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.