Sunday, 31 May 2015

Jupiter Ascending

Lowdown: An undistinguished toilet cleaner girl turns out to be the queen of the earth.
Review:
The job of a reviewer is a tough one. Sure, we enjoy analysing good movies; we can even derive significant pleasure dissecting exactly where inherently bad movies are failing us (as has recently been the case with American Sniper). However, from time to time we are required to divest our brains into discussing films amounting to nothing, worthless stuff for which any further investment of resources represents sunk costs. Case in point: Jupiter Ascending.
Brought to was by Lana and Andy Wachowski, otherwise knows as The Wachowskis, or even more better known as the brains behind The Matrix, Jupiter Ascending follows up on their well established themes. We’re talking science fiction / fantasy, we’re talking new age philosophies, we’re talking stunning visuals and heavy reliance on visual effects. Personally, I think the pair had peaked with Speed Racer, a movie devoid of the nonsense at the core of The Matrix (human batteries?) as well as the two redundant sequels. Sadly, Cloud Atlas proved the pair unable to maintain peak production. And now Jupiter Ascending takes them to never before explored depths.
Pretty much the only positive to put against Jupiter Ascending lies with its central character, Jupiter (Mila Kunis), being female, thus totally bucking the Hollywood trend. Born in Russia, her father was murdered in weird circumstances and her family migrated to Chicago where they now all work as undistinguished house cleaners. Little do they, and the rest of us earthlings, know about our planet’s true nature. If The Matrix had us powering the machines, Jupiter Ascending has us as the [still very inefficient] output of a factory run by a prince of an interplanetary royal family (Eddie Redmayne) from the depths of planet Jupiter.
In a very fatalistic kind of a way, our Jupiter turns out to be more than a toilet cleaner in this universal equation, which has our royals doing their best to harm her. Luckily for her, she’ll get the assistance of non earthy defenders (a Channing Tatum providing the male half of the romantic equation, as well as a Sean Bean with a life expectancy far surpassing the average Sean Bean in a movie life expectancy). Lots of fighting occurs, spectacular visuals and special effects fill the screen, and in the end we have ourselves a terribly predictable and mundane affair that simply cannot be rescued by the way-above-average special effects budget.
Mundane-ness and predictability are best interrupted by things not really making sense, that, for their part, are interrupted by overlong bouts of incoherent dialog (what fiendish apocalypse befell upon Redmayne’s vocal cords?). Those aside, there is nothing particularly original about Jupiter Ascending. As already alluded, we have motifs heavily borrowed from The Matrix. The design and looks department heavily borrows from Dune the movie, while the whole royal nature of a universe driven by feuding royalties scrapping for heavenly resources is heavily reliant on Dune the book. Even the eighties cult movie Flash Gordon serves for inspiration here on more than one account.
Overall: Mundane to the bone, Jupiter Ascending is simply nothing more than a time waster. A film so average it’s not even worth celebrating for its deficiencies. 1 out of 5 crabs that could have made much better use of its time watching paint dry.

Thursday, 21 May 2015

The Expendables 3

Lowdown: The Expendables face their co-creator, and only one side can win.
Review:
Looking back at the history of one Sylvester Stallone, it is clear the guy never knew when to call it quits. Whether it was Rocky 48 or Rambo 52, nothing can come between him and creating another sequel with which to flout his rather scary worldview (that of the “you’re either with us or against us”, George W type). Case in point: The Expendables 3.
The formula is the same as that of the previous episodes: assemble a crew of has been, or to be more precise past their peak, action movie stars (now featuring: Jason Statham, Antonio Banderas, Jet Li, Wesley Snipes, Dolph Lundgren (didn’t he die in a previous episode?), Mel Gibson, Harrison Ford and Arnold Schwarzenegger); put them through all sorts of A Team style action scenes, albeit with significantly superior production values to that TV series of old; stick an excuse for a plot and a token female character on top; count the money coming in.
This time around the excuse for a plot has our Stallone led group bump into The Expendables' co-creator (Gibson). For reasons left unclear, Gibson turned into a baddie whereas our goodies kill only baddies, so a conflict ensues. Stallone fears for his elderly crew, and decides to abandon them and get himself a bunch of new youngsters to deal with the Gibson threat. Actually, he’s appointed by a CIA agent (Ford) to bring Gibson to the Hague for trial (not sure anti-Semitic slurring and drinking in public qualify for the Hague, but let’s leave Gibson jokes at that).
From that point onwards, one can start their stopwatch the measure the infinitesimal period of time until the old crew is called back to save the day. That piece of action takes place in the hostile country of Assmanistan, where the number one resource is hordes of subhuman baddies our heroes can kill without the slightest feeling of guilt.
Given the amount of talent at hand, the outcome that is The Expendables 3 is pathetic. It’s boring, predictable, as flat as a Formula 1 tracks, and as appealing to the intellect as a Sylvester Stallone incoherently mumbling to himself for two hours. Oh, wait.
The only positive things I can say about this movie is that it is nice to see some of the world’s greatest action heroes again: Ford, Gibson and Schwarzenegger. Most of the big names endow us with their screen presence for a few seconds here and there, with Gibson’s revisit to his Lethal Weapon days being the only performance to leave a genuinely positive mark in the acting department.
Other than that, The Expendables 3 is a complete waste of time.
Worst scene:
“I am the Hague”
Stallone’s declaration of independence as he wipes out a baddie is all one needs to know in order to understand the mature nature of this real life character’s worldview. And quickly move on to pastures greener than Expendables 3 while contemplating the benefits of human civilisation.
Overall: The recurrence of the ubiquitous Stallone sequel is all the proof I need for the absence of a loving god. 1.5 out of 5 obsolete crabs.

Tuesday, 19 May 2015

American Sniper

Lowdown: The war in Iraq, as seen through the eyes of a lethal American Seal sniper.
Review:
American Sniper is a loaded movie. So loaded that I still haven’t made my mind up on how I should regard it. Or did I?
On one hand, American Sniper is directed by Clint Eastwood. Eastwood might specialise in making a fool of himself at Republican party conventions, but that cannot take his great record of direction work away (and he is one of my favourite, if not the most favoured, directors). Then there is the Bradley Cooper tale: how this actor that most of us got to know through films about silly people doing silly things in Las Vegas got into the thick of the autobiographical tellings of American sniper Chris Kyle, went forth through the loops required to turn that story into a movie, and worked on his own physical self so that he could fit into the role of the Hercules sized person that Kyle was. In case I still needed further motivation to watch American Sniper, it came through the real life story of Kyle’s own death: after killing some 200 people at Iraq, the guy was shot dead at home while trying to help a fellow veteran. You can’t make stories like that up.
Then one gets to learn more about the values that Kyle stood for. It is clear that Chris Kyle can be summed up as an “America or nothing” type person more than the majority of others; clear he was a patriot of the type that, well, I do not approve of. All you need in order to figure this out is read a bit of Kyle’s book (you know, the book this movie is based on). There are the Americans, and then there are the subhuman adversaries. One can see where the wind is blowing when fans of Kyle turn their sights on journalist Abby Martin.
When one puts all of the above inputs into the equation, it is clear one is dealing with highly combustible stuff here. So where does American Sniper, the movie, stand?
We follow Kyle (Cooper) from a brief introduction to his childhood, his influential father and his sniping talents and into adulthood. The man appears to not know what to do with himself. That is, until he sees attacks against USA embassies on TV; he decides to do his part by volunteering to the Navy Seals at the advanced age of 30. Against all odds, he makes it and becomes a sort of a superman soldier with his Lois Lane of a wife Tara (Sienna Miller) acquired along the way. Then September 11 happens, and soon enough Kyle is sent to Iraq.
He starts off making a name for himself as a sniper covering up for the soldiers on the ground below. He’s pretty good at it, but it doesn’t come without significant ethical dilemmas. Our great American hero has plenty of dilemmas to deal with when duty forces him to shoot down children. The way the movie has it, he’s clearly in the right decision wise, yet he is also clearly impacted by the experience. Because he's a good American, of course, and not like the savages that send kids to do a man's job.
Making matters worse are the regular occurrences of losing colleagues under gruesome circumstances, coupled by witnessing locals lynched by a particularly nasty local henchman and his loyal sniper. These two turn into Kyle’s nemesis for the duration of the movie, providing for a very clear white vs. black imagery.
This white vs. black imagery pretty much sums up the controversy around the movie. It seems obvious that despite the real life success of Kyle as a sniper/commando on the battlefield, acknowledged with record breaking number of kills, American Sniper the movie hypes things up by giving him dark mirror images of himself with which to conduct his boss fights. More importantly, by repeatedly portraying the “other” as evil as the American as pure hearted, American Sniper clearly sides itself on the side of propaganda. Never does it stop to ask, for example, what Americans are doing in Iraq in the first place?  Never does it wonder what the connection between September 11 and Iraq is. Never does it question the American leadership that fabricated the whole WMD fiction in order to justify its military involvement, and never does it concern itself with what the true motivation for America’s invasion was. And yes, never does it portray America as the invader messing about on someone else's homeland. The depth that comes through seeing things through the side’s eyes  is clearly missing from proceedings, leading to American Sniper’s inferiority in comparison with the likes of The Water Diviner.
I will be the devil’s advocate again and claim that, as long as one is aware that one is witnessing things through the eyes of Chris Kyle, then one cannot claim American Sniper is doing anything wrong. Accept it or leave it, as those types of so called patriots like to say. And personally, I have to agree: American Sniper is, clearly, the product of the Kyle worldview. Yet I will argue further: the innocent viewer bumping unto American Sniper without previous introductions could, and almost definitely would, mistake affairs for an objective representation of your typical good vs. evil fight. That innocent viewer will come out of this movie thinking that America’s is the most ethical army in the world, cursed to be drawn into long lasting wars with maliciously evil opponents.
At its core, American Sniper is a pretty exciting action movie that is well made – as one would expect out of Eastwood. But let me ask you this: beyond the better made action scenes, is there much of a difference between American Sniper and Chuck Norris’ The Delta Force?
Overall:
As a critic, I will say I consider American Sniper to be an important movie and grant it 4 trigger happy, pure blooded, crabs out of 5. I will, at the same time, and in order to avoid being taken out of context – as is so easily the case with this film – add that I do not consider American Sniper to be a good movie. It is pretty bad; it is propaganda trying to pass as high quality filmmaking.
This is exactly the reason why I consider American Sniper an important movie to watch and why I allocate it with so many crabs: it is an important movie to watch, but only if one does it critically. Only if one asks the questions this movie fails to raise, and ponders on why it is that the avoids raising those questions in the first place.

Sunday, 17 May 2015

The Imitation Game

Lowdown: The personal story of Alan Turing and his cracking of WW2 Nazi encryption.
Review:
The Imitation Game is a movie that seems to be driven by two needs. Or rather, the need to glorify two people.  The first is giving the largely unknown mathematician Alan Turing, one of the forefathers of the modern day computer and – as the movie would tell you – probably the one person that made the most personal difference to the course of World War 2. The second is Benedict Cumberbatch, the fine actor for whom the portrayal of Turing’s eccentric character is a tool with which to further demonstrate his substantial acting skills.
In order to achieve both goals, The Imitation Game plays a trick on us viewers. It tells us three stories at the same time, taking us through simultaneous peaks and valleys in their development. Chronologically speaking, the first story is of Alan Turing the child, the issues he faced as a child, and the realisation he is a homosexual; the second is Alan Turing during WW2, the eccentric genius antisocial of a mathematician whose talents crack the Nazi Enigma encryption machine and allow the Allies to know what the enemy is planning; and the third is the story of post war Turing, now an unknown professor (the matter of the Enigma’s decryption was kept secret for decades) living in a country where homosexuality is illegal.
At the core of it all is the portrayal of the struggles that those of us at the fringes of society have to contend with. The Imitation Game clearly portrays Turing as a Sheldon Cooper like character only without the comic element The Big Bang Theory character is full of; not only that, Turing has to grapple with his homosexuality, too. In parallel, and in order to boost its message, The Imitation Game uses the character of Joan Clarke (Keira Knightley), portrayed as Turing’s main supporter during the war effort, in order to demonstrate how similar issues affected middle 20th century women in England just the same. Obviously, one key point to take from all of these stories is that although homosexuality is no longer illegal our society is still marginalising those that stray from convention. Women and LGBT aren’t there yet, as far as equality is concerned, and at the rate things are going may never achieve true equality.
The unique nature of Turing, as portrayed in the film, as well as the focus dedicated to its only female character, raise the question of how loyal to the truth this fact based movie is. The answer is “I don’t know”, but I severely doubt quite a lot of what The Imitation Game does. For a start, as someone who read about Turing, it could well be that his movie character portrayal went to further extremes than the historical character. Then again, let us not forget The Imitation Game is a Cumberbatch driven vehicle just the same, and the well known fact that the more compromised a movie hero's character is the more accolades are bestowed on its actor. With regards to Knightley’s role, isn’t it clear that a movie needs a female character? Even if it is a movie about a homosexual guy? Well, at least Knightley’s is a strong female character and not your typical Hollywood bimbo.
My criticism and cynicism do ill justice to The Imitation Game. Through its structure and strong character development, this is a thrilling, very well made and quite an exciting movie to watch; definitely one of 2014’s best. And yes, the acting talent at hand is responsible for a lot of this success, with smaller roles (e.g., Charles Dance) often stealing the show.
There is also no denying The Imitation Game has got itself a story worth telling. The world needs to know how the Enigma was cracked (and I do wonder whether Turing did build a mechanical computer to do this with, the way he did in the movie). The world needs to know how homosexuals were treated if there is any hope to be had in homosexuals enjoying equal rights today. Here’s to you Russia! But even in Australia, gays cannot legally marry...
As an aside, and not directly related to the movie’s core themes, I do have to say that the discussion it offers with regards to encryption, the way it was applied at the pre-computer age, is rather fascinating when compared to today’s standards. Think about it: the Germans relied on their Enigma machines so much, that they published their communications out there for the whole world to hear under the assumption no one but the intended receiving German could make sense of the message. We do the same today: we publish our Internet banking and much more online for the whole world to tap into, under the assumption that encryption works and these communications can only be read by us and our banks. Into the picture step the NSA & Co, taking the role of Turing upon themselves, and doing their best to tap into our stuff as if we were - each and every one of us - Nazis. Unlike Turing, it seems the NSA is generally unable to crack the most sophisticated forms of encryption, but they can definitely attack the communications at their end points where they are not encrypted. Thanks to Edward Snowden, we now know of this Turing like NSA menace, so we come up with countermeasures: we have tools such as Signal offering best practice encryption, and tools like Bleep that route communications in a manner that makes them less easy to catch. The ongoing war wages on and is just as fascinating as it was during Turing’s time!
Overall: Praise be Turing. 4 out of 5 crabs that, in many many ways, owe a lot to Alan Turing.
Interesting note: According to The Imitation Game, once the Enigma was cracked, the Allies – through Turing – would use statistics in order to determine how to best address the intelligence gathered from intercepted messages. As someone interested in games theory, who never heard of this before this movie, I do wonder how those calculations were made.

Wednesday, 13 May 2015

Exodus: Gods and Kings

Lowdown: A more modern take on the legend of Moshe.
Review:
There are obvious reasons why I would be interested in a retelling of the story of the fictitious mythical figure of Moshe (the guy most native English speakers know as "Moses from the Bible"). The less obvious is to do with me thoroughly studying the story during 6th grade under the guidance of one of the best teachers I’ve ever had. I consider that critical analysis and meticulous dissection of the famous tale to be the highlight of my otherwise boring, mundane and uninspiring journey through the formal education system.
It appears Exodus: Gods and Kings means a lot to creator Ridley Scott, too, judging by him dedicating the movie to his fellow director and late brother Tony. And while I appreciate the gesture, I cannot avoid thinking of the irony in Ridley creating a very Tony movie: shallow and uninspiring.
I won’t bore you with the rigours of the plot; I assume you know your basic Bible story, plus there’s a good chance you’ve graduated your class of sand and sandals movies too. Exodus is fairly loyal to that story: Moses (Christian Bale) growing as a prince of Egypt, then going through a change in everything he had come to know before, then leading the Israelites from slavery to freedom through a divinely parted sea. Yeah yeah.
Much more interesting are the deviations from that original story. Much time is spent on Moses’ Egyptian background, his brotherly love/hate relationship to prince heir Ramses (Aussie Joel Edgerton), and his generally agnostic views on matters of religion. Then the movie turns Moses the Egyptian into Moshe the Israelite (the movie’s burning bush is supported by a child figure, no doubt because – as miracles go – a burning bush is pretty crappy considering each of us carries a tool for making international video calls in our pockets). Given Moshe's setup, the change our hero character goes through is more dramatic.
Also deviating from the original manuscript are the scientific explanations to the miracles of the Bible. There is no cane turning into a snake; the parting of the Red Sea is more a matter of tides, supported by God, than that mythical image of Moshe parting the depths of the sea with his cane; and God’s blows upon the Egyptians are explained in less miraculous nature (blood, for example, is the result of an alligators' rampage at the Nile). Make of this what you will; what I see is a Ridley Scott trying too hard to add credibility to a story that is glaringly fictitious and devoid of any evidence to back its bold claims (e.g., that the Israelites built the pyramids). I suspect the reason is simple: the 21st century person is much better educated and will therefore ask more questions off a legend as it attempts to pass for fact.
I guess the other notable feature of Exodus: Gods and Kings is the abundance of famous white actors portraying characters the movie tries to pass as dark skinned. I already mentioned two, but the list goes on: Breaking Bad’s Aaron Paul as Joshua, John Turturro as the Pharaoh father, Sigourney “Alien” Weaver as an Egyptian noble, and Ben Kingsley as Joshua’s father Nun. Which brings me to point at Exodus’ biggest sin: it has all this talent at its hands, and it does nothing with it. Aaron Paul does nothing here but glare and look serious, with Kingsley following suit (he glares and looks old & wise; that's a big difference by Exodus' scale). For a two and a half hour long movie with epical aspirations, Exodus deserves a score of 0 for its character development.
Don’t get me wrong, Exodus does have epical elements working in its favour. It looks pretty awesome, and its visuals are often so grand I no longer detected I was watching a movie made of sets and CGI. All is wasted, though, on an uninspiring script that’s as bland as raw bran and direction work that cares only for visual aesthetic.
At the end of the day, Exodus adds nothing to the sandals genre other than special effects. That, however, is not good enough a reason to embark on such a quest. Neither is it a good enough use for talents Mr Scott has been able to repeatedly reproduce in the past.
Worst scene:
The Israelites are on their long walk to freedom through the Red Sea, looking to cross it; the Egyptians give chase in their carriages.
Moshe and his council agree the baddies are four days behind. Unless, of course, they do not stop to rest their horses, in which case they’d be closer.
Quick cut to the Egyptians: a stand in actor asks Ramses, “do we rest the horses?”; Ramses answers “no”. The Egyptians ride like there’s no tomorrow.
If that’s not bland moviemaking, I don’t know what is. Hard to believe it came out of the hands that made Blade Runner.
Overall: Scott’s uninspiring effort is hugely magnified by the grandiosity of the production at hand, earning Exodus: Gods and Kings less than 2.5 out of 5 bland crabs.
Important note: Despite all of its negatives, I still consider Exodus mandatory viewing for all Australians. The reason is simple: the movie features the correct pronunciation of my name, as opposed to the dreadful butchery I have to endure on a daily basis. Listen and learn, Aussies, listen and learn.

Sunday, 10 May 2015

Hector and the Search for Happiness

Lowdown: A Londoner who, on paper, has it all realises his life is empty and takes an unplanned excursion around the world.
Review:
One of the more insightful facts about humanity is to do with the commercial success of self-help branded books. Especially when considering so many of them are as far from evidence based as possible while so many others are essentially saying the same thing. Hector and the Search for Happiness is a movie capitalising on this point, a movie that claims to take its viewers on a journey to seek how to bring happiness into our lives. While I doubt a commercial movie production can ever deliver such a payload, the fact it stars Simon Pegg and Rosamund Pike was pretty much all I needed to know to get me to watch it.
What I got in return for my time was an easy to watch, cliché romantic comedy of sorts. Hector (Pegg) is a London psychiatrist running his own practice and living at a luxurious apartment by the Thames with his girlfriend Clara. The two have it all: high paying jobs, an address to call home that 99% of you readers could never afford, and the status that comes bundled with those. Hector, in particular, leads the most comfortable life ever: Clara takes care of absolutely everything for him (to an extent that goes much further than your Jewish mother stereotype).
Is that enough? Upon realising he cannot help some of his clients, it dawns on Hector his is an empty life. It occurs to him that he might be ticking all the boxes, but a happy person he isn’t. Perhaps this is because of him missing out on his old love (Toni Collette), who now resides in Los Angeles? There’s only one way to find out. 
Hector decides to close up shop and head, alone, into an unplanned world tour adventure – starting off at China and going where the wind blows. Thus starts a voyage with three main stops, China, Africa and Los Angeles. At each of these stops Hector will meet interesting people (e.g., Stellan Skarsgård as your high flying neoliberal CEO type, Jean Reno as a drug lord, or Christopher Plummer as a cutting edge brain scientist), experience the unusual and unorthodox (often to the extreme), but also experience the horrible and the life threatening.
It’s all rather too tacky and nicely wrapped up. After gathering all sorts of insight into what it is that makes us happy (things like having the ability to have sexual relationships with more than one woman), Hector does seem to narrow things down and arrive at a conclusion. Alas, if you ask me, his conclusion is just as worthwhile as the bulk of the self-help book I’ve mentioned earlier; if Hector was to really ask me, I would have told him happiness comes through exploration, learning and interacting with the people you like and who like you.
That said, there is nothing bad with this journey we take alongside Hector. It’s pretty entertaining, and there is something to be learnt along the way about stepping outside the world we put ourselves in.
Overall: Hector and the Search for Happiness is as nice as a film can be. If light entertainment in the company of fine actors is what you’re after, you won’t do wrong with Hector. 3 to 3.5 happy crabs out of 5.

Thursday, 7 May 2015

The Water Diviner

Lowdown: An Aussie father who lost his three sons at Gallipoli goes there to track them down.
Review:
Having established Gallipoli serves that good old Murdoch point of view on the ANZAC motif, we sought to learn further. You know, maybe we might even receive a proper account (for a change!) on what the ANZAC story is/was all about. We turned to our old mate Russell Crowe and his recent 2014 account, which also happens to be his directorial debut, The Water Diviner.
To the uninitiated, I will disclose that Mr Crowe was born in New Zealand (the NZ of ANZAC), has resided in Australia since he was a child, and has been repeatedly denied Australian citizenship. I can see why: his The Water Diviner is UnAustralian. By violating contemporary conventions and telling the story from all sides while making the most of the cinematic tools available to artists today, Mr Crowe is standing against all the usual myths. On the way there he has also managed to produce one hell of a war movie.
The Water Diviner starts off as tragically as such stories can. We meet our hero, Joshua (Crowe), a South Australian farmer, as he uses his water divining skills to dig a new well. Yes, I know, water divining is as bullshit as bullshit gets, but it is instrumental to the film’s structure and – once we accept the fantastic – allows this war movie to do war movies as well as anyone can.
Following his successful dig we meet Joshua’s wife, and witness him read his children their bedtime stories. Only that the beds are empty and the children, all three of them, are dead. The fact the war is already over (and won) does not prevent tragedy from following up on tragedy, forming up a resolute Joshua: he will head to Gallipoli, trace all three of his children, and achieve closure for all family members.
The rest of The Water Diviner takes place in Turkey. Joshua arrives there, to the now British controlled Istanbul, and starts asking questions. It is clear the British cannot be bothered with him; as far as they are concerned, Joshua is one of many and they are already doing their best to recover remains at Gallipoli. On the other hand, Joshua learns, through his Turkish hotel room providers, that he is not only clueless concerning local culture but also completely unaware of the toll the same war that lost him his children took on the locals whose very home was invaded by the ANZACs.
Joshua does not give up, though. Through continued efforts he earns the sympathies of some of the locals as well as some of the British; most notable, though, is the support he receives from Major Hasan (Yılmaz Erdoğan), the Turkish commander who led the local defence efforts and was almost certainly the orchestrator of Joshua children's deaths. Between this and your average romantic subplot with Ayshe (Olga Kurylenko), a Turkish woman that knew war tragedy herself, the tragic circle is complete: we realise war is the real and only enemy between those two sides.
The differences between this and Gallipoli are blatantly obvious. Whereas one is all about national ethos, the other is about conciliation and closure so that we can all move on with our lives, the way we should, while recognising the terrible cost of wasted human lives. That understanding, that sense of closure, is provided by exposing us to the realities of war as they affect both sides. There is none of the implied “we are superior to them” state of mind that dominates Gallipoli; all are equal in The Water Diviner, and all suffer their own way (yet all to similarly).
At the end, the tacky ending does not distract from the fact that what we have ourselves here is a great war movie that makes the most of its “looking back” perspective. One hundred years later, the real tragedy is that our national ethos is still driven by the likes of Gallipoli instead of the likes of The Water Diviner.
Best scene: The image of an injured soldier that yells and groans for hours and hours at no man’s land until he dies has tattooed itself into my brain. Most war movies skip over this in their rush for action; The Water Diviner’s advantage, in its post mortem approach to war, allows it to expose its viewers to a new brand of atrocities.
Overall:
By my account, The Water Diviner now stands firmly as one of the all time best war movies. It is not Saving Private Ryan; it’s focus is on the aftermath of war. That, however, is probably the most useful way for viewers to learn what war is all about.
If this is Crowe’s first venture into the director’s chair, I can’t wait for his more mature and learned efforts. For now, I give The Water Diviner 5 out of 5 saluting crabs.

Tuesday, 5 May 2015

Gallipoli

Lowdown: Two young sprint runners from WA join the WW1 fighting at Gallipoli.
Review:
There really wasn’t any other movie more suitable to watch on the 100th anniversary of Australian (as well as New Zealanders and others) soldiers landing at the Turkish heaven of Gallipoli as per Admiral Churchill’s plan to shift the paradigms of The Great War. I have a lot of issues with what has become of the way Australia reveres ANZAC Day to the point of it being the national religion, but I do acknowledge the sacrifice and the tragic loss of life. In other words, I seek to know more about the matter, and there is no easier way to learn about what ANZAC Day means to Australia than watch the 1981 movie Gallipoli.
The first thing you need to know about Gallipoli the movie is the first thing you see when the opening credits come up: the name of one Rupert Murdoch. I can close this review at this point in time, but for the sake of mutual entertainment I will press on with the details in which this manifestation of the Murdoch worldview is trying to twist innocent minds.
The story of Gallipoli follows two teenage sprint runners from WA. It actually starts off at a time in which Australian soldiers are already trying to establish a stronghold on Turkish beaches. Back home, we have, on one hand, the fair and gallant Archy (Mark Lee) while on the other we have the rather dodgy Frank (a very young Mel Gibson). In effect, the combination of the two is meant to portray the spirit of the enterprising + happy go lucky Aussie. Eventually we get Archy seeking to get himself drafted despite being too young, and through not having anything better really to do we have the previously indifferent to the call of the empire Frank joining him. The two soldiers then head to Egypt, where in between leisurely training they’re up to all sorts of funny mischief I’m pretty sure the locals appreciated much less than the money they’ve made off these war time tourists.
Eventually, our heroes get to Gallipoli. As for what happens then, that’s as obvious as any other made to formula film before and after. In case you happen to be unaware of this pillar stone of Australian nationalism, the ANZACs lost; they were never able to establish their presence at Gallipoli, and were eventually pushed to retreat back to their ships by the Turks (even if, in the grand scheme of things, the exact opposite happened at the overall war level).
If you haven’t guessed it already through the Murdoch credit, Gallipoli is all about adding fuel to the fire of Australian nationalism. The Aussies are an impeccable bunch, perfect even when they’re up to no good and abuse the Egyptian hospitality. The Turks are all but non existent; the fact it was their homeland that was invaded by the ANZACs does not receive a mention. All we hear from them is the sound of their machine guns. And the reason why the ANZACs lost? Oh, that was entirely because the British high command’s impeccable nature had them carelessly throw young Aussies into the line of machine gun fire. Luckily for us, with all the brainwashing Gallipoli throws at us, we know the reality was much more complicated.
Yet Gallipoli the movie is still there and is still a cornerstone of Australian culture. I will argue the picture it portrays, glorifying the Australian soldier to the level where he is clearly morally superior to everything else out there (including the bloody enemy) is a rather dangerous one. It is exactly this superiority complex, a complex that developed straight out of the inferiority complex of being the backend of the once great British Empire, that has Australia meddling today in all sorts of wars it has no business poking its nose into. Then again, that has always been the raison d'être for organised religion.
Overall: Gallipoli is not a good movie at all. It is, however, a very interesting movie to watch if one seeks to understand the dominating Aussie psyche, for better but mostly for worse. I therefore give it 3 out of 5 anthropological crabs.

Maleficent

Lowdown: The classic Sleeping Beauty fairy tale told from the baddie’s point of view.
Review:
I seem to have been blessed with two films in a row heavy on female themes and featuring female stars. Maleficent is completely different to Adore, yet both are very well made movies; this time around we have Angelina Jolie in the lead.
As befits a tale of fantasy, Maleficent is a story about the interaction between two worlds. On one side there is the ordinary world of men, and on the other there is a magical world of anarchy where fantastic creatures roam about. Amongst these creatures is Maleficent (Jolie), who at the start of the movie is a girl. Not your ordinary girl: she’s got wings. And horns.
She is also curious. So when she meets a human boy Stefan (later played by District 9 and Elysium's Sharlto Copley) at the border of the two lands, the two become good friends despite their differences. They even, at least as Maleficent is concerned, fall in love.
Things change when Stefan learns he could be king by getting rid of Maleficent. He doesn’t kill her; he just takes her wings off when she’s asleep. That is, he does the same thing – metaphorically speaking – that men have been doing to women throughout recorded history. Maleficent is not your regular fairy tale, so our heroine does not have a magical concoction of Red Bull to give her wings [back]. Instead, while Stefan does become king, Maleficent is yet to have her last word on the matter. Which sets things out for a rendition of the Sleeping Beauty story where we see things from the point of view of the evil witch for a change.
As these archaic stories go, Maleficent is a pretty good – and quite original – view on a familiar formula. Having a female undisputedly in the lead is original (tick), and having the other side’s point of view leading the story is original too (tick). Proceedings are quite colourful and rich, making Maleficent quite a sight to the eye; some of the designs have clearly received their inspiration from Labyrinth. There’s even a Lana Del Rey song to seal off an excellent production effort.
Overall: Maleficent shows us movie stories can be recycled well, if the artists put their mind to it. 3.5 out of 5 legendary crabs.