Monday, 14 August 2017

Dr Kawashima's Devilish Brain Training

Published at Digitally Downloaded.

Friday, 11 August 2017

Train to Busan

First, let me praise Train to Busan for being an ambitious shoot, not doubt about it. Given it is a Korean film, and not a product of the Hollywood factory, that is well worth noting. There is more to it, though.
This horror movie tells of an infection that spreads throughout Korea and turns people into vampire like zombies (exact definitions aside, you get the point; if one seeks to live, one should avoid these living dead). Salvation lies at Busan, hence the heroes of this movie take a fast train (that is, the exact opposite of a Melbourne train) from the capital Seoul towards salvation. But will they make it?
On course are very blatant statements on what's important in life and who it is that ruins things for the rest / all of us. I'll put it this way, Donald Trump will not like this movie.
I will also note Busan is at Korea’s southern tip. Heading to its safety from Seoul probably holds more meaning to Korean viewers than it does for me, especially given tensions between north and south.
Overall: Look, we've seen many such movies already; the main novelty lies with the Korean nature of this movie and the glimpse it gives us at Korean culture. For now, though, I will settle with a score of 3 out of 5 crabs.

Wednesday, 9 August 2017

Hacksaw Ridge

I will admit it, I used to love Mel Gibson, both as actor and director. I mean, Mad Max. As for Braveheart, even though I see the nasty streak it carries, I still think it's a classic. But clearly, not everything (or, in this case, everybody) ages like good wine, and Gibson's Hacksaw Ridge is a fine example.
Story wise, this WW2 war movie is based on the authentic tale of an American pacifist who still wanted to join the war effort despite his religious based inclinations of no harm; his solution was to serve as medic. And good on him, he was obviously a hero through and through IRL. The problem is not the character or its story, the problem is Gibson.
Director Gibson will not skip an opportunity to shove us his views on religion, and by extension sex. Gibson is not shy in portraying the Japanese as nothing more than a prop that's there to serve for nothing but die at American hands (often literally). And Gibson likes his blood.
If you seek yourself some right wing religious propaganda that is lacking any shred of subtlety, look no further than Hacksaw Ridge.
Overall: 2 out of 5 crabs.

Monday, 7 August 2017

Manhattan Night

Film noir is a well established genre that doesn't seem to be getting much of a break these past few decades. Nor does it get that break off Manhattan Night, a modern day film noir attempt about an endangered newspaper journalist (Adrien Brody) whose life destabilises when he stumbles upon a femme fatale.
It is the latter than attracted me to this film in the form of Yvonne Strahovski, an actress I will always remember as Mass Effect's Miranda as well as Chuck's kickass agent Sarah Walker. Alas, both movie and Strahovski are hampered a rather poor plot.
Overall: 2.5 out of 5 crabs.

Saturday, 5 August 2017

The Keeping Room

The Keeping Room is, to put it bluntly, a movie about women trying to get by in an environment plagued by predatory males. It does what it does to deliver its point, as in, it sets itself during the American civil war and tells the story of three southerner women (two white, one black) as they try to survive in an environment now deprived of all its men (because the latter went to wage war).
They get along, more or less. That is, until the men from the north start making their way towards their area as they are winning the war.
When push comes to shove, racial lines blur and the black woman almost becomes an equal. But gender lines do not blur, and the only way our women can make it out alive is if they turn into men.
Overall: Not the best drama ever, but it certainly delivers on its core point. 3 out of 5 crabs.

Thursday, 3 August 2017

The Love Witch

A deliberately eccentric, deliberately B movie style in acting and looks, deliberately made to look like it is set in the seventies but clearly not. The Love Witch is a colorful examination of male to female relationships as viewed from the female side, for a change (and what a novelty this is for American cinema!).
Story wise, this fantastic tale of witchcraft involves a love witch that cannot get men (in all the senses that apply to that verb). They either fail her when she loves them or fail when her love is too strong. What could a woman do?
Overall: 3 out of 5 crabs.

Tuesday, 1 August 2017

The Paper House by Anna Spargo-Ryan

It should be fairly obvious to anyone who knows me that books such as The Paper House are not yours truly's run of the mill material. For a start, it is fiction; and further, it is not science fiction, which happens to be my main route down the dark alley of non-non-fiction.
So, why Paper House? It's because I know the author, Anna Spargo-Ryan, from Twitter. And it's because she happens to be a fellow resident of Melbourne. And, as it happens (not that I knew it in advance), The Paper House is as Melbourne a book as a book can be. But just in case you are still worried, I will add that Spargo-Ryan is alright: she's a gamer, and she even got the Switch the day it came out just so she could play Breath of the Wild. Case closed.
The Paper House's hero is the classic anti hero. A modern day Melbourne woman, happily married, is expecting a child. So much so that our family of two moves out of the lively inner city to the quiet outer suburbs, where they can afford a home fit for a family. Life takes the odd turn, though, and our hero goes through the stillbirth of her child pretty close to the end of its due term. Not surprisingly, she is devastated by the experience; however, her particular case seems to carry that devastation an extra notch or two.
At which point our book's mechanics kick into action. For every chapter on the latest in the story of the hero coming to terms with her loss, we have a shorter chapter from her childhood. Together, the tales of past and present converge to portray the image of a dysfunctional family haunted by a severe case of mental illness in their midst. As you can imagine, the chemistry of past and present tale builds up as the book goes.
The beauty of The Paper House lies in not that much happening, story wise, while still filling a book up. Credit goes to Spargo-Ryan for rich language and tons of little details that do an excellent job in the suspension of disbelief department. To give but one example, the hero's accounting of hospital parking costs stroke a chord with this reader. I would argue that the ability to create so much depth with so little is testimony of great writing.
Overall: I would say The Paper House proved an excellent break from my usual reading material, one that was both enjoyable and educational. If you seek a Melbourne centred book and do not mind a couple of hundred pages filled with sadness, do give this book and this author a go. 4 out of 5 crabs from me.

Saturday, 29 July 2017

Top Crab #11

Yes, I know, and I am well ashamed of the fact this blog has not been properly maintained lately. I still take notes on the movies and books I would like to review here, for the simple fact I consider taking such notes an integral part of the experience they offer; the problem is, editing those notes into a publishable post that wouldn’t put my editorial standards into too much shame takes time. And time is by far the my precious resource.
That, however, does not mean I can not or should not summarise the year that was and point at my crabbiest favourites for the 11th time in this blog’s 11th years of existence. So here goes:

Best movie:
As has been noted in previous years, genuinely good movies are hard to come by. It’s not that they do not exist; I think their rarity in my life is a result of three factors:
1. I do not have as much time for movies as I used to have. Watching good movies comes as a result of experimenting with materials, often wasting one’s time on many duds on the way to that shining star. Alas, I can rarely afford such luxuries anymore.
2. A lot of my movie watching time is consumed by “must watch” events, like the latest Star Wars flick. While these might be must watch movies due to the marketing hype, these movies also tend to be rather ordinary.
3. I will also admit that I often seek out the ordinary Hollywood production line type of a film just so I can vege out of this world’s troubles. These specimen do the job in that particular department, but at the same time it also means I did not make good use of my time given my life’s goal of expanding my horizons.
With these caveats in mind, I will point out to the movie I probably liked the most this year, The Nice Guys. I liked it for several reasons: it is a well made movie with fine actors, including some personal favourites; it is a pretty entertaining movie; it is a smart movie in the sense that it is a allegory about film making inside of a film that is inside of the film; and it follows on another great movie that often does not receives the acknowledgements that it is due for, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang.

Best book:
Two books have dominated my reading this year, both coming from the Israeli philosopher (at least in that old Greek sense of the word) Yuval Noah Harari. The first is a few years old, Sapiens, and discusses the history of humans and what makes us special. The second, the newly published Homo Deus, attempts to look at the future of humanity through the lens of history. That is to say, given where we came from and what we have achieved, have a guess at where we will be going. Agree or disagree with Harari’s analysis, both books are great triggers for many a follow up thought, and thus both books are my winners for this year. My clear winners.
Homo Deus is a particular achievement in the field of raising thoughts. Harari agrees that prophecy is for the foolish and does not expect his to turn out right. The point, however, is that in looking backwards in order to look forwards he manages to provide a thorough, or as thorough as they come, multidisciplinary analysis of the future. And doing so is such a readable, pleasurable, form is the best achievement in writing that I managed to bump into this year.



Best music:
With Bowie getting the nod last year, it seems like I’m on a trend of acknowledging recently deceased artists with an illustrious career behind them. But hey.
So this year’s recently deceased musician to leave the scene with a bang is Leonard Cohen, and he did so with a great album - You Want It Darker. An album that feels as if he knew he was bidding this world goodbye.



What is probably worth noting is that, unlike Bowie, I was never a big Leonard Cohen fan. It was his previous album from 2014, Popular Problems, that captivated me in Cohen’s name for the very first time. A feat I attribute to lyrics such as
I always liked it slow
I never liked it fast
You want to get there soon
I want to get there last
With those words, Cohen has summarised my main take from the experience of parenthood.

Best TV:
As much as the role of movies is declining in my life, the role of quality TV is on the rise. Artistic movies might be on the decline due to commercialisation, but at the same time artistic TV seems on the rise through the power of the Internet.
With that in mind, I would like to offer you my two winners for the year.
First is yet another Scandinavian small screen adaptation, Kenneth Branagh’s adaptation of Wallander (which has been running on and off for many years now, but this year reached its satisfying conclusion). Not only does Wallander supply good criminal detective stories set in an alluring Sweden (though, weirdly, an English speaking Sweden), it also did so while involving the viewer in the existential debates that Detective Wallander has to grapple with through his work/life balance. Although extreme, these thoughts probably plague all thinking humans as they grow older, and as such are worth proper examination. As well as celebration.
The second TV series I would like to commend is not half as good on philosophical grounds, but it is still a breakthrough. The Expanse is a science fiction TV series about a future when humankind grew to populate the solar system (but is at the earlier stages of doing so). It is also probably the first properly made (production values wise) hardcore science fiction of the Asimov grade I ever had the pleasure of bumping into, visually. If, like me, you are a fan of classic science fiction, I warmly urge you towards The Expanse’s direction.



Best video games:
If there is one area I feel I had made substantial progress in and which has made substantial progress into my life this year, that would be the area of video gaming. The bulk of this progress can be attributed to a single website, Digitally Downloaded, and most of the credit for this progress should go to one person, the editor of Digitally Downloaded, Matt Sainsbury. [Also worth noting is the fact I never met Matt Sainsbury in person. All of our interactions have been Internet based, which - as far as I am concerned - is all the evidence I need for the Internet’s virtual world being an integral part of what we normally refer to as IRL - In Real Life.]
To put it into a single paragraph, I started this year dismayed with the world of video gaming being limited to sequel upon sequel of trashy games that contribute nothing to humanity’s perceptions of this world (at least through the eyes of yours truly). Along came Digitally Downloaded, a website that looks at games as works of art, and achieved two things. First, it demonstrated to me that I am not the only one who seeks an expansion to one’s horizons through video games, which I consider the cutting edge of modern day art. And second, it pointed me towards this whole galaxy of games that tend to slip under the radar of big marketing, games that are designed for people like me and are often made by people like me. Lo and behold, with one fell swoop I found myself living in a great universe!
With that long introduction in mind, I would like to share with you the biggest games in my life this past year. Not surprisingly, these are both games played for mobile platforms, because one does not have much time to sit in front of one’s TV or computer nowadays; gaming happens in between other, mandatory parts of lie, but it is the gaming which often makes those other parts of life worth living through.
As far as gaming hours are concerned, Fire Emblem has robbed the bulk of my gaming time off me. First through its very charming mobile incarnation of Fire Emblem Heroes on my iPad, but foremost through Fire Emblem Fates on the Nintendo 3DS. Narrative wise, I consider the latter one of the best if not the best crafted games ever: the tale of two symmetric royal families duelling with one another, one seemingly good while the other seemingly evil, provides a much to learn from analogy to all earthly conflict. Split into three different games, allowing you to take the “good”, “bad” or “neutral” sides, you quickly learn that things are not what they seem; that, for example, the bad isn’t made of evil people but rather of people just like you, and the good isn’t made entirely of infallible people. If I have to choose one of the three, I would urge you to go for Conquest, the hardest (but never too hard, really) of the three episodes and - more importantly - the one where you take the "baddie" side.
There is much, much, more to say about the game. Instead of repeating others’ words, though, I will point you at this interesting analysis of Fates.
My second gaming pick of the year is a more personal affair. Human Resource Machine on mobile is a game that is not a game in the classic entertainment sense of the word; it has you performing Assembly level programming on a CPU (but does it under the pretence of a company HR department). I don’t know about you, but in my youth I did plenty such Assembler programming on my then computer; I even wrote my own compiler.
Much water went down the river since, with much mud and sewer, too. Looking back at those days of glorious programming, I cannot avoid thinking of all the things I could have become if I pushed onwards with my then passion. I cannot avoid the feeling of missed opportunities. I cannot escape the conclusion that, in more than one way, through this and then that, I have wasted my life instead of answering its true calling.
And if that’s not an awesome return on investment for a game that cost me a dollar (I bought it when it was on discount), I don’t know what is.

Friday, 28 July 2017

Despicable Me 3

The first Despicable Me movie had something original up its sleeve: it was genuinely original to have a baddie as the star of a kids' movie. Then came Despicable Me 2, and its solution to the originality problem was to have our baddie team up with a female partner in order to form the old style ideal family (because Hollywood is conservative as, and a single parent family shall not be tolerated). For the third movie in the series our studio chose to switch the focus to the Minions, creating a mediocre movie in the process, but hey, Minions!
By the time they have reached the fourth episode, Despicable Me 3, our studio clearly ran out of ideas. The best they could come up with was a twin brother.
So yes, no, Despicable Me 3 really has nothing new to offer us viewers. Sure, kids will like it still, but seriously, don't you think our children deserve better?
Overall: 2 out of 5 crabs for a franchise that should take a look what happened to Shrek and know when to quit.

Wednesday, 26 July 2017

The Great Wall

Having previously reviewed Ghost in the Shell, I thought I should continue the trend of Far Eastern stories starring very white Class A Hollywood stars with The Great Wall. There is a big difference between the two movies, though: while one is an uninvolving style over everything affair, the other is a pretty entertaining action movie.
To clarify, The Great Wall is a fantasy movie taking place at or around of the ancient Chinese wall under some sort of a very Dynasty Warriors like setting. Matt Damon is a European soldier of fortune accompanied by other Europeans on a crusade to acquire "black powder" and thus gain unthinkable wealth and the right for a first go at every brothel (I didn't make this up, the movie did). After being chased off by robbers he stumbles at night on a monster, and later makes his way to said Great Wall where he's taken captive.
As it turns out, the wall's purpose is to fend off China from the attack of this huge flock of monsters Damon's character had already encountered. Protecting China is a very colorful, numerous and impeccably organised army determined to protect the mainland (and by extension, the world entire) from these impeding monsters. How will the soldier of fortune fare with this ideology driven army? And how will the two sides deal with the dragons about to attack their dungeon?
So yes, much action follows in what turns out to be a very The Last Samurai version of House of Flying Daggers. The Great Wall is a very visually striking film, and clearly no money has been spared on accessories and such - it looks like the crew from Lord of the Rings was allowed to have another go here (though I have no idea whether these were actually the same folk at work here).
One last thing before closing off. China is represented here mostly through a young female general (Jing Tian). As much as the film seems crying for it, we never end up in a relationship between her and Damon's character; not even a kiss. Which, in my opinion, benefits affairs greatly. It also enhances the analogy between the movie's Europeans coming to exploit China for what it has and the real life situation of "our" approach to China.
Overall: Ultimately, this is not much more than a good looking action movie. But it does offer more than most, and that heavy touch of Chinese myth spicing works wonders. 3.5 out of 5 crabs.

Monday, 24 July 2017

Ghost in the Shell

Lowdown: The adventures of the first robot endowed with a human brain.
Review:
Back in the late nineties I watched a Japanese anime that offered breakthrough ideas on the integration of human and machine. Frankly, I do not remember much from that anime or the manga series it was based on. I do know, however, that when a new Ghost in the Shell was announced, a live action version starring Scarlett Johansson, there was much protesting on how such an iconic Japanese concept was brutalised to the alter of Hollywood stardom. And frankly, I concurred.
I was, still, curious, and I gave this new movie a go. After all, it hits all the right buttons, genre wise: a futuristic tale of a person endowed with machine enhancements that push the envelop further. As I said, I do not remember much of the original; in this movie, this new revolutionarily enhanced human is used as a crime fighting weapon to fight a mysterious adversary that is attacking the scientists of the very same weapons company it (she?) came from.
Clearly, the idea has merit. However, it is failed by the execution department. Ghost in the Shell is set in a very Blade Runner like world, with some of The Fifth Element flavour. Only that unlike Blade Runner this one feels more like a “haven’t we’ve seen this way too many times before” affair, thus raising the question on the lack of originality.
Similarly, Ghost in the Shell seems to be all about the choreography of the shot. Everything has to look like it came off peak Matrix. OK, I can live with that, but the problem is that this visual factor comes at the expense of substance: things like character development or a good plot. The result? An uninvolving affair; I could hardly relate to any of the characters, this finding myself rather bored with the affair despite the visual richness and the short duration.
I did like seeing Pilou Asbæk, of Borgen fame, in a muscly role. And it was nice to see Juliette Binoche, too, mostly because I was reminded just how good that movie Chocolate was. But other than that? A waste of time.
Overall: It started the wrong way and it continued the wrong way. 2 out of 5 crabs.

Friday, 30 June 2017

Monument Valley 2, 4D Toys, Subdivision Infinity, and Poly Bridge

The collection of mini iOS reviews was published at Digitally Downloaded here.
Since there are some pretty good games in there, I will add that while my reviews were published as per the original text I have written, my scores were all lowered. I would very much like to use my own blog here in order to set the record straight:
  1. Monument Valley 2: 4.5 out of 5 crabs for one of the most beautiful games ever.
  2. 4D Toys: 5 out of 5 crabs for a cutting edge maths education tool.
  3. Subdivision Infinity: 2.5 out of 5 crabs.
  4. Poly Bridge: 5 out of 5 crabs for one of my favourite games [now on mobile].
And just so you don't get the wrong idea, I will also add the score corrections imposed by Digitally Downloaded were in accordance to their scoring policy. So there you go: everyone's happy now.

Thursday, 1 June 2017

Perfect Strangers (Perfetti sconosciuti)

Several middle aged friends meet up, partners included, at the apartment of one of them in order to jointly watch a lunar eclipse over dinner & wine. They’ve known each other since childhood and managed to make their partners feel like they are part of the group; they are so close they hold no secrets from one another. Or do they?
One of the wives, an under-appreciated therapist, suggests they all put their phones on the table. Everything these black boxes receive that night will be there for all to see. The friends go ahead with this; for the result of their joint exercise, please refer to the movie title.
For a film that’s all about dialog at an apartment’s living room, Perfect Strangers is, well, almost perfect. Sure, the case presented in the movie does seem a bit on the extreme side of contrived (I assume being Italian is part and parcel of the plot), but regardless - if ever one needed a reminder that “nothing to hide, nothing to fear” is a meaningless phrase because we all have something to hide, Perfect Strangers offers fine proof through an excellent sample of movie making. Who would have thought a movie demonstrating just how much of us is stored on the black boxes we carry in our back pockets would come out of Italy of all places?
Best scene: The ending, with the members of our group departing, is so brilliant! Not that I can tell you what happens, but it makes a very valid statement about our approach to the bliss of ignorance.
Overall: 4 out of 5 crabs.

Tuesday, 30 May 2017

Indignation

A Jewish boy from working class New Jersey goes to a Ohio college, partly because of smarts and partly to avoid the Korean War that is killing many of his acquaintances. There he meets a girl with mental problems who introduces him to sex. He does not know how to handle this newly found gift; his mother, on the other hand, knows what's best for her son.
In parallel, our boy confronts the Dean over his absence of conformism: he's an atheist that won't join his fellow Jews at college, won't mingle in general with fellow students, avoids going to the college's obligatory sermons, and instead takes pride in his love of Bertrand Russell. In other words, he and I have a lot in common.
Indignation deals in many themes, but the dominant one is to do with the price society demands of us when we do not conform: our lives, be it in the physical or spiritual sense.
Overall: While trying to tell the good tale, it felt to me like Indignation is rather lacking in focus. It might have worked well as a Philip Roth book, but as a movie it too compromised. 3 out of 5 crabs.

Thursday, 18 May 2017

No Stick Shooter

Published at Digitally Downloaded.
On a completely unrelated note, I will add that by my reckoning this blog's queue is more than twenty reviews long at the moment. The management would like to apologise for these delays.

Wednesday, 26 April 2017

Vignettes

Published at Digitally Downloaded.
I will add here that I thoroughly enjoyed this game as well as reviewing it.

Tuesday, 18 April 2017

Crimson Peak

A highly stylised, high production value horror movie featuring A class stars that tries to make a bold statement on the maddening nature of love through a tale of horror and ghosts. When you pill the visual layers off, however, what you are left with is... nothing special.
Overall: 2.5 out of 5 crabs for this Guillermo del Toro film starring Aussie Mia Wasikowska, alongside some bloody foreigners such as Jessica Chastain (some would say Chastain is reprising her Zero Dark Thirty role) and Tom Hiddleston.

Monday, 17 April 2017

Sword of Destiny

Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon was an instant classic, one of the rare few movies that did change my perception of what movies can be. Naturally, I was curios when I learnt Netflix has a sequel in its archives, Sword of Destiny. Even if Ang Lee was no longer directing and Chow Yun-fat no longer starring, it was still of much interest; besides, Michelle Yeoh is still around.
One thing that’s immediately clear is that Sword of Destiny is no Hidden Dragon. For a start, it capitulates in the form of speaking English. Yeoh is at its centre, with the theme of missed love repeating itself in a story of her character’s other love (the one that turned out to be second to her love of Yun-fat’s character). So yes, we are talking classic sequel material here.
There is less of that poetic sense to the movie and quite a lot of the fighting that, by now and to these eyes, does not seem as majestic as is did more than 15 years ago. I would say the movie overall does not look as good as the original, too.
Overall: “Not as good” is the key theme here, I guess. Sword of Destiny isn’t a bad movie at all, but it is simply not as good, begging the question - why bother in the first place? 3 out of 5 crabs material that occasionally reaches higher grades.

Friday, 14 April 2017

The Handmaiden

We’ve seen stories about double crossings, quadruple crossings and what not many times before. The Handmaiden stands out in crowd because its tale is heavily erotic, seeming to pit the woman against the men. And it is also a Korean production!
Affairs involve a Korean handmaiden looking after her Japanese master, but actually acting as an insider whose aim is to ensure the elaborate plot to rob her lady master works. Love, however, has a way of derailing even the most detailed of plans.
For a movie about double crossings, I felt like I was being double crossed myself by The Handmaiden. First because the story is told in three parts, each exposing us to more and more of the truth. However, unlike other movie playing this same trick, there does not seem to be a reason for each part to expose us to its certain truths other than pure manipulation; it is not like we are only seeing what a specific character saw, limited by their own perspective. Thus the film quite manipulative.
And second, while there is nothing wrong with erotic movies, The Handmaiden does tend to feel too gray shady trash like to me. Your mileage may vary, but I felt a bit conned.
Overall: Probably worth watching due to its historical context. Also, how often did you watch a Korean movie? 3 out of 5 crabs.

Thursday, 13 April 2017

Always Shine

Two friends, both young and attractive female actors (stars Mackenzie Davis and Caitlin FitzGerald). One’s career is on the rise, with lead roles albeit in movies that mainly call on her to expose her body rather than acting talents. But she has a future and a boyfriend.
The other is struggling to make ends meet, financially, or - for that matter - get any acting role at all. But she feels like she is the real thing, much better than her seemingly successful yet lying fake of a friend.
Yes, when the two head into a retreat together, they will collide. Roles will be switched. And as movies go, yes, there is potential in there for a great movie, but the end result relies too much on the physical attraction of its leads than on anything else. Despite being short, I felt Always Shine is too long.
Overall: Torn by the conflict between an interesting idea and good female leads on one side, and the film’s inability to really get me truly hooked, I will give Always Shine 2.5 out of 5 crabs.

Wednesday, 12 April 2017

Tucker and Dale Vs. Evil

Two good hearted hillbillies, Tucker and Dale, take some time off to renovate a crumbling "vacation home" of their dreams that they bought in the woods. A bunch of well off and stuck up college kids encounter them along the way and, thinking our Dale and Tucker are evil (cos they’re hillbillies), starts attacking them.
One by one our college students die in the process of said attack through freak (and terribly funny) accidents, which only convinces their remaining mates further about the evil nature of their opponents. In the process, we go through the whole checklist of horror movies list of cheap tricks.
But jokes aside, it is the college kids that turn out to be the evil ones as the hillbillies do their best to save the day for everybody.  Tucker and Dale is a comedy, but it did leave me wondering how often did the above happen in real life between nations? Say, the USA knowingly falsifying evidence of WMDs in order to wage war on Iraq?
Overall: While no breakthrough in the art of cinema making, Tucker and Dale Vs. Evil is no average horror movie but rather a lot of fun. 3.5 out of 5 crabs for so benignly raising deep questions.

Tuesday, 11 April 2017

Rogue One

I can argue Star Wars movie aren’t what they used to be, but why would that be any news to you? From the moment those ewoks showed up on Return of the Jedi, that careful web of magic and fantasy woven so beautifully by Star Wars and Empire Strikes Back had started shattering. One by one came the awful prequels, and last year - in an act of desperation - we got a one to one remake of Star Wars that was named The Force Awakens. Entertaining as the latter was, repeat viewing could not hide its numerous compromises; that was not the Star Wars I was looking for.
And now comes Rogue One, straying from the main story to provide us with a more gritty take on the universe from a galaxy far far away. I like the idea, especially the way it clearly indicates that the pure of heart rebels are nothing but pure; in a world where world leaders want us to think in binary terms such as “you’re either with us or against us”, it is good to point the grey out.
Yet, like everything Star Wars since Jedi, Rogue One falls into that classic trap of making a movie that is all about invoking memories of the great previous episodes without doing too much of the new. Or providing a plot that is more into the action/entertainment side than the cerebral side. The result? An hour into this two hour plus affair, we found ourselves asleep.
So yes, that says more about how exhausted we are than how bad Rogue One is, but still, this is a Star Wars movie, god damn it!
The second half is better at the entertainment department, but still… The plot is yet another tale of family intrigue. It tells us of a father forcefully recruited to design the Death Star for our beloved Empire by one Krennic (the ever so excellent Ben Mendelssohn). That reluctant father generates a compromised design, and leaves a trail of crumbs that his daughter (Felicity Jones) can follow in order to acquire the Death Star plans [so that Luke can destroy it in Star Wars].
That’s it pretty much for the plot. Other than Jones’ character, no one receives the treatment they deserve and all is too one dimensional. Every time The Force was mentioned I wanted to bang my head on the wall.
Worst scene:
In order to merge the plot with Star Wars’, Rogue One utilises digital technology to present us with the presence of the Peter Cushing, may he rest in peace, as Tarkin. Only that said technology is far from great and Tarkin looks rather grotesque.
However, as grotesque as he may look, that is nothing compared to the digital portrayal of a young Princess Leia our movie concludes with. That is outright keep you awake with nightmares material.
Overall: Star Wars is now officially a meh rated family soap opera comprised of forgettable episodes of space faring entertainment. 3 out of 5 crabs.
Let the Disney accountants rejoice!

Thursday, 30 March 2017

Passengers

Passengers is a a classic case of a classic science fiction tale told in three acts. At its core is the basic moral question of where we draw the line between the rights of the individual against the rights of others. Specifically, in the case of Passengers, how far can an individual go when fending for oneself at the expense of others?
That individual is Jim (Chris Pratt), an earthly passenger aboard a space ship taking him plus five thousand others to a new human colony. Through a malfunction, Jim finds himself awoken from hibernation and completely on his own 15 years from the start of the ship’s 120 year long journey; if all goes according to plan, everyone else is still asleep and won't wake till way past Jim's death of old age. On his own, Jim grapples with the dilemma of whether his solitude is worth addressing by messing about with the rest of the still hibernating folk around him. Specifically, Aurora (Jennifer Lawrence), with whom he falls in love.
Clearly, one does not recruit Jennifer Lawrence for a role but then keep her asleep throughout the duration of the movie. Eventually, our Adam and Eve will be called to make personal sacrifices when the pendulum changes and the question is no longer how much should the many sacrifice for the individual but rather how much is it reasonable for the individual to give back to the many.
Clearly, these are questions worth making a movie to promote a discussion on. Problem is, Passengers is an American movie, so things do gravitate towards the cheesy, the promised land at the end of the rainbow type conclusion. In order to get there, Passengers is not afraid to throw in physical impossibilities (despite taking much effort to present a very authentic space travel environment at first). Nor is it afraid to use the superior genes of its stars to titillate the viewer in quite unnecessary ways.
Overall: It’s a shame Passengers’ commercial aspirations had to ruin the great foundations it had built. Then again, that is the story of Hollywood in a nutshell. 3 out of 5 crabs that could have easily been much, much more.

Thursday, 23 March 2017

Moonlight

The three acts tale of a black kid growing up with a druggie mother, turning into a teenager fellow kids bully, turning into an adult is - as can be totally expected - a really disturbing one. Moonlight is a tale of a segregated world in which black people grow under the influence of crime and, despite some good intentions to be found all around, have little in the way of an outlook to look forward to.
If you can tolerate the handheld camera style you will be in for a treat in reality TV like story telling and acting.
Overall: 3 out of 5 crabs.

Tuesday, 21 March 2017

The Girl on the Train

Funny that. If you travel on a Melbounre train, you will hardly see any people outside those waiting to board the train at the various stations. Let alone observe folks’ entire life stories. Yet this is exactly what we get with this American interpretation of the British book, The Girl on the Train.
A woman (Emily Blunt), who - we quickly learn - is a rather disturbed alcoholic - is a regular train traveler who can tell us all about several people she observes daily out of her ride. With two other women entering the story, these observations quickly turn into a murder story. Which, in turn, makes The Girl on the Train into yet another member of the “it's always the one you least suspect” club movie. With, dare I say, not much to add to the genre.
Blunt is good, but the whole skipping between timelines and women is rather heavy handed. I haven’t read the book; it could well be that it does not have much to offer beyond easy to sell cheap thrills. But I doubt this big screen rendition does the book much good.
Overall: 2.5 out of 5 crabs.

Monday, 20 March 2017

The Meaning of Science by Tim Lewens

Once upon a time in another world, I had a book called The Philosophy of Science that I developed a weird relationship with. First time I read it as a young boy, I thought it was bizarre; I was going for the science and ended up reading arguments piled over counter arguments. But with time I realised this made sense, revisited that book several times, and have grown fond of the complicated scene it exposed before me. Explaining what makes science different to other philosophies is no easy feat!
Years went by and that book got lost as I skipped several continents across the world. Then I bumped upon this book called The Meaning of Science, and immediately thought that, hey, here is a great opportunity for me to revive old acquaintances.
Only that this did not turned out to be the case.
The Meaning of Science is split into two parts, each with its own allegedly standalone chapters (I say allegedly because while the book may claim chapters can be read out of order, I did find inter references). The first part aims to establish what science is, philosophically, and the second tries to discuss the implications of that through practical examples.
However, right from the word go, with its discussion on science vs. pseudoscience, The Meaning of Science lost me. I understand philosophy can be a complicated affair, but I could not understand was that first chapter’s message - did it tell me there is a way to tell pseudoscience apart from science or did it argue the two are indistinguishable?
Whichever way the author had intended to be, the whole book is quite poor on the readability department. So much so it made it hard for this reader to tell the chaff from the wheat; or, more importantly, be able to critically assess the examples used by the book.
Overall:
I admit it entirely possible The Meaning of Science is a book way above my current intellectual capacity. However, even if that is the case, it only proves this is not a book that qualifies as a good dose of popular philosophy to the intermediate reader seeking to learn philosophy the way one learns science from a popular science book.
I therefore award The Meaning of Science 1 out of 5 crabs.

Sunday, 19 March 2017

Inferno

If you’ve watched one of the other Dan Brown book based movies starring Tom Hanks, The Da Vinci Code and Angels & Demons, you would know exactly what to expect out of Inferno. More of the same of the little these two other movies had to offer, that is.
The plot starts off like your classic JRPG: our hero (Hanks) wakes up suffering from amnesia, but through the occasional flashback comes back to realise what is truly going on around him (an experience uncomfortably stretched across the width of this entirely uninspiring film). In between we are exposed to the occasional improbable action scene taking place at classic historic places in Florence, Venice and Istanbul and featuring much 2c occult bullshit.
It’s good to see Sidse Babett Knudsen, of Borgen fame, again in a supporting role. Yet both her and Hanks deserve so much better!
Overall: A numb time waster if there ever was one. 2 out of 5 crabs.

Sunday, 26 February 2017

The Neon Demon

A 16 year old girl (Elle Fanning) comes to LA and, through her looks, conquers the modelling scene. She quickly attracts all the eyes that matter, brushing aside two other models as well the makeup artist that assumed the position of looking after her. Even the guy who took the first photos that opened doors for her loses touch.
Clearly, something has to give; in the absence of a trade union to turn to, our neglected models apply an approach that classifies The Neon Demon as a psychological horror film. Oh, and as a bonus, drop Keanu Reeves in for a small “guest appearance” that's actually very effective in emphasising the horror element.
Style matters in a movie about models. Proceedings are slow and carefully articulated through occasional electronic music, quiet & slow dialog, but otherwise deafening quiet. Rarely do our characters blink.
As the movie progressed, and more and more opportunities for nudity were denied, I started to think The Neon Demon is another of those American cinema samples of puritanism. Actually, that's probably good, given Fanning’s age. However, that last act breaks the traditions of the preceding hour and a half with some gruesome stuff, necrophilia included.
Ultimately, the question to ask in this movie about beautiful women is just how important the external image is. Do we care at all for what's on the inside? Just how shallow are we? I often think such thoughts when I examine a piece of computer code, but The Neon Demon’s approach is more sexual. Its is a male dominated society where the females have to fight for the scraps.
Overall: Generally speaking, The Neon Movie is not my cup of film; I'm no fan of horror. However, there can be no denying its style and careful crafting. It is a work of art, not another product in the production line. 3 out of 5 crabs.

Friday, 10 February 2017

Arrival

Arrival is Amy Adams. This is a point worth making because Adams appears in every scene; it is also important for the fact that rarely does a female character dominate a Hollywood movie to such an extent. All the better for the movie, because Arrival is good, original, science fiction.
A lot like Contact in themes and feel (as well as in clunkiness), Arrival deals with humanity’s handling of first contact by aliens. In Arrival’s case, these take the form of mysterious spaceships touching down at 12 places around the earth. For the American spaceship, military authorities pick on a credible linguist (Adams) for the task of establishing communication with the aliens. She is joined by a physicist (Jeremy Renner), whose main role in the movie is to supply that secondary role females tend to provide to the male lead in most other movies. Only that Adams’ character is heavily burdened by losing her teenage daughter to cancer, therefore putting to question her professional abilities. Or perhaps enhancing them?
I will not delve further into the plot. Suffice to say Arrival is driven by interesting science fictional ideas. Ultimately, though, Arrival is not an aliens genre movie but rather a very human centric movie about the choices us humans make on a daily basis.
Which renders Arrival into proper science fiction. The type that takes rarely considered concepts off Einstein’s Theory of Relativity and projects elements of fantasy into them so as to make a point about our world of today.
Overall: While never truly thrilling, Arrival is one of those movies that make one think. Coupled with Adams’ performance, it is a film well worth watching at 3.5 out of 5 crabs.

Wednesday, 8 February 2017

Space Pirate Captain Harlock

Although Japanese anime and anime based live action movies tend to disappoint me lately (check here for an example or two), I will never forget the impact Star Blazers had on this child. And in the Space Pirate Captain Harlock anime I managed to find the closest thing to that anime series of old.
This space opera takes place in an era where humans have depleted the resources in space and are fighting for control over earth, the home they spread out of. The ruling class that beat pretty much everyone else sends an infiltrator into the ranks of the space pirate Captain Harlock, whose magically powered spaceship remains its last significant threat. Through this infiltrator and the crew he mingles with we learn the secrets of the ruling government as well as those of the notorious pirate.
The result is a story of conflicting emotions that often trouble the Japanese but tend to be too complex to be told before Western audiences. Personally, that initial excitement that came through the realisation I am dealing with a space opera here disappeared through the movie’s second half, as I found myself disengaging from the story and the characters.
Worst scene: In a very typically Japanese way (think: Dead or Alive), proceedings break in order to offer us a nude zero gravity female shower scene. The scene is completely unrelated to the rest of the film and involves a relatively minor character. So yeah, chauvinism.
Overall: Suffering from the classic problem of having too much to deal with in the course of a single movie, this translation of an anime series into a movie fails to move yet again. 2.5 out of 5 space crabs.

Monday, 6 February 2017

The Shallows

Lowdown: A shark turns a girl into a woman.
Review:
An American woman in Mexico. Alone on a personal quest, to be achieved at a pristine beach. What can go wrong?
The music video like scenes of a photogenic girl on a surfing board are interrupted when a whale carcass appears, accompanied by a shark.
Our girl is left stranded in the water, on top of a rock, accompanied by a volleyball. Actually, an injured seagull she refers to as Steven Seagull.
A good, exciting, tale of girl against nature follows. Our hero is analytical, fact based and cool minded in her struggle. Only problem is that unlike The Old Man and the Sea, The Shallows turns to the ridiculous as it nears climax. Also, unlike Hemingway’s, the happy ending is all but inevitable. There is no way our young Texan will lose at Mexico!
Note: Although set in Mexico, The Shallows was filmed in Queensland. Yours truly believes he actually knows the specific beach, or at least one of the beaches, put into use.
Overall:
I am not into horror; on paper, The Shallows is not my type of movie. Yet it is not a horror movie per se; this is not a movie that tries to scare its viewer but rather a movie that tells a story.
Despite clearly targeting younger adults of the Insta generation, it is a well made feminist movie. 3 out of 5 sharks (crabs) for this one.

Tuesday, 17 January 2017

The Accountant

We’ve already seen Ben Affleck play a superhero in Batman, and now with The Accountant he plays another: a good accountant. And if that’s not super enough for you, he’s also crack commando that eats Rambo for breakfast, powered by years of experience as a social outcast for his autism/Asperger.
The nice thing about The Accountant is how we get to slowly gather information about our hero as the movie progresses. The not so nice is that, upon the settling of the dust, it is clear this is just another American action movie with all the illogical bullshit that tends to dominate such affairs. Predictability included.
So, yes, Affleck plays Chris, an autistic super accountant by day with the ability to push his accountancy further through the use of martial arts and/or firepower. Reluctant to delve further into the field of dealing with the dubious parts of society that usually hire his services, he asks his mysterious English accented operator for something peaceful; she gives him a challenging accounting task at a promising American technology company that seems to have stumbled upon suspected embezzlement. Our super accountant quickly figures things out, against all odds (yet in a way that makes it clear every accounting student in the world would have figured it out). In turn, this makes the baddies switch into full hostility mode, sends our reluctant hero back to his racks of guns & ammo, and proves to us viewers that one cannot cast an actor such as John Lithgow to play the CEO of that tech company and expect the role to be minor.
Action ensues; it is good, but seriously, you’ve seen it all before. At the end there are two things that stand for The Accountant: the performance of J. K. Simmons as the federal agent chasing our superhero, and the fact The Accountant is a movie that puts the case against the marginalisation of autistic people in the mainstream.
Overall: 3 out of 5 crabs.

Sunday, 15 January 2017

High-Rise

Lowdown: Animal Farm in a high rise building.
Review:
High-Rise certainly took us by surprise. Being a movie starring the cleaner looking than ever Tom Hiddleston, we’ve sort of expected some polished drama; instead, we got ourselves a weird, eccentric and dystopian allegory. It’s very NSFW, and in case you didn’t get it by now, very weird.
It’s the seventies. Our Tom, or rather our Dr Robert, is a very respectable brain scholar moving in to a new apartment at a middle upper floor of a newish giant residential high rise. The building is its own community, and Robert gets to know the attractive single mother above him and the people at the lower floors as well as those at the penthouse. And yes, the residents’ social class dictates what floor they’re on, and yes, class wars ensue.
Those class wars go way beyond their logical conclusion. For some reason, however, they do not go outside the realm of our high rise’s parking lot, making it obvious depicted events are not to be taken at face value. If you are into that kind of thing, you will like High-Rise; if you aren’t, you will probably suffer.
Overall: High-Rise is a well played smart film, no doubt about it. Only problem is I haven’t enjoyed watching it, not in the least. At 3 out of 5 crabs, I recommend one only approaches it if one is aware of what’s coming and one is well prepared to deal with the frontal assault that is High-Rise.

Wednesday, 11 January 2017

Suicide Squad

I will start at the end: Suicide Squad represents a mainstream attempt at addressing the question of good vs. evil. It does so through the seemingly good using the services of the seemingly bad in order to turn a bad situation into a good one. During this journey, we discover the good are just as bad and the bad can be just as good.
This mainstream attempt takes place in the DC Comics universe, straight after the conclusion of the previous DC Comics movie (Batman vs. Superman): as in, Superman is dead. Yet evil is still about doing its evil things, and with no Supergood to sort the world out, our [American] leaders have to call on the Superbad to do so.
Thus we are introduced to a gang of evil doers that the world has previously locked away and witness as they are put at an impossible position (hence the “suicide” part of the title). That is, they are forced to do their shtick in the name of good or pay the consequences. But since those alleged baddies are unknown to movie goers at large, the first act of Suicide Squad is spent on us acquainting ourselves with this badass gang.
Leading the way is Deadshot (Will Smith), but stealing the movie outright with her performance is Harley Quinn / Margot Robbie; it’s one of those performances that are so good it is hard to distinguish the fictional character from the talented actress. Let’s just hope Hollywood does not fail Robbie the way it does most female talent.
At this stage I will mention Suicide Squad sees the return of The Joker’s character to the DC universe. Jared Leto portrays him, and I guess Leto does a fine job at it. Yet as fine as it is, I could not help but think how vastly superior Heath Ledger’s Joker was.
Anyways, The Joker plays a relatively minor role here. The bulk of Suicide Squad involves our squad’s attempts to neutralise a super villain threat released into the wild by the alleged goodies; this allows each of the squad members to come out and give us a show, and thus we have ourselves a fairly entertaining movie. It is overlong, many of the plot twists make no sense, but as superhero movies go this ain’t all bad. Far from it, Suicide Squad waxes much more poetic than the bulk of them. Or, more bluntly, it is much more of a thinking person’s superhero movie than the manure we're accustomed to.
And then there’s Margot Robbie.
Overall: Hopefully, now that the Suicide Squad members have been introduced to the world, the inevitable sequels will treat them as well as they deserve. For now, Suicide Squad earns 3 out of 5 crabs while sporting some attributes of generally superior quality.

Monday, 9 January 2017

Captain Fantastic

We all hold some contradicting positions. Yours truly may be scared of global warming and I might point at it as a looming danger, but I will still drive my car and fly around the globe in a jet. I may complain against our consumer driven society, but I am also an active member. Well, Captain Fantastic is a movie about a character that, unlike you and I, is determined to follow its convictions through and do do all the right things.
Ben (Vigo Mortensen) is the father of several children whom he raises, hunter gatherer style, at a remote and secluded from civilisation hideaway. Ruling the day there are all the things we know but often ignore in the name of social practicality: religion is bullshit, the truth matters above all, power to the people, etc. His kids are all olympian grade athletes, having to fend for themselves in everything; they are also extremely smart, with Ben curating them with the best books humanity could offer instead of the commercial TV and the Insta that dominate the lives of their peers. Yet it is clear they lack in real world smarts.
Which matters once they are taken into the real world, on a journey to attend the funeral of their recently deceased mother. That journey takes them across (?) the USA and has them interacting with police, “normal” kids their age, and their “normal” grandparents. Who will give and who will win? Will conformist+consumerist American society win this family, too, or will our gang manage to preserve its Swiss Family Robinson lifestyle?
Captain Fantastic has its ups and downs, and sometimes it sags while other times the improbable happens. I can and I will forgive most of those issues, though, in the face of its attempt to answer a question that has been troubling me for decades.
Overall: An interesting attempt to answer an important question. Despite its failure at the answers department, Captain Fantastic is worth 3.5 out of 5 crabs.

Thursday, 5 January 2017

Cafe Society

Woody Allen’s latest takes place in the fantastic thirties, a world where Hollywood is still a magic weaver and there is no such thing as a great or even a small recession.
In this world we have a young and naive New Yorker (the always creepy Jesse Eisenberg) venture to Hollywood, to his estranged uncle (Steve Carell), in order to find himself. Our guy is trading a poor Jewish migrant family with this uncle that can open the doors of Hollywood to him. And open them he does.
The main thing our very Allen like hero falls for, however, is his uncle’s secretary (Kristen Stewart). They plan this and that, but at the end he falls victim to his family ties and loses the girl. He starts again at the Cafe Society, a New York club established by his mafia brother.
I won’t go any further, but I will say that Cafe Society is a well acted movie about people loaded with ideals who happen to bend them at their own conscience. Because life happens; and as we all know, some times a gangster taking out a neighbour can really help.
Overall: Allen brings us a smart and thoughtful script, for a change, another one in his series that is all about explaining himself to the world. Only that in Cafe Society, he explains a lot about us, too. It’s unremarkable, but it is not bad either; 3 out of 5 crabs.
P.S. Wikipedia tells us that Cafe Society was a real establishment in New York’s scene, although with circumstances mildly different to the ones depicted in the movie.

Sunday, 1 January 2017

Triple 9

We’ve seen lots of heist movies. Enough to make movies depicting straight heists boring, therefore requiring some clever trickery to make one’s particular heist movie larger than life. In turn, we’ve seen that happen in the Ocean Eleven, Twelve and whatever series.
Enter Triple 9, another heist movie. Just like the Ocean series, it features lots of famous actors. My favourite? Kate Winslet as the head of a Jewish Russian mob in contemporary Atlanta, operating under the guise of a Kosher abattoir.
Triple 9’s larger than life trick lies with the idea that the people pulling the heist can earn more time to pull off the greatest heist ever by occupying police attention elsewhere through the act of taking down a policeman. Apparently, in American police code lingo, that’s called a 999.
Thus we have ourselves an entertaining movie where the main narrative lies in corrupt policemen pulling off a heist for the Jewish/Russian mafia for which they are required to kill a fellow policeman. Yes, it’s entertaining, but no, it’s nothing more than that. Not that there’s anything wrong with being entertained.
Overall: Your classic action flick refreshment goes as far as 3 out of 5 crabs.