Friday, 30 December 2016

The Hollars

A New Yorker’s life is at a junction. On one hand, his dreams of making a living out of comic book writing are not working out; on the other, there is a pregnant girl he wouldn’t commit to that is about to give birth. Something has to give, and that something is triggered through the news that the guy’s mother - back at his middle of nowhere hometown - has been hospitalised following a stroke that’s been diagnosed to be the result of a brain tumour.
Our guy (John Krasinski, who also directs) goes back “home” for his mother, or rather goes through a journey that would, eventually, sort out his views on the world. Not only his, but also his father’s (Richard Jenkins) with his ailing business and his brother’s (Sharlto Copley of District 9 fame) with his divorce. And his mother’s (Margo Martindale), too.
That is the essence of The Hollars, if you will. Only that summing it up this way does it injustice on account of the finer details, the small print that makes up people's lives.
Those details revolve back to that good old hero coming back home only to find his home ain’t what it used to be kind of story. I know, because I have been there myself: people expect me to “come back home” when my home is somewhere different; people seem stuck in their old ways when I have moved on; people assume I am still attached to them when I have grown much more attached to new people, people unfamiliar to them. That’s part of the deal of making a new home, and that’s fine; The Hollars recognises that, so perhaps more people would lay off my back if they were to watch this movie?
My only gripe with The Hollars is the easy way out it takes with financial issues. In The Hollars, these issues are resolved by a rich party with philanthropic aspirations; in my life, and in the life of most people, such niceties are generally absent. I guess that’s where The Hollars’ main statement kicks in, the one about the need to move on with it under the assumption things will work themselves out. Even if it stoops to the level of wishful thinking.
Overall: A funny, charming movie that we have seen before but which raises the ante through its unassuming nature. And for the latter I will be generous and give it 3.5 out of 5 crabs.

Saturday, 24 December 2016

Hunt for the Wilderpeople

I don’t know about you, but it’s not often I get to watch a movie made in New Zealand. I mean, sure, there is The Lord of the Rings and stuff, but they are not movies about New Zealand; Hunt for the Wilderpeople is not only a New Zealand made movie, it is a movie about New Zealand. Its way of life, its culture, its land.
Hunt for the Wilderpeople tells a story about Ricky, a boy rejected by his mother, as he is brought into the care of the last foster family on his path prior to lockup at a juvenile centre. There, in the middle of nowhere but right next to the New Zealand bush, he is put under the care of Bella and Hector (the oh so excellent Sam Neill), the latter of which is rather reluctant. Ricky tries to escape rather awkwardly, but Bella is too good for him and quickly enough he’s a happy boy at his new home (where, oddly enough, he never seems to need to go to school).
But then Bella dies, and Hector receives a letter informing him Ricky will be picked up by the authorities within a week. Ricky decides to escape into the bush rather than go to juvie; Hector follows him, if only because Ricky cannot survive there. Through one accident and another, Hector hurts himself and the two find themselves stuck in the bush for weeks on end. During which the authorities think Hector has kidnapped Ricky, ensuing a manhunt.
Thus we have ourselves a Thelma & Louise story about two unlikely partners escaping the authorities. But it is a New Zealand story, so there are fewer tragic motifs and more lighthearted ones, often outright hilarious. That said, I would not classify Hunt for the Wilderpeople as a kids film due to the abundance of serious/heavy themes.
Best scene: A government agent arrests someone and reads them their Miranda rights. A policeman comes in to correct her, informing her that this is not the USA and in New Zealand you don’t recite this stuff to people. It is as if he was saying, “In New Zealand we treat people, even criminals, like human beings”.
Overall: Light hearted, funny and full of heart, Hunt for the Wilderpeople is well worth watching at 3.5 out of 5 crabs.

Thursday, 22 December 2016

Mr. Right

Actor driven movies are nothing new, so a movie where Sam Rockwell does the usual Sam Rockwell antics should not come as a surprise to anyone. If there is any surprise to be had by Mr. Right it is not in Rockwell but rather in Anna Kendrick, who - although receiving second credits to Rockwell - is actually the star of this movie about a woman going through changes. Maturing, if you will, through an immature movie.
Kendrick plays Martha, a New Orleans girl who cannot seem to get it right with the boys. Until, that is, she accidentally stumbles upon a deranged hitman (Rockwell), who sees something special in her. As part of his derangement, our hitman is entirely honest with Martha; she just doesn’t take his statements at face value. Until, that is, she is confronted by reality.
So Mr. Right is one of those romantic comedies. The comedy factor is heavily based on our hitman’s finesse at killing coupled with the way he talks to the baddies he kills; more often than killing them, he will talk them out of a life of wrongdoing. Further coming to the aid of this movie are the acting talents of Tim Roth, which get totally wasted on a crap role, as well as musician RZA who actually turns out to be a nice acting surprise.
Does it all work? Sort of. Is it worth watching? I would argue no. There simply isn’t enough originality and quality in Mr. Right, despite all the right intentions.
Overall: 2.5 out of 5 crabs.

Tuesday, 20 December 2016

Kingsglaive: Final Fantasy XV

Final Fantasy XV (that’s 15!) is shaping up as one of 2016’s best video games, if not the best one. However, we have been told that if we seek to understand its plot setup, we should watch Kingsglaive: Final Fantasy XV, the computer animated movie that acts as some sort of a prequel to the game.
If Kingsglaive is your first foray into the Final Fantasy movie world, then be prepared for something unique. Although the movie is all computer graphics, it is designed to look real, human faces and all. Given that technology is still not there, the result is somewhat disturbing; humans look and feel weird (kind of like what the Jeff Bridges character of Clu felt like in Tron: Legacy, only that here it applies to the movie entire). That said, the CGI does provide for fancy camera work (consider the fact there are no limits on camera placement or lighting) and elaborate sets that make Phantom Menace feel like, well, child play.
Story wise, Kingsglaive’s plot is convoluted from the lengthy oral exposition and throughout. Frankly, I lost the plot about two minutes along the way; I can also report things don’t get better later on. That said, if all you care about is watching Japanese fantasy in action, does it really matter?
The plot involves an evil plot by an advanced technology dictatorship to take over a magic dominated kingdom. There is much political plotting here, with royal weddings and rings of power, but all that narrows down into a select few from the Kingsglaive - the magic kingdom’s elite troops - taking matters into their own hands as they defend their kingdom from outside invaders and traitors on the inside. And yes, the action is your classic Japanese fantasy stuff, featuring huge swords and much hopping around.
Further support is rendered through the use of famous voiceovers. Sean Bean does his usual in yet another dying role, Lena Headey does an atypically submissive princess (atypical for Headey, not for the traditionally chauvinistic Japanese), and Aaron Paul (of Breaking Bad fame) does the movie’s main hero.
Overall: Together they shall join forces to provide for a thoroughly uninvolving yet flashy looking affair. At 2 out of 5 stars, Kingsglaive provides a rather worrying exposition to the video game that follows it.

Friday, 16 December 2016

Sully

Lowdown: The immediate before and after of that famous landing on the Hudson River.
Review:
When I think about it, it has been years - decades - since we’ve seen Tom Hanks actually put his excellent acting talents into good use in a role that actually justifies their deployment. Well, that wait is over with Sully, the latest movie from director Clint Eastwood.
Hanks plays Sully, the pilot who managed IRL to emergency land his passenger jet on the Hudson River after taking off from New York’s La Guardia on a cold January 2009 morning and losing his engines to a flock of birds shortly afterwards. If landing on water doesn’t sound fantastic on its own, then do consider the fact that not only did none of the 155 people on that plane lose their lives, at worst they suffered minor injuries. I can go on and on about this miracle, but I will pause by stating that until Sully came along and made his point, I thought the whole pre takeoff speech about life vests under the seat was a total waste of everybody’s time.
Back to the movie. Sully takes place immediately after that miraculous landing, and its main event are the investigations taking place shortly after the rescue itself. While Sully was regarded as a hero by the public, the movie makes it appear as if he was considered a villain by aviation authorites who considered him a lucky villain. Sully, they claim in the movie, should and could have returned the plane to La Guardia, instead of gambling with people’s lives the way he did and creating hundreds of million dollar holes in the insurance company’s accounts.
Personally, I see that accusation part of the movie as its weakest link. I have no idea how authentic our movie is to the real life events; all I know is that the rescue photos I recall from the time look awfully identical to the movie’s recreation. (And yes, while the movie’s plot is all about the clearing of Sully’s name after the accident, you will see the accident itself - several times, from different angles - during the movie itself.) But it definitely does feel as if Sully’s accusers are unnaturally heavy handed in their accusations, unreasonable to say the least and criminally so to say more; surely those fellow pilots and professionals are better than that?
I can thus mostly conclude that, at least in this part of the movie, Eastwood is exposing us yet again to his darker side, the side we’ve seen before along an empty chair at that dreadful Republican Party Congress. I love Clint Eastwood and consider him a great director, definitely one of my favourites, but I have no idea what goes on in his head sometimes.
It seems rather easy to offer speculations as to what it is that drove Eastwood to tarnish his film that badly. I suspect the matter is one of American politics, which further explains why it is that the movie feels so awkward to this non American. It looks like Eastwood is trying to suggest that under Obama’s USA, a hero is not allowed to be a hero anymore; the powers that be would quickly jump in to hammer that hero down. I do not know if that is really the case in today’s USA, but I do think that as much as I despise president elect Trump I do have to acknowledge that he fits into the picture because we had eight years of Obama before him. And it’s not like I’m in love with Obama, either. So I disagree with Eastwood but I will concede he is simply making the same mistake his fellow voters (and, for that matter, Brexit voters) have made: the establishment is going wrong, sure, but it’s not like the Republicans have offered us a way to sort things out. On the contrary, every indicator points at things taking a downturn.
Take that political factor off Sully, and you are still left with a great movie. A great movie because it is still a wonderful depiction of a person, a true professional, and his ability to deal with the worst that the natural world can throw at a person and still come up with the upper hand. In a world that tells us Terminator machines are about to rise and kill us all, or at least driverless cars are coming to take our jobs away, Hanks and Sully conspire to show us that there is still room and need left for people in this world. And Sully is indiscriminate is his act of saving lives, saving people regardless of race, creed of gender.
Further praise goes to Aaron Echhart portrayal of Sully’s copilot, Jeff Skiles. Speaking as someone who has been inside a passenger jet cockpit over several takeoffs and landings, the movie’s portrayal of those events looks and feels incredibly realistic. Also notable is the fact the actions taken by the pilots during the crisis, as portrayed in the movie, depict a picture of ultimate proficiency. Both were under the impression they are going to die, but both were as cool as in their attempts to turn the odds in their favour. Ultimately, it took unprecedented skill to land a jet on water; the fact this pilot did it has turned him, and justly so, from yet another professional pilot into a bone fide hero. Eastwood might have failed on his main attempt to land this movie, but the fact he still has an excellent tale on his hand and some excellent actors to depict it with saves the day, big time.
Consider this: How would life feel like to a passenger on board that plane, who, watching from their seat and seeing the river coming in as they were about to crash into it, feel afterwards? I know that I would have been sure this would be the end of my life. Yet everyone came off that plane. Wow!
Overall: Eastwood came very close to ruining this movie, but - by the fluke of having an awesome real life tale and awesome actors at his disposal - managed to still deliver the most memorable movie I have seen in a long while. 4.5 out of 5 crabs, with all credit going to the real life hero after whom this movie was named.

Wednesday, 14 December 2016

Jason Bourne

With more sequels now than Rocky (I could be wrong here), the Bourne movie series is celebrating its return to Matt Damon in the not so originally named sequel Jason Bourne. [One wonders what the next movie in the series will be called?]
Jason Bourne is all about Bourne trying to find a secret about his past that is related to his father; we are gradually exposed to more and more of it through that nasty trick of the dreaded flashback. In between Borune and total recall stand the head of the CIA (Tommy Lee Jones), clearly Bourne’s nemesis, and another guy who is only referred to as Asset (Vincent Cassel, a French actor whose career in Hollywood is all about portraying brutal baddies). Standing between those poles is a new face in the CIA (Alicia Vikander of Ex Machina fame). Rest assured that in the process of finding the truth there will be much action, severe camera tilting of the type director Greengrass loves so much, and a stupidly large number of lucky saving throws (including things like Borune surviving a 5th storey fall).
Incorporated into the core story is the theme of government bulk surveillance. Yours truly has strong opinions on this matter (not unlike Edward Snowden’s, if you care to know), so it is nice to see a Hollywood blockbuster not only acknowledge the matter but also agree with my esteemed colleague and I. However, at the same time it is clear the movie would work just the same with or without this theme, because - as we have seen so many times before - this time, it’s personal!
Overall: Not a bad episode, but just another episode in the Bourne series. By now we all know what to expect and we get exactly what we expect. Which is to say, 3 out of 5 crabs from a movie that could and should have offered more than recycled popcorn.

Sunday, 11 December 2016

Attack on Titan

Like Star Blazers / Space Battleship Yamato before it, Attack on Titan is another live action reincarnation of a veteran anime story. This time around, the humans who live enclosed in a walled society, never venturing outside those walls, find their lives as they know it coming to an end when a race of giants - titans - breaks through their defensive walls and starts eating people. The survivors take shelter behind an inner wall and prepare to counter attack.
So yes, Attack on Titan is your classic made in Japan anime live action remake. It sports good production values and acting which I can only interpret as bad but which I suspect people actually familiar with Japanese culture would find authentic.
While technically impressive, the plot and character development feel hollow, probably the result of trying to cram a whole season worth of manga series episodes, contents wise, into a single movie. Making things worse is the ending that is not an end, setting the scene for a sequel.
Overall: Would I watch the sequel? No; as technically impressive as it is, Attack on Titan is far from a good movie. At 2.5 out of 5 crabs, it is only worth watching for Japanophiles.

Friday, 9 December 2016

The 5th Wave

Given the YA genre seems to flourish in recent times, it is worthwhile mentioning a specific branch of the genre seems to be flourishing the most. I am referring to the one dealing in post apocalyptic scenarios where our Young Adults have to deal with a world devoid of adults or even a world where the adults are the baddies. And I am pointing at films such as Tomorrow When the War Began or The Hunger Games. And now, The 5th Wave.
If you’re familiar with the genre, you will find nothing new to see here. As per genre standards, we have a good looking American teen surrounded by fellow good looking Americans as they fight off aliens from outer space that invaded and killed the adults. I will note these evil aliens look like humans, which made me wonder aloud regarding budget calls.
So yes, another movie where younglings show adults where fish pee from. Most importantly, throughout their adventures their fair [white] legs are freshly shaved, their hair is kept dyed (roots and all), and makeup is generously applied. Because we might let aliens take our parents out, but we will never let them make us look anything but the photoshopped versions of ideal beauty Western society is constantly trying to sell us.
And if you think that is not enough for turning a movie into a pile of shite, do consider the fact this movie leaves an opening as wide as Donald Trump’s mouth for a sequel to come.
Overall: Our young adults deserve more than this 1.5 out of 5 shite crabs.

Wednesday, 7 December 2016

Our Kind of Traitor

John le Carre's books often make for good movies (Constant Gardener), and Our Kind of Traitor fits into that distinguished list quite eloquently.
Traitor tells a very plausible story of Russian / British corruption. A British couple (an interracial marriage, if I might note, although race doesn't play much of a factor in this movie), made of poetry scholar Perry (Ewan McGregor) and barrister Gail (Naomi Harris), tries to make amends for a marital crisis through a Moroccan holiday. There they stumble upon a flamboyant and extravagant Russian, Dima (Stellan Skarsgard), who manages to grab a mental hold on Perry.
It turns our Dima needs Perry's help in order to keep himself and his family alive. They are Russian mafia, you see, stuck in the middle when the state seeks to take over mafia business and make it its own. With the help of some politicians in the UK pulling the strings, that is; we all know London's core attraction with its financial services industry lies in its ability to turn a blind eye when laundering blood money.
So, yeah, le Carre's ability to create a feasible plot that smells so realistic in uncanny. It's not just the international conspiracy that is so well portrayed; the story of our estranged couple is just as fascinating, if not more, providing an analogy for the core story. The cheating husband is the one to become the morally good party while the seemingly virtuous freedom fighting barrister hesitates. And Skarsgard does a very good Russian, in effect stealing the film with his performance.
Overall: Very well done and acted, Our Kind of Traitor is entertaining as well as wise. 4 out of 5 my kind of crabs.

Tuesday, 29 November 2016

Independence Day: Resurgence

Back in the nineties, independence Day was one of those laserdiscs that caused mass migration into my house. People who did not think much of the movie - let's be frank, it was a silly movie - came to appreciate is as a celebration of fun. Could the sequel that took two decades to come, Independence Day: Resurgence, be as good?
Short answer: No. Slightly longer answer: very, very, far from it.
So, yes, two decades later the aliens make a comeback to have another go at earth. Their interest in earth is actually explained this time around: they want its core, and us humans only have a day or so before they take it from us and leave us coreless. Which, we are told, would destroy the earth because of the lack of a magnetic field (something that happened several times in earth's history already). Come to think of it, we are not told what's so unique about the earth's core; those same aliens could have peacefully gone for the cores of Venus and Mars, not to mention other solar systems.
Anyway, joining the stupid plot are cliche characters portrayed by various famous actors, some of which reprise their older roles. I will also note many - like Will Smith - had the great wisdom to avoid this disaster and didn't show up.
The result is so pathetic I will not even bother analysing it (and the further sequels inviting ending only renders things worse). I know, what is the point of a review if I do not review? Well, some things go even below yours truly's standards.
The duo of director Roland Emmerich and producer Dean Devlin had a few promising movies in their past. More recently, however, theirs are just a repeat of the same theme - America saving the world. Maybe theirs are films for the Trump era; as far as I am concerned, they should have quit while ahead. Around two decades ago.
Overall: Pathetic through and through. At 1 out of 5 crabs, I urge you to avoid this Resurgence in any way possible.

Monday, 28 November 2016

Sausage Party

Remember this movie called Toy Story? Or the ten sequels that followed?
Now, think of the same movie but replace the ecosystem of toys living in a child's bedroom with that of food living at a supermarket. Replace the child friendly themes with Seth Rogen, too, and you got yourself a Sausage Party.
What this translates into is a sausage (Rogen) whose chief ambition in life is to get into a bun (Kristen Wiig). More importantly, they live in a computer animated supermarket where they recite a hymn about the wonderful heavenly world that awaits when the gods (humans) purchase them and take them along and away from the shop. Clearly, our groceries are in for the shock of their lives when they discover what their post supermarket fate actually is, hence a movie full of theological themes. Let me make it very clear that in this discussion that does not try and hide its religious aspects, secularism does win; on the negative side, being this is a Seth Rogan movie, the answer to all questions is sex.
Surprisingly enough, there is a second theme to the movie revolving around the Arab-Israeli conflict. Escorting our lips & asses made hero is a Jewish bagel (Edward Norton doing a very Woody Allen character) and a Palestinian lavash, and as you can imagine there is a lot of antagonism between these two. As you can also imagine, they would also discover they have much more in common than not, and as you should also be able to imagine this will lead them to have sex.
Look, Sausage Party is a very silly movie in spite of dealing with heavy themes (how they manage that should be the subject of a university course). More importantly, Sausage Party is a movie that clearly demonstrates the absence of adult animation movies is a failure of the free market.
Overall: 3 out of 5 crabs.

Sunday, 27 November 2016

The Lobster

The name and the poster give it away: The Lobster is an eccentric film featuring an ensemble of weirdo characters. To that I will add it qualifies as science fiction and, more notably, fine art.
The Lobster is a black comedy about a society where one has to follow rules and conform, even when one doesn't want to, in order to get anywhere in life. In order to make its statement, The Lobster takes this everyday rule into the extreme: in The Lobster's universe, if you do not have a partner and you fail to acquire one within a certain period of time, you're turned into an animal of your choice. Our hero, David (Colin Farrell), chooses to become a lobster (hence the movie's name). But he still has time to get a grip and conform in this rehabilitation institution he's at, an Orwell grade recovery centre that's meant to teach him how to be a social person. He can even extend his time there by hunting down fugitive non conformists!
There can be no doubt about it, The Lobster is brilliant, and as long as one can manage with its mild eccentricities one should be able to enjoy its social commentary. Immensely so. Alas, it also deteriorates half way through, though, significantly deducting its effectiveness.
Overall: Imperfect yet immensely clever, this movie gets 3.5 out of 5 lobsters. Sorry, crabs.

Wednesday, 16 November 2016

Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari

Lowdown: An examination of the unique nature of our species through the eye of historical fact.
Review:
Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind (or just Sapiens from now on) by Yuval Noah Harari was first published in 2011 in Hebrew, which happens to be my mother tongue. I first heard of the book in 2012 and since then made one attempt after another to acquire the ebook in its original language; with the recent publication of Harari's Homo Deus I decided that enough is enough, the ebook market is never going to satisfy my need for DRM-less editions, and took the plunge to read the English translation. I don't know just how much this book loses through translation - they always lose something - but I will say this: Sapiens is one of those books that opened my eyes and made me perceive the world around me in such a different light that I hereby charge you to drop everything and read it. Now. In whatever language you can digest.
Harari is a historian and his book is a history book. The catch is, this history book dares to go where no other [I am aware of] ventures in its analysis of historical events and their implications on this world of ours. Essentially, Harari covers the history of our species, Homo Sapiens, from its evolution out of some preliminary Sapiens species and up to this modern day and age. What separates our particular breed of Sapiens from all others, Neanderthals and such, is - according to Harari - some mutation that seems to have hit our great great grandparents' cognitive minds some 50K years ago. This mutation allowed our ancestors to imagine things and then hold on to these ideas, collectively. In turn, this allowed us humans to do things like believing these bills in our wallets stand for something; or let the clocks on our wristwatches dictate what we do and when.
For lack of time and ability to do Sapiens justice I will leave the book's ideas at that. What I will say is that Harari is not afraid to pick sides, as per when he argues the agricultural revolution that we are taught to regard as one of humanity's biggest achievements was actually a major cause of suffering that - for economic reasons - we are now firmly trapped with. Neither isn't Harari shy to point out the religious origins (that is to say, the fictional/mythical origins) of the themes dictating the culture of our liberal/humanist democracies we aspire to be living in today.
Overall:
Sapiens' impact on me was so big I find myself unable to read other books; the two I have tried since, highly recommended by Time, felt so inferior I deleted them in disgust. On the other hand, I'm holding myself from rushing straight away to Homo Deus.
Regardless of my personal failings, I highly recommend you broaden your horizons with Sapiens. This is as 5 out of 5 crabs as any book can get.

Thursday, 10 November 2016

Demolition

Lowdown: A husband who lost his wife to a traffic accident develops an eccentric relationship with the customer service woman of a faulty vending machine.
Review:
The opening scene to Demolition shows us this movie's first act of demolition: Davis (Jake Gyllenhaal) loses his wife to a meaningless traffic accident. He, the passenger, is unharmed; she is dead. What follows on is the story of Davis' recovery from this cataclysm.
It's not what you'd expect. Davis does not have to battle with the notion of having lost the person he loved the most; instead, he's contending the feeling that he never really loved his wife, and that only now, through this freak event, is he able to finally figure it out. Which makes contending with his boss, also his wife's father, Phil (Chris Cooper) extra hard. Not only because Davis' exuberant material wealth and comfy Wall Street job comes off his wife's side of the family.
Clearly lost, Davis embarks upon writing complaint letters to the owners of the hospital snack vending machine that swallowed his change while he was there for his dying wife. Only that the scope of Davis' letters is rather expansive, including detailed accounts of his life before and after the accident. The customer service woman on the receiving end of these letters, Karen Moreno (Naomi Watts) ends up getting personally involved, as well as her teenager son. Along their path to salvation several things get demolished, including Davis' house.
Watching Demolition I could not help finding myself totally captivated by the characters and their handling of traumatic events. Clearly, Demolition offers excellent acting performances. However, at the same time I took note how certain parts of this film border on the nonsensical, most notably Davis demolishing his own luxury house without even the slightest police intervention. My personal solution to this contradiction was to consider this demolition metaphorical, the sort of thing that can happen in movie world but not in real life.
Regardless, Demolition presents viewers with a recurring pattern of people whose lives were diminished by doing the ordinary things that were expected of them instead of being what they are / doing what they want. Again and again I was taken aback with the message it offered, essentially arguing that yes, you will get hurt if you follow your heart and go against the flow, but you will also find internal happiness that is otherwise impossible to achieve. Just ask Karen Moreno's son after he got the shit beaten out of him while exploring his gay tendencies.
Sure, you can argue Demolition's message is too much of a cliche. I, on the other hand, found it a well aimed, poignant artistic statement. As someone standing at a personal crossroad in my own life, I have found Demolition a kind of a beacon in the dark.
Overall: Potentially confusing and disorientating, Demolition is also somewhat inspirational. All of which combine to make a fine piece of art deserving 4 out of 5 crabs.

Thursday, 3 November 2016

Warcraft

Isn't it funny that no one was able to come up with a worthy Dungeons & Dragons like movie yet?
Warcraft is the latest to attempt this feat. I will grant it entertainment; I did not suffer watching this movie. I will not, however, grant it quality approval; Warcraft is your typical collection of underdeveloped characters, special effects laden, minimal story affair designed to make money out of an existing brand. Oh, and there is no ending either, with the powers that be seeking to make more money out of this franchise through the dreaded Sequel.
True, Warcraft is no D&D but rather a computer game. A point only the truly invested folk will care about, because for all intents and purposes this is a D&D story of a world invaded by orcs. The orcs are not necessarily baddies but rather refugees from a dying world; regardless, fighting they come, with only fair and compassionate white humans to stand between them and another destroyed world. Of these humans, the one we're meant to keep an eye on the most is that of the character portrayed by Ragnar Lothbrok (sorry, I meant to say Travis Fimmel). Alas, like the rest of them, his is underdeveloped; if anything, the most interesting character is that of a half orc female (Paula Patton).
Warcraft is directed by ex Moon's Duncan Jones (yes, Bowie's son). Things often reminded me of a Peter Jackson production, probably due to trying to cram too much into a movie length affair but then still forcing a sequel upon us.
Overall: Light entertainment at 2.5 out of 5 crabs.

Tuesday, 25 October 2016

Star Trek Beyond

Nothing but easy entertainment, that is what the Beyond monicker on the latest Star Trek movie is about. That is, if you haven't gathered that already through the meaningless slogan ("Beyond" what?) or the facts this movie is directed by a Fast & Furious veteran (Justin Lin) and was co-written by Simon Pegg. But hey, my job is to point the obvious out; unemployment sucks.
Fun and funny but nothing more, Beyond shows us how the current incarnation of the Enterprise crew smashes yet another Enterprise (it appears that, with the movie, Paramount buys them at Costco for a dime a dozen). But it is all worth it in order to save a massive Citadel like multicultural space station from an evil enemy that is clearly a One Nation / Brexit / Trump supporter.
References to Leonard Nemoy's real life passing are blatantly plastered all over the place, Anton Yelchin earns a well deserved caption tribute at the end, and Sulu is revealed to be gay; but, much more interestingly, we are introduced to the character of Jaylah (Sofia Boutella), an Asari, who wins the day and the movie for our distraught crew.
Overall: Pure entertainment can only get you so far. 2.5 out of 5 spaced crabs (Spaced? Pegg? Remember?).
Closing note: In case you didn't get it, I'm suggesting Beyond borrows a lot of its ideas from Mass Effect.

Friday, 21 October 2016

The Legend of Tarzan

Lowdown: Tarzan returns to cure the world from imperialism.
Review:
Even my severely limited for contents Netflix account contains multiple versions of the Tarzan story, raising the question of where can a new version - and an obviously large budget one at hand, featuring one of the hottest stars around (Margot Robbie) - fit in. The answer, presented to us by The Legend of Tarzan, is that this Tarzan is a sequel to a prequel that never happened: it takes place after Lord Greystoke was retrieved from the African jungle back to his "home" in England and assumes you know the rough outline of what/who/where Tarzan is. Any references to the original story are made through the occasional flashback.
The story of The Legend of Tarzan revolves around the colonisation of Africa, specifically that of Congo by the Belgiums. Now, if you know your history, you would know that during the late 19th century and up until the early 20th century the Belgiums have committed some of this world's worst atrocities on the local population there, resulting in 6 to 10 million dead and lots of piles of severed hands (the punishment for not producing as much rubber as the Belgiums deemed suitable). In general, the story was that of Western Europeans financial prosperity being generated through the blood of black people in remote Africa.
Rest assured that in this The Legend of Tarzan of ours, the people of Africa are saved from the Belgiums. By a white person, of course, and a noble man at that, with a lovely specimen of ideal white beauty by his side (Robbie) to serve as the movie's token female that requires saving by the alpha male. Given the movie's premises, we also have a black American by their side (Samuel Jackson) to support them, because - as we all know - the blacks of America have won their equality by then and could therefore use their position of privilege to sort inequality problems at the place the whole of humanity had originated from. Just in case you did not pick on my sarcasm yet, I will point out obvious facts such as blacks equality before the law in today's USA or the fact that today's Congo is a garden of Eden devoid of all conflict and/or people being enslaved to dig the precious minerals that make the batteries for the phones and laptops us Westerners are using to read this post at this very second.
I guess the original Tarzan stories by Edgar Rice Burroughs were far from historically accurate, too, so I shouldn't really complain. But I will complain still, because movies such as The Legend of Tarzan will easily mishaps dozens of millions' impression of what the world was like back then. For people who take their history lessons from Hollywood, the fact that even the most enlightened folk at the time - say, Charles Darwin or H. G. Wells - regarded the likes of blacks and Jews as inferior would come as a complete surprise. If it will ever come.
On the positive side, Legend of Tarzan does feature Christoph Waltz doing yet another baddie, but unlike the last James Bond (Spectre) his talents are not getting wasted.
Overall: All the special effects cannot do this rewriting of history the honours. 2 out of 5 jungle crabs.

Wednesday, 19 October 2016

The Nice Guys

Well, here is another review whose subject is not going to receive half the attention it deserves. Better little than nothing, I say!
Do you recall a film called Kiss Kiss Bang Bang? A witty, entertaining and occasionally thrilling take on the lie that is Hollywood, featuring some very good actors in very fine performances? Well, The Nice Guys is a close relative of Kiss Kiss'. In face, it is the product of Shane Black, the director of Kiss Kiss; and not only is it a relative in the maker department, it is also a relative in the subject matter department (Hollywood/lies).
This time, the funny and witty plot follows a muscle for hire with an extended sense of morality (Russell Crowe) and the private dick he was sent to warn off, the hard way, as they collaborate to find out what happened to this girl that disappeared. The seventies plot thickens amidst murders, corruption, sex, drugs and a great music soundtrack of the era. The result is similar to Kiss Kiss Bang Bang's: entertainment, yes, but one which paints a corrupt picture of LA, Hollywood and the quintessential American (as represented through quintessentially American car companies).
Behind the political statement lies one concerning art: The Nice Guys argues for the importance of movies to society. Yes, our movies can be shit (as the movie inside the movie demonstrates), but they can tell the real story, too.
Overall: Witty^2 and fully deserving 4.5 out of 5 crabs.

Tuesday, 18 October 2016

5 to 7

Americans' infatuation with Paris as a symbol for their ideas about romantic ideals has been noted before. Clearly they feel like there's something amiss for them in that department. 5 to 7 is yet another movie that capitalises on this notion, but in its favour I will note I thought it does so in an ever so charming way.
Anton Yelchin (RIP) stars as a naive single child of demanding Jewish parents that want to see him become a lawyer while he seeks to follow his heart. And, as per romantic American movies' limited set of things that pass as romantic, such as large but otherwise useless pieces of carbon extracted from African mines and sold at ridiculous prices, his heart leads him to writing + an older, married with children, sexy French woman (Bérénice Marlohe). An against all odds affair develops, focused around the woman's desires, including the desire to keep her marriage/kids. In order to accomodate, our hero is limited to interacting with the subject of his affections between 5 to 7, PM.
Yes, we've seen this movie before and everything, but 5 to 7 is still a nice feel good affair (pun intended). It's got that nice seize the day message to it, it plays the Jewish parents card well (albeit to the stereotype's exact specifications), and it's got good actors throughout.
Overall: As we say in Straya, 5 to 7 is noice throughout. 3.5 out of 5 crabs.

Monday, 17 October 2016

Love & Friendship

If there is a lesson to be learnt from Love & Friendship, it's that not everything coming out of Jane Austen's quill is gold.
There are some fine actors in this tale of an old widow with a big mouth (Kate Beckinsale) and her attempts to secure a comfortable future while, at the same time, mishandling her daughter's prospects. We even have Stephen Fry in a minor role. The problem is, we do not have a good story; Love & Friendship is too much of a mishmash of stories with too many characters (so much so that the movie presents us with a personal written introduction to each, only that even that is confusing due to their abundance yet often infrequent appearances).
One can argue Love & Friendship might offer a historical representation of what the lives of the rich and comfortable was during Austen's time. Perhaps that is the case, but I argue that if I want to watch a meaningless talkfest featuring a multitude of characters I cannot identify with I'd switch the TV on any current affairs program.
As it is, Love & Friendship, despite its hour and a half duration, feels long and boring.
Overall: Clearly, moviemakers have grown desperate in their attempts to cash in on Austen's contemporary popularity. Some thing are best left alone, and Love & Friendship is one of those. 1.5 out of 5 bored crabs.

Saturday, 15 October 2016

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies

There's a good reason why I liked the book Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, the follow up comic, and now the movie. Sure, I like the original too and appreciate it's rags to riches plus feminist motifs. Like Led Zeppelin's Stairway to Heaven, Austen's most famous piece is a tale of restraint. Alas, there is too much restraint in there for me to take and no Jimmy Page on an electric guitar to let loose at the climax.
Enter the zombies into the mix to add that necessary bit of spice to the story! Because as nice as it is to listen to Elizabeth Bennet go on and on, it is much nicer when she takes matters into her own hands and pulls a martial arts move. Or even sticks a sword in someone's eye.
One can clearly see a lot of things potentially going wrong with a movie such as Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, but luckily this one skips them all. First, we have fine actors on duty here; former Cinderella and Downton Abbey graduate Lily James proves she can pull a karate move. And with Charles Dance as her father, clearly she cannot go wrong.
Second, and more important, is the fact this movie clearly does not take itself too seriously as it provides its version of that famous tale told in a zombie infested England where the rich and the privileged study Japanese karate but the lesser endowed go Chinese. Seriously, comic retakes are hardly ever more serious.
Overall: Plenty of fun to be had in here. Certainly more than in the original. 3.5 out of 5 crabs.

Monday, 10 October 2016

The Road to Little Dribbling by Bill Bryson

It's a pity I do not have the time to write Bill Bryson's The Road to Little Dribbling a proper review, because this is prime time Bryson doing what Bryson does best: providing us with illuminating insights into life and this world of ours through travelling. This time around Bryson revisits the UK, or rather - rewrites, more or less, his Notes from a Small Island to bring it up to date [more or less, as we shall see].
At times, Bryson sounds like a grumpy old man. Only that, given I practically agree on almost everything he writes about, it's either neither of us is or both of us are. Instead of being interpreted as a grumpy old man, I would argue Bryson is a person who loves the UK but hates to see what is happening to it under a conservative regime hell bent on an agenda of austerity (read: funneling more money towards the rich at the expense of the poor). The UK is thus a great place, one of the best in this world, but it is also heading downwards - hence the grumpiness. Indeed, my sole point of contention with Bryson is to do with the local food: Bryson seems to enjoy what passes for food in England and, even worse, what passes for coffee. Clearly, the guy should travel a bit, see the world...
Jokes aside, the only problem with Little Dribbling - a book that is so very well written in such a rich and atypical (by today's standards) language - is that it was made sort of redundant by the recent Brexit. Bryson wrote the book as a sort of a warning to the UK, saying "look after yourself or...". But through Brexit, we now see the worst case scenario, the one Bryson only hints it, materialising right before us. If the Bryson book's UK was on the brink before but could still be sorted, now it is well past that point. Perhaps Little Dribbling will thus be remembered in the pages of history as the book that documented the UK just before it fell into the abyss?
Overall: Solid Bryson deserving 4 very solid crabs out of 5.

Thursday, 22 September 2016

Me Before You

There is nothing wrong in movies acting out as vehicles for their actors. Clearly, the main point of Me Before You was to ride on the success of its star, Emilia Clarke (aka Game of Thrones' Mother of Dragons, Daenerys Targaryen) by providing her with a vehicle with which to display her romantic comedy talents. I, for one, will argue this particular escapade fails and that the otherwise lovely and talented Clarke should probably seek to make use of her talents elsewhere (as in, definitely on our screens, but perhaps not in romantic comedies).
Set in the Welsh town of Pembroke (I know because I have been there), yet offering no hint that our affairs take place in Wales - not even the slightest of accents or Welsh signs - our story follows Lou (Clarke). Lou is the 26 year old daughter still living at home of a loving but poor family, and when she loses her coffee shop job (no wonder, given what passes for coffee in the UK) her family is desperate. So she takes on the job of looking after the now paralysed following a traffic accident son of the town's stupidly rich family, the family that owns the town's castle.
That son (Sam Claflin) no longer wants to live, having been thrown from the heights of hedonism into the depths of disability. Thus starts a Pretty Woman / Pride & Prejudice romantic tale that is full of schmaltz, is awfully predictable, and we've all seen tons of times before. Sure, you can argue the theme is good enough for us to enjoy again, and you will probably be right; I, however, will argue that Clarke's exaggerated facial expressions with which she expresses her emotions were way too much for me. By this movie's third act I was simply too annoyed.
Overall: Welsh scenery aside, this is a failed ride telling a [too] familiar story. 2.5 out of 5 crabs.

Tuesday, 20 September 2016

The Huntsman: Winter's War

The direct sequel of 2012's Snow White and the Huntsman, The Huntsman: Winter's War comes back to tell us yet another fairytale based on the same setting. By cleverly jumping between events taking place before and after that first movie, it adds to that movie while standing pretty well on its own rights.
It turns out that the first movie's evil queen (Charlize Theron) has a sister, Freya (Emily Blunt), who through personal loss became evil as well. From the orphan victims her armies leave behind, Freya raises a new superior army of Huntsmen (thus explaining the origins of the first movie's Huntsman). And being the cold bitch that she is, she forbids love in her kingdom. Only that two of her best huntsmen, Eric (the returning Chris Hemsworth) and Sara (Jessica Chastain) fall in love.
Our queen comes between them and sends Eric on a journey of exile that sees him through the first movie. But with the aid of Nick Frost as a lovely dwarf and some fairytale stuff miracles, lovers shall be reunited, famous actors whose characters we deemed dead and gone shall make a comeback, and - eventually, after pleasuring our eyes with many a glamorous costume and lots of nifty special effects - good shall prevail.
It's all quite predictable and easy on the brain, but yes, it is also beautiful. It's a fairytale lacking any pretensions to be anything other than a fairytale. As such, it worked for me!
Overall: Winter's War is good, easy to digest, easy on the eyes entertainment. Nothing wrong with that! 3.5 out of 5 crabs.

Sunday, 18 September 2016

Creative Control

Is there anything real left in our world anymore? No, argues Creative Control.
In the world of the film Creative Control, nothing is real. The whole world is black and white, for a start. Affairs revolve around an ad agency, an company belonging to an industry that is all about selling folks false dreams. People take drugs to escape reality. People are insincere in business. People cheat on their best friends.
And into this reality comes a new invention of a virtual reality visor, through which our antihero for the duration of the film can fulfill his sexual fantasies with the woman he cannot otherwise engage (because she's the girl of his so called "best friend"). And in this world where nothing in real, that virtual world is the only thing that is real. We know that for sure because it's the only thing in color.
Creative Control goes to extremes, and overdoes it in the process, in order to tell us something about the world full of fictions, myths and lies that we live in. The result is contrived and too "in your face" to properly engage.
2.5 out of 5 crabs.

Saturday, 10 September 2016

Captain America: Civil War

Lowdown: The Marvel superheroes get to fight one another.
Review:
The second Captain America movie, The Winter Soldier, proved to be more than your average superhero movie by virtue of its very Edward Snowden like message. The third movie in the franchise, Civil War, which is actually a direct sequel to the second Avengers movie, aspired to do the same - justify its existence through deep messages - while providing entertaining action, mostly by doing a Superman vs. Batman and pitting the Marvel superheroes against one another.
It fails.
Through bringing Captain America's long lost friend Bucky as some sort of a retired Hydra agent that seem to have committed a serious crime, tension is created. Our Captain wants to make sure his friend gets his right for justice before getting lynched; the UN, annoyed with Bucky's latest adventures as well as the Marvel heroes part in destroying a country at the previous episode, wants to put a leash on our heroes; and certain members of Shield, notably Iron Man, would rather see the latter take over the former. Enter the division and let the fighting begin!
A couple of interesting thoughts are thus generated. Our Marvel superheroes, wrecking the world while saving it, offer an analogy to our real world's USA: the country that wages war on anything it feels like, claiming to save the world while doing so, but charging the rest of the world quite a collateral in the process. And then wondering why the rest of the world doesn't like it much.
Or the same USA using weapons it has a monopoly on - atomic weapons, once upon a time, and now drones and hacking abilities - to do the killing, all the while pretending the rest of the world would never catch up and cancel out its monopoly. Think about it: the USA is running a very "productive" drone program in the Middle East, Asia and Africa; how would it react if another country, say, Turkey, decided to run a drone attack in the USA in order to kill a person it considers its deadly enemy (for allegedly organising the recent failed coup)? Similarly, in our movie, we find Shield has no monopoly on superheroes; Africa can have its own.
The problem with Captain America: Civil War is that it just feels too contrived. You know everything is just an excuse to get our heroes to fight one another. And in order to get there, common sense was left out, the messages take second saddle and get smeared in the process. As for the action, there is nothing we haven't seen before; two and a half hours of the same CGI concepts are definitely an overdose.
As ridiculous as it may sound, Civil War misses out on its biggest ticket on the grounds of being pipped to the post by the very meh movie that was Batman vs. Superman.
Overall: I found Captain America: Civil War to be quite a mundane and uninvolving movie, a pale shadow of its prequel namesake. 2 to 2.5 crabs out of 5 from me.

Sunday, 21 August 2016

Snowden by Ted Rall

Lowdown: The Snowden story told through a ~200 page comic.
Review:
I don't know how you, book readers, do it. Reading a book, as opposed to an ebook, is shit! The lighting is bad, you have to hold the book open. You even need to physically flip through pages! Oy vey.
But I did make an exception for you for a book that stared me in the eye as I passed by my local public library: Snowden by Ted Rall (who, apparently, is a cartoonist for pretty big USA publications). Snowden the book is a comic book of a little more than 200 pages. At its end you will find two pages of closing off text as well as numerous pages offering citations for the points raised by the comic itself, with the point being that Snowden takes itself seriously.
The author's views are revealed on page 1: we are, he tells us, living the manifestation of Orwell's 1984 vision. I concur; you can tell why I made a sacrifice and chose to read this particular paper book. Snowden goes further, though, much further: readers are informed about some of Edward Snowden's biggest revelations.
Then the comic picks up on a new direction that represents the bulk of pages. That is, trying to figure out why it is that Edwards Snowden and no other came out to do what he had done and reveal this information to us. What does this say about Snowden? To answer that question, we get to explore Ed's personal history (where I got to learn he was (is still?) a libertarian - oy givald!).
I have to say it, I found myself identifying with Edward Snowden's personal journey. Not I am half as brave as he was, but rather on account of other similarities between us. Specifically, how we used to do the same things (video games, reading Ars Technica) and hold certain opinions that, upon being challenged by international travel and seeing the world with its different facets, we later changed.
If you care for the book's answer for the Snowden riddle, it is, and I quote, that Snowden had an "ideological awakening [while working] in an organisation that selects for conformism".
Then the book concludes with a discussion on whether those things that Snowden did were right or wrong. Perhaps because I'm not an American I do not even start to consider Edwards Snowden as a traitor, which leaves "hero" as the only option. Luckily for me, Rall provides ample evidence to show that, even for Americans, what Snowden did was an act of heroism of the best kind.
Overall:
A comic is, indeed, a fine way to tell the Snowden story in a meaningful yet entertaining way. I have been regarding Snowden as a hero since June 2013 and, as far as I am concerned, he is welcome to seek asylum at my home for as long as he requires. That invitation is now even warmer through me knowing more about Edward Snowden and his journey through this fine comic.
4 out of 5 crabs for Snowden the comic, and all the crabs in the world to public libraries, one of humanity's better institutions.

Monday, 15 August 2016

Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice

Lowdown: A couple of stupid incredibly powerful men get too easily manipulated to fight one another; women come to save the day.
Review:
There is an eternal question when it comes to Hollywood movies: how much money can be poured into a blockbuster movie event in order to produce an empty, meaningless bullshit of a movie? Tons of flicks are competing to break a record on this question, but Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice (let's just stick to BvS, shall we?) clearly wipes them all out. This movie is just as dumb as it could run a medium sized first world country with its budget for a decade.
Clearly, dumbness is the direct result of the task handed to script writers: come up with a plot that would have Superman fight Batman, ASAP! And do it as a sequel to the last Superman movie, Man of Steel, so that we can create a Marvel like franchise!
And the problem is that they, the script writers, complied. Their contrived solution was to have Lex Luther son, Lex Luther (the weirdo typecast Jesse Eisenberg), manipulate Superman (a returning Henry Cavill) into fighting Batman/Bruce Wayne (welcome to the role, Ben Affleck) while utilising the duo's extreme stupidity. Only that the two are clearly not that stupid, or should not have been that stupid. Hence the film's main problem; one doesn't go to watch a movie entitled BvS expecting stupid superheroes.
There are tons of special effects laden fight scenes stretched over this three hour movie, tons of excellent actors playing crudely underdeveloped characters (Amy Adams, Holly Hunter, Jeremy Irons - I could go on), and there is a guest visit by Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) that's meant to introduce us to the next movie in the franchise. There's also tons of muscles - the male leads clearly pumped a lot of iron for their roles. What isn't there is brains; and if you think the movie breaks the injustice league's hall of fame with its silly excuses for pitting Batman against Superman, just wait till you see what it does to make them stop fight one another.
P.S. I will not get into the way Superman's character is Americanised in that good old "there's no country in the world other than America" [which is actually a continent].
Overall: I did not suffer; BvS is an entertaining roller coaster. But oh, what a poor movie this is! What a waste! 2.5 out of 5 de-intellectualised crabs.

Wednesday, 10 August 2016

Whiskey Tango Foxtrot

Lowdown: A small time American reporter comes of age through her assignment in battle torn Afghanistan.
Review:
They say every good story revolves some sort of a journey. Well, in the case of Whiskey Tango Foxtrot (let's agree to stick with WTF from now on) our story is the story of an unlikely female journalist from the USA, who for some small time reason finds herself temporarily assigned to Afghanistan for war coverage duties. As with all things temporary, she finds herself stuck there for about a decade. Stuck is a bad word, because her journey has her advocating for the cause and actually wishing to stay there fore longer.
The catch, I guess, is that this journey is based on the autobiography of a real person. The fact that person is a woman, and given the context of war and Burqa cladded Afghanistan, serve to explain why WTF got itself on film.
A significant part of the story has to be personal journey of Tina Fey, the comedian who plays a serious role here and also acts as a producer. Clearly, this movie represents some coming of age for her as a person, too. Fey fares very well, thank you very much, demonstrating heroines have no problem leading a movie, thank you very much!
The problem with WTF is that it doesn't take us places. Sure, there is Afghanistan, but it's not like I felt WTF expanded my horizons other than entertain me for the duration of the flick. Alfred Molina acting as a local weirdo warlord probably did the best job at entertaining me but it wasn't enough; nor were the talents of Martin Freeman and Margot Robbie.
Overall: A win for women, but not a spectacular film in any distinguished way. 3 out of 5 crabs.

Sunday, 7 August 2016

Ice Age Collision Course

Another year, another punishment for parents in the shape of an Ice Age episode. This franchise that does not know when to stop and has long outlived its welcome comes to us with Episode 5, Collision Course.
The plot is completely redundant; there is danger, the heroes figure it out, they travel a bit, they stumble upon baddies, they sort things out. Formula movies could not be more formulistic. As far as the heroes are concerned, they are pretty much the usual gang + Simon Pegg (who has been there before, too, but is a relatively recent addition).
The novelty, if you will, is with Scrat's character taking a more leading role. The same way the accountants at Despicable Me figured out it is the Minions that the kids like the most and are most likely to earn a buck, so did the Ice Age accountants figure out that with Scrat they are holding the key to parents' Port Knox. The other curious addition is a Neil deGrasse Tyson contributing his voice talent and the character of an astronomer.
But is this enough to generate a good movie? No, not in the least. Ice Age: Collision Course is just another parental trap devoid of any spark and worthy of 2 out of 5 crabs.

Tuesday, 2 August 2016

Michael Moore: Capitalism: A Love Story + Where to Invade Next

Lowdown: Michael Moore dishes out the illnesses of American society.
Review:
It can be argued, and I will definitely concur, that Michael Moore's documentaries are all one and the same. Moore seems to be redoing the same film again and again from slightly different angles (including the perspective of time). Essentially, Moore has been crying out against the fall of the American Empire he grew up in, making a continuous feature film to discuss the fall of the USA.
This particular review of mine focuses on the two recent episodes in Moore's ongoing saga, 2009's Capitalism: A Love Story and 2015's Where to Invade Next. I shall approach it in descending chronological order.
I actually thought Where to Invade Next is a movie dealing with the USA's major export this past few decades, troops. But it isn't; it is actually about how other [inferior] countries have borrowed ideas from the USA and successfully implemented them, while the USA itself forgot all about them (and finds itself drowning in the mire as a result of said negligence). To prove his point, Moore "invades" other countries to demonstrate how well they did with those American ideas.
Examples of Moore's invasions include: Free higher education at Slovenia [and the prosperity this brings in comparison to the misery of college debts in the USA]; gourmet restaurant like meals at French schools, where the aim is to teach kids how and what to eat [in comparison to the average American's bad diet]; short school days and no homework at Finland [resulting in the world's most successful education system, while the USA's is in constant decline]; legalised drugs at Portugal [reducing crime, in comparison to the USA's massive imprisonment rate]; work/life balance at Italy [compared to the USA workers getting hardly any days of paid leave]; and no capital punishment in pretty much the whole of the civilised world.
All good ideas and, in my opinion, entirely justified criticism. The problem lies with Moore's very manipulative, contrived feeling, presentation. Often it's a pathetic presentation, too, with Moore going through the theatrics of sticking an American flag everywhere he goes. But yes, you got to hand it to Moore, he has a point; personally, I am very sad to see the Anglo Saxonia Minors, the UK and Australia, follow the American example instead of the European one.
Capitalism: A Love Story is all about how the capitalistic system managed to establish itself in American minds to the point where no alternative can even be imagined. Moore is arguing it has  implemented itself together with self protection mechanisms that block Americans from seeking better alternatives. Instead, Americans are busy in a race to the bottom, with corporations making a killing and the majority suffering for the sake of the 1%.
Given its manufacturing date, you can rest assure Capitalism is all about the 2008 financial crisis and its causes. Again, I agree with Moore and what he says, but again I will argue for a contrived presentation; in this particular case, the presentation already feels out of date with newer "shit" fitting the bill much better already. Alas, while Where to Invade Next presents a multitude of ideas, Capitalism is a one track pony.
Overall: Whether or not you like Michael Moore's films is highly dependant on whether or not you agree with him. I doubt Moore's presentation will sway the true American capitalist patriot to change her mind. But again, there is the fact that Where to Invade Next does raise some interesting ideas, so I will give it 3.5 out of 5 crabs. Capitalism: A Love Story is a different, repetitive and now an older affair, too; it earns 2.5 out of 5 crabs.

Friday, 29 July 2016

Top Crab #10

It is this blog's 10th birthday! Hooray! Who would have thought?
As I have done at each previous birthday, I get to put forward the things I've enjoyed the most this past year, some of which I have reviewed here and some that I haven't. As per the last birthday, I will add a note alerting of the fact I do not know how long I will be continuing this blog for; whatever purpose I thought it might have served when I started this adventure, things pretty much narrowed down to the fact my personal experience of movies and books is further enhanced by the need to analyse them for a review. Alas, when the vast majority of movies is somewhere down the manure-osphere, is there a point to dedicating brain cells and/or precious time to the analysis exercise?
With that philosophical question in mind I shall move over to noting the best this year had to offer.

Best movie:
If there is any trend to take from the past decade, it is that movies have been "doing it to me" less and less over the past decade. Sure, Blu-ray with its technical prowess had its time under the sun, but nowadays I do not have much time anymore; it is hard to justify straight two hours in front of a screen, and it is even harder to do so when those two hours are mostly spent moaning at the trash Hollywood serves me up with.
With that in mind, there were two movies that did do it for me this year and they are definitely worth celebrating. The first was The Martian from Ridley Scott, an expertly made science fiction tale whose main fallacy lies in the fact we always knew Matt Damon was going to make it.
It is therefore the second of the pair that wins it for this year: The Big Short, an entertaining movie about finances that shows us all how one can make a documentary about the seemingly most boring subject ever and achieve an ever so entertaining [and educational] result. As such, The Big Short is a proper achievement in the art of film making.

Best book:
I never get to read as many books as I would like to, and this year I also didn't review as many books as I would like to either. I can, however, confidently state here that there was a single book to win them all. Probably because it's not a single book, really.
By virtue of his contribution to the best video game[s] ever, Mass Effect, Patrick Weekes was a hero of mine long before he started writing books. His Rogues of the Republic trilogy started off with the magnificent The Palace Job, a book that earnt its magnificence partly from the fact it was a standalone. Then came a sequel, The Prophecy Con, that wasn't as good but was still excellent, and then came the third in the trilogy (?) - The Paladin Caper - that was even lesser but was still damn good. Most importantly, the now trilogy has all the best things one could expect out of a good fantasy trilogy of books. Thus The Paladin Caper represents a rare case for a trilogy that started well, progresses well, and is well concluded.
There is also that overarching message that is often missing from lesser tales of fantasy. There is the fact that that message is ever so relevant and is brimming with the liberal values that I, personally, hold so dear. There is a wide collection of round characters to pick from, many of which are women and members of minorities, in contrast to this big real world of ours where literature characters tend to be defined by a single marketing department's statement. And there is an ever so entertaining plot, too!
I just hope to see more from Patrick Weekes.

Best music:
Is it just me or is it much harder to appreciate good music nowadays when it takes so very little effort to acquire it? I love streaming and I enjoy being pushed with dozens of new curated albums each week to sample and marvel at, but the lack of ceremony and glamour about it does make it harder to appreciate the music itself. In music, as in almost every other thing in life, the harder something is to acquire, the more rewarding it is.


Of the rewarding new albums this year had to offer, one stood above the rest: David Bowie's Blackstar. I will admit my initial response to the album's release was a disappointed one; not because of it being of lesser quality but rather because most of the songs included in the album were already released, in one form or another, over the year or so prior to the album coming out as an album. I simply wanted more.
Needless to say, this perspective vaporised upon learning of Bowie's death. That initially disappointed outlook turned into vast appreciation for that great artist's final gift to humanity. What a legacy, and what a way to conclude a legacy with!
It is said that the end is important in everything. It is sad to have been there to witness Bowie's end, but it is also great to be able to continuously enjoy this greatest of endings.
P.S. By now we know Blackstar (the song) was limited to less than ten minutes on account of an iTunes limitation. I am here to officially complain before Apple of depriving us from what would have been an even more marvellous creation due to a dumb policy.

Best game:
I seem to be bombarded with games from all directions these days. No, this is not a complaint; some bombardments are positive ones. It's just that I feel like I am more in the business of collecting games than playing them. Did I mention I do not have time for much of anything these days?
I tried my hands at board games (most notably Camel Up, which became a family favourite). Card games (Hanabi). Some A List console games, of which I will mention Fallout 4 as the standout that - as good as it was - could not earn enough of my time to justify an existence. And I have played tons of mobile games, specifically iPad games, of which I seem to like the various incarnations of board games the most.
But when the dust is settled and the novelty wears off, there is one game I always gravitate back to. One game I can spend days on end playing. It is a PC game (by far my least favourite gaming platform, mostly on account of my affection to Windows) and it is a game on which I did not even spend a cent. It is World of Tanks.
I can discuss here how this not new anymore game has improved this past year through various releases, but that's not the point. The point of this MMO is that every round is five minutes long, which suits this time deprived person; and every round is its own riddle. That is, how do I make the most of this tank I have given this opposition that I have been pitted against and with this lot supporting me on this particular map? The answer is different each time.
Yes, I get splattered a lot, often quickly and brutally so. I argue that is part of the game's charms: it is exactly because I choose not to spend any money on the game and make the most of the compromised fleet of tanks at my disposal that turns each round into an intriguing - and ever so rewarding experience when things do work out - optimisation problem, if you will.
And just in case you're a would be tank expert and you're wondering if we ever played a round together: I'm the one that always tries for the pincer movement. Unless I play a heavy tank, because they're too slow for pincer movements. Or artillery. But give me a Hellcat and the sky's the limit [at least until someone outflanks me and demonstrates just how feeble the armour on this tank destroyer is].

Best TV:
As has been the case in recent years, the most rewarding visual art nowadays tends to come in the form of the multi episodic TV series meant to be consumed online (sans ads, if I might add). The lack of time restrictions coupled with the freedom from designing episodes for the sole purpose of ensuring the viewer comes back next week offers artistic freedoms that are now being actively exploited.
There is therefore plenty to recommend. In the comedy department, I was captivated by Utopia (which, for some reason, was called Wonderland in the USA), the story of an Australian government agency trying to do well in infrastructure development but finding itself strangled on all sides by politics and bureaucracy. The resemblance to real life Australian events is, I assume, less than coincidental.
Also worth mentioning is the fourth season of House of Cards. By now we know the story and its themes; where the fourth season excels is in its cinematic values (which I will attribute mostly to Robin Wright, the director of at least most of this season’s episodes). It is simply well made, cinematically, reaffirming my observations that cinema now plays second fiddle to TV. In a world where many of us consume media over a smartphone/tablet, the cinema itself is so twentieth century.
In the miniseries department we had The Night Manager, where it was great to see Tom Hiddleston coming of age beside an excellent Hugh Laurie in an extremely well told spy story. In your face, Homeland.
When the dust was settled, however, there was one TV show that stood high - very high - above everything else. The Swedish/Danish production that is The Bridge, or Bron/Broen as per its original title, peaked in quality upon its third season. There is a story well told in there, but most of all there are the characters that are so well developed, blemishes included. Sofia Helin’s autistic character of Malmo police detective Saga feels so familiar by now that I consider her a household member, a mighty achievement for any art form.
Perhaps even more encouraging is the fact one does not need Hollywood’s piles of money to come up with the goods; a good script with fine actors will do.

Thursday, 16 June 2016

Grimsby

Lowdown: A "typical" citizen of England's coastal town of Grimsby finds his long lost brother, now a James Bond like spy. The hard way.
Review:
I shall start with an understatement. I don't know about you, but I have been to Grimsby and I wasn't too impressed. That small coastal town on the eastern shore of middle of nowhere England is a far cry from the associations non-English brains tend to come up with when we lie down and think of England.
It appears this negative impression of mine is yet another trait I share with actor and filmmaker Sasha Baron Cohen. Unlike the latter, though, I did not choose to make a movie out of said impression. Baron Cohen did, though, and the result is his usual shtick of excessive cringe jokes. This time the victim of Baron Cohen's focus is not the poorly population of Uzbekistan but rather the poorly population of England's victims of the class system they've had there since before the days of historical records. But hey, they have the queen, so it's alright [let rich can continue to screw the poor].
Just to give you an example or two, the repertoire of jokes includes a guy having to save another guy's life by sucking poison out of the latter's balls, with all the homophobic images that conjures. Or the same two guys finding themselves in the middle, literally, of a gang of elephants having themselves an orgy.
Ultimately, there is a humanist message in this Grimsby movie, it's just that is too well hidden. Our story takes us through the adventures of two brothers from Grimsby, separated at their early childhood. One grew up to be a James Bond licence to kill type spy (Mark Strong), while the other grew up to be the typical Grimsby resident this movie of exaggerations would like you to imagine: a fat guy (Baron Cohen) married to a fat wife (what exactly is wrong with that?) whose main sport in life is having more kids than names they can remember. The latter couple leads a life funded by welfare and powered by the local pub's beer, as well as lots of overgrown patriotism for the nation that screwed their lives.
As movie plot coincidences often portray, the two brothers shall unite. At first the slob will come in the way of the secret agent, but later the wheels turn and it is the slob that wins the day against terrorism.
Penelope Cruz fills a similar role here to the one she does at Zoolander 2, but - again - she is not enough to save this film. Though not a long movie, Grimsby suffers from advanced incoherence. It is unclear whether it tries to be a cringe jokes machine, a spy movie, or a social statement. It tries to be all three but, ultimately, ends up being just another cycle of the same washing machine program Sasha Baron Cohen has been running us through since his days as Ali G.
Overall: Grimsby will not bore you, but it won't take you places you haven't been before either. I'll be generous and give it 2.5 out of 5 ball sucking crabs.

Friday, 10 June 2016

Anomalisa

Lowdown: A person to whom everyone sounds the same finds someone different at a convention's hotel.
Review:
Anomalisa lives up to its name by being an anomaly in movie making: it is an animated movie for adults. Not an animated movie with some pop culture jokes aimed at older audiences, but rather a true adult oriented animation flick. I mean it: it's got depictions of sex and male frontal nudity, just to point at two non plot related examples.
The premises took a few minutes to sink into this viewer's head. We follow Michael (David Thewlis) as he heads to a convention at Cincinnati. He calls his wife, asks about his child, and talks to the cab driver. It then occurred to me that all of the above sound the same [to him], which sort of explains his visibly dreary and indifferent look on life.
Eventually we learn our guy has made it to Cincinnati in order to make a presentation before clients from the area. He stays the night before at a posh hotel, which is where he meets Lisa (Jennifer Jason Leigh made it just in time from The Hateful Eight) and her colleague. There is an anomaly with Lisa: she does not sound like everybody else. Michael is set on exploring this newly found avenue for happiness in his life.
I cannot say I liked or enjoyed Anomalisa. It is not a long movie but it was still boring. It breaks new ground in animation and uses it to deliver stuff normal American movies seem unable to deliver (e.g., that male frontal nudity I have mentioned earlier) but, other than a bit of a cringe here and there, it fails to make ground breaking use of this toy that it had found.
One can sort of see the message Anomalisa is trying to make with its depiction of people all sounding the same. I dig that. It's just that I think Anomalisa takes me on a way overlong less travelled path to get there, charges me too much for the trip, and ultimately fails to take me anywhere new.
Overall: I wouldn't recommend watching Anomalisa for any reason other than admiring the technical feat of animation. 2 out of 5 crabs.