 crabs.

Tuesday, 5 September 2017

Dataclysm by Christian Rudder

From the guy that gave the world OK Cupid and is acting as the online service's chief statistician comes Dataclysm, a book (or rather, in my case, an audiobook) that is all about number crunching. That is to say, the author analyses the big data available to him through OK Cupid and comes up with some interesting conclusions; he then looks further afield, towards compatriots such as Facebook, Twitter and Google; and from all of that he conjures tons of insight about this world we live in.
Thus we get to look at racial relationships in the USA, and the numbers are rather scary. I will put it this way, I could have never imagines the situation in the Land of the Free to be as bad as it is, but - what can I do? - the numbers don't lie. Similarly, Dataclysm examines LGBT related affairs, along the way concluding rather conclusively that 5% of the population is gay and then looks at how certain parts keep it a secret while others are open - what does this say about our society?
The theme goes on. Men vs. women, urban vs. rural: whatever the case at hand happens to be, the lines on our made-up map disappear and instead the "real" maps come up. National borders don't mean a thing in big data number crunching.
Dataclysm is thus a good read, an eye opener that calls a spade a spade for better and worse. As an audiobook, it suffers more than a bit given the large number of graphs that have to be read aloud to the reader, but it is always manageable.
At the end of it all, Rudder does complain - in an exercise of self irony - about us progressing towards a society where people and entire populations are reduced to single numbers. In doing so, he also sounds the alarm on privacy, noting he himself stays away from social media: perhaps, Rudder asks, by the time we realise what is happening to our privacy in this world of Googles and Facebooks, big data will crunch it all and there won't be any possibility for privacy left (because machines would have already analysed all that is there to analyse about us).
Quite up to date in a field where every week brings us fresher grounds, Dataclysm is well worth reading. I will emphasise the word "reading", because I believe such a book of numbers would be better served in book form than audiobook. Still, I will reduce the audiobook to a single figure of 3.5 out of 5 crabs.
Further reading:
If you seek a counter view, try David Brin's The Transparent Society; as you can tell, I had found it to be out of date and grossly naive with its core view that surveillance is fine because we could surveil the surveillers.
For what I consider a much more realistic view of the world we live in, I would point you at this article entitle You Are the Product. I would also point you at my own post, here.

Thursday, 31 August 2017

Ken Follett's The Pillars of the Earth

The review was published at Digitally Downloaded here.
I will add a personal note noting the published version misses on a couple of paragraphs I had originally submitted. I think the result is a dryer, too laconic, review that lacks some necessary air.
Which goes to show there are sacrifices to be made when submitting oneself to the mercies of an editor. I am surprised how annoying I'm finding it, but I'm sure I'll get over it just the same.

Friday, 25 August 2017

The Gulf by Anna Sprgo-Ryan

"I think this is a song of hope", said Robert Plant as the band Led Zeppelin started playing Stairway to Heaven on that historical night of theirs at New York's Madison Square Garden. That performance has been recorded for prosperity under the live album The Songs Remains the Same.
The reason why I am mentioning all of the above here is that I think The Gulf, with all the social issues it is documenting and all the sadness in it, is a book of hope.
Told through the eyes of 16 year old Skye, Anna Spargo-Ryan's second book (after The Paper House) takes place at South Australia. Skye lives at a rental apartment in Adelaide together with her single mother and 10 year old brother Ben (I'm pretty sure Ben Ten had a factor in this); her father had long disappeared. Clearly, they are not among the financially better off, and clearly her mother does not enjoy her position in the world.
Two things happen to break the idyll. First, the mother brings Jason home, a guy she met at a Big W queue and quickly develops a relationship with. And second, the family is thrown out of their apartment when its owner sells it. The solution to the family's immediate problem? Move over to Jason's rundown house at the remote rural town of Port Flinders.
Let us just say that things don't go too smoothly with this move and all.
The Gulf is an ode to all those people on the other side of the social divide, the people we generally tend not to devote much thought to. These are the people who live in rural Australia, for whom opportunities are much harder to come by (I will add that the setting receives similar treatment in Australian Rules, a movie that depicts the emptiness of life in rural Australia; that film deals with white to aboriginal relationships, though). These are also Australia's rental class people, the people for whom owning a house they could call home in Australia is no longer an option. It is about single mothers, whom the social welfare system in Australia discriminates against (with the Liberal government doing its best to make life even harder); they are often trapped in a vicious circle between being able to work and being able to afford care for their children. It is about sexual abuse. It is about gender discrimination and the fact that most women still live in a world that has them exposed to predatory males. And it is about the victims of bullying.
Even if you, dear reader, are at a privileged position where none of the above classifications are relevant to you, Spargo-Ryan will politely point out that is ever so easy to find yourself there; not that much needs to happen, really.
As with Spargo-Ryan's previous book, the beauty here is in the level of detail that renders the experience so vivid. It made Ben, to name but one example, one of my all time favourite fictional characters; I could see so much of his naive intellect in children that I know in real life. There is beauty and impact in that level of detail, and what starts feeling like a teenager's diary turns into a book that read, to me, like a thriller. It is not that often that a book was able to put me so clearly inside a teenager's mind, let alone a female teenager.
At the personal level, I happened to be reading this book while listening to the music of Phillip Glass. I have grown to associate that minimalist classical music inseparable to this book, with its dramatic ups and downs providing the perfect soundtrack to The Gulf. I know this is pure coincidence, but it did contribute a lot to my enjoyment from both book and music. To which I will also add that the very fact The Gulf lends itself so well to Glass' superb music is further testimony to its qualities.
Overall: Brimming with authenticity, I qualify The Gulf as a true work of art, a book that captures a significant portion of the Australian experience oh so very well. 4.5 out of 5 crabs (and yes, the book does feature crabs!).