Friday, 28 August 2015

Mad Max: Fury Road

Lowdown: Two hours of post-apocalyptic car chases with a feminine touch.
Review:
Arriving at the junction point ahead of the 4th Mad Max movie, Fury Road, the question that bothered me the most was what Mad Max am I going to watch. Is it going to be a weird/eccentric Mad Max, like the first instalment in the series? Is it going to be crappy and forgettable sequel, like the third? Or – and that’s where the meat lies – are we going to get a majestic movie like the second Mad Max, The Road Warrior, a movie of such vision and such a gripping atmosphere I still feel very afraid each time I watch it?
The short answer to the above question is a good one. Of all its three prequels, Fury Road is closest to The Road Warrior. It is, in effect, a two hour long car chase set in a post-apocalyptic Australia and featuring some gruesome settings and even more gruesome characters. That said, commercialism certainly prevails here, severely reducing the impact of the vision and turning Fury Road into some form of entertainment rather than a statement.
Replacing Mel Gibson in Max’ shoes is Tom Hardy, who – it has to be said – does an excellent job even if he is too much of a mountain of a man when compared to the more fragile looking Gibson. I do predict that the duo of Hardy and Chris Pratt are going to fill the role filled by Harrison Ford in previous decades.
The real hero of Fury Road, however, is Imperator Furiosa. While Max’ character fills the role of linking to the previous episodes in the series, it is the Charlize Theron played character that actually drives the little bit of a plot this movie does have. Between the variety of her portfolio and the quality of her work, did I mention Theron is probably my favourite actress nowadays? Anyway, as we quickly find out, her character is busy rescuing a bunch of girls from a mean old abusing dictator, Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne), who controls a large chunk of post apocalyptic Australia through water rationing and a gang of thugs who is under his godly control through some sort of a purpose made car fetish religion. To which I will add that this particular villain is not half the menace that-guy-in-the-hockey-mask was in The Road Warrior. That masked guy would eat Darth Vader for breakfast and add pepper on top!
But the point remains, Fury Road is a movie with a feministic (and thus humanistic) message. And that's pretty cool by me!
Australia plays a large part in this Mad Max movie. Not only through its dreary vistas of large expanses of nothing, but also through a collection of actors that through this and that fill in their post-apocalyptic roles with much panache. Take the likes of John Howard, whom I know best from the romantic comedy TV series Seachange, now playing the villain’s lieutenant. Or supermodel Megan Gale playing a rough woman warrior. Even AC/DC can be said to have its contribution to the spirit of this movie.
The end result is the first movie in a while – well, in the year since Guardians of the Galaxy – that made me go “hey, I want to watch this flick again!” My only disappointment lies with the ending: whereas in previous episodes our Max ends up getting screwed, this time he sort of screws himself by his own choice and through no reason other than the potential to create a fifth and unrelated Mad Max. Well, if it as good as Fury Road, I will not complain.
Overall: Fury Road brings back the fun into the post-apocalyptic. 4 out of 5 feminist crabs, but it still falls way short of Road Warrior's majestic heights.

Thursday, 27 August 2015

Life of Crime

Like Get Shorty before it, Life of Crime is a movie based upon an Elmore Leonard book. Not that there is anything wrong with that; it's just that through this simple fact you should sort of get the vibe of the 2013 film.
The core idea behind Life of Crime is simple but clever. Two criminals (John Hawkes and Yasiin Bey/Mos Def) kidnap a wife (Jennifer Aniston) in order to extort money from the criminally inclined husband (Tim Robbins). Only that the husband doesn't cooperate; he's actually quite happy with his wife getting off the stage this way, being that he wanted to divorce her anyway and focus on his new bimbo (Isla Fisher). You can see where the wind can blow from here.
Well, as nice as it is to have Tim Robbins grace us with his presence again (where the hell has he been?), the fact of the matter is Life of Crime is no big hit. It's not bad, but it fails to rise or leave a mark.
Life of Crime is left lurking in the nether realm with 2.5 out of 5 crabs.

Monday, 24 August 2015

The Narrow Road to the Deep North by Richard Flanagan

Lowdown: The story of the life of an Aussie who turned into a hero at the Japanese POW camps.
Review:
One of the ways my local library has been returning my affections is by pointing me at a books of types I am rarely exposed to. One such example is the award winning The Narrow Road to the Deep North, a book which - amongst others - can be described as a romantic tale. Definitely not my usual type of a book, but given the rewarding read you will not hear me complaining.
Dorrigo Evans is the Australian hero of this book that was written by an Aussie. Born in Tasmania during hard times, around a century ago, Dorrigo rose above the rest and eventually given the opportunity to move to Melbourne to study. There he jumps up the social ladder, turning into a surgeon and befriending women above his rank. Only that as much as he likes breathing the thin air of society's peaks, his real love lies with Amie - a woman he bumped into in South Australia, a woman he is forbidden to love through social conventions.
And then the war, World War 2, happens. Dorrigo is off his women to provide his medical skills to his fellow Australian soldiers. First fighting at Syria against French Vichy (a part of history we tend to forget), but later - through the surrender of Singapore to the Japanese - at a Japanese POW camp where the Aussies were utilised and brutalised as slaves in order to build a rail line that offered Japan the only hope to win the war. As the guy who ends up the highest ranking of the POWs, it is up to Evans to make decisions that would affect the life and death of his mates. But his position is a tough one, with the brutal Japanese demanding results on the other side.
That's just the beginning of Dorrigo's life, though. He survives the camps, true, but the rest of his life is shaped by that experience as well as his frustrated love. Actually, The Narrow Road to the Deep North does not settle with following Dorrigo Evans alone; we follow the course of other characters' lives, including - and that's a big deal - key Japanese figures from the POW camps.
The tapestry thus woven by The Narrow Road to the Deep North is a marvel of a read. The story is provided to us in the form of snippets, sometimes of thoughts, delivered in short chapters and third person form that flash back and forth in time like thoughts inside a dream. The result is a deep discussion on the question of where imprisonment truly lies and the notion that the Japanese POW camps, as brutal as they are, are "just" the worst manifestation of a prison in which we're doing time. Think of the Senegalese, fighting and dying in droves for the lost cause of French Vichy; then focus on Evans and his fellow inmates, trying to survive; follow that with the recently freed POWs rescuing the fish stock of a fish & chips shop and putting it back in the sea; and, as we are constantly reminded through repeat infidelities, the frustrated love life of Dorrigo as he is able to conquer every woman other than the one he truly loves. What can a person really do in the face of such opposition, locked as we are? Can we control our lives or is life controlling us? Charge the windmills, says Dorrigo Evans. Charge the window-seal!
Still, the POW experience is at the core of this book and what the reader is bound to remember the longest out of The Narrow Road to the Deep North. For all the good reasons in the world, it is those camps around which the book pivots. In the weeks since I have finished reading the book I certainly noticed how the matter keeps creeping up into my mind upon contemplation of matters, matters usually completely unrelated to the war or the camps.
Then there is a completely different type of magic to the book. To name one example, I was captivated by Dorrigo's feelings when he was out with an incredibly beautiful woman that wasn't his. Hey, Dorrigo, I know that feeling!
More seriously, from title to a lot of its structure, The Narrow Road to the Deep North is modelled after Japanese poems. In case you're wondering, though, the north stands as a symbol to the unknown.
Overall: A real masterpiece providing much food for thought. 4.5 out of 5 crabs.

Sunday, 23 August 2015

The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

Apparently there were enough people out there who liked the concept behind The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel to push the pencil pushers into making a sequel. You know what I mean with the concept: take a bunch of old classic English actors oozing with quality and stick them at a crumbling Indian hotel for their retirement. Only that now, with The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, that hotel is no longer crumbling; the owner (Dev Patel) is actually seeking to expand. And of course, the residents (featuring Judi Dench, Bill Nighy, Maggie Smith, and newcomer [American] Richard Gere) have their own romantic issues to deal with, again.
The first warning about the horror to come over the next two hours lies with the movie starting off, of all places, in the USA. Clearly, this one has been designed to bedazzle the Average American Viewer with both English class and Indian colors (and yes, The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel paints such a bright picture of India). Then there is the poor excuse for a plot that follows, with financial and relationship problems that do not necessarily make sense and what amounts to total abuse of excellent acting talent through boring and trivial grind of a plot. Must have been such a humiliation for these actors to stoop so low!
Half way through I willingly put myself out of the misery and gave in to the urge. I fell asleep.
0.5 out of 5 oh so wasteful of talent crabs.

Thursday, 20 August 2015

Three Days of the Condor

Lowdown: A CIA clerk finds himself in the middle of a very life threatening political conspiracy.
Review:
If you were ever wondering how an ancestor of today's techno thriller might have looked like, look no further than 1975's Three Days of the Condor. A movie that many of today's conspiracy theory type thrillers owe a lot to.
Robert Redford is a CIA agent code named Condor. He's stationed at what seems to be an ordinary American office building but is, in fact, a secret CIA base that scans all published books using the latest technology (a scanner that very mechanically flips through pages and then prints them on a dot-matrix printer!). Redford is no James Bond; his day job is to simply read the books and report anything deemed worthy of reporting.
Well, something he has read must have been deemed worthy, because shortly afterwards, while Agent Condor is out for lunch, a group of people enter the office and kill everyone in there. Thus our Condor is left to cater for himself as he slowly uncovers what the hell is going on around him and why everyone seems intent on killing him. On his way he kidnaps a civilian (Faye Dunaway) and an unlikely, and frankly credibility lacking, relationship follows.
Three Days of the Condor definitely shows its age. There are no special effects to talk about, and by today's standard things look dreary. However, make no mistake about it: it is exactly this simplicity that gives this Sydney Pollack film the authenticity most of today's crop lack in their quest to bedazzle. Of course, that authenticity is aided by real life demonstrating to us that the ghosts our Condor ends up fighting with are very real; I will refer you to my comrade Mr Edward Snowden for further discussions on what happens to a clerical agent who seeks to do good as they uncover the scheming of the powerful organisations pulling the strings of our society, unchecked.
Guess nothing has changed in the past 40 years.
Overall: Old style, for better and a tad of worse. 3.5 out of 5 crabs for what was once a benchmark and probably still is.

Wednesday, 19 August 2015

Girl on a Bicycle

Lowdown: A guy reconsiders his existing relationship after bumping into a glamorous bicycle rider.
Review:
Paolo (Vincenzo Amato) is an Italian working in Paris as a tour bus guide. He's engaged to the German flight attendant Greta (Nora Tschirner), and after a couple of years their successful relationship is clearly due for a wedding. Or is it?
While driving around on his bus, Paolo repeatedly bumps into a French bicycle rider (Louise Monot) and falls for her. Or at least a fantasy of her. Enough to make him reconsider his relationship with Greta. With the advice of his close British male friend (Paddy Considine), he decides to explore this new avenue. The result? A romantic comedy.
There is much to praise in Girl on a Bicycle. It is a truly European show, with everybody speaking their own language when able (but reverting to English when crossing borders). The key observation the film features, the one that says "there is always going to be a girl on a bicycle", is one of those statements of universal truth that virtually all of us will benefit from paying attention to. And yes, as per European standards, there redundant nudity about.
Alas, this European production suffers from all of the illnesses of your typical Hollywood romantic comedy and then some. It is predictable, silly, and fails to make sense on more than one occasion. Probably the worst part of it is that all the tension could have easily been dismantled with a bit of communication. Maybe Girl on the Bicycle is a metaphor for the breakout of World War 1?
Chauvinism plays a big part in this movie. When Amato (born in 1966) is paired with Tschirner (born in 1981) and Monot (born in 1981), the result stinks.
Overall: Girl on a Bicycle has a good idea at its core but fails in the execution department. 2 out of 5 crabs.

Tuesday, 18 August 2015

Nightcrawler

A rather sleazy character finds itself, literally by accident, an ingenious way to make a living. By roaming the streets of Los Angeles, filming live violence as it happens and then selling it to a local TV channel, Lou (Jake Gyllenhaal) can stop stealing copper for a living and make a lot of money instead.
It's not just the money, though. Lou earns influence. And with the power comes the realisation that he can have even more of it by manipulating the events he's filming. A person with no morale inhibitions, a person such as Lou, can go up places this way.
Of course, the personal story of Lou and his adventures in the world of newscasting is meant to serve us as food for thought. Why is it that we like to see blood on TV; why is it that we care more about certain affluent blood rather than the suffering of poorer demographics; and how easily we can all be manipulated.
Noble thoughts, no doubt about it. But with a hero character that is so hard to identify with, Nightcrawler can only manage 3 out of 5 crabs.

Monday, 17 August 2015

Zero Motivation

Lowdown: The tribulations of Israeli army life for a gang of female admin soldiers at a remote army base.
Review:
As someone who has wasted years of my life serving the Israeli army, I can attest there are three main factors to me considering time spent in conscription duties a waste. First there is the political matter, as in - I do not consider the things I did as a soldier and the things Israel does with its army to improve this world's state of affairs. Second is the fact that, for the vast majority of the time, we are talking about a complete waste of resources; so much more can be done with years of human lives than the Israeli army does. The third is knowing there are so much better things I could have done instead; all I need to do in order to know this is the case is to look at the youth or normal countries where the state does not own the citizen for several years.
Zero Motivation is an Israeli movie (named אפס ביחסי אנוש, or "zero in human relationships" as per its original Hebrew title) from 2014 that focuses on that second of the three factors. It does so by focusing on probably the least productive sector of the Israeli army, at least in the military sense: the female soldier, generally excluded from combat duties. Well, fact of the matter is that for every combat soldier there are some ten other non combat soldiers supporting them, which means that, female or male, most Israeli soldiers need not bring their brain along to their army service.
Our group of admin female soldiers are there primarily to serve the mostly male officers as the latter are busy feeling pompous and important. Core duties revolve around the adequate serving of coffee and biscuits. No wonder Daffi, one of those female soldiers stuck at an army base in the southern (desert) part of Israel is sick of it and spends her time daydreaming about doing time at an army base in the centre of Tel Aviv instead. She will do anything to achieve that, including going through all the effort required into becoming an officer.
Opposite Daffi is her best friend Zohar. She will do everything to help her friend, but she will also do a lot to prevent her from going away.
Between these two, their colleagues and commanding officers revolves Zero Motivation the movie. Escapades include dealing with virginity and its loss (these are 18 year old girls we are talking about here), boys and such, all in the background of the army. Events are made up of typical Israeli army life, and - as someone who has been there - affairs are very authentic indeed. If you want to feel what typical service in the Israeli army really feels like, go no further.
Things go a bit too crazy - ludicrous, even - towards the end of the movie. Mostly, though, the result is fairly loyal to the title.
Overall: Many comedies before tried to capture the essence of Israeli army life but, as entertaining as they might have been, failed due to the laugh factor. Zero Motivation may be faulty as a movie, but it does capture the feeling and thus deserves 3 out of 5 demotivated crabs.

Sunday, 16 August 2015

That Sugar Film

Lowdown: Demonstration of the evil forces of sugar through a guy previously avoiding sugar going on an average person's diet.
Review:
A decade ago this world has witnessed a brand new entry into the documentary genre, the food sub-genre. It was manifested through a film called Supersize Me, in which a guy demonstrated the evils of fast food by going through a pure fast food diet for a month. That Sugar Film follows on that exact very non scientific formula in a most unoriginal way but with two key differences: first, That Sugar Film hero is based in Melbourne (hooray!); and second, instead of focusing on fast/processed food, our local hero focuses on sugar. For all intents and purposes, the result is the same.
Our hero for the duration of this documentary, Damon Gameau, presents himself as an average guy who - for the sake of attracting his now pregnant girlfriend - has been abstaining from sugar for years. Now, probably in order to make some money by making a film, he decided to experiment and go on the average Aussie's diet instead - a diet that includes 40 teaspoons of sugar a day (with a teaspoon defined as 4cc, that will mean 160cc of sugar a day).
You can guess what happens, otherwise there wouldn't be a movie. Damon puts on a lot of weight, loses his vitality, and starts feeling bad overall. It is important to note that he does not consume more calories than before: he claims to have been consuming 2200 calories a day both before and after. At the end he reverts to his original diet, and lo and behold - he's healthy and slim again. Pretty quickly.
In between Damon's personal story we have ourselves two short pieces hosted by Hugh Jackman and Stephen Fry in which we are informed of the science behind the evils of sugar. The contrast between those high calibre names on one hand and Damon's girlfriend's opinion on the other does feel a bit weird. Add to that some adventures in the heartlands of sugar, central Australia and the USA, where a point is made about the most vulnerable paying the highest price for sugar, and you got yourself all the ingredients for a proper horror documentary about food.
But oh, did I have a problem with That Sugar Film! I will start with a bit of a disclaimer: as I have documented myself, my personal experience seems to confirm Gameau's observations. For reasons completely unrelated to That Sugar Film, I am now taking measures - both successfully and unsuccessfully - to reduce my sugar intake. That, however, does not make That Sugar Film a good film. Or a good documentary, at that.
The first problem is the non scientific manner in which Gameau conducts his exercise. It may look sexy for the cameras, but can we tell whether the effects claimed to be sugar related are simply the effects of changing one's diet? Is our Damon's single sample large enough to draw conclusions from? There is that contrived smell in the air, as if That Sugar Film always knew what it wanted to say and just went through the motions so as to be able to wrap its statement in a movie's shell.
Then there is the matter of the scientific claims made in That Sugar Film. Take the claim that not all calories are equal, and that a calorie of sugar is worse than a calorie of fat. This claim contradicts what we've been told for years, which is fine as long as it can be backed by evidence; but it doesn't receive such backing. We are told, through the very authoritative voice of Stephen Fry, that a sugar calorie turns into blood clotting LDL, but we have to take the movie's word for it. There is no attempt to refute the point or to offer a counter argument, which is vital to the presentation of this movie's core idea. Vital, because if that is indeed the case then everybody out there who is serving sugar is committing mass murder, and that includes hospitals with their hospital food and plenty of other well meaning institutions (as opposed to those evil Coke like conglomerates). Big claims need to be covered by big evidence, yet the evidence provided by That Sugar Film - regardless of whether the core claim ends up being right right - is anecdotal at best.
Also not present in That Sugar Film is a worthy alternative diet to your average 40 spoons a day. Gameau presents his breakfast as such, avocado served with bacon. But is that alternative much better? After all, bacon is heavily processed and comes with its own bag of issues. [I will add my personal insight to the matter of bacon: Mmm... Bacon...]
Overall: That Sugar Film may have a good point, but its presentation is so contrived and its arguments are so at that "trust me, I know" level that it cannot be taken seriously. As a documentary, That Sugar Film is thus a pretty bad one at 2 sweet crabs out of 5.
Do spare a thought for the implications of That Sugar Film actually being right, though. Cataclysmic! I think it's time this world gives sugar a serious look. Hopefully a better look than That Sugar Film's.

Tuesday, 11 August 2015

Horrible Bosses 2

The team from Horrible Bosses returns in yet another very politically incorrect comedy about a trio of men (led by Jason Bateman) and their attempts to deal with the people that determine their fate in this world. Only that this time it’s not really their bosses, but rather the person (Christoph Waltz) who said he was going to pay for their wonderful invention but wouldn’t once they actually spent all the money they borrowed on it. So what does one do ahead of impending bankruptcy?
Following the advice of their always useless advisor on matters of crime (Jamie Foxx), they have a go at kidnapping the guy’s asshole of a son (Chris Pine). Between the police (in the shape of Jonathan Banks), an old boss with a craving (Jennifer Aniston), and an old boss now doing time (Kevin Spacey), there are plenty of laughs about. And I mean it: on a couple of occasions I had bursts of uncontrollable laughter of unprecedented magnitude.
When the dust settled, though, Horrible Bosses 2 is just another one of those silly American “bro” comedies. It’s not bad, it’s fun/funny, but it is also silly and forgettable. 3 out of 5 crabs.

Monday, 10 August 2015

Home

There isn’t much for me to say about this run of the mill computer animation production that’s there to tick all the checkboxes in the usual list of checkboxes that run of the mill computer animation movies for kids have on offer. This time, the story is about a lost girl (a black girl!) and a sort of a lost alien searching for the girl’s mother after aliens took over the earth and relocated all local animalia – humans – to Australia. Clearly, Home is a movie to give Tony “Stop the Boats” Abbott and Johnny “We Will Decide Who Comes to This Country” Howard a heart attack.
Any charm Home does have, and it does have some, is due to Jim Parsons (aka Sheldon Cooper from The Big Bang Theory) voicing the alien.
2.5 out of 5 run of the mill crabs.

Wednesday, 5 August 2015

Boyhood

Lowdown: The journey of a boy and his family from childhood to leaving home.
Review:
You are probably aware of the ace up Boyhood’s sleeve. Instead of portraying the passage of years the usual cinematic way (e.g., by applying makeup or replacing the actors with older ones), Boyhood was shot over the course of many years and thus covers its actors’ – and thus characters’ – natural aging. And it does it all in order to tell the story of a boy’s coming of age (literally!), from the time he could first muster a memory till him leaving home for college.
That journey would amount to nothing if the whole world surrounding our boy did not change with him. Thus our boy, Mason (Ellar Coltrane), is bundled with a family that is both special and, at the same time, quite typical. First and foremost, importance wise, is his mother Olivia (Patricia Arquette), who – as we gather along the way – had two children through a very young love affair but got separated from the father, Mason Senior (Ethan Hawke). That separation happened so early in young Mason’s life that it is all he knows. Mason has an older sister, too, in the shape of Samantha (Lorelei Linklater), thus putting the finishing touch on the portrayal of your average modern family. I say average because, at least as per USA statistics – and this is a movie taking place in the USA – more than half of 18 year olds no longer hail from a household where both their parents live together. [I know it’s true, I’ve read it in Time Magazine.]
Given the idea of making a film over the course of 12 years, and shooting it so it is true to the times in which it takes place, one can sort of imagine the style Boyhood chose to adopt. References to iPhones, the NSA  and Facebook point out that this movie’s script was not frozen over the course of those 12 years but was rather fluid. And so is the presentation: we get a collection of scenes representing a certain period of time in young Mason’s life, and then – without the least bit of fanfare – we cut to a scene depicting another time, potentially another place, and featuring slightly older looking versions of Mason and family members. The experience is unique; clearly, if Boyhood had a point to prove through its creative decision, it makes it.
As Mason grows up we witness his family mature around him. Mother Olivia carries most of the burden there: we witness her second marriage with a guy who brings his own children to the equation, and we also see other men fade in and out of the picture. At the same time, we witness her evolution from a single mother working very hard to make ends meet into a renowned professional as the fruits of her labour materialise. Mason Sr. goes through a similar process, although his hardships tend to be conveyed through hearsay. Still, we witness him regrouping, abandoning his merry ways, and maturing into a second family where he actually delivers. Even if that delivery process has him exchanging his muscle car for a minivan.
Funniest scene: One of the families our Mason gets to be a part of gifts him with a rifle and a bible for his birthday. Laughs aside, by doing this Boyhood ends up covering even more of America’s demographics in its scope.
Best scene: Two and three quarters hour later (Boyhood is a long movie), Olivia figures out what her next life milestone is. She is not happy about it, but the realisation does let the best Patricia Arquette the actress has to offer flow through.
Overall: Boyhood stands out as a unique effort that delivers more than anything else I can think of in the “what it really feels to live a life” department. 4 out of 5 crabs.