Friday, 8 June 2018


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


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.

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


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’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.
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.
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.
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.

Sunday, 11 March 2018

The Red Turtle

A man washes into a small island, Robinson Crusoe style. He tries to escape, building rafts after raft, but repeatedly fails. And then he meets a red turtle...
The Red Turtle is a short (an hour twenty), slow, animation movie. The animation is on the artistic side (it often reminded me of Tintin comics), and is definitely a far cry from the majority of computer animated flicks that rule today’s world of animation. I'd use the word minimalism to describe it, though that is probably not the right word given the animation is often rich. Most notably, though, the entire movie features exactly 0 spoken words; you certainly won’t require subtitles for this Red Turtle.
You would notice I covered the movie plot in three sentences. That’s because what starts as a coherent "man stuck on island" Tom Hanks/Wilson like affair quickly deteriorates (in my opinion) into hallucinations and fantasy. Sure, there is no particular reason to see that as deterioration, but the end result is something one can read in too many ways for me to feel comfortable with.
If pressed, I would argue The Red Turtle is an allegory on the human circle of life, with some obvious environmental and nature themes that tell us we are part of the natural world. By its very reductive nature (few characters, no words) the film is able to carry its symbolic message quite afar.
3 out of 5 crabs for this movie that is quite rich in crab characters, actually.
Recommended to appreciators of fine animation, who would probably rate it much higher than I do. Definitely not recommended to those seeking exciting entertainment, though.

Friday, 9 March 2018

Your Name

Japanese anime could not come in any more “classic” form than Your Name, a fatalistic tale that’s telling us we can still make our own fate. It does so by pointing us at two characters, a girl from a small rural Japanese town and a similarly aged teenager from Tokyo. For an unexplained reason, the two occasionally wake up in the morning in the other’s body.
At first they come to grips with things like having boobs, but eventually they figure out what’s going on and leave one another messages on their respective phones. Give it an hour or so, and you will also learn of the reason why this substitution is taking place...
Not a bad tale, but neither is Your Name a good one; there are just too many colliding ideas. As I said, typical Japanese.
3 out of 5 crabs.

Saturday, 3 March 2018

The Women's Balcony

Lowdown: The tale of a small community, defined by its religiosity, as its paradigms are challenged by the even more religious.
The Women's Balcony (originally ישמח חתני, literally "joy to my husband") is a recent Israeli movie about a smallish, close, community of religious Jews living in modern day Jerusalem. They are not rich, but it's their community that gets them along.
Disaster strikes when, during a Bar Mitzvah ceremony, the women's balcony (the area of the synagogue dedicated to women, who are otherwise not allowed to mix with men in orthodox run synagogues) collapses. Among the victims are rabbi's wife, the Torah scroll, and the synagogue itself that is barred shut. Problem is, the community is nothing without its synagogue! As luck would have it, a fellow rabbi passing by helps our synagogue-less refugees and takes them under his wing. However, all is not what it first seems; that new rabbi is quite pedantic and won't allow for the same practical compromises our community members took for granted, causing a rift in the community and pitting husbands against wives.
There are numerous problems with The Women's Balcony. For a start, it is not as entertaining as it was meant to be. That is to say, as comedies go, it is not so funny a comedy. However, the film is quite illuminating through its perspectives on the lives of religious Jews in Israel. To the best of my personal knowledge and familiarity, the movie is a pretty accurate portrayal of the culture of religious Jews in Israel. This includes practices that seem ludicrous to me, such as deploying non Jews to switch the light on during a Sabbath, which to the eyes of the people in the movie seems a perfectly rational act. Or, more relevant to the #MeToo age, the way basic discrimination between the sexes is taken for granted by both sides. The film reeks of these defunct values. I will put it this way, most of pluses earned by watching The Women's Balcony come from that anthropological factor.
I recall numerous other movies depicting this reality or culture, to one level of authenticity or another. This one seems, to these eyes, to be the first such movie I see that isn’t meant primarily for the secular viewer. The Women's Balcony is clearly designed for audiences not too dissimilar to those portrayed in the movie, that is to say - traditional to religious Jewish Israelis (but not fully orthodox Jews, who will not watch film anyway). Which, in my opinion, points at the processes going through Israeli society over the years: increased religiosity, that is heavily bundled with increased nationalism and a general drift of Israeli mainstream politics to the right.
Overall: 3 out of 5 crabs, not for the movie and its qualities as a piece of art but rather for the unique glimpse it provides into this world that exists somewhere in the real world.

Tuesday, 13 February 2018

Blade Runner 2049

Lowdown: Further musings on what it means to be a live human.
Blade Runner was, and still is, one of those huge movies that forever left its mark on me and made me a significantly different person to the one I was before entering the cinema. If you were to ask me for my pick of best movie ever, there is a very good chance Blade Runner would be my pick (though I would probably add a disclaimer on the frivolous nature of picking "the best" to begin with; ask me, instead, for my favourite movie ever, and you will definitely get a straight answer). The realisation that “they’re doing a sequel” to perhaps my pick for best movie ever had to come with a heavy burden, for it is rare for a sequel to rise up to the challenge; on the other hand, I am mature enough to not really care much. Whatever impact Blade Runner has/had on me does not have to be affected by issues with the sequel.
Like the time between films IRL, Blade Runner 2049 takes place some 30 years past its prequel. You can run a checklist, but I assure you every stylistic cue or plot device of motif that was there in Blade Runner can be found, in one form or another, in 2049. Looks, sound, music, plot, they all feel the same (albeit with CGI making for slicker visuals). 2049 is therefore a proper, and very authentic feeling, sequel. That said, Vangelis’ music clearly cannot be equaled, and come movie peak time 2049 does revert back to the best (as it should!).
Plot wise, we have a Nexus android (Ryan Gosling) that, for a change, actually knows he’s a Nexus, chase after leftover Nexus replicants that survived from the time of the first movie (after which they were apparently outlawed). As he goes about terminating his fellows, armed with a Blade Runner grade pistol and a badge, he uncovers a mystery that leads to revelations on his own identity. Thus starts yet another film noir tale that aims to say another thing or two on what it means to be a human, as in - what it is that defines us. This time around, the main motifs are memories, as per the first round, but also reproduction as well as drawing comparisons with artificial intelligences of the silicon type.
There is a villain, the new millionaire running a business around replicants (Jared Leto), who also happens to be by far the weakest link in the movie’s plot for the crime of rather unsubstantiated motives. And, eventually, we will meet Deckard (Harrison Ford), our hero from the first Blade Runner, for a shortish role.
Which brings me to a point I haven't seen discussed elsewhere: Blade Runner 2049 assumes you know Deckard is a replicant. That, however, was not a conclusion one could logically derive off the original Blade Runner that played at cinemas back in the early eighties; only after the Director’s Cut, released more than a decade later, could that conclusion be drawn (through the addition of the unicorn dream).
What did I make of 2049? Well, after 3 slowish hours, I thought it was a good movie that suffers from severe pacing problems. In an era of CGI overdoses, its visuals have nowhere near the impact the original movie had, and given the lack of originality I would say 2049 will in no way be remembered as the cinematic event its predecessor was. But that’s alright; most other movies fall far, far, behind.
Overall: When taken in context, 2049 feels like a DLC patch for the original. 3.5 out of 5 crabs.

Friday, 9 February 2018

Life 3.0 by Max Tegmark

Lowdown: A careful, detailed, cause and effect review of where artificial intelligence may take us.
Multidisciplinary scientists, such as cosmologist Max Tegmark, have a tendency to produce truly enlightening outputs. I would argue Life 3.0 is a fine example of the breed.
Tegmark’s premises are simple enough to understand: Life 1.0 refers to the likes of bacteria, where both the hardware and the software they run on was produced by evolution rather than by design. Us humans represent Life 2.0, made as we are of evolved hardware but capable of designing the software we run on. Life 3.0 is the life form that can design its hardware, too; and that is where our world is heading for with the development of artificial intelligence (AI). The question is, where would that development take us? Would it do us a world of good and give us the promised Garden of Eden, or are we digging our own grave?
Tegmark provides several examples to show why we are on dangerous grounds with AI, even if - at the same time - he completely dismisses the Terminator like scenarios. At the core, he argues that we need to maintain control of the AI and, most importantly, ensure our AIs' targets align with ours. The rest of the book is pretty much an elaboration on the details.
For example, Tegmark proves that our philosophy is centuries behind our technology, and without the adequate levels of philosophy to back us up with we are heading towards a world where technology will overtake us. He goes forth to examine potential scenarios for advanced AI (and no, it’s hard to imagine anyone liking those scenarios much), and even discusses how an intergalactic empire constructed by our future AI would manage the limitations of the laws of physics in order to run its course. It’s just that, in all of these scenarios, it is hard to see what role humans might play.
Following such a long, thorough and multidisciplinary review of the implication of AI, Tegmark argues in favour of us stopping to ask what future we want. And I totally agree; in the last decade alone we have seen technologies such as the smartphone and the social network dictate the way we should live, instead of us actively choosing the technologies that would support the way we would like to live instead.
Overall: If you would like to know where us humans are at with regards to AI, and seek enlightenment about its potential outcomes, then this great thought experiment that is the book called Life 3.0 would be an excellent start. 3.5 out of 5 artificial crabs.

Wednesday, 7 February 2018


Lowdown: An examination of what happens to men when they are put under extreme pressure.
Dunkirk assumes its viewers know the story of what happened on the shores of that French town and the beaches around it during the early stages of World War 2; for the purposes of this review, so shall I.
Our movie follows the personal escapades of four main characters. In effect it thus tells us the story of a whole lot of people around them, and by even further extension the story of the Dunkirk evacuation, but still the main event is those four folks. Thus we have a foot soldier who’s the sole survivor of a unit retreating from the Germans, the navy commander of the beach evacuation (Kenneth Branagh), an older civilian coming with his boat from the safety of the British shore, and an English fighter pilot (Tom Hardy).
I don’t know how historically accurate the movie is, but that’s not the point. The point is showing us those key personalities and those surrounding them as they struggle through hell to survive against insurmountable odds and about the different ways they do so. Some lose their sanity, some sacrifice themselves, some fight till the end, but others sacrifice their peers while others lose their humanity. All the while, the menace they are all fighting or fleeing from is faceless; the closest we come to a German identity is a brief view of a fighter plane, but never a German face. Our people of Dunkirk are people fighting with sheer terror.
It almost goes without saying that the danger for movies such as Dunkirk is them turning into yet another “war is so sexy, let’s do more of it” type of a propaganda affair; or its closest relative of patting ourselves on the shoulder so as to justify our own inhumane acts and losses of humanity. Dunkirk does commit that sins, but only very late into the movie so as to leave the scene with enough dignity intact.
Overall: At 4 out of 5 crabs, Dunkirk is still a movie too many will interpret as the glory of us vs the evil of them. Be them Nazi Germans or whoever it is we call our enemies today.

Monday, 5 February 2018

Oh...Sir! The Insult Simulator

Review published over at Digitally Downloaded.
Personally, I'd recommend getting the iOS version (as opposed to the Nintendo Switch version I reviewed this on), unless party play is a factor.

Tuesday, 30 January 2018

The Circle

Lowdown: A warning about the perils of social networks and the companies running them.
The Circle is one of those movies that tries to send its message across by attaching a human face we can identify with to along for the ride. In this case, our story is told through a young woman, Mae (Emma Watson), who escapes her awful temp job for a lucrative position at a technology/social media company, The Circle. The Circle is a cross between Google and Facebook with an HQ not unlike Apple’s newly erected one and a boss (Tom Hanks) not unlike Mark Zuckerberg mixed with Steve Jobs.
We get our first glimpse into the power of The Circle at the beginning through its new invention, a tiny disposable camera people can stick anywhere to record and send back to The Circle everything it sees. There the video and sensor array's data are all analysed to minute detail, and without anyone noticing everything passing in front of the camera is digested and broadcasted to the world. Not unlike the cumulative effect of all the phone cameras surrounding you & I at any point in time.
As Mae gets further into the thick of her new job, her personal health data joins the public sharing ride; then her location, which puts her under pressure because she didn’t come to work on the weekend and instead spent time away from fellow Circle workers. Mae is pressed to choose between her private life, the former boyfriend she is still using, her kayaking hobby, and her ill father (Bill Paxton, R.I.P.), as all the while we keep learning more and more about The Circle’s invasive nature and how it affects Mae’s life.
Eventually, Hanks’ character exposes the grand Circle plan: people running our democracies straight through the social network, without needing politicians to represent them and this whole thing philosophers refer to as "the will of the governed". Think about it, this idea is the natural extension of where the likes of Facebook have been taking us in real life; it’s probably the reason Mark Zuckerberg spends his time visiting “ordinary” American families for dinner. Governments, says Hanks’ character, need us more than we need them. Let us have the full will of the people available all the time!
As you can probably tell by now, The Circle aims to deliver its message on the dangers of these new companies on the cutting edge of guiding us on how we should live our lives. The film does so by pointing at the extremes of what is already happening, which is why it borders on brilliance. Ultimately, the movie points at the hypocrisy of the people issuing us with these messages about the need to share our lives and the very private lives they themselves live, whether their last name is Zuckerberg or Schmidt.
I will openly admit this subject matter is very close to my heart, and as per Russia’s involvement in the USA elections it’s also been on the news a lot lately. That said, The Circle’s handling of this subject matter feels rather heavy handed in its story development and, as a direct result, rather superficial in its exploration of the consequences. One can argue it is hard to cram it all into a movie and still have a crowd favourite in hand, but I will argue Black Mirror and even The Orville have already done that and and the result was way better.  Then again, perhaps the real message The Circle sends across is that of a world in which the TV series has toppled the movie theatre.
Overall: As interesting and important as its point is (and I can only assume that has been the reason someone like Tom Hanks would engage himself in such a movie), The Circle misses the nail with its jackhammer. 3 out of 5 crabs.