Friday, 29 April 2016

Bridge of Spies

Lowdown: The personal story of an ordinary lawyer taking upon himself a key role in a Cold War spy exchange.
Review:
It has been a while since Steven Spielberg last graced our screen. In Bridge of Spies he comes out with guns blazing, bringing along one of his main stars - Tom Hanks.
As has been the trend with Spielberg movies of the last couple of decades, Bridge of Spies is based on historical events. Hanks plays a New York lawyer who, during the fifties, is assigned with the task of demonstrating American justice to the world by assuming the role of protecting a Russian spy in court. This, the first half of Bridge of Spies, becomes - essentially - a statement on our current world, a world in which by simply uttering the magic word "terrorism" the authorities can justify anything they feel like doing. Even the compromising of everyone's security for the sake of decrypting the only smartphone a terrorist did not bother destroying before committing his crime.
Or, in other words, Bridge of Spies shows the windmills Hanks' lawyer has to fight with in order to bring justice to a figure who everyone around him has already presumed guilty before trial.
Bridge of Spies turns into a significantly different movie in its second half, when we follow the same lawyer as he assumes a key role in the exchange of said Russian spy with an American U2 spy plane shot down over the USSR. As a civilian, our lawyer is able to go back and forth between American, Russian and East German authorities on both sides of the Berlin Wall (with the movie portraying its erection as we go along). This half of the movie is the tale of how American individualism can win the day against all odds when one keeps their head up and perseveres. Sometimes, you know, this is referred to as The American Dream.
There is no denying Bridge of Spies is an enjoyable movie to watch. It is your classic Spielberg, well made with excellent production values. However, I will also not deny that the formulistic Spielberg approach has grown stale by now; I feel as if I have outgrown it. Yes, I liked Bridge of Spies and I think it is a good movie; but I also think Spielberg can do better to both himself and the world by further evolving.
Overall: Bridge of Spies is a nice movie at 3.5 out of 5 crabs, with the caveat that a bit more originality might have made it into a much better film.

Saturday, 23 April 2016

The Water Knife by Paolo Bacigalupi

Lowdown: The personal story of three people in a world where water all of a sudden turned scarce.
Review:
Paolo Bacigalupi has made a name for himself with his lineup of post apocalyptic / dystopian books. The Windup Girl, his Hugo winning book, had established his propriety post global warming universe. He revisited this universe in the YA titles Ship Breaker and The Drowned Cities. Following that, he turned his attention towards more immediate threats, such as the way we process our food (Zombie Baseball Beatdown) and the way our politics is governed by spin in The Doubt Factory. With The Water Knife, his latest, Bacigalupi goes back to his roots. Not the full on post global warming world of Windups, but a world no better; a world not unlike ours but where water has, all of a sudden, become scarce enough to become the most precious commodity. And, as is also notable, he goes back to writing for adults after a series of four YA titles.
You can see where Bacigalupi gets his water scarcity idea from. We are already heading towards droughts being the business as usual state of affairs in places such as California as well as extended areas of Australia. With many of our cities built as havens in the middle of deserts, and with the American history of water rights going to whoever made a historical claim first, it is not hard to see how just a small tip of the global warming balance sheets would drive millions of people into cataclysm.
The Water Knife does not focus on millions. Instead, it chooses to tell the millions’ story through the events transpiring on three people. First there is the Water Knife himself, a hired mercenary in the services of Las Vegas, whose job it is to stop at nothing to secure Vegas’ water supply. That includes stripping other cities, with their tens of thousands of residents, of their water. Countering him is an ideological journalist from the east coast, where it still rains, who came to tell a story and finds herself unable to leave. And the third is a young Hispano woman from Texas, turned water refugee, who is now trying to come of age and live a life in a non hospitable world.
There is much savagery and violence in The Water Knife’s world. Typically for Bacigalupi, there are longish descriptions that I often found frustrating; clearly, this author feels the need to say what can be said in two sentences over two pages. I will concede, though, that it is this style that helps a reader create a detailed etching of a world that could well be (and rather soon), in one’s head. Once the stories of the three protagonists converge, affairs become more flowing and an exciting tale unfolds.
Overall:
Bacigalupi is a visionary, no doubt about it, and his warnings should not fall on deaf ears. However, his style does tend to be rather laborious, which definitely detracts from the sheer pleasure of reading and is particularly noticeable when the subject matter is far from pleasurable.
3 out of 5 thirsty crabs.

Friday, 15 April 2016

The Intern

Lowdown: A retired veteran assuming an intern position helps sort out a modern startup run by a young woman.
Review:
Whichever way I look at it, and no matter how much I thought Robert De Niro shines in his role, I keep coming back to the conclusion The Intern is a movie that basically says a woman cannot succeed without a man by her side. Rather surprising, given this is a movie made by Nancy Meyers and starring Anne Hathaway.
But I'm ahead of myself. As movies go, The Intern is a romantic comedy sans romance, whose main ace in the hole is the idea of bringing a well into his seventies De Niro into a modern age Internet startup as a lowly intern. Countering him is Hathaway, the founder of said fashion store startup, who is very passionate about it all but is clearly struggling with how to turn her business from a startup into a proper, mature, firm. As a bonus, she has some trouble at home, too. Utilising her new intern's experience, nothing can stand in the way of this company becoming yet another institutionalised employee abuser! [I'm referring to the ongoing depiction of employees expected to contribute their entire wakeful time, as well as large portions of their sleep time, to their employer. Americans, or at least Hollywood, seem to regard this as a virtue.]
Generally speaking, affairs work the normal Meyers way. You won't blow your stomach away with laughter, but you won't be bored either. Which serves mostly to support De Niro's performance standing out.
Overall: Easy entertainment with some noticeable issues. 2.5 out of 5 crabs.