Saturday, 12 May 2018

I, Tonya

It is rather unusual for movie to bring us the loser’s story; Hollywood is all about glorifying the winner. Yet bringing us the loser’s story is the whole point of I, Tonya.
As someone who lived through the events around Tonya Harding’s controversial ice skating career, I recall receiving nightly updates about her latest leg bashing affairs through Jay Leno’s Tonight Show jokes. What I, Tonya goes to show, however, is that life is more complicated than a talk show's joke. There is more to the real story than this.
That story is about a young girl growing up in poverty in the USA, and about how she and her mother (so excellently portrayed by Margot Robbie and Allison Janney) had to struggle in order to support the girl in doing something she turned out to be really good at: ice skating. Despite her abundance of talent, the girl had to face many closed doors along the way, mainly because ice skating is a rich people’s sport. Eventually, through mixing up with the wrong people (portrayed by the movie in ever so comically a way), she fell on the wrong side of the tracks.
This tragic story of the poor in our world, and the extra trouble they have to go through when they try to get out of the mire, has touched me quite deeply as I watched I, Tonya. It reminded me of another very effective movie in this arena, Hell or High Water.
Technically speaking, I think it is safe to assume it was not Robbie who performed all of the ice skating tricks the movie provides. I do wonder what digital magic was involved.
A nice eighties, more or less, soundtrack featuring my favourite Cliff Richard song seals the deal on an excellent movie.
Overall: 4 out of 5 crabs.

Friday, 11 May 2018

Self/less

A rich person dying of cancer (Ben Kingsley) takes part in a secretive operation that has his consciousness transferred to a young man’s body (Ryan Reynolds). It’s only afterwards that he discovers that, unlike what he was told, that body used to belong to someone. Our now young and able protagonist grows a conscience and tries to do the right thing.
Problem is, a science fiction movie idea with much potential quickly turns into yet another cliche action movie. Guy saves girl, guy kills baddies, and who cares about the premises, really?
Probably the worst thing about the movie is the credit it gives one Donald Trump (in the movie’s end credits). I suspect that’s due to our millionaire’s home being Trump’s IRL hideous gold covered mansion.
Overall: 2 out of 5 crabs.

Wednesday, 9 May 2018

Una

Una’s story is rather tough to digest and affects the whole experience that is watching this film. It tells the story of a young girl who has had a sexual relationship with an adult. The relationship has been exposed and deeply impacted both lives. Now, years later, the now adult girl, Una (Rooney Mara) shows up and forces herself into the life of her former older lover (Ben Mendelssohn).
The outcome is not the most pleasant of watches; this is not your switch the mind off Marvel superhero movie, but rather an invasive look into the lives of deeply traumatised people. The leads do a magnificent job and carry this hard to crack affair across; they probably had to, given Una is a play translated to the screen that definitely still feels like a play.
Overall: A very dramatic drama that is definitely not suitable to all occasions. 3 out of 5 crabs.

Sunday, 6 May 2018

Three Billboards Outside of Ebbing, Missouri

Plot wise, it doesn’t sound like there is much to Three Billboards Outside of Ebbing, Missouri. It’s the story of a mother (Frances McDormand) whose daughter was raped and killed who, frustrated with the lack of progress with the police investigation (led by Woody Harrelson), pays to have three otherwise neglected billboards outside her small town mock the police.
The catch, if you will, is that the ensuing story ends up a bit like a Forrest Gump affair. As in, the story it tells us about this little town and what happens in it as a result of these signs being put up offers us a mirror into the soul of the USA and the various processes it is going through. The same healing process that Forrest Gump saw in America is taking place inside of Ebbing, Missouri, and is best represented through the character of a knucklehead cup (Sam Rockwell).
Which leaves us with a gripping comic drama of top quality featuring multiple round characters and excellent acting across. Indeed, the only complaint I can make is to do with Abbie Cornish’s character (that of Harrelson’s wife) feeling rather out of place due to the significant age difference between alleged husband and wife. If that difference was intentional to the telling of the story then I have failed to detect that.
Overall: Clearly one of the best movies of the past year, if not the best. 4.5 out of 5 crabs.

Friday, 4 May 2018

The Hitman's Bodyguard

Switch your brain off and join an action bonanza of a grade we've seen plenty of times before, this time featuring a bodyguard (Ryan Reynolds) whose noble task is to protect the principled hitman who ruined his life (Samuel Jackson) so the latter could testify in the trial of an evil guy with less principled killings under his sleeve (Gary Oldman).
Nothing we haven’t seen before to see here, including tons of baddies that graduated from the Imperial Academy. Other than the names to its credit, Hitman’s Bodyguard is a truly empty vessel.
Overall: 2.5 out of 5 crabs for an action roller coaster trying too hard to generate the occasional laugh but is running on empty throughout.

Tuesday, 1 May 2018

Brad's Status

The main achievement of Brad’s Status, an otherwise run of the mill American movie production, is that it deals with a malady I so totally suffer from. Its hero (Brad, of course, as in - Ben Stiller) is an over the hill, past the prime of his life, very frustrated guy. Frustrated because despite all the promises of youth, he finds himself at a position where he is the lesser of the group of peers he grew up with. They are all of higher statuses, higher incomes, and vastly superior social positions; whereas he, despite all the right aspirations, runs an unsuccessful business and is a member of an ordinary family. They’re famous, they’re jet setters, and he’s a struggling nobody. He’s been keeping himself busy pursuing his ideals and doing his best to be a good father, while they used their time to become hotshot celebrities.
These are the premises, and - naturally - I applaud a film that takes upon itself to tackle a problem that I am struggling with myself. However, as one can expect from a movie aimed at the masses, one need not expect the problem to be solved; one can expect, on the other hand, some superficiality in the discussion that entails. On the positive side, one gets some nice cameos/small roles, like the one from Michael Sheen.
Given the personal importance of the problem at hand, let us review the solutions our movie offers to Brad’s status problem:
  1. Brad is actually a very successful person, in the grand scheme of things, and compared to the vast majority of people in this world he is way better off than almost all of them (with the notable exception of the 1%). He should therefore stop regarding himself as a failure.
  2. Brad may not be as professionally successful as his former colleagues, now members of that 1% group, but if he was to pick at each of those “more successful” cases then they will unravel - one by one - for Brad to see that they all have their own sets of issues. We think they are so good, but in fact they should envy us! That is to say, Brad (and by extension, us viewers, too) will see that we wouldn’t actually want to trade places with them.
  3. At the end of the day, the only people that care for Brad are the people closest to him; as it happens, these people (in Brad’s case, his son) do not care at all about his status. They just love him.
I have to add that, personally, I find none of these explanations too convincing. That is to say, they may be true to one extent or another, but there are notable exceptions to each one of them, exceptions that imply they are not all conquering arguments.
Since, to repeat myself, I grapple with the same problem as Brad myself, I will mention my own solutions: First and foremost, I question the whole paradigm of determining success in life through financial gains and status; there clearly is more to life than this. To point at the most obvious example, Donald Trump is not exactly the materialisation of my life’s dreams no matter how rich he is or how high a status he may have.
Second, I find that my happiness depends on much more than financial gains. Yes, one needs to have enough money so as to not have to worry about having a roof over one’s head, but once that is covered than the important things in life - the things that make life worth living - are more to do with interacting with people you love and doing things you like doing (which, ironically, explains why rich people have the potential to be happier, because they do not have to take jobs that the lesser blessed among us cannot afford to say no to).
If we go back to Brad’s case, he certainly qualifies with these two criteria. I would therefore argue that he is a successful person, almost as successful as I am.
Overall: Cinematic art wise, Brad’s Status is a mediocre film. I, however, found it quite gripping due to the personal identification factor, and will therefore grant it - despite the shallowness of its discussion - 3.5 out of 5 crabs for daring to put a troubling problem front left and centre.

Thursday, 15 March 2018

Darkest Hour

Lowdown: The story of Britain’s decision to have a go at fighting WW2, on its own, as told through the personal story of Churchill’s early days as PM.
Review:
Darkest Hour, if you recall the person who coined that phrase, is the story of Winston Churchill’s first days as Prime Minister of the UK during early 1940. As you may know, WW2 officially started on 1 September 1939 with Germany’s military invasion of Poland (though, it has to be said, fighting was already going on in earnest in China for a while by then). War in Europe was declared, but not fought; the Allies did not come to Poland’s help, and especially in France the soldiers did not know what to do with themselves. In the UK, the subject of our movie, people were still calling to try and appease Hitler despite repeated failures.
Which is where Churchill fits into the picture, appointed as Prime Minister after his predecessor (Neville Chamberlain) was stained for his Munich Agreement’s false notion of containing Hitler. By then, German soldiers were pouring over Belgium and into France, and crisis was at hand. The entire British army, in France, was about to be driven into the sea (thus lost); what should the British government do?
Enter Churchill (Gary Oldman) and this movie about him and the decisions he had made at that early stage. Decisions that determined on the course of WW2, and, for the UK, eventual victory at the price of the loss of the British Empire.
If there is one theme to take out of Darkest Hour is that is is, indeed, very dark, as the movie name suggest. Not so much in contents as it is in absence of light, enclosed rooms, and dark walls. England sure was a depressing place, if you take this movie’s word.
The main struggle in our movie is not with the UK contending against the menace of the all conquering Nazis as it is with the UK facing its own demons: the people who wished to negotiate and appease the Nazis. We should be able to relate to them: they were not, necessarily, Nazi sympathisers; they were people who remembered all too well the cost of The Great War. According to Darkest Hour, they almost won the day. But Churchill saved it, with a little help from his friends, king, and country.
Darkest Hour takes some liberties with historical truths (for example, it has Churchill mingling with the commoners, including a black person, on an underground train as a key pivotal scene in which Churchill makes his mind up to fight). Which is where my biggest problem with the movie lies, its portrayal of Churchill as an almost perfect person barring his drinking habits. Well, he wasn’t; sure, he did many great things in the war against Nazism, but he was also responsible for many atrocities and initiatives in the field (check out this fine example, revealed only recently). These receive only an afterthought in our movie. In doing so, Darkest Hour steps into the realm of propaganda.
Acting wise, there is no denying Gary Oldman does an excellent job, yet there is no denying I found it hard to attach myself to the character he portrayed underneath all that makeup. I won’t argue whether he deserves his Academy Award for this role or not (I can offer numerous other movies where he fully deserves all accolades); I just don’t think, the way the Academy seems to, that being covered in extra layers of makeup is a precondition for acquiring the award.
Overall:
As films go, Darkest Hour is a fine drama. I, however, have a big problem with the way rough edges have been rounded in order to generate a favourable image for the person that we, with the privilege of hindsight, know to be the winner of that particular fight.
I will therefore go with a rating of 3 out of 5 crabs.

Tuesday, 13 March 2018

In This Corner of the World

Lowdown: Life in WW2 Japan, told through the eyes of an ordinary Japanese girl.
Review:
It is befitting to tell a Japanese story the Japanese way, and In This Corner of the World represents such a go. It is a touching tale of simple people growing up and living in Japan as it gets through World War 2, in which we get a taste for the culture of the time through things like how people got married, what they wore, and what they ate. As “expected”, the tale is delivered to us in anime form - the Japanese way.
We follow the life of a simpleton, naive, yet good hearted girl growing up in Hiroshima. Like all of us, she has things she likes to do (drawing); like most of us, she can’t spend too much of her time doing the things she likes to do. What she does go through is a forced marriage and, in general, a life of much labour and toil, which she takes head on and fully accepts.
Then there is the war. We don’t usually see what war is like on the losing side; "they" don't get to write the history books. Hence In This Corner of the World’s main contribution: it is not “just” another film. As one can expect, we see that war does tend to harm the innocent people on both sides.
I will add, tough, that to this Western viewer it was hard to contrast the pictures of ordinary Japanese suffering through the war with the atrocities committed by the Japanese before and during the war, whether in places like China or Korea or in POW camps. Not that the film avoids them: there are very obvious references to brothels serving the soldiers. It's just that it is hard to see how those nice people the film portrays before us were able to commit those aforementioned atrocities.
Overall: A nice tale that is made much more interesting through the events under its scope. 3.5 out of 5 crabs.