Monday, 30 March 2015

Blue Is the Warmest Color

Lowdown: A teenager “finds herself” as she grows into an adult.
Review:
I took note of 2013’s Blue Is the Warmest Color (or rather, La Vie d'Adèle – Chapitres 1 & 2 as per its original French title) for a rather weird reason. The reason was to do with the harsh treatment its stars had received from director Abdellatif Kechiche. According to him, he was trying to elicit the finest performance he could. According to me, given what I read, his approach was rather inhumane. Still, I was curious; it’s not like the stars were held against their will or anything illegal.
The movie tracks the life of teenager Adèle (Adèle Exarchopoulos) over the course of several years of her life and three hours of the viewer’s life. At the beginning, she is a high school girl going through the social routine of high school girls. A boy is interested in her, they get together, they have sex, but it doesn’t work for Adèle. However, walking through the streets of what seems to be her northern France hometown, she sees this girl with blue hair, and that girl really interests Adèle.
Eventually, the two do get to meet at a gay bar. Adèle learns the subject of her interest is Emma (Léa Seydoux), a woman senior to her by a few years, an art student, and an out of the closet lesbian with a partner. The two can’t resist one another and a proper relationship develops, affecting the lives of both characters.
Blue Is the Warmest Color’s claim to fame is its realism. In order to achieve that, the handheld camera tends to drift right in front of the actors' faces. Unless there is music playing where the actors happen to be at, there is no soundtrack; it’s all real.
Probably the elements most people will remember out of this movie are the sex scenes, which are also made to look real. As in, authentic. Let me be straight about it: These are hard to watch. It’s not your typical Hollywood, clearly made up, clearly artificial, blanket over the private parts type sex scenes; it’s full on. And it’s not like porn, designed to create arousal in the viewer; this is real life like. Personally, it was quite hard for me to sit and watch other people having sex, and given the frequency, length and depth of these scenes the whole experience of watching Blue Is the Warmest Color proved quite tough.
However, if authenticity is what you’re seeking, then Blue Is the Warmest Color certainly delivers. It tackles themes such as a woman finding herself in the world, sexuality (particularly of the LGBT type), relationships, age differences, and even class differences. Yes, the movie is too long for its own good, yet it does deliver a well made document on what all of those mean for a girl growing up in today’s world.
Overall: Let me repeat myself and state Blue Is the Warmest Color is not an easy movie to watch. If your guts allow you to endure it, though, you will be rewarded with a very straight forward film (pun intended) worth 3 out of 5 crabs.

Saturday, 28 March 2015

Interstellar

Lowdown: In order to save the people of earth, an astronaut travels through a warmhole to alternative earth like planets.
Review:
Every two to three years, director Christopher Nolan comes out with a new movie that has the world bending down to kiss the hem of his gown but leaves me rather puzzled. I liked his first Batman movie, but did not see what the big deal was with the second or the third. And while I do admit there are nice ideas at the core of The Prestige and Inception, I also think their execution was rather lacking, and not for lack of budget; it is clear Nolan and I work on different wavelengths.
Now, with Interstellar, the question I was asking myself is whether Nolan can finally get me on my knees, too. His starting point is a good one: here is a science fiction movie dealing with bread and butter themes of the genre, notably space travel. So, did Nolan do it?
Interstellar’s premises are interesting enough. We start of at an earth of about a hundred years or so into the future. It’s not a bright future: things are dying, there are no animals to be seen, and corn is pretty much the only thing out there still edible. Oh, and stormy dust clouds envelope everything most of the time. We are not told how the earth got to this, but we are told that in this earth there are no more armies because there is nothing to fight for and human population has been drastically reduced from our current peak.
In this setup we are introduced to Cooper (Matthew McConaughey), a farmer, a widower, an ex astronaut, and the father of two kids – most notably a very smart girl, Murphy (played by various actresses, most notably Jessica Chastain). Through a bit of this and that, our Cooper stumbles upon a NASA base led by an old professor (Nolan regular Michael Caine). There he learns the latest in planet survival news: mysterious aliens have established a wormhole near Saturn, through which earth like planets in another galaxy have been detected. Volunteer astronauts were sent to each of those in one way missions, with three radioing favourable findings back. The plan is to now pay these a visit so as to initiate either a Plan A (migrating the people of earth to the successful candidate) or Plan B (carrying thousands of fertilised human eggs in order to establish new human population on the planet, thus at least maintaining the species despite giving up on earth). The plan was short on an experienced pilot, but hey, now they’ve landed Cooper! All he has to do is leave his family behind before hopping aboard a spaceship with the professor’s daughter (Anne Hathaway) and a Minecraft style robot and go star trekking to save the people of the earth.
The end result is a spectacular looking film spanning close to three hours as it goes about its way rather slowly. Talking pace, there are obvious queues from 2001: A Space Odyssey, evident in both grandness of scale and scenes featuring one spaceship docking with another. There is also quite a collection of famous actors thrown into the mix, like John Lithgow, Casey Affleck and Matt Damon in addition to those I already mentioned. So yeah, as space operas go, Interstellar delivers a quality experience.
Then there is the matter of the messages Interstellar is trying to tell us. As stated, this is my main area of conflict with Nolan. Sure, I appreciate the messages about needing to look after our planet; I can also appreciate the message about humanity needing to seek a future for itself in space (objectively speaking, it’s necessary for the survival of our species). But I do have problems with some of the messages and, more specifically, with the way the core messages are delivered.
It starts with basics. Murphy, Cooper’s daughter, acquired her name as some sort of the tribute to the famous “law”. Murphy is upset because she’s named after things going wrong, but Cooper corrects her – the “law” is not about things going wrong, but rather anything that can happen eventually happening. This is no coincidence, because that’s exactly what the film depicts; yet as scientifically accurate as the film might try to portray itself in oversimplified discussions of wormholes and black holes, there is no denying science is dropped out of the window at later stages in favour of making the statement Interstellar wants to make. In other words, I felt like Interstellar was not full of stars, like the movie it outsourcing much of its inspiration from, but rather full of sh*t.
Your own mileage may vary depending on your sensitivity to such issues. Normally, I can turn a blind eye in favour of a good movie; Interstellar annoyed me mostly because it does go a long way to try and explain its “science” in catchy, pseudo scientific, ways. You may still argue that you don’t care, which is perfectly within your rights, but if that is the case then let me ask you this. Those aliens that stepped in to try and help save humanity: don’t you agree they went the very long and improbable way about their quest?
Overall: Interstellar is a nice sci-fe movie that, as per usual Nolan procedures, fails to stand out as the epic it aspires to be. 3.5 out of 5 spaced crabs.

Friday, 27 March 2015

The Prophecy Con by Patrick Weekes

Lowdown: Loch & Co return with another impossible caper operation.
Review:
With two extremely good fantasy books under his belt, books that made me regard their author as some sort of a demigod, I suspect the question facing Patrick Weekes was “where to from here”. And then it occurred to him (yours truly speculates): instead of coming up with a brand new world for his next book, with all the meticulous planning that involves, maybe he should just further develop a world he had already created?
Thus we have ourselves The Prophecy Con, sequel to Weekes’ stupidly highly entertaining The Palace Job, and now the self declared second episode in a trilogy dubbed Rogues of the Republic. On the plus side, we get an unplanned visit to a universe I thoroughly liked and heroes that felt like my best friends. On the negative side, a sequel is a sequel is a sequel: there’s a high likelihood for the creator to create more of the same rather than innovate on the cause of originality. Especially with this, a sequel for a book that was not designed to be sequeled.
Having read The Prophecy Con, yours truly can provide assurances: The Prophecy Con is everything you’d expect to find in a sequel but it has none of the negative that give sequels a bad name. Or, in other words: Patrick Weekes has done it for the third time in a row (if I'm allowed to count Dragon Age: The Masked Empire).
Proceedings start with us being quickly reintroduced to the same gang of heroes we left off in The Palace Job. You know, master thief/fighter Loch, able assistant Kail, the acrobat, the alchemist, the death/love priestess, the wizard, the unicorn, the lot. A few months following the former book, war looks like it is about to break between our heroes’ Republic and the Empire that feels threatened by events from book 1. The Empire’s starting price for peace starts with a dead Loch; for obvious reasons, Loch has a problem with that. Which triggers the Empire’s princess and her group compromising of a bodyguard and his magic axe, amongst others, to chase Loch throughout the Republic. In parallel, the Republic puts Loch on a secret quest that might resolve the brewing conflict. And in another parallel, the lesser parties of the Republic’s leadership try to rid the world of Loch.
Oh, and you know what quest Loch is on this time around, in between everybody else in the world trying to kill her? It’s the exact same quest from The Palace Job.
Thus we have ourselves a great setup for reacquainting ourselves with the heroes of the previous book. As I mentioned in that review, that party reminds me a lot of the character interactions in Mass Effect (a video game Patrick Weekes had co-wrote): they’re very well developed, they’re a very diversified lot, all with blatant imperfections, all with the ability to rise up to the occasion. My personal favourite? Almost goes without saying it’s Kail and his uncanny ability to always come up with beneficial references  about an enemy’s mother. Because, in combat, nothing helps more than an insulting distraction.
Style wise, The Prophecy Con is incredibly similar to its predecessor. Our heroes are set up against a constant build-up of odds stacking against them, but – through luck, skill and what not – always manage to get themselves off the hook at the very last minute. It is clear that this combination of build up and last minute solution is a Weekes trademark, and I have to say it works to make the book a major page turner. That said, the build up is so thorough that the solution can look too simple / unrealistic when it occurs. I guess that’s the problem with build ups for impossible caper jobs, they make one develop expectations for similarly elaborate solutions.
It’s pretty much non stop action throughout, which is nice; on the other hand, one of the things I like the most about Weekes’ previous two books was the way they made me think about our very real, non fantasy world, world issues. Does Weekes manage to offer such thinking points in his sequel? My answer to this question is a “yes, but”. Yes, questions dealing with morality/ethics along the lines of what’s right for a person to do under challenging circumstances are raised and are relevant to a society infested with top level corruptness (I’m talking about our real life society now, not the book’s). It's mostly around what it means to be a good member of such a society. That said, there is certainly less of it than in book 1.
Most importantly, The Prophecy Con – unlike many sandwich episodes in trilogies reviewed here before – offers an ending. It clearly sets the scene for book 3, but it does not leave the reader with their mouth open and our heroes at a cliff hangar. Weekes concluding the book after his thank you notes is a nice touch there, too.
Overall:
I will not deny it: I fell for The Prophecy Con through and through, enjoying every minute of it. For now I will give it *only* 4 out of 5 crabs, but I do reserve my judgement. The real question is, how well will book 3 seal the trilogy?
I can’t wait.

Monday, 23 March 2015

Rush Hour

Lowdown: A martial artist and a loudmouth join hands to save a girl.
Review:
To give you an impression how long it’s been since Rush Hour came into our lives, note it sports jokes about Chelsea Clinton. This is a 1998 movie! Yet, when us parents wanted to introduce our son to the martial arts movie genre, it was Rush Hour we went with. Yes, we know it’s rated M, but we also know this is purely the result of hundreds of “shit”s and dozens of “ass”es; we’re not sick with political correctness, we are fine with those as long as they’re uttered in Rush Hour’s humorous and cheerful manner. Yet it has to be said, at the end of Rush Hour our son wanted more of Jackie Chan but could not stand the fast talking, shit uttering machine, that was/is Chris Tucker.
The story of Rush Hour is a simple affair designed to allow its chief actors, Chan and Tucker, to do their thing: the first to demonstrate his martial arts abilities, the second to talk shit. A Hong Kong diplomat moves to work as the head of the Los Angeles consulate after having much success dealing with a criminal gang, mostly thanks to the work of local detective Lee (Chan). In America, that same gang he was so successful with avenges him by kidnapping his daughter. The FBI is immediately called to take care of the crisis, but the diplomat insists on involving Lee in its investigations. The FBI wants Lee as much as it wants to have to go to a judge and get a warrant before listening to all our phone calls, so it asks for a local LAPD cop – James Carter (Tucker) – so that the latter could act as a tour guide for tourist Lee. Little does the FBI know that both Lee and Tucker will not accept their plan; following an introduction that has them not getting along with one another, the two will – eventually – join forces to put the FBI in its place and solve the crisis in the funniest possible way.
There really isn’t much to Rush Hour other than the (action)->(setup break)->(action)->(setup break)->repeat formula pattern. It’s dead simple, but also incredibly effective given the incredibly effective cast. Even Chan's weakness, his English, is explained through the plot.
This is an action comedy that transcends time and still delivers today, from start to blooper featured credits, no matter how many times I have watched it before. I could say Rush Hour feels like a good wine that gets better as it ages, but I won't; you see, I don't like wine. But I do like Rush Hour quite a lot.
Overall: Rush Hour puts the F in fun. 4.5 out of 5 crabs that fully appreciate what Rush Hour did to the action comedy genre.
Sound advice: If you seek more Rush Hour fun, avoid the horrible sequel and go directly to Rush Hour 3.

Sunday, 22 March 2015

The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies

Lowdown: Peter Jackson’s Hobbit trilogy ends with a big battle putting leaders to the test.
Review:
So we’ve laboured through the first two Hobbit movies from Peter Jackson’s arsenal, An Unexpected Journey and The Desolation of Smaug, and now – having found ourselves held for ransom by a dragon of a cliff hanger at the end of episode two – we finally get to the conclusion of this movie trilogy that’s based on a single children’s book. In other words, enter The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies.
It might therefore strike you as particularly awful to find that the dragon, and thus the ending of the book this movie is based on, is dispensed with rather quickly in the beginning. From that point onwards Jackson takes us through realms previously uncharted. You see, the hobbit Bilbo (Martin Freeman) part of this The Hobbit movie is but minor, a token supporting role at best; the real hero is Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage), king of the newly resurrected, ultra rich dwarf kingdom.
This king of ours is under stress. On one hand, he is obviously corrupted by the power of the treasure mountain now under his control. On the other, he is constantly harassed by parties claiming their share of the treasure: the humans who paid the price for the dwarves’ awakening the dragon, as well as the elves coming to stake their claim with an entire army to make their claim with. On the other hand, the baddies’ end, they are coming over with their huge army to take over the minimally populated dwarf realm and its treasure. The result? A battle of five armies, duh.
Yes, this has nothing to do with the original book. More importantly, this is a badly told and unoriginal story featuring too many not so well developed characters. Think hard: when was the last time you watched a Peter Jackson movie where the heroes are facing the exact same challenge, threatened by the exact same baddies, to the point of losing all hope? Dead easy answer: last time you watched The Lord of the Rings trilogy. Specifically, The Two Towers.
My recommendation to you is therefore simple. Unless you’re truly fascinated by scenes of natural New Zealand beauty, for which I cannot blame you, avoid this butchering of The Hobbit story. Go and watch the real thing, the original thing, The Lord of the Rings, once again. Now, that was a good trilogy!
As for those of us who did suffer through The Hobbit trilogy, we can only lament how the prospect of another trilogy’s milking cow twisted the creative minds behind one of the best series of movies ever to create such an abomination.
Worst scene: As the baddie armies converge on the battlefield, one of their secret weapons is exposed – Dune like giant earth worms burst out of the ground roaring. And then we cut into something else, never to see the Dune like giant earth worms again. WTF?
Worst dialog: Two dwarf characters going through a crisis look one another in the eye as they try to resolve their issues using deeply meaningful dialog. You expect the next line to carry weight; you expect something like "I have a dream" or "to be or not to be". Instead of immortal words, though, we receive the completely meaningless: “We are sons of Durin”. Not that the audience knows who this Durin dude is, other than him being the father of his sons.
Worst solution: Those of us who criticised the whole Lord of the Rings, pointing out the entire affair could have been solved by single eagle’s sortie, will be ashamed to find The Hobbit trilogy proves they were damn right all along.
Worst mystery: How come everybody knows everybody’s name in this movie? As in, the baddies know who the goodies are to great detail (as in, not just the kings). Even more interestingly, the goodies know the names of the head honcho baddies even though their arrival to the battlefield was a complete surprise and those baddie forces were mysteriously spawned in a galaxy far far away. Clearly, both sides are tapping in to their adversaries mobile phone calls, NSA style.
Overall:
I do not like what Peter Jackson did to The Hobbit book in his latest trilogy. That could be forgiven if the result was a good trilogy and a good movie, but it’s not.
2 out of 5 extremely disappointed crabs for Five Armies, and the same goes for The Hobbit trilogy as a whole. Completely and utterly redundant.
Who knows, maybe in a century or two somebody would actually make a good movie out of Tolkien’s excellent book.  [Note the use of singular rather than plural form.]

Saturday, 21 March 2015

Penguins of Madagascar

Lowdown: The Penguins of Madagascar save penguin kind in an hour and a half long episode.
Review:
I concur with my son: the best element of the Madagascar movies, by far, has been the Penguins of Madagascar. Do not take my words lightly; you are reading the words of a person extremely fluent in the Penguins’ extended canon, otherwise known as The Penguins of Madagascar TV series. And now, to the universal angst of critics worldwide, comes the feature film. Same name, just without the The at the beginning.
Having read many a bad review, I prepared myself for the worst. What I got was a seemingly conventional, if much longer, episode of the TV series: Set in the post Madagascar 3 universe, our penguins are fighting an ingenious octopus (voiced by John Malkovich) who seeks to regain his pre-penguin social status by turning all penguins from the cute animals they are into ugly monsters by using a technological contraption. Those of us versed in penguin scripture, like Rabbi My-Son, will immediately tell you this exact plot line has been used before in the TV series.
Where the movie does provide originality is in the addition of a never seen before multi animal task force, the so called North Wind (led by the voice of Benedict Cumberbatch). This new party both collides and supports our penguins. And that is pretty much it for originality, if you can call that original in the first place.
Does that mean Penguins of Madagascar, the movie, sucks? No. If you’re in for an hour and a half of a James Bond meet Mad Magazine’s Spy Vs. Spy like plot, enacted with plenty of the humour we know from the TV series, then you will enjoy your hour and a half. I know I did. You might, too: if you haven’t seen the TV series then the relative novelty will be nice, and if you liked the TV series and are looking for more of the same then you’d feel right at home.
Overall:
Going to the movies doesn’t add anything worthy to the Penguins of Madagascar. However, that does not mean there is no fun to be had. Set your brain to stunned and enjoy a clever adventure story featuring clever characters that you’ve probably seen before doing the exact same thing.
Don’t expect much and you will be rewarded. 3 out of 5 peng- Sorry, crabs, from me.

Wednesday, 18 March 2015

The Theory of Everything

Lowdown: A version of Stephen Hawking’s personal story.
Review:
Most of us would argue that we lead pretty interesting lives. Sure, the working week and the average weekend can seem mundane, but you have to admit there is more to it around the edges, when life is created or when life ends. Yet, as interesting as our lives are, they are rarely extraordinary; they rarely justify retelling over others' life stories.
One life story that offers an interesting exception is that of Stephen Hawking’s. His extraordinary academic achievements alone are worth retelling, but when coupled with his personal story? That of a young, promising academic, falling ill with the dreaded Lou Gehrig disease, and defying the odds to not only survive but thrive in a non functioning body? Now that’s an interesting story.
Which happens to be the story of The Theory of Everything. It follows Hawking (Eddie Redmayne) from his early days at Cambridge as a seemingly healthy individual till shortly after publishing his famous book, A Brief History of Time, and being locked to a wheelchair and an old computer’s voice. But it doesn’t focus on science, although that aspect receives token populist level mentioning; the focus is on the personal, particularly the relationship between Hawking and his wife Jane (Felicity Jones).
Yes, as personal stories of struggle and sacrifice go, this is one hell of an interesting one. It exposes Hawking as a wonderful person with a wonderful sense of humour, despite everything. It taught me a lot about the character I've always known as “the guy on the wheelchair with the voice”, like the fact he refused to receive his knighthood from the queen (my man!). It offers excellent performance from Redmayne, whose is really hard to differentiate from the real thing (do note the challenge of living up to the image of a person who is still very much with us). And surely, The Theory of Everything exposes Hawking as a human being.
Where The Theory of Everything falters is in its presentation of the confrontation between the atheist kind of science Hawking is focused on with the strong religious faith of his wife. I felt as if the conflict was force fed on the movie, perhaps as an attempt to attract the ever so “in god we trust” American viewer. Then again, I could be wrong; The Theory of Everything is based on a book written by the real life Jane, and maybe in her mind the religious nonsense can really compete with the evidence based research of Stephen’s. Also worth noting are the distortions of facts in the name of sugar coating the movie: in real life, Jane knew Stephen was sick when their relationship started, whereas in the movie they fall for one another before calamity hits.
Overall: A very interesting story, certain aspects of which are told very well while others aren't. 3 of 5 admiring crabs.

Sunday, 15 March 2015

The Monuments Men

Lowdown: In the thick of WW2, a group of men become soldiers in order to set out to save the best of Europe’s art.
Review:
The duo of George Clooney and Grant Heslov has been known to make films delivering strong social messages (e.g., Good Night, And Good Luck or The Ides of March). The same goes for The Monuments Men, a movie that is made in order to demonstrate just how important art is to human civilisation. However, watching the movie makes it very clear its primary purpose is to act as a commemoration for the efforts of a few men to save Europe’s art from the hands of Nazi Germany (and then also the hands of Stalin’s USSR).
We follow the allegedly true exploits of a group of ordinary men who happen to be affiliated with art, either through their position at a museum, choreography or just plain admiration. They are led by American George Stout (Clooney), and they are at the core of the ensemble cast offered by Monuments Men: Matt Damon, Bill Murray, John Goodman and Hugh Bonneville (the Earl of Downtone Abbey). There is also some little help received from Cate Blanchett. Essentially, Stout figures out Nazi Germany has been doing its best to put its hands on Europe’s most precious art on its warring way, and it is therefore imperative for the Allies to rescue that art from ending up at Hitler’s dream Nazi museum or in private Nazi hands.
The catch is, there is still a war going on, and men are still dying fighting it left and right. It is up to our men to convince the powers that be their mission is essential; then it is up to them to don army uniform and head to their own version of battle. Along the way they will hit real battles and pay the ultimate price.
There can be no doubting the historical importance of the real Monuments Men. Just think about their noble sacrifice and compare it with ISIS destroying thousand years old relics of human civilisation in its insane quest. Also notable along the way is the big human tragedy that was World War 2: a lot of the art our men fight for was stolen from Jews. Most memorable is the crew’s encounter with sacks filled to the brim with golden teeth extracted from what used to be people.
As important as it is, the question is whether The Monuments Men is a good movie. Here I can state my unequivocal opinion that it is not. Sure, it is a nice collection of war time adventure stories that are pretty entertaining. Sure, this is a movie that left me with a grin and proved nice, easy entertainment. But a good movie it is not; there is a lack of cohesiveness when it comes to generating a proper unified story out of the men’s different escapades. There is also artificial tension when it comes to the way the movie deals with the Soviet threat. Even on the art front, the two pieces of art at the centre of the movie happen to be pieces I have never heard of before. Yes, I know this says more about me than about the movie or the art, but I suspect the same can be said about the bulk of the folk getting to watch this film.
Overall: I enjoyed watching The Monuments Men even if I cannot endorse it as much as I have previous Clooney/Heslov productions. 3 out of 5 amused crabs.

Thursday, 12 March 2015

Birdman

Lowdown: The ageing former star of a superhero movie franchise grapples with a serious Broadway production.
Review:
I am mature enough to know, by now, that award winning is not necessarily an indicator of quality. It is usually, however, an effective mean for attracting attention; it definitely worked for Birdman. That, and the reappearance of former movie star Michael Keaton in a starring role that has obviously been built around his ex Batman persona.
Awards or not, the first thing you will notice with Birdman right from the get go is that it is a bit weird. Or rather eccentric? I mean, how else would you describe a scene of an underwear dressed Keaton meditating in mid air with his back to us?
The next thing you will notice is Birdman’s direction and camera work style. The whole movie is designed to look as one long shot, with the camera moving from physical place to another as events unfold. This means very long shots (there are obviously cuts along the way; the movie does not try to deceive its viewers there). It must have been hell to shoot! It also means proceedings take place at a relatively limited area, a Broadway theatre and its surroundings. And it means the camera movements attract attention and, quite quickly, become a rather tedious affair that drives constant and relief-less activity in front of our eyes. Definitely unique, though.
Supporting the unique visual style is a unique soundtrack. Most of the time what you will hear will be a solo drum operation. It’s interesting, often nice, and definitely original. Just like the visuals, it gets tedious rather quickly.
There is a movie lurking behind the unique visuals and the sound, and yes, it’s the Michael Keaton show. Other than his movie character being the ex Birdman instead of the ex Batman, it’s all about him. His now older self, that is, that focuses on proving to the public there is still something in him by running a serious Broadway production that no one really cares about other than the fact it stars the former Birdman. Mirroring Keaton’s is Edward Norton’s character, the play’s co-star and a Broadway star: he has an affair with Keaton play character’s partner, Naomi Watts, who is actually Edward Norton’s ex real life partner. In real life Norton couldn't get things up and running with her, but in theatre he gets a major hard on (the crowd will attest to that). This struggle between where one is more real, in Birdman or in serious theatre, in one’s real bed or the stage bed, is what Birdman the movie is all about.
Specifically, one of the questions that Birdman's Keaton asks is whether to continue satisfying the crowds with more Birdmans, because actions and explosions are what they really like, or whether the serious pursuit of serious theatre is the way to go. You can argue I don’t get it and you may be right, but having watched Birdman I would be inclined towards the former. Why? Because Birdman is a rather tedious affair, busier with style than substance, a movie that ponders a lot over the what Twitter would refer to as #FirstWorldProblems at best. In other words, at about two hours long, I have found Birdman to be tedious. And boring.
Best scene: Keaton finds himself locked out of his theater’s back entrance in the middle of a show. He has to cross a very busy Times Square to get back in through the front door for his play’s climax. Only problem is, he’s wearing nothing but Walter White underwear.
Overall: Artistic, yes, original, yes. I will still give Birdman only 3 out of 5 generally bored crabs.

Wednesday, 11 March 2015

The Green Hornet

Lowdown: Useless millionaire heir joins his father’s driver to fight crime as vigilantes.
Review:
I will admit to arriving at The Green Hornet by mistake. I was actually cruising Netflix for superhero movies and thought I was about to watch The Green Lantern. But never mind that; it’s not like I was made to suffer. As silly action/comedy movies go, 2011’s The Green Hornet – made by Michel Gondry of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind fame – is above the genre’s average.
Our main hero, The Green Hornet, is Britt (Seth Rogen). Britt is a playboy whose entire lifestyle is the result of his having a multimillionaire father (Tom Wilkinson) who owns a major Los Angeles newspaper. Having the strict father that he has, Britt is not a happy chappy unless he’s at a party, in his limousine, or in a one night stand.
When the father dies in rather eccentric circumstances – stung by a bee – Britt does not know how to digest the news. He feels the pain when his tailor made morning coffee (what seems to be a cheap copy of Melbourne coffee) fails to arrive, at which point he makes an actual effort to discover what goes on around him. Discovering he does: he find the coffee used to be made by his father’s chauffer, Kato (Jay Chou), and is now no longer made because he had fired all of his father’s staff. Britt meets up with Kato to learn there is more to Kato than meets the coffee cup: the guy’s a martial artist as well as a car tweaker that can turn his father’s pet car fleet into something from a James Bond movie. Kato is rehired.
Together, the two embark on using Kato’s skills to deform the statue made in Britt father’s honour. In the process, the two use Kato’s gadgets and martial arts on some criminals that happened to be in the vicinity, which gets the two entangled with LA’s numero uno crime lord Chudnofsky (a Christoph Waltz outclassing everyone else in this movie), a rather loveable chap with the distinct problem of not being scary enough for his own liking.
Things develop from that point onwards: our duo become crime fighting vigilantes, with Britt passing for The Green Hornet and using his own newspaper to push his image through; everyone else regarding the two as criminals; Britt hiring a smart secretary (Cameron Diaz) who, unbeknowest to her, acts as the intelligence source for the team; and the matter of LAs criminals and the local DA fighting things out to a level that ends up with The Green Hornet duo at the sharp end of the fight.
By far the most interesting thing to say about The Green Hornet is that in the sixties TV series it was Bruce Lee who played in the role of Kato. As for the current Hornet? Other than the aforementioned director, several things conspire to raise The Green Hornet above the levels of mediocrity common to films of this genre. Most notable is the cast, which includes many a quality actor (did I mention Edward James Olmos or James Franco?). Yet it has to be noted quality stops with the leading pair. Particularly Rogen, who talks and walks the way Rogen always does - that is, too silly and too annoying.
No, what Green Hornet has are all the other actors coupled with a collection of fun/silly actions scenes and a director with more panache than usual.
Overall: The Green Hornet does not add up into a great movie, but in the right mood it can be fun; the perfect Netflix flick. I liked it, and I'm giving it 3 out of 5 amused crabs.

Saturday, 7 March 2015

Big Hero 6

Lowdown: A young nanotech expert develops a band of technological superheroes as he deals with personal tragedy.
Review:
When is a Pixar movie not a Pixar movie? When the Pixar movie is a Disney movie based on a Marvel comic. Because despite being a Disney release, Big Hero 6 looks and feels as if it has a Pixar heart underneath. And a fairly big one at that, even if its beats are very much Incredibles like.
Set in the near future, at the city of San Francetokyo (yep, it’s a mix of the two), we follow a teen called Hiro. Hiro is a very smart teen, yet he doesn’t know or doesn’t want to make use of his smarts. His almost as smart older brother and fellow orphan takes him to show off the research lab where he and his mates work on all sorts of technological wonders. Hiro gets hooked, and also gets to know the medical assistant robot balloon his brother is working on (the robot balloon made famous by the Big Hero 6’s promo posters).
Hiro decides his future belongs in that lab and makes a true effort to apply through his revolutionary nanotechnology invention. He gets the post after winning the entry competition, but at that point the venue goes on fire taking down Hiro’s most important things with it. But wait: not only does Hiro have to deal with the loss, he also has to deal with a new super villain that seems to have come out of nowhere and also seems to be using Hiro’s own invention. Can Hiro rise to the occasion? Perhaps with a little help from his friends he can. But come on, this is a Disney movie, rising to the occasion is as mandatory as the sun rising in the east.
Big Hero 6 offers excellent entertainment. There is nothing in it we haven’t seen before, perhaps with the exception of big balloon like robots, but it doesn’t matter. The mix of themes, involving friendship, struggle, love and loss are very well served together with the overall Pixar like type of computer animated ingenuity that tends to give its movies that extra kick.
Overall: Big entertainment for the whole family deserves a very solid 3, if not more, out of 5 Pixary crabs.

Thursday, 5 March 2015

Dallas Buyers Club

Lowdown: A Texan redneck who tries to save himself after discovering he’s got AIDS evolves into running an underground operation to support fellow patients.
Review:
Up until watching Dallas Buyers Club a couple of weeks ago, there were two things and two things only I knew about this movie. First, I knew Matthew McConaughey won the Oscar for his role (or, as cynics would say, for losing so much weight for the role). Second, I knew the production company behind Dallas Buyers Club is busy suing people all over the world for allegedly downloading the movie. In fact, there is a trial going on in Australia as I am posting this, where the Dallas Buyers Club company is in court with iiNet, an Australian ISP. Dallas is trying to force iiNet to hand them over the personal details of people from whose IP addresses it claims its movie has been downloaded.
I will therefore send my warmest support to iiNet, a company that successfully stood up for the rights of Australians against the entire might of Hollywood before. I will also clarify that my viewing of Dallas Buyers Club was entirely legal.
But yes, there is a movie in here, too. And it’s quite a good one.
Dallas Buyers Club is a movie perpetrating to inform its viewers of a story that truly happened. Proceedings start at 1985, roughly about the time AIDS broke into the public with news of Rock Hudson’s death. We follow Ron Woodroof (McConaughey), a redneck Texan living a redneck’s life: he calls a caravan home, he makes money by conning people, he has [straight] sex whenever and wherever opportunity presents itself, he takes as much alcohol and drugs as he can, and he’s definitely not what I would call a nice guy. More like good riddance when he accidentally electrocutes himself and wakes up at a hospital where the supervising doctor and his colleague (Jennifer Garner) inform our guy he’s got AIDS and a month to live.
First there is denial; he’s no poof! Quickly enough, Woodroof realises AIDS explains a lot of the things that happened to him lately. It dawns on him that he will really die if he doesn’t make a true effort. So he does: he learns that the hospital is about to run experiment with some old cancer drug that shows promise, and when the hospital won’t take him on board the experiment (not to mention he might have ended receiving a placebo) Woodroof resorts to getting the drug under the table. That, as well as quitting his vices, seem to keep him alive for a bit.
Then the illegal supply runs out. Woodroof runs out of options, but learns of a doctor in Mexico who might have that wonder drug. What else can he do but die? Woodroof takes his car for a ride down to Mexico. There he meets an ex American doctor who fled the law for his unconventional methods and unconventional views: not only does he think Woodroof’s wonder drug is poison, he has his own concoction of positive drugs that seem to keep AIDS patients alive. Lo and behold, shortly after MC starts his new intake he turns almost healthy!
Now able to return to sort of a normal life, Woodroof identifies a business opportunity here. There is a market out there of AIDS patients busy dying when they clearly do not want to, and he can supply them with the drugs that can keep them alive. Many of those are gay, which requires Woodroof to rethink his world views.
On the other side of the equation there is the establishment: the pharmaceuticals trying to sell their wares to hospitals, even when they do not work; the hospital people happy to take pharma money into their personal wallets regardless of consequences; and there is the American FDA, taking its time oh so very slowly to look at the options Woodroof's experience clearly proves worth looking into while so many people are dying.
The story that follows is a multifaceted one: on one hand there is the personal story of Woodroof, a scum of a person, rising to the occasion and helping out many; on the other there is the historical story of the way AIDS sufferers had to endure more death and agony than they should because of pure greed and self interest. The personal story is riveting, somewhat predictable (they wouldn’t make a film out of it if it was lousy, would they?), receives extra cliché padding in the shape of the beautiful sidekick Garner, and suffers from some sagging around three quarters of the way through.
It’s the historical story that got me angry: this whole affair took place during my life time and I was completely unaware. Now, there are a lot of things I am unaware of; however, this one has direct implications on other government policies. To name one, could it be that our ongoing losing war on drugs is driven by similar considerations? Could it be that, in 20-30 years time, someone would create an Academy Award winning movie about a person fighting the very clearly clueless establishment as it fights its hopeless war on drugs? I strongly suspect the answer to both questions will be a resounding yes.
Overall:
To the Dallas Buyers Club movie I will grant 4 out of 5 illuminated crabs.
To the Dallas Buyers Club company I will grant 0 out of 5 crabs for going to great lengths in order to apply basic extortion on ordinary people trying to live ordinary lives.