Sunday, 21 August 2016

Snowden by Ted Rall

Lowdown: The Snowden story told through a ~200 page comic.
I don't know how you, book readers, do it. Reading a book, as opposed to an ebook, is shit! The lighting is bad, you have to hold the book open. You even need to physically flip through pages! Oy vey.
But I did make an exception for you for a book that stared me in the eye as I passed by my local public library: Snowden by Ted Rall (who, apparently, is a cartoonist for pretty big USA publications). Snowden the book is a comic book of a little more than 200 pages. At its end you will find two pages of closing off text as well as numerous pages offering citations for the points raised by the comic itself, with the point being that Snowden takes itself seriously.
The author's views are revealed on page 1: we are, he tells us, living the manifestation of Orwell's 1984 vision. I concur; you can tell why I made a sacrifice and chose to read this particular paper book. Snowden goes further, though, much further: readers are informed about some of Edward Snowden's biggest revelations.
Then the comic picks up on a new direction that represents the bulk of pages. That is, trying to figure out why it is that Edwards Snowden and no other came out to do what he had done and reveal this information to us. What does this say about Snowden? To answer that question, we get to explore Ed's personal history (where I got to learn he was (is still?) a libertarian - oy givald!).
I have to say it, I found myself identifying with Edward Snowden's personal journey. Not I am half as brave as he was, but rather on account of other similarities between us. Specifically, how we used to do the same things (video games, reading Ars Technica) and hold certain opinions that, upon being challenged by international travel and seeing the world with its different facets, we later changed.
If you care for the book's answer for the Snowden riddle, it is, and I quote, that Snowden had an "ideological awakening [while working] in an organisation that selects for conformism".
Then the book concludes with a discussion on whether those things that Snowden did were right or wrong. Perhaps because I'm not an American I do not even start to consider Edwards Snowden as a traitor, which leaves "hero" as the only option. Luckily for me, Rall provides ample evidence to show that, even for Americans, what Snowden did was an act of heroism of the best kind.
A comic is, indeed, a fine way to tell the Snowden story in a meaningful yet entertaining way. I have been regarding Snowden as a hero since June 2013 and, as far as I am concerned, he is welcome to seek asylum at my home for as long as he requires. That invitation is now even warmer through me knowing more about Edward Snowden and his journey through this fine comic.
4 out of 5 crabs for Snowden the comic, and all the crabs in the world to public libraries, one of humanity's better institutions.

Monday, 15 August 2016

Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice

Lowdown: A couple of stupid incredibly powerful men get too easily manipulated to fight one another; women come to save the day.
There is an eternal question when it comes to Hollywood movies: how much money can be poured into a blockbuster movie event in order to produce an empty, meaningless bullshit of a movie? Tons of flicks are competing to break a record on this question, but Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice (let's just stick to BvS, shall we?) clearly wipes them all out. This movie is just as dumb as it could run a medium sized first world country with its budget for a decade.
Clearly, dumbness is the direct result of the task handed to script writers: come up with a plot that would have Superman fight Batman, ASAP! And do it as a sequel to the last Superman movie, Man of Steel, so that we can create a Marvel like franchise!
And the problem is that they, the script writers, complied. Their contrived solution was to have Lex Luther son, Lex Luther (the weirdo typecast Jesse Eisenberg), manipulate Superman (a returning Henry Cavill) into fighting Batman/Bruce Wayne (welcome to the role, Ben Affleck) while utilising the duo's extreme stupidity. Only that the two are clearly not that stupid, or should not have been that stupid. Hence the film's main problem; one doesn't go to watch a movie entitled BvS expecting stupid superheroes.
There are tons of special effects laden fight scenes stretched over this three hour movie, tons of excellent actors playing crudely underdeveloped characters (Amy Adams, Holly Hunter, Jeremy Irons - I could go on), and there is a guest visit by Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) that's meant to introduce us to the next movie in the franchise. There's also tons of muscles - the male leads clearly pumped a lot of iron for their roles. What isn't there is brains; and if you think the movie breaks the injustice league's hall of fame with its silly excuses for pitting Batman against Superman, just wait till you see what it does to make them stop fight one another.
P.S. I will not get into the way Superman's character is Americanised in that good old "there's no country in the world other than America" [which is actually a continent].
Overall: I did not suffer; BvS is an entertaining roller coaster. But oh, what a poor movie this is! What a waste! 2.5 out of 5 de-intellectualised crabs.

Wednesday, 10 August 2016

Whiskey Tango Foxtrot

Lowdown: A small time American reporter comes of age through her assignment in battle torn Afghanistan.
They say every good story revolves some sort of a journey. Well, in the case of Whiskey Tango Foxtrot (let's agree to stick with WTF from now on) our story is the story of an unlikely female journalist from the USA, who for some small time reason finds herself temporarily assigned to Afghanistan for war coverage duties. As with all things temporary, she finds herself stuck there for about a decade. Stuck is a bad word, because her journey has her advocating for the cause and actually wishing to stay there fore longer.
The catch, I guess, is that this journey is based on the autobiography of a real person. The fact that person is a woman, and given the context of war and Burqa cladded Afghanistan, serve to explain why WTF got itself on film.
A significant part of the story has to be personal journey of Tina Fey, the comedian who plays a serious role here and also acts as a producer. Clearly, this movie represents some coming of age for her as a person, too. Fey fares very well, thank you very much, demonstrating heroines have no problem leading a movie, thank you very much!
The problem with WTF is that it doesn't take us places. Sure, there is Afghanistan, but it's not like I felt WTF expanded my horizons other than entertain me for the duration of the flick. Alfred Molina acting as a local weirdo warlord probably did the best job at entertaining me but it wasn't enough; nor were the talents of Martin Freeman and Margot Robbie.
Overall: A win for women, but not a spectacular film in any distinguished way. 3 out of 5 crabs.

Sunday, 7 August 2016

Ice Age Collision Course

Another year, another punishment for parents in the shape of an Ice Age episode. This franchise that does not know when to stop and has long outlived its welcome comes to us with Episode 5, Collision Course.
The plot is completely redundant; there is danger, the heroes figure it out, they travel a bit, they stumble upon baddies, they sort things out. Formula movies could not be more formulistic. As far as the heroes are concerned, they are pretty much the usual gang + Simon Pegg (who has been there before, too, but is a relatively recent addition).
The novelty, if you will, is with Scrat's character taking a more leading role. The same way the accountants at Despicable Me figured out it is the Minions that the kids like the most and are most likely to earn a buck, so did the Ice Age accountants figure out that with Scrat they are holding the key to parents' Port Knox. The other curious addition is a Neil deGrasse Tyson contributing his voice talent and the character of an astronomer.
But is this enough to generate a good movie? No, not in the least. Ice Age: Collision Course is just another parental trap devoid of any spark and worthy of 2 out of 5 crabs.

Tuesday, 2 August 2016

Michael Moore: Capitalism: A Love Story + Where to Invade Next

Lowdown: Michael Moore dishes out the illnesses of American society.
It can be argued, and I will definitely concur, that Michael Moore's documentaries are all one and the same. Moore seems to be redoing the same film again and again from slightly different angles (including the perspective of time). Essentially, Moore has been crying out against the fall of the American Empire he grew up in, making a continuous feature film to discuss the fall of the USA.
This particular review of mine focuses on the two recent episodes in Moore's ongoing saga, 2009's Capitalism: A Love Story and 2015's Where to Invade Next. I shall approach it in descending chronological order.
I actually thought Where to Invade Next is a movie dealing with the USA's major export this past few decades, troops. But it isn't; it is actually about how other [inferior] countries have borrowed ideas from the USA and successfully implemented them, while the USA itself forgot all about them (and finds itself drowning in the mire as a result of said negligence). To prove his point, Moore "invades" other countries to demonstrate how well they did with those American ideas.
Examples of Moore's invasions include: Free higher education at Slovenia [and the prosperity this brings in comparison to the misery of college debts in the USA]; gourmet restaurant like meals at French schools, where the aim is to teach kids how and what to eat [in comparison to the average American's bad diet]; short school days and no homework at Finland [resulting in the world's most successful education system, while the USA's is in constant decline]; legalised drugs at Portugal [reducing crime, in comparison to the USA's massive imprisonment rate]; work/life balance at Italy [compared to the USA workers getting hardly any days of paid leave]; and no capital punishment in pretty much the whole of the civilised world.
All good ideas and, in my opinion, entirely justified criticism. The problem lies with Moore's very manipulative, contrived feeling, presentation. Often it's a pathetic presentation, too, with Moore going through the theatrics of sticking an American flag everywhere he goes. But yes, you got to hand it to Moore, he has a point; personally, I am very sad to see the Anglo Saxonia Minors, the UK and Australia, follow the American example instead of the European one.
Capitalism: A Love Story is all about how the capitalistic system managed to establish itself in American minds to the point where no alternative can even be imagined. Moore is arguing it has  implemented itself together with self protection mechanisms that block Americans from seeking better alternatives. Instead, Americans are busy in a race to the bottom, with corporations making a killing and the majority suffering for the sake of the 1%.
Given its manufacturing date, you can rest assure Capitalism is all about the 2008 financial crisis and its causes. Again, I agree with Moore and what he says, but again I will argue for a contrived presentation; in this particular case, the presentation already feels out of date with newer "shit" fitting the bill much better already. Alas, while Where to Invade Next presents a multitude of ideas, Capitalism is a one track pony.
Overall: Whether or not you like Michael Moore's films is highly dependant on whether or not you agree with him. I doubt Moore's presentation will sway the true American capitalist patriot to change her mind. But again, there is the fact that Where to Invade Next does raise some interesting ideas, so I will give it 3.5 out of 5 crabs. Capitalism: A Love Story is a different, repetitive and now an older affair, too; it earns 2.5 out of 5 crabs.