Wednesday, 11 July 2018

Buck Rogers in the 25th Century

As a child, I used to love the early eighties’ Buck Rogers TV series. I never read the comics (they weren’t available where I grew up), but the story of a 20th century astronaut miraculously appearing 5 centuries later to show the contemporary lot how [space] dogfights really work was the stuff of dreams.
As it turned out, they made a movie out of the same series. Just like they did with that era’s version of Battlestar Galactica, the movie is actually the TV series’ first 2 episodes. Guess folks back then weren’t high on standards. Regardless, the question - decades later - is whether there is still a movie worth watching here?
And the answer is: a blatant “no”. Not because of the special effects that look pathetic, not because of the plot that’s got more holes in it than Swiss cheese that’s been shot to death with automatic assault rifles purchased at Walmart, but rather because of chauvinism. I’ll put it this way: I was amazed at the way Buck Rogers treats its female characters. I was amazed that I grew up not taking the least note of that. And frankly, I’m amazed to have grown up into what I consider to be a healthy human being who likes to think he is respectful of women.
The chauvinistic affair called Buck Rogers made me rewind the tape back in my head to try and imagine what things were like back then, not that long ago. Were all movies as bad as Buck Rogers? And the answer is, maybe not all, but they were sure as hell bad by our standards. Consider, if you will, the portrayal of Princess Leah in Return of the Jedi; or the women of Flash Gordon, whether the it's the princess or Flash’s earthly female companion, with their “oh, Flash!” and all.
Overall: Times have changed, and we should all thank the Goddess for that. Buck Rogers receives 1.5 out of 5 crabs, mostly serving as an archeological specimen of times long gone rather than a movie remotely worth watching.

Sunday, 8 July 2018

Shot Caller

Shot Caller is an indictment of the American prison system. It tells the story of a guy with no criminal past, sent to jail for a traffic accident with consequences, who has to get deeper and deeper into crime in order to survive that hostile environment.
Shot Caller makes a very valid point on how the American prison system serves no measurable social good. However, at the same time it seems a bit too in love with the violence it depicts.
Overall: Drifting between 3 and 3.5 out of 5 crabs.

Friday, 6 July 2018

The Shape of Water

A love letter to minorities and anyone who is not in a position of power: women, blacks, gay, dumb, and exotic water monsters with godly healing powers.
Me, I fell in love with the character of Zelda, the black cleaning lady that gets pulled into the action rather unwillingly yet always does the right thing.
Overall: 4 out of 5 crabs.

Thursday, 5 July 2018

Kedi

A documentary following the lives of specific cats living in Istanbul’s streets, telling their stories and the stories of the people around them. In the process, the movie depicts a very flattering image of a seemingly very colorful city.
The end result is a touching, deeply relaxing, collection of stories.
Overall: 3.5 out of 5 cats.

Friday, 8 June 2018

Anon

To me, Anon was a promising affair: a movie written and directed by Andrew Nicole, of GATTACA fame, and starring Clive Owen, one of the best male actors around, will always be a movie I'd want to watch.
Anon is set in a near future that looks a lot like the past: very impersonal, very gray, very bleak, with only a few cars moving about and them being all seventies gas guzzling police cars.
The catch in this world is that everyone has a recorder on their eyes that takes down everything they see and makes it available to authorities. Not that this recorder doesn’t offer the layperson any benefits: it also tells them the name of any person they meet, and allows them to view past scenes of their lives. To the police, however, it enables complete supervision over everyone’s life, with all the implications this has on finding the criminals responsible to every crime.
The plot revolves mostly around a police detective (Clive Owen) who tries to catch a sexy woman we only know as Anon (Amanda Seyfried). Anon’s special ability is to be able to, somehow, delete scenes from people’s past lives; society cannot allow for that, can it? Especially the police. Hence Anon become a target. She’s an even bigger target through her clients seeming to be shot dead by her hands after the business transaction is over, though.
Thus we have ourselves a murder mystery detective story with the mandatory fam fatale that is set in a dystopian world where there is no such thing as privacy: Film noir if ever there was one.
Anon the movie is, essentially, a platform for Andrew Nicole with which to ask us viewers questions on the merits of privacy. He is basically asking why we are willing to give it away so easily in return for nothing, arguing very correctly (through the characters of Seyfried and Owen) that this dichotomy we live by whereas we sacrifice privacy for security did not give us any security improvements. Mostly, though, Anon is a case against that most commonly used argument of “nothing to fear, nothing to hide”: if you have nothing to hide from the authorities then you have nothing to fear from them either, hence you do not lose anything when you hand them your most intimate information. Anon simply argues that while this may be true, perhaps there are things we don’t want to share, thank you very much?
Bleakness aside, Anon’s message is delivered quite explicitly. By explicitly I mean just that: there are scenes that will be commonly referred to as “strong sex scenes” (as in, scenes where sex is depicted more explicitly than we are used to in mainstream movies). Similarly, there are scenes of drug use. I guess it goes with the turf: sex, in particular, would be the number one thing most people would prefer not to share with authorities, the public, or anyone for that matter.
Overall: An excellent idea for a movie that is quite hampered by the rather heavy handed bleakness which, in turn, creates a movie that is a bit too hard to digest and get into. 3 out of 5 crabs.

Tuesday, 5 June 2018

Office Christmas Party

Crazy silly comedies of the Jason Bateman genre don’t come sillier or shallower than Office Christmas Party. This time around, Bateman stands as the closest to normal person in an otherwise badly managed company facing the risk of closure from its tough CEO (regular Bateman partner Jennifer Aniston). The employees’ only hope? Run a Christmas office party so good, the company’s potential big client would fall for it (and save the company).
Will it work or will all hell break loose? The correct answer is C, of course: all of the above.
Despite what sounds like a plausible story, Office Christmas Party is implausible throughout. To make things worse, its conclusion relies on an even more implausible plot twist in order to sort us with the obligatory happy ending. I guess it could all be forgiven if the movie was funny - after all, we are putting a crazy comedy under the microscope here - but Office Christmas Party isn’t that funny. It rather feels like something coming out of a production line desperate to make a Christmas movie.
Overall: A weak 2 out of 5 crabs for this party affair.

Friday, 1 June 2018

Game Night

Three couples regularly meet together for game nights: nights where they hang out together and play board games together (but not the high quality board games that true gamers play; Hollywood still focuses on appealing to the mainstream). Those three couples are probably designed to represent Americans in their thirties: one white couple trying to conceive (Jason Bateman and Rachel McAdams, our leads for the evening), one black couple in a bit of a marital crisis due to past adventures on the side, and one couple comprised of a guy who cannot commit and his improvised date for the evening.
What follows is a very good comedy of the exact type one has grown to associate with Jason Bateman. Bateman’s highly successful brother (Kyle Chandler) is back in town, and here to shake up the last of our hero’s confidence as the less successful of the two has to look up to his older brother again. And that old brother is organising a special game night, one where one of the participants is getting kidnapped and the rest have to find them to win a special reward: the car of [Bateman character’s] dreams. Only that reality knocks in, and instead of a fake kidnaping one of our characters gets kidnapped for real. With the catch being, everybody else is sure it’s a game.
The beauty of Game Night is in the comedy that develops as our movie developers. Our characters, busy as they are playing a game, and not realising the higher stakes at hand, spend quite a lot of their time discussing their life problems as they try to win their game / diffuse the kidnapping that actually took place. It is in those moments of high action that relationship problems are tackled (because, naturally, no one dares talks about these things under otherwise normal circumstances). Thus Game Night becomes a movie most people would be able to identify with (and not only board gamers like yours truly).
Throw in some good cameos (such as a Miami forensic serial killer), and Game Night should turn one particular night of your life into a particularly entertaining one. Just as long as you don’t try to make sense of the plot.
Overall: 3.5 out of 5 crabs, and as seemingly silly comedies go - a pretty good one!

Tuesday, 29 May 2018

WarGames

John Badham directed several anti war movies during my formative years. Short Circuit was probably the most commercially successful; Blue Thunder enticed me with its helicopter and jet fighter action; but WarGames (1983) is probably the most important of those, due to its accuracy and not only ongoing relevancy but rather increased relevancy.
The movie came out just as personal computers for the home started being a thing mere mortals could indulge with. It follows a teenager (Matthew Broderick), a hacker from a time before the word became common with the plebs. His hacks involve “upgrading” his school grades as well as those of his female friend that’s not exactly a girlfriend but is pretty close (you know what it’s like, male nerds don’t have girlfriends). Yet our hacker is a curious fellow, and on his ongoing curiosity driven quest for poking around the internet (in a pre-internet world) he stumbles upon what seems to be a games repository. Only that it’s not a games repository: it’s actually the USA Strategic Command’s Skynet, or rather the computer the USA handed the rights to manage its nuclear weapons to. So while our hacker thinks he’s playing a game, the President is thinking the USA is under a nuclear attack from the USSR. Can common sense prevail, or are we all doomed to die due to a computer granted too many privileges, a backdoor, and an innocent hacker?
Although 35 years old, and displaying technology of a far simpler nature than is available today, the principles behind WarGames are all still there: social hacking, backdoors, stupidly simple passwords - nothing you don’t read about in coverage of the Daily Big Hack mainstream media reports to us all the time.
While it can be argued we are no longer under the knife’s edge when it comes to nuclear war, it does not change the fact the same scenario we are witnessing in the movie applies to everything computerised in our daily lives. For example, Australia is about to force its implementation of an electronic health system upon its population within a few months, limiting (and hiding) the option to opt out of this system. Does anyone doubt that eHealth system is weakened by vulnerabilities and all manner of backdoors, which would - eventually - see all of its contents fall into the wrong hands? I don’t.
Which, if anything, shows we haven’t learned anything in the 35 years since WarGames came out.
Overall: While certain aspects are not up to contemporary standards (say, production value), WarGames still makes a valid point. 4 out of 5 paranoid crabs.