Thursday, 17 March 2016

Suffragette

Lowdown: A personalised account of the British Suffragette movement during the early 20th century.
Review:
We live in a world where women are not equal to men. Sure, things are improving all the time, and by now only the truly imbecile would publicly suggest women are intrinsically inferior to men (at least in public), but there used to be a time - not that long ago - where things were far worse. Suffragette, the movie, focuses on a pivotal moment in the history of women's rights: England during the early 20th century and the struggle of women there to earn their right to vote (a right that has been oddly named "suffrage").
It is worth pointing out that, by then, the women of New Zealand and Australia already won that particular fight. In a way that is not so incomprehensible, given Britain's affection with tradition potentially holding it back. However, I suspect there was more to it than that and the economy played a role in addition to wisdom.
The makers of Suffragette chose to deliver their message by personalising it. Suffragette offers us a character to identity with, Maude (Carey Mulligan). Maude is a multifaceted women, like all people are, but with issues directly related to her time and place in history. She is a worker in a cloth washing factory, working in conditions that defy all modern day OHS standards; she was deprived of what we take for granted as the pleasures of childhood, working from a very young age; once she's home from work she is expected to look after her son while the husband (Ben Whishaw, aka James Bond’s Q) is not expected much of.
Being pinned in a shit situation without the right to vote isn't Maude's only problem: as Suffragette clearly points out, our hero and her child are considered their husband's property; the authorities, made mostly of men, can do almost whatever that comes to their mind to her; and all the while, she is earning much less than her husband for doing what is clearly a harder job.
As for plot, the movie takes us through the nearly random way in which Maude finds herself in the midst of the struggle for women to earn the right to vote. I do not know if our hero's character is based on a historical figure, or whether some of the characters she encounters along the way (portrayed by Brendan Gleeson, Helena Bonham Carter and Meryl Streep to name some of the more famous) are historical figures. That said, some of the events in this movie certainly are.
Ultimately, this Suffragette presents a snippet of a very stacked up battle between men and women. Yes, a fight that is still going on today, as mirrored by Gamergate through lesser salaries even in Western society. The fight for equal rights is never ending and is wrought with blood and tears, to sum up this movie's message, yet there are small victories along the way.
Is Suffragette a good movie, though? I find myself unable to provide a good answer. On one hand, the portrayal of historical events is important and the message itself is clearly very important. On the other, Suffragette works too hard to squeeze viewers into an emotional corner while failing to round the edges up. Too many characters lack definition, while too many threads are thrown at us simply as a means to shock us viewers with.
Personally, I was left wondering how the fight for women's rights would have fared under today's surveillance society. We live in a world where the President of the USA is mocking us, telling us off for "fetishising our phones" when we ask for privacy. You’d think he’d know better, coming from a clearly disadvantaged black background. In parallel, authorities are chanting the "nothing to hide, nothing to fear" mantra in justification of them monitoring our every movement, every call and every online interaction. Now, imagine what that kind of control would have done to women's rights: after all, at the time the women of Suffragette were fighting for illegal causes. How many good causes are thus being squashed today by the great powers ruling our lives? Maybe in a century's time someone will do a movie about those and make each of us look as big an idiot as the bulk of Suffragette’s men are.
Overall: Suffragette may not be the best movie ever, but it is a movie worth watching for educational purposes. I'm giving it 3 out of 5 crabs.

Thursday, 10 March 2016

Last Cab to Darwin

Lowdown: A taxi driver dying of cancer drives across Australia towards euthanasia.
Review:
One of the charms, for lack of a better word, of non Hollywood movies is their naïveté. As in, not all movie in this world have to be about cash grabbing and box office income. Last Cab to Darwin is such an example, a lovely Australian film that - as lovely as it is - sets its aim on too large a target to be a hit.
We follow Rex (Michael Caton), a oldish taxi driver from Broken Hill NSW. That town is officially a dying town, an old coal mining town in the thick of Middle of Nowhere, Australia, that is now running out of water IRL. Our hero has mates and people that know him around town, but he never stepped out of Broken Hill and into the world.
Rex lives on his own, sort of, having an interesting relationship with the female aboriginal neighbour across the road, Polly (Ningali Lawford). Then he gets the news that he is dying of cancer, and dreading the prospects of having to lie at the mercy of others he sets out to Darwin - a city on the northern top of Australia where [as per real life events] there is a doctor offering to test the law and attempt euthanasia (Jacki Weaver).
So he sets out on a long drive, on his own and without telling anyone, to Darwin. Just him and his cab. Only that, on his journey, he meets all sorts of people and experiences all sorts of experiences, and these make a difference.
Thus Last Cab to Darwin ends up a mixed bag. It is full of cliches, both of the Australian type and the run of the mill ones that often fill B grade films. On the other hand, it deals with some heavy themes that usually can take over entire movies on their own - Australia's dealings with its original land owners, euthanasia. And it just happens to bite more than it can swallow.
Overall: A nice film to watch for the right mood, but a compromised one at that. Last Cab to Darwin is thus a 3 out of 5 crabs movie.

Tuesday, 8 March 2016

Steve Jobs

Lowdown: Steve Jobs' biography in a three set play.
Review:
If you read Steve Jobs' famous biography by Walter Isaacson
, you would arrive at the inevitable conclusion the guy was an asshole. A visionary asshole who made a difference to our lives, but an asshole still. Steve Jobs, the [new] movie (there were several others) by Danny Boyle, starring Michael Fassbender as Jobs, essentially takes this life spanning biographic tale and condenses it into a movie that is told to us through a theatre like play made of three distinct episodes.
First we have Jobs as he is about to make his 1984 presentation of the original Mac. That, if you recall your Apple history, was a commercial failure that ended up with him getting chucked out of the company he founded. The second act takes place just as Jobs is about to make his NEXT presentation of the failed product that, as much of a failure as it was, ended up securing his way back to Apple. And the third act has Jobs about to present the new iMac, the one running the UNIX based operating system that's still running Macs today, as he cements his return and his victory.
The point of this division is to emphasise the conflicts in Jobs' life and their evolution as Jobs evolves. Setting all three acts in the intense few hours prior to Jobs' famous presentations helps condense the the tension into the very combustible. And there is plenty of that to go around. There is Jobs' denying his fatherhood of daughter Lisa, his disregard for fellow Steve and Apple founder Wozniak (Seth Rogan), and his love/hate relationship to Scully (the guy who took over from Jobs as CEO during that intermediate period, played by Jeff Daniels).
There can be no doubt Steve Jobs is quality drama offering a crafty script and some fine acting, most notably by Fassbender but also by a Kate Winslet playing his assistant (?). Alas, at two hours long, this talkfest is rather tiring and heavy; it's not a movie that easy to watch, just as no person can sustain two hours of real life condensed dialog without a break.
Thus, ultimately, Steve Jobs fails as a movie. It fails graciously and no one can deny its smarts, but it is still not a good movie. Besides, I can tell you the main message you will take off the movie right now: Steve Jobs was an asshole [with some redeeming qualities]. Just like most of the rest of us.
Overall: I think the biography of Steve Jobs represents a story most of us can learn from, but I would recommend the book over the movie. The latter is probably recommended only to fans of old style theatrical dramas and those wishing to learn about Jobs in no more than two hours. 3 out of 5 crabs.

Friday, 4 March 2016

Spectre

Lowdown: Bond finally confronts the person behind his recent films' tribulations.
Review:
In its favour, Spectre is a rare event in the James Bond movie franchise. It's a movie that closes the loop opened in the Daniel Craig series of Bonds (Casino Royale, Quantum of Solace, and Skyfall). Usually, Bond movies are sold as self enclosed units even though that concept never made sense (hey, what happened to that girl from the last movie?); with Spectre, we get closure. One also wonders whether that closure implies the end of Craig's career as a double oh agent.
Problem is, there isn't much else for me to say in favour of Spectre as a movie. Yes, it's a James Bond movie, so we get Bond to travel through all sorts of exotic international locations and wreck his personal brand of mayhem along the way (now with extra product placements). As has become standard for Bond movies, it is quite hard to figure out why Bond has to do what he is about to do or go where he is about to go. And frankly there is not much reason to ponder about those things because they do not make sense in the first place.
Trouble is, with Spectre there is no tension whatsoever. The baddie character, played by Christoph Waltz, is but a pale shadow of its potential (or Waltz', for that matter). There is never any tension; whenever Bond goes into action, one never feels as if he's in danger or fighting for his life. One never truly feels. Spectre simply goes through the motions, and ever so uninspiringly so. Given we are talking about a long movie at 2.5 hours, Spectre grinds its viewers down.
Which is a shame when considering that Spectre actually does have something good to say. At its core is a statement against the surveillance society this world of ours is turning into. It is clear the movie's criticism is directed at the West, as opposed to pointing a finger at your average despot. When considering the British nature of Bond, with Britain being the country where - on average - five thousand and one cameras cover every citizen each day, this very Edward Snowden sympathetic message should be praised. In case of any doubt there, the reference to "9 eyes", as opposed to Snowden's real life "5 eyes", makes the point very clear. Problem is, the main representative of this message is not our hero Bond, but rather his sidekick Q (Ben Whishaw, who, as has been pointed out by others, actually shares some physical similarities with Snowden).
Worst scene:
Waltz should ask for a refund on the torture machine he uses on Bond. Under Australian consumer law, he is entitled for a refund given the product did not perform as expected.
Overall:
With all the good intentions and the important message it carries, Spectre is a failure of a Bond movie. It is simply to tedious and predictable, proving that a good message and a large budget do not make a film good on their own. 
2.5 out of 5 crabs.