Wednesday, 29 July 2015

Top Crab #9

This blog is now officially a 9 year old, and once again it is time to look back, reminisce, point at a trend or two, and wonder aloud how long I can keep this futile exercise going and what for? Escapism?
There are no new overarching trends to talk about from the past year. Which means that by now the Internet has firmly established itself as the all conquering source of contents, leaving the brick and mortars shop with the sole duty of providing hardware. And even on that single front they seem mortar (shell) shocked.

Best Book:
I haven't reviewed as many books as I would have liked this past year. In fact, I only got to review a minority of the books I did manage to read. Luckily, I did review the book I consider the most important I have read this year, Data and Goliath by security expert Bruce Schneier.
Data and Goliath does not derive its importance solely from its thorough review of how every act of ours is nowadays recorded and surveyed. It's the implications that count. If I was to put on the hat of a futurian, I would argue the main threats to the continued incremental evolution of human culture/civilisation comes from this surveillance. When every move of ours is documents for prosperity, we will react accordingly – in the same manner as every one of us behaves at work or at school according to the KPIs we are measured on. In this particular case, mass surveillance will create a society of mindless consumers doing the bidding of those in power, because the option to dissent against those in power will not exist anymore.
And who are those with the power? Oh, they are easy to identify. They run the corporations that collect our data, whether you call them Google, Facebook or Axiom. Then there are the shadowy figures that try to keep themselves unknown and operate at the fringes of the law. I am talking about the likes of your NSA or GCHQ (and they are yours – they are funded by tax payer’s money). These organisations have developed their own facilities for sucking our information dry, usually by piggybacking on your Google/Apple/Rovio. Regardless, they offer minimal recourse to the law, operating gangs of lawyers in charge of twisting the law’s intents, and running under minimal supervision.
In case you’re asking who benefits from all this monitoring, the answer is simple. First, evidence clearly indicates the surveillance has nothing to do with the excuse world leaders from Obama to Cameron throw at us, terrorism; no act of terrorism was prevented using bulk data collection and they know it. No, the surveillance is simple there to keep things the way they are. In other words, to prevent the majority from uprising against the ruling classes. It is the latest incarnation of class warfare, designed to keep us at bay.
Yes, you can mock me as a conspiracy theorist. However, do not complain when TPP or its likes comes to be and you finally feel the pain. You will submit to Big Brother, because the powers that be have a detailed dossier on you. 

Best Movie:
While movies have been demoted into second grade entertainment these past few years, there have been some nice ones around. Examples include the sci-fi flick Edge of Tomorrow, Guardians of the Galaxy and the war movie from Russell Crowe, The Water Diviner.
However, looking back at the year that passed there was only one movie that kept dominating my recollections. Only one movie I repeatedly quoted from. It was not science fiction; it was a live portrayal of history in the making. I’m talking, it goes without saying, about Laura Poitras’ Citizenfour, the movie documenting the first encounter between Glenn Greenwald, Poitras and one Edward Snowden at a Hong Kong hotel as well as the initial impact that encounter has had.
That impact is obvious. Edward Snowden has become a household name, for a start. More importantly, without Snowden and his sacrifice there would have been no Data and Goliath book to win an award in the previous paragraph. Without Snowden, our perceptions of the way our society runs would have continued along the same delusions the people in power wanted us to maintain.
Most of all, Citizenfour proves that one person CAN still make a difference.

Best on TV:
There is some exceptional stuff made for TV out there. Fargo is the easiest example I can think of.
However, in keeping with this year’s political theme, the nod has to go in favour of a Danish three season long series that concluded more than a year ago and features some of the best, strongest characters around. Female characters, too!
I am talking about Borgen, a series depicting the rise of an unlikely progressive politician into the role of the Danish PM, her survival there despite of all the plotting, family issues and events going around, and then her rebuilding of her career later. Each episode is a treasure full of things to think about, from comparisons with the way our politics on this side of the world works to contemplation of the role of the media plays.
Most of all, though, I liked Borgen because it made me feel as if the characters of Birgitte and Katrine are part of my own life. My friends, if you will.

Best Music:
I have a lot of respect for contemporary musicians. They keep me happy and invigorated.
But the band that kept me running more than anything else this year, the band that probably drove about half my music consumptin this year, was a band that ceased operating more than three decades ago. And the album I listened to the most was an album rereleased this year in a remastered version in order to commemorate its 40th anniversary.
Meet Led Zeppelin’s Physical Graffiti, the best album [re]released this year. By far.

This blog would like to use this opportunity to thank citizen James Patrick Page for taking the time to go over Led Zep’s recordings and, one by one, rerelease them in their best form ever.

Best Video Game:
This past year of gaming started in disappointment. The new gen consoles arrived, but with all due respect they have arrived without the games. Even Dragon Age, the game I looked forward to the most by virtue of it being made by the same people who made my all time favourite Mass Effect, turned out to be a boring flop. Not that it’s a bad game, it’s just that the combat isn’t too exciting and the return on investment on time spent was minimal.
Eventually I did find a console favourite, even if it was a reincarnation of a game released for the previous generation. Regardless, Grand Theft Auto V is a great game; an epic. To give you an idea of just how grand this game is, I had spent more than two hours chasing one guy escaping me in a truck across deserts, roads, lakes, beaches and a Los Angeles like city and I thoroughly enjoyed it. No other game makes me feel like it’s a world of its own as GTA V.
Not to mention the wisdom of this game. I recall a teenage character telling “my” older father character that I should have known my daughter/his sister is inside the porn industry from reading her LifeInvader posts. I mean, what better way is there to describe Facebook? As with all good cases of irony, it can become hard to tell the irony from the serious. Which is probably why Grand Theft Auto sees itself condemned by plenty of people taking the moral ground instead of getting the joke.
On the more child friendly corner, this year has seen Super Smash Bros. arrive on the Wii U. Just as it did with Mario Kart 8 before, Nintendo had produced a game that can see me playing endlessly without ever getting bored (although the extensive bottom mashing can get tiring on the thumbs very quickly). Sure, Nintendo has no idea what to do with its concept of Amiibos, but with all the flexibility and modes this game provides everyone should be able to find their niche.
When all is said and done, my life at the moment does not allow me to settle and play for hours and hours. This is where portable gaming comes into being with the iPad turning, in effect, into my primary game console. There are tons of good games available for the iPad, too many to mention here; I would settle now with naming the one game that went a cut above all the rest. The one game that had me dreaming at night and daydreaming during the day. The one game that had me truly passionate. My best game for the year.
World of Tanks Blitz takes the venerable PC game and packs it up in an iPad package that makes it feel as if the game had always been there, designed with a tablet in mind. Sure, the controls can be painful, but other than that this MMO packs tons of depth with its maps, tank models and strategies. My age definitely shows; I often get splattered before I even know what’s going on, and let’s just say I’m on negative balance when it comes to my personal tanks accounting. But when this slow to react guy gets the pincer movement right, when the right move turns numerical inferiority into a surprise victory, one can easily feel like a little Napoleon.
Most of all, World of Tanks Blitz wins my day by virtue of offering intensive battles in short 3-4 minutes doses. This way I can live my life around it; it’s sort of the exact opposite of Dragon Age.

Outstanding Achievement in the Field of Excellence:
Borgen might have won its award already, but the truth is that it is not on its own. Scandinavia seems to be able to produce plenty of gold in the shape of quality TV contents, certainly enough to show that Hollywood may have the budget but creativity still prevails.
Notable members of this high quality family include the various episode of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (with its sequels here and here). Then there is Bron/Broen (aka The Bridge), the wonderful story about a Danish cop working with a Swedish policewoman on a joint case. The series has inspired British as well as American spinoffs, but more importantly – season 3 is coming up shortly, giving yours truly a lot to look forward to in the upcoming year!

Tuesday, 28 July 2015

The Voices

Lowdown: The adventures of a young man that likes to run conversations with his cat and dog.
When one hears there’s this movie out there called The Voices, starring Ryan Reynolds and Gemma Arterton, in which the protagonist’s cat and dog talk to their owner (cat=evil, dog=good), one immediately thinks: romantic comedy!
Well, one cannot be wronger. I will not say more about The Voices because of the major risk of bloopers, but I will say this: this is no comedy. At least not your conventional comedy. Be warned, and do not try to watch this one in the company of children just because it features talking animals. This is not your Disney talking animals movie!
What I will say, though, is that The Voices is a fairly good movie in that it brings forth themes mostly neglected by mainstream cinema. Indeed, this one goes so far against convention that, regardless of whether you end up liking it or not, you will remember it. And I will also say it shines a nice light on the qualities of Ryan Raynolds as an actor.
Best scene: The end credits, featuring the cast singing “Sing a Happy Song”, is actually hilarious (in contrast to the preceding non comedy).
Overall: Undoubtedly weird, but it is its unexpected nature that wins The Voices 3 out of 5 surprised crabs.

Monday, 27 July 2015

Still Alice

Lowdown: A smart, successful, woman is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s.
Live long enough, and eventually you would get to feel the experience of human life falling apart right in front you. For most of us nowadays this is not a result of violence (thank the Flying Spaghetti Monster), but rather the result of old age or ailments such as cancer. Still Alice is a movie that follows one such particular example from early stages till the whereabouts of the end, living off the drama that naturally develops given the situation. Its disease of choice: Alzheimer’s.
Julianne Moore is Alice, a successful person by all accounts: the loving wife of John (Alec Bladwin), the mother of three great children, and a world renowned professor. Seriously, mortals cannot expect more luck than this. Which is exactly why the onset of Alzheimer’s is such a disaster: Alice, and everyone around her, has so much to lose!
Still Alice does not attempt to take proceedings into higher planes. It is a simple drama about the untangling of a life due to the horribly unexpected. All it does is follow its premises through: the effects of the disease on Alice, on her husband, on the careers, and on the kids. Attention is paid to all relationships, but mostly to the third and seemingly non conformist child (Kristen Stewart). Still Alice thus distils the family affairs of a family already busy with what we tend to consider routine family affairs (e.g., IVF) when it forces its members to come to terms with a disaster; seriously, who needs to go any further than this for good drama?
Clearly not with Julianne Moore at the helm. It is not only Moore’s presence that makes Still Alice; in my opinion, this movie’s greatest achievement is in putting such family tragedy on the map in the first place, given the way Western culture seems to pretend events like the ones portrayed here do not happen. Well, they do, and almost each and every one of us will be personally affected by such events – if only through being there when one’s parents grow old.
Style wise, Still Alice likes to mess around with its images. There’s a notable presence of blurry and/or very short on depth imagery. If you like, you can consider it another play along the lines offered by this movie’s title. Well, at least it does not hinder the end result.
Overall: Still Alice proves that all it takes for a good drama is a good idea executed well. 3.5 out of 5 crabs for another Julianne Moore tour de force.

Thursday, 23 July 2015

The Basics of Information Security (Second Edition) by Jason Andress

Lowdown: An overview of infosec’s realm.
Generally speaking, I tend to avoid reviewing professional books in this blog. I will make an exception for The Basics of Information Security (Second Edition), though, for two simple reasons. One, the book is exceptional in that it does not require technical knowledge in order to be read; generally speaking, everyone should be able to pick it up. And second, if there is anybody out there seeking to receive a broad understanding of the world of infosec (a fancy way of saying information security) then this one would be a pretty good venue to start at.
The Basics of Information Security certainly lives up to its name. It is your classic textbook: laconic, starts at the basics and gradually builds up, but ultimately never gets really deep and leaves the burden of specialisation on its reader. Which is perfectly fine; the catch is actually to find a book as generic as this one in an area that seems devoid of anything but specialisation. Thus the book covers all the basic concepts, like authentication, authorisation, auditing, physical security and – of course – cryptography. The structure is constant, with theoretical explanations followed by real life examples and even mentioning of the occasional professional tool.
The book is notable for being up to date. The curious case of Edward Snowden receives its attention, with the author rightly pointing out how much of a milestone event this has been in the history of the infosec world (while, at the same time, seeming to take the security breach rather personally).  On the negative side, some of the few photos used in the book feel like they were taken by a 5 year old armed with a phone camera, thus detracting from the professional image the book seeks to impart.
Far from the most interesting read in the world, The Basics of Information Security works by virtue of its coverage and earthly approach. Read it and you will be able to read the deeper stuff that follows down the path or, alternatively, acquaint yourself with a world of much relevance to the Internet/computer using people of this day and age.
4 out of 5 well introduced crabs.

Monday, 20 July 2015

Paper Planes

Lowdown: A 12 year old finds inspiration in paper planes.
The above might sum the plot of Paper Planes in one line, but there is more – much more – to this YA targeted take on the feel good movie formula.
To start with, this is an Australian movie (hooray!) and our boy is called, strangely enough, Dylan. Dylan (Ed Oxenbould) is based in middle of nowhere WA, and it is clear he’s in for a tough time: his school mates run an iPad/iPhone shop while he’s stuck with his Nokia brick; at his derelict looking home, Dylan has only his father (Sam Worthington) for company, and what poor company it is – the father either lies on the couch in what seems to be drunken stupor or watches TV, mostly through his medieval VHS.
When a visiting teacher from Melbourne demonstrates paper planes to Dylan’s class, it is only the kid stuck in medieval times that seems to have a knack for it. Call it a knack or a passion, it doesn’t matter: through blatant use of digital special effects our Dylan flies his paper plane like no other.
New paths open before Dylan: if he can hold the competition off, including this very privileged boy who is the son of a successful golfer (David Wenham), he can take part in the state paper plane tournament; and later, in Australia’s tournament at Sydney; and then, it’s the world tournament, in Tokyo!
Things are not easy for Dylan, though. In order to be able to jump through the hoops he needs to persevere and learn what makes one paper plane better than another. He needs to find his inspiration. Most of all, he needs to deal with his problems at home.
For a movie aimed at younger audiences, Paper Planes sure packs a lot of themes. There are the matters of seeking out how to learn things (believe it or not, it’s more complicated than a Google search or a browse of Wikipedia), of dealing with loss, of supporting and being there for one another, perseverance in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds, and competitiveness vs. friendship. Affairs are fantastic, as mentioned already, through the use of digital effects; but that only serves to add a dreamlike quality to this movie. After all, we are seeing things through the eyes of a 12 year old with quite a lot on his shoulders.
Different people will take different things out of Paper Planes. The theme I found most relevant, particularly in Australia with its chip on the shoulder idea for competitive sports that dictates opponents must be thrashed, is the one that demonstrates how we can learn by respecting our opponents. Do not stop there: we can befriend them, and – of course – learn from them. In this regard, this Australian movie is very UnAustralian; I doubt Tony Abbott approves of this union inclined approach.
Paper Planes is one of those low key movies that packs a feel good punch. I can say that, at our home, it proved quite interesting for my own not too dissimilar to Dylan child; it was definitely a fine deviation from the animated computer animation Hollywood stuff that has been his staple movie diet. Me, I could not hide the tears.
3.5 out of 5 surprised crabs.

Sunday, 19 July 2015

While We’re Young

Lowdown: A middle aged couple is revived by befriending a couple in their twenties.
Like with many movies starring Ben Stiller, starting with Zoolander, I find much to identify with in the lead characters from While We’re Young. They, Josh & Cornelia (Stiller and Naomi Watts) are a husband and wife team in their mid forties whose life has been left, unintentionally, on cruise control and who are lagging behind their peers in the “let’s have children” department. Gone is the spark that was there when they met; gone is the vitality, the need to prove oneself. There is no spontaneity, no lust and no innovation. All of those fell victim to the regular grind of making ends meet when you’re just an average person. [I have to add that, for average people, our couple here seems to live a fairly comfortable and financial hardship free life.]
This ongoing steady state of life is disturbed, in a positive way, when Josh meets Jamie and Darby (Adam Driver & Amanda Seyfried), a couple in their twenties attending a lacklustre lecture of his on the subject of documentary making. It’s not like Josh has much of a record in documentaries to rely on, yet Jamie with his spirit of entrepreneurship seems quite enthusiastic with the prospect of learning from the old master. The two couples seem to hit it off, spending much time with one another, with mostly the forty year olds learning from the twenty year olds and in the process reinvigorating their lives.
Something’s gotta give, though. Cornelia & Josh might have new young friends, but it comes at the price of losing their regular friends. Then there are the questions of what the younger couple’s motivation with this relationship really is, or the sometimes blatantly obvious fact that a forty year old is not meant to do twenty year old things.
As these themes are explored, While We’re Young tends to deteriorate into your typical Ben Stiller movie rather than keep a steady hold on the questions that should find any middle age person listening with much interest. On the positive side, Watts does her usual excellent self; again and again (refer to Adore, St Vincent) she is proving herself a unique acting talent that can pretty much portray any role thrown at her. Just in case you hear vicious claims along the lines of Meryl Streep being the one and only truly excellent female actress. Me, I find I’m enjoying Watts’ movies much more than Streep’s.
Regardless of the tendency of While We’re Young to deteriorate into a simplistic comedy, one has to admit it does deal in matters affecting the silent majority of us. Like, those of us who looked forward to having kids and were promised Everest high peaks of joy that will come along, only to find ourselves barely able to cope with the struggle. This quest for revival that Josh & Cornelia are going through in the movie is the same quest I have been living through myself as I try to make more of life than the mundane routine of setting my child up for the day, and then making it through work, allows. I, too, tried to open myself to this world and expose myself to what it has to offer, not by hanging out with younger people but rather by travelling around.
Take breakfast as an example. One of the things that happened to me when I migrated out of Israel, not intentionally but rather through scarcity, was a change of diet. My typical breakfast changed into the more common in Western societies meal of milked up cereal. Like Josh & Cornelia, I enjoyed the change at first. Like Cornelia & Josh, it took me a while – a long while – to realise that as nice as cereal can be, it is probably not the best thing for me. And now, eventually, I came back to through the full circle: I am back to eating almost exactly what I used to eat prior to my big migration event. It is different now, though: what I used to do in the past because it was the sum of everything I knew is now done because it is what I happen to love best after vastly expanding my familiarity with what the world has to offer me. It sounds like nothing, but there is a big difference there. The appreciation of this difference is the exact same experience that the couple for the duration of While We’re Young goes through in an hour and a half.
It may disguise itself as an ordinary silly comedy, but there is wisdom in While We’re Young that many if not most of us will take decades to figure out for themselves. I will give this rather eccentric film 3 out of 5 crabs, but I will note that people stuck in their midlives might find its appeal much larger than this score may suggest.

Wednesday, 15 July 2015

What We Did on Our Holiday

Lowdown: Big family intrigue as secrets from different parts of the family are exposed.
While one should never look up to the British for good food, they do have a knack for producing little films with big impact. What We Did on Our Holiday may not be the best named film ever, but it definitely delivers on the impact department while utilising some of Britain’s best acting talent.
The movie is made of three very distinct parts, starting off in a very promising manner, then hitting a bit of a bump and, finally, gracefully saving itself. For the purpose of blooper avoidance, I will only discuss the setup and the first act.
What we have ourselves here is a large British family. The branch we start with lives in southern England (“The South”, as Brits would call it; if you’ve been to the UK you would know it is, for all intents and purposes, a different country to “The North”). This branch features a recently separated couple (David Tennant & Rosamund Pike) whose main occupation nowadays seems to be arguing with one another. Yet they agree on one thing: they will pretend to be a good couple and carry themselves and their three kids over to Scotland (way over in “The North”) so as to take part in the grandfather’s (Billy Connolly) grand birthday party. You see, that grandfather is suffering from a cancer that is likely to ensure he would not see another birthday. So as to not stain the celebration, everyone – kids included – is to pretend to be one big happy family; no one needs to know the truth.
Following a road trip that reminded me what British road trips are like (you’re reading the muses of a person that had gone in and out of intimate relationships with the rear ends of the kingdom’s entire fleet of tractors, as well as traffic cones), we get to meet the other side of the family. And that side, we soon discover, has its own issues as well as its own secrets. What follows is basically the process of unveiling those secrets and coming to terms with them, with a lot of it getting done through the perspective of the still too innocent kids. We are dealing with heavy family related themes here, including death, parental expectations as well as an assortment of other dysfunctionalities.
The beauty of What We Did on Our Holiday lies with the dysfunctionalities appearing perhaps too extreme, especially when blown up over the course of one birthday. Yet they are actually being quite typical! One does not need a large family to encounter divorces, people generating public shame, or contradicting social views that generate philosophical as well as down to earth arguments and destroy family relationships. These are everywhere in pretty much every family; what What We Did on Our Holiday does is put them in the open so as to allow us to celebrate them/us for the typical people we are and allow us to consider that we should just get on with life together with our family members. Because, other than them being the only family we have, they are quite normal.
Best scene: For reasons mentioned above, I took particular liking to the scene where Tennant & Pike are taking turns driving their way to Scotland. One of them wakes up to witness a deadlocked traffic jam and asks the driver whether they’re already at Scotland. No, comes the answer, we’re at Watford [on the outskirts of London].
Overall: This charming celebration of the modern family deserves 3.5 out of 5 crabs. Well done, Britain! Now, go work on your food.

Monday, 13 July 2015

Kingsman: The Secret Service

Lowdown: A secret Bond like British organisation saves the world from a villain trying to save the world evily.
The James Bond formula of secret agents running high velocity action escapades is familiar and often mimicked, yet it did not stop Kingsman: The Secret Service from having its own go. Kingsman’s not so secret weapon is its director, Matthew Vaughn (Stardust, Kick-Ass) and his unique style. A style that brings an extra smile to a plot that doesn’t take itself as seriously, and renders action scenes in extreme (read: violent) comic book style.
The plot revolves around a secret British organisation called Kingsman that takes it upon itself to keep the world safe from big time nasty people. Like the lisping billionaire Richmond Valentine (Samuel L. Jackson) who is looking to spend the billions he has been making from his very Google like company (did anybody else notice Google owner lookalikes have become a frequent choice for a villain?) in order to fulfil his evil goal. Which turns out to be saving the world, but let’s not get into fine detail here; for the purpose of our discussion I will settle with mentioning Valentine’s main tool for executing his evil plan is his female colleague Gazelle (Sofia Boutella). Hooray for feminism, even if it’s on the evil side!
Our very secret and very British organisation of Kingsman stands in the way of evil, though. Its leader (Michael Caine) hands the task of sniffing out what’s going on to a top grade agent, Harry (Colin Firth), whose agency secret code name is Galahad rather than 007 but who is a Bond for all other intents and purposes. While sniffing villains out, Harry is also grooming a new agent for Kingsman, Eggsy (Taron Egerton), the son of a former agent that died saving Harry’s life. Eggsy needs to go through the loops of Kingsman selection and recruitment processes, but in the end you can rest assured this make do father and son team will prevail to save the world from evil.
So yeah, the plot has been seen before too many times, and yeah, there is nothing in the way of substance here. It’s all about style, both with its “the suit makes the man” fetish and its comic style portrayal of action (e.g., by playing with the frame rate). If you’re OK with watching people get sliced into pieces with ample precision then you will enjoy Kingsman: The Secret Service. It is, literally, bloody good – heads literally exploding to the tune of Land of Hope and Glory good.
Best scene:
There is an element of fantasy fulfilling in the scene where our Harry is under evil mind control and is thus forced to use his prowess to kill the entire congregation of a racist/bigoted/redneck church as it convenes for its service. Rest assured, that scene is full of explosive bodily dismemberment.
It is very hard not to enjoy Kingsman: The Secret Service; this one is a movie meant to be consumed with a smile by everybody other than those that will take the moral ground and claim it to be a manifestation of evil liberal values. On the other hand, it is exactly because I am a liberal that I have a problem accepting those traditional English values or the claims of the superiority of those clad with a suit. A suit is just the business person’s version of school/army uniform, a tool aimed at ensuring conformity and entrenching herd mentality (the exact reason why armies wear uniforms!).
That is the exact problem of Kingsman. It tries to be that cool, outside the box, version of James Bond. It isn’t; it is as mainstream as mainstream can be, which is perfectly fine as long as you will only regard it as a couple of hours of entertainment and not some sort of a cultural milestone.
In other words, 3 out of 5 silly crabs.

Saturday, 11 July 2015

Kill Me Three Times

Lowdown: Intrigue, murder and comedy at a remote part of Australia.
Simon Pegg forgot to let me know he’s shooting a movie in Australia. Granted, it is set on the other side of Australia, but still! He also avoided mentioning he’ll be playing in the role of a hitman for the hire. I will let him off the hook, though, because Kill Me Three Times proved to be three times as fun to watch as your average film. Not that I’m surprised, given the mix of ingredients.
As per its name, Kill Me Three Times follows sort of a three story affair in which we are introduced to several (but not many) characters, and flash back and forth in time as we learn what the story is with each of those characters. It’s more or less a story per character group, with Pegg as your sort of an overarching team.
In no particular order, our Greek tragedy of a story involves the following set of "misfortunate characters that seemed to have come directly off the set of Fargo". We have a bar owner (Callan Mulvey) with some obviously illegal stash of money in his safe and an interest in knowing what his wife (Brazilian Alice Braga, whom you should have seen in City of God) is up to. That wife is up to a relationship with local mechanic Dylan (Luke Hemsworth), mostly because of her frustrations with her dick of a husband. On that crucial day, though, the wife has herself a dental appointment with the gambling addict dentist Nathan (Sullivan Stapleton) and his wife/assistant Lucy (Teresa Palmer), whose only hope for repaying their gambling debt and thus staying alive has something to do with the premature death of their patient for the day. And then there is the local policeman (the legendary Bryan Brown), whom no one suspects of being honest for even a moment.
What follows is a Tarantino movie set in Australia. Very violent/bloody, a tangy music soundtrack, with plenty of fun and laughs for all to be had through dialog and whatnot. In this limited portrayal of Australia, no one is pure and they all know it, but just like Pulp Fiction there is hope and redemption for some.
Granted, Kill Me Three Times is not the most original film ever. It does make the most of its Australian setting and it does offer lovely high contrast yet picturesque cinematography with which to enhance the murders and other various bodily harms it portrays. What else can a person ask for?
Cinematically speaking, Kill Me Three Times is a 3 crabs affair. Yet its Australian appeal plus the buckets of fun it comes bundled with earn it a well deserved extra to make 3.5 out of 5 Tarantino grade crabs.
Do forget the numerical score, though. Just watch it.

Wednesday, 1 July 2015

Magic in the Moonlight

Lowdown: A magician on a mission to expose a medium for a fake falls for her instead.
Pretend, for a moment, that you are a very successful movie director/actor with an illustrious career behind you and a collection of Oscars at your very not IKEA branded cabinet. You’re in your eighties now, with mortality just around the corner. Thoughts come into your head, perhaps some regrets along the lines of “I should have done this instead of that”. What can you do about it? Well, you create a movie about it. That’s exactly what Woody Allen did in yet another movie of his that’s all about himself.
Magic in the Moonlight is the result. Set in the early 20th century, it stars Colin Firth as Stanley, a pretend to be Chinese magician whose shows knock the crowds down in awe across the whole world. In real life he’s nothing but Chinese and he’s also not that nice a person. His main interest is in exposing the magicians claiming to use the supernatural for the fakes they are. This very James Randi like guy is not satisfied with exposing fakes alone; he seems to be on a mission to point the wrongs in every person he sees. Clearly, our Stanley is the incarnation of the persona that Richard Dawkins is often falsely accused of being: the strident atheist who never takes a rest from pointing out how the whole rest of the world is wrong.
Until, that is, he meets Sophie, a young American girl (Emma Stone) whom he is called to disprove for the not-so-real medium she claims to be before she sucks a rich family dry. Only that Stanley seems unable to prove her wrong; instead, he falls for her. Can it be so? Is the supernatural, and by proxy religion and god, really real?
We cannot ignore the fact that the portrayal of the supernatural in a movie as real has absolutely nothing to do with whether the supernatural is real in real life. The whole movie is based on that point just as it is based on Allen trying to say, through Stanley’s character, that his relentless attacks on religion and the supernatural from his younger days were wrong and that we should all accept that we can see magic in the moonlight. The result is a movie that just seems too contrived to fit Allen’s message and to act as a good movie, too; too much of an Oscar Wilde like play that has gone to the dogs.
To seal the deal, we have a romance between a now 54 year old (Firth) and a now 26 years old (Stone). That’s Allen in a nutshell.
Worst scene:
Stanley and Sophie stumble upon an old, now unused, observatory in France. As unused as it is, the observatory is still incredibly clean and its motors are all up and running, power and all. Contrived as that setting is, when the roof opens our heroes look at the bit of sky that’s exposed (not through the telescope) and admire it for the lovely piece of sky that it is. Which, despite the contrived nature, is quite nice a touch.
Overall: Allen has the talent to procure good movies, no doubt about that. It’s a pity he’s wasting his talents on pointless apologetic gestures instead of making the most of what he can really to the end. 2 out of 5 oh-so-contrived crabs.